I write novels, poems, short stories, travel tales and gardening rambles.
‘The Green Velvet Dress’ was my first novel, published in November 2014. ‘Friends in my Garden,’ a collection of poems depicting people as birds, flowers, trees and animals in a garden, was sold out within two years. I have had short stories and poems printed in anthologies. Read more
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I promised to write about the National Gallery in London, but I hope you will find this description of the last week and half amusing.
Buying a new residence and moving in, should be an exciting exercise but we all know that the stress levels for a house move, or in this case setting up a second home, are up there with death of a loved one and divorce. Well, believe me, having experienced both, it’s nothing like that bad, but despite my determination to have everything organised to the nth degree, because something always goes wrong on such occasions, it wasn’t exactly a smooth and simple operation.
Settlement was arranged for Wednesday of last week. Forgetting that possession is not officially until midday the day after settlement, I planned to arrive at our new abode, along with the truck delivering our bed, at 2pm on Wednesday.
Fortunately the seller’s agreed to have the place empty and ready for us, but the agent couldn’t be there to hand over the keys. Plan B, take a detour to the real estate’s office to collect the keys after leaving home in my car loaded with essentials like clothes, linen, laptop, the new kitchen ware, kettle and toaster, television and two plastic chairs at the same time as the truck.
‘You’ll need to stop for lunch, won’t you?’ I asked, by way of suggesting they not rush straight to the new place.
All went well, bedroom set up very nicely, I went shopping for food at a recommended local IGA (very good quality) and we sat down to eat on our green plastic chairs in front of the telly, (which perched on one of the empty boxes from the bedside units.) Reception was so poor, we gave up. Generally late risers, we’d been up and busy since six that morning, so we hit the bed at nine that night and hardly moved until the phone pinged at six thirty the next morning.
‘Your furniture from Amart will arrive between seven and nine this morning,’ the message said. Great; just what one needs after a strenuous day. No-one to argue with, we were up, dressed, plans in place for positioning of the sofa and chairs for the lounge room and space cleared for the small table and chairs for the kitchen, by about seven thirty. They arrived an hour later.
Here I must digress to tell you about the problem of buying furniture, any sort of furniture, for an apartment, flat, villa, any building smaller than the four bedroom, two bathroom, three living spaces that are common for today’s families in the suburbs. All dining suites seat at least eight big people and all sofas are at least 2.5 metres wide. Trying to find the bedroom suite with side cupboards that could be accommodated in our adequately spacious (but by modern standards apparently tiny) bedroom, took several days of inspecting everything available at our four local bed stores.
Oh, and in today’s world, everyone is assumed to have the skills and the strength to put it all together after getting each piece (and half a lounge chair is pretty heavy) out of the heavy duty cardboard boxes. Fortunately we have a garden shed here, which is currently full of boxes. Stomping on them to sort of flatten them, was also hard work for an old couple, but the only way to get the forest worth of material off the back patio.
Forty Winks co-operated on the assembly issue. I think we would have been sleeping on the mattress on the floor if they hadn’t, but we had to assemble the lounge suit. It was described as simple, and certainly looked pretty straight forward in the Amart shop. Perhaps our chairs were made on a Monday. (Poor, tired post-weekend workers), because, despite being in the upper price range, the prongs sticking up from the bases, to take the slots coming down from the backs, did not line up. With my dear partner patiently holding the heavy (and slippery) back piece above the prongs, I had to push them out together, to meet the sliders, while instructing him to move the top part up, down, left, right and don’t drop it on my fingers, until the slides met the prongs and it all fell into place. I had asked the delivery guys to help us, with the offer of a cash bonus, but they claimed to not know how (this included just removing the boxes which they had wheeled into the room) and that it was against the rules for them to give any assistance. Fortunately the second delivery from the same store was done by a couple of more co-operative men who put the sofa together for us in about five minutes. We were all happy; them with the bonus, and us with a couch we could sit on.
The kitchen setting which they delivered was a flat-pack deal and again, looked easy in the shop. After about two hours and much swearing, the four legs were attached to the table top but at strange angles. I don’t dare lean on it and when Mr Flatpak arrives to assemble the rest of our ‘easy to assemble’ items, we’ll ask him to have another try with holes that don’t currently line up. The chairs came assembled in more of those delightful cardboard boxes.
Some shop assistants have the sense to look at us, note our age, and suggest that we pay for assembled items and/or assistance with setting things up. Harvey Norman’s guys came into this category. Fridge and washing machine, (at great sale prices), arrived at a reasonable hour on the Friday and when the guys left, all I had to do was turn on the power.
The dining room suit was probably the most difficult item to find. After wearing out a couple of pairs of shoes, wandering around every furniture store in Osborne Park, and asking the sales staff in each one, what other owners or tenants in the thousands of apartments, villas and flats in the area do for moderately sized furniture which will fit into such moderate and even small sized accommodation, a chap in Harvey Norman led us to the back corner, where the perfect setting was hidden.
‘One of our most popular items,’ he confided, and ‘Yes, we have one in stock.’
‘No assembling required?’ I asked, hardly daring to believe that our search was over.
It arrived later on that same Friday, and except for a few more boxes, we had no trouble placing it in the dining area. Two extra chairs should arrive in about another two weeks, so we will be able to have friends and family around to eat in a civilised, comfortable manner.
The other items to arrive that Friday were the outdoor setting and barbecue. Barbecue’s Galore were very helpful, set it up for us, just leaving us with more boxes and a ton of plastic, but the only assembly needed was finishing off the barbecue and attaching the gas bottle. Too easy. After rain almost every day, Sunday was the perfect time to try it out with our first visitor for lunch that day.
