28 Feb 2011

February in Bloom

Welcome to La Baguette's latest feature: 'A Month in Bloom'. At the end of each month, this blog will showcase a gallery of floral blossoms of the wild order encountered during that month on random walks around my current base in Northern Corsica.

An all-winter fixture: Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Each monthly post dedicated to the floral cause will pay tribute to the island's rich botanic heritage, while we ambitiously endeavour to identify the pictured specimens. As always, you are warmly encouraged to contribute comments, suggestions, links and/ or your own photographic material.

As February is giving way to March, we note some interesting developments, with many reassuring clues indicating that Spring is near, despite the fact that the weather here has been reasonably damp and dull since October. In fact some days when the sky is low, the fog palpable, or the dense and compact clouds resemble nothing but a funeral shroud descending upon the valley, this part of the Cape could easily be mistaken for a Scottish outpost.

A tangible sign of Spring: Anemone stellata
Soon enough though Winter will be nothing but a bad memory, yet with the imminent arrival of Summer, the scorching hot days will make us long for the cooler times of year! If such is life, it might be best to just appreciate those cooler days when they're around rather than commiserate them later... There is indeed enjoyment to be had from the Winter months, as testified by our latest snapshots... Let's take a look:

Our mystery guest and a hedgerow favourite: Viburnum tinus
Easy to overlook: Euphorbia serrata
Mountains are clad with it: Heather

26 Feb 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 26-02 (Art Nouveau)

Towards the end of the 19th century, at the peak of industrialisation in our Western societies, artists, designers and aesthetes turned to the natural world for inspiration and solace, and this is how the Art Nouveau movement came about, as an extension of William Morris's Arts & Crafts, feminine, voluptuous, foliate, adorned, with emphasis upon the curved and linear, while fauna, flora and nymphs became the focus of attention and desire, translated not only onto building façades, but also via illustrative forms (most famously Hector Guimard's signage for the Paris underground), and Applied Arts: interior design, furniture, glass and pottery ware.

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22 Feb 2011

From Home to Rubble in Sixty Years (Part 2)

Maison Bonavita belonged to a man of the world, Paul, a relative of my grandma on her maternal side, who had made it as a high-flying civil servant, no less than Chief Administrator of the French Colonies, based in Madagascar until his retirement. As I have intimated much earlier in this blog, my ancestors on my maternal side were truly citizens of the world and Corsica their stopover homebase between travels.

So how come did Maison Bonavita's glorious existence end so unceremoniously, I hear you think? Paul passed away in the 1950s. Mémé's mum inherited the property but died soon after. Then Claire, mémé's paternal auntie, took the responsibility to look after the house, as mémé and her brother (my great uncle) lived away. Claire was getting elderly and frail, yet single-handedly endeavoured to keep an eye on the property despite living off-site. The house was even advertised as rent-free to whoever would be interested to live there, but no-one expressed an interest, and this sealed its fate.

Unsurprisingly like other village houses, Maison Bonavita got broken into. Remember, it was off the beaten track and therefore easy to break into, undisturbed. When Claire and her brother (my great-grandad) passed away a few years later, the property had become an open sesame to the local builders, tradesmen, antiques dealers, reclamation yard dismantlers, residents, visitors, holidaymakers, people we knew, people we knew less, people we thought we knew, and people we didn't know, in fact anyone with a compulsion (and a reason so they'd say) to snatch, break, steal, unscrew, detach, tear, smash, pull anything they could lay their hands on, and not necessarily with a purpose in mind. Just for the darn sake of it.

The looting started off with interior fittings: shelving, cellar barrels, a wooden coffer, coving, shutters, doors, windows, staircase, railings, tiling. And then it became structural: steps, fireplaces, roof slates and beams... It took less than 20 years to turn it into a state of ruin, while the Winter rains, scorching Summer heat, the natural ravages of time and persistent assaults from the wild vegetation didn't help the cause either.

