Monday, August 30, 2010

A mention of mermen

Like their female counterpart, mermen are legendary beings - of half-man, half-fish form with the ability to enchant and entrance with their siren-song. Like the mermaid again, mermen have had a chequered past and varied reputation over the ages - once considered highly ugly and of malevolent intent, and then later thought to be dashingly attractive creatures, ready to aid sailors with their great knowledge of the seas. The merman features in many cultures - Greek mythology, Icelandic folklore, Dogon mythology and was a Mexican and Peruvian deity too, amongst others...

With his conch shell and three-pronged trident, Triton, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite in Greek mythology is perhaps the most famous merman who served as the messenger of the waves -the Trumpeter of the Seas. Indeed, his twisted conch could be sounded so loudly that it would frighten away adversaries in battle, and could create wild waves or still the waters.

'Triton' was to become the name used to describe all mermen who would accompany Poseidon, annoncing his arrival with their conch shells and also pulling Aphrodite's chariot like hippocamps.


Ovid describes the transformation of Glaucas the fisherman to merman in Metamorphoses...

Having eaten magical herbs our hero becomes an immortal fish-being, and whilst at first shocked by this metamorphosis, Glaucas soon accepts his fate and enters a group of sea deities, learning the art of prophecy from them. When he falls in love with the beautiful nymph Scylla she rejects him and so he asks for help from the sorceress Circe, in the form of a love potion. Circe herself soon falls in love with Glaucas but when in turn she is rejected the spurned witch turns Scylla into a sea monster out of spite! As a creature with dog heads growing from her waist, Scylla is rooted in the sea, to rage against every passing vessel and slay sailors in peril. On the other side of the strait is Charybdis, the naiad daughter of Poseidon and Gaia, likewise transformed into a sea monster as a punishment administered by Zeus for her voracious appetite. Sailors avoiding the one monster would fatally encounter the other - hence the saying "Between Scylla and Charybdis", to mean "between a rock and a hard place' which could probably be used to say how Glaucas finally feels!

I came across a few mermen (carved or sculpted only!) this summer and came to the conclusion that many of them seem to share pained expression or at least appear weighed down by their lot.
This doom and gloom aspect is reflected in the work by the Victorian poet Mathew Arnold, 'The Forsaken Merman', when the hero and his children are deserted by Margaret, mother and wife, as she returns to dry land.

            Come away children,
            Come children, come down.
            The hoarse winds blow colder,
            Lights shine in the town.
            She will start from her slumber
            When gusts shake the door,
            She will hear the winds howling,
            Will hear the waves roar.
            We shall see, while above us
            The waves roar and whirl,
            A ceiling of amber,
            A pavement of pearl,
            Singing, "Here comes a mortal,
            But faithless was she,
            And alone dwells forever,
            The Kings of the Sea."

All in all I would say the while the female of the species is indeed more deadly than the male (to quote Rudyard Kipling) enchanting mermaids sometimes seem to have a sunnier existence than the mermen, despite the dubious motives of their actions and morals and of course with the exception of Andersen's Little Mermaid....
Place de la Concorde, Paris.
Place de la Concorde, Paris.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cast iron and reinforced concrete - architectural magic in Paris....

The metro station above, Les Abbesses, with its turn-of-the century Art Nouveau style must be one of the most easily-recognizable images of Paris.... Hector Guimard (1867-1942) was the architect responsible for this highly characteristic design and conception and many metro entrances bear his particular organic, vegetal style - not just in Paris but also in such far-flung places as Chicago, Lisbonne and Mexico. The strange Triffid forms, influenced by the ornamental style of Viollet-le-Duc departed from the classical, historical forms of contemporary art to create work that would celebrate the introduction of the metro system of Paris in 1900 to coincide with the Exposition Universelle of 1900 (albeit several years after the inauguration of the London Underground network).

