Friday, March 27, 2009

Blooming Friday

a violet crocus...
i like the subtle change of color of the petals --- from very light violet to its darker shade

with the yellow center, it seems there's a light illuminating the core of the flower...

a close-up of the yellow-colored stamens and pistil

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

dew-covered moss

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blooming Friday

our forsythia in full glory on a bright spring day

Well, it's the vernal equinox today! And our forsythia is celebrating it by showing us its warm cheerful flowers. It is really interesting that this shrub with its denuded lifeless-looking branches would suddenly spring to life in a burst of sunshine in the form of these gaily-colored blooms.

Against the blue sky, they seem to be tiny suns sending warmth and delight to the once-cold earth, urging everything to rouse from their winter sleep. Well, who wouldn't want to wake up to a glorious sky?

I wish everybody a sunny warm weekend :).

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Almost Wordless Wednesday

hyacinth that I planted in bloom

Every winter, When the great sun has turned his face away,
The earth goes down into a vale of grief,
And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables,
Leaving her wedding-garlands to decay--
Then leaps in spring to his returning kisses.

-Charles Kingsley (1819 - 1875), Saint's Tragedy (act III, sc. 1)

It's Spring!!!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Blooming Friday

catkins --- flowers of common hazel in our garden

One of the early signs that spring is coming is these catkins (also called aments) of our common hazel shrubs. They are called “catkins” because they are supposed to resemble a cat’s tail. Well, they surely do, especially when they sway to a gentle breeze, like a cat showing “excitement” with the twitching of its tail. Or a cat showing “agitation” with the wagging or swishing of the tail when a gusty wind blows the aments into a flurry.

Personally, I find these flowers quite interesting, both in form and appearance. They’re like the fine streamers you use during festive occasions, draped haphazardly on trees, shrubs or balconies, creating a cheery playful atmosphere. Since they appear after the coldest days of winter and right before spring, it makes me wonder if they are there to extend the spirit of the Christmas season or herald the coming of spring.

The only hitch is that it also marks the onset of my pollen allergy. And this is one of the plants that I’m very sensitive to --- I sneeze a lot with an itchy runny nose (and the latter sensation can also extend to the eyes). Oh well, one cannot have everything. And since we don’t want to cut them, I just try not to get too close to them, and take a good shower after being outside (or before sleeping) to get rid of the pollen that may have stuck to my hair and skin.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not-so-Worldless Wednesday

view of the azure window in Dwejra, Gozo Island, Malta from the sea

The natural arch in Dwejra bay in Gozo, Malta is called "azure window" because looking through it from the coast, you see the marine blue color of the sea. But from the sea, I would say it's a "golden hole", especially with the sunlight striking the yellow limestone and creating a golden glow, beckoning seafarers to enter and take a peek at what's inside. And who knows, it might be really a "precious hollow" that provides shelter for boats which unfortunately got caught in a seastorm. On a tempest, I think the view would be spectacular, provided that everybody is safely ensconced by the shore.

see a view of azure window from the coast
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Lady in a Painting

the sole painting of a woman in the main hall of château de Sully-sur-Loire

Since today is the international women’s day, I thought it would be a good idea to share what I noticed when we visited the château de Sully-sur-Loire last summer. One of the largest and most important rooms in the castle is the main hall (salle d’honneur) with an area of 300 square meters. This served as a court, a receiving hall for aristocrats and dignitaries visiting the castle and as a ballroom for festivities and gatherings. It also served as the “theater” for some of Voltaire’s plays when he stayed here in exile.

the main hall or salle d'honneur of the castle seen from the door by the fireplace

On the wall are paintings of ancestors and prominent members of the family of Maximilien de Bethune (the duke of Sully) from the reign of Henry IV to Louis XV (source: Les Châteaux de la Loire I, Le Figaro Collection, February 2006). All are male, except for one. At the end of the immense hall, opposite the big fireplace is a painting of a beautiful, stately woman. It’s a shame I couldn’t remember her name, but I find it very interesting that she’s the only female member of the family whose painting is displayed here. She must be quite important and very influential to be given this “place” of honor --- her painting at the end of the hall as if presiding over a male-dominated banquet table. And I doubt it was an act on the part of the duchess of Sully as the paintings were commissioned by the duke himself. And it was he who instructed that these paintings be placed in the main hall. The lady in the portrait must have had a significant role, if not in the running of the estate, at least in the life of Maximilien de Bethune.

I like the idea of “a painting in a painting” shown in the portrait. The concept is not very common and opens a lot of doors for interpretation, not only about the subject but also about the artist’s intention. Is the painter implying something, or is it just pure aesthetic on his part? Was it the subject who chose to be painted with another painting or was it the artist’s choice? Why the juxtaposition of the women's ages? Why did the main lady in the portrait wore an underskirt having the exact color as the dress worn by the younger lady in the smaller painting --- is it her choice? or is it the painter's? did they really wore the dresses or were just drawn from the artist's imagination for an artistic purpose? And who is the woman in the smaller painting? So many questions, very few answers --- and many of them are just speculations.

a closer view of the main lady in the portrait

But at least, I believe I can answer the last question. Looking at the features of the two women, I would say that the one in the smaller painting is a younger version of the lady in the portrait. They have the same kind eyes, the dignified bearing without being arrogant or pompous, and the serene aura around them. The similarities are quite striking. Well, maybe I’m wrong. It's probable that the young lady in the smaller painting is an ancestor of the elderly woman. But I believe I could say with a fair amount of certainty that they are from the same family, if not the same person. And for her to be "shown" twice (if the latter case is true), she must have been a remarkable woman in her time to be given such importance by the duke of Sully in an era when women are usually relegated to the background ... and only a handful makes their name and influence known in areas dominated by men.

enlarged view of the lady in the smaller painting

Sully-sur-Loire part II, see part I

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blooming Friday

flower of our clivia (or bush lily) in its glorious beauty

Even though I have some plants that died this winter (for which I feel so bad), I am very much consoled by the flowering of the clivia, also known as bush lily (Clivia miniata) I planted last year. My in-laws gave us two of them, one hasn’t flowered yet but the other has given me these sublime blooms.