My parents and grandma did try to sell the property three decades ago, before it achieved its sorry state, in fact when the house was still standing solidly. A couple of selling opportunities presented themselves but in the cold light of day the sale never materialised. Meanwhile we couldn't possibly afford the upkeep and even so, it would mean 11 months of the year when the house would lay vacant and subject to further vandalism.

My dad put 'No Entry' signs up, boarded up the cellar entrances, we cleared the surroundings, made it known around us that the house was still under ownership (meaning: Keep Off!), but these hardly deterred any 'visitors'. In fact by the following Summer, when we returned to the property, the boards and sign had been ripped up, a clear statement to us that they didn't care about our warnings and the looting would carry on regardless! Oh boy, which it did...

To steal is to show no care, respect nor consideration for the actual property and its owners. Perpetrators, in their tunnel vision, might see it as only a door, a couple of stones, a plinth, a dozen terracota tiles, but these are acts of trespass, vandalism and looting, they are illegal and punishable, pure and simple... Thing is, someone just needs to get caught red-handed by the gendarmerie, or someone just needs to name and shame, with solid back-up evidence. But in Corsica like in Southern Italy la loi du silence (the law of silence) is a principle by which honest members of the public are 'encouraged' to give wrong-doers protection, out of fear and intimidation.

I cannot help but shiver at the potentially destructive results that unbridled, uncontrolled architectural salvage (let's call it looting) has on these seemingly abandonned, closed properties, not just in Corsica but elsewhere in the world. Maybe potential buyers should be less gullible and more willing to question the origins of some of those original features that end up online or down the high street or back street...

Today there is no much left of Maison Bonavita and if we are considering to put it back up for sale, it is as a bid for the future and dignity it deserves as a restored family home, through sympathetic renovation and TLC. This is our last shot to save this property from its wipe-out destination. Maison Bonavita has a name and a glorious past, now it needs the future it so rightly deserves. It is a Kevin McCloud's Grand Designs in the making, and the potential of this property is truly, most definitely awesome!

For further enquiries on Maison Bonavita with a view to purchase, please contact the author in confidence (only genuine requests please): nathalie@baguetteblog.com

21 Feb 2011

From Home to Rubble in Sixty Years (Part 1)

This article is about architectural decay/ abnegation achieved through the devastating effects of a combination of organised and opportunistic pillage, subjected to and illustrated by one of my grandma's properties.

I thought I'd share some of my knowledge and thoughts about this Corsican house with you, and how since it became uninhabited in the 1950s, my family, and then myself, have personally, painfully and powerlessly witnessed its escalating demise. The least I thought I could do was to pay tribute to this property, Maison Bonavita, and vent a few home truths in the process, in true La Baguette Magique style...

Maison Bonavita certainly was no ordinary Corsican home, with its mid-19th century style and modern comfort that gave the cold shoulder to any rustic preconceptions. It stood slightly aside from the nearest hamlet, on the hillside with commanding views to die for. In those days (and this still does apply nowadays to an extent), bourgeois houses and mansions always stood on elevations, with a vantage point.

Further up the path two American palazzi dating back to the same time period can still be found (one of which now derelict). American palazzi were so named in reference to those 19th century Corsican emigrants (mainly from the Cap Corse 'micro-région') who had made a fortune in Puerto Rico as coffee plantation owners and returned to Corsica (either permanently or temporarily) to build ostentatious mansions and necropolises flaunting their new wealth.

Our rural gentry retreat was what we'd call a maison bourgeoise, a status home of sorts compared to earlier, more rustic stocky constructions found in Corsican villages, often characterised by exposed stonework. Maison Bonavita's internal and external stonemasonry had been carefully rendered through to achieve that modern sleek finish. The rooms were spacious and ceilings higher than traditional Corsican rural dwellings.

