Sunday, April 23, 2017

orphans


It's pretty much common knowledge that many of London's children were sent away to the safety of the English countryside during the WWII Blitz. What's less commonly known is that a number of those children who went to charity institutions never returned to their families but instead were sent overseas to the Commonwealth countries in a child migrant program that relocated thousands of them. Most were told their parents were dead. In general, that wasn't true but the parents who went looking for them later were told they'd been adopted by loving families who were taking good care of the children. That turned out not to be true in many cases either.

In all, approximately 130,000 British children between the ages of three and fourteen  were deported to Australia, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and New Zealand between the 1920s and the 1970s. Rather than finding new homes and loving families, never mind the oranges, sunshine, and ponies they'd been promised, many of them suffered servitude, hard labour and abuse in remote orphanages and farms. You can read more about it here if you're unfamiliar with the story. I'd write more about it myself but having spent several days reading about the tragedies that befell so many youngsters it's easier for me to direct you to some of the sources I found. Many of the individual stories are shocking and very disturbing.

Even more distressing, if anything more were needed, was learning that the British government began the policy of sending away it's 'surplus children' as far back as the 17th century when 150 'waifs' were shipped to Virginia to work on farms. Between 1869 and 1935, it's estimated 100,000 unaccompanied children were sent as indentured workers to countries that needed the laborers and also to enlarge their population of white people.

It was not until the early 1980s that Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys found out that there were former migrants in Australia who were just realizing they might have living relatives in the UK. One day an Australian woman contacted her, to say she was trying to find her mother. The woman said she had been taken from a children's home in Nottingham and sent to Australia by boat, aged four, during the 1950s. Could Humphreys help? Her plea lead to a quest that would take Humphreys across the world and uncover a scandalous policy used to forcibly ship thousands of British children away from their homes.

While a number of those now grown children were able to be reunited with their families (and apologies made by the governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand - but not Canada), it's not possible to undo the damage or to take back the years. I wept while I watched the video of the 65 year old woman meeting her 86 year old mother for the first time in more than six decades.

I understand childhood was always hard for the poor but I imagine there were compensations in being poor among your own. Thank goodness Margaret Humphreys was there to help before it was too late for any reunions.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

crow in gotham


In the past couple of years I've preferred not going anywhere near Halifax's downtown for the simple reason it's undergoing what appears to be an unrestrained building boom. In a fairly small city such as this one erecting huge buildings that cover the entirety of square blocks, buildings made of concrete and steel with glass curtain walls, has a brutalizing effect both physically on the local environment and psychologically on the populace. That Halifax is a major destination for tourists wanting a glimpse of the historic maritimes lifestyle is another factor making these projects appear counterintuitive.

Since we couldn't find a spot downtown not covered by construction equipment we decided instead Crow would pose in  Anton Furst's conception of Batman's Gotham City. It seemed appropriate. 

"Modernism is damaging to all cultures, yet those that are wealthy can and do periodically escape its suffocating effects. They possess other sources of emotional nourishment. But it is the economically impoverished cultures dependent upon the industrialized West, and those that are subjected to “soft oppression” by the dominance of the global media, that suffer most deeply. They have no way out. Their own elites are forcing the modernist dogma down their throats."
~ Nikos Salingaros

“The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains.”
~ E.F. Schumacher

So you want us all to go back to the Stone Age?
The word “back” is a trick. It implies a magical absolute direction of change. Suppose you go to your job, and when you get ready to leave, your boss says, “So you want to go back to your house? Don’t you know you can never go back? You can only go forward, to working for me even more, ha ha ha!” Really, all motion is forward, and forward motion can go in any direction we choose, including to places we’ve been before.
~ Ran Prieur 



Long before it was an area of study, dictators took advantage of the impact architecture can have on the mind. By creating architecture at a monumental scale, rather than a human one, they inspired fear and awe in their citizens. By destroying the individual scale of a city, the tyrant believed he could usher in a new age. While fascism went out of fashion after World War II, the style of architecture did not, and now you can see that type of monumental building in cities around the world.

If the human scale of any given environment is defined by its community, then the outcome will be a human scale city. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

other people's work #77 - Ronald Searle



 One afternoon last week I went looking for a copy of a picture by Ronald Searle that I'd once sent an old friend. I didn't find what I was looking for but instead found that despite the fact I'd always loved his drawings I didn't know anything about him at all. Over the course of his long life Ronald Searle drew thousands of pictures, most of them satirical - albeit, gently so.


