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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sculptures and Garden (Sculptures et Jardin)

Sculptures et Jardin
One sunny day this summer we decided to visit some gardens in the Nord-Pas de Calais, a northern region of France.  We located a brochure we had picked up at a tourist informaton center somewhere in our travels and decided to visit the Sculptures et Jardin in the village of Bergueneuse.  We entered the address in our trusty GPS and we took off on another adventure.  We traveled about an hour though the French countryside and soon came to Bergueneuse, a village of about 200 inhabitants.   

After driving around a little we found the gate into the garden but it said they were closed for lunch from 12:00 until 2:00pm.  Of course, it was noon when we arrived so we drove on past and came to a dead-end road.   
Along this dead-end road were some houses with beautiful flower beds and boxes.   

We took photos of them and then drove back to the garden.   We decided to ring the bell and pretend we had not read the sign since it was in French.   

Sylvia pulled the rope on the bell and an elderly man, holding onto a young boarder collie, came and opened the gate and made us welcome in his halting English. It turned out the gardens were the beautiful yard around his home.   

He made us understand that he was the sculptor and his wife was the gardener.  She then joined him and with many smiles, and no English, invited us to walk around the garden.  The gardens are located around Monsier et Madame Droulez’s home, a typical cottage dating from the late eighteenth century.  

 Among the trees, shrubs and flower beds stuck in places are funny characters of steel straight out of the imagination of the artist owner. The planting beds are laid out in such a way as to create rooms or spaces that flow one into another as you circle about through the yard. The plants included many familiar ones; roses, peonies, garden phlox, etc. and others that were not so familiar.  

 As we walked about taking photos and looking at all the sights we were joined by Madame Droulez and she began pointing out some of the rarities in her garden.  

 She spoke very little English but we were able to converse through the Latin or botanical names of many of the plants.  While we may not have been familiar with some of the varieties, we did recognize the family names of many.   

She also pointed out a trellis that was made from an elevator (she called it a lift) door from an old hotel in Paris.  She was also very proud of her planters of many kinds of small succulents and ground covers. After spending an enjoyable couple of hours with this lovely couple in their garden we said our goodbyes and went on to our next adventure…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mont Saint Michel, France

 Writing by Bill & Pictures by Sylvia
After visiting the impressive American Cemetery at the Normandy Beaches we continued to travel south to Mont Saint Michel.  This abbey is one of France’s most iconic attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by more than 3 million people every year. It is famously located on a rocky tidal island (meaning it’s an island only at high tide; however, it is always connected via causeway to the mainland) almost a mile off of the coast of lower Normandy.  As we approached the Causeway, we noticed large flocks of sheep grazing on the flat land that lead up to the sea. Dikes (polderisation) and occasional flooding created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited for grazing sheep.

The well-flavored meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the salt meadows, makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb), a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants that depend on income from the many visitors to the mount.

From a distance you can see the protective walls that enclose the island village and abbey.  The abbey dates back to Roman times, and was founded by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches.  It was called Mont Tombe [a sanctuary] that was dedicated to the Archangel Michael, on October 16, in 708.  Officially the name became Mont-Saint-Michel some two hundred years later, when the church was built on top of this granite out-cropping by Benedictine Monks.  

The Romanesque abbey of today was not started until the year 1023.  It was built primarily as in those times for the church to enforce its authority during the crusades.  According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction, until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.  Ouch!
With the celebration of the monastic's 1000th anniversary, in the year 1966 a religious community moved back to what used to be the abbatial dwellings, perpetuating prayer and welcoming the original vocation of this place. Friars and sisters from "Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem" have been ensuring a spiritual presence since the year 2001.

We arrived in the late afternoon.  We had learned that it was best to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds.  We had also read that we needed to be careful where we parked as some of the lower parking lots were flooded at high tide.  The first lot we pulled into was at least a half mile from the island and we asked if we could find a safe place closer and the lot attendant directed us to another drive that took us much closer and we were able to find a parking spot along the main drive above the parking lots.  This proved to be a wise move because when we returned to the car later in the evening, the parking lots below us were partially flooded by the incoming tide. The tides are some of the most dangerous in the world.  This seemingly tranquil, quiet abbey stands so proud on the summit in rather calm looking tidal pools, yet the tides are fierce and have killed many people over the centuries.  The tides come in swiftly, changing between low and high tides up to 60 feet, and with a force of over 3 feet per second. These are the highest tides in continental Europe.  The tides in the area change quickly, and have been described by Victor Hugo as "à la vitesse d'un cheval au galop" or "as swiftly as a galloping horse".  We had a chance to view this fact up close and personal.  After parking we walked across a vast paved area that was down lower than where we had parked. 

