1 Mar 2015

Of the Sack of Assyria and its Insult on Humanity

Since Saddam Hussein's demise, Assyria and Mesopotamia, the very cradle of civilisation (better known nowadays as Irak), have been nothing but crippled by war and death, pillaged away, looted, blown apart, crushed to cinders, and their populations, including the Christian minority, tortured and decimated. The latest instalment in Irak's ongoing tragedy is the ransacking of the Mosul Central Library and the Mosul Museum by the crazed-up ISIS iconoclast cohorts.

For classic Art appreciators like myself, the realisation of this pillage is unbearable! Historians, archaeologists, antiquities department directors, librarians, academics, intellectuals and UNESCO are up in arms too!


The Assyrian and other pre-Muslim artefacts and statues got smashed up on cue for the cameras, and 8 to 10,000 rare books and manuscripts were subjected to auto-da-fé. In other words, this wave of destruction was an orchestrated cultural ethnic cleansing with a brutal message of irreverence and intent eradication of civilisation, past, present and future. The defacing and beheading of statues is an echo to the beheading of hostages by ISIS. The LA Times (28/02/2015) adds that "the vandalism's cultural insult strikes deep. The Iraqi people, [Altaweel said,] "are taking the destruction of their cultural heritage - their identity, essentially - just as seriously as the beheadings."

According to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, the large-scale destruction of books by ISIS across Iraq's cultural centres - already harked as the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history - "adds to the systematic destruction of heritage and the persecution of minorities that seeks to wipe out the cultural diversity that is the soul of the Iraqi people.”

In this article, I will attempt to demonstrate why and how Art is besieged from the moment it takes form. And also how Art transcends its geographical and cultural origins to become part of humanity's spiritual, artistic and immaterial wealth. Therefore the destruction of ancient Art forms, wherever in the world, should concern us all.

Human-Headed Winged Lion (Lamassu), 883–859 B.C., Neo–Assyrian period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II,
excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Mesopotamia. Via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ancient Art promulgates spiritual elevation and educates humanity as a whole. It anchors modern civilisation to its past, roots it for a strong and resilient growth. It confers it direction and a reference point, a meaning, a sense of stability, belonging and progression. It summons respect and other values and symbolises immortality, the transcendence of the past into the present towards the future on a timeline of cultural continuity, evolution and expansion. The sack of Assyria is therefore yet another example of an assault against humanity as a collective.

Man's creation, borne out of a dream, a vision, a hope, a wishful thought, or a representation of reality, is sublimated and enchanted to heights godly of his own making. Art's portrayed sublimation of man and self as a tool, a vehicle, engenders reverence, awe, peace, admiration, adoration even. Yet creation is pitted against man's ability for destruction. Man is creation's best friend and foe. The way I picture this complex yet simple relationship is as a triangle between the Creator (the artist as an artist - or as an envoy of God to earth as luminaries tend to be perceived as), the Creation (the actual objet d'art) and the Creature (the recipient, the public).

Creation is no mere work of art. It is a currency, a pawn, a covet, a symbol, a collateral. The immortality it exudes is at the mercy of its shortcoming of imminent destitution and/ or destruction. In times of economic and political stability, Art prospers. Otherwise it is endangered, looted, smuggled, traded as booty wares, or destroyed. The LA Times (28/02) sums it up nicely: "It [Stone] is meant to express aspirations toward permanence, sometimes vainglorious and sometimes noble. Obliterating a revered stone edifice says - in no uncertain terms - that radical change has arrived."

Human-Headed Winged Bull (Shedu), bas-relief, c.713-716 B.C. Via Wikipedia

Let us make an aside for Irak's current situation and rewind 13 years. The Anglo-American interference in Saddam Hussein's governance opened a Pandora's box of oil-fuelled malevolence. It was a prophecy of doom realised, bringing to its knees a modern and progressive nation, and return it to the Dark Ages, with the complicity of religious fanaticism. The culture of chaos is used as a smoke-screen while the country's resources are being redistributed, because it just so happens that world domination is no piped dream, it is an intention that has been pushed through from the moment that man realised that his tribe, his settlement, his kingdom, was not sole and only.

Meanwhile, in a peculiar timely twist with the Mosul tragedy, The Iraq Museum of Baghdad reopened its doors to the public yesterday (28th February) after undergoing extensive rehabilitation under the patronage of UNESCO, following lootings in 2003. The museum brings together a collection of antiquities that testify the rich cultural heritage of this particular region of the world, in terms of Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Islamic cultures.

