Thursday 29 March 2012

Årdal gamle kirke - Årdal old church, Norway

We were having a day out, whilst staying with our eldest son and family, when we came across this little church in the small community of Old Årdal, Rogaland, Norway.
It had clearly been built in three stages, the first two stages using very large slates on the roof and the third using tiles.
Nothing prepared us for what we would find on entering the church, but it soon became clear that we were in for something rather special,
and unexpected.
The wooden walls were completely covered in rather wonderful naive paintings.
St. Peter and St Andrew
Old Årdal Kyrkje turned out to be one of the best examples of a Renaissance church on the West coast of Norway. It dates from the 17th century and the wall decoration is thought to be by Hans Sager, a church painter who worked in Rogaland.

St. Michael and at the bottom,
Salvator - Jesus saviour of men
Hope and Fidelity
Temperance - doesn't look too temperate to me!
Fortitude - a rather foppish character - I love the way his feet embrace the pedestal and he nonchantly carries his pillar.
angel on the ceiling
A mythical beast framing the side of the altar
Altar painting thought to be the work of Godtfred Hendtzschel a famous Norwegian church painter. He was the most well known church artist in Rogaland from 1625 -1650.
The sun shines down on the righteous
This was the only stained glass window in the church. It is very small, but I like the sailor with his tankard of ale.

Monday 26 March 2012

Flower Fairies

I learnt to read very early. My parents gave me Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairy Alphabet book to encourage me with my letters. I adored it, and kept it beside my bed. However, it was the flowers that had me riveted. Soon I knew that R didn't just stand for Rosemary but also Ragged Robin, and B stood for Bugle. Walking in the countryside I could name all the flowers in the hedgerows, much to my parent's amazement. Why wouldn't I? I knew them all off by heart. In my dreams I sat on the cliff top with fairy Thrift looking out to sea and smelling the sea breezes, I imagined that I wore outfits like the fairies Fuchsia, and Columbine. This must have been the beginning of my great love of flowers.  
Questions that haunt me are "whatever happened to Ragged Robin, and Bugle in the hedgerow?" "Where are the cloudy cream drifts of Meadow Sweet?"and "where oh where is Scarlet Pimpernel"? He used to grow around the edges of all the cornfields and in the stubble when the corn was cut. I know that hedgerows have improved, but these plants used to be there in great profusion. Now when I discover one of them it is like finding a long lost and almost forgotten friend!
This photograph was taken on holiday by the coast in Norfolk. I was about 5 years old enjoying a holiday with my family. I look as if I am full of the joys of Spring.
Speaking of Spring, here are some precious jewels opening up in our garden at the moment.
What is going on? Still in March and today I found one of the Snake's-head Fritillaries in flower. 
beautiful yellow flowers will soon appear on the Paeony tree - species Ludowii.
This Paeony Tree is a cultivar called Ballerina, and has wonderful pink flowers like a tutu.
The pink Martagon Lilies I ordered in the Autumn are planted and are just about to receive their top coat of John Innes and Ericaceous soil.
Mixed Daffodils
One minute they are in bud, blink, and suddenly they are everywhere.
The small daffodil trumpets of the miniature Narcissus Tête-à-Tête 
Miniature Narcissus Rip Van Winkle - these are delightful little daffodils.
Crocuses - taken over a week ago, sadly they are now finished until next year.
Chaenomeles Japonica
 Some newly planted Ranunculus in a pot

Lastly, mosses do not have flowers or seeds. This image illustrates their wiry stems with spore capsules borne aloft on them.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Pėre Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

In the early 1990s J and I used to visit Paris on a regular basis. He was working for the UN and spent a considerable amount of time at UNESCO - IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission). We would stay in a small hotel off Boulevard Garibaldi, handy for the metro and for J to get to work. When J had left I would visit galleries, museums or churches and explore different areas of the city. If it was a warm day, one of my favourite destinations was Pėre Lachaise cemetery. Setting off with my baguette for lunch, and armed with a cemetery guide, I would meander the labyrinth of winding pathways within its high walls. 
Paris's most celebrated cemetery sits on a tree covered hill overlooking the city. The land was bought by Napoleon in 1803 from Pére de la Chaise, a priest, who was Louis XIV's confessor. Here are buried distinguished people such as writer Honoré de Balzac and composer Frédéric Chopin. More recently, singer Jim Morrison, and actors Simone Signoret and Yves Montand.
For me, however, the magic of the place are the tombs, many of which have been executed by famous sculptors. It is one of the most wonderful, free, open air galleries in the world.
Amongst my favourite tombs is that of René Lalique, which incorporates a piece of his exquisite glass that has been engraved with a repouseé crucified christ 

