Blue shades in town

January 19, 2010

Walking through Fribourg on a grey and cold day, I was attracted by

a big blue glass ball seen through the workshop window of a jeweller in the old part of the city

I could not miss the deep blue old Vespa and a shawl waiting for her owner to drive off

A sculpture in brilliant blue shades and its green cat by Niki de Saint-Phalle

and a few solar panels trying to catch the very weak sun on that day.

This was no Thanksgiving Day but these people were having some kind of celebration, for sure ! It was a few years ago in Lyon (France). I was walking along the river flowing across the city and stopped beside this barge where a long table had been set and beautifully decorated. Obviously they were waiting for more guests. A young man was giving a sweet kiss – un bisou –  to his partner. Another man smiled to me and said “pas de photo, svp”,  “no photo please”. Jokingly.

Thanksgiving was not celebrated on this river boat but all the guests around this happy table were definitely thankful to be together on that day. An engagement or a wedding lunch ?  And two of them even more grateful to the paths of life that brought them together.

Today as I remember this moment in Lyon, I thought of sharing this picture with you. To all of you who celebrate this happy day I wish a wonderful Thanksgiving !

Welcome to Fribourg

October 2, 2009

Fribourg, old town

Fribourg is a medieval town (the old part dates from the XIIth century) in Switzerland. It is situated in the French speaking part of the country but very close to the German speaking area.  A town of paved roads,  narrow lanes borded with old houses mostly restored in the ancient style. The sunrays bring out the beauty of some picturesque ancient constructions.

ruelle à FRThis is a town where you can walk for miles along the river Sarine which is a natural limit between two areas : Swiss French and Swiss German. A river coming down from the Alps and flowing slowly through Fribourg, although  it can be quite wild in the lower and ancient part of the town in the rainy season.

along the Sarine

Place à Fribourg 1Fribourg is also a town of squares  decorated with fountains of all styles. I love to sit there on a warm day reading a book or just enjoying the sun and watching people walking by. On the day I took this picture, it was freezing cold though, hardly anyone around… In Summertime Fribourg is a town where terraces bloom all over the place. A lively town which I enjoy visiting and meeting friends. These are just a few flashes of a town I live close by and which is well worth visiting if you are in the area (Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Neuchâtel, Lucerne).

FR vu des 4 vents

Skies

September 2, 2009

Skies always fascinated me. Maybe because I come from a country where the horizon is almost always limited by hills, forests or mountains. To see a sky as big and wide as in Texas (see below),  you would have to go climbing on a mountain…  Or go hiking, driving to one of those high alpine valleys. There you would get this strange and unique feeling of being somewhere between sky and earth.

Texas mai-juin 2008 069“The world could have been as simple as sky and earth”

André Malraux

The vastness of Australian skies also made me wonder. Clouds looked different to me, as if more free to expand in all directions. The clouds over St-Kilda, Melbourne just slid away in the immensity of the Southern hemisphere, ignoring the  static world underneath.

vastness

“There are more things in the sky and on earth than your philosophy can dream of”

William Shakespeare

A sky I know well, at all times and all seasons. Vibrant colours of a sunset or dark clouds announcing a storm from the West. This is my part of  sky as I open the windows facing South-West. The forest as a skyline.

Fall, 21.10.07 023“Hope is like a night sky : there is no dark corner where the obstinate eye will not discover a star”

Octave Feuillet

Here is a sky I never get tired of admiring  in the Alps. Mountains are towering in a wide amphitheater. No soft and round hills here but a natural circus of peaks and glaciers. Some say they feel oppressed. If one looks above the mountains the sky shines or darkens like nowhere else I remember of. As if telling ancestral stories of continental drift.

Patch of sun“As long as you are happy, you will have many friends.

But as soon as the sky will darken, you will be alone”

Ovide

Grazalema 2Grazalema. One of the most picturesque and important villages in the Sierra de Grazalema (mountain area).  One of the many “pueblos blancos” (white villages) in the province of Cadix, Andalusia, Spain. Andalusia is the Spanish area where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea in Tarifa, the very Southern part of Europe. Andalusia is also a country of mountains and valleys, not unlike my own country, Switzerland.