Our role as a collective is to safeguard our cultural legacy. Yet how can we achieve this unless we treat civilisation with reverence? The way culture is treated is a reflection of a malaise on a grander scale. Meanwhile, aside from witnessing cultural artefacts falling foul to world events, I witness in my daily endeavours fragments of culture from my immediate vicinity falling prey to greed, being wiped off the map under a slab of concrete, just ceasing to be. More often though, I witness fragments of culture chipping away, turning to rubble - not purely as a result of time's wear and tear, but as a helping hand from land developers, unscrupulous antiques dealers, opportunists - with the complicity of general apathy and the selective blind eye syndrome. This happens 'unnoticed', incrementally, insidiously, perniciously, cancerously, like a Chinese torture form... turned to an art form.

The Tigris River, seen from Mosul (1932). AP Photo/ American Colony Photo Dept. via Library of Congress.

Our dumbed-down society models dis-educate our white- and blue-collars on classic art forms, while rampant short-attention deficit disorder has become an excuse, yet suited to our lifestyle on the go. Meanwhile religious extremism goes rampant on the lost and the meek, empowering them with guns as their mode of expression. Intellect is shunned by the media and derided as elitist by politicians. Our consumerist model emphasises fast fashion, fast food, cheap wares, Mickey Mouse degrees and jobs, and worldwide uniformisation of style and taste under the umbrella of a handful of global FMCGs. All of those combined factors are challenging the appreciation and survival of Ancient and Classic Art at large. It is therefore the duty for individuals like myself to warn against such dumbing-down.

Resources:

25 Feb 2015

Wolf Totem: Annaud's Signature Mo(nu)ment

If there is ONE film this year which I dearly wish to see, Wolf Totem (Le Dernier Loup) is it. From the teaser and an interview I read in a local newspaper with French film director Jean-Jacques Annaud, the movie is everything but ordinary run-of-the-mill. It is an epic, one of those that escaped the Cinemascope age, with landscapes that summon nature to our senses and a storyboard that transports us to lands afar. It is an epic that treats the viewer with intelligence and embraces 3D and the latest digital enhancements parsimoniously like they are the finest ingredients. The result is a pared-down finished article, free from the additives and E numbers that have come to accessorise to the point of clutter the blockbusters of the last two decades in terms of special effects. The film score by James Horner adds to the cinematographic grandeur.

(via Filmosphere)
Film pundits and Annaud aficionados will appreciate his trademark sobriety of filming that leaves time and space for the viewer to view and think and ponder and revel. The storyline is based upon Wolf Totem, a critically-acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by Chinese author and anti-establishment figure, Lü Jiamin (also known as Jiang Rong, a pseudonym he used to protect his identity). The book was published in 2004.

Jean-Jacques Annaud is a film legend - with a filmography to boot: The Name of the Rose, The Bear, Seven Years in Tibet, Enemy at the Gates and Two Brothers, to name but a few. He is therefore not a novice in terms of dealing with (a) animal matters and (b) Chinese matters, the latter landed him into hot water with the Chinese authorities during the filming of Seven Years in Tibet (his film got banned). Besides Annaud is what I would qualify 'a filmmaker for the long haul', one who takes his time crafting his style, prolific in terms of quality rather than quantity of films.



The stars of the film are scores of Eurasian wolves (35 of them!) picked as pups by the film crew from a Chinese zoo (in Harbin), before being professionally raised and trained for over 4 years until filming began in Inner Mongolia, a remote autonomous region of China.

The story centres at the start of China's Cultural Revolution, as Chinese students are sent out from Peking (Beijing) by the Chinese government to educate poor country folks in the remote province of Inner Mongolia. One of the students, Chen Zhen, becomes fascinated by wolves. He decides to capture a wolf pup and raise him, just as the government launches a wolf culling programme.

Wolf Totem is harked as the biggest Sino-French co-production to date, with a $40 million budget, 80% of which financed by China. More than 7 million spectators saw the movie since its release in China a week ago! It is now set to take France and the rest of the world by storm!

Le Dernier Loup is released today in France.

(Pict source)

18 Feb 2015

Seeing the Wood for the (Majestic) Trees

Despite the Raw Deal faced unrelentlessly by the indigenous Corsican vegetation, as human encroachment is getting bolder about its treatment of the land, there remains somehow one reason to be celebratory. Over the last four years, two of Corsica's most venerable trees have won a nationwide competition as L'Arbre de l'Année (Tree of the Year), organised by French nature magazine Terre Sauvage and French forestry body ONF.