 It was remarked by a contemporary critic that the metro entrances with their cast iron structure, glass panels and drooping amber lamps looked like "dragonfly wings" although I'm not sure if that was meant in a derogative sense or a flattering one - I'd take it as the latter! The semi-industrial techniques used for the realisation of this organic work facilitated manufacture, transportation and assembly in a manner that was somewhat new to the epoque. It was this same endeavour to use new materials and approaches in art and architecture that is reflected in the church of St Jean of Montmartre which I was able to visit this weekend.
It could be said that St Jean is a relatively 'recent' church set on a very old religious site on the butte de Montmartre. Throughout antiquity several temples had existed there, and later the first Christians were to be persecuted on this same site - hence the name Montmartre - hill of martyrs. St Jean was conceived at a time when the parish church of St Pierre was momentarily closed, leaving local Catholics in need of a place of worship.

Anatole de Baudot (1834-1915) drew up his plans in 1894, although it was to take several more years for construction to begin and required the architect to overcome obstacles to the work's very realisation. Indeed, the church was the first of its kind since it used reinforced concrete which provided weight-bearing properties within a light, airy structure previously unseen. Unfortunately, this same innovative structural aspect did not inspire confidence amongst laymen to the extent that many questioned the resistance of the building, and work drew to a halt when it was demanded that stability was verified and there was even a risk of demolition. Luckily work was resumed and the church was completed in 1904.

 I love the spidery, slightly oriental forms of the building as a whole, but up close it is the ceramic decoration, with its beautiful colours that grabs my attention.

The stoneware 'pastels' of Alexandre Bigot create a rich texture to the exterior of the church, but are also apparent on the inside too - although the curé understandibly doesn't like visitors clambering around the altar to take photographs (as the flower attendant informed me). The altar is enriched by beautiful gold pastels too, which I found breathtaking (but didn't like to take a photo!).

With its avant-garde forms it seems difficult to believe that the church of St Jean dates from the beginning of the last century.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pieces of glass, pieces of porcelain..... Maison Picassiette - a house of peace.

I recently heard about an original house in France, built from a modest person's dreams and imagination, as an antidote and haven from the ugliness present in the world around him. From pieces of discarded broken glass and porcelain that caught Raymond Isidore's eye one day when walking to work, this man created a home and garden that can only catch our attention and fire our imagination too; La Maison Picassiette. I set my heart on a visit this summer.....

Raymond Isidore was born near Chartres, in 1900, at the very beginning of the 20th century, yet his life's work - often qualified as 'art brut' seems to be timeless, and its creator was somewhat a visionary. He was from a poor working-class background, born to a large family with no apparent creative or artistic leanings, yet he himself was driven by his creativity. Whilst he achieved, indeed by far surpassed what he had originally set out to do, Isidore was forever considered a social misfit, an eccentric outsider who never really received the recognition that he deserved in his lifetime. Isidore was well aware of his social status, but found peace and a raison d'être in his lifework. He was to say that like the broken glass and crockery that others rejected, he had been 'discarded waste' but had dared to create life from this existence. Just as Isidore gave a second, wildly imaginative life to the urban flotsam and jetsam he found as a cemetery sweeper, he built himself a parallel life.."Many people could do the same as me, but no, they daren't do so. I used my hands and they made me happy. I would like to be an example".

As a child Raymond visited the cathedral of Chartres and discovered the gift of 'sight' - an ability to see beauty around him. The magnificent stained glass windows, with their bright 'Chartres blue' dazzled the child and left a lasting impression, inspiring his work which itself was a form of paradis terrestre. La Maison Picassiette, with its bright blue tones has numerous references back to the cathedral and other religious monuments in the frescos, mosaics and modelled forms that abound in the house, yards and gardens.

Said to have his own form of deep spirituality, Isidore made of his creation a hommage to life and Creation. Biblical imagery runs alongside that of allegory, the artist's dreams, imagination and portraits of himself, his wife and animals to create a strange visual and material patchwork that finds its own balance, coherence and poetry.

