Out Of The Archive: A Favourite Piece Of Historical Sleuthing

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The family who lived in the Palais de Masena

Believe me, the family gathering depicted in these two murals has more tales to tell than most. They could be the very depiction of Tolstoy’s famous opening to the tragic novel Anna Karenina: (And I paraphrase) all happy families look alike, but the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own inimitable way.

The original post Nice Family? En famille at the Massena Palace continues HERE

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So what spurred me to discover more about these set-piece murals wherein members of an elite Nice family gaze at one another across a palace staircase? Silly question really. It was the mysteries that cropped up – once I paid them closer attention.

For instance why has the blue-bloused woman of the second mural adopted such a vulgarly aggressive stance when the keys hanging from her waist suggest she is mistress of the house, the chatelaine? And who is the droopy waif leaning on her shoulder?And why are so many people lurking, or peering between marble columns. And who is the lovely woman with the macaws and exotic tapestry; is the blue-bloused woman’s look of contempt from across the stairwell meant for her? But most of all, one has to wonder why this family would commission well known French artist François Flameng to show them in this way? Was he having a joke at their considerable expense?

The proposed explanations are in the original post so I won’t repeat them here. But I will tell you that the family members are all descended through intermarriage from three ordinary men, plain soldiers, Masséna, Murat and Ney who through courageous acts rose to prominence in Bonaparte’s army, were appointed Marshals of Empire and thereafter acquired all manner of riches and other grandiose titles.

But the reason this archive post is one is one of my favourites is because the sleuthing involved was so fascinating. I was astonished at how much could be gleaned from a few hours trawling the internet. It seemed like magic – lead after lead revealing a few more snippets about a world distant from me in time and space. And I thought then – this is the world wide web at its best; this is what its creator intended: to share knowledge and information; to open minds and eyes; to enthrall, educate and entertain in positive ways. It could still be like that, couldn’t it…I mean without the hate and fakery?

July Squares #19

Out In The ‘Blue Remembered Hills’

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Into my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.

From A. E. Housman’s  A Shropshire Lad  1896

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We are lucky enough to live on the edge of Wenlock Edge whose ridge-top road delivers us straight to the heart of Shropshire’s hill country. Caer Caradoc, Lawley, Ragleth, Long Mynd, Stiperstones are some of the most well known of our uplands, each striking in its own way and often featuring in old tales and mysterious legends. This is not surprising considering that humans have been walking these lands for at least the last 9,000 years when the ice sheets retreated.

The whole area is rich in prehistoric remains – burial cairns, standing stones, hill forts, Bronze Age field systems, trackways, drove roads and trade routes. This photo was taken from the northerly flanks of the Long Mynd, on the lane to Ratlinghope and Bridges, and looks over the Lawley to the long blue-green spine of Wenlock Edge.

July Squares #18

Crocosmic Blue

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A couple of years ago I dumped a big wodge of Crocosmia corms over the fence behind the old privies. The plants were too big for the garden and I’d lost patience with them leaning over and smothering everything else. But I didn’t quite have the heart to dispose of them altogether. And this year I’m glad I didn’t. The exiled Crocosmia are now as happy as Larry, not leaning over at all, but reaching up and up into the summer sky.

July Squares #17

What A Good Yarn! Knitting Bombs in Bishops Castle

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Well you can’t help but think it, can you: would that all bombing were so beautifully harmless and smile-inducing. In my last post I mentioned our ‘guerrilla garden’, but here we have a spot of guerrilla knitting found in and around our favourite small Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. The great knitting outbreak apparently began here a few years ago to coincide with the town’s arts festival, but I noticed some more recent additions on our last visit. It’s inspiring me to get my knitting needles out again for a little more creative procrastination, though yarn bombing Wenlock might be a step too far. Maybe the allotment…?!*&

Knitted peas and carrots anyone?

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Crocheted cupcakes at Poppies Tearoom?

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Much indulging of the imagination at the bookshop:

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And then some subtle, ‘environmentally sensitive’ yarning:

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Last but not least, in the entrance of the Town Hall you may also see a knitted version whose accompanying notice says it was created by Nigel. It’s there to serve a particular good cause, inviting donations for the care and renovation of this lovely building that sits so finely at the top of the town:

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July Squares #16

It’s A Small World ~ Over The Garden Fence

Most of you who come here often will know that over our garden fence beside  the field path we have been encouraging a wilderness garden to flourish. Most of it is not on our land, and so we call it ‘the guerrilla garden’, referencing a movement that began some years back and involved certain UK citizens going around, often under the cover of darkness, establishing gardens in derelict and unsightly corners of public spaces.

