Gaudí nights (and days): 2

Casa Vicens rear facade

Casa Vicens rear 

A visit to friends in London and then a work project after my first Gaudí/Barcelona post at the start of this month prevented me from writing, so here’s the delayed second one.

Towards the end of our final few days in Barcelona last month having ‘grown-up’ time, me and Mrs TD alone, no little grandsons to amuse, we visited another of the houses designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. My previous post was about his final civic commission, Casa Milà; this one, Casa Vicens, was his first one.

It was built 1883-85  in the then suburban district of Gràcia as the summer house of the Vicens family. As the house’s official website Casa Vicens roof towersays, it embodies ‘all of his sources, influences and experiences on other projects, and his own idea of a single-family home…where construction and ornamentation are integrated in such a way that one cannot be understood without the other.’

Casa Vicens blue palm ceiling

Casa Vicens blue palm ceiling

The most striking feature of the exterior and facades is his use of colourful ceramic tiles, featuring vivid yellow-orange marigolds (though some say these are Indian or Moorish yellow carnations that were found growing in the garden where the house was to be built), alternating with plain green and cream/white tiles. Here and in the interior decoration the influence is apparent of oriental style – Indian, Persian and Japanese, as well as Moorish-Hispanic details (all found together in the side of the house with its plashing fountain, slatted shitomi blinds and more colourful ornamental tiles).

Casa Vicens side fountain screenUnlike most of his later undulating work with a defining reliance on curved lines, this house is built on geometric, straight-line principles. But Gaudí used all his skill to ensure that every window and balcony made maximum opportunity for the occupants to enjoy the semi-rural light, shade and fresh air. And there are a few of what were to become his trademark sinuous wrought-iron balcony railings.

Inside it’s also possible to see what was to become his main design inspiration: the natural world. So there are painted or papier-mâché flowers, fruit leaves, tendrils, palm-hearts and fronds, and plenty of birds (including a gorgeous flamingo – though I think these birds were done by other artists).Casa Vicens ceiling birds

It doesn’t have the extravagant boldness and panache of his more famous later buildings, but the signs of his idiosyncratic genius are clearly apparent in this early work.

Casa Vicens porch from inside

Interior image: By Canaan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=105999185

 

Casa Vicens roof turrets

Casa Vicens roof turrets

 

 

 

Gaudí nights (and days): 1

While staying in Sant Cugat with our son and his young family last month (see previous post) we took the train into Barcelona a couple of times, and spent the last four days of our visit having adult time in the city. This enabled us to visit a few more of the houses designed by Gaudí.

La Pedrera façade

La Pedrera façade

In previous visits we’ve been to Park Guell and Casa Batlló, as well as the iconic basilica Sagrada Familia. Our first visit this time was to Casa Milá, aka La Pedrera (meaning ‘stone quarry’, because of its remarkable undulating, rough-hewn façade). Architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is the most famous of Catalan ‘modernistas’. All of his work reflects his love of nature: there are very few straight lines, all is fluid, sinuous curves, imitating the spirals of snail and sea shells, plants and other organic entities. It’s a style known as biomorphic.

The house, completed in 1910 and occupied the following year, was commissioned by Pere Milà, a wealthy developer, and his wife Roser Segimón. This was Gaudí’s last civic architectural commission. It is perhaps his most daringly innovative design, with its unique framework structure and undulating façade and roofline. It even had an underground carpark.

By the 1980s the house had fallen into disrepair; it’s been sympathetically restored to a state as close as possible to Gaudí’s original vision.

La Pedrera roof terrace: helmets The self-guided tour of La Pedrera begins with its spectacular roof terrace on the sixth floor. The flamboyant staircase exits and ventilation shafts (I think that’s what they are) are given the designer’s trademark attention to detail. Instead of purely functional adjuncts to the building, they are works of sculptural art. What look like chimneys (but their purpose is a mystery) are designed to look like the torsos and heads of fierce guardian warriors or sentinels in medieval armour and helmets reminiscent of the famous Saxon one from Sutton Hoo. They’re known as the ‘witch scarers’, so I suppose their function and aesthetic is similar to that of gargoyles under church roofs.La Pedrera roof: warriors

From this rooftop there are marvellous views across the city. In one direction the sea can be seen shimmering about two kilometres away. In the other direction is the mountain range that looms over the city, with the slightly cheesy fake castle Tibidabo amusement attraction on its summit.

