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.
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


  1. If Hope isn't gone, I would love to have her. I know how you were feeling, The tragedy in Paris was awful. I am trying hard not to give in to hopelessness for our world.

  2. On second thought, as much as she is lovely, I would prefer a hare. I have my Christmas money. Can we work something out?

    1. Hello lovely lady! It's good to hear from you. I would be honoured to make you a hare...in February, sometime? Start dreaming, dear friend, about colours and themes.

      Warmest wishes,


    2. February would be great. Just let me know if you need anything from me. No hurry, dear friend.

    3. I really should read more carefully. I love red, purple, green. I will have to think on the theme. I am open to suggestions.

  3. Diane (in Ireland)21 January 2015 at 19:22

    Such an amazing post, Stephanie! I'm at a loss, really, at how to respond, but I feel I want to touch upon just a couple of things...Your writer's voice is so beautiful, that it allows everyone who reads your words a little peek into your heart and mind, and more than reassures me of the hope for humankind of which you speak. I know that you had recently grappled with the idea of stepping away from the blog, rest assured I'm only one of many who are very glad you did not! And, in terms of questioning your creative impulse, all I can offer is that your astonishing creativity is evident in everything you write, photograph or make. Thank you for sharing your eye for what is beautiful in this world, and for moving, educating and enlightening us with your words. Warmest greetings xx

  4. Dear Stephanie,
    Yet again your beautifully written words dance around in my mind, as do the little fairies dance around their Maypole deep in the woods. Your words create a vision of love, hope and sincerity of heart that goes out to all of us from a very dear lady with a heart and soul full of love and compassion. And the words you quote from Pantegruel's humanist father: "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". Let each and everyone of us be messengers of such a message and be servicable to all our neighbours, let us be patient, kind and treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. How ever little and insignificant that deed may seem to us at the time, we must do it with goodness of heart and trust that it could reach out and touch the heart of some lost soul and speak volumes to them. Let us all work together to make this world a better place. Amen xxx

  5. Wise words - old and new. x

  6. Life has been cruel lately but I'm so glad you have found a way to restore your faith Stephanie!
    Your amazing creations are a delight!
    V x

  7. Such wonderful and wise words from you Stephanie. And beautiful creations too.

  8. Dear Stephanie,

    You have been much in my thoughts and sorry I have taken so long to come and visit. I love the post you have shared today.
    Words can't describe the sadness we all felt to read of what happened in Paris and I love the beautiful things you have made to soften your world. The handknits and the cute little mice are adorable.
    Wishing you and your family all the best for 2015 and I agree three cheers for the blogging community.

  9. I enjoy reading the comments as much as I love reading your words of wisdom. You inspire beauty as well as create it. All we can do is our best and believe that most people have good and kind hearts.

  10. I love your knitted shawl and hat! I will go see your little Hope next! I liked your quote from the play -- I too have difficulty understanding the mind-set of killers. Thank heavens. I would not want to be like them at all. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  11. Stephanie, your attending that performance of a classic play certainly gave you insights into what we humans are capable of now, and have been for many centuries.

    I do not think that appreciating art, creating beautiful things and having affection for friends and family indicates keeping one's head in any sand. No. It is evidence that we humans can have deep reserves of good will, understanding and the desire to add to the beauty of the world that surrounds us.

    Your most recent knitting is delicate but holding inner strength and capable of providing helpful warmth.

    The newest mice, with their angelic wings, provide more symbols of all that is good.

    Please do continue spreading your uniquely beautiful spirit, dear Stephanie.


  12. I am sorry for the tragic losses in Paris. But I admire how everyone pulled together their strength to show their solidarity and support. Your knitted projects are lovely as always. They are a gentle reminder of hope. The mouse is all kinds of wonderful.

  13. As I read through your post and scrolled down the page, your cheerful little sidebar hare came smiling onto the screen. Somehow just looking at her was a comforting experience - I felt that as long as there are people (like you) who continue to produce beautiful things in the face of sorrow, there is hope. So it made perfect sense when I read a little farther and saw that you'd named your latest creation Hope.

    Thank you for another lovely post, and for such beautiful work. I'm so glad you found encouragement in the words of Rabelais and in the production you witnessed.

    P.S. How exciting that you will be making a hare for Sharon! Her colours are so striking and rich ... I can't wait to see what you come up with together. I am envisioning Renaissance portraits and illuminated manuscripts. Not my business at all, I know. :)

  14. I'm still so sad about what happened lately in Paris, but even in other parts of the world, as in Nigeria…
    thank you for your words…
    xxxx Ale

  15. Rabelais redressing the balance of things, that it what great literature is for - and what education is for. I once saw a very bawdy and raucous performance of Pantagruel performed with puppets in Trinity Hall garden in Cambridge.
    Life goes on, let's hope most people read and learn from wise words from the past.

