Giverny

Monet

Giverny France is a quaint little town north of Paris. It seems to have changed very little over the past century since it’s most famous citizen lived there. The houses are built of stone with weathered shutters, lovely gardens, and tiny streets that seem made for carts and houses rather than automobiles. There is a pace to life here, despite the vast number of tourists, that is slow and charming and very French. The lanes and alleys are made for wandering.

The nearby town of Vernon is steeped in history, sitting on the banks of the Seine river and mirrors the understated elegance of its neighbouring village. The Saturday morning market is bursting with an abundance of fresh caught fish, great bins of escargot or gigantic squid; and large buckets of fragrant fresh cut flowers or bedding plants. The fruit and vegetable stands with their fat asparagus and artfully arranged radishes, great baskets of fresh eggs, plump tomatoes and tempting pastries or bread and endless arrays of charcuterie are mouth watering. Locals fill their soft wicker baskets with items for lunch or dinner before heading back to their lovely ivy covered stone cottages. It is idyllic. Truly.

The little town of Giverny is a lovely walk or perhaps a short ride away on the tiny train that runs throughout the day from Vernon. I recommend the walking path that takes you across the bridge and along a wide multi use trail that avoids the road and lets you stroll into the lovely town past the church where Claude Monet is buried.

Claude Monet’s garden is truly like wandering through one of his paintings. Everywhere you look is a view of layered colours and textures, touched by sunlight or shade in a way that enhances the setting. A garden planted by a painter is very different from a garden planted by a gardener.

In the water garden, the plantings are layered with no aspect overlooked. Pockets of flowering plants are framed by shrubs that are framed by low growing trees that are themselves positioned in front of towering trees. The foliage colours accent the various flowering plants. And everywhere there are lush plantings, an abundance of flowers and scents and colours.

Waterlilies – Monet garden

Standing on the famous Japanese bridge, the views in every direction are perfect snapshots, small perfect paintings unto themselves. The waterlilies capture the light and reflect it back creating small eddies of shimmering green. While the lilies were not in bloom during my visit, it took little imagination to envision them in their full glory. And of course Monet painted them endlessly in so many paintings it is easy to picture them dotting the water in vivid pinks and whites.

Two small row boats in a shady side of the pond could have been painted in any decade since Monet first took up residence in Giverny, so perfect are they in their setting, with the light all green and hazy in the shadows.

Monet’s Water garden

The bamboo grove forms a perfect wall along a small stream, very architectural, so straight and upright. The stream rushing by creates a soft musical backdrop. There is a hush along the walkway even as hordes of tourists wander by snapping pictures and marvelling at the beauty. Although Monet did not himself overseen the restoration of his gardens, the current gardeners have been faithful to his original design and planting’s.

Claude Monet’s House

The geometric flowerbeds in front of the Monet House are magical. It’s so evident that Monet colour blocked the gardens, using his paint box as the design tool. Where some beds are all yellows and golds and oranges, others are white and green while still others are layers of blues and purples, or purples and reds. The clouds of blue forget-me-nots with the spikes of pink tulips are so beautiful it is mesmerizing. The low growing plants support the uprights everywhere, the spider tulips and the many coloured irises.

All the flower beds are lush and abundant, with layer upon layer of colour and texture. There is an intense beauty to the gardens, so pleasing to the eye and mind, so very satisfying. I can only imagine the gardens as the season matures and the floral displays change and vary.

There is inspiration everywhere you look, from the iron arches covered in clematis to the carefully sculptured roses in their umbrella shaped cages. In one corner is a small meadow like garden, with mown lawns dotted with daffodils and narcissi.

The house itself is charming, much smaller than you would anticipate, with delicate furniture and a lovely tiled kitchen. Monet’s love of Japanese art and decor is evident throughout.

Monet House

In the Orangerie Musée in Paris, in a circular room dedicated to Monet’s last great work, hangs four curved panels, paintings of his water garden and water lilies at various times of day from sunrise to sunset. Sitting and contemplating these paintings is to be transported to the gardens themselves, so evocative is Monet’s work. The brushstrokes, the way the paint is laid down, the blend of colour that captures the changing light on the water in his garden is completely captivating. You can look at them endlessly, feel the calm and marvel at the beauty.

Refections on the Galapagos adventure!

Quito Ecuador is a city build in the clouds, the second highest city in South America and it’s a heady experience being there. Many of the streets are impossibly steep and in the thin air the locals must have enormous stamina and strong lungs just to go to work and back. The main commercial area is much like any city with the exception of the street vendors, often small Indigenous women wearing brightly coloured, embroidered garments and little fedoras, who carry bags of fruit or popcorn or trays of chewing gum and candy, or a vast array of items for sale.