You never got the feeling of outright cruelty in his images - except, perhaps, for the St. Trinian's girls and their penchant for torture, assault, and the carrying of deadly weapons.


The first, and major, thing I hadn't been aware of was the fact that as a young enlistee in the Royal Engineers who had just arrived in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942, 22 year old Ronald Searle became a prisoner of war * and would remain one until 1945. His collection of 300 eyewitness drawings of life in Changi Prison in Singapore and the work camps of the notorious Thai-Burma railway is an amazing achievement. He secretly documented his experiences and, with the help of friends, hid the drawings from the guards by placing them under the mattresses of soldiers who were dying from cholera. Luckily for him, Searle never contracted cholera, but he did suffer from dengue fever, beri beri, malaria, multiple skin diseases and starvation. Most of his friends and co-prisoners died.


The brutality and disregard for human life which he experienced first hand led him to ask himself the question - "could this happen to people in my home country, or is this something peculiar to the Japanese people and their culture?" His answer seems to be that it is a universal phenomenon.



The second thing I learned about Ronald Searle is how he reacted when his wife, Monica, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in the late 1960s - shortly after they'd purchased an old home in Provence they were looking forward to renovating. Feeling helpless in the face of Monica's medical disaster, the only thing he could think of to do for them both while she was undergoing chemotherapy and experimental radiation was to draw.


The delightful images of a Mrs Mole pottering about a dream house in a Provencal village were full of optimism meant to help them both through the long, painful process they could only hope would be successful. Monica had 47 treatments and after each session he gave her another drawing.





I drew them originally for no one’s eyes except Mo’s, so she would look at them propped up against her bedside lamp and think: “When I’m better, everything will be beautiful.”

The treatments did work and her cancer went into a remission that lasted forty years. Most of those years were spent in their Provencal home: four interconnected houses, the oldest one medieval, threaded by staircases and stuffed with accumulated treasures. A courtyard is shaded by a vast, ancient fig tree, and from the tiny roof terrace unfurls a glorious 100-mile view over mountains to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. It's a wonderful sight to imagine.

Early in 2011, shortly before she died, Monica shared her treasured drawings in a book titled Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole (‘The Richest Hours of Mrs Mole’) to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She died that July and six months later Ronald Searle followed her - he was 91.

It's certainly not true that artists don't have much to say; what is true is that the best really can convey stories of a thousand words in an image. Ronald Searle was one of them.




* a link you might be particularly interested in, Lindsay.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

april on low fuel


I thought I'd have this one finished by now, instead this version might be as finished as it's going to get. This is how it looked a few days ago before I added what feels like too much colour to the original illustration which is still sitting on my table (probably not for much longer). That's the trouble with watercolour - you don't get to start afresh once something has gone wrong.. never mind when you get part way through a painting and begin to wonder just what you were thinking about when you drew it in the first place.

I'm going to blame it on a winter that's gone on too long and leave it at that. Meanwhile, captions are always fun if any come to mind.

April now and the temperature's supposed to rise above freezing presently.



btw:

Did you know William Morris invented modern fantasy fiction in the late 19th century as a way of challenging the robot-mentality of his own time? That’s the core reason that his fantasy novels have been completely and systematically erased from our collective memory.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

as winter wanes (slowly)


The beauty of our life is that, despite the danger and fragility and outright darkness that lie all around us, we are free. We are free to be something.

Anything can be chosen today; we can take ourselves down any path tomorrow. The day after we can choose another detour. We are free to live, free to die; free to be miserable, free to dance; free to fast, free to gorge.

We haul around an oasis of blood, bone, proteins, enzymes inside these carapaces we call our bodies. They aren't really even ours. They're like pets we wash, feed, exercise or let go. It's not even a luxury ride but a crude beast that happens to be required in order for us to happen.

We're each alone on this road, this place of moon and stars. We become. That's all. Exposed to novelty and chance and circumstance, not to mention our own sense of self and mindedness, we are our own perfect celebration. Unless subjugated or imprisoned we can do anything we want, but even under the most dire conditions we still have a choice.

We never know who will live or how long or whether it is ourself. We're born by lot and die when the time comes and that's a good thing. We don't have an expiration date or a guaranteed lifespan either and who would want that?

