Posted by: christinelaennec | November 24, 2014

503rd blog post giveaway

Dear Readers,

I was very fond of you before recent events, and I have even more cause to be grateful for all your kindness now!

Towards the end of the summer, I realised that at some point I would (amazingly) hit the 500 post mark.  So I decided I wanted to do a giveaway, of something I had made myself.

I don’t know if you recall that, in the process of making my Hopeful Stripy Shawl, I had to get the scissors out and slice a bit of it off?

Painful design modification using scissors!

Painful design modification using scissors!

I finished the shawl (posted about here) and got an idea about the stripy slice that I had inadvertently created.  I had more purple sparkly wool and so put it back on the needles and made a border for it, resulting in this:

hopeful stripy scarf draped on me

Hopeful Stripy Scarf draped on me

Here is a better view of it:

hopeful stripy scarf draped on a chair

Hopeful Stripy Scarf draped on a chair

It’s made of Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze, a 70% mohair  / 30% silk yarn which is light, not scratchy (for me, anyway), and surprisingly warm.  The colour sequence of the stripes is from Kaffe Fassett’s Wentworth cardigan pattern.

As things have turned out, the giveaway isn’t perfectly timed with my 500th post, but hey that’s life…

If you’d like a chance of winning my Hopeful Stripy Scarf, please leave a comment.  I shall pull a name out of the bowl (quite possibly with the Dafter’s assistance) on Tuesday, December 2nd, at 8 pm GMT.  I’m happy to ship worldwide.  Who knows, you might have a warm, colourful and hopeful scarf to put under your Christmas tree for yourself or a loved one!

Wishing all my American friends a very good Thanksgiving if I don’t see you before then.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 22, 2014

Oregon Impressions

My sincere thanks to everyone for your caring comments.  I so much appreciate them.  I’ve been home for a week now, and am feeling more settled.  I have been trying to process lots of different things – inevitably – and one of the things I’ve been thinking about was the sense of culture shock that I had upon going back to Portland.  Was it because the trip wasn’t planned in advance?  Was it because I was in a bit of a state of shock about my father’s death?  Or is it because I’ve been away from the USA for over 22 years now?  (Previous to this trip I had returned in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2011.)  Who knows!

Anyway, here are some of my impressions.

On the airplane from Amsterdam, and particularly while standing in the long lines at passport control and baggage claim, I was perplexed by something.  I kept noticing these women who all looked as if they belonged to, or were descended from, some kind of minority group.  They had almost elfin features in some respects, but large-ish lips.  They looked girlish, but their skin wasn’t young.  I wondered what sort of ethnic group they belonged to.  And finally, just as I was going through customs, I got it:  these women had all had plastic surgery!

Portland itself is a very busy city with lots of traffic, freeways and construction.  Here is the view from my father’s apartment.  You see the West Hills in the background, the building they call “Big Pink”, the two black towers of the Steel Bridge.  The autumn colours were really beautiful.  I had only gone back in the summer (and once at Easter), so I hadn’t been in Portland in the fall for a very long time.  The foliage was stunning.

View of Portland from my father's apartment.

View of Portland from my father’s apartment.

My darling friend Gay (who last visited us in 2010 – I posted about it here) arranged care for her son and came down from Washington for three days to help me.  Gay and I have known each other since childhood, and although separated for many of the intervening years by geography, our destinies have had a lot of parallels.  She too is a full-time carer of her child.

Years ago, I had said to Gay how I dreaded the day my father would die, as I knew it would be my responsibility to go through his things.  (I was the only member of my birth family who had remained in touch with him.)  “Call me,” Gay said, “I’m good at that kind of stuff”.  When I got the news, I emailed Gay that Dad had died, never dreaming she could or would come to help me.  But she did, and there can be no greater gift.  With her help, love and encouragement – and also wonderful help from my father’s best friend – we managed to clear my Dad’s flat in less than a week.  My father, who had written to me in the spring saying he was done with life, had gotten rid of so many of his possessions (and creations, sadly) that it wasn’t the enormous task I had feared all those years ago.

Gay and I had dinner at – of all places – an Ethiopian restaurant!  My, Portland is becoming cosmopolitan.

I kept being quite confused about how to use my credit card in the States.  Whereas in Britain, you must key in your PIN number to make a charge to a credit card, in the States (or Oregon at least), you merely sign.  And furthermore, no-one ever seems to check your signature against your card!  At some places, you have to sign on one of those parcel-delivery pads, where your signature looks as if you are a very untalented forger who has had far too much to drink.  “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match,” I was told.  “No-one’s does!”