The top attic floor has an amazing ribbed vaulted ceiling. The curved beams are in fact all made of stone. The effect is meant to evoke the inside of a whale. There are scale models of the house on show here; Gaudí preferred to work from models like this rather than from drawings.

La Pedrera inside a whale attic

Inside a whale: the attic

One can visit several of the rooms on lower floors. Here there are countless examples of Gaudí’s idiosyncratic eye for detail. Even the doorknobs are little works of art, ergonomically designed to invite the hand to caress them before fulfilling their mundane purpose. On the main floor intended for the Milà family to live in he included his designs for every aspect of the décor, including the floors, ceilings, custom-made doors and even the furniture – all with his distinctive ‘organic’ as well as ergonomic flair.

The city has incorporated a tribute to this extraordinary architect’s legacy to Barcelona by paving the Passeig de Gracia, on which the Casa Milà is located, with small stone tiles etched with a flowing, plant-like design that he often used to decorate his structures.

The whole experience of this visit was exhilarating. It’s easy to dismiss Gaudí’s highly idiosyncratic style as over-fussy and quirky, and when this house was first built it was widely criticised: its nickname ‘La Pedrera’ was intended in a pejorative sense. But when you relax into it and let it wash over you it really takes your breath away. And of course La Sagrada Familia is his masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

Homage to (part of) Catalonia

The blog has been silent for a month or so while I travelled with Mrs TD to Catalunya to visit our son and his family, who live near Sant Cugat del Vallès, a few kilometres behind the mountain that looms over the city of Barcelona. I posted last about this area back in 2018 (link HERE). It was lovely to see them after an imposed separation of nearly two years (because of…well, you know.) Our two little grandsons, now six and seven, had changed so much since 2019.

S Cugat monastery tower

S Cugat monastery tower

It was interesting to see how compliant everyone in this part of Spain was with hygiene measures: everyone wore masks in indoor settings and on public transport, and in busy streets outdoors, and scrupulously observed social distancing. It remains a mystery to me why our British government remains implacably opposed to such simple and effective means of mitigating transmission of this deadly virus in the community.

Sant Cugat monastery and church.

We visited the handsome honey-coloured monastery at the centre of the town several times. Legend has it that the saint after whom the town is named was executed on the site of what became the Benedictine monastery.

Ayne Bru, Martyrdom of Sant Cugat

Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21929804

Born in 269 to a noble Christian family in Scillium on the N. African coast (modern-day Tunisia), Cucuphas (Cugat is the Catalan version) travelled to Barcelona to evangelise the area. During the Diocletian persecution he was imprisoned and tortured by the Roman governor of the area, and was martyred around 304. As my image shows – apologies for the gruesomeness – when all other efforts to dispatch him failed his throat was cut.

German-born artist Ayne Bru was commissioned in 1502-07 to paint the retablo (altarpiece) of the church of the monastery of Sant Cugat with scenes from the saint’s life. The monastery building can be seen in the background of the picture. The original is in a museum in Barcelona. I rather liked the insouciant sleeping dog in the foreground. This dog was reproduced in the 1954 painting by Salvador Dalí, ‘Dalí nude contemplating before the five regular bodies’ (I can’t include it here for copyright reasons, but it’s worth Googling). Dalí of course was born and brought up in Figueres nearby on the Catalunyan coast, and later returned to neighbouring Cadaqués, so would no doubt have been familiar with this image. Interesting that it was the dog that stuck in his memory, and not the graphic depiction of the demise of the martyr saint.

S Cugat monastery cloister

The monastery cloister. The lower level is romanesque, the upper floor is renaissance

The saint’s legend shares many of the topoi of other hagiographical accounts of early martyrdoms: multiple cruel types of torture fail to harm the victim, bad things befall the tormentors (or they’re converted to Christianity as a result of the miraculous preservation from physical injury of the prisoner at their torturers’ hands), etc.