The competition has been going strong since 2011. In 2014, a total of 25,000 tree lovers cast their votes, demonstrating in doing so their attachment and respect towards venerable secular trees (180 tree candidates, of which 24 tree nominees) across the length and breadth of France. Those trees they elected are considered the pride and joy to the land and region they sublimate and the abundant ecosystem they sustain. They have survived wars, invasions, lootings, diseases, decapitation and Acts of God. They still stand today to show us their story, stretching out branches, expanding canopies, casting dappled light and standing the test of time, with fortitude and elegance.

Click the picture to zoom in (pict source)

Back in 2011, a majestic Pistacia lentiscus, a.k.a. mastic shrub, from the Ghisonaccia region, Corsica, won the top prize (Prix de l'Arbre de l'Année 2011). Believed to be between 800 and 1000 years of age, it stands as the oldest pistacia lentiscus in the whole Mediterranean! Height 7m (approx. 23ft.) and trunk circumference 190cm (6ft.2). What is most touching about the tree though is that it once stood in utter neglect, swollen up by vegetation. In 1991, a young shepherdess by the name of Elise Inversin cleared the scrub for her grazing sheep and she unveiled the tree. She was impressed by her discovery but it seems that her awe wasn't shared in equal measure by the other locals. However when a grass fire broke out in the year 2000, Elise urged the firefighters not to attend to her villa ('because you can build it back!') but to save the tree instead. Since then, in a twist of irony, the tree has become a hero.

Then last year, a Castanea sativa (chestnut tree) from Pianello, Corsica, and nicknamed 'L'Arbre à Pain' (the bread tree, in reference to its chestnuts that catered for both humans and farm animals for centuries), put Corsica back on the biodiversity map. It won 'Prix du Jury'. Its credentials as a European heavyweight contender are pretty impressive: 15m (approx. 49ft.) trunk circumference, 12m+ (approx. 39ft.) tall, 800 to 1000 years' old! It comes with bumps, lumps, scars, kinks, warts et al, yet those imperfections make it so perfect. I would be tempted to designate the tree as 'him', as when they come to that age and shape, trees become somewhat anthropomorphic, and if we take the time to linger, we may even feel a spiritual force hanging about them, wrapping them in an aura of mystique. By the way, our tree is a contender for European Tree of the Year. If you love him and wish to show your support, then you have until 28th February to vote for him. The voting process takes less than 10 seconds!

The Castanea sativa in Pianello won Prix du Jury Arbre de l'Année 2014 (picture via Rustica)
Now of course no tree in the world is safe from some chainsaw-wielding nutter on the rampage, be they corporate, governmental or private. But as with everything from the natural world which modern civilisation tampers with, they will be sawing off yet another branch they're sitting on. However from the top of those giant trees, the fall should be deadly! Ooops, did I say that Karma hurts?


Anyhoo, there is no rest for the wicked as Terre Sauvage and ONF have kicked off L'Arbre de l'Année 2015 campaign. Nominate your favourite venerable tree in France (and French territories), until 15th March 2015, and/ or vote for your favourite nominee from 1st April to 1st September 2015. Start off here.

Pict source: ONF

Further Resources:

1 Feb 2015

American Sour Cream

Plan does not go according to plan. Expectation strays out of expectation. The conscious decision of departure from our familiar surroundings and surrender our whole to the unknown via means beyond our control, will not promise the expected arrival as per our expectations. A scheduled flight does not guarantee scheduled itinerary. To journey is to take a chance. A trip to the known is a foray into the unknown. Sometimes what you seek does not find you. Instead it puts you on hold, unfolds a catalogue of errs, even errors to fustigate your entity.

You leave in one frame of mind, come back in another. You leave as someone you know, return as someone else. Life happens in weird, muffled, mysterious and unwitnessed ways. It empowers your resilience while robbing you of a little lightness of being. If life is code, a larger-than-life textbook in symbology that closes as you give up the ghost, if life is an insatiable series of lessons to whoever cultivates their sense of curiosity and pushes beyond the comfort zone, if we are supposed to get the problems that are in line with our capacity in resolving them, then I can find solace in the fact that from where I stand, I get the best sunrises and sunsets there are to watch.

Space Shuttle Rodgers, via Kim Stringfellow's Mojave Project

16 Jan 2015

The Uncontacted vs. The Disconnected

I recently came across a French blog article that left me deeply perturbed. It highlighted in a few words the failings of our so-called modern civilisation in coming to terms with the precept of race equality, tolerance and acceptance of a lifestyle model that has been in place for millennia in harmony with all aspects of the natural world, from land to wildlife, and governed by indigenous cultures who are living models of sustainability, ecology, cohesion, coherence, balance, infinite wisdom and spiritual forte.