We had further deliveries yesterday (after arriving here on Thursday so as to be on site for the possible 7am threat of delivery again.) Amart do have the facilities to have some items made up. More big boxes, but our coffee table and tv unit, arrived as finished items and the empty box supporting the television joined the rest of the forest in the shed. Now, we just need to organise for Mr Flatpak to assemble a chest of drawers and fix that kitchen table.
One can expect a few minor problems with the actual building, and the major ones were listed for us by the building inspector. However, none of us checked the television and when it didn’t work we assumed some silly fault on our part. One new aerial and new connector on the wall and we have perfect reception. Curtain rods don’t come under the list of major problems but when the support in the main bedroom fell out of the wall on the second night, we did have a minor problem. The constant leak from the hot water system was on the inspector’s list and eventually replaced yesterday. The reticulation is still to be resolved but as it is winter and raining almost every day, we can sort that out later.
For now, I took delivery of a very comfortable office chair yesterday, hence I’m able to write this, and the desk is being made to my requirements and should arrive in a couple of weeks. Again, every store in the area was searched, but the desks were either flimsy white flat-pak varieties for children, or massive, dark timbered varieties (again in flat-pak form) for home offices. The fellow at J&K Hopkins took one look at me and offered to have made whatever I chose, at a price of course, but I’m too old to learn DIY skills and some sales staff can see that.
Eleven days later, we are almost there. The carpenter is booked to make repairs to the roof, the gate and fence, as listed on the inspectors report, and hopefully when he’s finished all the urgent repairs resulting from our unusually wet weather, the roofing plumber will be here to sort out the flashings, tiles and anything else needing work on the roof.
We have enough garden areas to not feel claustrophobic, which also need an overhaul. The gardener in both of us has already started buying tools and planning the changes and maintenance; creepers to cover the bare fences, roses moved to a sunny area, lemon tree needing a good feed and spray to treat those blackened and yellowed leaves. Next week perhaps.
‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
to see a fine lady upon a white horse.’
When I recited that nursery rhyme as a child I didn’t realise that she was famous because of what she didn’t wear while riding that horse.
The English town of Banbury sits on the edge of the Cotswalds, surrounded by lush green farming countryside, quaint villages with cottage gardens and because of its rail connections, it’s an ideal place for a base out of London, only an hour away by train. It’s even more convenient for me because I have family living nearby.
When my sister and I flew to Birmingham from Paris on the 23rd May last year, we were picked up and driven to Dashwood Apartments in Banbury, where we had booked a very comfortable two bedroom apartment for a week. Typical for England in May, the rain was pouring down all the way. After checking in, we headed for the town centre, about a five minute walk away, to stock up on food at the local Marks and Spencers. They had so many delicious looking instant meals but we had to limit ourselves to what we could carry. It’s amazing how one longs for ordinary food at the end of a wonderful holiday in foreign countries, or on a cruise where everything is cooked for you. We really enjoyed the cottage pie and plain green vegies that night and after all the full breakfasts on the ship, my bowl of melons and berries the next day, tasted divine.
My son arrived around ten on the 24th, to give us our tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show the following day, as well as my annual membership for the Royal Horticultural Society (which is necessary in order to get to the show in the first two days.) We then went to his place for lunch and had fun wandering around the farm where he and his wife live.
I’m sure you’ve seen my blogs on the Chelsea Flower Show which was the first of our trips to London that week. With a day off to recover, we then visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and caught up with a
friend from Perth for lunch and a visit to the special underwear exhibition.
Some of the garments were exquisite, but the things I found most interesting although gruesome, were the x-rays showing how women’s bodies were sometimes deformed and their bones fractured by wearing extremely tight corsets. No wonder ladies so often fainted, with no room in their squashed lungs for air.
I’m not sure why these shoes were on display in this underwear exhibition, but can only guess that it’s simply another form of torture for women who want to be slaves to fashion and beauty.
While in London we also had to visit the National Gallery, but I’ll leave that for my next piece.
Life has been hectic for the last few weeks, hence my lack of postings on this site. I am keen to return to the travel tales from England but for today, I hope to please those of you who enjoy my poems, especially those from my first book, ‘Friends In My Garden.’
Hyacinth was written for a friend who lost her daughter in tragic circumstances. It was the kind of situation from which a mother would never totally recover but this lady was/is always graceful and composed. Whenever I read this poem I think of her with love and admiration.
If you know someone who bravely bares a tragic loss, you might like to share this poem with them.
Hyacinth is a fragile flower
sometimes seeming aloof
in her need for seclusion.
The colours of her petals change
from purple on the sad days
to whitely unobtrusive
when she’s hiding from the world
or palest blue
in times of her remembering.
For the memory and the loss
will always remain
despite her efforts to hide the pain.
The image she presents
of calmness and restraint
is it a facade?
I think I hear her crying
in the emptiness of night
when she’s alone with her sorrow.
She’s determined to not falter
but I should remember
to tend more often
and with more care
my saddened, delicate hyacinth.
Peony was written for another brave lady. Sadly she didn’t manage to overcome cancer, but she always looked elegant and despite her condition, she was determined to live life to the full. I only really had one meeting with her but was so impressed that I sat down as soon as she left and composed this poem in her honour.
‘Friends In My Garden’ was published in 1995. Sadly, my Peony died about a year later, but I still think of her. It’s a sad poem, but I wanted to express my admiration for her determination and for the joy she radiated, despite the suffering she must have endured. I hope that my words give comfort and encouragement to others who are facing serious illness.
This morning there appeared
a flower I’ve not seen before,
The climate here is harsh
for so delicate a plant
but to see her blooming
you’d not be aware
of her struggle for survival.
blossoms in profusion,
the image she presents.
I know she lost her petals
felt her trunk grow weak
but sun gave her warmth
rain fell softly on her leaves
the one who cares
for flowers and trees
nourished her with love
she came to grace my garden.
