Monday, 23 May 2011

Busy week!

Rob with school children
Children at Mediatheque

Yet another busy week behind us. Tuesday we popped in to the Médiatheque to check on things there and found a small group of children in the exhibition space. These four children where sitting on the floor drawing. Three were making  copies of the drawings and another little girl was drawing one of the 'ouvertures' an image of a door frame. They were really very good.

These children were really excited to be photographed with the 'artist' himself. Rob had declined the opportunity to give a talk to the school children but was happy to chat to them when he saw how enthusiastic they were and there were only four the rest of the class were in other parts of the building.

Busy copying a 'master piece'

Covered Spring at the Chapelle de St Antoine

Wednesday we went walking in the Foret de la Motte, just to the east of Bagnoles de l'Orne. We started to follow a circular route and part way around we stopped at the Chapelle de Saint Antoine.

Chapelle de St Antoine

We had been to this little chapel with its well some years ago, parking the car at the top of the hillside path and walking the short distance to the chapel. This time we included it in a longer walk. Again it was a beautiful day and the walk through the forest was ideal as we were in the shade of the trees for the majority of the time.


As we walked along the banks of the river we watched the dragonflies flitting to and fro in the sun, and mating on the branches overhanging the water. 


The grassy sides to the roads are covered with wild flowers including this small orchid.

We also came across a Bay Bolete Mushroom, we normally find these at the end of the summer or early autumn. The books do say they can be found from early summer onwards but we have never found them this early. Bay Boletes are one of the mushrooms we enjoy eating and have found them both in France and in England, often very plentiful.

Resting after our picnic lunch

Cross dates 1624

On our way back we took a side road and came across this  roadside cross. We had seen a similar one just a few kilometers away, but this one is of particular interest as the date carved into the stone is the same date that is carved on a stone we have at the entrance to our house, 1624.

Next to this cross was a notice explaining that it had been erected by Alexis Bignon in thanksgiving for being saved from the plague. So far we haven't  found any more information about this other than what is carved into the stone itself.  The neighbouring farm is called Bigonntierre and it could be on one of the old roads leading to the Mont Saint Michel.  Further research is needed.

Studying the quary

Thursday we drove over to Melle  30miles (48 km) away to the west, to visit family friends, from Yorkshire. After lunch we walked in the nearby woods and visited an old quarry, now disused. However, there is still a stonemason working near by, who had worked in the quarry until it closed. He now works to order for local people. He had just finished a door frame in stone, and was waiting for his client to collect. There is still plenty of granite lying around which he can use and he had produced some really nice work despite working in the open with only a corrugated iron shed for shelter.
Stone masons shelter

Young Swallows

Here at home the birds are busy with their nests and feeding their young. We had a nest of great tits in a hole in one of the walls. The parents were very busy flying in and out with food, and the young were really noisy and then suddenly one day all was quiet - we assume they had fledged while we were out. The sparrows are still busy feeding their young - we have several nesting in the walls. We also have a pair of swallows who are determined to nest, preferably indoors. Whenever we leave a door open in they come, flying around presumably checking out the location and local amenities. In the garage they were found perched on the frame of the hammock, they also like the inside of the cow shed and in this photo were resting on this rake in the 'tool shed/ water pump room'. They have even taken a liking to our kitchen/living room. Could be interesting to have them nest inside, but I fear for the mess and we can't leave the door open all day for them. George I am sure would be happy to share his home with them!

The other morning I spotted a hare walking down the road, yes, walking at a gentle pace down the middle of the road as though he owned the place. We haven't seen him since, but one evening last week George suddenly started hissing at something as he was sitting on the door step, Rob could only catch a glimpse of the animal, and thought it could have been the hare which George was sending on its way.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Meet the Press

Rob holding a copy of the Publicateur

We have been very busy these last few weeks. 

Last Saturday Rob was interviewed by a journalist from the regional newspaper 'Ouest France' at the Médiatheque. Wednesdays edition carried the article and a photo of Rob in front of one of his exhibits. On arriving home there was an email from another journalist this time from the local rag, 'le Publicatuer' asking for an interview on Tuesday. This interview and photo were in this weeks edition  and if you look carefully you can see the photo in the newpaper Rob is holding here. 

Sculpture in the grounds of the Chateau in Flers

On a recent visit to Flers we wandered through the gardens of the Chateau where there was a temporary sculpture exhibition, this one was particularly interesting. Thin slices of a tree trunk had been painted with vivid green paint and then set out under the trees near the entrance. It was really simple but very effective.

New mini poly tunnel
We have set up a mini poly tunnel, made with a metal grid which  I think  are for re enforcing concrete in the building trade. This covered with thick plastic sheeting. We got the idea from our friends who were erecting one in their garden, they had bought three of these grills but had decided two were sufficient so we took over the extra one. Tomorrow I will plant it up with cucumbers and aubergines. My melon plants are still too small, they are still in pots in the mini greenhouse. Hopefully this poly tunnel will give the plants some extra heat  encouraging them to give earlier and bigger crops. We will have to see how this works out as of course the plants will need extra watering and we will have to open it on warm days to encourage the bees.
There are plenty of bees around - the raspberry canes are covered with them, hopefully this means that bees are thriving in this area.