Pict source: Survival International

Here is the plea of the indigenous Guarani Tribe in Brazil, whose livelihood and survival have been increasingly severely compromised in their own land, on their home turf, on their ancestors soil. Spoliated by the biofuel industry, displaced, chased away, beaten up, broken down, belittled, condemned to make do on land cast-offs, in improvised ramshackle camps by the roadside, reduced to being treated like aliens on their homeland, as refugees deprived of their livelihood and undergoing other dehumanising treatments in the process like forced labour confining them into poverty, and alcoholism, The Guarani addressed the Brazilian government in one last ditch attempt, telling them that they would rather be killed than give up their lands.

The Guarani's livelihood is under threat, and other indigenous tribes across the globe have been going through the same pattern of habitat and lifestyle destruction, since 'modern' civilisation has started poking their noses into the jungles and cloud forests of remote lands so as to commercially extract and exploit their resources, in other words rape out anything that could be turned into cash. In a case of history repeated, we witness the death of a civilisation via the organised legalised commercial looting of its natural resources and the wreckage and pillage of its natural habitats: extensive logging, mining and monoculture farming activities, road and infrastructure building, new towns sprouting, wildlife trafficking, death threats from ranchers, loggers and farmers, and other nuisances. Pollution and the spread of diseases have made the local populations even more vulnerable.

Pict source: Survival International
What is happening is short of a legalised human and ecological holocaust in support of the modern lifestyle model, the super highways that link up the supersize malls across fields of super GMOs, to end up with the Starbucks Soy Latte we sip on the freshly-laid-out timber decking shipped from the Amazon, with the blood splatters from The Guarani coated in lashings of paint. But if corporate banking and the likes of Rio Tinto and Monsanto only care about the bottom line, why would this make us feel complicit as consumers? Because it should.

The irony is that the upwardly mobile super-connected that we believe to be are disconnected from the harsh reality of the world, especially the losing battles that are raging on in those remote forests that our mainstream media shun and block out like this is not to be cared about as long as the suburbia of America, Europe and China can carry on being supplied in decking and soy lattes.

Pict source: Survival International

Let down as always by the Brazilian government long sold out to Corporate America, 170 members of The Guarani, including 70 children, resorted to suicide. They killed themselves so that Corporate may carry on regardless its consumeristic car-crash down the capitalistic road to nowhere. A chimera!

7 Jan 2015

Freedom of Speech - Forever Charlie Hebdo

Visuals are powerful and impactful means of communication. As pictures, cartoons, illustrations, graphics and other forms of visual expression, they are each conveyors of a thousand words, emotions, actions, messages, ideas, wit, humour, innuendo, controversy, that words fail to express in one instant, one shot, one swoop. A French scandal magazine by the name of Paris Match even made the tagline "Le poids des mots, le choc des photos" (weighty words and shock pictures) its trademark - with an ambiguous play on the word 'weight'. Meanwhile let's just pause for a moment and try to figure out the likes of Life magazine and National Geographic without their image stock. This is simply unfathomable.

The power of the internet has from the start capitalised on the power of images (increasingly at the dispense of words), and social media have harnessed their success based on visuals, a perfect fit to wordless transmission, culture on the go and 'live in the moment' inclination. From the advent of the printing press, satirical magazines like Punch and Le Canard Enchaîné have had a field day with cartoons, building their readership around them. Charlie Hebdo did this too, with its star cartoonists Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous, Honoré, and of course Charlie's chief editor Charb.

Charlie Hebdo (pict source)

Since day one of 1970, Charlie Hebdo has been flirting with controversy. Then again, isn't controversy the one-size-fits-all word used to describe the free-thinking members of society, defenders of Free Speech and Free Press? Charlie Hebdo shot its poison arrows in all directions though, with no affiliation to a political party or faith or creed or line of conduct, just depicting the world around us with a streak of - sometimes acute - sometimes oblique - attitude, objectivity, sarcasm, derision, mostly turning to ridicule anything that took itself too seriously and imperiled freedom at large, democracy as a whole, and republican values. This cost Charlie dearly.

With this obituary cartoon by Charlie to Charlie, La Baguette Magique herein self-proclaims to be one of Charlie's guys ("Je Suis Charlie"). By slaying on this very day 12 people at Charlie's HQ and whereabouts, the terrorist low lives that take themselves way too seriously shot our already ailing Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press but they will not sentence them (us) to silence! Meanwhile the ultra-polished, ultra-sanitised politically-biased media brigade that deliver the news should shut up instead of yet again missing the point with their silly verbiage and pretend affliction.