At the end we report back to the universe what we've seen.. a lake, a flower, rain, a shawl a mother made. There was a child, a lover, a friend. This is all we have or ever will have. We're free to hold on tight or free to let go. The moment belongs to us.

***

The painting, one of my favourites, is by Michael Sowa, a contemporary German artist whose work is always amazing.

This is a reprise of a post written in early 2009. 
Still works for me..

Sunday, March 19, 2017

unearthing history




In the northwest part of India that borders Pakistan there is a huge area where the Indus River flows to the Arabian Sea. In that river valley on the frontier of two modern countries are the remains of another river that was once fed by annual monsoons and the Himalayan glaciers, the Sarasvati, on whose banks the very ancient Indus Valley civilization once thrived. Also known as the Harappa (named after a nearby village) the culture remains an enigma. The Sarasvati, a miles wide river that ran south of the Indus whose course is still visible from space, has been a dry river bed for the better part of three thousand years. Once the Indus Valley civilization itself collapsed circa 1900BC its cities eroded and their remains covered by (that old standby) the sands of time.


It was in 1826, that a British Army deserter, posing as an American engineer named Charles Masson, recorded the existence of mounded ruins at a small town in the Punjab, Pakistan. The Punjab came under British control after 1849, and with the building of canals, roads and bridges, it became one of the most prosperous agricultural provinces of the empire. Archeological surveys undertaken in the mid-1800s led to the assumption that as the mounds were remnants of a recent culture it would be okay for the engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast. The bricks taken from the site were more than enough to furnish 100 miles of railway track, testifying to the scale of the buildings that existed there.


In 1919, the site of what turned out to be another important city, Mohenjo-daro, was visited by an Indian archeologist who found items indicating the place was very old and likely very large. Major excavations were carried out at separate periods from the 20s to the 60s when they were banned due to weathering damage to the newly exposed structures. In recent years less invasive methods have been used to gather further information.


Thousands of years ago (as of last year determined by geologic survey and modern dating methods to be at least eight thousand years) the Indus Valley civilization was larger than the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Many of its sprawling cities were located on the banks of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. This culture once extended over more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, and at its peak may have accounted for 10 percent of the world population. The cities were so sophisticated and well-planned, that many archaeologists believe they were conceived as a whole before construction on them begun. Lothar, a port city found in the 1950s,  has the earliest known shipping docks.


The Indus script is made up of partially pictographic signs and various human and animal motifs that have been found inscribed on miniature steatite seals, terracotta tablets and occasionally on metal. As none found have been longer than 26 characters decoding them has proven impossible so far.



Well-planned street grids and elaborate drainage systems hint that the occupants of the ancient Indus civilization cities were skilled urban planners who gave importance to the management of water. Wells have also been found throughout the cities, and nearly every house contained a clearly marked bathing area and a covered drainage system. The houses were thick walled with tall ceilings to help keep them cool; flat roofs, latticed windows, and gardens were part of every home. Archeologists found a large pool surrounded by the remains of small bathing chambers on the upper level of Mohenjo-daro that may have held religious significance. It was so well sealed that it could be filled with water even today.



The civilization's prosperity and stature are evident in the artefacts, like beads, jewelry, and pottery recovered from almost every house, as well as the baked-brick city structures themselves. It appears not everyone was rich but even the poor probably got enough to eat. The cities lack ostentatious buildings like palaces and temples, and there is no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a ruler. Also, the lack of many weapons shows that the Indus people had few enemies and that they preferred to live in peace.

Farmers, traders, and craftspeople, the most commonly found artefact in the Indus Valley civilization is jewelry. Both men and women adorned themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay. Excavated dyeing facilities indicate that cotton was probably dyed in a variety of colours (although there is only one surviving fragment of coloured cloth).

Archaeologists have long wondered about the sudden decline of the Indus Valley civilization. There is no convincing evidence that any  city was ever burned, severely flooded, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within. It’s more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters or after rivers like Indus and Ghaghra-Hakkar changed their course and the Sarasvati dried out.

***

I've been fascinated by history for most of my life and deep history has enthralled me these past years as more discoveries have been made and disseminated. The subject of the Indus Valley civilization is very big and much more complex than a small blog post allows. I've even had trouble choosing just a few photos and imagined illustrations of the period to show here for the simple reason there are so many. I hope you'll be interested in looking at some of the links or checking out the subject for yourself. If you do you'll find that it's also a contentious issue because of continuing political, religious, and caste-class issues.


