Summer abundance

August 24, 2010

Time for harvest ! Thanks to a very hot Summer,  Nature has been very generous ! We are having lots of fruits.  Here is an apricot tree growing on the way up to a mountain village. You can pick the fruits  yourself in the orchard,  then pay for your precious  harvest and go back home to prepare pies, marmelades, jellies or just eat them as they are: fresh, juicy, sweet.

I made some apricot marmelade for the Winter months;  a tasty reminder of a wonderful Summer afternoon spent in a steep field facing the mountains. I love spices and in this marmelade I added  just a few pieces of star anise.In our garden there is  only a single bush of redcurrants. But what a harvest ! This year its berries are particularly big and sweet. A vanilla pod gives an exotic touch to this bright red marmelade .Wild blackberries grow on a bank behind our house. Every year more and more. Almost an invasion… but one I don´t mind.  It is quite an experience (a painful one !) to pick  those delicious fruits hiding amongst their stubborn and sharp thorns !A painful job but what a reward ! The most gorgeous marmelade for your breakfast; I like to spread butter and marmelade on a slice of brown bread for my breakfast, a “tartine” as we call it.Another delicious fruit is the “zanette” (local name). These small yellow prunes are also growing in our mountains.  Not much bigger than an  olive. The prune trees do not give such a good harvest every Summer but sometimes you can be lucky. And when you are, those tiny prunes taste so good that you just eat them as you pick them : au naturel ! And if  you can save some, the marmelade you make is a real dessert. If you like “chaud-froid” (warm and cold), you can heat it lightly and serve it with an ice cream.  Why not giving yourself a treat ? 😉

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Slowing down

August 16, 2010

This post is my contribution to  the new photography  challenge assigned by Scott Thomas, http://stphoto.wordpress.com; its theme is related  to Travel Photography. On the following link you will find  the necessary information if you want to join us. Everyone is welcome ! Photos are to be posted until September 8, 2010.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/assignment-8-travel-photography/

For me, Hauterive is not  a faraway place to travel to, 15kms at the most from my home near Fribourg, Switzerland (South of Berne). More than a travel in the usual sense of the word, I would call it an “inner journey”. As soon as you leave the main road leading to the Abbey of Hauterive, you enter a small domain where peace, silence and nature help you slowing down. You don´t even realize it but the way you walk down the path leading to the Abbey is definitely more slow.

I did not meet many people as I strolled under the forest archway. It was a weekday; on Sundays the monastery welcomes many visitors coming to the 10am mass celebrated by the Cistercian monks  in the Abbey founded in 1138.The community of Hauterive is a haven of peace. Whenever I  need some quietness or just a little time for myself , I love to go and sit in the garden in front of the Abbey. Parts of this garden are closed to the public and reserved to the monks. Pilgrims on their long way to St- Jacques de Compostelle in Spain may stop there for the night.Between light and shade, some benches welcome people who come there for a pause in their day. Some – for their own particular reasons at a period of their life – can stay for a longer time at the Abbey and live with the monks according to their rhythm and spirit.  I cannot speak for them but personally I always feel a great inner peace as I stay there, outside or inside the church, also when walking along the river.

This is a view of the Abbey (at the back) and the farm (in front). The monks´s monastic life is essential  (“ora et labora” – pray, work and also fraternal life). The monks also cultivate a certain form of relationship with the exterior world.  Over the centuries they have valorised agricultural land  so  that they can sell their various products which bring the necessary revenues for their subsistence.Silence is appreciated in the areas where the monks are praying, meditating.

Hauterive Abbey (which means “high banks”) is located near a river, the Sarine. It flows quietly; people like to come and spend the day at the edge of the water.  I saw fishermen trying to catch  trouts. Cistercian monasteries  were often built near a river in rather secluded areas. Maybe they used rivers as a way of transportation for their goods to be sold in the towns nearby ? It was often done so in the Middle Age when roads were  unsafe.

To reach the Abbey you can either walk down a peaceful forest path or use  those  old wooden stairs. They have been restored of course and if they could talk, they would tell of all the people and the countless  steps up and down over the centuries. The walls are original with an occasional patch of new cement and paint here and there. No  straight lines for them but slight curves,  a sort of imbalance as if they carried the weight of time and events.Let´s  enter the Abbey itself through the  main porch decorated by a fresco.  I visited Hauterive several times over the years; for this photo assignement I came on a sunny morning which soon turned out to be a rainy one. The colours would have normally been much brighter.