Gay and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Gay and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.

My father’s best friend and I arranged a memorial gathering.  I was able to choose flowers for a bouquet for this occasion at an organic supermarket (there are quite a few such places).  I was highly amused that amongst their beautiful selection of flowers they had globe artichokes!  I included an artichoke because, although I love flowers as you know, my father could never understand why on earth you would grow things you couldn’t eat!  So the flowers were for me, and the artichoke was for Dad.  The lighting isn’t great in this photo – the colours of the flowers were very pleasing indeed.

Memorial bouquet, with artichoke.

Memorial bouquet, with artichoke.

I didn’t take my camera along with me, so these photos are all taken on my little phone.  Everyone seemed to be absolutely glued to some kind of device or other.  My sister chuckled at my handset (just 2 years old) because it was so small and old-fashioned.  On airplanes, streetcars and even in their cars (!) people were interacting with a screen.  I asked, “Isn’t it illegal to use your phone while driving here?”  “Oh yes!” came the answer.  But it seems to be an infraction on the same level as jaywalking.

On Sunday, my mother and my sister and I all went to church at our old church:

First United Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon.  Its youth group helped me survive my teenage years, and it's where I was baptised at age 16.

First United Methodist Church, Portland, Oregon. Its youth group helped me survive my teenage years, and it’s where I was baptised at age 16.

I think I have mentioned before how close the Methodist church (well, this one anyway) and the Church of Scotland are in terms of their services.  However, there was one thing you wouldn’t see in a mainstream Church of Scotland.  There was a woman knitting two pews ahead of me!  She glimpsed my hand-knitted jacket and during the Sign of the Peace she asked me if I’d made it and was a knitter too?  It was a beautiful service.  We sang Be Thou My Vision, which is one of my favourite hymns and was certainly a good thing to think about during this trip.

After church, the three of us went for brunch at the Heathman Hotel.  When we were quite young, our family lived in a rented house whose landlord was Mr. Walter Powell.  He used to take our family out sometimes to the Heathman Hotel, and Sarah and I would be treated to Shirley Temples.  I still recall the thrill!

Me, my mother and my sister.  Brunch at the Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

Me, my mother and my sister. Brunch at the Heathman Hotel, Portland, Oregon.

I was amazed by the number of waiting staff who were constantly in circulation, attending to our every need or perceived need.  America, the land of endless glasses of ice water!  Our waiter, Gabriel – aptly named, as he was an angel – took the above photo of the three of us.

Going back to Portland circa 1970, one of my father’s abiding passions was carpentry and woodworking.  (He was an academic in his professional life.)  My Dad helped Mr. Powell, our landlord, with a venture he was starting up.  My Dad designed and built the first bookshelves for Powell’s Books.  At the memorial, one of my Dad’s colleagues told me that at the time he had remarked, “I hope Mr. Powell is ready to lose his shirt!”  But my Dad believed in this crazy idea that there could be a successful used bookstore in Portland.  While I was there, I had occasion to visit the massive Powell’s Books, run now I believe by Mr. Powell’s son.

I spent a few hours one morning in downtown Portland.  I was surprised or had forgotten that nothing opens up until 10 am.  Here is the library, where I spent many a happy hour reading magazines, in the music room going through records, in the crafts section, and studying in the little-used map room.  I was too early to go inside on this visit, and noticed a lot of homeless people queuing up outside, waiting for 10:00 to arrive.

The Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon.  My refuge for many years.

The Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon. My refuge for many years.  I was so happy to see that the elm trees are still doing well.

On previous visits, I had already seen that the character of downtown had changed tremendously since my childhood.  I used to spend a lot of time downtown.  In the 70s and 80s you could get just about anything you needed downtown.  There were several department stores, a couple of “five and dimes” (I regularly scoured the fabric and pattern sections), stationery stores, a fruit market, and so forth.  Nowadays there are extremely pricey shops and restaurants.  If you needed a box of band-aids in downtown, I’m just not sure you would find any.

What you will find everywhere are coffee shops.  Here’s a nice one across from the library:

The Case Study, a coffee shop across from the library.

The Case Study, a coffee shop across from the library.