Marcella capturing Wim at the exhibition
Rob's sister and husband have been visiting for a few days. They came to view Rob's exhibition en route to the south of Italy, some detour from Holland! It was lovely to see them and I think they thought it worthwhile.

Two sows with their young enjoying an afternoon nap.
Taking advantage of the facilities at the Féte de la Bio, 
Yesterday we spent at the Fete de la Bio, an agricultural fair organized by the regional Organic Farmers Union. It was held at a farm not far from here. We had a good look around at the demonstrations and inspected the food stalls, tasting as we went. We enjoyed a simple lunch of galettes whilst sitting under the trees watching the world go by. I met several people I knew from the cheese making course I had been on earlier in the year. After coming back home for an afternoon in the sun, we went back in the evening for the dinner. More than 600 people had supper in a large circus type tent, with music from a local jazz band JLS (Jazz du Lundi Soir).  The jazz band improved as the evening went on. These suppers served under canvas are a regular feature of local fairs and fetes and we have attended quite a few in the past, but I think this was probably the biggest we have been to so far. So glad we weren't involved in the catering. A local restaurant coordinated the volunteers from the farmers union, and the ingredients had been locally sourced from members. A list of suppliers was displayed at the entrance along with the menu. It was a good day and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

So much to tell, Ouverture, Tripes and BAMS

Today is the first of May, and I haven't written my blog for a long time. As it is now raining, the first rainy day for quite some time I will take the opportunity to catch up with our news.

For a start it has been unseasonably warm, we have enjoyed some really lovely warm days and some which were better than most average summers. We have enjoyed ice creams in the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, and while walking around Oxford.  Here in France we have spent many afternoons sitting outside relaxing, and have enjoyed many meals outside too. Not only lunch in the sun, but several evenings we have used the BBQ and benefited from the warm light evenings.

Well, what else have we been doing?

The BAMS (British Art Medal Society) Conference was in Oxford this year. We were very lucky to be able to stay at Worcester College. The college is just down the road from the Ashmolean Museum. It is set within the most beautiful grounds with a small orchard and wild flower garden, beautiful lawns running down to the lake, as well as the manicured lawn in the quadrangle, which you can only look at - it is forbidden to walk on the grass, but I suppose that is why it is so perfect.

Our third floor room had a twin aspect - one side overlooking the gardens and the other side overlooking the castle. All meals were taken in the dining hall, a very grand formal hall. Universities may take girls now, but the colleges are still very male orientated. I arrived for dinner on the first evening in a skirt and high heels, only to find that we were sitting on benches at the table. I managed to sit down eventually, but it wasn't easy and certainly not elegant. Decided to remain seated until the end of the evening as there was no way I could get out again. Now I know why the girls wear their gowns over their dresses when eating in the dining hall, not to protect their dresses from spills but to preserve their modesty.

Saturdays lectures where held  in a room at the Taylorian Institute, next door to the Ashmolean. In the afternoon we had a guided tour of the museum and were taken into the coins and medals room to examine some of their medal collection. I hadn't been in the Ashmolean before but it has recently been renovated and there are some beautiful light open spaces. The layout of the displays have been altered to make use of these new areas and the curators now try to link displays not only on each floor but between the floors.

MDG5 Improving Maternal Health 

Sunday morning took us to the Ruskin School of Art for a talk by our friend Jane McAdam Freud. Jane then led the workshop, where we used paints to create free thought images. We dribbled poster paints on to paper and then either folded the paper or pressed another sheet on top and then peeled it back to reveal........ our piece of art. I enjoyed the workshop and even managed to create a 'logo' for Maternal Health. I hope you see what I can see in this image, yellow sun, belly of pregnant women, red blood.  Thanks Jane for a really good morning.

As usual the conference was really enjoyable. It is always nice to meet up with friends from the BAMS each year. 

Then it was time for me to attend the closing conference of Women Reaching Women at the Commonwealth Club in London. It was a really good day with a variety of speakers amongst others; Barbara Stocking, Cheif executive of Oxfam GB, and Department for International Development Minister, Stephen O’Brien MP,

Although this was the 'closing' conference, it is expected that a small group of 'guardians' will continue to keep the progress of the  MDGs  in the public eye until   2015 when it is hoped the goals will have been achieved. Watch out for more on this in future blogs. The MDGs have not gone away!

We have been in France now for a couple of weeks. We got here just in time to see the apples trees still in blossom. The pears blossom has already finished.

My first task was to peel back the black plastic covering the vegetable garden and prepare the ground for  the growing season. In the winter we had put a large quantity of farmyard manure (muck) on the  major part of the garden and then covered it with a sheet of black plastic. Luckily the worms had been hard at work and most of the muck had been incorporated into the soil. It was also weed free!