Married to a woman eleven years old than him who already had three children, Raymond Isidore bought a plot of land in 1928 in order to build a home. Apart from the artisitic grandeur of the resulting house and garden, the one-floor home, with its tiny rooms barely seems adequate to house a relatively large family and seems to lack basic commodities and comfort. With its complex designs and overwhelming decor that covered all from floor to ceiling and everything between (bed, radio set, sewing machine, stoves...) it is hard to imagine actually living in such a home. Nevertheless the Isidore family did precisely that in their haven of peace in the quaintly and appropriately named Rue du Repos throughout their married life, and Raymond's widow continued to live there well after Raymond's death in 1964. Isidore started to decorate the interior of the house in 1938, but soon ran out of space and was therefore to devote the majority of his spare time over the next twenty-five years religiously extending this creative mission to the exterior of the home, out-houses, yards and gardens. Apparently more than 15 tons of discarded broken glass, porcelain, crockery, shells and decorative stone adorn the different surfaces and were manipulated by Isidore using basic tools. Such were the requirements of his creation that he was obliged to buy old crockery from household sales and auctions in order to build up a reserve of material to feed his inspiration and creativity.

In this manner, broken teapots, pharmaceutical jars and containers, eau de cologne bottles, crockery are used with great imagination to create a beautiful whole, that is both moving in its simplicity and devotion to life and family, and breath-taking in its complexity and scale. Sadly Raymond Isidore is said to have suffered from depression and lack of inspiration towards the end of his life and his later work seen in the far garden seems to reflect this.

Today the Maison Picassiette is a classified historical monument, each year attracting thousands of visitors who consider that in its own way it bears a spirituality and creativity comparable to that of Chartres' world-famous cathedral. In 2000 the city of Chartres celebrated the centenary of the birth of the Maison Picassiette's creator. Things were not always thus, however... While Picasso visited the house in 1954 - perhaps one of the origins of the name Picassiette (the Picasso of Broken Plates) - and the photographer Doisneau in 1956, the house itself was left a poor state when Mme Isidore finally moved and was given no state maintenance.

The Maison fell into such a state of disrepair that the city considered destroying it, whilst Japanese and American enthusiasts are said to have offered to buy it to dismantle and install in their home countries.
Finally the Maison was recognised for its full cultural value and was classified in 1983 and not before time! Today the house and gardens require continual repair work as the cement and interior plasterwork suffer from the effects of rain and humidity. As for the glass, porcelain and crockery, Raymond Isidore left a large stock in an outhouse that is now used for repairwork and replacement.

 Unfortunately my photos just do not do justice to the Maison Picassiette! To fully appreciate it, a visit is greatly recommended, especially on the bright sunny day like the one that I luckily had! Faute de mieux, you can always visit the site below, with its video, but then you wouldn't be making a financial contribution to the Maison through an actual visit.

However, the good news is that a film of Picassiette is under production right now, and should be released next summer. It probably won't hit Hollywood but will open people's eyes to a creator who focused on the beauty he found and created around him. I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

'Pole Top Jewels' from the top of a mountain...

This weekend we decided to jump on a little local train for a day trip to the woodland above Rilly-la Montagne, in the parc naturel et régional de la montagne de Reims. This mountain is in fact a fairly flat stretch of land between Reims and Epernay, and while its highest point of altitude, the Mont Sinaï, only reaches a rather modest 286 metres, the difference in height between the chalk-based plains where champagne vines grow, at 8Om, and the wooded land 2OOm higher justifies the application of this name.

The woods themselves are, of course, very pretty and the land is well maintained, with paths and tracks that criss-cross in front of you, nevertheless leaving you the impression that you are in the depths of the countryside.

Wildlife is abundant, from the croaking frogs that splash in puddles and ponds as they leap away from us humans, the innumerable insects and birds to the biggest mammal to be found there; the wild boar.
Wild boar statue: Le Louvre.

Fortunately we didn't see any boar as these tend to be dangerous when with their young - yet it must be said that with or without their offspring these creatures look most intimidating with their pre-historic form, bristly coats and impressive teeth!
Horsetail - Equisetem

This prehistoric feel is enhanced even more by the thickets of Horsetail equisetum plants growing in the ponds. This plant, considered a 'living fossil' since it is a relic from the ancient past, links the vegetation of the Carboniferous Age to that of today, creating the impression of age-old swamps.