Coffee in Portland (perhaps the US generally?) seems to have become VERY complicated.  I was completely befuddled when someone asked me whether I wanted my cappuccino “dry” or “wet”.  “Isn’t it liquid?” I asked.  The precise terminology and the proliferation of choices really threw me.

Another thing I really noticed, along with the fall colours, is how large all the trees in Portland are now!  I think it’s wonderful that throughout the city there are so many, many trees.  I am also very proud of Portland’s public transportation.  I actually had a temping job at the bus company years ago, when they were discussing the possibility of installing light rail.  The light rail trains and the streetcars are just terrific.  They are clean and pleasant, and priced very affordably.

Tram or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Streetcar or light rail tracks in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Most of the time I was there, I relied on friends and family to ferry me about in a car.  I hardly walked at all for the first week of my visit.  Even with good public transportation, I think it would be difficult to live there without a car, as I used to do.  I was actually asked for help using the light rail by a man who hadn’t taken public transportation for over 25 years – his car had broken down and his wife needed hers for work.

Towards the end of my visit, my sister and I had some fun together.  She took me to the Beaverton Bakery:

My sister Sarah outside the Beaverton Bakery.

My sister Sarah outside the Beaverton Bakery.

I was very amused by the selection of baked goods.  Here are some of their iced cookies:  footballs, basketballs, rulers (pink and green), turkeys, corn cobs, acorns…  We bought a wishbone cookie and made a wish.  Since I went vegetarian I haven’t had a real wishbone, so it was nice to have a cookie one!

Inside the Beaverton Bakery.

Inside the Beaverton Bakery.

Sarah took me to a lovely place for a walk.

Starting out on a walk through the woods.  Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Starting out on a walk through the woods. Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Everyone kept telling me, “You don’t look exhausted!”  I was never sure quite how to take this, but I have noticed that people in the States often say to each other, “You look [fill in the blank with a positive adjective]“.  Did I used to do this too?  It seems strange to me now.  I was completely running on adrenaline, and didn’t sleep at all well until the last night of my stay.  Anyway, in the above photo I was very happy to be in the woods.  As I recently posted, I love the forest.

The place Sarah took me is called the Jenkins Estate.  The Jenkins family settled here, and in 1912 gave the land and the buildings to the city of Tualatin, one of Portland’s suburbs.

Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

What a beautiful front porch:

Jenkins Estate, main house.  Tualatin, Oregon.

Jenkins Estate, main house. Tualatin, Oregon.

I asked Sarah if the trees often fell on the houses – something I never bothered worrying about when I was growing up surrounded by tall trees!  She said that it’s a good idea to have an arborist check trees near your property, but that the wind was rarely strong enough to bring them down.  She said 40 mph winds would be considered really strong.  I said that in Scotland we regularly get much stronger winds than that.  And just then, as we were walking through this beautiful forest:

The forest, Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

The forest, Jenkins Estate, Tualatin, Oregon.

“Ka-changgg!”  Down came either a small tree or a large branch, some ways off from where we were.  You should have seen us jump a mile and clutch one another!

The morning that I left, before I took the light rail to the airport, Sarah took me out for a coffee at her favourite independent coffee shop.  Once again I was mystified by the huge amount of choices available, so she translated.  I was amused by the tip jar, which read:  “Afraid of change?  Leave it here!”

Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.

Jim and Patty’s Coffee shop in Beaverton, Oregon.

And I began my 22-hour journey home, which included a mad sprint through the airport in Minneapolis, as I had 40 minutes (gulp!) to get my flight to Europe.  This, apparently, is considered “plenty of time” by the airline!  A lesson for next time.  I was just so glad I was relatively fit and well!

Although he had destroyed or perhaps given away so many possessions and creations, my father had left one statue specifically to bequeath to us.  It is one of my very favourites:

Umbrella sculpture in bronze and wood, by my father.  At home in Glasgow.

Umbrella sculpture in bronze and wood, by my father.  The statue is now at home in Glasgow.

I brought back a few other things to remember him by, and of course the Dafter will always treasure the marvellous doll’s house that he made for her.  And so, while I continue to absorb the fact that there will be no more letters or sculptures or drawings from him, I continue to be very glad I could make this journey to take care of what he could not, and to honour his life.  By this past spring, he was more than ready to move on, and so this is what we must do now too.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 17, 2014

Back

Thank you all very much for your kind wishes and condolences.  I’m back home now from a rather gruelling trip back to Portland.  I am still trying to process all that happened there, and recover from jet lag.  I accomplished a lot and gave my Dad a good send-off.

