21 May 2015

The Artichoke Season - Easy Peasy Kitchen Squeezy!

I have a thing or two for artichokes. They have always fascinated me, as early as my childhood days when I first got acquainted to them through my mum. It is a multi-layered fascination, starting off with their somewhat grandiloquent appellation itself that sounds like 'a choking Archibald' - a mouthful of a word that is more than we can chew, since in all honesty there isn't that much to eat out of an artichoke. You'll have to excuse it but it is a delicacy, and the description befits how it should be treated, daintily like asparagus or wild girolles. Thus if famished you are, and stodge you need, and starch you seek, better make a beeline for a pound of spuds than a heap of 'chokes!

Let's get our facts right. Artichokes are no vegetables. They are in fact an edible budding inflorescence (flower buds). In effect, what we eat is no leaves but petals, plus the base. And this is how far consumption goes, because natural wastage is to be expected from the 'choke.

Artichokes belong to the cardoon family, which incorporates their remote cousin the thistle. They originated in the Mediterranean regions and became domesticated in ancient times, and by the Middle Ages were known to grace gardens across Europe, alongside angelica, chard, boragio, herbs, cress, cabbage, parsnip, turnip, juniper, oats, beans et al - and not a single potato in sight back then! And grace is the word because artichokes add great decorative value to a garden, and I have even seen stalks of them used as part of sculptural floral displays in hotel lobbies and exhibition halls, to great effect!

I love the way artichokes perplex those who are not familiar with them. Yet perplexity shouldn't deter you from experimenting in the kitchen with this great ingredient. As a basic rule, you should go for one big artichoke (or two smaller ones) per person. The sauce that accompanies the artichokes and the temptation of bread to mop it - with fresh baguette slices a must - will sate you. As a personal preference, I find the smaller artichokes easier to deal with in terms of cooking time, taste and tenderness, than the globe artichokes. All the ones pictured here are of the purple medium-sized "Violet de Provence" variety (from my parents' Corsican garden and elsewhere in Corsica).

Artichokes Served with a Mild Mustard Sauce

Artichokes are not fiddly. If you still feel daunted, just follow my easy step-by-step recipe for a basic boiled artichoke served with a no-frills mild mustard sauce.

Bring a large kettleful of water to the boil. Meanwhile shorten the artichoke stalks with a kitchen knife, if necessary (to no shorter than an inch from the base). Rinse off the artichokes, place them in a big saucepan where they will be able to 'swim' about (as per above picture), and add a splosh of cider vinegar to kill off any bug or slug that might linger, and to prevent discolouration from the cooking process. Pour boiling water all over the artichokes. Put on the stove and return to the boil. When the water starts bubbling away, turn down to medium heat and cover the pan. Leave to a soft boil for approx. 20 mins (globe artichokes will take a good 5 mins longer). The best way to find out if the artichokes are cooked is to stick a small peeling knife into the length of the stalk. If the stalk is still hard, leave to cook a few more minutes. Drain the pan and serve the artichokes. Keep additional artichokes in the pan with the lid on until ready to be eaten.

Serve with a ramekin of Mild Mustard Sauce, only two ingredients: pure virgin olive oil and mild mustard! Add as much virgin olive oil as mild mustard to ramekins (one per person) and stir with a teaspoon (or small whisk) until both mustard and oil have creamed into an emulsion. If using stronger mustard, move to a 3 to 1 ratio.

How to Eat: Discard the outer leaves at the base of the stem which naturally tend to remain hard. Then detach one leaf at a time, plunge its fleshy root tip (pulp) into the sauce and insert halfway between the front upper and lower teeth. Then gently close the teeth onto the leaf and pull it off gently, scraping the artichoke matter off the leaf. Discard the rest of the leaf. As you work your way through the artichoke, things will get easier, as the leaves get thinner and melt in the mouth. This is where they are at their tastiest! You can end up actually eating most of the leaves as you get closer to the heart.

When you are left with the peduncle (stem and flower base), scrape off any of the downy matter if any (prevalent in globe artichokes mostly). Roughly slice the peduncle and toss in the sauce. Enjoy the tasty finale!