I never took any pictures inside the Abbey but the monk I asked about it said it was all right. Those  are the stained glass windows on the South side of the church, their bright colours subdued under the cloudy sky.  The “rosace” (rose window) is very striking.

Rose windows are particularly characteristic of Gothic architecture and may be seen in all the major Gothic Cathedrals of Northern France. Their origins are much earlier and rose windows may be seen in various forms throughout the Medieval period (Wikipedia).

There were very few people inside the Abbey. I sat for while on the chair on the left. On Sundays and special  celebrations the nave and the lateral aisles are all taken up. The monks are reunited behind the choir-screen for the celebration. Their Gregorian chant fills the  Abbey. Moments of spirituality and sharing. I feel like saying a sharing beyond all religions,  a sheer spirituality that the site inspires and transcends.  The monks´chant is bringing life to the ancient walls.Leaving the Abbey by the quiet forest path, I was surprised by a bird flying right in front of me ! I still don´t know how I managed to take a picture. But here it is, a graceful bird dashing to the purple flower bush. A lovely ending of my travel with you.  I hope you enjoyed this quiet journey near Fribourg, Switzerland. Thanks to Scott for another interesting photography challenge.

For more information on the Abbey of Hauterive, here is a link to its  site. An English translation is available too.

http://www.abbaye-hauterive.ch/index.php#bas1

A Romance of Naples

August 9, 2010

“Falling Palace”

This is the first book I read by Dan Hofstadter and it was a real pleasure from the first till the last page. He wrote three previous books. His most recent, The Love Affair as a Work of Art, is a collection of essays on French writers. For several years D. Hofstadter was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker.

This fascinating book is about his years in Naples and about Benedetta, the passionate and mysterious  Neapolitan woman he met there. But not only. D. Hofstadter  shares with so much talent his knowledge and love of this unique city and  people. His words bring to life – and how brilliantly ! – some great Neapolitan characters whom he befriended during his stay.

D. Hofstadter makes me feel like going back to Naples and exploring some  streets and areas I was a bit unsure of visiting as a tourist. It is not easy to describe Naples´atmosphere beside its hustle and bustle. There is so much more that remains unseen to a visitor on vacation. If Naples is a future destination for you, then read D. Hofstadter´s book about it. He has seen this city with his heart. Is there a better way to visit and feel a new place ?

“Falling Asleep in the City”, a few words of the Prologue that made me love D. Hofstadter´s book about Naples immediately :

“Whenever, after a long absence, I return to Naples, that beautiful and wounded city, I find myself looking forward to bedtime, to the first few moments of falling asleep. I always stay in  one of the more populous quarters, in a room overlooking a steep, narrow street, and as I throw open my window a vast wave of sound floods over me. Settled in bed, I´m disconcerted at first by the sheer volume, by my feeling of floating helplessly in a tide of half-drowned voices, people calling or quarreling, snatches of jokes, television commercials, soccer games, ghosts of song twisted by the wind; footfalls mingle with rasping sc0oters, a baby´s crying with the honking of horns. Yet soon the noises soothe me, and suspended between wakefulness and sleep I enjoy a sensation of homecoming, of rejoining a crowd of kindred spirits,  faces I have always known.

Our National Day on August 1st started like this :

A bright blue sky, some pretty clouds to make it more alive, little Swiss flags fluttering in a light Summer wind. In short, there were great perspectives of a lovely evening with music, dances and some other celebrations that many people in the village had been preparing for quite a while.

Around 9pm, as a band of young musicians from the next village and a folk group from Indonesia had just arrived,  a violent wind almost blew away the big tents where the guests were preparing to play and dance. And the main street in the village looked like this :

People had deserted the tent where the food was prepared. Usually it is a big barbecue and the local famous meal : “raclette”, mountain cheese melted over a open fire (for a smaller crowd) or over a grill and served with potatoes and pickles, like last night. That is my main regret… I so enjoy eating raclette and I was not the only one !

Together with the wind, rain started falling heavily. Only the few courageous ones stayed under the tents hoping for a quieter weather but it did not happen.

People started to rush to the cafés and restaurants. This is where I stayed  for a while and took those few pictures whose quality is far from good but I just wanted to share last night mood with you.

Families of Dutch tourists were waiting patiently and more or less joyfully for clement skies… No usual National Day speeches nor anthem, no official fireworks nor bonfire, no dancing in the streets nor in pubs (too crowded !) but some isolated fireworks who brought cheerful sparkles under the rain 🙂 C´est la vie ! So is life !