A misty morning in Portland, Oregon.

A misty morning in Portland, Oregon.  November 11, 2014.

I’ll be back to blogging properly when I’m able.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 3, 2014

500th blog post: Not As Planned

James Galway climbing rose

James Galway climbing rose

Dear Friends,

Amazingly, this is my 500th blog post.  As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, I had planned to have a giveaway in celebration, and I will do that as soon as I can.  However, this weekend I received a phone call – the kind that you try to prepare yourself for, but never can completely.  My Dad died peacefully in his sleep in Portland, Oregon.  So I am heading back tomorrow morning.

My Dad and I managed to build a good relationship in the last few years of his life, and there was nothing left unsaid or unresolved.  I have a feeling of freedom now, when I think of him.  My main concern is Michael and the Dafter, but although it won’t be easy I know they will manage for 10 days without me.  They have both urged me to go, to have this experience of closure and farewell.

You have all been such amazing supporters through our trials with ME/CFS, our move to a new city, and just the normal things that life throws at all of us, and I thank you most sincerely.

I am using an old photo of James Galway climbing rose from our garden in Aberdeen, because just this morning my new James Galway rose has bloomed here in Glasgow.  All is ultimately well.

Posted by: christinelaennec | November 1, 2014

A bouquet for November

Happy All Saints Day and the start of November.  We had lots of “guisers” at the door last night.  (The word “guiser” and “guising” comes from “disguise”.)  There were some fab costumes and some truly terrible jokes.  Michael’s favourite joke was: Q:  What do you call John Wayne’s kids?  A:  The Waynes.  We also had a few songs sung, and our 7-year-old neighbour sweetly recited some Halloween poems for her treats.  I like the Scottish tradition of performing a turn before you get your sweetie.

I have been putting the garden to bed.  If the city council were so kind as to do garden waste recycling throughout the winter, I would have left a lot more in the ground, because it’s been so very mild that a lot of my bedding plants are still going strong. I’ve also planted hundreds of bulbs.  In Aberdeen (where I had a lot more garden space) I think I planted hundreds of bulbs every year, and there always seemed to be room for more.  We shall see what happens in my Glasgow garden.

End-of-summer gift to me from the garden.

End-of-summer gift to me from the garden.

Day before yesterday I picked a lovely, scented bouquet.  Even though I cleared them nearly all away, Roobeedoo‘s marigolds are still blooming, and optimistically sending up new shoots for next year.  I’ve collected their seeds as well.  As you see, my roses are still blooming, as they so often do, even until close to Christmas.  In my bouquet you see Claire Austin (white) and Boscobel (pink).  I love the delicate astrantia, which have done well to establish themselves in their first year, and also I do really wish you could smell the carnations – they have a delicate clove scent.

It’s a beautiful sunny day, after a very gloomy and windy week.  I think Michael and I shall venture out on our bikes.

Be sure to come visit again on Wednesday November 5th, as I’m going to be doing a wee giveaway!

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 29, 2014

The Glasgow Coat of Arms

Constance Ann very kindly asked, in a comment on my previous post, if I would tell the story of the Glasgow Coat of Arms.  In fact it has four stories attached to its four elements: the tree, the bird, the fish and the bell.  You can see these four elements in the lampposts near Glasgow Cathedral:

Lamppost next to Glasgow Cathedral.  Photo source:  http://www.toursfromedinburgh.com/Tours/Glasgow/Glasgow1/glasgow1_0.html

Lamppost next to Glasgow Cathedral. Photo source: http://www.toursfromedinburgh.com/Tours/Glasgow/Glasgow1/glasgow1_0.html

In the past, Glaswegian schoolchildren were taught a rhyme to help them remember their city’s coat of arms:

There’s the tree that never grew;

There’s the bird that never flew;

There’s the fish that never swam;

There’s the bell that never rang.

Glasgow Coat of Arms, from The Glasgow Story, link below.

Glasgow Coat of Arms, from The Glasgow Story website, url at bottom of post.

What are the stories behind these mysterious lines?  They all go back to an early Christian saint in this part of the world, St. Mungo.  He lived in the late 6th century, and was also known as St. Kentigern.