From the eighth century the monastery of Sant Cugat claimed to preserve his relics and dedicated itself to his veneration.

Cal Gerrer

Cal Gerrer

Across the central town square from the monastery and church is the ornate modernist building now the museum Funcació Cabanas, popularly known as Cal Gerrer, formerly the Arpi family’s old ceramic factory. Built in 1853, it is famous for its incorporation into its design of some of its own pottery and gorgeous ceramic tiles (see the frieze under the roof eaves). There are many more modernist houses across the central town area, many featuring ceramics by the Arpis and others, along with decorative details that I’ll write about another time.

Cal Gerrer roof

Cal Gerrer roof: tiles and decoration made in the Arpi factory

From the early 1920s the house was occupied by members of the creative Cabanas-Alibau family. Three of the brothers became noted for their work in the fields of photography, painting and literature. Many of their artworks and family relics are exhibited in the museum. One floor, weirdly, is full of exhibits representing the life and career of

Arpi bat

I like the bat in this image of a detail of the front of Cal Gerrer

Marilyn Monroe.

More on Sant Cugat, Girona and Barcelona to come in future posts.

 

 

 

 

Dorset days: sculptures, sand, sea, a castle and a church

I haven’t posted here for a while because of work commitments, a week’s holiday in Dorset with Mrs TD and two old friends, then more work.

Poole harbour at sunset

The shallow waters of Poole harbour

We rented a house on Sandbanks, the weird spit of land, originally a string of sand dunes – just a few hundred metres wide and maybe a couple of kilometres long, sticking out into the huge natural harbour of Poole, on the south coast of England. Sandbanks is said to have some of the most expensive real estate in England: there are huge glass and steel architectural fantasies, mock-Spanish colonial mansions, art deco ship-houses, and a scattering of the original pre-WWII houses of more humble proportions. It’s a cross between Beverley Hills and Bournemouth (just a mile or two up the coast, and much more down-market). How they managed to build massive houses on foundations of sand defeats me.

Our house was one of the originals, built in the mid-30s: art and crafts, with terracotta tiles and attractive angles and details. It was right by the terminal of the chain car-ferry that plies across the narrow entrance to the harbour, linking Sandbanks with the mainland promontory on the far side of the harbour at Studland. Gin palaces, yachts, jet skis and pleasure boats constantly sailed or buzzed past, playthings of the wealthy holiday-home owners who were our temporary neighbours.

There was an air fair at Bournemouth the first weekend. We were aghast to hear that a biplane with a wing-walker that we’d seen fly over our garden had crashed into the harbour near the ferry terminal just minutes after we’d been sitting on a bench admiring the view there. Fortunately, the pilot and passenger survived with just minor injuries.

Grandees scupture by lake

These striking figures are called ‘Grandees’. They look a cross between Egyptian gods and revellers at a Venice carnival

The highlight of the week was a visit to Sculpture by the Lakes. Simon Gudgeon gave up his city job to buy a former lake fishery to concentrate on his sculpting – especially his beautifully graceful images of birds and aquatic animals. He positioned some around the picturesque pools, where they fit beautifully, and finally decided, as the collection grew, to include sculptures by other artists, and to open the place to the public. My favourites are included here.

Falcon sculpture

This falcon is one of the many birds and animal sculptures that blend so naturally into the lovely lakeside setting

 

Another day we took the ferry across to Studland and on to Swanage on the local bus (to avoid the massive queues of cars; buses have priority). After lunch on the promenade, we caught the vintage steam train for the short trip to Corfe Castle.

Corfe CastleThis is a dramatic ruin on top of an implausibly high, steep hill. Its construction started under William I a few years after his victory at Hastings in 1066. Subsequent monarchs extended and modified it until it passed into private aristocratic family ownership. During the Civil War in the mid-17C the family supported the Royalist cause of King Charles I. They were besieged and defeated by the Parliamentarians, who destroyed the castle to prevent it being used for military purposes again. Handsome grey sheep graze the rich undergrowth on the hillsides beneath the walls.