7 May 2015

Stylelessness is Lawlessness

Take the properties that make it to The Style Files: they have oodles of charm and character and are tastefully appointed. In fact, in my latest comment on their website in relation to the lovely guest house on the Greek island of Lesvos (pictured below), I simply summed it up as: "The period features have been retained and there is just the right amount of modernity added to the interior to create that fine balance between ancient and contemporary." Balance is key - and so is respect to the fabric and soul of the property.

As featured on The Style Files

The kerb appeal is a preview, an anticipation, an invitation of what awaits inside, in a kind of "as above so below" formula (the interior being a transposition of the exterior), and in the case of our Greek abode, there was no disappointment to be had. The quirkiness is there in terms of what gives the house its unpolished charm. The period feature details that confer the property both its ethnic (i.e. mediterranean at large, and more specifically 'Greekness') and rural origins: whitewashed walls, blue shutters, paved terrace, working fireplace, wooden floors and ceilings, etc. We imagine nooks and crannies, niches and other little tidbits of charm to discover for ourselves.

As featured on The Style Files
These old places are little gems of style and inspiration. That is because they have been compassionately and painstakingly restored, and carefully brought to the 21st century while retaining their old charm and character - thanks to their owner's common sense, good taste and vision, facilitated by a competent architect and/ or interior designer, and materialised by builders in the know and skilled craftsmen. This might end up being a costly endeavour, yet not necessarily so. I have seen some stunning restoration projects conducted on a tight budget, but on a limitless amount of passion, belief, research, patience, personal investment of time and effort, and caring.

Sadly I have also witnessed the exact opposite: the utter wrecking of style and character of an older property, either on a tight budget or on a generous amount of cash! I could not resist posting some photos that speak the horrid results better than words could. Here we go: -

Case Study - Apartment for sale in Bastia (Corsica): Judging from the kerb appeal, we anticipate the interior to be just as quaint and provincial and Italianate as the outside... Well, better prepare you for the shock!

Montmartre in the sun, looks poetic and promising! (pict source)
Oh joy, it's a nightmare! (pict source)
Ermm... A 2015 revisit of a 70s canary birdcage (pict source)
Bland and cheap and non-descript pop to mind like a squirt of mustard to a hotdog. I can only commiserate the tomettes that would have clad that floor, or the ornate walls, and maybe cornices and millwork that would have asserted the interior its bourgeois status. The current interior is as exciting as a cheap roadside motel. I just want to rip this canvas up and start again! Don't you?

I blame those fly-on-the-wall TV property programmes that strongly encourage homeowners to 'depersonalise' their interiors as a lifestyle must, or in a view to selling their property fast. By depersonalising, they mean remove (or at the very least reconfigure and blend in) any striking structural or period features from their abode, dumb down style so that it appeals to the widest array of people.

House in Doli (Mani, Greece), via My Paradissi

Secondly I blame those home improvement retail stores, as they channel mainstream products, associated to mainstream ideas and results, to a mainstream customer-base that along the years have levelled down their personal tastes to align with and match what the market offers. The convenience of those stores has taken natural curiosity away and made practicality the end-all and be-all. You end up with those mass-produced standardised fixtures repeated across towns... and countries, like a bad case of fleas. Convenience also means that there is a tendency for buying ready-made rather than make it yourself or have it made to spec and customised.

Finally I blame those cowboy builders, who take on property renovation work that goes way beyond their scope and skillset, just for the paycheck. They deliver a botched job that includes the intentional wreckage of period features - because they were incapable or unwilling to salvage them - and replacement with poor substitutes from the above-mentioned retail outlets. It's all about shoddiness and expediency and maxed out profit. Sadly I've had to deal with this sort of situation.

Exquisite! The Royal Makkum Collection from Country Floors

As a consequence of the above three factors, we get impoverishment in taste, and that leads to stylelessness. And stylenessness is the ripping up of style and the ripping off of our cultural and architectural legacy. Where we should be able to be the depositary of heritage and carry it into the future, preserved and enhanced, we witness swathes of heritage being disfigured and wrecked, and replaced by a mock-modernism of 'style' that is nothing less than styleless.