The giant dragonflies flying over the surface of the water completes this effect and reminds me of my old Ladybird children's book - Our Land in The Making.

I used to love looking at the pictures when I was little and always thought that I'd come across various different forms of pre-historic creatures the minute we wandered into swampy marsh land around our old house in the countryside.

This summer the water level is very low due to lack of rain in the region over the past few weeks, but looking carefully newts can still be seen in the watery ditches and pock-holes that are characteristic of the woodland here.

Indeed the tranquility and the beauty of the greenery here in the mountain leads us to forget a vital detail about this landscape; directly below us is the train tunnel linking Rilly to Epernay. Apart from squat stone chimney formations, used for ventilation, we appear to have no indication of the tunnel's presence as we walk quietly through the woodland. However the very form of the landscape gives testimony to its existence and history....

Built in 1852, the tunnel was the second largest of its kind in Eastern France, and during the Second World War was the target of a dramatic Allied bombing mission involving the Dambuster squadron, no less.

The German Army had requisitioned this tunnel in 1944 in order to set up large-scale bomb-making facilities for missiles destined to destroy British cities. Entry to this bomb-factory tunnel was refused to all French, although one brave local was able to brave this, and spied on the proceedings by hiding himself under the carriage of a Reichbahn train passing through. Thus informed, the Resistance was able to organise a mission to obliterate this Nazi missile-production site. During the first Allied raid, Lancaster and Mosquito bomber planes targeted the area with Tall Boys bombs which hit the ground at great velocity and force, causing huge shock waves as these dug into the soil, damaging vital man-made structures underneath. Following this, the Dambusters 617th Squadron were called in to block off both of the entrances to the tunnel - thus sealing off the bomb-making facilities. The mission was a success, although the monument to be seen in Rilly today shows that there was a price to pay for this, with loss of human life amongst civilians and Allied bombers and great damage to the village and its surrounding woodland.

Today's landscape bears the mark of this wartime activity with the strange crater-shaped pits in the land which the trees and greenery seem to accommodate but never fully conceal. This is rather like the landscape of Verdun, with its former Great War trenches which are now leafy tranquil zones that belie the carnage of the past, yet can be seen by similar pock marks.

I don't know whether it was in an endeavour to fill in damaged land after the war, or a more recent attempt to render the tracks of Rilly-la-Montagne more stable (apparently there is a tendancy to landslide), but there are traces of building rubble visible, here and there, in the woods...

Old decorative household tiling can be seen in different parts of the wood - some of these old tiles being over 100 years old. This time I came across strange glass forms protruding from the hardened ground and was pleased to find a lovely rounded green shape that I initially thought was part of a door/drawer handle. Having found several other glass shapes scattered over different parts of the wood I tried to work out what they could the top part wasn't truly round and had the thread for a screw system. They looked vaguely like the porcelain forms that I used to see on old telegraph poles - and bingo! They are!
These glass forms - like mini bell jars - were used as electric insulators on utility poles to prevent the wooden part of the electric pole from getting wet, which would lead to conduction via water and the loss of electric current.

Apparently some of these insulators date back to the introduction of  electric poles in the 1850's although this system of insulation was fully replaced in the 1970's. In America these glass insulators have been named pole top jewels, and their varied colours and shapes have attracted many collectors to the extent that there is even a magazine devoted to this - Crown Jewels of the Wire. What a beautiful term!

 It is said that even between set colours there can be variations since the glass colour tended to be altered over time by the ultra-violet rays of bright sunlight.

Of course I don't know the age of my pieces of pole top jewels, but as with collecting sea glass when beach-combing, I like the idea that these strange glass forms have a past...
The next time we go back to the woodland at Rilly, I hope to walk over to Germaine, but I'll be keeping an eye out for other pieces of treasure... and wild boar!
A wild boar's jaw bone found on a trip to the South.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mermaids - marine maidens, musicians or minxes?

