25 April, 2011
Gascony – gastronomy.
The two words fit each other like a glove.
Add the village of Gramont and you have a perfect fit!
We were in Gramont, near St Clar, in the Gers region of Gascony (south west France in the midi-Pyrenees) for my husband’s 50th birthday treat – a cookery course. It was a truly wonderful experience. The Gascony Cookery School was a treat from the start, with wonderful hosts Vikki and David, and the chefing skills of David and Frenchman Bernard.
My DH learnt so much, from knife skills to patisserie with foie gras, fish and poulet, cassoulet and a mouth-wateringly brilliant tarte aux limone! We ate and drank royally, enjoyed the relaxing and fun company of our hosts, were accommodated in a comfortable room and really chilled! We went to market to buy the ingredients and were taken around the countryside to sample Armagnac, visit chateaus, and see the sights, and ate.
Oh yes, did I mention the eating??
Shopping for ingredients
Surprisingly, we came back with very little extra weight, either on our bodies or in our suitcases! Will we return? Mais certainement!! Should you go? Absolutement!!
- Two blocks of stone and a sleeper! Rustic bench
Chambres d'Hote, Le Petit Feuillant
17 April, 2011
We are on our way to a week’s cookery course in the south west of France, near Toulouse, for my husband’s 50th birthday celebrations. It was fun choosing which course to enrol on as there are so many different types of holiday courses for food, and just about anything else. After all, that’s what I do – teach holiday courses in weaving!
I love planning trips. There is so much to think about – the location, the likely weather, how you are going to get there (we’re going by train, plane and car), comparing prices, finding the cheapest option and how it will fit in with the arrival time that we have to comply with. House-sitters and dog minders are all part of the equation, and then, as we arrive back to have visitors arriving almost immediately, I had to work out how best to do the necessary housework to ensure that the place is ready for them even though we won’t be!!
These kind of plans are always interesting – fun, logistical exercises in how to get all the separate ingredients working together for a seamless experience.
So now my week’s student has gone, the dog is at the kennels, the packing still remains to be done, DS has all the household instructions for looking after the place for a week, and the biggest choice for me is which books to take. I know I could invest in a Kindle or iPad, but for me, the pleasure of having a book in my hand is part of the pleasure of reading. We’re only away for a few days so it’s not like I have to take a library with me – just 3 reading-for-pleasure books and one for university.
Also, going to a place which, I realised just a few days ago, I visited as part of a music group a few years ago means that I have a vague idea of where we are, and asking other weavers and friends for suggestions of places to visit means I have a few thoughts about day trips whilst DH is slaving over a hot French stove!
This is a chance to unwind from a crazy few weeks, whilst DH learns new skills such as knife care (only hoping he doesn’t decide to practice knife-throwing with the newly-sharpened implements in my vicinity!) and some delicious French sauces. We both get the chance to sample the wines of the region and the culinary specialities, he gets to learn more about his raw ingredients, buying them from the local markets, visiting vineyards and fishmongers, and I get the chance to explore the area, read and relax! Bliss.
See you in a week!!
10 April, 2011
This weekend I gave a full day’s presentation in Cambridge at Girton College, for the Eastern Region Textile Forum on “Passive Income for Artists”. It was a wonderful venue and truly inspiring location, with an enthusiastic and attentive audience of fellow textiles people.
It was the first time I have ever visited Cambridge, and I went a day early to visit the Scott Polar Institute, an unusual museum focussed entirely on the two polar regions. This was fascinating, and I came away with a few photos, an iconic image of an ice cave, some ideas for developing work, and a tasty book – Jennifer Murray’s Polar First. The museum is long-listed for The Art Fund Prize for this year, and it certainly gets my vote. Please support their bid for funding. They’ve done a lovely job with their museum and deserve the support.
After that, I walked round to the Fitzwilliam Museum & Art Gallery. What a place!! The architecture drew me more than the art work, but that’s just me! I love the intricate plasterwork, and the lofty proportions of some of the rooms, with their marbled columns, and large overhead rooflights. I have to admit to laughing out loud when I walked into the main entrance hall. Talk about over-ornamentation!! OK, so Fitzwilliam was a show-off!! LOL At the very least, he liked to make an impression!
I wandered around all the galleries, quite quickly, because I find myself getting ‘galleried’ out quite quickly, so I only looked closely at items that grabbed my attention. Entrance to both museums is free and certainly I could have returned over several trips to do the Fitzwilliam justice! A lovely tea room topped it off for me, and the blazing summer sunshine on a spring day certainly helped to raise the spirits!
After that, I allowed myself to get deliberately lost…. Wandering through the streets of Cambridge was like walking back into a different time. This city, compact and self-aware, isn’t full of frenetic people. Yes, there are every day folk, but there are so many people on bikes, pedalling through the town, lots of people who look as if they would be far happier in a dusty library than out in the sunshine on their way to a college, and of course, lots of tourists, like me, stopping to gaze at the incredible architecture of the historic colleges, set in their spacious quadrangles with blossoming cherry and almond trees, and with gateways with tantalising views of ancient buildings of learning signposted ‘Members Only’.
You couldn’t help feeling a little bit of an outsider, wanting to be in the ‘in’ crowd, to feel part of this other world. At the same time, I got the feeling that this is a bubble – a privilege to be part of – but oh, could I stand to be in a permanent bubble? It felt somehow detached from the real world. I can imagine that to be a student here would be an incredible and enriching experience that would shape how you think and act, and certainly influence you for your entire life, but to be an academic here would be perhaps to lose touch with reality a little…
I could, of course, be totally wrong! This was just an impression. But it makes you reflect on your own education – the surroundings, the people you were with, what you took from that. I am so glad I have been to Cambridge. It is well worth the visit….
3 April, 2011
Spring cleaning is like de-cluttering – it makes you feel good about yourself and your life… At least, that’s the effect it has on me, which is just as well as we’ve a large old house and quite a lot of garden (and we’re not gardeners!!)
I have a very dear friend coming to stay, and I thought I would take the opportunity to not only clean the house, but really clean it… That means moving furniture, hoovering the dust up rather than just dusting (which only succeeds in moving the dust around and making me sneeze!). I’ve even been vacuuming the walls, using a paintbrush to shift the dust that’s attached to the rough surfaces…
Spring has sprung too, and the garden is sprouting weeds faster than it’s sprouting flowers, but half an hour here and there, whilst putting the kettle on to boil, making a cuppa and drinking it, is really helping. Still loads to do, but hey, nature doesn’t hold back once it’s decided it’s time to grow!!
I got that dreadful feeling of overwhelm the other day, and someone told me to try tapping. Now I’m a sceptic with things like that, but I thought – what the heck – so I tried it. Now I’m not saying that I’m a convert – it’s more likely to be psychosomatic – but it worked. I relaxed, realised that I can’t do everything and that it doesn’t matter, and all I have to do is focus on the important things.
I’ve still got the mile-long ‘to do’ list, which will only get longer, but I’m just doing one job at a time, and enjoying it whilst doing it!! I’m using the time to think about what I plan to do for my first masters weaving project, (which I’ll get down to after Easter), and reflecting on what I’ve learnt in these 3 months since starting. My mind is whirling around in myriads of directions, but that’s ok too because I have to go through this fog of uncertainty until something makes a strong connection and gives me my path…
Spring cleaning for priorities… who’d have thought it? So tell me, what does spring-cleaning do for you?