There is one last thing I'd like to mention before I finish and that's the fact that at the Last Global Maximum (21 thousand years ago) of the most recent Ice Age coastal sea levels around the world were 400 feet lower than they are today. 10 thousand years ago, when the enormous glaciers began to melt, it's very likely that a number of places where people lived may have been inundated by sudden overwhelming floods. Considering the areas in red on this map were once dry land it's easy to see the Indus Valley was much larger then than now, a fact that opens many possibilities about origins.

When it's hard to think about the future there's some comfort in imagining the past - at least for me..




Saturday, March 11, 2017

unseasonal beauty



Quite a few years ago, on her return from a visit to England, my mother brought with her some leaf cuttings from a plant belonging to one of her brothers. Called a streptocarpus or 'cape primrose' the tiny cutting eventually grew into a flower producing factory with fifteen inch long soft furred leaves that was quite wonderful to behold. Related to african violets, but more magnificent in bloom, streps are even easier to grow. I know that because, naturally enough, I got to carry another cutting home to Portland. The flowers on that first plant were a soft blue-purple colour with a yellow throat. When we moved here from the west coast it was without my plant collection except for a few bracts taken from a very old and hardy christmas cactus.

Although I grew a whole new collection of house plants I missed my  streptocarpus plant enough that I regretted not having made an effort to nurse a new plantling through our relocation; but trying to find one turned out to be more of a chore than I'd ever expected. Easy as they are to grow (and at least as beautiful as orchids, I think) they are very rare in Canada. I found the web site of a nursery in upstate NY that specializes in african violets, streps, and other moderately exotic plants whose products I hungered to own. Most were far more fabulous than the originals that my uncle, my mother and I had nurtured. The problem was, that although the young plants were inexpensive, the charges for international shipping and handling were outrageous. I couldn't bring myself to finalize an order.

Early last autumn I came across an ad on Kikiji placed by a lady in NS who had a few varieties for sale. I bought three (this one and two smaller varieties) and set up a small lamp with a daylight grow bulb to light them safely through the dark months. It all worked out quite well.. even on those days when I put my own head under the lamp.. They didn't seem to mind sharing the light and I got a very close-up view.



"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."
~Teilhard de Chardin

Sunday, March 5, 2017

whether the weather



After spending a nice visit with Crow and some of his old friends he and I shared some Remy and fruitcake while we talked long into the night. Here's the gist of our conversation:

Global warming had us all worried for a while. Luckily, conservatives aren’t fooled by the 97% of scientists who insist that global warming is indeed a provable fact, and we should be comforted by the U.S. Republican Party’s assurances that it doesn’t exist since it isn’t mentioned in the Bible.

Because global warming is such a controversial (of course not generally among those with two neurons to rub together) issue these days, it has allowed for the emergence of a more accurate, and far more fascinating term in our humble opinion  - climate chaos.

The climate chaos theory explains that although the climate will get hotter due to carbon emissions, that isn't the end of the story. I don't know what kind of weather patterns you've witnessed lately, but around here we've had many warmer days than seems typical for the Atlantic provinces in winter as well as a few heavy rainfalls that would have seen the place under deep blankets of snow had it been colder at the time. Not that we haven't had snow, but it was washed away every time.

While it's true we haven't been here long enough to know about what factors define a normal winter in these parts other people have said it's been weird. Crow says that basically, it's not just the heat that is cause for concern, rather the strong divergence in the intensity of various forms of nasty weather on a regional basis (and he should know because he flies everywhere). Those who choose to live in the fantasy world where humans have no obvious negative impact on our natural environment rightly point out that climate change is simply an inevitable environmental  fact, and the Earth regularly goes through cycles of warming and cooling - therefore it is simply human pride to assume we have anything to do with it.

Maybe so, yet the biosphere of Earth has also undergone cycles of mass extinctions based on environmental factors. Call us crazy, but I think that’s probably what the scientists are worried about. It’s hard to argue this with people who believe the world is only 6000 years old and that dinosaur bones were put there to trick us. 

The concept of climate chaos is an attempt to explain climate change in terms that anyone can understand (since nothing else seems to be getting through). As Mark Twain once said, “Climate is what we expect.  Weather is what we get”.