I presume that the majority of little girls are drawn to the image of mermaids - fascinated by these beautiful elusive creatures that live in the splendour of the rich marine underworld which is generally denied to us lesser mortals.
Part of their fascination, however, must come down to the fact that the essence of the mermaid is difficult to define. Even Disney's watered-down version of la sirène in 'Peter Pan' bears a certain ambiguity, presenting an alluring beauty but leaving the child wondering whether the mermaid is a kindly or cruel being. It is perhaps this mixture of elements that provides the force and fascination of the mermaid - this half-creature, half human hybrid. This enigmatic nature combined with les chants de la sirène - these melodious, beguiling songs  - literally make the mermaid an enchanting being, placing all individuals under her spell.

Today this powerful attraction is still largely felt by young girls (and not so young ones!), but throughout the ages, the mermaid has always been a dangerous force whose attentions were reserved exclusively for men, inevitably luring them to their perdition.

 The sea, with its aquatic, amniotic nature has always been seen as a symbol of Life itself - the sea gives and takes as it moves from tranquility to raging storm. This reflects the essential nature of the mermaid too - sometimes taken for a symbol of fertility, like Venus - also born from the sea in a scallop shell - and yet also considered a devastating, deadly lure for seafarers. In Medieval times, the sea was thought to contain the marine counterpart of every living terrestrial being, however bizarre. The mermaid thus had her rightful place in the 'bestiaries' of the epoque - books giving detailed moralizing accounts of the real and imaginary creatures serving to illustrate Christian dogma. These bestiaries had been inspired by the Greek work Physiologus; nevertheless, the mermaid's tale goes back to far earlier times...

Zennor church carved bench end
Initially la sirène that appeared in Greek and Roman mythology was not a fish-tailed being, but rather a winged bird-like creature with a human head and as such reflected the Ba, the bird-like creature of ancient Egypt which would accompany a form of the soul after corporeal death. In Greek mythology, the sirens frequented Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter but when they failed to prevent her being taken by Hades into the Underworld Demeter punished the sirens by changing them in to bird-women. The most famous sirens are perhaps those from Homer's Odyssey. Indeed Odysseus was warned by the goddess Circe of the dangers of the trio of treacherous creatures inhabiting an island strewn with the bones of those who had fallen prey to their bewitching songs. Aware that this music would put a man to sleep  leading directly to death, Odysseus duly blocked his ears and those of his crew, with bees wax and he lashed himself to the mast of the boat to avoid the temptation of these half-birds. The sirens appealed to the weakness of the spirit - in this case with the offer of supreme knowledge, imparted by their music which recreated a celestial harmony. In the epic poem from the 3rd century B.C, Argonautica, the Argonauts were likewise able to escape the sirens through the lyre-playing of Orpheus which drowned out their songs, rendering them powerless. In late antiquity the three sirens were each symbolized by their music; singing representing greed; flute-playing, arrogance and the lyre - lust.
By the Middle Ages the siren had lost her wings and gained a split fishtail to assume the mermaid form more like the one which we are familiar with today. From this period on she was frequently presented as a solitary figure, nevertheless maintaining her bewitching beauty and music that would lead men to their ruin.
On early wooden carvings the mermaid is increasingly presented as a lasvicious being, a carnal, if fish-like temptress leading men to a sea of desire and death. The mermaid often holds a mirror and comb, both symbols of vanity and sexuality which were also considered the attributes of prostitutes. And so with her long hair symbolizing fertility the early mermaid gradually took on the form of a voluptuous fishy femme fatale! While previously the siren had been the stuff of myth and legend, the mermaid of the Middle Ages was considered to be veritable being, and frequent sightings were announced and many individuals claimed to be of mermaid descent.
J.W Waterhouse Mermaid 1905
Indeed, just as the siren had gradually undergone a physical metamorphosis to become the mermaid we know today, the siren's sinister desire to lure a man to his death had been superceded by the mermaid's desire to gain a soul for herself. One means of doing this was to marry a mortal and in the work Mélusine, by Jean d'Arras, 1393, the eponymous heroine manages to do so. Unfortunately Mélusine is caught by her unsuspecting husband when he fails to respect her conditions of privacy and comes across his wife taking a bath " from navell downward in the lyknes of a grete serpent".