Surprisingly, the top three economic generators are petroleum, bananas and roses, in that order! Yes, roses. Our hotel lobby featured an impossibly large and stunning display of white long stemmed roses, three feet tall and beautifully scented. They were changed out as soon as they wilted. Ecuador ships bananas and roses all over the world.

The local food is similar to Mexican or Latin American but with very little spiciness. However we ate some magnificent seafood, both in Quito and in the Galápagos; succulent octopus and prawns and the most tender squid I’ve tasted since Santorini. A favourite meat all over the country is guinea pig, which we did not eat!

Tourists come from around the world and not just for the Galápagos as was our intent. The old town of Quito is more interesting than I expected, as was our visit to the equator to straddle the north and south halves of the planet and a visit to see the works of famous artist Guayasamín, whose work depicts the abuse of workers and injustice under Latin dictatorships. The old architecture is ornate and very Spanish with of course the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church everywhere in the culture. Ecuador like many South American countries is primarily Catholic.

We loved the very local influence on the huge Basilica in old Quito, whose gargoyles were unexpected – turtles and iguanas and pelicans, alpacas and panthers, and all the creatures of Ecuador – not the traditional monsters of European cathedrals.

The Galapagos trip itself was exciting and strenuous and met all our expectations. The people who guided us and fed us and dropped us into the sea to wade to shore, who cleaned up after us and informed us were lovely and smart and passionate and kind. Young Luiz who took us around Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Center grew up in the tiny town and worked diligently to become a tour guide, going to school for it and competing among 800 applicants for one of only 80 tour guide certificates. He was sweet and funny and loved his town and the islands and every creature on them especially the tortoises.

 

We too loved the creatures – the funny blue footed boobies, taking turns caring for their eggs, the males raising their feet very high with each step to show off their beautiful colour; the giant tortoises who all looked very much like ET, lumbering along in their hundred year old bodies; the loud, smelly and sleek sea lions who loved to pose for pictures; the peculiar little Ghost Crabs who ran along the sand and them suddenly disappeared digging themselves little caves; the clumsy pelicans diving from high in the air but landing in the water like a giant burst water balloon; the boobies spiralling out of the sky to pierce the water like an arrow, diving 30 feet into the ocean for fish; the dolphins racing along beside the ship by the hundreds, tiny babies by their sides; the iguanas on land or in the sea or popping up under every cactus bush waiting for dinner to drop from the plants above; the snorkeling among enormous schools of brilliant fish and sting rays and sea turtles and sharks! Oh yes, we loved it all, every thrilling minute, every eye popping sunset, the scents and sounds, everything!

What was most impactful however was the effects of climate change. The Galápagos is spectacular because of the unique geography – it’s volcanic roots so obvious, so new compared to elsewhere in the world – and of course the unique species of birds, reptiles and plants. Evolution is not a process of millions of years as it is in most of the world. No, in the Galápagos it is speeded up, sometimes observable in meer decades instead of millennia.

But so is the effect of climate change. Rainfall is down in the archipelago, by as much as 20%. We were there during the rainy season but saw not a drop of water fall. Many of the islands are dry. Where a salt marsh should have been covered in flamingos we saw only one lone beauty. The archipelago’s strength is also its weakness, the rapid evolution and frail beauty so vulnerable to the ravages of changing weather and climate!

In addition, despite our profound gratitude at the opportunity to visit this fragile and beautiful place, the growth of tourism is drawing more and more people, wanting hotels and animal encounters, more boats, more of everything the islands offer. And who can blame the locals for wanting the employment and wealth opportunities that offers. But they too are torn, knowing the impact those opportunities will have on their paradise! Every local we met was protective and passionate about their islands.

Despite warnings not to disturb the animals or birds or take even a grain of sand from the beaches, even in our small group of self professed environmentally conscientious travellers, some few people could not resist getting too close, pocketing a small shell, or demonstrating they thought the warnings did not quite apply to them! Imagine thousands doing the same. It makes my heart sore!

 

The bees in winter!

January 2018:

My bees constantly amaze me! Yesterday the temperature crept up around 10 degrees and sure enough the bees were out! There cannot be much in the way of nectar producing plants anywhere on these cold and wet days but still the bees were busy. I watched my wee struggling orange hive being cleaned, the undertakers carrying the dead out and dropping them into the grass. They have whittled away at the sugar cakes I tucked inside as well, which is good news! But we still face many days of cold and rain before the spring days are warm enough for reliable nectar.

The robust yellow hive was much busier as always, with bees coming and going. There are obvious signs of housecleaning there as well, with a few bodies littering the ground under the hive. I itch to get a look inside to see what’s happening in both hives but it will be many weeks before I can open them up and see what’s going in. Until then, it’s a great mystery.

