Well, I think it’s safe to say that things are gearing up for Spring and warmer weather…I hope. The first sign was a slight increase in the “dawn chorus”; the thrush became busier, the blue tits became hungrier and joy of joys, the moorhen found a mate and brought him to visit the seed that I scattered for her at the base of the seed table. I felt sorry for her…
she tried so hard to climb the tree where I had hung the suet and seed ball…but with her squat little body and slight webbed feet she looked very precarious wobbling on the thin branches. So the “Dear One” made me a bird table with a platform, a couple of branches and two nails where the seed balls could be hung. I always make a point of scattering some seed in the grass below the table so they can now dine in style instead of staggering up to the 10th floor of a spindly tree. They come so often they’ve managed to build their own slipway and narrow path from the reeds to the table.
Another sign was the bravery of the daffodils. On a frosty morning we took a walk and there they were – a sudden gold blaze in the emerald sea of grass. One thing about daffs is the quizzical look they seem to have on their faces as they point their trumpet nose at you. It’s not a look that says “Look at me – aren’t I beautiful, soft and fragrant” like the rose might say or the stretching serenity of a lily. No, the daffodil says “Good heavens, where am I? And why the heck is it still so cold? Am I crazy or what?” But crazy or not, they are a welcome cheerful site that lifts the spirits.
And then there was the ominous sign..the dreaded pile of “fumier” or less politely “merde” that sat steaming in each field. Something at sometime would be done with it. The crust that had developed on the top would be cracked open and the insides, along with it’s aroma would be set free. Then one morning, we opened the front door and the smell was a solid mass that hit the senses with such speed and ferocity there was no time to prepare for it. On a set date, the farmers had begun to muck spread. Now this is no simple thing. A huge tractor-like machine picks up the pile and places it in a giant hopper. A ginormous cork screw like thing turns and forces the fumier downwards where it is pulped to a fine something or another, forced into a pipe and sprayed in a fine mist all over the field. It’s ingenious and incredibly effective. The smell is gaggingly strong (but in a country lifestyle farm yard way that you can actually live with..sounds weird but there it is….) for about a day and is gone completely in about three….until they start on the next field. But we’ve been told that there is a window period of about 10 days where it all happens and the ground is then ready for ploughing and planting. All pretty cool really.
France is the home of Pastels. I didn’t know this. I’ve always been a fan of pastels, I love the huge range of colours (because you can’t mix them like you can paint, each colour comes in it’s own gradient tints of five or six steps from dark to light so there are at last 300 sticks available). I love their velvety feel, I love the mess as you layer them on the surface and the way they end up on your hands, clothes, face, I’ve even got used to the raised eyebrows when I turn to talk to the husband or answer the door. But I shelved pastels for a while because they are only just becoming popular in SA. Here, there is a Pastel Society Of France. A range of pastels created by Degas are still made to his specific technique, Monet’s Garden host a yearly Pastel Exhibition and van Gogh’s work still decorates the covers of some pastel boxes. The velour paper – a combination of paper and velvet – which I battled so hard to find in SA that I resorted to the fabric that lines the inside of jewelry boxes – is freely available via on-line shopping but I was still battling to find an Art Shop.
Eventually, with the help of Google Translate, I wrote a letter to the factory in France that makes this most amazing paper called Clairfonteine Pastel Mat to ask where I could get it. Armed with the response and Miss MoneyPenny the Garmin, we set off to Rennes (about 35 minutes away – the capital of Brittany)and there it was, the mecca of all art shops! A huge warehouse ; I had arrived in art heaven. A pastel workshop was happening in the corner, and every other paint and paper filled every space. Pastels in wooden boxes, pastel sets in tins, sets for landscapes, sets for portraits, pastels sold singly…and THE paper… a soft suede like paper that I could have eaten on the spot. Unfortunately I had left all my pastels in storage in SA and came only with wax colour pencils and water colours. Fortunately a shopping spree was in order.
The Dear One was looking a little bor…no that might upset him…a little tired and in need of coffee so I stopped chatting to a wonderful lady who could speak English and said we should meet, chat “art” and practice french conversation. When I arrived home, there was an email from her. She had visited my website, chatted to the owner of the chain of “Les Cite Des Artes” which are dotted all around cities in France and the owner had told her to tell me that as I was a “Professional Internationally sold Artist” she would give me 15% off anything I buy in any of her shops. I wanted to laugh, who on earth was she talking about? Me? But either way, the French seem to hold anyone who can draw (even strange drawings like Picasso so there’s hope) in high esteem and as a country, they value artists and offer help and aid where possible. I felt very small, very honoured and inspired to try harder. I came home and started my first pastel in France. Inspiration is everywhere and after I’ve practiced a bit on this amazing paper..I’ll try my first street scene…the cobbled night lit streets of Dinan.
On another note…To all that reading this blog, thank you. I love hearing your comments but I would also love to hear YOUR news as well…you’re all very precious for following a “footpath to France”.