The Gap, famous for the number of foolhardy tourists who have been swept to their death by irregular waves that seem to leap up from a deceptively calm looking sea and fling them onto rocks or toss them around in the deep inaccessible water, is a must see on every visit to Albany.
For me, it looked very different as this was my first experience of the new viewing platform that juts out over the edge of the rocks, enabling people to get amazing photos without risking their lives.
Looking east from the bridge, I caught the sun setting over the bay and, walking along the pathway, this natural arrangement of dead wood.
Leaving this beautiful place was difficult, but my sister was determined that we should catch the sun setting at the Wind Farm, so we piled into cars again and headed into the sun. Scrambling along the wooden ramps, I realised that I wouldn’t get to the beach in time, so I stopped to take this photo. Seize the moment is a good philosophy. I’m so glad I did.
That night we slept like the popularly cliched ‘logs,’ but next morning, fueled up with one of Jim’s hearty breakfasts, we headed for town and the museum complex.
I don’t understand Aboriginal art enough to appreciate the stories that are depicted in much of it, but a visiting exhibition by Yidumduma Bill Harvey, was not only a visual fist, but also a history lesson for me. We walked upstairs in the Albany museum and were immediately carried away. This first painting is very large and I was fascinated to read all the information because it told me things about the Creation Story. It’s like reading a book in picture form.
The Grasshopper People was my favourite, but the real feathers and grasses had me staying away so as to not sneeze. My understanding is that the difference in the headdress depicts the character. I guess a bit like our king wears a particular type of crown, a farmer wears a particular style of hat, etc.
I love this painting. Boy meets girl, sings her a magic love song, she dreams about him then wakes and is equally smitten with him so they go off together and are married.
I couldn’t work out what these long skinny sculptures were supposed to represent, but they look cute, hence this photo.
My sister had one more place she wanted to show us, which involved half an hour’s driving so that we could admire the view while eating our delicious fish and chips in the Emu Beach Cafe. Seeing a ship that size, made me realise what a perfect harbour is King George Sound.
Back at base, David went for a walk to ‘shoot’ a few pelicans. A few of them of them posed for him on the old decaying jetty.
Those of you who live in Western Australia have probably enjoyed the peace and the beauty of Albany, the town that was once a whaling station and which was nearly settled by the French. When
walking along the coast down there, you feel the winds blowing up from the Antarctic and readily accept that this is the first place where those cold cold winds touch land. In winter it’s bl—y freezing. An amazing place though, as the colours of the sea, the rocks and crisp white sand make for perfect photographs and even I can feel like an artist of sorts.
I guess that for most tourists heading to Albany, the Whaling Station (now a museum) is pretty high up on the list of must see’s, but for me, having seen the real thing in action, back when it was still operating, I was horrified then and had no desire to revisit it, so we looked for different places of interest and found this amazing private sculpture park.
The guy who owns it has created birds, animals, even people, out of timber, whether the standing trees or as sculptures which he has carved in his workshop and transferred to their present positions. We were told that he only uses a chain saw.
Apparently Michael Angelo searched for the character he wanted by first sensing its existance within the lump of marble. I suspect that our man from Albany works in a similar way with living trees and lumps of wood, bringing them into existance for us to admire and enjoy.
As is often the case when traveling, it’s the surprise discovery that we most remember. We were told of this place as we were about to leave Perth but it was so much more than anticipated. I hope that this partial coverage will convince those of you who intend to visit our southern town, to take the short drive out of Albany and support this original project.
Watch for the next day’s outings when we went to the Gap and the Albany Museum where we were fortunate to see an exhibition of unusual Aboriginal art by Bill Harney.
As promised, I have some interesting characters to show you this week. I think gardeners must be a particular breed, often rather eccentric, especially the English variety and we found several of them at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. I have Susanne to thank for most of these photos.
Everyone there was as happy as we were, to be able to enjoy all that is on offer and some even keep a special outfit to wear as if it’s a fancy dress affair. Susanne and I didn’t fit into this category, but I’ve included us here, blending into the gorgeous colours around us.
Lunch time is always very busy and finding a seat almost impossible so we left the tent at about midday, hoping to find somewhere to eat our picnic in comfort. Perched on the side of decking we had a great view of the passing parade. I don’t know how my sister managed to eat anything as she was so busy taking these photos. Someone had hung thousands of roses from the roof of the walkway to add to the pleasure of those who passed under it (and those, like us, who sat nearby and admired it.)
Floral is the rage for tops and bottoms.
The photo of this couple is my favourite though. He was probably eighty, she in a wheelchair. I watched as he gave her her lunch and a disposable cup of tea and generally ensured that she enjoyed her outing as much as he did. I offered to help but he assured me that they were managing nicely.
Everyone was polite and cheerful, so unlike most crowded situations. Despite having to stand back and often wait to get our photos, I don’t think I saw a frown or heard a grumble all day.
The old men who live in the Chelsea Barracks looked very smart in their red uniforms as they walked around, checking that patrons behaved well.
After lunch we returned to the tent for more delights and even more photos. Only the stand holders are permitted the luxury of seats, but the gentleman could see my need and encouraged me to wait there while Susanne photographed the David Austen rose display, which as always was spectacular. I did see a few disgruntled garden lovers casting envious glances at me, but I’m afraid I stuck to my seat and pretended not to notice.
By three o’clock we were exhausted and as we had to catch a train to Bambury, where we were staying, we climbed aboard a bus heading towards our station.
I got the last seat, which meant that Susanne had to stand, but she was so tired she sat on the floor at the back of the bus. It’s raised, so she was quite comfortable and the journey was short. Note, she’s still smiling. A very happy day for both of us.
