Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Shenley's St. Mary's

'Tis the season to be jolly...

For the first time in the last few years, I actually had all my Christmas shopping and chores done well before our scheduled flight to Lisbon. Then, everything started going wrong... Two blizzards came, tonnes of snow, Heathrow airport shut down, our flight was cancelled, Ana came down with the flu on the same day, and now Clara's come down with it too. So,

Ho Ho Ho

this certainly fills my Christmas stocking to the brink.

Still, I managed to get to the supermarket - in a shopping trip that lasted for almost four hours due to the snow and black ice on untreated roads and general run up to Christmas madness - and I got everything we need to have ourselves a "merry little Christmas" in spite of it all (althought nothing makes up for not being with the rest of our much loved and missed family during this time of the year). The house is cozy and well supplied and we count ourselves lucky for not having been stuck at Heathrow or on a freezing motorway for hours or even days.

I'll never play or want to hear "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas again", though...

May your Christmases be merry, my blog friends!


Monday, December 06, 2010

December Brides

Bride Of The Wind
Bride of The Wind, Oskar Kokoschka, 1913/14

Seasonal Bridal Bouquet
Bridal Bouquet

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

-- Mary Oliver --

My apologies for not answering comments lately. I'm afraid I'm not as faithful a blogger as I wish I were. Time slips through my fickle, mundane fingers much faster than I wish it would.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What lies ahead

I’m still out of my depth with the meanderings of the English school system. It’s so different from what I experienced in America and in Portugal (and my husband at German school), where everything seemed to go according to clearly set out paths...

I seem to have mastered primary school level idiosyncrasies just as Clara is about to move on to secondary school but I still have to achieve precise understand of how “Sixth Form” works to feel at ease with the whole preparation for university process. “Sixth Form” is the name the English give to the last two years of secondary school - Years 12 and 13 (which correspond to 11th and 12th grade in most other countries – they have to be different in everything!) and Ana will start it next year. The possibilities are so many – clearly designed to accommodate all sort of student profiles – that the whole business is a bit daunting and confusing. Furthermore, getting into a good degree at a good university is so difficult nowadays that headmasters recommend that pupils not only achieve top marks at the most relevant subjects for their degrees (in Ana’s case, Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry), but also get part-time employment, volunteer for charity work, enthusiastically participate in community councils, have interesting hobbies and practice sports to maximize their chances of being accepted into their first university choices.

With soaring higher education costs and unprecedented levels of graduate unemployment, the whole thing is a big source of anxiety in our household right now, even though Ana is still only 15!

Autumn trails

Monday, November 22, 2010


Being at the right place at the right time can make all the difference.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I have looked Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange -- my youth.

-- Sara Teasdale --

I do so love this poem, the concept rings so true...


I shall never be coldly wise, I shall never know the truth and I shall never part with my youth.

What's in a name?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Armistice Day - Lest We Forget

... and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

How ironic that the "peace treaty" that followed the "War to End All Wars" was a major factor in bringing about WWII and much of the misery that haunts us to this day? Wouldn't it have been wonderful if the world had learned something from the process and especially how the "victorious powers" should behave after a war?

Human memory is terribly short-sighted.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– Lt.-Col. John McCrae -

We won't let the "Lost Generation" be forgotten.
For all the right reasons.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

-- Sara Teasdale --

O Menino da Sua Mãe

No plaino abandonado
Que a morna brisa aquece,
De balas trespassado-
Duas, de lado a lado-,
Jaz morto, e arrefece.

Raia-lhe a farda o sangue.
De braços estendidos,
Alvo, louro, exangue,
Fita com olhar langue
E cego os céus perdidos.

Tão jovem! Que jovem era!
(agora que idade tem?)
Filho unico, a mãe lhe dera
Um nome e o mantivera:
«O menino de sua mãe.»

Caiu-lhe da algibeira
A cigarreira breve.
Dera-lhe a mãe. Está inteira
E boa a cigarreira.
Ele é que já não serve.