This Lalique glass dish with little birds around the edge is our own.
Two car mascots by René Lalique
The tomb of Ernest Caillat is rather special as it was created by Hector Guimard, who designed the much admired Art Nouveau entrances to the Paris metro. 
tomb of Ernest Caillat
Metro entrance and stylistic flowers by Hector Guimard 
Oscar Wilde's tomb by Jacob Epstein was not despoiled when I visited, rather the angel had red roses placed beneath it. Known as the flying angel, Epstein carved it out of Derbyshire stone. He was assisted by Eric Gill, who helped carve the wings. Gill also did the carving on the back showing the last four lines from Part IV of The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde. On the photograph you can see the marks caused by lipstick grease penetrating the stone due to kissing it. The tomb has recently been restored and a glass barrier to shield the monument has been fitted.  

Carving on the back of the tomb

Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
   The coward does it with a kiss,
 The brave man with a sword!

The grave of Edith Piaf - The Little Sparrow
Edith Piaf's grave is of no sculptural merit, but it is one of the most visited. It is always clean and polished, surrounded by lots of flowers in bunches and in pots.
The tomb of Théodore Géricault, one of the pioneers of the French Romantic Movement, whose major work, The Raft of Medusa, is reproduced on the side of his tomb in a low-relief panel - unfortunately it cannot be seen on this photo. Géricault's bronze figure reclines, bush in one hand, paint pallet in the other, on the top of his tomb. The sculptor of both the relief and the figure is Antoine Étex.
The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault
This is just a brief glimpse of the cemetery. Next time you are in Paris, do make time to pay a visit. The cemetery is in the 20th arrondissement and covers an area of 110 acres. A guide to the cemetery can be obtained from the many little florist shops nearby or from the principal entries at Porte des Amandiers and Porte Gambetta.

One of the cemetery entrances

Friday 23 March 2012

The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

Last night we saw Romeo and Juliet danced to the haunting and magical music of Sergey Prokofiev. Juliet was danced by principal ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson, who was exquisite. Not only is she a beautiful dancer but also a very fine actress, bringing the part totally to life. Romeo was danced by the handsome Italian, Frederico Bonelli, and an equally beautiful and compelling dancer - they were the perfect pairing. The performance featured two of the company's most established dancers in this heart-breaking production by Kenneth Macmillan which has been wowing audiences for more than 40 years.
courtesy Royal Ballet
Lauren Cuthbertson and Frederico Bonelli
I now have to admit that we were not sitting in the Royal Opera House, but watching it from our local cinema. It was beamed live all around the world to 50 countries and 500 different locations.
If you like the ballet or opera, and have not been to one of these live performances then I would urge you to give it a try. You can watch operas from the Metropolitan, which are screened in the evenings here, but are matinée performances in New York.  You are totally absorbed into the atmosphere of the Opera Houses, you can see behind the scenes during the intervals, and have a grandstand view. In fact you can see more than the people who have paid £200 per ticket for their seats. During the intervals, the audience get out their picnic hampers to eat tasty nimbles with a glass of wine, and stand around chatting. Not the normal popcorn and coke affair.
Last night was full of reminiscences for me. It is exactly 30 years ago that I saw the great Nureuyev dancing the same role. By that stage Dame Margot Fonteyn had finished dancing the part of Juliet and took the role of Juliet's mother, a non dancing part.
I have just found my programme from 1982, and Dress Circle tickets cost me £13.50 which I thought was a fortune then. We have just paid more than that at the cinema.
Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dancing together
via wikipedia
Nureyev's incredible tomb at the Russian Cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des Bois just outside Paris. It represents a draped kilim over a wanderers trunk, someone that is rootless, which is what he was. It was done in mosaic by Ezio Frigerio who designed sets for several ballets.