For most of the week we had beautiful sunny weather, and were able to spend time on the beach and swimming in the (not so cold) sea. With a bit of imagination the miles-long sandy beach could have been mistaken for South Beach, Miami (without the pastel lifeguard posts).

Towards the end of the week the weather changed: cloud and mist. The queues of cars for the ferry dwindled, so we were able to take the car across to Studland and do the coastal walk to Old Harry rocks – huge pillars of chalk at the end of a headland. A group of coastguards was preparing to do a cliff rescue exercise, with abseil ropes and crash helmets. I would not want to launch myself off those cliffs, even with a harness and rope.

Studland church After lunch in the garden at the famous Pig on the Beach (pizzas called rather grandly ‘flatbreads’ – delicious, and a pint of local ale) we walked to Studland church. This is one of the oldest surviving churches in England, almost unchanged since it was modified from its Saxon original form by the Normans in the 11C (around the time Corfe Castle was being built). The tower was never finished (the masons were worried about the soggy, sandy foundations – something that the builders of mansions on Sandbanks don’t seem perturbed by), so the building looks more like a fortress. The windows are mostly tiny and plain glass – no fancy gothic arches, buttresses or stained glass windows (apart from a couple of gaudy Victorian ones).

Studland corbels One of its most curious features is the sequence of carved corbels under the eaves of the roof. Many of these would have been familiar to early Saxons and Celts: animal heads and human faces with bulging eyes, looping amorphous creatures. But also some that could only be described as downright rude: naked exhibitionist figures – ithyphallic males and the notorious female sheela na gig. These may well have served as apotropaic figures (to ward off evil; I did a post on this in the early months of this blog – link HERE.) Others believe that they were survivals from the days of pagan fertility deities, or more austere warnings against the sins of the flesh (strange way to do it).

Now, back home, our case numbers of Covid are frighteningly high, the government repeats its ‘don’t worry, we know what we’re doing, let’s get back to normal’ mantras of the past (disastrous) 18 months, and drops all public health restrictions – even as scientists yet again plead for caution, unheeded. A week in Dorset was therapeutic, but its benefits quickly evaporated as we brace ourselves for yet more unnecessary pandemic suffering as a consequence of our leaders’ obduracy: economy, selfish notions of ‘individual liberty’, and free market capitalism taking priority over lives and people’s health and safety.

Cornish ramblings again

I was intending a post on Philip Roth today, but have postponed this in order to write about a visit I made with Mrs TD yesterday to the Japanese garden in the pretty village of St Mawgan.

St Mawgan bridge

The bridge over the Menalhyl beside the church

It is situated in and around the valley (the Vale of Lanherne) of the river Menalhyl. Wikipedia suggests that this name is from the Cornish ‘melyn’, mill, and ‘heyl’, estuary, but I’m not convinced by this.

The full name of the village is St Mawgan-in-Pydar. ‘Pydar’ is one of the ten hundreds of Cornwall, but I’ve been unable to find out what the name might signify in Cornish.

St Mawgan is one of those obscure early medieval saints who are celebrated in all kinds of place names, church dedications and so on throughout Cornwall. All I’ve been able to determine online and in my hagiographical books is that he may have been a 5-6C Welsh missionary bishop who established a monastery and church in the area. There’s another village with this name, St Mawgan-in-Meneage, on the Lizard peninsula. ‘Meneage’ is from the Cornish for ‘monastic land’, with connotations of ‘place of rest or sanctuary’.

AcerWe last visited the Japanese gardens in St Mawgan soon after they opened over 20 years ago. Not surprisingly it looks very different today. It’s a serene and peaceful place, shaded by hundreds of lichen-coated trees, many of them that Japanese stalwart, the maple or acer. Most are very old, and have become contorted in shape as a result presumably of what was once soft, swampy soil, causing their trunks to veer at sharp angles. As a result they now resemble huge equivalents of the miniature bonsai trees on sale in the garden shop.