Charlie Hebdo (02 Nov 2011)
Charlie Hebdo (03 Sept 2013)
Charlie Hebdo (29 Apr 2014)
Charlie Hebdo (16 Sept 2014)

30 Dec 2014

Turning Over a New Leaf

As odd as it may sound, I had meant to publish this post for a good couple of months now. In fact, I had put together some text and prepared the photo for it, but somehow I was too excited to press the 'Publish' button. I was out there, busy with my life. Oh boy, I am so excited that it feels like I'm sprouting flower buds and blooms all over like a Spring renaissance in the heart of Winter, and the 2014 New Year's Resolutions have delivered - exceeded even - the items on the proverbial list!

'Delivered' is an understatement! I started 2014 slightly iffy and am ending it in stellar mode, no boasting! In the process, I shed some old recurring patterns and took ownership of my life. I embarked upon some life coaching. I found myself - the real I - and I found someone extra-special to share the newfound me with!


Unlike most of my peers, I do not use my blogs as a platform to showcase every inch of my personal life. Having said that, I cannot not share some very exciting news! I have met The Man of my Life! We cannot wait to join soon, transatlantically! Yes ladies, he's a dashing American gentleman and an über-cool counter-culture writer. This is all I shall divulge for now.

There is another piece of personal news I wish to share. I have waved Britannia farewell and still cannot remain composed at the thought, two months later, that's how excited I am at the fact that a chapter of my life is now closed for good! In other words, I have managed to sell my house in Manchester, and as a result my last physical link to Britain is no more! Tickle, my little JRT dog is over the moon about it too: he's happier and safer in Corsica than he was in suburban Manchester, wondering if a Mastiff on the loose from the nearby council estate was not going to pounce on him from behind a bush, or the 105 bus run us over as our rain-soaked figures negotiated the puddles at the Hale Top junction... As a post-scriptum, there is no rain like the Manchester rain, over 300 days of it a year on average!

Roll on 2015, it's going to be hot and sunny!

24 Dec 2014

Sugar and Spice... and All Things Nice?

Christmas, bah humbug! Children's and retailers' favourite time of year, where shoppers and sellers unite for a commercial feast that toxically equates love and happiness with expenditure and balance sheets. The time of year where the religious meaning of the celebration and its modern interpretation sit at the antipodes of each other. Yet the air is snappy and slightly intoxicating and it feels like the advocacy of miracles and magic is summoned in the granting of wishes, maybe facilitated by the faerical sparkly silvery golden ambience and the field work of Santa's emissaries deployed high and low.

Williams-Sonoma

Christmas, source of inspiration and stress in equal measures. Financial panacea and commercial commodity for businesses, and financial nemesis for the short on cash and the debt-ridden. Nonetheless it's showtime, across the sprawling retail parks, up and down the department stores, at the radiating heart of the cities where La Fée Electrique has electrified man-made canopies of snowflakes, shooting stars, sleighs, Tinkerbells, holly wreaths and spruces in an incongruous mish-mash of folklore reinvention of Christmas, a Christianised pagan feast (be said in passing). And they keep drumming it into us that this time of year is supposed to be festive in the spending, and fun has been engineered by admen and marketeers so that it relates to the purchasing and receiving of gifts, in that fine balancing act that defines conditional caring, and those who refrain from parting with their cash in order to be bought for in return, be despised for they are mean and scrooge! The Three Wise Men surely must be turning in their graves, bless!

Lakeland
Already the run-up to Christmas has seen a rivalry fought tooth and nail between family members, neighbours, co-workers, acquaintances and associates as to who will get the most Christmas cards. Believe me, I witnessed the frenzy when I used to live in England! In that spirit of things, you should expect one from your foe for they expect one in return, and to exceed the number of cards from last year, and may that living room wall be covered in them as a trophy display to visitors. Popularity is measured like it is in social media, in a very elusive, subjective and ultimately meaningless manner, where the quantity of so-called 'friends' has long surpassed the quality factor of the friendship.

Galletas de Encaje
In theory, Christmas Day at the dinner table sees happy get-togethers with the ones we hold dear in our hearts, with any sibling rivalry or in-laws feud forsaken for merryness of spirit and plentiful of fayre. However the blissful family reunion is not de-facto, especially nowadays, what with accent on individualism and the satisfaction of immediate needs, family values have been eroded and what results is a get-together of fragmented family sub-units who find themselves contrived to share a moment for the sake of tradition and in honour of that vague whiff of childhood nostalgia or filmographic reference that presents Christmas as an idealised family gathering brought to its epitome of sugar and spice and fancy free... Meanwhile let's go easy on the sour cream and the Grand Marnier! Soon enough Christmas Day will fade away and so will the brash light bulbs from the man-made canopies across town.