Let's hope we still have good reason to have high hopes for the in-between seasons. Spring will soon be here and autumn is on its way to our friends in the southern hemisphere.



ps: I found an international weather page app you might like to check out.

wonderful artwork by Peter deSeve
known for New Yorker covers

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Crow hosts the daffodils


When there's mud between the snowbanks, spring can't be far behind. This is most definitely a picture from somewhere else at some other time, but it's one Crow and I have a great fondness for. Perhaps it's about some future when things are a little less crazy in the world. Did you know that recent statistics in England showed more children had been hospitalized for falling out of bed than from falling out of trees?

Meanwhile, some thoughts about fairy tales and fantasy, when the need has grown large:

"In an age that seems to be increasingly dehumanized, when people can be transformed into non-persons, and where a great deal of our adult art seems to diminish our lives rather than add to them, children's literature insists on the values of humanity and humaneness." 
- Lloyd Alexander

"The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten."
- Alison Lurie

"The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales. Whenever good counsel was at a premium, the fairy tale had it, and where the need was greatest, its aid was nearest."
- Walter Benjamin

"People who’ve never read fairy tales have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your sub-conscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love."
- Charles de Lint

The thing about fairy tales is you have to live through them, before you get to the happily ever after. That ever after has to be earned, and not everyone makes it that far.



article of the week

Saturday, February 18, 2017

lizard girl



When I received a photograph of the very pretty granddaughter of a friend I thought I'd try to capture her in a drawing. Of course my rendition does her actual looks almost no justice at all; in reality, her vivacity and confidence in the love that surrounds her defeats my small ability at portraiture. You may have noticed this little girl isn't standing in a doorway or a garden and neither is she accompanied by a typical household pet. Instead, she stands at ease with an iguana in equally sanguine posture. Do you wonder why?

Well, just a few days before I found her photograph in my inbox, I'd been reading about The Galapagos Islands, the remote archipelago where Darwin first conceived of his theory of natural selection after examining the unique fauna who lived there. Some 30 percent of the plants, 80 percent of the land birds and 97 percent of the reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth. Besides the famous giant tortoises, there were several varieties of oversize iguana - the land ones feed on cacti and shrubs while the marine iguana graze on seaweed near the shore.

Over the past 300 years, hunting and invasive species reduced both the giant tortoise populations and the lizards by an estimated 90 percent, destroying several species and pushing others to the brink of extinction, although a few populations on remote volcanoes remained abundant. Along with the pirates and eventual settlers, came goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats, and rats. They trampled the delicate native plants, gobbled up turtle eggs, staged inexplicable attacks on land iguana colonies, snacked on baby chicks, and tore through cactus tree trunks. After the Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, park guards halted killing of tortoises for food, but those animals introduced to the islands continued to destroy the habitat and kill the native species.


 How researchers got rid of more than 200,000 goats is interesting (if somewhat gory):

In a project called Isabella helicopter aerial attacks eradicated 90 percent of the goats on that island. Although it's relatively easy to remove 90 percent of a goat population from an island as they become more rare, they are harder to find. Once they'd been educated and learned to hide, the hunters flying around in an expensive helicopter found no goats.

So they decided on a technique called Judas goats. Since goats are gregarious and like being in groups they captured individual animals, put radio collars on them and released them back into the wild where the goats would go and find more goats. A week or two later it was easy enough to find the hidden herds.


It's hard to write about the Galápagos without talking much about the tortoises, but since their story is far more famous than the efforts to protect the lizards, I just thought I'd let you know that overall the situation for all of the rare and beautiful species that Darwin described is far better now. Extraordinary measures that have been taken to protect these animals have been largely successful. At the same time the future remains mired in debates over how to protect the islands from the 150,000 tourists who visit each year, many of whom unintentionally bring invaders by depositing tiny seeds on trails, and occasionally fungi or insects that can cripple the fragile ecosystem. (Personally, I agree with Crow that tourists should stay at home, but that's a whole other subject.)


Land iguanas are large - more than 3 feet long - with males weighing up to 30 pounds. They live in the drier areas of the Islands, and in the mornings can be found sprawled beneath the hot equatorial sun. To escape the heat of the midday sun, they seek the shade of cacti, rocks, trees or other vegetation. At night they sleep in burrows dug in the ground, to conserve their body heat. They feed mainly on low-growing plants and shrubs, as well as fallen fruits and cactus pads. These succulent plants provide them with the moisture they require during long, dry periods. Land iguanas show a fascinating symbiotic interaction with Darwin’s finches, as do giant tortoises, raising themselves off the ground and allowing the little birds to remove ticks.