Meditating figure

The gardens inspire a meditative mood, reflected in the sculptures posing in nooks beside pools and groves

There are waterfalls and natural ‘sculptures’ formed by tree stumps and moss-covered rocks. There are also a couple of pretty ponds, one patrolled by beautifully marked koi carp, and shaded by acers that seem to be just starting to turn colour as autumn approaches.

Zen garden St Mawgan

The zen garden; leaves had blown over it in the wind

Statues of the Buddha and various meditative monks are sited strategically in every zone, along with pagodas, dragons, lions and other traditional Japanese designs.

There’s an austere Zen garden, with the characteristic raked pattern in the gravel, and several moss-covered boulders to soothe the observer’s spirit.

The attractive parish church that stands in the village centre nearby is dedicated to Sts Mauganus (the Latin equivalent of Mawgan) and Nicholas. The current building dates at least partly from 13-15C. There are some fine 15C carved pew-bench ends. The church guide says there’s a holy well beside the lychgate. If so, it’s now just a sort of overgrown hole.

St Mawgan convent

St Mawgan convent

Next to the church is Lanherne House, once a Carmelite convent (Historic England gives detailed architectural description and history HERE). The structure is mostly 16C, with 17C and later additions and restoration. It’s said to have been resurfaced at the back by Sir Christopher Wren.

This was one of the grand houses of the Arundell family, lords of the manor here since the early 13C. By 1501 John Arundell had become the wealthiest man in Cornwall.

Convent cross

This ornate cross stands in front of the convent

The family’s fortunes dwindled after the Reformation and establishment by Henry VIII of the church of England; as a staunch Catholic family they were persecuted as ‘recusants’ – some were imprisoned, fined or had lands confiscated. Most of the family land had been sold by the late 1700s, and the line had died out, continuing by marriage in a ‘cadet’ branch in Wiltshire.

(There’s an interesting account by the local scholar Bernard Deacon: ‘The fall of the Arundells of Lanherne’, at his blog Cornish Studies Resources, 2020, link HERE.)

Lanherne House was given in 1794 to a group of Carmelite emigrée nuns from Belgium. Their order left the site around 2001, and the convent became home to the Franciscan sisters of the Immaculate. As far as I can tell from online sources, this is a small ‘first order’ of nuns founded in the late 20C in Italy.

It’s an attractive building, but we weren’t able to go inside, where there are said to be some interesting features. There’s a modern shrine to the BVM in the courtyard in front of the 19C chapel section, and a collection of what look like former farm buildings behind. There’s a fine view into the valley from its elevated position above the river.

Cornwall-Newquay airport is nearby (Newquay town is four miles away). At the mouth of the Menalhyl river is the fine sandy beach and resort of Mawgan Porth. There were 69 shipwrecks in just a six-mile stretch of coast here 1754-1920. One of the most famous is that of the schooner Hodbarrow Miner in 1908. Three of its crew are buried in the churchyard, where there’s also a wooden memorial to others who lost their lives at sea nearby. A photograph of the wreck hangs on one of the church’s walls near the main entrance.

I’ve posted previously about the dangerous, unpleasant underground conditions in which Cornish miners worked until recently; the same could be said for the people who sailed in the treacherous seas around the peninsula’s rocky coast.

 

Fal cruise and a pen

We had friends stay for the weekend – it’s so good that we can mix socially again now, even though we’re still having to take precautions against infection. We’re all vaccinated, so that gives us some sense of security.

The banqueting table

The banqueting table

On Sunday we’d booked a cruise with lunch with Blue River Table, an enterprise started a few years ago by Charlotte and Jess. They have years of experience of sailing, crewing and cooking, and decided to combine these passions to offer gourmet eating for guests while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Carrick Roads and Cornish creeks as they cruise on the River Fal.

Blue River Table boat Tethra

I didn’t take a picture of the Tethra, so this is my photo of their postcard, given to us a souvenir

Their boat, the Tethra, is a restored motor launch built in Looe as a fishing boat in the early 70s. On board, the eating area is almost filled by a magnificent chestnut banqueting table with a striking river-blue resin design swirling along its middle.