Blood Oranges by Mowielicious

11 Nov 2014

La Der des Ders

One hundred years ago our elders were about to get bogged down in an absurd, relentless, psychological trench war in the soggy mud fields of northeastern France, staying put for weeks on end under undescribable stress, inching their way through, losing those inches, fighting on, turning the trench war underground, 'while a clique of portly generals and high commanders watched from a safe distance, smoking cigars, clinking Cognac glasses and pushing clusters of batallion figurines across a battlefield map that might well have been a chessboard' (cf. Lest We Forget by La Baguette Magique).

Remembrance Poppy, via IWM

Remembrance Day leaves me humbled - and powerless - as a day where words are nothing but mere encumbrances, as they sit pretty on a page and console the writer in some sort of vanity of gratitude while failing to express meaningfully what is in our hearts and souls, and failing to soften the hurt and pain of the fallen who long passed away, and the absurdity of war that the international political and financial establishments inflicted to our young men in a collusion of shame, going as far as ordering the shooting down of soldiers by their fellow regiment comrades in order to 'set an example' to the troops. In France, (at least) 650 soldiers died of the sort.

A generation of soldiers got wiped out by the millions and the war irrevocably sent a ripple effect of loss and destruction far beyond the battlefields into the families and local communities, with the increasingly flimsy hope and belief that WWI was the obligatory evil that would lead to eternal peace on earth, and the history of wartime thus had to culminate into this WWI grand finale as it were to be 'La Der des Ders' (The Last Ever War), thus giving our elders the meagre validation as to their ultimate sacrifice of life and sanity.

'The Cemetery, Etaples' (1919), by Sir John Lavery (1919), via IWM

I was born in the French northern town of Saint-Quentin, Picardie, only a few miles away from The Somme and Chemin des Dames battlefields. My hometown was rased down to the ground during WWI, and both the town and countryside bear to this day a continuous reminder of war, through the myriads of war cemeteries, cratered landscapes, down to the Art Déco architecture that bears legacy to the fact that once stood a building that got wiped out by war.

Each of my great grandads fought the war and I remember Louis, my paternal great grandad, telling our family a few chosen anecdotes from the front, after some convincing. He was private in his thoughts and views and we respected his pauses and silences and restraint and each of his carefully-uttered words. He saw death in the face, he lost comrades, many were kids no older than 20. Louis got impacted by a shell in the nape of neck that left him with a cross-shaped scar, like the protective hand of God. For he survived the war, resumed his life, returned to work in the textile mill, raised two kids with his wife, fed the family on his fruit and vegetable garden, haunted till death by the horror of war. And tragically La Der des Ders never was to be the last ever war...

1 Sep 2014

Happy Five!

La Baguette Magique is 5 years young today, a good excuse for a little sweet tooth celebration! Add sparklers and sparkling wine and dress the birthday table to the nines! Well, who said that September couldn't start off with a bang?!

Sprinkle Bakes' Bubble Gum Frosting Cupcakes with Gelatin Bubbles' could be the talk of the table!
Eh, wait! Sprinkle Bakes is 5 years young too! (pict source)

3 Aug 2014

High Five!

On Monday 1st September, La Baguette Magique will be 5 years young. This is the perfect excuse for a little celebration! Thanks to the magic of Pinterest, I have been able to piece together a few idea mood boards that define the idyllic Baguette Magique birthday party, in terms of the venue set in glorious gardens, serving an inspiring menu with accent on tasty honest fayre made from scratch, and a DJ playlist of swell sounds to boot! Fellow Pinterest friends, just click on the links and pick and choose from my selections! It's party time, so pin away to your heart's content!

'Magic Number 5', Digitized by Erik Marinovich, via Friends Of Type

23 Jul 2014

Rock Your Rocks Off!

These cocktail rings and brooches are not only works of art that stand out for their druzy uniqueness, they have a tale of nature unleashed to tell, with verve and attitude. They encapsulate changing seas, starry skies, moody landscapes and rugged hilltops, and one may be forgiven for losing themselves into their wondrous depths and enchanting highs. By adorning the discerning lady's outfit, those glittery jewellery items will add a touch of panache and sparkle to Summer!

Cluster Amethyst Ring, via Thrifted & Modern
Ethereal Paper Sculpture by Paper Artist Peter Gentenaar
'Birth of The Tree' Brooch by Nikolai Balabin
Lily Moth, Polytela gloriosae, by YogeshSave, via Project Noah
Lime Size Round Faceted Eco Resin Cocktail Ring, by RosellaResin, via Etsy
'New Work Fresh Cosmetics' by Christopher Baker Photography
Exposed Druzy Ring, via Anthropologie (sold out)
'Uniquely Chrysocolla Ring' by Ananda Khalsa, via Sundance Catalog

3 Jul 2014

A Candid Account of Cabin Fever

I live on an island and this gets people curious. A few friends and acquaintances from the mainland asked me what that felt like, and before I could get a word in edgeways, would muse: 'You lucky thing, must be so much fun! Always a beach close by, and the weather's so fine! Every day's a holiday... No stress, no nuthin!' - They're so sweet that I don't even feel like breaking a little taboo to them...