1 May 2015

The Human Paradox

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp a couple of days ago, 29th April, has brought back to the fore a thought that is never afar the fore for me: the duality paradox that inhabits Man, a Yin & Yang of frightening capabilities.

Life & Death, Love & Hate, Wealth & Scarcity, Creation & Destruction, Success & Failure, Order & Chaos, Heaven & Hell. The human capability for improving social welfare, saving lives from disease, nourrishing souls, inspiring minds, elevating spirits, and soothing hearts -- overshadowed by the human capability for their exact opposite, turning the earth into a purgatory. Man is Man's own best (worst?) friend and worst (best?) enemy. It wouldn't be far-fetched to report that: -

The greatest danger and fear on earth to Man is Man.

"Arbeit Macht Frei" (Labour Brings Freedom) at the gates of Dachau (also Auschwitz).

26 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Call to Action

I do realise that it would take a heavy word count to truly get into the nitty-gritty of U.N. Agenda 21. My aim has been to raise awareness via my blog, and to provide the facts within a three-part presentation (1) Preamble, (2) Setting the Scene, and (3) Counter-Growth, that would cover most of the basics. As with every bit of research that I conduct, I have dedicated a fair amount of time to this particular subject, yet no doubt will I have the opportunity to debate it further in future articles, as my knowledge base expands.

Solar Impulse, prior to take-off from Chongqing, China, 21-Apr-2015
Now the last thing I want is to sound like some Doom Master. On the other hand, I could NOT not share my views and findings and those of other individuals in the know, because sustainable development as purported by Agenda 21 is no planet-friendly ecology manifesto.

My definition of U.N. Agenda 21 Sustainable Development: It is about the global acquisition of land and resources, and the redistribution of wealth, alongside the re-alignment of westernised societies to a post-industrial counter-rural model, with accrued monitoring and surveillance of our customer habits and lifestyles.

If you believed that films like Minority Report or books like George Orwell's 1984 were crazy fiction, I would expressly request that you rethink.

Occupy Wall Street (pict source)

In this last part to Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21, I propose a CTA (Call To Action) in a few pointers that will keep you alert and smart as a consumer and citizen. Prepare for take-off:
  • Share my article, and do find out more about Agenda 21 for yourself and at your leisure.
  • Watch alternative news to the mainstream elite-owned news channels.
  • Cultivate or take a keener interest in the world. Have opinions, be involved, sign petitions, join peaceful protests to defend our civil rights and liberties, volunteer to help (save your local church, clean up your local beach, walk the dogs from the local shelter, become a hospital visitor). Protect the causes that are close to your heart. Make it loud and clear that you oppose GMOs and other poisons that are being manufactured to create disease and decay.
  • See life as on-going education. Expand your knowledge. Read, learn, write a blog, be curious about the world, your history and heritage. Stay smart, do mental exercises (brain gym to keep your brain alert!). There are plenty of free educational tools online as a starter-point, as a teaser to awaken your curiosity. If used smartly, Wikipedia or Pinterest will introduce you to topics as varied as antiquities, travel, inventions, history, astronomy, physics, theatre, etc. Check my mood boards for ideas.
  • All in all, cultivate your critique and do not take things at face value or what the media or politicians tell you as truth. Attune to reinterpret what they actually mean. Wonder, ponder, question, doubt, find out for yourself. Be or remain a free spirit. Stay inspired and fired up for life.
  • Keep social media on a leash. Do not get sucked into it. You have a life to live out there in the real world and life goes by fast enough as it is!
  • Reduce your intake of junk food. Aim for organic produce whenever possible. Cook your own meals. Become a vegetarian. Steer clear of those zero calorie (i.e. aspartame) drinks. Boycott unethical brands. Ditch ibuprofen painkillers and ditch fluoride toothpaste!
Do not lose sight of the fact that world governance does NOT like NOR does it want a smart, educated, intelligent, dynamic, involved and spirited citizen and consumer. They want them dumbed-down and therefore easily-manipulatable.