When planning our cruise down the Dalmatian Coast and parts of Italy, I allowed for a few days in Paris, (which I hope you have enjoyed reading about) but we had to be in England in time for the Chelsea Flower Show. I think this was my fifth visit and it was my sister’s second, but it’s always different, always a day of bliss for me and for any gardeners from anywhere in the world. Susanne and I took over a thousand photos each, so I’ll have to do this in sections, selecting a few of my favourites to share with you.
Brilliant colour was the first thing that wowed us as we entered the huge tent full of prize winning entries. Aren’t these stunning?
We were like kids in not just a lolly shop, but a whole factory filled with every kind of delicious sweet treat that anyone had ever created. Pure bliss. Where to start?
One of the things I love about the Chelsea Flower Show is seeing the way that displays are presented as if they were real gardens which had simply grown here over several years. In reality, everything is trucked in from all over the country. The skill and imagination of those fortunate enough to be chosen as presenters, deserves all the praise, thanks and business that they can get in return for giving us gardeners so much inspiration and pleasure.
The combinations of colours and the clever use of props, like this pergola caught my eye. Putting this deep purple and brilliant orange together sounds garish, but in a garden it looks stunning.
I think the main purpose of displaying plants inside the tent is supposed to be so that everyone can admire the prize winners. I just wanted to take theses bearded irises home with me. The combinations of colours, especially in the dark varieties are so rich and luscious, I wish I could grow whole swathes of them in my garden at home.
The tulip displays blow my mind. I’ve tried growing some at home but Western Australia is too hot for these beauties. Despite keeping the bulbs in the fridge for six weeks before planting, I had little success with my second year of what had been spectacular the year I bought them, so now I have to be satisfied with photos. Gorgeous flowers like these help me to understand the tulip mania that occurred in Amsterdam several hundred years ago when those normally sane and financially savvy Dutch citizens went crazy for them.
Another plant that I love but can’t grow in our hot summers, is the clematis. The flowers are so delicate and the colours can be anything from white and palest pink, to stunning cyclamen shades. I love to see them climb around doorways or over a pergola but at Chelsea they were displayed on wire stands, climbing out of this wooden planter, or along pergolas, making them perfect for a wedding.
In my next episode I’ll show you some of the interesting people we saw at the show. I think gardeners are sometimes as colourful and unusual as the plants they grow.
Today I’m in the mood for poetry so I’ve gone to my book, Friends In My Garden for a selection. Two very different characters, but both written for women who inspired me and brought joy into my life.
Butterfly is the sort of friend who pops in with chocolates and champagne when you’re feeling down. Her smile and her laughter brighten any space when she appears. I hope you have several butterflies in your friendship garden and I’d love you to share my words with them.
There’s a butterfly
in my friendship garden.
A ray of sunshine
spreading warmth whenever she appears
always bubbling full of fun and laughter
I love her sparkle
When friends are down
in she whirls
a glow of yellow
to brighten our hearts.
Magnolia was written for the sort of woman who rises to the top in her field. She’s a leader who others want to follow. Please send this to the Magnolias in your friendship garden.
Magnolia has an air of grandeur.
with a heart as soft as moss.
Occasional bouts of jealousy
are sparked by lesser plants
weeds that endeavour to starve
or choke this lovely tree.
In stately manner
she disdains their poisonous pettiness.
Others are inspired by her,
the elegant stance
rich and glossy
the brilliance of her flowers
I think she’s quite magnificent.
Tickets for Chamber music by Ravel and Saint-Saens, played by musicians from the National Opera Orchestra of Paris, were waiting for us at the Palais Garnier when we arrived a little before midday on Sunday. My son and his wife had organised this special treat for us months before, knowing how much I love classical music.
Like most of the old theatres I’ve seen in Europe, this one was stunning. Red and gold everywhere; even without the music, the visit was worthwhile. The curtains were spectacular, made of what looked like
red velvet, masses of it, draped and flounced in theatrical fashion, almost like a separate character about to play his/her part. The dome above the front stalls told another story; decorated in bright colours with lots more gold and finished with a glistening chandelier hanging from the centre, it added to the atmophere.
We were amongst the first to arrive so we had plenty of time to take photos and and anticipate the enjoyment to come. I’m not familiar with the music of Saint-Saens and was pleasantly surprised by Le Carnival de animaux, especially as the conductor donned various hats to portray different animals. He made plenty of comments, but as it was all in French, we could only understand the acting, which was enough for us to get the idea. Most people in the audience were laughing loudly and I wished I could translate what the conductor was saying. A strange production of chamber music, but enjoyable.
After that we were ready for a late lunch so we wandered down a side street and found a food market inside a hall. Entry was from the street level, but an escalator took us down to the actual food hall where the displays were as tempting and artistic as
only the French can create. No wonder their still life paintings are so highly praised when even the stall holders in a food market can make their produce look like a painting.
As it was our last day in Paris there was no point in buying fresh fruit to take back to our hotel, but we found the sort of bar that again, only the French can provide.
Seafood of all kinds, cooked and raw, was on the menu. Australia produces some pretty good oysters, but my favourite ones are called Claire oysters and I ordered six of them. You can see from the photos that they are huge, but not rubbery as you’d expect. Just divine, with crusty bread and a glass of Chablis.
Susanne had fish and chips. I think she set out on this trip to try as many different varieties of the dish as she could. She looked very happy with her choice and was reluctant to allow me a few of her crunchy, delicious chips.
We had intended to go to Mass at Sacre Coeur but, with our concert at midday, and quite a distance to travel from one to another, we set off at about three o’clock on the underground, for the nearest
station which is at the bottom of the hill. The walk up the hill certainly worked off most of our lunch. Being a Sunday, there was a large crowd both outside and inside the famous church. Grey clouds covered the sky and haze reduced the view of the city below us. I knew there would be a long queue for taxis back to the city and I wanted to at least pop into the Pompidou as well, so our visit was brief. My photos didn’t turn out very well, largely because of the crowds. Susanne did better so I’ve used her photos here. The most impressive work is the painting of Christ above the altar.