'Calville' Apple tree in blossom
The swiss chard has survived the winter and is growing strong. The spinach has also grown well, as has the celery. We may not have an abundance of fresh vegetables but still enough to provide some variety and they are versatile enough to be a welcome addition to our menus.
The herb garden is looking good. The sorrel is abundant so we have had sorrel soup, and as an accompaniment to new potatoes, bought ones unfortunately as ours have only just gone in the ground. The tarragon which we planted last year has really done well and is now big enough to be useful in the kitchen. The chives are also looking healthy and we have already used a lot of them.

As this is our first visit since the New Year I am a bit late getting the potatoes  in the ground. But as tradition has it Good Friday is the day to plant. With Easter being late this year, I managed to get all the potatoes in the ground before Good Friday, but it is at least a month later than last year. However, we had a late frost last year on May 15th with killed off the young growth on the early potatoes and they never really recovered, so maybe this year will be better. Peas, broad beans, borlotti and climbing beans have all been planted and the peas and broad beans are now coming through. Beetroot and Koolrabi which I had planted in modules in Bury have now been planted out and seem to be doing well, with new leaves coming on the plants. The sprouts, which again were sown in modules, are in a temporary bed and again are thriving - they seem to have grown a lot in the last week.

I have put up a small portable green house as we have brought lots of small tender plants with us. I kept most in small modules where they had been sown, until we got here as the car was full with Robs' paintings. These small plants have now been potted up and I have also sown seed for the courgettes, squash, melons and cucumbers, These are all now starting to pop out of the soil, always a wonderful site. The alpine strawberries I sowed in the early spring have also been potted on - they still seem very small, but hopefully they will soon be big enough to plant out in the garden. The weather has continued to be glorious and it has been hard to refrain from planting up the tubs and window boxes. I keep reminding my self that it is still early in the year and we may yet have a frost or two.

Rob Lansman, April 27th 2011
 While I was busy in the garden Rob was busy with  the final preparations for his exhibition. Last Tuesday, 26th April, we hung all his works. The theme to his first public exhibition is 'Ouvertures' or 'openings'. The hanging went more smoothly than I had anticipated. We started on Tuesday morning and then continued in the afternoon. The exhibition space is a side room in the Médiathéque in Domfront. The ladies from the library have been very welcoming and yesterday we found they had put a vase of roses on the table where we have the visitors book. As well as the paintings with  the theme 'ouvertures' Rob also has a wall of his drawings. These are portraits of well known or in some cases not so well known people. These are hanging against a stone wall opposite the other paintings and the whole works really well together.

Rob with some of his paintings at 'Ouvertures' Domfront.
Rob Lansman, Acrylic on Paper
' Rob Lansman, Acrylic on paper,
Rob, 'Ouvertures', Domfront.

One of the 'highlights' is that Rob's  exhibition is
Rob in front of the electronic board in Domfront, Orne.
advertised on the electronic board which is in the centre of Domfront where all passing traffic can see it. We have lived here now for five years and consider that it is quite an achievement for Rob to 'get his name in lights' so soon. We haven't as yet heard about any road closures or any stories of the police being involved in crowd control because of the masses of people turning up to view the exhibition, but there is still time - it is on until May 27th.

A few people have visited and signed the visitors book and yesterday we met some friends there who wanted to have a viewing with the 'artist'.

Last week we went with these same friends to La Férte Macé to eat Tripe. It is a speciality  of the town and we ate in the Salle de  Dégustastion, of the main tripe maker in the town. We phoned the day before to book. We were welcomed by the co-owner, who first brought us a selection of charcuterie from their shop next door, along with fresh bread, butter, gherkins etc. We helped ourselves to the two pates, and several different saucisson sec and andouille, a local sausage. We could easily have made a meal of just this course, but there was more to come. I have to admit that I really wasn't looking forward to eating tripe - I have memories of seeing it hanging on hooks in the market in Keighley when I was a little girl. Well, what a surprise, a dainty portion of 'tripes en brochettes' was served on a square white plate. Beautiful golden brown outside and a golden jus surrounding it. It was so meaty in texture we thought it was wrapped in lamb, but no as the lady explained it comprised layers of the different stomachs and then rolled up like a swiss roll and held in place with a small stick. It is then cooked in a special casserole for many hours - at least 12. The result was a very tender and tasty dish with a light, clear but rich sauce. I have to say it is something I would eat again, but suspect will be disappointed as I think we have probably eaten the best that La Férte Macé can offer. We finished with cheese, again a selection from their shop and then dessert and coffee. If you have ever read Elizabeth David's books on French cooking she often writes about eating lunch in small french restaurants where the hostess served the most wonderful simple food. This meal was very reminiscent of these passages from her book. No menu to choose from - we ate what we were offered. I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and it restored my faith in the French cuisine.