Sunday, June 9, 2013

Orange poppies and red...

This photo looks upside down whichever way I turn it!
The poppies have been so late this year that I was even beginning to think that they would never come out in any great number... However, on closer inspection, I noticed that for every scattered, solitary cluster of poppies, there are hundreds of bristly buds, waiting to burst out. These look so determined, with their armoured pods like bristling triffids, pushing through the undergrowth and it's difficult to associate these with the delicate, papery petals of the poppies themselves, hidden within.

  But of course, poppies are one of the most resistant plants in the wilderness, thriving on the harsh conditions that would stunt or deter others.

I came across this poem by Sandra McPherson, an American poet from California, where the poppies are indeed orange...

Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember

How I found them in a vein beside the railroad,
A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold
While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot.

I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed.
I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly
Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me
No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened

To the light. They were bright as any orange grove.
I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut
With no roots to grip, like laboratory frogs' legs twitching
Or like red beheaded hens still hopping on sheer nerves.

On the third afternoon one bud tore off its green glove
And burst out brazen as Baby New Year.
Two other poppies dropped their petals, leaving four
Scribbly yellow streamers on a purple-brimmed and green

Conical cadaver like a New Year's hat.
I'd meant to celebrate with them, but they seemed
So suddenly tired, these aging ladies in crocheted
Shawl leaves. They'd once been golden as the streets

Of heaven, now they were as hollow.
They couldn't pull together for a last good-bye.
I had outlived them and had only their letters to read,
Fallen around the vase, saying they were sorry. 

Sandra McPherson

Although I just assumed that most poppies bore the same markings, in fact they don't. Some have dark crosses surrounding their powdery stamens, while others appear to have nothing.

Well, even if it's back to grey skies and rain again for today, bicycle rides along the canal are back on track! And I will be watching for the moment when all those buds release their tissue-paper treasure and the fields are edged with red...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fêtes Johanniques Reims 2013... Living gargolyes on the rampage and much more...

A grotestque group in front of Reims cathedral - 2013

The month of June arrived last weekend, and so did the sun. Incredible! Well, as always here in Reims, the month of June hosts the festival to celebrate the life of Joan of Arc, although there are several other fêtes johanniques in France at this time of year - notably in Orléans and Rouen. Reims is symbolic because it was here that the 'Virgin of Orléans' led Charles VII to be crowned in 1429.
Many favourite gargoyle!
I spoke about all of this last year, Joan of Arc Festival 2012 , but even as the years pass I never get bored of the fête.
Diabolical figures on stilts.
This year was a little different to the others since there was a marked absence of animals, yet a veritable invasion in subhuman beasts!

A certain unsuspecting person (!!!) being followed...

 Many of these were stalking about the Medieval encampments around the cathedral on stilts and were really impressive, towering over the passers-by.

So the camels, yaks and other exotic creatures gave way to a hoard of extras from a Lord of the Rings set...
Along the cathedral - all livened up with folk music and weird animations.
 However, many of the habitual stands, displays and shows were there - as were the Medieval 'huts' that were placed around the historic centre of the city - Place Royale, Place du Forum, le Parvis de la Cathédrale.
Early evening - Place du Forum
I really like the atmosphere which reminds me a little of Footsbarn Theatre, that used to come to Cornwall in the summer when we were children. Funnily enough, the new Footsbarn troup came to Reims three years ago and I actually got to speak to one of the original founding actors. I hope my children will remember this fête in a fond way later on.

Musicians behind the cathedral.
  I really like the wild music and dancing, which makes a change from the usual starchy ultra-conservative atmosphere here, though you don't get much audience participation.

 Well, you can't have everything, I suppose...

Stilted minotaur - Place Royale
 Anyway, the crowds were certainly out, on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
Place Royale
I loved looking at all the costumed characters, because with or without a face mask, most of the wearers seem transformed and transported us spectators to another time.

 There were a lot of strange individuals...

Birdman selling whistles.
No one just seemed ordinary or commonplace...

From henchman to magician, everyone seemed unique...

Some seemed to be waiting for some form of divine intervention...

A knight Templar
Were busy in contemplation...

Or creativity...

Devoted to their duties...

Or combat.....

 Or simply relaxing afterwards...

Pause between a fight...
 Huddled around, in jovial spirits...

Or in family groups...

Medieval family
But there were naturally a few lone wolves...

A werewolf sitting on the fountain at the end of my street!
 Of course, my favourite stars of the show were the animals...

These aren't strictly speaking greyhounds, but are of the breed 'galgo espagnol'. Whatever their actual race, they were so gentle and affectionate.

 And what elegance! These were accompanied by the majestic birds of prey.

And everything was accompanied by the music...

 As the sun finally went down, the crowds seemed to grow, concentrating around Place du Forum, which suited me fine as it's just around the corner from my flat!

Processions of performers set off towards the cathedral...

 Threading their way across Place Royale...

 In front of the cathedral were the flag-brandishing troup Castiglion de Fiorentino who managed to perform despite gale-force gusts of wind!

Finally, Joan of Arc appeared on her stead, in preparation for the grand parade to the cathedral on the Sunday.

 Finally the evening ended with a light-and-sound display on the cathedral façade, which I had intended to film, but never got around to working out the video function on the camera.
So, roll on next year!

Lighting on the cathedral façade.