From Sacre Coeur one must wander through the stalls set up by artists in the old Montmartre tradition. I was keen to do this, but the work was generally not very good and we had no intention of buying something to cart around England for several weeks before returning to Australia. Those grey clouds burst when we were about half way around. With little space to protect themselves and their wares, the artists were not keen to offer us any cover.
I think this photo of Susanne expresses her opinion of that venture. Even her much loved Eagles jacket couldn’t keep out the rain.
We had seen people arriving by taxi before going into the church so we knew where to head for. Late on a wet Sunday afternoon, not many visitors were bringing taxis to the top of Montmartre and although there was a phone for the purpose and I did manage to make myself understood to the operator, we still had to wait for more than half an hour, wet and cold, and like all the others waiting, we felt a bit tense. When an American woman stepped to the front of the queue I’m afraid I was quite terse in pointing her to the end of the line.
Our hotel was like a welcoming home when we arrived back there. Packing took up most of the evening as we prepared to fly to Birmingham the next day.
This piece will be mainly photos because how else can one express the visual feast we experienced on our second day of sight-seeing in Paris?
The L’Ouvre was first on our itinerary, but trying to find the Mona Lisa, which was on my sister’s list of ‘must sees’ took ages. Standing behind such a large crowd that actually seeing the famous painting was fairly impossible, Susanne agreed with my estimation of that painting and the museum in general; it’s not worth the fuss.
We headed for the Musee d’Orsay instead, stopping for lunch in a real French (as opposed to tourist French) eatery where I had the best Salad Nicoise that I’ve tasted anywhere.
Once inside the museum we feasted our eyes. This foot photo is only a small part of the male figure but I am amazed by the detail that Rodin is able to portray in every part of his sculptures.
We took so many photos that only a few can be shown here. These are a selection of my favourites and I’m sure that most of you recognise them from cards and posters if you haven’t actually viewed them in the museum.
Rodin’s sculptures are strong, powerful and stunning but this Degas (and I know there are several versions in different museums) of the little ballerina almost makes me cry because it is so beautiful. To me, it captures the seriousness and determination in this budding dancer. I hope she did go on to become famous in her career as well as in her enduring portrayal in bronze with a dash of netting. She is surrounded by glass, presumably to preserve the real material in her skirt and ribbon, so it was difficult to get a photo without the reflections of the glass. If you haven’t seen the real thing I hope this inspires you to seek her out on your next trip to Paris.
Manet’s nude at the picnic is not on my favourite list, but it’s so famous that I thought I should include it here in case any of you were not yet convinced that on your next visit to Paris, the Musee d’Orsay is a must, rather than that big, imposing L’Ouvre which sort of reminds me of the National Gallery in London, but without the welcoming atmosphere.
After wandering amongst all this wonderful art work we walked towards what is obviously the actual former station, via a section displaying furniture and household decorations from the period when art nouveau was the fashion.
Coming out into the upper section of the old railway station I was impressed by the size of the space and its beauty. Along the upper section – a mezzanine floor where stone statues are displayed – we looked down onto the former track area and at the far end is this clock. Nothing like the highly visual, utilitarian clocks hung on the walls of British railway stations, this one is thing of beauty.
Our enjoyment of paintings still was not complete though, as we discovered a visiting exhibition from overseas galleries, which included these popular works by Van Gogh. I was thrilled that we didn’t miss them, which we almost did as the sign outside the small side gallery was in French (of course) and poorly displayed.
I haven’t tried to name the paintings (largely because my French is not good enough to give the correct translations.
We came out at nearly closing time, exhausted, overloaded with the mental and emotional concentration that such a visit gives and takes. Fortunately there were plenty of taxis lined up outside and our driver spoke English. We had another of our ‘picnics’ in my room and fell into bed.
A year ago today I was in Paris with my sister, Susanne, visiting L’Orangerie which is my favourite museum in that city.
When registering for the three day Paris Pass one must line up at the first museum you visit and buy your pass there. As the queues at Musee d’Orsay and the L’Ouvre are generally very long I guessed, correctly, that we shouldn’t have to waste much time standing in line at this small gallery.
Having been to Musee Marmottan and Monet’s garden at Giverney on our previous visit to Paris, we had an idea of what to expect and I had visited this gallery many years before, but the spectacle is amazing, no matter how many times I see it. The oval room has a large painting on each of the four walls with benches in the middle, so that viewers can sit and admire the art (provided the space isn’t filled with other people standing in front of the scenes.) Not only are the paintings themselves stunning but the way they are arranged makes me feel that I could take one step and be in there, a nymph (excuse my imagination) rising out of the water. The closest I came was in a photo, in front of one of the paintings. People speak in hushed tones and, although most are busy taking photos, the atmosphere is respectful and visitors are considerate of their fellow admirers, moving to one side so that we can all capture the image we want. I took many more than I can show you here, but if you get a chance, if you’re in Paris and you want to see some Monet, especially the water lilies, make this museum your first stop.
It also has some of my favourite Renoir’s. I’m sure everyone recognises these three paintings as they are often depicted on cards and are the most delightful images of young ladies. I think they
are his daughters. One of you will, I’m sure inform me if that’s incorrect.
The other artist whose work caught my eye, is Derain, for his still life pieces and
this one of two dancers or clowns.
There was so much to see; Cezanne, Picasso, Modigliani and Matisse, that by the time we left, feeling pretty hungry, many of the outdoor cafes in the Tuileries Garden were closed. We found a delightful, glassed in place and enjoyed a (not typical French) lunch. On the way back to our hotel we stocked up on picnic style food at the mini-mart on the corner, which we had discovered on our previous visit. Dinner in my room that night was delicious, we were tired, and an early night was essential as we had big plans for Saturday.
