Category Archives: travel

Flower, Flower, Flower

Just returned home from a wonderful trip to Glasgow where there seemed to be flowers everywhere we went…

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at the Tramway’s beautiful hidden gardens

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and the lovely Botanics

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in Kibble Palace

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to this – my new collection!  Hooray!  Spring is here!

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South

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Images from the wonderful Antarctica exhibition at Palace Green Library in Durham.  The poem is by Dr Wilson who was part of Captain Scott’s last expedition.

 

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Your Origami Life

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Last year ended with my travels in Turkey, where one of the many highlights was a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose above the astonishingly beautiful valleys of Cappadocia.

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Back in the North, the new year began as usual for me at Harnham Buddhist Monastery.  Yesterday a group of us gathered there for one of our occasional renga sessions.  In the chilly winter conservatory we saw the light fade as we worked our way through a new schema, with the additional rigour of conforming to the traditional 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllable count throughout.  After five hours of finger-tapping and head-scratching, the odd spat of wrangling, we’d created this seasonal renga catching the year as it turns.

IMG_0195May 2016 be peaceful and fruitful for us all.

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Your Origami Life

Hungry now, the jaws
of winter are snap-snapping –
the upstart year prey

a row of unruly ash
gesture to the rain-washed sky

jackdaws crowd the field
sodden silent monitors
a message in black

as if the moon were patched silk
shredded honesty, falling

across Bolam Lake
a raft of male goosander
white bodies, hooked beaks

you didn’t need to say it
but what a difference it made

will this be the year
she sorts through those old boxes
clears her path of dust?

we are all responsible
and me more than anyone

pruned raspberry canes
twigs, bits, dry in the greenhouse
ready for burning

so how many paper folds
in your origami life?

telephone cable
insulated conductor
sways to wild weather

bullfinches chase their redness
through my thicket of slow thought

sweet, sharp, dangerous
licking honey off the knife –
well, that’s how it looked

the lilt of a saxophone
curling towards the ceiling

in the quiet morning
we pass windblown oak and pine
part sawn, cleared quickly

Forties, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher
storm force 12 rarely forecast

here in old tough grass
waiting for the miracle
of winter snowdrops

every day the sun climbing
higher above layered cloud.

 

 

A han-kasen renga
at Harnham Buddhist Monastery
on 2nd January 2016.

Participants:
Ajahn Abhinando
John Bower
Holly Clay
Linda France
Geoff Jackson
Linda Kent
Eileen Ridley
Tim Rubidge
Christine Taylor

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Peace & Poinsettia

In Turkey I was very excited to see poinsettia growing wild – flowers the size of dinner plates, brash and beautiful, like their botanical name – Euphorbia pulcherrima.

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Its English name derives from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.  In Turkey they are known as Atatürk’s Flower, because Atatürk, the father of the modern republic (1881-1938), liked it and encouraged its cultivation in Turkey.  There are many statues of Atatürk around the place, often with a bird or a child,  accompanied by a plaque saying Peace at Home, Peace in the World in Turkish, English, German and Russian.

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I arrived home to an article by Alys Fowler in the Guardian recounting the story of how poinsettia came to be associated with Christmas.  In Mexico, where they are native, back in the sixteenth century, a poor girl called Pepita (or possibly Maria) couldn’t afford to buy a present for Jesus’s birthday.  An angel told her to gather a bouquet of weeds to place on the altar of her church, where they transformed into the blood-red bracts so familiar to us today.

IMG_0058Once you’ve seen the poinsettia growing where it’s meant to, it looks too much like a caged bird in a centrally heated living room.  To relieve our wall-to-wall grey, Alys Fowler advises a Christmas cactus instead because as well as being easier to keep alive after it’s bloomed, it also filters out pollutants in the air.

 

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The Guest House

On this day, 742 years ago, at Konya Rumi died.  Here in Turkey they call him Mevlana – ‘our teacher’ – and celebrate today as his ‘wedding day’, when he became one with God.

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This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

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Other People’s Books

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Other people’s books on the subjects one is writing about oneself are annoying sometimes, because if one has read them one must avoid saying the same things, and if one has not read them and say the same things readers think one has copied, and when one’s own book comes first, the books that come after it have either copied from it or not copied from it, and when they have copied they get the credit, as readers have forgotten who wrote it first, and when they have not copied they seem to be despising it and to be saying the opposite. It would be better if only one writer at a time wrote on each subject, but this cannot be, and when the subject is a country it would be unfair, as people rely on writing to get them about abroad and let them take money to spend there.

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At the present time, a great many writers are interested in seeing Turkey, and on account of this many of them are writing books about it, and this has to be put up with. Aunt Dot’s Turkey book, which I was illustrating and in which I was putting bits, would not be like anyone else’s really, as it would be mostly about the misfortunes of Moslem women…But my bits would be about the scenery and churches and castles and ruins and towns, and these had already been so well done lately that I should have to be very careful. The trouble with countries is that, once people begin travelling in them, and people have always been travelling in Turkey, they are apt to get over-written, as Greece has, and all the better countries in Europe, such as Italy and France and Spain. England has not been over-written, at least not by foreigners, on account of it’s not being very attractive, what with the weather and the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel and the North Sea and the industrial towns and not having many antique ruins, but above all the weather, for no one from abroad can stand this for long, and actually we can’t stand it for long ourselves, but we have to.

From ‘The Towers of Trebizond’ by Rose Macaulay (1956)

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The Silk Road

You’re sitting here with us, but you’re also out walking

in a field at dawn.  You are yourself

the animal we hunt when you come with us on the chase.

You’re in your body like a plant is solid in the ground,

yet you’re wind.  You’re the diver’s clothes

lying empty on the beach.  You’re the fish.

In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins
that are lute strings that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.