(Via Tumblr)

The last thing I want is spoil the island life cliché because it actually encapsulates some charmful elements of truth: the quality of life that is specific to islands, closeness/ intimacy to nature and a certain cosiness and security brought about by the scaled-down distances. And yes (in my case), the year-round beach holiday feeling. However this is not all pink hearts and fluffy clouds. Unless you were born with a silver spoon or enjoy the financial security brought by acquired wealth, you will still feel the stress engendered by the need to make a living and get creative in a challenging marketplace, with tough economic conditions to boot, exacerbated by the geographical, physical and commercial limitations of the island.

Then to the tough challenge of finding permanent employment, establishing a business model that yields a revenue beyond the tourist season, or finding a sustainable niche, all of those under the auspices of the local close-knit diaspora (a tough one, this one!), you will likely have cabin fever to deal with, a condition that is not readily discussed out in the open, as it might be wrongly perceived by some as a sign of weakness or some mental disorder. Therefore the chic and glamour and dilettante of island living as purported by the likes of Condé Nast Traveller and Coastal Living do not *in reality* come as intrinsic universal island privileges.

Oak Bluffs Cottage, via Remodelista (photography by Julian Wass)

Seasoned residents and born-and-breds have (had) to deal with cabin fever. It has reached the more select corners of the Bahamas, Mustique, Madeira, Capri, Santorini, Mauritius or Tahiti, in fact all of the isles. Cabin fever is part and parcel of island life, and the smaller the isle, the more acute the 'fever' - I find. Cabin fever manifests cyclically, mostly outside the tourist season (personally I experience it around the equinox season, October-November and February-March time), when you find yourself at odds with your surroundings, stuck in isolation, in the tiny villages and resorts, the same ol' town, the same ol' faces, the same ol' stories that do the rounds, the same ol' repeated patterns, the pettiness of it all.

You feel restricted and it gets claustrophobic, the physical cut-off from mainland and the rest of world gets too much. There's a feeling of powerlessness, no escape, cut off from the buzz of 'real life' as portrayed outside the confines, the imposed protectiveness of the island vs. the hustle and bustle of the cities, the vastness of the regions and continents out there. You feel spaced out (as in not in touch with the reality of the world at large), locked in your own little world, like you live on a grain of sand. The energy is trapped on an island, it swishes around and goes round in circles and you may start going round in circles in your head! You are bound to turn introspective, reflective and nostalgic. A certain weariness and boredom set in. Some might experience an impression of hibernation, being kept on hold, waiting/ pining for something good to happen.

(Via Tumblr)

Gala Darling has aired a few times how cut off from the world she felt when living in New Zealand, and from other sources, I understand that cabin fever over there is due to its geographical seclusion from the rest of the world. Interestingly too, a friend from California who spent a few years in NYC told me how claustrophic she felt there, describing it as a world all to itself, 'a self-centred, navel-gazing island cut off from the rest of the US', and with an insular mentality... From there on, let's extrapolate further. How about those intense and exclusive family, friend or love relationships, where any sense of personal freedom is suffocated? Those may bring in the cabin fever. And the pinnacle of cabin fever, at the exact point that bears its stigma, and pushed to the extreme by the creep masters, with Stephen King who turned it into his trademark. Did you ever wonder that in The Shining, writer Jack Torrance (portrayed by Jack Nicholson on film) was suffering from a psychotic form of cabin fever?

But eh, don't let it put you off! There are ways to circumnavigate the pitfalls of cabin fever. First and foremost, the wonders of the digital age mean that nowadays we find ourselves no further than one click away from the buzz of the world. Secondly, if you have time on your hands, it is best to keep busy (especially in the bleaks of winter) and cultivate at least one hobby that you are passionate about and that will take your mind off the daily grind. Get acquainted with self-help techniques like meditation in order to deal with the troughs of energy, and to alleviate symptoms of melancholy. Take regular trips outside your island, go visit friends and relatives. Just don't keep all your eggs in one basket, all your focus on your little isle!

'Kangaroo Island Sailboat', via Coastal Vintage

As your person of choice to discuss all things cabin fever, I am much more than a casual islander. In fact, I am pretty acquainted with island life as a whole, clocking over 20 years of it: Corsica (4 years), British Isles (16 years), Greek islands, Cuba (and the Cayos), and - last but not least - a tourist trip to San Francisco's notorious Alcatraz! I don't recall cabin fever as such when living in the British Isles, despite the British reputation for their insular mentality (and for their economic model to stand halfway between two continents!).