Our final journey from the ship was supposed to be to Pompeii. On each bus tour on this cruise we were provided with poor quality local buses which had very little leg room – knees hitting the seat in front even for a short person like me, and bouncing over the rough roads which is agony for anyone with back pain. The concierge was not able to give me any satisfaction regarding the standard of transport, even when I asked for a private chauffeured car. It would cost about AU $500 for the two hour journey (and two hours return) but she couldn’t find out what sort of vehicle would be provided, ( I need one with good suspension) so in the end I gave up trying.
My sister made the journey and raved about the ruined city but she agreed that the bus journey was very uncomfortable. I have a small book on the history and her account of the wonders to be seen.
The next day was at sea. I think the Celebrity Cruise organisers hoped for future bookings from everyone on board, but for me, the best thing about the ship was the butler assigned to us. We also
met a lovely English couple and a delightful young couple of Canadians who were living and working in the Bahamas. Our last night was spent with them, back in our favourite restaurant.
Then it was back to Venice, a taxi ride in the rain to the airport and the most disorganised check-in I’ve encountered anywhere. We were heading for Paris, the day after the Paris terrorist attack. Italian staff were super vigilant, (although we had no idea why) but on arrival in Paris we walked straight through customs, no checks, no armed guards, nothing to indicate that they had just experienced a serious act of terrorism. Susanne and I looked at each other in amazement. I concluded that all their security staff must have worked overtime the previous day and night, so they were sleeping it off when we arrived.
But then we were back in Paris, staying once more at the Hotel Windsor Opera, and ready to finish what we hadn’t seen and done on our earlier ‘Paris In Two Days’ which you may have read about here. Those of you who have joined my readers since then, might like to scroll down to the Archives and click on March 2015 to read about it. Our four days in Paris follows.
Naples makes me think of the Mafia, crime, corruption and poverty. Although we landed at the port, naturally, we didn’t in fact, see anything of the crime element and just a few areas of lower standard
We also noticed that parking didn’t seem to follow any rules, (similar to our photos from Rome) and that tiny cars are all the rage.
Once we joined the orgnised city tour, our guide showed us where the bus was parked, then took us on a fast walking tour to a couple of major sites. Unlike most group tours, we had no earpieces and his English was pour and fast, so all we could do was take photos, not knowing what we were actually photographing. I hope my descriptions, taken later from various google sites, are correct.
The castle, a few metres from our bus, was the most interesting site for me. I remembered from Medieval History lessons that the Normans ruled Southern Italy around the same time as their leader, William the Conqueror, landed in England and made himself king there. The round turrets here reminded me of similar structures around England. Looking it up later, I found that yes, a Norman king built the first castle here in the 12th century, on a site that had previously been home to a magnificent Roman villa in the 1st cent BC. This place later became a Royal Chamber, State Treasury and twice it was used as a prison – first an empress then a queen. It’s the sort of place that I wished we could visit, but our guide was in a hurry.
The other interesting looking place (again unable to visit) was the Piazza del Plebiscito, which our guide said was something to do with the government. Vast expanse of paving in front of the building had me wondering what the space was used for.
Back on the bus, we were taken on a quick
tour through the more elegant parts of the city and past several bays where the wealthy residents more their boats. As our bus wound up the hills (not Mt Etna, we didn’t go that far) we looked down on the city and out to sea.
Returning to the ship I was able to capture an image of our vessel including our cabin, from the shore.
The following poems were written for a man I once thought was the centre of my universe. It’s almost nineteen years since I shed those tears and I’ve found new, strong and lasting love. This post is for those of you who think that your life ends with the loss of one love. It changes and you change but it can get better. You just have to pick up the pieces (probably best to discard the not so good ones) and face life again. As usual, please pass one or both of these on to anyone you think might like to read it/them.
Rooted firmly in the ground
is tall and strong
that snuggle into his trunk
and hide in his leaves.
Wide he spreads his branches
and so high
his canopy is sometimes in the clouds.
I sit in his shade
and lean on him.
His bigness can be overwhelming,
too long in his shadow
I shrink and fade
then I need to walk in the sun
knowing he is there
in the centre of my garden.
A TIME FOR TEARS
Flowing like a waterfall
these tears I shed for you.
At night I wake to wrenching sobs
my pillow wet
my soul bereft;
I want to sleep forever.
Do you cry too?
Does guilt grip you with remorse
for leaving me
for what you too have lost?
Perhaps one day
my heart will mend
my tears no longer fall.
One day I might not
think of you with sadness
but after forty years
I know there’ll never come a time
when I can say
‘I don’t love you anymore.’
Kotor in Montenegro was to be our next destination but as we approached at about 7.30am on Saturday May 14th,
the skies were almost black in one direction and the forecast was for rain. Our ship moored away from Kotor itself, so guests were to be taken across the bay in what looked
like semi-open ferry boats. I didn’t like the look of the weather or the means of transport.
We took our usual lot of photos from the ship, noting the incredibly steep and rocky mountains immediately behind clusters of buildings close to the shore and decided to stay on board.
After a leisurely breakfast we tried to catch up on emails but, being just that short distance from land, and with those huge mountains blocking reception, the very expensive WIFI was useless. A time then, to work on our photos and do the laundry. It’s a pity I didn’t take a photo of the bathroom. There was a pull-out line across the bath, long enough for undies, socks and one pair of trousers. We then covered every towel rail and hung coat hangers from every possible hook, tap and anything else that would hold the weight of wet clothes. The poor fellow who cleaned the cabin had no chance that day. Drying clothes on the balcony was not allowed but even if it had been, it rained all day.