Nothing is more enchanting than discovering one of those white villages behind a steep curve of the narrow winding mountain road. They look like  brilliant jewels nested in a box that would be the pine forest or the rocks. Truly magnificent ! The “pueblos blancos” are generally built on hills so that its inhabitants would  see from afar any unfriendly visitors, troops would be better said.  Some villages are still surrounded with ramparts, the protection against invaders of the past.

Sierra de GrazalemaThe Romans conqueered this area and then  Berber tribes (from Northern Africa) took it over in the 8th century. A special craft, weaving woollen blankets, was developped at the time and it is still maintained today. The local factory used to employ 5000 workers in the 19th century.

GrazalemaMost of Grazalema’s inhabitants live in small white houses with colourful tiled roofs. The narrow paved lanes  were not built for cars . There is hardly enough space for a vehicle. Those villages are meant to walk through, stop and chat with friends, sit in front of your porch, admire your neighbour’s flower decoration or share the latest news. Time seems to have slowed down although this beautiful  area  is popular and very much alive when  visitors come for holidays. Mountain climbing is wellknown up there.

Grazalema 1

People staying there nowadays go to work in larger cities down in the valley. Or they live on craftwork; they also produce meat, a delicious one. Goats, pigs and cows seem to own the pastures. I also tasted goat cheese produced locally as well as olive oil, exquisite in  salads or on a slightly salted toasted  bread at breakfast. Well worth trying ! The blankets that are woven by the women and sold in the villages are still the very same than the ones you can find in Northern Africa.

Driving down from la Sierra de Grazalema and back to the hill at Sindhura’s Hotel, my head was spinning with all I saw between ocean and high mountains. What a diversity in  a single province ! Andalusia, the most Southern part of Europe, is a place I enjoyed visiting immensely for the friendliness of his people, the blending of ancient cultures and religions – Islamic and Christian, the variety of landscapes and food, the way of life. To me, it seemed that people knew how to take time when needed: stress and rush (apart from the big cities) seemed less apparent.  Four hours away from home and a complete change of scenery. Truly magnificent.

Sindhura Hotel, in Muela, near Vejer de la Frontera (Cadix province), was a heaven of peace after a long day of visits in the cities and towns around Cadix. Close to the ocean and the mountains, it is the perfect place to spend a few  days  in  Andalusia. The small hotel is situated on a hill, in a quiet environment.

Sindhura 7

Anna and Alejandro have restored an old house and transformed it in a most welcoming hotel. Anna lived in India and Malaysia for years, she cooks Indian food too. What more could I have asked for ? And she spoke perfect English which was so restful (I speak French with too little knowledge of Spanish, unfortunately). I really loved this place  which gave you  a feeling of well being. When you sat on its terrace facing a white city along the ocean far away, you just felt so good and relaxed…

Sindhura 2

Sindhura 3Sindhura 5Sindhura 6

on the edge

June 28, 2009

on the edgeThere is this village up in the Alps,  a hamlet really, only a few chalets almost hanging from the steep slope. Hardly anyone lives there nowadays. It used to be a larger village where families of mountain farmers made their living in growing wheat, rye, vegetables on terraces.  Goats  provided milk and cheese and mules were the only means of transportation. No easy life up there but the necessity to cultivate every inch of soil.chèvreWhen I am in the area, I often walk to this village on a small track along a narrow irrigation canal. Water ! so precious at all times in such an environnement. The canal is called “bisse” over there and it is built in the same way as the Arabs did in Northern Africa, in the Atlas mountains. Arabs who did travel as far as the Swiss Alps  many centuries ago and who shared their knowledge about water supply.