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Quietness

imageInside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side.  Die,

and be quiet.  Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

 

 

Rumi

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Monks’ Valley, Cappadocia

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Whirling

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Do you think I know what I’m doing?

That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?

As much as a pen knows what it’s writing,

or the ball can guess where it’s going next.

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The Perfect Imperfect Garden

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A little lost, trying to find the place in Pisa I’m staying, I come across the Orto Botanico by accident – a tantalizing glimpse through statuesque iron gates. The back entrance is locked but here, now in the heart of this dusty terracotta, lemon and grey city I can see green spilling everywhere – ginkgo, oak, plane, palm – and people walking around clutching plans, looking back and forth between paper and tree. The information I’d read had said the garden was closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. This, like many other things, proves to be wrong.

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Every day they let me in for free and I walk through the shady lodge into a dazzle of sunlight. The first view, the central square – Piazza Arcangeli – is a carefully composed picture of glaring white gravel, an ivy fringed pond, with a semi-circle of oddly tame purple and yellow pansies, and two monumental Chilean wine palms, planted in the 19th century when the grand building that houses the University’s School of Biology was also built. The sweet scent of jasmine permeates the air and acts like a spell. Now you are entering Garden Time – things happen differently here.

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To my left, south, is the oldest part of the garden, established here in 1591, having moved from two earlier sites in the city since it was founded in 1543. The first surviving design dates from 1723 and this is more or less as it stands today, with just a few changes. A dense mood of continuity and tradition hangs over everything – comforting and stultifying.

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In the Myrtle Garden medicinal plants are arranged in ceramic pots on stone staging like guests at the theatre – guests who’ve forgotten to wear their best clothes. The rosemary and sage need no special attention: they would grow wild given half the chance. Many of the others are thirsty, sulking, distracted by weeds. I enjoy the big old myrtle though, remembering my midwife back in the early ’80s when I gave birth to my sons at home – brisk, no-nonsense, with a heart of gold. How does a girl born in the chilly North Tyne valley on the cusp of the twentieth century end up being called Myrtle? I invent an Italian honeymoon for her parents – wish them an unlocked garden, the fragrance of jasmine, the excitement of sparrows and the sinuous darting of lizards.

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In the Cedar Garden the original cedar is missing – as is the heart of the oldest magnolia in Tuscany, braced by three iron props, thick glossy leaves burgeoning anyway – venerable, perfectly imperfect. Who says a heart needs to be visible to stay strong?

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I see my first ever flower on a tulip tree, eat my first loquat, plucked from a just-in-reach branch – sharp and juicy – and find a maroon blossom also new to me. The petals look and feel as if they are made of flocked card, curled up in the heat of the sun. The label tells me it is Calycanthus floridus, a native of North America.

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The far end of this part of the garden is marked by the extraordinary ‘grotesque’ façade of what is now the Botanical Museum. The site of the old entrance on Via Santa Maria, it was decorated to celebrate the dynastic marriage between a Medici and a Lorraine in 1752. Next to it, the traditional ochre-coloured stucco is fading and peeling. Dark green shutters keep out the powerful sun. Climbing pink roses spike the eye. All these colours shouldn’t go together, but they do – Italian style so often brash, extravagant, excessive.

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To the north of the School of Biology lies the Orto Nuovo and the Arboretum – a less formal planting of many varieties of trees and a massive stand of bamboo in a landscape more like a park than a botanical garden. There is a small pool with waterlilies, fish and turtles. Students sit around it to work, eat, flirt – often all three at once: pleasure such a necessary thread in the texture of any Italian day or night. There’s a low hill from which you can see the top of the Leaning Tower up on the Field of Miracles and the dome of the Cathedral, pleated like a giant seedhead against the backdrop of the sky.

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Time passes. What is a week might be a month. I am bitten on the ankles by mosquitoes. I take photographs of beetles, striped red and black like the coats of arms of Italian aristocrats. I drink cool pear juice from the vending machine. Roberta shows me the wooden doors from the old entrance – carved panels of Aloe, Belladonna, Verbascum and Crown Imperial (the garden’s emblem). Tree surgeons work very slowly, lopping off the topmost branches of the oldest highest trees, stacking great mounds of wood beneath them. I make friends with the garden cat, ginger and white and luxuriant. I feel honoured, special, until the next day I see him languishing, faithless, alongside a young student under the red chestnut tree.

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A Swedish visitor asks me if I know why the garden is so neglected, why the students aren’t set to weeding. Two days later I see a small group of girls hoeing and hooking up weeds in a corner of the Myrtle Garden. I find the strangest, largest wisteria ever – root and stem rearing like a dragon to climb the nearby trees. I discover the name Hortense comes from the Italian for hydrangea. The new glasshouses are three years behind schedule and several species of plants have died waiting. I sit beneath a eucalyptus, calmed by its familiar reassuring smell, the little moons of its fallen leaves. My skin turns pink and freckled. I think about history, my own and the garden’s. I press leaves and flowers between the pages of my notebook.

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Before coming home I spend 24 hours in Florence for an Italian poet friend’s book launch. Too short a time for so bountiful a city. Long enough to climb the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo and see the Garden of the Roses and the Iris Garden, home of the Florentine ‘lily’ (giglio). From here, there is a sweeping view of the Arno, the same river that runs through Pisa, and the whole of the city, buildings packed so close together, not much changed since the time of the Medicis and the Renaissance.

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I sit with a lump in my throat beside the Duomo – Our Lady of the Flowers – a church built from so many different marbles, perfectly arranged, like some sublime garden, with such care and skill and devotion. Behind me a French tourist spills his ice-cream and his wife mops him up with a tissue from her bag soaked in perfume. ‘Now I smell like a woman!’ he says laughing. I get up to leave, taking the scent of jasmine and violets with me.

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