Later that day I took more photos during a break in the rain. We were intrigued by the structure that seemed to head to nowhere, part way up the mountain and only later discovered that it was part of the old city wall.
Seeing others returning later that afternoon, we were pleased with our decision to skip the city tour.
The next day was spent at sea. We’d booked a massage each and again, spent much of the day working on our photos.
I hope that many of you have at least one person in your life who fits this image of a good friend. Mine has been a bit off colour lately so this is a tribute to her, to remind her how much I appreciate her.
Please feel free to send this poem on to the exotic bird(s) in your garden of friends. My words are free for you all to enjoy and share. If you would like to leave me a comment that would be great, thank you.
Exotic is my little bird
gorgeous her plumage
of brilliant emerald
and the richest ruby red.
She’s something of a loner
and quiet until she sings,
then she leads the chorus.
Her voice fills my garden
with the sound of crystal music.
I love to sit and listen
not only to her song
her words are never wrong.
We share a tranquil moment
rest for a while on a bench
chat about friends and daily affairs.
A peck on my cheek
a feathery wave
and she flies home to her nest.
Late last year I entered this story in a writing competition. It’s not my best short story but when I won first prize I promised to post it once it was published. I then forgot about it, so here it is. If you read the longer version last year under the title ‘Lightning’, please ignore this repeat so that my newer followers can enjoy it.
I’ll also post a couple of poems from ‘Friends In My Garden’ today as I know that some of you enjoy them too.
In the paddocks around the house our cows had gathered in groups, their calves, now ready for weening, herded within the protective circle created by their mothers. Hay, almost a metre high, was ready for harvesting in paddocks around the dam and up the hill, towards the forest. November brought hot winds to much of our south west. In Europe they talk of the mistral that blows for days or weeks at a time, sending vulnerable people in France and Spain mad. Coming overland from the desert, our easterly winds had a similar effect on me.
On that particular day I’d gone out to check the water troughs in the paddock below the house and was surprised to note that, instead of lumbering towards the utility which they usually did in the hope of finding easy food, all the cows with calves stayed put. There was little movement amongst them, except for the odd shaking of a head, accompanied by a high pitched moo or a sort of snorting. I could feel their agitation.
The air was still and oppressive. Looking up, I noted thick grey clouds which seemed to grow darker and heavier as I watched. Tails flicked and ears twitched; my four-legged mob didn’t like Nature’s developments.
Then I, too, heard it – the low rumble of thunder. The first bolt of lightning pierced clouds, forking down into the forest. Walking back towards the utility, I heard the thump as a tree or a large branch hit the ground.
Driving back to the house, I felt sorry for the cattle and wondered why they stayed so far from the protective covering of the trees which were all around us. The answer was obvious when, ten minutes later, I watched through the kitchen window as lightning struck the tallest karri, near where I’d parked, shearing it in half.
As a newcomer to the role of farming, I was concerned about fire. Animals grazing near the house were my insurance against losing our home that way. Rain wiped out our first hay crop, but our simple beasts taught me two important lessons – stay away from trees in a storm and if the cattle are concerned, it’s probably time to seek refuge.
Our visit to Dubrovnik was on Friday the 13th May last year. I tried not to think about the day because I am a bit suspicious about a few things; for instance, I won’t fly on a Friday 13th. Suffice to say that I didn’t have great vibes about the day, and despite not having the opportunity for a guided tour of the city, Susanne and I chose to walk around on our own rather than take an extended trip through the countryside and hopefully make it back in time to explore the city. (Which was probably a smart choice as friends who did, were delayed by traffic and road works and didn’t actually step inside Dubrovnik.)
The most picturesque part of the day was as we sailed towards land at about seven that morning. The sky looked even more threatening than it had over Split, but I call these my Turners and am hoping that an artistic member of my family will create a painting from them.
Even from the ocean Dubrovnik seemed to be wealthier than the other ports we had visited. This might be because so many of the residences look fairly new. Everywhere I turned, up and down the coast, terracotta tiles and white or cream walls covered the hillsides, interspersed with trees.
Some houses came almost to the water, where moored boats presumably belonged to the property owners.
Our ship was turning, heading for the harbour opposite the glamorous homes when, through the rain, we saw a beautiful bridge, seeming to hang in space. With bad weather making further photography impossible, as well as threatening to give us colds, we retreated into our cabin for breakfast.
By day four we learned to order just one cooked breakfast with two plates and cutlery as the kitchen staff seemed unable or unwilling to follow our requests for anything other than giant sized portions.
Our ship was moored some distance from the city so, after passing through the usual customs routine, we headed for one of the local buses which were lined up, waiting for us. A notice in our daily sheet had warned us that we’d have to buy a return ticket for about US$12, before leaving the ship. Sometimes the organisation for such simple things struck me as ridiculous. Apparently our shuttle buses were supplied by the cities at earlier ports, but for Dubrovnik, a fifteen minute ride, we had to pay extra. Ship’s crew added everything else onto our bills; why not make it simple for all and just add on that fare too?
We were driven to one of the four main gates and dropped off near the Franciscan Monastery which is famous for its pharmacy, opened in 1317 and still operating today. Photography wasn’t allowed and all information was printed in Croatian so all we could do was admire and wonder about the ancient glass and porcelain vessels used for storing or measuring herbal potions formerly dispensed by the friars.
From the monastery we stepped straight onto the main thoroughfare, called Stradun, which is closed to traffic but bustling with tourists. Shops and cafes line its sides and narrow alleyways run for a short distance on level ground then climb the steep hills on either side. It was close to 1pm and visitors were hungry. Susanne and I briefly investigated a few cafes but the food looked pretty basic. We had travelled a long way and I was determined to find a memorable venue and meal for this, our only taste of Dubrovnik.