bisse sous VerreyIn Summer the sun is hot in this micro climate. Coolness is provided by the gentle flow of the water in the canal and the shade in the woods. Tourists have discovered this pleasant walk  and enjoy hiking along the mountain slopes for miles. I love it up there. In all Seasons. In Winter it is easier to do snowshoeing. The silence is  palpable. Hardly any birds around but the mountain ones or those who did not migrate to warmer climes.Verrey, sentierIn the late Fall, I like to bring a book with me, sit along the track and read. Often my eyes lift from my reading and just look and admire this unique landscape all around. Sitting on the edge of the mountain, somewhere between sky and earth. The mountains towering above and the valley deep down below. I have walked on this path countless times, it is never the same and always a renewed pleasure, a deep gratitude for such a world we inherited and have to protect.verrey hameau

This blog has been rather silent over the past weeks… I travelled to Andalusia, the most Southern part of Spain, a province whose shores border both the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This is also an area of hills and fields covered with olive trees and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Andalusia’s mountains (sierras) are familiar to a Swiss visitor ; thick forests of pines, high peaks,  pastures, winding roads and snow covered mountains. olive trees plantations

Andalusia is also a province of ancient and magnificent cities where Hispanic and Muslim cultures blend in beautifully. I visited three large cities : Granada, Cordoba and Cadix and many other smaller towns or “pueblos blancos”; their architecture and setting were just as  amazing and enchanting: Baeza, Jaen, Ubeda, Vejer de la Frontera, Arcos.

On a sunny and windy Sunday morning I was in Cadix, walking on a promenade  along the Atlantic ocean, in luxuriant and almost tropical gardens.fountain Cadix, colour

Cadix, promenadeIt was a Sunday of celebration, a First Communion Day. Many families were walking in the gardens, all dressed up, chatting happily and enjoying this special day,  all generations together.

Cadix, First CommunionFurther along the walkway, I reached the harbour and the beach. There, in the midst of boats facing the ocean people were having a happy lunch or sun bathing, away from the crowd and the busy streets of the city. A real holiday mood !

Cadix, lunch at the seaside

Cadix, harbourThe merchant city of Cadix or la Habanita (little Havana) is one whose history is present at the corner of every street, a city where I loved spending my Sunday. I sat for a while in the parks looking for shade or at the harbour.  Coming from the mountains, sea has always fascinated me. I could sit on a beach or in a harbour, looking to the sea and imagine the ancient ships which left the Andalusian shores centuries ago and sailed toward the New World. My visit ended with a delicious “café solo con pastel” (coffee and pastries) on the terrace of the Parador (hotel) facing the ocean. A slow and relaxing day I love to remember.

forgotten strips

February 16, 2009

forgotten-stripsThere was this old wooden trunk that had sat in the garret for ages.  I knew it belonged to a family member who had travelled to North America in the late 19th century. He and his family settled somewhere in the state of Wisconsin, and lived  there for quite  a few years. For unknown reasons to me, part of the family came back to Europe (France). Again the sea trunk was part of the journey  home. It was transported here and there along the  years and the various movings until I received it from my own grandfather before he left for his own journey. And since then the trunk has been waiting patiently, up in the garret of the house until someone curious would open it !

I did so a few years ago  and was very surprised to find several sorts of thin and colourful materials (lining). Some of them were already cut and sewn together in narrow strips, others lay untouched on the flowery paper that covered the inside of the trunk. I have no idea who could have sewn these pieces of fabrics together, nor what their use would have been. On a cool and grey weekend I  decided to start sewing them together. Just the way the strips of materials  were assembled, sometimes adding a piece here and there to get more or less  the same lenght. Here is the beginning of a wall hanging (maybe but maybe not?) I sewed with some of these forgotten strips. More are waiting to be added.bouts-de-bouts

I am not sure yet how this pannel will look like when all the fabrics will be sewn together.  But I am  so enjoying the journey though !  The crossing over the Atlantic in a ship of  La Compagnie Transatlantique where many other hopeful passengers had embarked for a new life in America. Then travelling further from New York to Wisconsin,  finding work, settling down, raising a family, learning a new language and way of life. All so different from the mountainous forest area they had left back home.  Years later the family separated, the children stayed in America, the parents came back to Europe. If the trunk could speak… what stories would it tell ?

quilting and travelling

January 25, 2009

One thing I love to do while travelling is visiting market places. Especially in Africa. I used  to live in different African countries. Markets are the places where you meet people,  you hear the music of various languages, you see the eating habits, you smell unknown food or wonder at local medicines. It is a place to learn so much about a country and its people ! If you look for something you cannot find in any  shop, just go to the market, someone will help you find it. You also learn how to bargain : a must ! Since I have always been interested in fabrics, a visit to the tailor’s shop is a priority. The amount and variety of materials that are sold on market stalls always fascinates me.market-3This is the market place (or Zoma in malagasy language) in Antananarivo, Madagascar, a fabulous place to get lost.