All the food is freshly prepared in the tiny galley, and sourced locally as much as possible, with baked fish and seafood caught that morning as the pièces de résistance.

Their food is influenced by the

Blue River Table food

This picture is taken from the Blue River Table website: https://www.bluerivertable.co.uk

cuisine of the places they’ve loved: the Med and the Middle East, so apart from the fish it’s vegetarian. There were huge sharing platters of salads, veg, tarts and dips. The fish served to us that day was baked sea bream and crab. Everything was absolutely delicious.

Just as we felt we could eat no more, Katherine, who was the chef that day, brought out a scrumptious chocolate torte. Even then we weren’t finished: there was a cheeseboard (all Cornish cheeses, of course) and tea or coffee.

The weather was a bit iffy, this being the south Cornish coast, with some heavy showers followed by bright sunshine. This didn’t dampen our spirits, though: Tethra has a canopy and transparent, removable ‘windows’ that sheltered us from the breeze, and the lovely views were unimpaired.

Three hats

We didn’t need our hats

Green undulating hills chequered with fields or woodland border the river system. Along the river we saw egrets and herons, cormorants and the ubiquitous gulls. No seals or dolphins, unfortunately, on this trip (though we’ve seen them around there previously). The famous itinerant walrus that’s popped up in the SW recently also failed to put in an appearance.

Mrs TD’s sister and her husband, who live nearby, joined us and our two friends from London. We all enjoyed the experience enormously. Jess and Katherine were delightful hosts. We anchored just offshore after our cruise to have lunch, then chugged back downriver to Mylor. A perfect way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon.

My new Pencole Pens fountain pen

PS During the week I visited the local market. I couldn’t resist indulging my love of fountain pens – I’ve posted in the past about my beautiful Namiki with crane and turtle (link HERE), my most recent indulgence – and bought this one. It’s made by Jonathan Arnold, a local craftsman, whose business is called Pencole Pens and Turnings. I’d bought myself a rollerball from his stall just before Christmas, and this pen matched it too well to pass by. It writes as well as it looks. I’m very pleased with it. I may have to get myself a larger pen case.

 

Recent events – and a grumpy gull

We’ve just said goodbye to our two English grandchildren, who came for their first visit in over a year. We hadn’t seen them since last August, so it was lovely to be together again. Lockdown restrictions eased recently, meaning we could start meeting other people indoors again. The weather was finally summery, and we were able to go to the beach. Mrs TD and the kids’ mum, who came for the final two days, went for a swim, joined by the 12-year-old granddaughter, but the water was a bit too cold for me.

Last week we paid our first social visit since before Christmas. Our friends who live nearby, the owners of those fine cats Iggy and Phoebe (they’ve featured a few times in the blog), invited us for coffee and cake. It was such a relief to mix with other people indoors, relax and enjoy stimulating conversation.

We admired their artworks, in particular a strange, vividly coloured crucifixion scene. They told us the artist was a Scot, Craigie Aitchison (1926-2009). They explained that the little dog looking up at the Christ figure, who returned its gaze, was the artist’s much loved Bedlington terrier. He features in many of his works, they told us.

Craigie Aitchison mural treeWe took the grandchildren to Truro cathedral during the week to seek out the four Aitchison murals our friends told us were to be seen there. The style is very distinctive, with vibrant bands of colour and stark, strangely mystical images of the crucifixion scene.

This first one appears to be a tree, perhaps the one that provided the timber for the cross on which the crucifixion took place.

To its left is the first of the scenes depicting Christ on the cross. The same vivid bands of colour form the basis of the image. At the foot of Craigie Aitchison mural cross and dogthe cross, instead of the usual human figures (mourners, soldiers), the little dog walks up to it, perky ears raised. The Christ figure appears to hang from one limp arm on the crossbeam, head bowed.

Next to this is the first image of the Christ figure looking straight out at the viewer. The dog now looks lovingly up at him. A star shines brightly in the sky above, and streaks of light or energy emanate from the figure on the cross. A blue bird – presumably symbolising the holy spirit, perches companionably next to the figure’s left hand.