The shops had nothing exciting or original to tempt us. All I brought away with me was a small book, ‘Get to Know Dubrovnik’ which would have been useful if I’d found it before landing. Unlike Rome, Florence and Venice, where quality and originality managed to entice me despite the high prices, I found goods in Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast in general, not worth a second glance.
Susanne and I did get a few interesting photos though.
Windows in old buildings often fascinate me and the Rector’s Palace, which has a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles used in its architecture, caught my eye. Originally used to store gunpowder, the building was badly damaged several times (and I presume restored depending on the fashion of the day.) Now it houses the Cultural Historical Museum of Dubrovnik, after being the seat of local government for most of its life since the 14th cent. Because of the cross on the roof and the fancy windows on the first floor, I initially assumed it was a church and would have liked a quick look inside but that wasn’t permitted.
Some cities and towns in Europe also make use of their roof space creating unusual and imaginative windows and what appear from outside, to be tiny rooms. In a place like Dubrovnik, surrounded by ocean, I imagine that these spaces are sort after by artists.
Now at the end of the Stradun, we realised that the crowds were vying for a place to sit down and eat. One cafe, at the end of the thoroughfare, had a couple of tables left but again, the food looked like mediocre tourist fare. Beside me, a well-dressed couple opened doors to what looked like a smart hotel. I grabbed my sister’s arm and followed them, realising as soon as we entered, that we’d found the right place. Tables were full, people were drinking wine or champagne from good quality glasses and the aromas were enough to have me salivating. What hope for a booking, I wondered. We hovered at the entrance to the restaurant and a very busy waiter suggested that we sit down on a bench in the adjoining passage.
Five minutes later we were led to the front of the terrace and seated at a table for two, overlooking the water. Our glasses were filled within minutes and the food arrived soon after. Susanne had fish and chips (gourmet fish and chips) and I ordered more chips with a salad.
In front of us boats buzzed around, ducking into moorings and almost colliding with the previous occupants trying to get out, young lads larked about in canoes, ferries unloaded passengers, picked up the next lot and raced away again. People walked along the footpath and we were delighted to see friends from the ship who stopped to chat.
To our right was an ancient looking stone structure which we decided to investigate as a way of walking off some of those chips. Once we reached it and turned the corner it was obvious that we’d come across an old fort. We could see our ship on the opposite bank, so Susanne walked out along the Porporela (a concrete breakwater built in 1873 to protect the inner harbour from wind and storms.)
I took her photo then she almost got washed away by a wave breaking over the top of the wall. All she worried about was her precious camera lens which also got wet.
From there we decided to walk along paths that ran parallel with the Stradun. Most visitors climbed the famous walls that went around the old city but with a lot of tourists vying for space up there, and very few sets of steps to get up and particularly down, I wasn’t prepared to risk an attack of vertigo which can come on me at any time. As with many historical stairways, there was also a lack of hand rails. We intended to rejoin the Stradun along the way, but kept rising higher and higher with no obvious safe way down.
We certainly got a feel for how the locals live, peering into their tiny patios, walking along winding pathways and photographing greenery that seemed to sprout from stone walls in the Mediterranean climate. When
I’d nearly given up hope, we came to a passageway that had reasonable steps and a wall I could hold onto and part way down, tradesmen were at work. If I slipped, they would hopefully catch me.
Back on the main drag, we celebrated with ice creams and headed to the city gate for a return bus ride. I’d forgotten about my concerns with the date and we were looking forward to the second of a series of talks on the History of the Mediterranean by Michael Tunks, an Australian lecturer who seemed to be a combined philosopher, historian, geologist, and modern day Renaissance man. More about him and his lectures later.
During the week I had an unusual (for me) experience, presenting my book ‘The Green Velvet Dress,’ and my personal story to a group of men who get together each week in their Men’s Shed. I imagine lots of tools, noise, dust, a bit of swearing and plenty of talk about football or other sports; maybe the grandkids, state politics, especially our recent election, but probably not books they’ve read.
So, I happily went along to the Mundaring Speaker’s Circle on Thursday, presuming that I’d have a few men and more of their wives, as my audience. One lady arrived, followed by another one I know from my own social groups. All the rest were men. I’m used to public speaking so that wasn’t a problem, but a bunch of guys who get together to fix and make things? Too late to adjust my talk, I leapt in, hoping to at least keep them awake. One chap gave a mighty yawn and another seemed to be nodding off, but when I got to the part about me being a nerdy teenager they all laughed and I could relax a bit.
My son is a comedian. He had warned me about adapting to the audience. I skipped a few paragraphs and elaborated on the more entertaining sections of my development as a writer. Once I got to the part where I read out sections of the novel, I could lay it on, (I’m a frustrated actress as well as a writer) and we all enjoyed ourselves.
Now I feel ready to entertain any group – old or young, male or female. They get free entertainment, I sell a few books and we share afternoon tea. Any suggestions for groups near Perth in WA wanting a speaker, I’m available. Please just tell them about me and/or ask me.
Split, our next port of call, was what I’d hoped to find on this cruise down the Dalmatian coast. Having read that the scenery was spectacular, we were up and out on our balcony again early on the morning of the 12th May. I missed the sunrise, but as we approached the city, I was
struck by its
similarity to Nice on the south coast of France. Palm trees lined a boulevard that runs along the water front, the harbour was busy with large tourist ships like ours, lining up to dock, and the local fishermen seemed to compete with leisure craft bustling about on the water which really was a stunning shade of blue.
From a distance everything looked well maintained, but this is an old port city. The famous palace, which still occupies a large area, was built towards the end of the 3rd century when the then Roman emperor, Diocletian, decided to retire from his position in Constantinople (he was very unpopular, so the smart move was to return to his homeland before someone killed him) and use Greek slaves to build his palace, including a mausoleum. (More about that later.)
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