We paused here to have our picture taken and went on to the entrance to the island. After finding the tourist office and paying our fees we made our way through the outer gate into the very narrow street that wound upward through the village. It was at this point we realized the guide books were correct about the crowds leaving in the late afternoon.  We felt like we must be going the wrong way as most people were making their way to the gate to leave.
In the village that wraps around Mont Saint-Michel are touristy shops, restaurants and even a few hotels.   At the same time as the abbey was developing a village grew up during the Middle Ages. It flourished on the south-east side of the rock surrounded by walls dated, for the most part, from the Hundred Years war. This village has always been a commercial entity to serve the needs of the monks that inhabited the monastery and also the pilgrims that came to visit.  Today the village continues to provide services to the many visitors that come every day.
With a permanent population of only 50 or so people, when the masses depart you are presented with an ideal opportunity to experience the atmosphere of what it is like to live here. Early in the morning or late at night the silence is broken only by the subdued and eerie chanting of the monks as they attend their religious rituals.

We began climbing up and up sometimes on streets and other times on steps.  It had begun to drizzle, as it had most of the places that we visited on this trip, and the cobblestones and stone steps became a little slippery.  We made our way up to a chapel and took refuge from the rain for a while and just sat and looked at the people and the beauty of the church.  Eventually we made our way out a small side door and continued our climb upwards.  Everywhere we looked were little hidden gems; a graveyard, a secluded garden, a tower and on and on we up climbed. 

I really had never thought I would be able to climb to the top. In fact, when we first saw Mont Saint Michel from a distance I made the comment that I hoped no one expected me to climb to the top.  But I made it - with many rests along the way up and back.

As we started back down on the other side we noticed the tide had turned and it was fascinating to watch as it rapidly came in around the base of the island, burying mudflats and rocks very quickly.  We took our time and finally made it back to the gate.  Imagine our surprise to find that the large paved area we had walked across to enter the village was not under a swirling mass of muddy water.  Now we saw why they had a raised board walk that went across to where the causeway ended near where we were parked. We sat and rested for a while and watched the faces of the people as we rested.  It was comical to see the reaction when they saw how the water had risen around the entrance to the village.  Eventually, we made our way across the boardwalk and found our car.  We noticed that several cars were still in the lower parking lots and water was beginning to lap around their tires.  As we sat in the car waiting for Michelle and Summer to join us, we saw the tide turn and, almost quicker than one would believe, the waters rushed the other way and the large paved area once again became dry land.  What a phenomenon!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life is an adventure!

Written by Sylvia Blimes

44 years and 9 months ago I began an amazing adventure.  It was also the day that I met Bill.  Coincidence?  Hardly.  Within 3 days of this meeting I was an engaged BYU coed and 3 months later I was a married BYU coed.  Bill convinced me that life was not about what we accumulated but about the adventures we experience along the way.  Having no idea what these adventures might be I jumped right in and my amazing new life began.

Raising 3 children in the Ohio countryside and working full time I didn’t stop to ponder what an adventure I was having.  Not all adventures are fun but they all are enlightening.  Being a mother, I learned patience, self-sacrifice, service without rewards and how to be a juggler.  I learned how to pack up a house and move everyone and everything in it with very little notice - and once all by myself.  
Adventures take all types of forms.  Touring five European countries this summer-wow!  Traveling to South Africa and going on safari was outstanding, but at times very scary.  England was beautiful but Wales was outstanding.  Nothing could rival the fear I experienced in a raft on the Parana River in Paraguay.  Oh yes, and then there was our trip across Canada in our little gold datsun.  That datsun was totaled by millions of hail balls in the Canadian wilderness.  We invited a poor hailed-on motorcycle rider to sit in the small space we called our back seat.  Adventures are more memorable when you get wet.

My adventures included so many unique characters.  My dear friend, Mary Merwin, my children, Mindi, Chad and Katie, our adopted grandsons, Axal and Dillon and numerous teen-age girls at the girl’s homes where we were house parents, disabled students from across the United States and my favorite character, my Bill.  
Mothers get to learn so many subjects.  Heart malfunctions and how to repair them with Mindi, the gift of dyslexia with Katie and “how to be rebellious without anyone guessing you are”, courtesy of Chad.  The young woman who threw up all over herself and her bed after a day of drinking.  The other young woman who stuffed her clothes to look like she was in her bed one night so I wouldn’t know that she wasn’t.  Several of my favorite girls seeing Disney princesses for the first time.  My South Carolina girl flying off to Paris by herself.  So many amazing adventures.
Are my adventures done?  Not on your tintype.  There is always one on the horizon.  What is next?  Oh no, not now.  Check back soon. 
Life is an adventure!