Craigie Aitchison mural crucifixion

The mural on the far left of the four panels is a sort of mirror image of the first. This time the Christ figure’s right arm hangs over the crossbeam. The dog is no longer present.

Craigie Aitchison mural far leftI’m not sure how to read all the imagery, but each picture glows with a quiet energy. Despite the painful iconography, the simplicity and…I don’t know…charm of the scenes leaves me with a sense of happiness and hope. I’m not a Christian, but I can respond to the serenity of these images.

Grumpy gull FalmouthAfter our trip to the beach, we took the children to Falmouth docks, where we hoped to see the Estonian cruise ship that’s to be the floating hotel for some of the hundreds of extra police officers being brought in to police the area for the G7 conference. This takes place next week in Carbis Bay, near St Ives. The ship wasn’t there, but I liked the grumpy expression of this seagull perched on the railings above the docks.

Buttercup fieldWhen the children had left for home with our daughter yesterday we went for one of our local walks. Here to end this post is a view of the horses’ field that’s featured in previous posts, now a mass of shimmering yellow buttercups, with pink clover among them. A circling buzzard overhead isn’t discernible in my picture, but it’s good to know it was there, keeping an eye on things below. Despite the rather hazy focus, I hope it’s still possible to see the beauty of nature.

Back to books next time (probably).

 

 

 

Summer is come

This will probably be the last post of May: our two English grandchildren are coming to stay tomorrow – the first time we’ll have seen them for seven months.

This handsome great spotted woodpecker has become addicted to the fancy fatballs I’ve been putting in the bird feeder; he gets through one or two a day, costing me a fortune. The long-tailed tits like them, too. They come in little busy gangs.

Here then is a range of pictures taken yesterday, when here in Cornwall was the only part of the country covered in thick cloud. Elsewhere summer had finally arrived, after a miserably wet, cold month. It’s a week when our feckless PM’s sinister former adviser spilled the beans about the chaos and ineptitude our government has shown most of the time in dealing with the pandemic in the UK. Among his criticisms was the transparently false claim by the health minister that he’d put a ‘ring of steel’ round care homes, when infected elderly patients were being discharged without Covid tests into those same homes.

Let’s lighten the tone. First, the birds have been a constant source of delight during this unseasonably chilly late spring. I’ve still not seen any swallows, swifts or martins around my city, but I’ve posted recently about seeing some a little further afield.

Weeping tree umbrellaYesterday’s walk in the local park took me underneath this wonderful tree’s canopy. It’s a weeping something or other – beech?

Standing there felt like being in a green tent. Just a pity that the sky was grey, not blue.

These vivid yellow flowers grow in the hedge just down the road from our house. According to my plant identifier app they’re autumn hawkbit. I’m not sure about this: should they be flowering in late May, with a name like that?Autumn hawkbit

LilyAt the end of our road are some lovely gardens – I’ve posted pictures recently of some of the gorgeous spring blooms in them. These lovely lilies (I think they’re lilies of some kind) started flowering just over a week ago. What a colour!

 

A few houses away from us is this garden wall. I rather like this strange plant growing implausibly out of the mortar. I presume it’s some kind of lichen.

This morning the sun finally shone – though there are still some clouds around.

 These beautiful roses are growing in a pot outside our front door. The buds are pink and white, but the blooms are pure white when in full flower. So that’s it for this May. I’ve just finished reading Jakob Wasserman’s strange, gothic novel Caspar Hauser. When I’ve figured out if I was bored or enthralled by it I’ll post here – once the grandchildren have gone home next week.

More late spring wanderings

I’ve been thinking about Anita Brookner’s fine but disturbing novel Look At Me, which I finished earlier this week, but need to think about it a little longer before posting on it. I’ve moved on to another novel passed on to me by Mrs TD – post forthcoming on that one, too.

In the meantime, here are some more floral images from some recent walks. Flowers and shrubs are really thriving now, even in this unseasonably chilly, damp and windy May.

