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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A Gentle Giant

  Dear readers,
 
It is believed that every cloud has a silver lining.  Whilst reeling from the unspeakable horrors which unfolded in Paris on January 8th and beyond, I stumbled my way through my humdrum existence hoping to hear, somewhere, a few snatched words of wisdom which could cut through the inexplicable cruelty wreaked by a handful of lost souls upon others.  Many conversations were shared; with friends and family, of course, with the butcher, plumber and neighbour but I did not realise that I would finally find solace in the words of a giant born nearly five hundred years ago.
 
The wildly obscene humour of Pantagruel (1532), written by our local Renaissance author, François Rabelais, has been dramatised recently by the French stage designer and Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Benjamin Lazar.  A meeting with gracious Lazar, the formidable and hugely warmhearted actor Olivier Martin-Salvan, who was born to take on the role of the friendly giant Pantagruel, and the two musicians involved in the production, was arranged one evening last week.  As I sat beside my daughter Héloïse, surrounded by a small group of Pantagruel enthusiasts who were uplifted by the show they had just enjoyed, with my notebook and pen in hand, I put my weariness of recent events to one side and devoured the words, in true Pantagruel style, of these four creative men.
 
And then there was the performance on the following night, a selection of extracts from Rabelais' voluminous Pantagruel. We marvelled at the actor's formidable memory - lengthy monologues in five early European languages left us speechless with wonder and hilarity was born from the scene where Pantagruel, hungry for knowledge, devours book upon book in a Parisian Library with startling effects, at times, on his digestion.  The language of Rabelais, both obscene and flowery, can best be described as earthy poetry, I believe.  It must not be forgotten that this formidable Renaissance writer, first monk, then physician, was intoxicated by the sudden availability of all manner of books so shortly after the first printing press had seen the light.  The stage director, who usually inhabits a theatrical world where candles are the only form of light, chose this time to play with electricity in an obscure world where a giant roams the earth.  It was Lazar's intention to  connect Rabalais' universe with our own.  Playing with electric light cast a human-sized actor into the shape of a giant, helium-filled jelly-fish balloons bobbed on the waves of a stormy sea and sixteenth-century instruments mostly played contemporary music in a most convincing manner.
 
Hilarity  and wonder aside, it was in the words of a tolerant, magnanimous  (and very hairy) giant clad in an animal skin, who continuously practises the art of unflinching gentleness, that I finally found my silver lining.  As Pantagruel recited the formal and elaborate letter received from his Humanist father advising him on his education, the following words rang out:
 
Wisdom enters not into a malicious mind, and [...] knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.[...] Be servicable to all thy neighbours, and love them as thyself.
 
And there it was.  Lazar and Martin-Salvan had succeeded in bridging the gap of five centuries.  If Pantagruel's father urges him to learn the languages and wisdom of all races he also advises him to remain kind and altruistic.  As I walked out of the theatre I realised that little had changed in the grand scheme of things but thanks to François Rabelais and a handful of creative souls my faith had been restored in humanity.
 
If you are interested in reading about Rabelais and his world, this book is enlightening and an excellent read whereas this translation of Pantagruel, I believe, is a good one.
 
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All pictures below reveal my manner this month of softening the blow of events in Paris and beyond, and demonstrate, perhaps, my ability to bury my head in the sand.
1.  The pink stole is my second version of Jared Flood's Autumn Leaves Stole.
2.  My first bunch of hyacinths.  They have flowered exquisitely and smell divine.
3. Green the colour of hope, renewal and harmony (batik fabric from Alewives Fabrics).
4. An angel mouse named Charlotte in honour of Charlie Hebdo.
5.  Puck, a dear hat pattern by Dani Sunshine.  This one looks like Confetti Cake.
6.  Finally, Hope, a mouse who represents the promise of spring and new beginnings. 
 
Hope is looking for a home, dear friends; would one of you be kind enough to take her in?  She is a sweet harbinger of peace and spring. A little green sprite poised on a green moss seat bearing snowdrops in her handbag. Soon these delicate green and white flowers will bloom in shady places like forgotten patches of snow, piercing through the unforgiving ground with their pointed leaves and slender stems.  Such is the magic of the natural world.  If you would like to take a closer look you will find her here.
I wish you all well and hope the last few days of January bring you happiness...and a few snowdrops, perhaps.
 
THANK YOU so very, very much for your wonderful comments, both short and long, you take the time to write which both touch and inspire me.  Three cheers for this blogging community! :-)
 
Stephanie x


Thursday, 1 January 2015

All That Glistens



Today everything turned to silver.  Under the clear, bright sky fragile frost crystals scattered light in all directions and although the name 'hoar', from Old English, calls to mind white haired and advanced age it seemed as though, on this first day of the year, the world sparkled with fierce newness like a wilderness of stars in a moonlit sky.  It was our third visit to Chenonceau and the interior of the Château, all a-quiver, rivalled with its frozen, fairytale gardens where box trees stood sentinel and hardy violet pansies shuddered in their cold flowerbeds.  Inside, juxtaposed against the more muted colours of the glorious collection of Renaissance tapestries and paintings, were frosted evergreen branches, towering Christmas trees, clashes of gold and red jostling with silver and white.  Ornamental snowy owls, hedgehogs, squirrels and glitter-coated birds raised an inquisitive eye to the sea of upturned faces and winked at the smiles of delight and wonder.  "This tree is simply perfect for children", murmured a lady, her face shining.  "And that is why it is surrounded by adults; look!", I laughed.  Though some of the decorations seemed a trifle gaudy the dazzling show of white and green hyacinths carried hope through the air.  'Happy New Years' rang through the Château's forecourt and gallery as everyone's breath turned white.
 