You understand where I've come from for the purpose of this article: although it is not that clear-cut, cabin fever is not strictly confined to the small islands. I will deduct from my observations that cabin fever is a state of mind, irrespective of location. You are likely to experience it in the middle of the Australian outback, on a poxy little dot on the Indian Ocean, in the throbbing heart of the Big Apple or to get up, close and personal with it in 'the comfort of' your own town or village.

If it does get unbearable on the island, it is best to pack up, spread your wings out and fly off to new shores, to feel the contrast and judge for yourself where it is you truly belong in your heart of hearts. Sometimes all you have to do is leave in order to better come back. Maybe you are too close for comfort and all it takes for you is to find your purpose, embark upon a journey of self-discovery, realise what makes you tick, what drives you, and then make it happen. As for I, as much as I know I won't be island-bound for ever, I might as well try to make the most of a beach life while I'm here.

My mum and Tickle (my little doggie) on our way to the local beaches...

28 Jun 2014

Field Day in the Garden

I'm living it up in the garden right now, and more specifically in that little spot at the back of my parents' land, a patch that includes a patio where I organically 'grow things' mostly in pots, a tiny potager next to it where I grow tomatoes and courgettes (zucchini), and an adjacent plot where... things, errm, grow by themselves.

English rose bush from a Cheshire garden centre

But let's start off with the potted garden... I have resurrected my dear old classic English rose bush (see above) that I brought back from Manchester in 2011 (I flew it back locked in my suitcase!). Admittedly the rose bush has had its ups and downs, having to adapt to Mediterranean temperatures, but this year it has finally rewarded me with a bumper crop of flowers!

Potted hydrangea

Aside from that, I'm looking after my mum's potted hydrangea, lavender and thyme (which we keep for purely decorative purposes). I am experimenting with cuttings (fig tree, myrtus) and seeds (Eriobotrya japonica and lemon), without success so far, except for the baby avocado tree, grown from a stone. I've also set up a miniature potted mint nursery. I've got some succulents too (aeonium) and a couple of paltry cacti from England that oddly enough used to thrive better in the northern climes than closer to the Sahara latitudes, fancy that?

Wispy lavender swaying to a light breeze...
Small and perfectly formed thyme...
Baby avocado tree, grown from a stone...
Arty aeonium!

The wild plants that grow by themselves do so to my folks despair, since to them a wild garden equals uncouth and neglect – oh, and I'm giving up trying to convert them to permaculture! That little patch of wild is - surprise surprise! - my favourite spot in the whole garden, as much for the kid in me revisiting that TV classic from childhood - Little House on the Prairie - everytime I amble across the tall grasses, but also as an opportunity to satisfy the botanist side of my personality and gauge what grows, what might be tamed, and how rich the soil is.

A male Philaeus chrysops (a curious jumping spider, check out his eyes!)
A cricket playing hide-and-seek!
Fibonacci in action!

The soil is dark, crumbly and fertile and teeming up with life forms (worms, tiny snails, ants, arachnids, bugs and creepy-crawlies of all sorts). My parents estate is located in the plains, hardly a mile off the coastline, on former agrarian land enriched by a compost of sorts, naturally made up of sediments deposited by the nearby mountain chain and aggregated with those from the nearby brook, and kept in fairly good ambient humidity levels, heavy morning dew, humidity from the sea rising at night to the back lands, and moisture trapped in the plains.

XXL Zucchini!

Additionally, the underground water reserves are plentiful, as testified by the plethora of stone wells that the elders built during the 19th century and which only dry up in Summer. My parents have salvaged three of those wells in the garden and all of them have been dredged and are in working order. I've had a few pleasant surprises around the wild patch: wild and lush passiflora, the incredibly fragrant garden mint and other aromatics (melissa, aniseed), chard, bird feed (plantago), cornflower, Queen Anne's Lace (a.k.a. wild carrot), rumex, thistles, bramble (sigh!) and more.

Wild and lush passiflora
Wild fragrant mint
Wild chard

All in all, I do find the gardening a pleasurable experience and a stress-buster. Likewise when I lived in Manchester. Getting physical takes my mind off the nitty-gritty. And sometimes I will just sit quietly in the grasses and observe life at work, butterflies, bees, roaches, ants - fascinating! And for me to keep busy around the garden is also an incredible fuel to my creative inspiration! Maybe you should get down and dirty too (if you're not already)?

Those don't drive me potty!

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