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.


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