The house was made up of two conjoined buildings linked up by a solid slate-floored entrance porch which you accessed via a ravishing curved paved staircase (which I do proudly remember), a work of art in itself that would cost a pretty penny to commission today! I am told that in the Summer, a specially-commissioned awning held by purpose-built wooden posts would be stretched across the porch, as a sun-screen/ parasol. Pictured above is what is left today of the once-glorious staircase area...

According to mémé, Maison Bonavita boasted two reception rooms. The house was tastefully decorated, as testified by the original ornate painted plasterwork, some fragments still visible today amongst the rubble as all the floors and ceilings have now regretfully caved in. The furniture was also rather refined - I am told - and contrary to the typical rural Corsican dwellings, this house not only had internal and external wooden shutters, it also had curtains, a penchant for civilised urban home interiors.

The house displayed countless attentions to detail in their minutiae, a proud yet sober display of architectural elegance, a sense of proportion and knowledgeable use of noble materials, in contrast with our modern-day Corsican properties which are hastily and cheaply put together!

Immediately underneath the porch stood a small standalone ground-level cellar. From personal recollection, I would say that the house had at least a total of four standalone ground-level cellars, one of which still equipped to this day with a rectangular stone basin used for wine-making. There was also a built-in bread-oven by the kitchen, to the rear of the property.

Finally Maison Bonavita was flanked by garden terraces landscaped with olive trees (still present). Yet one can easily imagine fragrant rose bushes and delicate lilies mingling to the more Mediterranean flora, in cottage garden style. (to be continued)

19 Feb 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 19-02 (Corsica)

More than just "une montagne dans la mer" (a mountain surrounded by sea), the aptly named "Ile de Beauté" (Beauty Island) commonly known as Corsica is multi-faceted in terms of scenery, a reminiscence of Italy, Switzerland, Côte d'Azur, Normandie, Ireland, Scotland, California and Argentina; follow the road less travelled for a discovery journey that will marvel your senses!

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17 Feb 2011

La Baguette in Ten Bites (Part 2)

In our revisit of La Baguette's best bits in ten bites, we have more goodness in store!

6. Home Truths About What We Call a Home: With La Baguette being a lifestyle blog at large, it goes without saying that home is a key feature. On a personal note, home is even more crucially important, since I am presently living out of a suitcase, in my parents' home, while my little house back in Britain is being rented out.

Dec 2009: Packing up the office for the new French life!
With life as I knew it on hold and the rest of my life somehow in limbo, I am even more keen to sing the praises of having your own space, your own place, somewhere you can be yourself or reconnect with yourself. Right now I suppose that La Baguette has become a virtual home of sorts for my moods, rants, observations and experiences, a way-out. And meanwhile the saying 'you don't know what you've got until it's gone' has never rung so true to me!

7. Smooth Lemon Sorbet: Guys I think I was clear enough from the start that La Baguette was never going to be a culinary blog, despite the best intentions and despite the fact that three of our dessert recipes make it in our Top10 (source: Google Analytics). Incidentally our Lemon Sorbet makes it at #9 as our 3rd most popular dessert recipe, after Caramel Cream Coffee Cups (#7) and Very Strawberry Sorbet (#8)!

One of the many facets of La Baguette embraces food and the odd baking session (without developing any culinary obsessions!). The lemon sorbet produced an incredible tastebud experience, mainly thanks to the use of extra-fresh organic Corsican lemons bursting with aroma. It was the best sorbet I've ever had (coming from someone who is ordinarily no fan of lemon sorbet!). This just proved that high-quality ingredients do all the hard work for you.

8. A Working Week of Spook: In case you hadn't guessed at the time, I am known to be a bit of a horror/ psychological/ spooky film buff, and come Halloween 2010 I had gathered perfect photographic material almost right on my doorstep to purport the ghostly killer sets and moody ambiences to La Baguette's audience. Spook was officially the blog's first themed project, and an experience I was keen to repeat, as projects proved a good fit for the blog, no less to break away from monotony and predictability. I enjoyed Spook very much, and then straight after that moved on to the Week-End Wonderweb project. I have other exciting ideas in the pipeline which the artistic side of me is keen to explore!