It's enough for me to know they're out there in hope that Earth will continue as the beautiful and diverse surrounding that gave us birth. My further hope is that little Lizard Girl and her friends will grow up to add to our knowledge and compassion for all God's creatures. We need more nature photographers and naturalists.



ps: My picture didn't do justice to the iguana either..

pps: Harper's
Game On - East vs. West, Again
by Andrew Cockburn

Saturday, February 11, 2017

secret gardens or unknown?


When I was a child one of my favourite books was 'The Secret Garden', but while I was told about walled kitchen gardens enclosed to keep foraging animals out I never knew walled gardens had been commonplace up until the relative recent past. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, European urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.


These crops were grown surrounded by massive 'fruit walls', which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature significantly. The 2.5 to 3 metre (9 to 10 feet) high walls were more than half a metre (20 inches) thick and coated in limestone plaster. Mats could be pulled down to insulate the fruits on very cold nights. In the central part of the gardens, crops were grown that tolerated lower temperatures, such as apples, pears, raspberries, vegetables and flowers.

The fruit wall appeared around the start of what's known as the Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. Initially, fruit walls appeared in the gardens of the rich and powerful, such as in the palace of Versailles. However, some French regions later developed an urban farming industry based on fruit walls.



The most spectacular example was Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, where peaches were grown on a massive scale. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

Established during the seventeenth century, Montreuil had more than 600 km (375 miles) of fruit walls by the 1870s, when the industry reached its peak. The 300 hectare (750 acres) maze of jumbled up walls was so confusing for outsiders that the Prussian army went around Montreuil during the siege of Paris in 1870. Now there's a secret garden for you.

Peaches are native to France's Mediterranean regions, but Montreuil produced up to 17 million fruits per year, renowned for their quality. Building many fruit walls close to each other further boosted the effectiveness of the technology, because more heat was trapped and wind was kept out almost completely. Within the walled orchards, temperatures were typically 8 to 12°C (14-22°F) higher than outside.

*
As the 20th century grew closer, the production of Parisian peaches went into decline. The extension of the railways and the arrival of cheaper produce on the market saw the orchards deteriorate and disappear into the urban fabric. Here we are 150 years later completely dependent upon container shipped fruit and vegetables from all over the world.

While fruit wall gardening was certainly labour intensive I can't help but remember Mary Lennox, the sickly, foul-tempered, unsightly little orphan girl who loved no one and whom no one loved. Her discovery and care of the secret garden on her uncle's estate led not only to her transformation but to the healing of a sad family's tragedy. If all the factory work is to be done by robots, perhaps the gardens will still have need of us and treasures to share.

Near the end of the book a character says: "There must be lots of Magic in the world. But people don't know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen, until you make them happen."



ps: * The design is achieved by wrapping the fruit in a paper bag while it's growing.  Once it's full size a stencil is attached to the ripening peach using egg white. The Japanese do the same with apples. :)

The illustrations of The Secret Garden were painted by Inga Moore.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

the recital underway


It's been some time since I last posted a new picture and now that there is one I thought I'd show you how it progressed from an early sketch to a finished illustration. As I said, an early sketch rather than the chicken scratches I'd be embarrassed to show you.


For some reason unknown to me I can't get the second image in the sequence to load - the one that shows the tonal underpainting. Instead, this is the third with the characters looking pretty well developed.

There was a time when I'd spend a lot of time putting together the elements of a new painting. The paintings themselves took weeks of evenings and weekends to complete. I seem to be much less patient now.


There needed to be a background and after several pencilled in tries and much erasing I decided on a nice walled garden. Deep in a Canadian winter is a good time to spend some imaginary time in a sunny walled garden, especially one that is a home to roses. I thought my little band of musicians would be happy there too.


Of course it still needed more depth and colour as well as something going on beyond the stone wall. Thus, the next day's effort found it looking like this - still a bit wispy but I could see where the picture needed to go.

If you're wondering where (if, of course you've stayed this long) here is the final result:



Finally, after adding more layers of warm transparent hues to give more shape and definition to the main image, I drew and painted the border - a thoroughly relaxing process that took a couple of days. Both during the Recital's development and now that it's done there are things I couldn't change at the time that I wish I'd done differently. Then again, nothing made by hand (at least by my hand) is ever perfect and perhaps that's the charm. It's nice enough. If only changing the way we live on this Earth were as easy..

