it’s half past four and i come outside to sit in the shadows and ponder and for a short period of time – too short really – there’s an uncanny silence. you know the thing, when just briefly the world seems to stop. to cease. to rest and relax and quit fretting. it’s an illusion of course and in truth the world continues to busy itself as it must – somewhere it’s daylight, somewhere else it’s noon, far from here it’s the end of a day and not its beginning and people wearied from their own noise are going to bed.
but i sit in that short dark silence and pretend it’s real because pretending is after all my forte and it’s nice to think that the world might have stopped for a moment, for me, and to waste this seems wrong when so many are trying to escape their noise. then i hear a car, in the distance, on the ring road – not one car really, it’s many, but the swish of wheels on the tarmac is continuous and so it does sound like one long car taking forever to pass, or one short car going evenly around in circles. perhaps it’s lost.
and the silence is broken. it doesn’t come back. i’m glad i grabbed it whilst it was there but equally happy it’s gone because i think if it stayed too long it would become frightening. noise is what we know. total silence, for all its therapeutic qualities, isn’t a natural state – there’s always something, a heartbeat at least.
i was disappointed yesterday with the venom i saw in this online world. not disappointed in the individuals per se – they have faith in their grievances – but disappointed with the mass. the pushing aside of love and forgiveness in favour of bile and more noise. what are we doing to ourselves? i thought.
i tried, before i switched on this computer and flooded my eyes with light, to capture the black and greys of my terrace before dawn. the shapes of wall tops and roofs and plant pots and my lovely big tree – the moon, a tiny crescent peeking through its dark leaves – but the ghosts thwarted me and would not play. the battery failed, the camera switched off. the noise of wheels on tarmac started up, my mind shifted to other thoughts and the moment was lost.
now i see no shadows or shapes. the bright glow from my screen surrounds me like a modern ghost with modern sensibilities and no thought for subtlety, for peace. it’s hard to see anything when one dominant light pervades and harnesses the eye’s focus – rudely, i think – and so i shall switch this off again and catch the last of those black and grey shadows before the night fades, the noise grows and another day begins.
France. What’s not to love? Here are just some of my favourite things from this summer’s trip to Paris, Poitiers & La Rochelle…
|Église Notre-Dame La Grand de Poitiers|
Churches – so many, so beautiful. The kids were saintly too as we dragged them from one to another – from (my favourite) the small but perfect Église Notre-Dame La Grand de Poitiers to the grand Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Meaux… and more.
I absolutely love the faded painting on the stonework in Église Notre-Dame. This church lured us in several times – one evening it was the sound of someone playing medieval-sounding music on a flute by candlelight which was beautiful. Another it was French/Latin mass.
Food & Wine – what can I say? Were I to live in France I’m sure I’d expand rapidly. The bread, the fresh croissants, the cheese, the snails, the mussels… the garlic! Those gorgeous cakes in the patisserie…
The French are wonderful at aesthetics.
Boulevard Saint-Germain – I’ve long wanted to walk along here and find one of the cafés frequented in the past by philosophers and poets. Relax in the sunshine and soak in a little of those past absinthe-fueled conversations whilst watching Paris go by…
We’d just eaten lunch by the time we came across Les Deux Magots, so I only took a photograph. Maybe next time I’ll sit and have that absinthe.
|Palais de Justice and tour Maubergeon|
Poitiers – visiting the Palais de Justice de Poitiers, along with its tour Maubergeon was the single most anticipated part of the trip for me. This was Aliénor d’Aquitaine’s much loved home, as well as being the location of the Court of Love where she and daughter, Marie, ran a medieval version of the Jeremy Kyle show… though I’m sure way more tasteful given they were French and the era far more noble etc. etc.
|Salle des Pas Perdus|
Walking through the Salle des Pas Perdus in Poitiers palace and knowing Aliénor of Aquitaine walked there too was wonderful – even with the alterations over the last few hundred years. The palace today is still used as a law court – you get frisked on the way in – and so much of it is inaccessible. Including, sadly, the Court of Love itself.
The tour Maubergeon was added on by William IX for his glorious mistress, (and Aliénor’s maternal grandmother), Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard. It too forms part of the law court building and so the interior has been modernised with artificial walls.
The upstairs, where Dangereuse sewed whilst her troubadour seduced her with song, is now a court room for affaires matrimoniales. Did I also say how much I like French humour?
We stayed in this square – just right of Hôtel de Ville in the picture. That fine building is now the city hall and must have been very grand when it was a hotel. A brilliant and beautiful location, this old part of Poitiers – Aliénor’s palace just a couple of streets away and restaurants/bars galore.