African fabrics, mostly in coton, are extremely colourful and original in their patterns. Many of them have their own designation : “palm, vines, my rival’s eyes, comb, shells, my foot and your foot, the prosperous husband, etc…” and many more very descriptive and sometimes funny names. I immediately fell in love with those bright materials and bought quite a lot of small or larger pieces which I used for quilting. Friends offer me presents of fabrics, tailors are happy to give me the left-overs of what they sewed. I even receive worn clothes that my African friends are happy to share when they get new ones ! Nothing is wasted.mosaique-africaine-jardinA few years ago I sewed this “African Mosaic”, a log cabin pattern (2m20x2m10) with bits and pieces of many materials I had bought or received during several stays or journeys through different countries. These fabrics were made in  Madagascar, Kenya, Burundi, Cameroun, Mali, Niger,Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, maybe elsewhere, I don’t know.

It is one of my favourite and precious  souvenirs of the people I met, the places I visited, the wonderful moments I spent on this great continent.

Here are some details of my African Mosaic :mosaique-detail-2Each square of this log cabin quilt is 10x10cm and there are about 200 of them. Each one unique.mosaique-detail-3This is the very center of the quilt, golden, bright and warm as the sun that shines in Africa.

Sparks of Central Asia

January 16, 2009

mosaique-asie-centrale-blog1

Mid-March in Moscow, the roads of the city were still bordered with heaps of wet and dirty snow, the sun had been scarce and timid for months,  the temperatures  still low. During a vacation, I felt like heading South for a while and spend a few days in Central Asia. I chose the Republic of Uzbekhistan for all I had read about Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, the Silk Road, the famous astronomer Ulug Beg, Tamerlan’s loved wife, Bibi Khanum and more. Those ancient and brilliant civilisations that I had been dreaming of learning more about and seeing what the present cities looked like.

I think the Aeroflot flight took about 6-7 hours from Moscow to Samarkand. It was my first flight outside the Russian capital since I had arrived there in the late Fall. A great excitement ! As soon as the plane landed and the doors of the Tupolev were opened,  all passengers were welcomed by Spring.  We had left snow and a cold Winter in Moscow and found sunshine, flowerbeds, a sweet scent of roses in the parks,  along the roads leading to the center of Samarkand. What a joy ! I will never forget my first day in Central Asia. It looked definitely like another continent to me, one of colours (the  clothes Uzbeks were wearing as well as the blue mosaics covering many ancient buildings and medresse, islamic schools).  A world of scents I discovered going to the market, so many more vegetables and fruits than in Moscow at the same season ! I bought peaches, grapes, figs, even cherries if I remember well. I ate  spicy roasted lamb kebabs in small shops along the streets, I loved drinking glasses of a strong black tea in a “tchaikhanas” (houses where tea is served). I just enjoyed strolling around, trying to find my way in the narrow alleys leading to hidden palaces and antique ruins.  People were friendly and eager to meet foreigners at that time but talking to them was a bit difficult; my Russian knowledge was still poor, I did not know any word in uzbeki arabic. Sometimes I would find someone understanding a bit of English or German. But still I was welcomed anywhere I went and helped and guided as much as possible.

It has been a long time since my travel to Uzbekhistan,  politics and new ways of life brought changes there too, good or less so. The Uzbekh Republic no longer belongs to the Soviet Union, wars have been raging at its borders, time surely has left its marks on this ancient world like everywhere else. My memories of this journey (far too short) to the ancient Uzbekh cities remain  filled with admiration for all its historic figures, the architecture of its monuments that bears witness to a prestigious past. And last by not least, the warm welcome I received by the people I met.