But I take enormous comfort from the kind of activity I saw yesterday! A little voice inside me says “Hooray….they are still alive!”

Bees and other creatures!

I share my home and surroundings with a group of people, a couple of rascally pups and of course my bees! As I stand at the kitchen sink in the morning gazing out the window into my back garden, I immediately wonder how the bees are doing. It’s been cold and wet for the last month. It’s hard to know what’s happening in the hives as I can no longer open them up and see what is going on for myself. On sunny days, even when it is at zero and frost has coated all the plants and fences, the bees are visible, going in and out of the hive, cleaning, taking out the dead, whizzing back and forth. My small hive is always less visible, less active and therefore much more of a mystery. I’ve placed bee cakes where they can reach them. It does allow me to peak under the top for a few minutes to check on things but all I can say for sure is they are alive but not consuming much of the cakes.

And so I ponder. Are the dogs fed, are the people happy and what’s happening with the bees today? We have several more months of winter, with the worst of it before us. I expect the fretting to continue! It will most certainly motivate me to plant more bee friendly things, especially fall bloomers.

Bee stories

As the days grow shorter and colder into November, the bees spend most of their time inside the hive, coming out for short flights to check on the neighbourhood. But it only takes a wee bit of sun to encourage a cloud of bees to form outside the hive entrance. You can feel their joy that the rains have ceased for a short time and they can fly out into the fresh air. Fortunately, I have several large rosemary bushes that continue to produce blooms, as well as the ceanothus tree, and I am always thrilled to see bees giving them the once over. I don’t imagine there is much nectar at this time of year though.

I checked on my small hive today, ready to slip in a few more sugar cakes. However, they have only just started to eat the previous cakes, presumably living off the small store of honey they have. With several months to go until spring, I continue to be anxious about their survival.

More on bees!

The rainy season is upon us. Grey days of rain and showers! In the rainforest there is a distinct difference between the soft showers, the steady rain or the deluge! Every morning, I stare out the window at my Bee hives as I listen intently to the weather report and witness with my eyes the state of wet we will have for the day. The bees hunker down when it’s rainy, rarely peeping out of their hives.

I’ve tipped the hives ever so slightly forward so the rain flows away from the hive entrance. But it’s inevitable in a steady drippy downpour that the entrances are wet. Even the slightest hint of better weather has the bees heading out in small numbers, checking out the landscape for food sources.

The moment the sun shone today, the bees were out! After soggy wet days for the past week, they were so happy to be out, drying off, foraging! A cloud of bees is hovering around each hive and I’ve seen bees checking out every tree and bush and late blooming herb! Luckily, the rosemary has a whole crop of late blooms and the bees quickly found them. But it’s scant foraging to be sure this late in the season.

That means it’s important to feed my bees as the cold weather approaches. Bees love sugar cakes and perhaps a bit of pollen! I’ve made a massive stack of sugar cakes and a few days ago I slipped a few cakes into my little hive. Because of its diminutive size, I’m sure they will struggle through the winter. They simply don’t have enough stored honey and pollen so I have my fingers crossed that they will struggle along, accepting the sugar cakes and perhaps other supplements before spring.

The bigger hive is better set for the winter with lots of honey and a much larger, more robust hive.

I am hoping that, despite the forecasts of a long snowy winter, we will have a shorter milder time here on Vancouver Island.

You know what bugs me?

There is was again, that dreadful tv ad! The woman with gleaming white teeth complaining about her yellow teeth. Her friend advises her to get a whitening product. It’s just awful.

As if women did not have enough unrealistic images to try to live up to!

It’s bad enough that women and girls are told they are not thin enough, don’t have the right colour of hair, aren’t wearing the right fashions, but the blatant falsity of whiter than white teeth that need more whitening is terrible! Like the mascara that will give you the lush look in the ad or magazine pictures when it’s obvious the girl in the picture is wearing false eyelashes. These constant messages bombarding young women telling them they are not good enough as they are, makes me very angry! And selling women products that will not give them the results they promise is the intimate dishonesty.

We need more messages that tell women and girls they are perfectly wonderful the way they are! They don’t need the false promises, the unrealistic expectations, the falsified images they see in magazines and advertising. We are all whole and worthy and beautiful as we are!

I am thrilled when I see women praising women, women validating other women and positive messages that build women and girls up and free them from the destructive and unreal promises of advertising messages. We need more of that affirmation! We need advertisers to wake up and see that pitching real images of real women for their products will actually get us purchasing more of their products. There are a few trying this but not nearly enough!

I boycott products whose ads offend me. It may not be a crushing blow to the corporations who make the products but if enough women push back, anything can happen.