The tree that never grew:   St. Mungo was in charge of making sure that the fire at St. Serf’s monastery didn’t go out.  Alas, he fell asleep and the fire went out.  He went to get a branch of a tree, and through his fervent prayers, caused it to burst into flame, so he could rekindle the fire.

The bird that never flew:   St. Mungo brought back to life a robin that was a favoured pet of his tutor St. Serf.

The bell that never rang:  By most accounts this is a bell that John Stewart, the first Lord Provost of Glasgow, had made in 1450, called “St. Mungo’s Bell”.  It was to remind the citizens of the city to pray for his soul.

The fish that never swam:  This is a Scottish/Celtic version of a European folktale.  In this version, King Hydderch Hael gave a ring to his Queen, Langoureth.  She in turn gave it to a knight she favoured.  The King discovered the ring, and threw it into the River Clyde.  He then demanded that Queen Langoureth produce the ring, to prove her faithfulness, under pain of death.  She asked for it from the knight, who no longer had it.  He went to St. Mungo and appealed for help.  St. Mungo told one of his monks to go fishing and bring him the first fish he caught.  This was a salmon, with the King’s ring in its mouth.  And thus Queen Langoureth’s life was saved.

The city’s Coat of Arms, along with its motto “Let Glasgow Flourish” (also attributed to St. Mungo) are found everywhere you go in the city.  I shall have to collect some examples to show you in another post.

Image of coat of arms is from http://www.theglasgowstory.com/image.php?inum=TGSA05045&t=2&urltp=searchq.php%3Fqsearch%3Dcoat+of+arms%26amp%3Bstart%3D0%26amp%3Bend%3D20%26amp%3Bft%3D2%26amp%3Bl%3Dy

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 25, 2014

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art, Glasgow

Last month I had the chance to visit the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art for the first time.  I really enjoyed it.  Most of my photos are of the exhibition on the first floor, as the other exhibitions were difficult to take photos of.  But let me share as much as I can of what I found there.

The first floor is dedicated to religious art, from all religions.  I loved the stained glass.  And as you may know, I also particularly love roses.  This panel came from St. Ninian Wynd church in Glasgow:

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Stained glass panel from St. Ninian’s Wynd Church, Glasgow.  In St. Mungo Museum, Glasgow.

The rose appears frequently in the Bible, and the verse accompanying this panel was Isaiah 35:  “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

Here is a large stained-glass panel, designed by Edward Burne-Jones, the pre-Raphaelite painter:

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Stained-glass panel from Woodlands Parish Church, Glasgow.  Designed by Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by William Morris & Co, in 1882.

Here is a piece of contemporary Islamic art, “The Attributes of Divine Perfection” by Ahmed Moustafa.

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“The Attributes of Divine Perfection,” a modern calligraphic work by Ahmed Moustafa

The exhibition notes say that the calligraphy on the cubes shows the 99 divine attributes of God.  This piece of art is far more challenging for me to appreciate than, for example, the stained glass windows, which are comfortingly familiar.  It’s good to be challenged!

The painting below shows a Jewish family at home in London.  It is the work of Dora Holzhandler, born 1928, who according to the exhibition notes is still living and painting in London.  The title of the painting is “The Sabbath Candles”.  The scene reminds me of our own family traditions, even though our Sabbath is not Friday but Sunday.

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“The Sabbath Candles,” by Dora Holzhandler.

Here is a statue of Shiva, the Hindu god:

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“Shiva as Nataraja”

Shiva as Nataraja is the god who creates and destroys all things.  The statue is over 250 years old.  I believe he is dancing on the “demon of ignorance” and is within a circle of flames as he is about to destroy, so that new things can be created.

My favourite work of art in this part of the museum was this piece:

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“Kangaroo Wild Cabbage, Ceremonial Spear, Possum and Bush Carrot Dreaming,1992″ by Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Bessie Nakamarra Sims and Pansy Nakamarra Stewart, Warlpiri people Yuendumu.

The exhibition notes state:  “Unlike the creation stories of the Qu’ran or Bible, there is not one Dreaming that everyone knows.  Clan groups are custodians for the Dreamings of their particular area, and it is against aboriginal law to represent another group’s Dreaming without permission.”  What a fascinating take on spiritual reality, or reality full stop (I would argue reality is spiritual, but…).  Given how unique every person’s perspective and thinking is, doesn’t it make greater sense than expecting people to adopt one story, whose meaning they will go on to debate, interpret, or you might say recreate?