It is with the advent of 19th century folk revival with its thirst for long-lost worlds that artists, writers and musicians were inspired by the imaginary world of legend, in which the mermaid and water nymphs in general play a role. Keats wrote his Lamia in 1819, Heinrich Heine's poem The Lorelei was published in 1827 and Wagner created his Rhinemaidens from the Ring Cycle. However it was with Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid that the salty seductress is transformed from the previously predatory loner to become a tragic isolated figure, an outcast of the human world who is denied love. Precisely because the little mermaid fails to kill her prince she is unable to recover her mermaid state and so prefers to kill herself, finally to be transformed into a daughter of the air.

Towards the end of the 19th century the innocence of Andersen's Little mermaid had been cast aside again as the mermaid resumed a more sinister nature, personifying the bestial perversion of the female in the fin de siècle decadence. The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau depicts the cruel emasculating beauty which finds its reflection in A Rebours of J-K Huysmans of 1884. However after the turn of the century, the mermaid did not hold the same power over human imagination. Despite initial confusion with sea mammals such as the manatee, thought to breast-feed their young in a human manner, it has now long been proven that the mermaid does not exist. However, whilst in physical form this is perhaps true, in essence one aspect of the mermaid, whatever her nature, lives on....

Chapelle Foujita, Reims, France

Charles Lamb in his Adventures of Ulyssees, 1808, seems to offer a description of the destruction caused by sirens that finds a parallel in the devastation caused by certain predatory females today that you may have had the misfortune to experience, directly or indirectly!

"Whosoever shall but hear the call of any siren, he will soon despise both wife and children through their sorceries; that the stream of his affection never again shall set homewards, nor shall he take joy in wife or children thereafter, or they in him...."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The flora & fauna of façades & the Stoneheart of Charlie Fletcher....

Leadenhall Market
I've just finished reading Tolkien's 'Hobbit' to my son, taking a momentary break from his other book which we have yet to finish. Many books you encounter when young leave an indelible mark on you in life, yet while this ensures that you never forget them or the powerful effect they had on you, when you try to return to the vivid place these books led you, enthralled, the result can sometimes be an anticlimax, leaving you bereft, locked out 'on the other side'.