Thanks for taking part in the journey. Meanwhile on a personal note, I would like to thank Roby, my better half, for being an inspiration powerhouse and a keen supporter of my work.

Surfing for Change

23 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Counter-Growth

U.N. Agenda 21 sets the tone as a land planning and resource management set of directives spearheaded for the New World Order for this century and ratified by a quasi-global allegiance of no less than 178 governments. Agenda 21 is no pie in the sky or some hazy conspiracy theory because it is being implemented as we speak.

Moynaq, ship graveyard on the Aral Sea (pict source)

We saw in our earlier articles how (a) unsustainability has been fostered, and how (b) sustainability has now been engineered in such a way that the world populations - without exception - are being channelled into migratory fluxes as a result of economic recession, changing pools of employment, land redistribution, and/or war and unrest. The populations are being organised into controlled settlements, and their lifestyles regimented. The process may creep in faster in certain areas than others where it may only appear incremental and insidious.

Land grabbers: In the USA, federal land ownership and compulsory land purchase has increased at the expense of the small farmsteads, family land owners or indigenous (Indian) tribes, as witnessed too in Canada, Argentina and Brazil. What we see is federal land being then leased off to big Corporate for fracking, mining, and for other unsavoury uses.

Always idyllic on paper! The proposed Trafford Waters mixed-use development (pict source)

Mixed-use development: As a result of Agenda 21 and as early as the 1990s, mixed-use (housing and retail) developments under public-private partnerships have become the norm, and in a rather compact ('high density') form. For my part I shall look no further than Britain as Agenda 21 in action. Housing estates (subdivisions) and blocks of flats have mushroomed in the inner cities, in the sprawling suburbs with the shrinking green belt, and alongside the main road corridors. Home ownership is made to appear irresistibly affordable ('Move in for only £99.00 a month!'), hooks you up into debt. You get nothing more than ultra-compact - understand poxy, space-restricted, basic and flimsy - dwellings and the multi-layered problems that high-density living comes with: car parking, privacy, noise, lack of space, neighbourhood nuisance, non-descript architecture, shoddy workmanship, etc.

Made-up neighbourhoods: Besides the veneer of brand new floor space, is the not-so-hidden agenda of ridding of past heritage including historical landmarks, and creating communitarianism from the ground up, in a standard and pretty styleless built environment whose architecture is mass-marketed worldwide. You end up not knowing anymore whether you are standing in Atlanta or Barcelona or Cannes or Brisbane. Communitarianism throws together often-transient individual comeuppances into those cramped family-unfriendly settlement situations that planners and architects fondly refer to as 'communities'. "Regionalisation is the stepping-stone to globalisation and globalisation is standardisation of all systems." explains Rosa Koire.

Get rich or die tryin? The Neon Boneyard (pict source)

In my 11 years of living within such a so-called community, I had the chance to repeatedly witness how the passing of time and the lack of TLC are unkind to those residential estates, especially as original owners move on, or the properties are being rented out, or couples split up, or troublemakers from the local council estate move into the private estate and impose their lawlessness.

Human habitation, as it is clinically described as by Agenda 21, is urban-focused. Within each country, swathes of land described as wilderness will eventually be declared off-limit to humans by the world governance, as it will emerge. The plan has defined specific settlement areas, roughly corridor-shaped, for human habitation. In the meantime any agrarian land lost to road and building infrastructures, is being compensated by higher crop productivity. Surely Frankenfood professors Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are to facilitate this, aren't they?

Palm oil plantation vs. original Borneo forest (pict source)

Dependence upon convenience: As per the laws of nature, macrocosm transposes to microcosm. As much as nations are losing (have lost) their financial, economic and political autonomy, so have now individuals. A century ago, for instance, a family living in the countryside would traditionally farm the land and live off it (husbandry), no matter how humbly. Beyond being farmers, they would multi-task as grafters: fruit growers, gardeners, shepherds, cooks, clothes-makers, builders and craftsmen. Those were independent folks. Nowadays individuals are lured into the convenience of convenience food and ready meals, not to mention the garage servicing your car, the window-cleaner attending to your windows, etc. while you pay for those extended guarantees that will give you 'extra peace of mind'. Basically you get charged for peace of mind and convenience, and you lose independence and autonomy in the process. You become increasingly entertwined to the system. Do keep in mind though that Agenda 21 is the system. Dependence upon convenience means that you lose your liberty.