I wish I knew much more than I do about the beliefs of the Aboriginal people of Australia.  Perhaps some of you can recommend a good book on the topic.  I haven’t yet read Bruce Chatwin, and seem to recall there was some debate about his book(s).

The floor above the exhibition of Religious Art is an exhibition of the major religions of the world.  I was really interested, for example, to see statues of the Buddha as a child playing!  And the top floor is an exhibition of religion in Scotland, going back to pre-Christian times.  I learned a few things, and enjoyed all of it.

The view from the second floor is really something.  You look over to Glasgow Cathedral (which, controversially, has just begun to charge an entrance fee!) and to the Glasgow Necropolis:

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View to Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis from St. Mungo Museum

There is a cafe on the ground floor, looking out onto a Zen garden.  I sat under the archway and ate my packed lunch, enjoying the view, especially the lamp-posts that have the four elements of Glasgow’s coat of arms (bird, tree, bell, fish).  The Glasgow coat of arms, if you’re interested, is a story for another post!

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The Zen garden at St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art, Glasgow

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little visit, and that you’re having a very good weekend.  Tonight our clocks go back, so we will have a bit more light in the mornings, but it will be dark by 5:30, and get darker earlier and earlier after that.  But it’s less than two months until the longest night and then not long til Christmas!

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 19, 2014

The forest

Part of my walk in Crianlarich took me into a forest.  I love the forest very much.  When we first came to Scotland, driving through areas such as Deeside made me feel I’d been transported back home to Oregon.  However, I felt stabbed in the heart whenever I saw clear-cut areas – until I realised that the forests we’d been driving through weren’t old-growth forest, but crops to be harvested.

I have hiked through “real” forests – for example in Glen Tanar.  There are remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest throughout Scotland.  Glen Affric is a stunning example.  The forest I walked through in Crianlarich was a forest plantation.

forest plantation, Crianlarich, September 2014.

Forest plantation, Crianlarich, September 2014.

While I have always had a love of the forest, and feel safe and protected under trees, not everyone feels the same.  I remember one of our friends in graduate student days, who was from Wyoming, said that trees “made her nervous”.  I found this perplexing!  But while Our Son always saw the forest as a fort-making and stick-throwing opportunity, the Dafter also feels nervous in the forest.

Looking into the forest

Looking into the forest

Peering into the crowded forest plantation, you can see why.  On my walk, I was reminded of when I used to teach something called French Survey of Literature.  This course plunged the poor students straight into medieval literature, and (as a medievalist myself in those days) I tried hard to show them that the Middle Ages wasn’t just, as Lucky Jim says in the novel, “a time when people were bad at art”.  One of the things that I tried to get them to understand was that during most of the Middle Ages, Europe was covered by forest.  As in fairy tales, the forest was a dangerous place to be and to traverse.

Perhaps some of them had already come to this conclusion, who knows?

Certain aspects of French medieval literature, for example the tales of the Round Table or the lays of Marie de France, can be better understood if one grasps the significance of the forest.  Interesting encounters happen in clearings (for example in the story of Yvain), and the Forest of Broceliande is a magical place.  Marie de France’s good-hearted werewolf, Bisclavret, reveals his true nature to the King when he bows to him during a hunt in the forest.

Recently, Michael and I had the chance to visit an event held by the Forestry Commission:  Light up the Forest.  We walked along paths lit by fires and torches.  Old groves of trees were uplit by coloured lights, and the waterfall was beyond a lit crevasse.  There was a ghostly installation depicting the people, now long gone, who used to live and work in the forest:

An installation, part of "Light up the Forest" in the Forestry Commission, Aberfoyle, October 2014.

An installation, part of “Light up the Forest” in the Forestry Commission, Aberfoyle, October 2014.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the name of the artist or the installation.  If you know, please leave a comment!

I do love the forest very much, and even if it can be spooky, I think I will always find it comforting.

What about you?  What does the forest mean to you?

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 17, 2014

Fun on the Forth & Clyde canal path

Our family has recently been discovering the delights of the Forth & Clyde canal, which (as its name implies) runs from the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh, through Glasgow to join the River Clyde.  It opened in 1790, but was closed in 1966.  However, through the efforts of many volunteers it was reopened in time for the Millenium in 2000.  You can read more about its history here.