9. A Week-End Wonderweb: Originally a project/ challenge I'd set to myself, the Wonderwebs also came to spice up La Baguette's format with a short and snappy weekly visual exploration of the riches of the web, to loosely illustrate a topical (or untopical) theme or mood in mind: anything from Winter Wonderland to Maps, via Typography and Humour.

Originally I'd set myself four week-ends worth of Wonderweb, then stretched it through Christmas and it has been on-going since. Although the idea may appear rather simple at first sight, it can sometimes prove challenging, especially as I am looking to create a certain colour coordination, photographic style or overall ambience.

10. Mirabelle Design Inspiration: It is quite difficult to limit myself to ten bites because you will have realised by now that La Baguette touches on so many different lifestyle aspects. So for this last one I chose to be practical and let my head decide over my heart (do forgive me Tickle!). Mirabelle Design Inspiration is a welcome post to Mirabelle, my visual inspiration labour-of-love blog, and very true to my inner aspirations and artistic inclinations! From a logistical perspective it was a key-decision as whether to launch a second blog, and be ready to allocate sufficient resources into it, without impacting negatively on the first blog nor on personal life commitments. So far I am delighted to say that I have struck the right balance!

I hope those ten scrumptious bites will have made you hungry for more. Take your pick, there are 150 posts to choose from (so far!) and surely one that will tempt you like the proverbial cherry on the cake! And meanwhile onto the next 150 posts!

16 Feb 2011

La Baguette in Ten Bites (Part 1)

To mark La Baguette's 150th post, why not reminisce our blog's achievements to date while revisit its best bits in ten scrumptious bites!

For the purpose of the exercise, our measurement reference data tool is Blogger's in-built Google Analytics interface (although in our free time we would also refer to Sitemeter for cross-reference purposes, Sitemeter boasting much more in-depth measurement capabilities). Let us bear in mind that the G.A. statistical records made available to us do not cover the whole longevity of this blog (i.e. from 01/09/2009) but 'only' span May 2010 to date.

1. The Reckoning: According to G.A. this post has garnered the highest number of hits since its origins back on 01/10/2009. Statistically The Reckoning is a clear all-time winner and interestingly the only 2009 post to make it in the Top10 popularity league. I wouldn't have predicted such success for that particular post, but its topics (ecology, food import dilemmas) dig into the essence of La Baguette and the 'Intelligent Food for Thought' fibre that it is ambitiously seeking to promote.

2. Fashion Review - Doc Martens: Our second most popular post in terms of hits, it is forecast to more than trebble that of The Reckoning by the time it reaches the latter's current lifespan. With Doc Martens I certainly generated a short intense buzz, with over 30 unique hits within 24 hours, mostly relayed via my Twitter feed. This really tells you one thing or two in terms of product placement and branding.

A blog is a personal affair. But if you make it too personal, generating a following and keeping your audience interested can prove a challenge, unless you are - say - Dooce. On the other hand, talk about a product, a brand, especially a youth-orientated, high-street and/ or fashion brand, and you get up there in terms of exposure. Don't need a marketeer to figure that one out! In terms of hits, this could have been tricky in itself, considering Doc Martens is a much more alternative footwear brand than Gina, Manolo Blahnik or even good old H&M. But with La Baguette's mission statement being about 'taking one step back in order to stay ahead', we are clear about what we are about...

3. City Fizz: A post off the Top10 radar should still deserve a mention of course, especially if it is dedicated to Manchester, U.K, no less because the author spent a big chunk of her life there, i.e. 16 years. A city influences you, shapes you somehow, it can even change you. Manchester did just that. It certainly was an experience of contrasts and contributed to the person I am now. I have grown as a woman in Manchester, got my first proper job in Manchester, bought my first high heels and fell in them in Manchester, had some of the best times of my life in Manchester, and purchased my first home in Manchester. In an upbeat tone, City Fizz captures a city in motion, a dizzily changing cityscape that pushes you forward with the changes.