PelargoniumThe pelargoniums (or geraniums) in our garden are looking particularly lovely at the moment. This picture was taken just after one of the many showers we’ve had recently.

The etymology of this plant is interesting. ‘Geranium’ derives from the Greek, via Latin, for ‘crane’ (the lanky bird, not the building site machine), while ‘pelargonium’ follows a similar route from the Greek for ‘stork’. This is said, by OED online, to be because the seed pods resemble these birds’ beaks. An early English name for them was ‘cranesbill’. I haven’t checked to see why we use ‘beak’ and ‘bill’ – maybe another time.

Rhododendron My morning walk today took me through the grounds of Epiphany House, which I’ve posted about before HERE. Here the rhododendrons are also looking their finest.

This name is from the Greek for ‘of, relating to, or resembling a rose…rose-coloured, pink, red.’ The second element is from dendro-, Greek for ‘tree’. I recall using the word ‘dendrologist’ in my previous post about Richard Powers’ novel about trees, The Overstory.

The word in English could originally signify ‘oleander’ (from the 16-18C; aka rose bay); the secondary sense we use now dates from 1657. The origin of ‘oleander’ is uncertain; it comes from French via post-classical Latin ‘lorandrum’, an alteration of ‘rhododendron’, possibly by association with ‘olea’ – olive tree, or from ‘lauriendrum’ – possibly from the word for laurel, as the shape of the leaves was similar. OED includes this citation:

1526    Grete Herball cccxxv. sig. Siv/1   Oleandre or olipantrum is an herbe the leues therof is lyke to laurell but they be longer.

Pacific rhododendron I wasn’t sure if this beautiful shrub in the gardens was a rhododendron, so I checked with my plant identifier app: it’s a Pacific rhododendron, aka California rosebay or big leaf rhododendron. The app says it’s a species of azalea (rhododendron), suggesting the two names are commonly interchanged.

I’m not sure if this is right. ‘Azalea’ derives from the Greek ‘azaleos’ – ‘dry’, because of the sandy soil in which it thrives, or else for its dry, brittle wood.

Both shrubs apparently belong to the botanical family Ericaceae.

You’d think the naming of plants would be more straightforward.

I’m just delighted to see them in my neighbourhood while we’re still confined in our movements by pandemic restrictions. They brighten the day, and lift the spirits.

 

Orchids and bluebells

I’m making slow progress through a long novel: Richard Powers, Overstory. It’s not one to rush. It’s about trees.

Here then are some pictures of yesterday’s walk on the coast of the Roseland peninsula. I’ve posted about this beautiful stretch of the Cornish coast several times before, usually with pictures of blue sky and cobalt sea. Not so yesterday: it was a blustery, grey day. House martins were swooping over the shoreline rocks, like tiny black-and-white terns.

The blossom I posted about last time had finished, and the blackthorn and hawthorn was turning pale green with new young leaves bursting out.

Bluebells view west

The view west towards Portscatho

Halfway through our walk we came upon a series of hillside fields overlooking the sea that were carpeted in bluebells – a lovely sight. My phone camera’s pictures can’t really do justice to the smoky violet-blue haze these flowers create.

Among the flowers and grass were also dozens of tiny purple orchids.

The name comes from the Greek orkhis – ‘testicle’ – because of the shape of the twin tubers in some   Orchidsvarieties. Not a very glamorous etymology for such a handsome plant.

According to my walks app, this particular type of wild orchid is the con artist of the plant world. Its brilliant purple flowers resemble those of other nectar-rich orchids. When insects arrive and push through the pollen to seek out the nectar, they find that there is none.

I’ll end this short post with an exchange I recorded in a notebook a few years ago. I’d been to St Michael’s Mount with Mrs TD and two grandchildren. We’d been looking round the museum exhibits inside the building that tops the island rock. One was a mummified Egyptian cat. I said that it was surprisingly long and thin. ‘That’s because,’ said Mrs TD, ‘cats are all fluff and nonsense.’

View east towards Pendower beach

View east towards Pendower beach