One Saturday morning, Michael and I headed out early for a cycle out to Clydebank.  It was the first time I’d been on my bicycle for a good number of years.  I was therefore a bit wobbly at first, but it was great fun and I didn’t fall in the canal:

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me and my trusty steed next to the Forth & Clyde canal in Clydebank

On our next outing, I was feeling bolder and we went all the way to where the canal joins the River Clyde:

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At Bowling, where the Forth & Clyde canal joins the River Clyde to the west of Glasgow.

The canal passes close to the heart of the city.  Below is a photo looking towards Lock 27, north of Anniesland Cross in Glasgow.  I had driven over the canal many times going up to Bearsden, and had seen the canal-side pub called Lock 27, but I’d never come along the canal itself.

There are many locks along the canal, and various watercraft use it to travel.  It was interesting to watch one boat’s crew work the lock, though I don’t have a photo to show you.  One great advantage of cycling along the canal is that the path is level except for gradual rises at the locks (as you see below).  There are no great hills to climb.

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Looking east towards Lock 27 on the Forth & Clyde Canal

One of the most amazing things about the canal is the sense of peace and countryside that you have, even though you are in a very large city.

The Dafter also came for a walk with me along the canal, one beautiful day when she had a bit of energy after school.  This photo shows the canal just beyond where I was standing in Clydebank in the top photo:

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The Forth & Clyde canal, west of Clydebank

Glasgow reminds me a bit of my hometown, Portland, Oregon, in that while it is a large city, there is a lot of unspoiled nature even in the heart of the city.  My parents actively campaigned for the conservation of Oaks Bottom in Portland, and I am very proud of what they achieved.  Other people similarly worked very hard to clean up the Forth & Clyde canal, build the lovely path, and re-open it to barges and boats.  I really appreciate their hard work.  The path is very well used by dog-walkers, runners, cyclists and people out for a stroll.  (A bicycle bell is essential!) The canal is a wonderful asset for the city to have, and I look forward to discovering much more of it.

Posted by: christinelaennec | October 12, 2014

Aberdeen in September

A month ago, I had the chance to go back to Aberdeen for a visit.  I had a really lovely two days there.  The weather, for one thing, was most un-Aberdeenlike:  warm sunshine and no wind!

I arrived at mid-day and met a good friend for lunch.  It was great to catch up and relax together.

I was very interested to see for myself the changes in the city centre that have happened since the 1970s carbuncle St. Nicholas House was demolished.  Provost Skene’s House, one of my favy places in Aberdeen, is no longer surrounded by steel and glass.  Its windows are sealed against damage in the demolition works, but if it could see, it would marvel at its current view.

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Provost Skene’s House, released from being trapped in a 1970s nightmare.  Aberdeen, September 2014.

The beautiful façade of Marischal College has similarly been revealed:

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Looking down Schoolhill at Marischal College.  Aberdeen, September 2014.

Sadly, in my opinion, the city plans to redevelop the area by “building glass boxes” (in my friend’s words) all around Provost Skene’s House.  I was glad to see it released from captivity and standing proudly against the skyline.

I then met another friend, to go see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition “Fifty Years of Colour” at the Aberdeen Art Gallery.  She is even more of a Kaffe Fassett fan than I am, and has made quite a few of his designs, in knitting, needlework and quilting. It was a treat to go through the exhibit with her.  Those who read my post on the exhibition in Bath will recognise the themes:

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Leaves and vegetation. I love this knitted coat, but doubt I would have the patience to do all that intarsia!

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A profusion of flowers in needlepoint

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More flowers, in needlepoint and in knitted form.

Aberdeen is important to Kaffe Fassett.  It was on a visit to the late designer Bill Gibb, who was from the North-East of Scotland, that Kaffe visited a woollen mill and was taken by all the shades of wool.  He bought lots of colours of wool, and was taught to knit on the train back to London.  You can see a short film here of Kaffe talking about his connection to Scotland, his work and the importance of colour to him.  For more photographs of the Aberdeen exhibition, see this post on Time flies when you’re having fun…

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Harvest scene

I had a chance to visit lots of friends from my old church, including dropping by the Coffee Morning that they happened to have.  And I went out to the countryside to see a good friend.

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St Nicholas Kirkyard, Aberdeen, September 2014.

It was such a pleasure to be back in very familiar territory, but as a tourist, and with the city looking affa bonnie, as they would say there.  Of course the highlight of my visit was reconnecting with friends, but (having spent 21 years of my life there) Aberdeen itself is like an old friend too.

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