  16. I do not see that you have buried your head in the sand, Stephanie. You continue to bring love, beauty and softness into the world.

  17. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I don't think you have your head in the sand at all. I think you are a sensitive person who feels things deeply and that makes you stand out in the world. You have a refreshing perspective.

  18. Here you are struggling with the events that have shaken and captivated the world and you write so beautifully, so eloquently and so lovingly. I commend you for that and for the beauty you see in the world and the beauty you send to all of us on your blog.
    Sending you a hug,

  19. Each of us struggles to deal with the horrors of the past weeks in her own way. Your beautiful handmade items are lovely to look at. Choosing to look at something beautiful isn't putting one's head in the sand, but making a conscious choice to see the beauty we humans are capable of, when there is so much madness around.

  20. my my my are you a vision of loveliness in your knitwear! pinks and pastels suit you :) I adore that burst of bright green on these winter days and your rabbit is delightful. Love your daughter's hat!

  21. Hope is gorgeous and I hope that making her bought some hope to you. xx

  22. Dear Stephanie,
    Thank you for this very precious post.Hope is needed and most welcome. Rabelais and Pantagruel are indeed a wonderful silver lining. So are your words and your angel mice.
    Your are beautiful, dear Stephanie! and your shawl and bonnetmost becoming.
    ... I wish i had more time to knit and sew.
    Much love

  23. Another beautiful post! And you've been busy with your gorgeous creations, as always. I love your little mice -- and those socks!!! {Swoon!}

  24. Dear Stephanie,

    The terrible deaths in France have been much talked about in our little country as well. Such a horrible thing to have happened. Those poor men and woman and their families..... Such great losses.

    It's good to hear that Pantagruel and the play by Rabelais gave you some solace. Both names are not familiar to me, so I have to do some research.

    You made some lovely things Stephanie! The colours of your hat and scarf really suit you!

    Have a lovely week!

    Madelief x

  25. Dear Stephanie,
    Thank you for your comforting words, both here and in the message you left for me. I was touched that you had thought of me. Tragedy-stricken days seem impossible to wrap ones mind around, and we find comfort and hope where we can.

    Looking at your newest, spring-like creations has me thinking, "Hope springs eternal."

    All the best to you.

  26. It has been so hard to find reasons for comfort since the Paris killings. How good to find help from such a source. I love Hope too.

  27. Terrible times, Charlotte is a lovely tribute and Hope is beautiful too. I love the soft colours of your hat and stole, but most of all Angelique's hat, what fabulous yarn - beautiful!
    Jane xx

  28. So much of human tragedy, of human fraility and human good is timeless isn't it ... the past so often holds the key.

    A beautiful post dear Stephanie that I am only sorry to have taken so long to find

  29. So very inspiring, such a beautiful post.

  30. Your posts always inspire me to spend hours after running up and down 'rabbit holes'....Rabelais, here I come! Too many years have elapsed since I spent time with him!!! (and at one time, I know I even spent some of that time 'en francais'). A lovely post, which sadly took me back to our 9-11 tragedy. The horribleness that ....for a short time anyway....brought strangers together in a harmony that I never dreamed possible.

  31. Difficult times for France and the world watching on, and then we start to move on from that to other difficult things.....we all find our solace in creativity here I think. The pompom has cute and delicious! X

  32. Thankyou for sharing your inspiring and uplifting visit to the theatre with us. I find it very life affirming when I know that the good in human nature remains unchanged throughout the centuries. You look so beautiful in your lilac shawl and hat, it suits your hair colour so well. :) Angélique's hat is gorgeous! When I saw it I knew it reminded me of something, confetti cake! Perfect! :)
    Jess xx

  33. Dearest Stephanie, I thought I'd come by to see how you were; I see you are are just as beautiful and generous as ever, sharing your lovely art. It has been a rough year so far, indeed, for many. But we march on, with our art and heart. Sending you a wish for a perfect day. Anita

  34. Dearest friend, I had to come by for more of your art and writing. I remember reading Pantagruel in college and just being BLOWN away by all the French literature I held in my hands, read with my mind and keep in my heart. Reading YOUR reminiscence here of this magical evening reminds me why I love European culture so.....

    Hugs to you, ALWAYS! Anita

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