25 May 2016

Elderflower Glory

It is claimed that the oldest memory trigger is smell. One particular example of that experience in my life is everytime I walk by a blossoming elder bush (Sambucus nigra), in Spring. It reignites a nostalgic journey down memory lane. Not only does the sight of this old-fashioned hedgerow favourite and its tiny off-white flower clusters (corymbs) get my full attention but so does the delicate honeydew-like aroma that pervades! Watching with the eyes gets superseded by watching with the nose!

I get closer and bury my nose in the lacy inflorescence and the sweet balmy jasmine-like aroma envelops me into a comforting embrace and transports me back to my childhood days, when my friends and I used to venture on the edge of our small housing estate, eastbound of a sunken path that used to wind down past a bosquet and remnants of pasture and orchard, a surviving testimony of the countryside that was being fragmented into suburbia as my hometown of Saint-Quentin was expanding.

Back then, you could still notice those vestiges of mature, bucolic cottage gardens that were standing still in their semi-neglected state, rife for development in what had become an encompassing suburbia, yet still within walking distance from the countryside. And my most vivid memory is that hedge of closely-knit elder bushes that thrived on an elevation, our perfect adventure ground, vantage outpost and hiding place as kids. We loved it when the bushes were blossoming, less so after the flowers had wilted, and their swollen bases had turned into those clothes-staining dark berries!

Later, life took each of us kids down its wondrous and less wondrous ways, and off a tangent from those dreams and ambitions we had woven under the comforting canopy of those elder bushes. With higher education, relationships, marriage, family commitments, work, milestone achievements, celebrations, and some disillusions, losses and dramas along the way.

I moved 300 miles away from home to University. Then I moved to England. When I did come back to Saint-Quentin a handful of times a year, it was with joy and a pinch in my heart, always to witness things that used to be and were no more, people who used to be and were now gone. One day, I drove down the road and the land where the elder bushes once stood had been flattened. And in their place stood a rendered breeze-block wall that hedged a newly-built property. And that flattened landmark at that very moment defined in my mind the joylessness - and flatness - of suburbia.

Elderflower Cordial by Things {We] Make

Many years later, I found myself reacquainted with elderflower, this time in Britain, my country of adoption. I got to taste their fabulous elderflower cordial, the drink that I have been fondly associating with Albion ever since. Smell might be the oldest memory trigger but sight and taste are a close second!

Elderflower-scented Custard Tart by Belvoir Fruit Farms

P.S: Take the proverbial pinch of salt and read the fun elderflower facts compiled by Belvoir Fruit Farms.

13 May 2016

Pink Poppy Day

If I had to describe where I live in three words, it would have to be: (1) Medieval. (2) Corsican. (3) Hamlet. It sounds like a statement although I don't mean it that way, as the obligatory envious clichés are invariably bound to jump off the page: vacational island, coastal living, Mediterranean climate, panoramic landscapes bathed in the wonder of blue yonder, nature on the doorstep, and ancient off-the-beaten-track dry-stone buildings.

Those three words forebode a sense of adventure, I agree. Yet adventure is to be found at the start of your state of mind. Adventure may be found in 'Salford studio flat' or 'industrial Dusseldorf complex' all the same. It's that old chestnut again: life is what you make it. You may want to play it safe and never investigate your surroundings and that is your decision.

Yet should you be seeking adventure in the mundanity of your surroundings, you are spoilt for choice. Any restrictions will be set by how far (or near!) you wish to expand your imagination and curiosity. In fact, the best way to turn anything into an adventure is to take nothing for granted because that Renaissance building that had stood the test of time till now might be gone tomorrow, because that noble cedar tree might be chopped down, because the sweet old lady down the road might sell off her bungalow and pack her bags before you've RSVPed her gracious invite for Pekoe tea and Bourbon biscuits. Because as it is, natural entropy is being accelerated by the planned obsolescence of our modern model, which puts us mere mortals at a disadvantage.

The transience of life expressed through our mortality needs to force us to be aware of every instant that is lived within the environment at large. To cultivate curiosity, be curious by nature about nature, and an explorer of life rather than a passive consumer fed by the media is what I recommend to young and old - especially the young ones - as the 'future-holders' of our world.

What is the relation of all that precedes with the Pink Poppy Day title, I hear you say? I haven't been on a diversion course; there would be no Pink Poppy Day post without this natural curiosity of mine and sense of adventure woven out of the mundanity of life. Now here is my story.

A couple of days ago, I went for a stroll up the hamlet and found that a beautiful wild poppy bush blossoming on an elevation by the side of the path had been pulled off the ground by a local landlord, and tossed down the path like a dirt bag. Sadly I encounter this attitude a lot around here, this total disrespect for nature's own floral gifts. Understand nature and the nature of wild plants: they come impromptu and spontaneous, like uninvited guests of sorts. But they don't come to burden you; rather they come to enliven your day, and their inflorescence - little bits of charm and beauty they scatter around their foliage - is free of charge. A big bonus if you want flower delight without shelling a dime! Yet instead of being left alone, the wild plants get pulled out or cut back or doused in herbicide, and this infuriates me!

I went on a poppy rescue mission there and then. I brought back home the pulled-out poppy bush, cut back its foliage and managed to fit the root system into an XXL jar with a little water in the bottom. In the next few days, I shall plant it in my parents' garden and we'll monitor its progress. Meanwhile I salvaged the blooms - which were looking sorry for themselves - and improvised them into a tabletop posy in an improvised vase, an empty glass jar! From that moment on, I witnessed the blooms gather strength and perk up.

I saved the poppies from their downtrodden state and they made my day in return with their charming blossoms that I couldn't cease to admire. Yet their place should have been out there in the wild rather than in a vase but I had to compose with the vagaries of the human mind, that interferes with nature because it wants to control it.

On the third day, my lovely poppies had scattered their petals by the time I was down for breakfast. I carefully picked those, and laid them flat inside a paper bag that I placed under a heavy contraption for a spot of drying before I use them in a paper collage at some point in the future.

This is how my Pink Poppy Day came about: a reversal of fortune for the wild flowers and an eleventh hour rescue from the ditch. The moral of the story is that nature belongs to itself and we are welcome to enjoy it, not tamper with it to the point of destruction. Yet you can bring positivity to a situation by turning the little drama around, and embracing it as an adventure in the everyday.

P.S: Jason Silva's Existential Bummer 'philosophical espresso shot' about entropy is bound to perk up your day and stimulate your thought! Three minutes of bliss!