I marvel at the contrast of its smooth orange petals to the deep green foliage --- it’s like a microcosm of a tropical garden. And the pollen-filled stamens that leave a fine layer of yellow powder on your hand as you gently brush against them add a whimsical dimension to the vigorous flowers. They’re like magic wands of tiny playful fairies, weaving magic around those who look at these spectacular blooms.

With the sun’s rays beaming on them, they glow with a certain vibrancy that is rather hypnotizing rather than blinding (which one would expect from a brightly-colored flower). I don’t know if it’s the tunnel shape of the flowers, or the beckoning stamens, or the light colored center that draws me to come closer and gaze at it longingly. All I know is that I’ll never get tired of looking at them.

I hope I’ll be able to have these plants for a long time. Even without the flowers, they are great to have inside the house for their evergreen leaves. And since clivia is an indoor plant, during the cold dark months of winter, having these very lovely blooms is like having your own source sunshine right inside your home.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not-so Wordless Wednesday

Here are some wintry photos of the mountains.
I say “wintry” and not “winter” for they were taken last autumn and not this winter. I don’t think I would be able to get tourists out of the camera frame these past Christmas and school breaks, especially since we’ve had abundant snow this winter.

white and blue... what a serene combination!

Snow came early this year (or rather last year). And it happened when we took our holidays in the Pyrénées last fall. So, when people have just finished their summer vacation or still in the planning stage for their winter holidays, we get to enjoy the mountains covered in snow on a bright cloudless sunny day… all by ourselves… well, except for a few tourists (and I could count them in my hands).

let's follow the trail!

I am not very fond of the cold season, but with a view and a weather like these, I wouldn't mind winter that much.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March to the Beat

my dream weather... how i wish it's like this everyday...

It seems that the month of March started out just right. We had a fine weekend. Saturday seemed like spring at its best with a lot of sun and a blue sky. Oh, it was still chilly in the morning, around zero degrees, but by 10:00 AM, it’s warm enough under the sun. So we took the opportunity to start preparing our garden. It feels good to be out, even if it’s just in our backyard after being cooped up inside the house for weeks. A sunny weather really does a lot to my mood. I was in high spirits during the weekend. Well, we had covered sky on Sunday, but it cleared enough in the afternoon allowing us to continue gardening.

one of our juniper shrubs... and see the tall hedge in the background?
that's what my husband has to deal with...

So far, we were able to weed most of our vegetable and flower beds. Weeds really have a great survival mechanism. They grow even in cold bad weather. I wouldn’t be surprised if they would be the last plants on earth if the world comes to an end. I was also able to get rid of our withered annual plants (which I was too lazy to do last autumn), cut the dried stalks of the perennial ones and plant some more spring bulbs. My husband did the harder part of gardening --- trimming and cutting (well, at least, he’s trying to) our really, really tall and quite thick hedge of thuja (a conifer from the Cypress family). It’s around 10 meters high when we moved in. Well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t less than 5 meters in height. And cutting hedges that high is quite a task. And we aren’t even finish trimming their width which we do every year to keep them from eating up a lot of space in our yard. Good thing our neighbor is not complaining about it.

But at least we got rid of most of the ivy. It might be lovely to look at ivy-covered houses or buildings. But I don’t find walking in a garden ankle-deep in ivy charming. And that’s how high the ivies were when we moved in. And they covered at least a third of our garden. So we got rid of them… manually. It might be a tedious task, but it’s actually quite good for your stress. After pulling ivies for an hour or so, you’ll feel less the urge to pull your hair out of their roots *grins*.

one brave tiny crocus... our first flower in the garden this year

We also trimmed our juniper shrubs that are also eating up a lot of space. They spread really fast, so if you’re looking for easy-to-care, evergreen shrubs that can grow either in the sun or in the shade, this is the plant. Just a caution, though, some people might be allergic to it. It releases a lot of pollen, so if you’re sensitive to it, juniper might not be a good idea. On my part, I don’t know if it’s due to the pricks of its needle-like leaves or I’m just allergic to it, but every time my skin comes in contact with the leaves, I get itchy tiny red spots. The itch wears off after a few hours, but the red rashes take a longer time to disappear. I know, maybe we should get rid of it. But then, they’re quite practical to have. You don’t really need to take care of it and there are no leaves to rake during autumn.

Well, it was a fruitful weekend. And the weather forecast seems to be generally fine for the rest of the week. It might rain on Wednesday, but that’s fine. At least, there won’t be a need to water the plants. A sunny day really keeps me in a good humor. And I’m definitely, completely, positively looking forward to spring.