Wedding Cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery
4. Sweet Nothings: One of my personal favourites is a quirky and light-hearted praise of all things cupcakes and will still return as one of the Google results 14 months after being written, if you search for 'cupcakes'. Funnily enough I can still picture the day I uploaded the post onto the blog. It was a Sunday, the weather had been reasonable all day (no rain for once!) and I'd just returned home from Bruntwood Park (Cheadle) with Tickle.

I was immensely proud of this post and was amazingly serene at the same time (despite the fact that I was preparing for my move from Britain). Meanwhile I was daydreaming about the big guns from London's Fleet Street turning up on my doorstep with an offer I couldn't refuse, after stumbling upon Sweet Nothings online... I have since recovered from such a naive expectation. (But if you are indeed a media representative reading this, do get in touch!).

5. My Californian Psycho-Babble: I wasn't sure about getting too personal on my blog, but circumstances at the time got the better off me. Writing this article was cathartic too as I was trying to make sense of my new life in France and come to terms with all my reservations towards it. Not a favourite on the Google hit scene, but worth reading by any expat wannabe. Those types of musings have since spawned further articles, like this one or that one... (to be continued)

12 Feb 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 12-02 (Valentine's Day)

St. Valentine's Cupid bow has conjured up the year's most romantic day, an association of love, sugar and spice and all things pink for what is essentially a retailer's golden opportunity to cash in after the low ebbs of January; but who said romance was dead (expensive)?

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8 Feb 2011

In Praise of the Random Tree...

... As the landmark that no-one cares to look at and acknowledge although they can see it from the corner of their eye, as they drive or dash past.

It's the tree that they forgot to love. The municipal tree, the one that graces the roadside, the boulevard, street corners and the local square. It's the tree that gets no notice. Yet it adds noticeable interest to an area of town. It adds monetary value too, giving leafy suburbs all their meaning and coveted charms.

Not only attracting wildlife and giving a sense of seasonality, the random tree adds further interest through splashes of green casting dappled shade in the Midsummer days, branches softly swaying in the light breeze - or swaying no more.

That's what happens after being repeatedly hard-pruned by local councils to the extent that the tree becomes no more than a rigid mutilated wooden stump, bearing the stigmata of incompetence and lack of common sense, surrendered to a state of vegetal zombification as it eventually turns bare for good, deserted by new growth after years of chainsaw abuse.

This is an ode to the tree that was planted for decorum, and one day stands in the way of further human development, the wider carriageways, the wider seas of concrete and the expansive malls. The defenceless tree that falls victim of that fragile balance where man co-habits with nature only to control it and shape it to suit his very needs.

This is the tree that was there and no-one cares...

5 Feb 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 05-02 (Cooking)

Forget ready meals and fast-food takeaways: cooking needn't be out of bounds, convoluted, complicated, time-consuming and expensive; build up your confidence one easy recipe at at time, and soon enough you'll surprise yourself and guests, and wake up tastebuds with that party in your plate!

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3 Feb 2011

Battle of the Fittest

In keeping with the coastal theme from our last article, here is a captivating picture from a post that I stumbled upon while visiting the Wordpress platform, approximately three weeks ago. The post, entitled 'First Dive of 2011' by Alberto, encapsulates a collection of amazing underwater photography which, in this particular instance, was shot in Anilao, Batangas, The Philippines.

I left a comment at the end of that very popular post (115 comments and counting!) that sums up why I am drawn to this particular photo: "The picture of the moray eel and the shrimp is very intriguing. In this representation of the battle of the fittest, you managed to capture that moment when everything just hangs in the balance, and we are left contemplating the shrimp’s possible lucky escape…"

The photographer was fortunate enough to find himself at the right place at the right time, quick-minded enough to snap the elusiveness of the instant, and - needless to say - talented enough to capture not just the impromptu subjects but the insight and the magic. Definitely a picture that ticks all the boxes!