So, dear friends, I will not be including a brief history of this exquisite château, embellished and protected by a fistful of remarkable women since 1513, - not this time, at least - but will turn to each of you with a glad heart and wish you a very peaceful, joyful and prosperous New Year.  May 2015 be full of light, hope and a sprinkling of magic. There is something about the number 2015 which pleases me...
 
And below, of course, a spot of frosty knitting.  Wintery Leaves glazed with ice; a delightfully addictive pattern by Jared Flood knit with five skeins of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in the Snowbound colourway.  Completed in time for the winter solstice and sent, late, as a Christmas present to a special friend.
 
Happy New Year!
 
Stephanie x

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sugar Plum

 
 Dear friends,
 
The hours of daylight are at their shortest as we approach the winter solstice and again, as with each passing year, I find that "carpe diem" and "wonder" become two faces of the same thought.   The children and I feed off each others' desire for enchantment and, in our own rough and ready way, we cultivate delight with true hearts and giddy minds.  I observe them from the corner of my eye endlessly drawing, colouring, cutting and see that their need to embellish the everyday humdrum mirrors my own. It's a time for giving and I have lost count of how many handmade cards Angélique has gifted her fellow classmates.  On complimenting Angélique's maternelle teacher on her impressive array of sparkly pullovers this week, she retorted that the short and often grey December days begged light in any shape or form, even in a handful of glitter.  She is right, of course, but in my mind the bleak weather makes little difference and, when the mornings are frosty and the late-rising sun bright, I watch the pinks, mauves and grey of the winter sky unfold behind the intricate shadow puppet trees and imagine frost-flowers, silently unfolding before me on the windowpanes.
 
I also love the day dawning in heavy freezing fog when the garden seems to float and everything turns to silver.  I'm almost disappointed when the swirling mists clear and daylight invades once more but I leave the Christmas tree's twinkling lights on and recall the colourful candles poised heavily on my childhood tree waiting to come alive with the strike of a match. The children and I are praying for snow.  We crave the peace and silence it grants.  I'm knitting a stole with a yarn named Snowbound in the hope that the températures will drop and our world will be white once more.  The yarn refects the exact grey of a heavy winter sky.
 
I have knit another hat; a second Rosewater by Tin Can Knits, this time with Madelinetosh's Sugar Plum colourway.  If many of us remain unsure of the original definition for 'sugar plum' it has with time crystallised into the definition of the excitement and childlike wonder of Christmas.  In the 1600s, as 'sugar plum' passed into general usage, it came to have its own assoiated meanings quite apart from fruit.  If your mouth was full of sugar plums, it meant that you spoke sweet, and possibly deceitful, words.  If you stuffed another's mouth with sugar plums, that meant a sop or bribe which served to shut someone up.  The Oxford English Dictionary also spells out that throughout the centuries 'plum' came to mean something desirable.  Surely, that is what this precious period of Advent spells out too?  Children's desire mingled with the hope of adults accompanied by a resounding refrain of 'Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men'.
All the pictures of Paris above are taken from our old and very beautiful neighbourhood; la Galérie Vivienne in central Paris.  The picture below, fellow knitters and teashop enthusiasts, is the one and only L'Oisive Thé, situated in the 13th arrondissement in Paris, which I finally set foot in for the first time fortnight ago.  Vibrant, cheery, stuffed with fabulous yarn, books and teas, suffice to say I have been dreaming of this street corner of inspiration ever since.  Aimée, the American/French owner holds the most amazing workshops on a regular basis.  I have watched, over on Instagram, with fascination the visits of designers Gudrun Johnston and Stephen West unfold and plan to be part of the fun in 2015.  Go take a look; it will bring a smile to your faces.
 
I have also included two hares - Miss Hyacinth and Edmund Elf - as there have been a lot of hares being created behind the scenes in preparation for Christmas.  My notes for my Sugar Plum hat may be found here.  Mickaël kept laughing at me whilst he took the pictures above as it appeared I was praying to the baubles.  I see his point!
I wonder what you are hoping for during this last week before Christmas?
 
A bientôt,
 
Stephanie
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Prelude To Winter

 The Hirschwald is an enchanted place on such an evening, when the mists lie low on the turf, and overhead the delicate, bare branches of the silver birches stand out clear against the soft sky, while the little moon looks down kindly on the damp November world.  Where the trees thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth and rotting leaves kicked up by the horses' hoofs fills my soul with delight.  I particularly love that smell, - it brings before me the entire benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay, so piteous in themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory, and sending up sweet odours as she works.

Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth And Her German Garden (Virago Press: London, 1985), pp. 82-83 

This is a short post, dear friends, for this morning I am catching the train for Paris to spend time with my family and to visit for the first time the best tea and knitting shop in the capital; L'OisiveThé.  I have shared the above extract from Elizabeth von Arnim's first novel with you as I think it is important to remember, as autumn slips into winter and spring is too far away to comfort even by anticipation, that the decay which surrounds us is simply a necessary prelude to rebirth and greenery.  In winter enjoying nature can require more effort but it is important - for our sanity - to see things from a different perspective even if that may mean finding beauty in death.  Fortunately there are enchanted tales to spin during those long evenings and Christmas to prepare for! 

Before bowing graciously to the muted shades of winter with festive snatches of green and red I leave you with a few last glimpses of late autumn splendour caught on the final day of November beneath a giant ginko tree with dancing-skirt shaped leaves twirling gracefully to the yellow ground.
Angélique is wearing her new Tin Can Knits Prairie Fire short-sleeved pullover in the Madelinetosh colourway Molly Ringwald.

And I, below, am loving my Fairysteps Mary Jane shoes!

Warmest wishes to you all!  Let us all enjoy Advent as those December days slip away so quickly, wouldn't you agree?

Stephanie x
 

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