As much as we saw in our preamble how consumers just keep on buying to offset planned obsolescence, and to satisfy an unquenchable materialistic need orchestrated by the media and the brands, you not only keep on buying but also keep on paying, in order to try to keep up and make your life easier. The costly paradigm costs you not only cash but your liberty too.

It might just so happen that liberty be the first step towards the pursuit of happiness. After all. (to be continued)

Further Resources:

22 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Setting the Scene

Previously in our preamble to our U.N. Agenda 21 topic, we saw how wasteful - and therefore 'unsustainable' - our westernised civilisation has become, forced into an economic model of mass-consumerism aided by rampant loan and credit facilities (in other words debt) and fast turnover of production with limited lifecycle, based upon the principle of planned obsolescence, and praised by a marketing strategy that celebrates the satisfaction of needs in the moment.

Dubai City Marina District aerial photography by Dmitry Moiseenko, via AirPano
Meanwhile quality educational programmes, quality employment and in-job promotion opportunities are being degraded down to those Mickey Mouse diplomas leading to Mickey Mouse jobs (yes, the guy who 10 years after graduation is still flipping burgers, stocking shelves or Starbucking the coffees). The working class is now the service sector class. Welcome to the working poor! The erosion in quality academic and employment prospects results in the mental, cultural, spiritual and financial impoverishment of the lower-middle and working classes - in perfect contrast to today's (super) rich list hitting a historical wealthiest high - by the extra millions of dollars per (rich) capita compared to the 1960s.

At the other end of the spectrum, 30 million slave labour in poor parts of the world are 'chained' to the assembly line, producing the goods outsourced by those American, European and Japanese brands. The consumeristic profile as it is right now is escalating into a situation of no return, tainted by the ultimate fear of resource scarcity, a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of material, social and financial proportions. The powers that be - the elite above the elite - who engineered unsustainability in the first place, came up with a world governance document back in 1992, set for the 21st century and designed to reverse excesses and make our world sustainable again.

Child labour in India (pict source)

Of course this sounds like some twisted fairytale, whereby a quack poisons the local well, causes mayhem, and then eventually pulls out the magic cure potion from his bag of tricks. Are you not feeling a little duped?

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, in June 1992. The full implementation of Agenda 21 was reaffirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.

Street art by Banksy

And this is how that magic promising word - 'sustainable' - seeped into our vocabulary like a Freudian slip that would autocorrect 'ecology' into a workable lucrative economic model to address climate change and post-industrial society. For this is basically what Agenda 21 is in a nutshell, beyond its lofty parlay. Sustainable is the magic cure potion. How it is achieved is via the entire world inventory of its resources, and the redistribution of land and wealth, at the expense of the small family land owners, and at the benefit of governments and Big Corporate. Agenda 21 is no panacea. It is a socio-economic division that makes movies like The Hunger Games or Mad Max closer to reality than the scary fiction they are supposed to purport.

Agenda 21 is about the redistribution of wealth, and a lowering of living standards in westernised countries that epitomises the continued assault onto the middle class and seals its eradication. It accelerates governmental control of our lives, in pure Orwellian style. Agenda 21 sets the scene for communitarianism, with individual rights bowing to the collective. (to be continued)

Anonymous (pict source)

Further Resources:

20 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Preamble

If we care to look at the world head on in the harsh reality of life, we are faced with a nightmare. But don't you worry, because the powers that be - the elite above the elite - have got it all sorted for us under U.N. Agenda 21. They created the problem, alongside with their solution to the problem. Their antidote at the ready is insidiously seeping into our lives, while we are being consumed by the lure of mass-consumption, an enticement attached to the pursuit of happiness.