“Throughout the world what remains of the vast public spaces are now only the stuff of legends: Robin Hood’s forest, the Great Plains of the Amerindians, the steppes of the nomadic tribes, and so forth. Rousseau said that the first person who wanted a piece of nature as his or her own exclusive possession and transformed it into the transcendent form of private property was the one who invented evil. Good, on the contrary, is what is common.”
~ Antonio Negri




Saturday, January 28, 2017

in depth history



A few years ago when I read Alan Weisman’s book 'The World Without Us' I came across a paragraph that raised my curiosity:

“No one knows how many underground cities lie beneath Cappadocia. Eight have been discovered, and many smaller villages, but there are doubtless more. The biggest, Derinkuyu, wasn’t discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he’d never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people – and much remains to be excavated.”



Perhaps you already know about them, but they were new to me and more than a little extraordinary. So for those who don't know about them at all and for those who've had other things on their minds lately, I'll go ahead.


It was in 1963 that a man in central Turkey knocked down a wall of his home. Behind it, he discovered a mysterious room. He continued digging and soon discovered an intricate tunnel system with additional cave-like rooms. What he had discovered was the ancient Derinkuyu underground city, part of the Cappadocia region in central Anatolia, Turkey. The elaborate subterranean network included discrete entrances, ventilation shafts, wells, and connecting passageways. It was one of dozens of underground cities carved from the rock in Cappadocia thousands of years ago - quite likely 5,000 years although nobody knows for certain (the old thing about not being able to date rock).


The Cappadocia region of Anatolia is rich in volcanic history and sits on a plateau around 3,300 feet (1,000m) tall. The area was buried in ash millions of years ago creating the lava domes and rough pyramids seen today. Erosion of the sedimentary rock left pocked spires and stone minarets. Volcanic ash deposits consist of a softer rock – something the Hittites of Cappadocia and the Phyrgians (remember them?) discovered thousands of years ago when they began carving out rooms from the rock. It appears it all began with storage and underground food lockers since the subterranean voids maintained a constant temperature.


Then, as invaders moved into and across the territory, the underground tunnels  served a larger purpose: protecting the people from attack. Miles of tunnels blackened from centuries of burning torches were strategically carved narrow to force would-be attackers to crawl single-file. Eventually the tunnels reached hundreds of caves large enough to shelter tens of thousands of people in separate family quarters.


As time went by Derinkuyu was inhabited by early Christians who expanded the caverns further by adding chapels, churches with ancient Greek inscriptions and frescoes. Over one hundred unique entrances to Derinkuyu are hidden behind bushes, walls, and courtyards of surface dwellings. Access points were blocked by large circular stone doors, up to 5 feet (1.5m) in diameter and weighing up to 1,100 lbs (500 kilos) were installed so each level could be sealed individually. The tunnelling architects included thousands of ventilation shafts varying in size up to 100 feet deep (30m). An underground river filled wells while a rudimentary irrigation system transported drinking water.


Commercial spaces included communal meeting areas, schools, dining rooms, grocers, religious places for worship (even shopping) while arsenals stored weapon caches and stables kept animals safe.

Just recently a housing construction project may have unearthed the biggest hiding place ever found in Cappadocia. Discovered beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle in Nevşehir, the provincial capital, the site dates back at least to early Byzantine times. It is still largely unexplored, but initial studies suggest its size and features may rival those of Derinkuyu.

Geophysicists from Nevşehir University who conducted a systematic survey of a 1.5-mile (4-kilometer) estimate the site is nearly five million square feet (460,000 square meters). These studies suggest the underground corridors may plunge as deep as 371 feet (113 meters). If that turns out to be accurate, the city could be larger than Derinkuyu by a third.



Cities, empires and religions have risen and fallen around these unique underground havens - 100 square miles with 200+ underground villages and tunnel towns complete with hidden passages, secret rooms and ancient temples and a remarkably storied history of each new civilization building on the work of the last. There are indications that many of these underground cities were connected by tunnels now collapsed or simply lost (for the moment).

It's an area I'd love to visit, but since that's not very likely (besides, I'm claustrophobic) and just a few are partially open to the public, I've settled for looking at some of the many online photographs and written accounts.

We inhabit a world both old and deeper than we might otherwise imagine.