Friday, September 9, 2011

WE HAD A BLOOMING PARTY! A Night Blooming Cereus Party!

Ever had a party to celebrate a plant blooming?   
We did.
  Showing off our night-blooming cereus!  

I remember as a kid in Southeastern Ohio going to a Great Aunt’s house where I joined other family members and neighbors for this event.  My Aunt made pies and cakes to serve to all who ventured out late in the evening to witness the large, fragrant blooms?  The blooms are as big as a saucer and as deep as a chalice, have immaculate white petals, are as exquisite as a royal wedding gown, emit a heady, fragrance like no other, and they last only one night.   This Amazing plant performs this show only once or twice a year.  Yes, when a night-blooming cereus blooms, it is indeed time for a party.

There are a variety of plants referred to as “night-blooming cereus.”  The one I have is a cactus with gangly, flattened stems that look like leaves.  Its botanical name is Epiphyllum oxypetalum.  Although a cactus, it is not native to deserts but is found in tropical forests.

This plant has an unusual common name; Jesus in the Mangercactus. The reason for this name is that the stamens and pistil of the flower depict the Christmas story.  The cluster of stamens in the center is the manger, the clumps of stamens on each side of this are Mary and Joseph, the two stamens at the top are the open arms of an angel, and the star shaped pistil that extends out from the center, represents the star of Bethlehem.  Granted, you have to have an imagination to see this, but when you are under the spell of the fragrance and beauty of such a flower, it’s not difficult to let your imagination run wild.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Giant Dutchman’s Pipe or Pelican Vine!

Adventures take many forms.  This one is about a large and prolific plant. 
I have a child-like fascination with odd plants.  If a plant is unusual and attention-grabbing, the more I like it. It was this fascination that led me to purchase a pelican flower.  This tropical vine is also known as “giant Dutchman's pipe” (botanical name Aristolochia gigantea ).  The blooms are huge and awesome!  I love watching them change from a small pelican shaped bud to a bloom the size of my head.
There are numerous species of Dutchman’s pipes.  They get their name from the flower’s resemblance to a meerschaum pipe.  The most prominent feature on the species I grow is the large corolla or leaves which surround a bud.  Before it opens, the corolla swells and resembles the throat of a pelican, hence the name.  It then splits open into a huge heart-shaped maroon flower.
The fragrance of the pelican flower has been described as “lemony. It isn’t strong or particularly unpleasant, and compared with some other maroon flowers, the fragrance of the pelican flower is delightful.  Flowers shaped and colored like the pelican flower usually rely on flies as pollinators and have an odor that attracts bugs.  Odors that are attractive to bugs and flies are not attractive to humans.  In fact, the open blossom of the pelican flower can be said to resemble a piece of well-marbled rotting meat with a center the color of bone or fat!  You can judge for yourself, but I think it is magnificent.

I wanted a vine to grow on my trellis outside the back door that would grow fast, be very thick, and provide privacy when we sit on our lanai. It certainly fulfilled this purpose.  It grew fast and thick and almost overnight engulfed the bird houses I had placed on top of the trellis posts.  Alas, it has almost completely overpowered the passion vines I planted on the other end of the trellis.
It is a great host plant for butterflies. I hoped that the Pipevine Swallowtail would come and lay eggs on it since various Dutchman’s pipes serve as host plants for the butterfly’s caterpillars.  And, they did come.  We soon had a crop of the curious black caterpillars with the orange spines and flocks of this beautiful black butterfly with its peacock blue sheen.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bergues, France - Farmer's Market 
When in Europe, you just never know when you are going to round a corner and find a man peeing. I guess they don't want to spend the money to pay to use the public toilet. This photo was taken outside the city walls of the medieval town of Bergues, France where we went to a quaint farmers market. The main gate to this walled city was jammed with cars so we decided to go to a small opening in the rampart where we could park and pass through the ancient walls. These towns are so interesting with their narrow streets barely wide enough for one car and the houses sitting right on the edge of the street. The market was set up in the village square and spilled over onto the side streets. You could buy anything from live chickens to skinned rabbits, hundreds of kinds of cheese, or used and new clothing.