Petropolis: Alberta Tar Sands are the size of England! (pict source)

We are in a state of urgency at this point and we must not kid ourselves that all is fine. We are stood on a planet that has turned into a ticking time bomb, on many levels. Firstly, the world population has more than doubled in the last fifty years, and our planet cannot sustain the pressure of exponential demographics, especially as plant, animal, freshwater and mineral resources are being plundered to extinction. I yet have to hear from governments - aside from China or Japan - taking measures to discourage high birth rates. As far as I understand, high birth rate is being encouraged and incentivised even. Although it seems that behind the scenes, the issue has been taking a sinister Malthusian turn, with certain members of the ultra-elitist Club of Rome, as reported by Australian politician Ann Bressington.

Global citizenship and regionalisation: The rise of globalisation - aided by technological progress and streamlining of competition down to a select core number of global FMCGs and service providers - means the world is turning into 'one big village'. Above all, it implies the loss of personal identity and the erosion of individual liberty within nations, as the latter are being amalgamated under different economic groupings, be they Euro Zone, EU, Schengen States, G20, Emerging Markets, TPP, TTIP, or CETA. Those groupings do not serve the interests of the populations concerned. They foster the bully economic supremacy of a chosen few - namely the US.

Jonah Natural Gas Field, Wyoming, USA (pict ©Ecoflight) shows extensive damage caused by fracking

Globalisation aims for a levelled-down semi-homogenous median identikit consumer profile that fits global mass-market requirements. Additionally, our national (federal) governments blur the boundaries of traditional family units and values, and what used to ground us and unite us in terms of heritage, legacy, national pride (patriotism), socio-cultural identity, local folklore and traditions, craftsmanship, creativity, engineering, spirit of enterprise (free enterprise), is now dissolving away. Unelected committee-based governances like that of the EU imply "an erasure of jurisdictional boundaries, an erasure of national boundaries, and that is the goal" [for local Agenda 21.] (Rosa Koire).

As a result, we get fragmented, ostracised and isolated communities that in effect are communities no more. We are forcefully mollycoddled into political correctness that prevents us from calling a spade a spade, without being stigmatised. Our democracies are a shadow of their former selves since they are reinterpreting their Constitutions and turning into police states, attacking our civil liberties, one after the next. Honest and hardworking citizens are being fooled, silenced, ripped off and overtaxed by the rulers. Divide and conquer!

'Chips' New Islington residential development in Ancoats, Manchester (pict source)
Education has become a propaganda tool for governments, and is now nothing more than an impoverished form of knowledge transmission, very limited and linear, that educates just enough so you get a Mickey Mouse diploma that will fit you right into the mould of a Mickey Mouse job. Education has ceased to elevate and enlighten. Ask Sir Ken Robinson.

The manufacturing base in westernised countries has been totally wiped out and the machinery, knowledge base and industrial heritage exported to the Far East. This means that our countries are no longer able to be self-sufficient and economically autonomous and independent. Under the Blair government, for instance, the UK lost one million industrial jobs within a decade. It is pretty tragic for the Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, to not manufacture anymore a piece of textile as trivial and basic as underpants, and being forced to rely on imports!

Nike's sweatshop fabulous! (pict source)

Land management: Prime and fertile agricultural land is no longer destined to feed the population. It is being built upon: highways, retail and leisure parks and those other temples of consumption! Pristine land and ecological havens are being mercilessly and extensively fracked, or turned to huge windpower farms, or extensive bitumen sludges. The ecological disaster projects are conducted by Big Corporate under the complicity of the governments, corporate banking and offshore private equity funds. We are pretty much within a self-destructing model that is set for yield in the moment, without a care for the future.

Let them eat cake and play games: In our leisure-focused society, the need to buy more and consume more has been collectively engineered by marketers and the media and pushed to its limits. Consumers are encouraged (and peer-pressured) to keep up to date with the latest trends and gadgets, with always an eye out on the latest model, the latest colour, the latest gimmick. Planned obsolescence helps to accelerate the process, and keeps people on the hook. You just keep buying. This puts pressure on already stretched resources, and it creates more waste, as yesterday's iPhones, cars, trainers and sofas are discarded.