Recently on social media, the public took offence at a Campbell Soup representative who sat on a board appointed by President Trump. I was part of that public. Other board members had left in opposition to one of Trump’s new policies but the Campbell Soup rep did not. The social media storm calling for a boycott of Campbell products was so effective the representative left that board less than 24 hours later.

So we can effect change, with our opinions and our purchasing. I think we need to do much more of it if women are truly going to be free from unrealistic images of who we should be and how we should live!

 

 

 

Me too!

My “Me Too” experiences in life….the overly chummy & somewhat creepy junior high school teacher who always managed to run his hand up and down my back (and other girls) while we talked…..or the family friend I worked for for a very short time in my teens who called me to his office one day, shut the door and propositioned me while trying to corner me against the wall…and when I explained to my father why I left that job suddenly he refused to believe me……I, like most women, developed that awareness of when the world around me was not safe, an alertness to avoid “that guy” or that situation! I am not shocked by the number of me too’s…..just very sad! And angry! So angry! – by the stories that are much harsher or violent or destructive than mine!

I have daughters and I know each of them have been subjected to some kind of harassment or assault! From boys groping them or leered at them or making suggestive comments to them to the more threatening actions of men who grew up doing those things to girls as if it was their right.

Every women knows these men and they aren’t always big powerful guys like Harvey Weinstein. Sometimes they are sleazy co-workers or bosses at some job that you desperately need in order to pay the rent or feed your kids. Those are the worst because you have to put up with some of it or put them in their place and risk being passed over for promotion or fired.

While we are having a public conversation about these issues right now, there is no guarantee that the discussion will continue or will change anything.  Weinstein may be the sacrificial lamb, the one that gets nailed and pilloried in public so all the other Harvey Weinsteins of the world can carry on!

 

 

 

Bees & things!

Here’s what I tell people when they ask me about my bees. The hive is mostly females, the Queen and all her daughters. There are the occasional males, drones, but they are few in number.

The hive is all about the Queenand she is all about the hive! And it is self sustaining. The female bees, care for the Queen, feed and groom her, care for the hive as they mature and eventually become foragers. They scour the neighbourhood for pollen and nectar, bringing it back to create honey and pollen cakes for the hive.

It is endlessly fascinating to watch the bees coming and going! They arrive from their foraging with huge pockets of pollen on their hips, or stores of nectar. They fly in and out all day long. At some points in the day their are hundreds of bees moving in and out of the entrance, creating a lovely hum of noise!

When you open the hive, a warm sweet scent of honey and bees wafts up to meet you. Thousands of bees are busy drawing wax comb, making honey, feeding the young, making pollen cakes, being born, dying. It’s a universe unto itself.

The food stores of honey and pollen will see the hive through the winter. The Queen at peak summer season lays thousands of eggs a day but slows that rate in the winter, always with the innate sense of food ratio to population! She wanders through the hive, checking on stores, laying eggs, surveying her domain. She is regal and lovely.

One fascinating activity is the undertakers who clean out the hive and carry the dead to the edge of the hive entrance, then off into the surrounding area to hide the bodies in the grass. Wasps, carnivorous as they are, often hover somewhere near by, like thieves, waiting to steal a corpse away!

Meanwhile, the drones do nothing to help the hive! They eat, they wander around, completely indolent. They live for one purpose only, to leave the hive and mate with a Queen from away, from another hive! They die during the mating. Their brothers left in the hive will face certain death as well for when winter comes and food resources are a concern, the females will push all the drones out of the hive to die.

I can and do spend hours watching all the action, listening to the buzzing, watching the weather, observing which plants are favourites.

While all this lovely activity is going on in and around the hive, the bees in their wandering and gathering are pollinating the food we eat, the food wildlife around us depend on and helping to sustain human beings as well as their own little microcosm. It’s a process we mostly take for granted.

Climate change and human behaviour, pesticides, noise, habitat loss are all major challenges for the plucky little bees to manage. The more time I spend with them the more frustrated and sad I am about those challenges!

Pondering aloud!

After 21 years in elected office, a business career, and raising a family, I am trying to retire!

Well…..maybe! I have taken up bee keeping and will talk more about that as time goes one. It’s enchanting and fascinating and good for the environment. What could be more satisfying than that.
And I’m stating to do things I’ve always wanted to do but could not commit to while in office….taking tai chi, doing a bit of contract work in the housing sector, redesigning my gardens, painting and sketching occasionally, and spending time with my children and grandchildren.
And I still follow the news and current events closely and from time to time may write down some thoughts, perhaps a criticism or two, vent when things make my blood boil, and give cudos where they are deserved.

Reinvigorating maurinekaragianis.ca will be fun too!