I started to read The Lord of the Rings when I was young, having borrowed a copy of the mighty tome from a friend, however was unable to read in its entirety and decided to read it 'later'. The' later' in question proved to be several years after that initial false start, just before heading off to university. However the book that I had savoured each morning before going to school, totally absorbed in the descriptions and dénouements of each story within the whole simply didn't have the same effect at the age of nineteen and I felt so disappointed in myself, unable to slip back into this mesmerizing world. I felt I'd maybe inexplicably grown out of this magical world and regretted that I hadn't read it completely at the earlier age.
My father read us The Hobbit when we were very young and although I found it too difficult to understand, even less follow, it did leave its mark on me. Although I had no concrete memory of my dad's reading, when I read it myself as a teenger I suddenly had a feeling of déjà vu when encountering the slimy, fascinating Gollom and the terrifying Orcs. What also resurfaced during my own reading of The Hobbit was the memory of the fear and excitement that I'd felt at five years old when we had listened to these same terrifying accounts at bedtime, but had totally forgotten. So I decided that I had to read The Hobbit to my son so that he too could benefit from its full effect before moving onto The Lord of The Rings, and while as a teenager he can read alone, I was more than happy to read the book to him and so relive the book myself! My son greatly enjoyed The Hobbit and is now off to read the sequel - on his own this time as he has found his wings... Apparently the book is currently being made into a big-screen film and will be out in 2012; can't wait to see it as the cartoon version from the 70's was quaint but didn't really hit the mark.
Part of the Stoneheart trilogy - published by Hodder/Hachette Children's Books 2006
The other book which we'd been reading before Tolkien is the fantastic work of Charlie Fletcher, 'Iron Hand'. This is the second book of the 'Stoneheart' trilogy, the third novel being 'Silvertongue'. In this clever book destined for children (but a pleasure for adults who may be reading it) the perilous journey through and across a hostile London is contined by the two young heros of the first novel, Stoneheart.
I particulary enjoyed the way that the statues, ornamental details of buildings & monuments of London have litterally been brought to life, free to relive aspects of their history and forge destiny again, and must now seek to accomplish their aims - bestial & demonic or otherwise. In a city such as London, with its dense, multi-facetted history  there are innumerable rich architectural features, statues and sculptures which reflect this past, but no longer 'speak' to us since we have lost the ability to even notice their presence all around us, or to 'read' their messages, even if we do acknowledge them. How many statues are simply not understood today because the historical context isn't known, or perhaps the human meaning is lost under a mass of dry facts or again bear mythological references that we are unable to 'translate' in modern times? It is this huge, diverse alternative world already surrounding us that is brought to life for children in Charlie Fletcher's works.
The characters which populate this alternative London - a frightening 'un-London' - are divided into two groups - the 'Spits' and the 'Taints' and it is the interaction between these two and their impact on the young heroes which lead the storyline. The 'Spits' are characters made in the likeness of those they commemorate and have the spirit and speech of that person; the 'Taints' are often of mythological or pre-historic origin and are generally malevolent creatures that cannot speak. The two protagonists - the teenagers - are able to 'see' this perilous parallel world which other mortals fail to do, and in turn have become visible to the members of the two opposing groups that now follow them, viewing these children either as prey or as vital players in destiny. The young boy, George, followed by Edie, the girl, has been thrown into a dangerous, initially bewildering world where he must decypher all around him as he embarks on a modern-day Odyssey across London, all the while pursued by the creatures of this parallel world.

In the Stoneheart trilogy the grimy features of London are given a vibrant life of violent intensity of their very own, whilst the mission of the two young people goes beyond the fight in this alternative world, since both teenagers have to confront their own pyschological battles against the solitude and loss they have encountered in their personal lives...
Well, we have yet to read Silvertongue but are already excited at the prospect, and will be very interested to see the future film adaptation of the trilogy.

Restored Magician and Dove
Sadly I can't read the stories behind the majority of the ornamental architectural features that surround me in this city, but that certainly doesn't prevent me from looking up when I walk in order to find something I'd previously missed. Ornamental details are to be found on many of the buildings dating back to the late 19th century and even well before, but many of these were lost during the Great War. However, during the reconstruction of Reims in the 1920's many details were added to the buildings, giving a unique touch that is always highly decorative, but generally discreet, often humourous, and sometimes borders on the kitch, but I love them! These are things that we take for granted, backgrounds to our daily life that we just assume will always be there but unfortunately that isn't the case. My favourite façade detail here was the magician and dove positioned high up on a building near the city centre, which very few people had ever noticed it. Unfortunately, due to adverse weather conditions much of the detail of the plasterwork was damaged a few years ago and while it has been restored, modern-day techniques simply haven't recreated the delicate features that I loved so much. Although I'm glad the magician is still with us I can barely stand to look at his coarse features now. Other ornamental designs have fared a little better, but already the iron armature within the forms are starting to rust and weep on the surface of the features. All the more reason to appreciate and share these beautiful details whose sole purpose appears to be one of beauty and wit, enriching modern-day lives that are often in danger of becoming flat and functional.....
Here are a collection of my favourite façade finds.
In celebration of Autumn
I would love to know if the artist had free rein for these...

I just love the expressions exchanged between these two!

One of the features from the Art Déco period
I don't know what the floral decoration represents... Any ideas?
A cat reminiscent of Charlie Fletcher's 'Spout'
Mythological references

In praise of nature

One that my daugher 'found'...

A rather romantically-inspired horse!
Although a bit 'obvious', I like this one's serene expression, watching over us.