Broken utopia (pict source)

With our production base relocated to countries with low wages and flimsy labour laws, and where child labour is solicited, slavery has become a rampant by-product of established high-street brands like Nike, Calvin Klein, Gap, H&M, Mango, Primark, Walmart, Ikea and countless others. Low production costs come at the cost of human lives.

Yet as I said earlier, "Don't you worry, because the powers that be - the elite above the elite - have got it all sorted for us under U.N. Agenda 21". (to be continued)

Further Resources:

19 Apr 2015

Birds for the Curiosity Cabinet

To whoever cultivates their sense of curiosity and sensitivity, beauty is to be found in the quirkiest of places and situations. Artistry captures beauty in the moment, and cinches it, nips, tucks, seals and stitches it. A curious English guy by the name of Mister Finch, who has mastered textile to a 'T', delivers his stuffed canaries in their cardboard coffins, and Poe-esque creatures complete with a morgue tag. And there we have death looking us in the eye and looking seemingly beautiful.

Yellow Bird by Mister Finch

The display of death on a plate somewhat reconciles us with beauty as birds that come to be and pass away, ground to a halt, and immortalised in their frailty and brevity. It strikes the chord that links us to the inner samaritan who strives to save the endangered bird life and other collateral victims of the human environment. It connects us with the child in us and our progeny who put on elaborate funeral ceremonies to animal creatures, big and small.

I have a few stories of my own on the latter, and to this day, still give - whenever possible - the dignity of a send-off to the furry and feathery casualties of life. Our response to the questions and mysteries of death finds no other answer than the subterfuge of ceremony and adornment. Maybe funerals and their embellishing attentions are part of the human coping mechanisms when faced with loss, mortality and ultimately with their own mortality. Or maybe not. Because some members of the animal kingdom - from elephants, to monkeys and milk cows, via dogs and whales - put on a ceremony of sorts. Animals feel the loss and they mourn a dead one as a result, admittedly within the constraints of their capacity for understanding, and therefore will not be devoured by our human metaphysical wonders of 'To be or not to be'.

Penelope by Mister Finch
Specimen Bird by Mister Finch
Extract from the book Mister Finch: Living in a Fairy Tale World

The ceremony is part of the mourning process. It smooths out some of the roughness and helps us in our solace for the departed and their departure from our lives. Yet generally speaking, our coming to terms with death is shy of a taboo. We choose to look away until it finds us and stares us in the face. Thankfully Mr Finch's dead birds do not make us look the other way. Or do they?

6 Apr 2015

Corsican Spring Flowers - Simply Natural Beauties

I always feel pride and joy whenever I delve into my personal photographic stock of wildflowers that I have garnered over my five years in Corsica. Pride and joy, not so much towards my photographic skills as to the subjects posing for my camera: natural floral beauties of the wild!

Should one be seeker of beauty and artistry, may they look out for it in its natural environment and habitat, before man-made works of Art. As much as I specifically love to describe butterflies as mobile works of art (artworks in motion), artistry embraces the natural world as a whole.

Catmint, roadside marshland, Pietracorbara (April 2011)
Unfortunately humans have been lured away from the beauty of nature and made to find it instead in the material world, with a price tag attached. Meanwhile the manifestation of those goods and services - that serve the trappings of urban life - mean ever-expanding cities and suburban belts. Retail, office, industrial and transport infrastructures blight landscapes, irrevocably compromise ecosystems, encroach onto natural habitat, fraction it away, brittle it down... Wild flowers are direct casualties. As forgiving and resilient as nature is, it doesn't however need to be put down and disrespected.

Meanwhile for us nature lovers, there is more wild Corsican flora to peruse, from our Month in Bloom series. Why not come say 'Hello!' to me in my garden and we'll share a garden mint cordial! Let's enjoy the beauty of Spring as displayed to us by nature in its magnificence.