Our version was aimed at encouraging bio-diversity, mostly of the insect kind. It is wholly unplanned and includes some cultivated herbaceous species i.e. those that had grown too uncontainable in our small garden and had to be set free, the crab apple that had to be moved when the garden steps were being rebuilt, wild flowers sown and invaded, and quite a few weeds. I don’t do much to it beyond a big tidy up in the autumn, though I do have to tackle the fieldside margins now and then to stop the thistles and brambles from taking over.

Anyway, the ensuing floral jungle is a great source of pleasure for six months of the year, and once you start peering over the fence to study it whole hours can pass. So here’s a glimpse of some of what goes on there . I should perhaps warn you before you set off, the photo of the Mullein Moth caterpillar is very much larger than life. Also, who can spot the crab spider in the close-up of the Giant Mullein flowers? And anyone who has more accurate identifications of the ‘?beetles’ and hoverflies (Pete?) please shout up.

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Lens-Artists: Detail This week Patti sets the challenge.

For more about the Lens-Artists photo challenge go HERE

 

Just Now ~ The Blue Over Wenlock Edge

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I noticed last night that the wheat in Townsend Meadow is on the turn – the silver-grey ears taking on the faintest sheen of gold. Out in the guerrilla garden there is also much gold on the go. The chamomile daisies are over a metre tall, and the giant mullein are being truly gigantic. Soon the helianthus will be blooming and it will be full-on yellow, here on the edge of Wenlock Edge.

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July Squares #11

Atelier nani Iro Meets Indian Woodblock~ A Case Of Sewing Not Writing

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I started making my own clothes in my teens: it was the era of Pop Art and Mary Quant shifts. I made a bee-line for cheap remnants of furnishing fabrics with big prints and turned out some surprising garments. Much much later, when were living in Kenya and Zambia, I was inspired by the bright local fabrics and started sewing again. Graham still has some striking longish shorts – an all-over mango tree design – orange print on navy – the lovely glazed cotton bought in Lusaka back in ‘93 and initially used as curtains in our little house on Sable Road.

Back in England again, I did not sew so much, though I remember making a big winter coat which features in one of my earlier blog headers. Thereafter the sewing urge mostly faded away. It was easier to buy stuff.

And then recently I discovered nani IRO. Not only was it love at first sight, but the advent of a whole new sewing adventure: the hitherto unencountered territory of Japanese design. This was the book that started it:

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For those like me i.e. not-in-the-know, Nani IRO is the brand name for the fabrics created from designs by Japanese artist Naomi Ito. And Atelier nani IRO is the design studio that produces the sewing patterns. In the past they have catered only for petite Japanese sizes. But this current collection now includes sizes up to UK 14/US 12.

The book is beautiful – every page of it. But being captivated by the images and fabrics is one thing. I soon realised the challenge of using it to make an actual garment was probably bordering on the impossible. The patterns that come with the book comprise two fat folded wads of stiff white paper. They are inscribed with multiple pattern pieces that overlay one another, and at all angles. Furthermore, the instructions are in Japanese, although on the whole the book’s accompanying diagrams are more or less clear to anyone used to tackling European dress patterns.

So: this is what a small part of the pattern sheet looks like. Think exploded Venn diagram meets Heathrow air traffic control flight paths:

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Each garment does however have a letter code in English and the sizes are indicated S, ML, L+, 2L. After this, you are pretty much on your own.

Once you know the letter of your chosen project, you must then study the designated layout in the book to fix in visual brain the shapes of all the pattern pieces you’ll need. Then you have to search for those shapes within this bonkers mega-puzzle, and having located them, trace them off to the appropriate size on dressmaking tracing paper.

By this point, on my hands and knees amid clouds of tissue paper strewn across the bedroom floor, I realise I am pursuing, and with dogged intent, an extreme form of writer’s procrastination. I have actually chosen to unravel this devilish design of cross-purposes rather than sort out the pressing narrative plotting problems of the novel.

Found you out! I cry. This is not really about making a big blue frock out of a stash of Indian block print cotton that you just happened to have handy. This is about NOT WRITING.

But  then of course when it comes to prevarication, writers have all the excuses. I tell myself it’s good at my age to go in for new forms of mental and manual exercise, even if the initial processes are killing on the knees. Besides, there is also the great satisfaction of making and completing a project. And while I can see that my new blue Indo-Japanese gown is hardly the sort of thing I can wear at the allotment, it does have potential as a personal seaside ‘changing room’. I can even look fairly gracious when needing to treat with the postman before I’m quite up in the morning.

And then I’m actually rather in love with the thing itself. Scenes from Kurosawa epics (Seven Samurai, Ran, Yohimbo) come flitting through my mind. Perhaps a little of the master’s creative impulses might just rub off on me (though hopefully not adding confusing Japanese influences to a yarn set in the East African bush. Or there again…) So I may just hang the finished work on the wall. Perhaps it will tell me I’ve used up all present excuses to not write. Perhaps it will say: stop play-acting out in the field with the other half and get back to the keyboard!

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July Squares #7