Eating Out – did I mention the food? Yes, okay, but worth mentioning again. Not having to cook and sitting outdoors in balmy ambiance is bliss.
La Rochelle – the harbour at night was glorious and a lot of fun. We stayed up pretty late. Street entertainers everywhere, outdoor restaurants busy and buzzing all along the harbour, and it was warm.
Nice for the kids to finally get some time on the beach too.
Finally, French waiters – I’d hoped to encounter one of the stereotypical rude French waiters we hear so much about. Alas, this was not to be. Not even in Paris. They were all polite, efficient and handsome.
It would have been rude to take pictures though, so you’ll just have to make do with Guetta as an illustration… (oh woe, eh?)
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
~ Mending Wall, Robert Frost
Out walking today I came across this villa, of the sort I like – tall windows, interesting roof pitch, slightly jaded. A place filled with stories.
The original entrance gate, for those on foot at least, has been walled up. I thought this a shame. The road is busy, not many approach houses on foot any more. The door has had its day. But still I think it sad…
It stands proudly behind that wall though. Despite the slur. Despite its time having gone and being unlikely to ever return.
It is, I think, a particularly noble door.
There aren’t many things that scare me… well, beyond the obvious stuff – scary thugs in dark alleys with sharp knives, my kids falling into open manholes on the street (yes, I know it’s unlikely, but it’s a recurring day-mare I have).
But wasps do. An irrational fear I’ve had since childhood when my brother was badly stung by a colony of hornets in a stupid prank which involved the nest falling onto his head (aided by a long stick, wielded by a ‘friend’).
I’ve got better with this fear since having children. A parent can’t afford to panic in front of a child, so I guess wasps don’t really scare me anymore – though if you were to put me in a locked room with a million of them you’d see Terror.
The other thing that scares me, often, is Irrationality itself.
Several years ago at the seaside I overheard a conversation between two women – an old dear in a wheelchair and her carer. The older woman was bemoaning the summer, the younger woman, presumably on an hourly rate and just going through the motions, was mainly uninterested.
“It’s the wasps, you see. I can’t stand the wasps,” the older woman said with some exasperation when she realised the younger one wasn’t showing any empathy.
“Oh well, you can’t live in a bubble,” the nurse replied.
I wrote this bit of the conversation down. Don’t know why really but it satisfied me, in a dark way. The kids thought it amusing that I’d recorded it and in the intervening years it’s become a bit of a catch-phrase for anything we don’t like or don’t want to do. “You can’t live in a bubble” we’ll say.
But I wrote it down in case I ever found a home for it, and then I never did. My eldest brought it up again this morning – asked me if I’d used it yet – and I figured what the hell, maybe I can get a blog out of it and then it’s done. It’s put to bed, I can score a line through it in my notepad and it won’t stare out at me any more.
I haven’t blogged for months. Not here or on my personal page. Again it’s a measure of irrationality that I go through phases with these things – not phases of motivation, but phases of Belief. There’s so much crap out here, on the internet, do I really want to add to that? There’s so much I’d like to say here, on the internet, why should I not have a voice?
Over and over these arguments with myself go.
I fear Irrationality so much I conjure it up by default. I swing widely between these two opinions and in the process have a horrible habit of scoring lines through stuff… there’s never really any middle ground for me.
I looked at someone’s blog yesterday. It’s the guy who’s now heading up Authonomy, Scott Pack, who’s a dynamic finger-on-the-pulse kind of person when it comes to the internet age. His blog (which is worth checking out, btw: MeAndMyBigMouth) is an amazing mix of business and personal – he even gives out his home address, which sent chills down my spine (Luddite that I am).
And it left me wondering about my fears over the last few months about blogging, Twittering, Facebook status updates, forum posts and the like – all that crap we shove out there that reveals so much about us, and that lingers as testimony to Who We Might Be. I wondered whether my fears were Irrational – here, after all, is a professional guy willing to stick a whole load of personal information and mouthy opinion out there… his blog reads as normal and natural. It doesn’t seem a vanity, it doesn’t seem Too Much Information.
But, still, I’ll argue with myself anew, I’m sure. And I’m really interested to hear other’s views on this issue.
Now we’re nearing the end of summer. It’s that time of year when the wasps become drunk on fermenting fruit – they become aggressive, dangerous, irrational. Here where I sit on my terrace is a wasps’ nest, formed inside an old railway sleeper which supports the fencing. They are literally right behind my chair – constantly in and out of the hole they gnawed some months ago.
I deliberately didn’t destroy their nest when I first saw and heard them building it. Though it’d be good for me to leave it there. Share my smoking spot with the creatures I fear most.
Can’t live in a bubble after all…