Borage flowers are dramatic - and edible!  (April 2014)
Muscari comosum Miller struts its stuff like a Moulin Rouge dancer! (April 2010)
This wild flower is called Tickle! (April 2014)
Orchis papilionacea, next to Heather (April 2014)
Cyclamen, on the edge of green oak woodland (April 2014)
Periwinkle, star in its own right! (April 2014)
White Cistus, a photographer's delight! (April 2010)
Do we need introductions? (April 2014)
Genista corsicana, fierce and spiked! (April 2011)
Euphorbia duo (April 2014)
Mr Tickle! (April 2014)
Urospermum dalechampii, another photographic delight! (April 2010)
Cistus, the WOW factor!

1 Apr 2015

Some Fishy April Fool's Day!

April Fool's Day is traditionally a day of jolly hoaxes and pranks. It is related to a change in attribution of New Year's Day to 1st January in line with the Gregorian calendar (introduced in 1582), which resulted in quid pro quo amongst the populations of Europe. 'The motivation for the reform was to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year in which the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Because the celebration of Easter was tied to the Spring equinox, the Roman Catholic Church considered this steady drift in the date of Easter undesirable. The reform was adopted initially by the Catholic countries of Europe. Protestants and Eastern Orthodox countries continued to use the traditional Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian reform after a time, for the sake of convenience in international trade. The last European country to adopt the reform was Greece, in 1923.' (Wikipedia).

Fish Platter by Andrew Ludick Ceramics
Now if you are not acquainted with French, Belgian, French Canadian, French Swiss or Italian traditions around April Fool's Day, you may not be aware that we like it fishy! Children (and the young at heart) attach handmade paper fishes in the back of unsuspecting relatives, friends, co-workers (yes!) and passers-by. The fish has some religious (Catholic) connotation attached to it, but whether you are a devout or not is totally irrelevant. What matters is to bring a smile to someone's face.

These days though, instead of sticking fishes in people's backs, I'd rather stick a fish dish on a loved one's table as a present! Those featured here are by Irish ceramicist Andrew Ludick and they bring together the decorative and the practical. His dishy Handpainted Ocean Life Platters are available to purchase from Crate & Barrel.

Fish Bowls by Andrew Ludick Ceramics
Handpainted Ocean Life Platters by Andrew Ludick Ceramics
Andrew's latest Fish Bowls

21 Mar 2015

Spring Eulogy - Illustrated by My Mum

As a visual tribute to Spring - my favourite season of the year - I had planned a photographic article that would collate together a few items from my vast photographic collection of wildflowers taken over the last five years in Corsica. But when yesterday I rediscovered my mum's illustration portfolio as the 15-year-old budding artist she was then, I knew straight away which visuals I would rather use for my post!

I scanned my mum's illustrations and selected those two as a representation of Spring renaissance and insouciance. Mum and I had despaired lately that her portfolio might have ended up scrapped inadvertently by the builders when they cleared boxes out of my grandma's house prior to tackling structural work... But delightfully the precious drawings resurfaced just as I had given up on them!

Mum used watercolour, pencil and ink for her illustrations, and de-facto Canson paper, from the eponymous renowned French artist paper institution that has been in existence since 1557! I too was a Canson convert from the moment I started mainstream education and then art school classes every Wednesday.

My mum was a bit of an artist. As a teenager, she wanted to become a 'script girl' (script supervisor) for motion films, while caressing secret dreams of movie stardom. She sat in photobooths, moody and pouty and downright funny, and under auspicious climes her photogenic features would have caught the eye of a film-maker or casting director. She once attended a casting call, oblivious to the fact that it was scheduled on April Fool's Day, need we say more... I hearsay that she had some male friends on the beatnik side of life with guitar to boot, and when that cool dude with the sweeping fringe and duffle coat walked up to my grandma asking her permission to take her teenage daughter to some party, grandma went 'Huuuh?' followed by a vociferous 'No way!'.

Shortly afterwards, my mum met my dad. Although he was no sultry Kerouac type, he played guitar and harmonica pretty well and his repertoire span Django Reinhardt to Bob Dylan, via Charlie Parker, Little Richard and 'Saint Louis Blues'. Although she never became a 'career' artist, my mum has sought to incorporate creative elements into her life, despite not being overtly lauded or encouraged. I am sure she still has those script girl dreams at night.


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