De outra algibeira, alada
Ponta a roçar o solo,
A brancura embainhada
De um lenço… deu-lho a criada
Velha que o trouxe ao colo.

Lá longe, em casa, há a prece:
“Que volte cedo, e bem!”
(Malhas que o Império tece!)
Jaz morto e apodrece
O menino da sua mãe

-- Fernando Pessoa --


Shenley Monument to the WWI Dead

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Argh!," she cries out it frustration!

Still so exasperatingly true! But now, women also go out to work. And if they wait for their dear "better half" to do anything around the house or help with the kids, they'd all be living in a pigsty and the kids would be bullies, junkies and flunking every subject at school. And you can't pay your way out of this.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

It's raining a lot

Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.
Perhaps the rain will make everything clearer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just a quick non-post

The kids are on their half-term break from school. No plans to travel anywhere. I'm remodelling Clara's room, have a lot on my mind and lots of work. I'm also in the thick of a very challenging personal project. Not much time to blog or leave meaningful comments on my favourite blogs (which I miss!) I vent my very little left-over energy in the kitchen, cooking with my girls. Yesterday was a TOTAL PIG-OUT DAY.

In the picture: Clara's scrumptious banana muffins and Ana's world's best chocolate brownies. Not in the picture: my spice and Port wine cake (it was still in the oven). Preps for Hubby's birthday party next week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I spy with my little eye

Still uncarved
Fruit of the season: pumpkins and Egremont Russet apples.
(Yes, the pumpkins are still uncarved.)

Campus OU

Seeing red can be good.

Slices of my Autumn quotidian.

I will be away for a few days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

St Mary's Church

As the bells of St Mary's pierce the heavy silence of this bleak morning, John Donne's words spring into my mind:

Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

St. Mary's church is a positive factor in my life, even though I don't attend it and am not religious in the traditional sense.


Mystical Church

Shenley Church End, Church of St. Mary

Last night it snowed a lot (6)

Last night it snowed a lot (10)

Shenley Church End - St. Mary's Church

The Church of St Mary, in Shenley Church End, dates from about 1150 and originally comprised of chancel, nave, north and south transepts and perhaps a central tower. About 1190 the chancel was rebuilt and the only parts of the original structure remaining are the transepts and the west wall of the nave, at this time the south aisle was added.

Much work took place on the structure in the 14th and 15th centuries. The large five-light window was added in 1490 which has been considerably repaired. At the west end is a pointed door of the 14th century and above is a large 15th century of five cinquefoiled lights under a four-centred head, all extensively repaired. In the north aisle is a large monument to Thomas Stafford of Tattenhoe (d1607).

The tower contains a ring of six bells; the treble is modern, while the second and third are by Newcome, 1615 and 1616 respectively, and the fourth and fifth by Bartholomew Atton, 1593 and 1610. The tenor, which bears the inscription 'Missi De Celis Abeo Nomen Amen Gabrelis,' was probably cast by Robert Burford in the early 15th century. There is also a small bell with no inscription, but probably of the 17th century.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ernesto Neto

Last night I became fascinated with the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. The photos of his installations and sculptures completely blew me away for their originality and for the bewildering mix of revulsion and empathy I felt on an almost visceral level as I browsed through his work. His art is abstract, but it's not only visual: it creates environments and brings "interactivity" to a new level. I read that people love going to see his exhibits because these somehow manage to fill observers with the warm fuzzies and creep them out at the same time. I can't wait to go to one and it's unfortunate that I just missed experiencing his work at the Hayward Gallery in London this summer, my daughters and I would have loved it, I'm sure.

Ernesto Neto has a peculiar approach to space and the body. Rio de Janeiro, his native city, epitomizes the conflict between nature and culture and this has shaped his art. His sculptures often deal with the tensions exerted by gravity on skin-thin materials and his installations often take up the entire exhibition space. He uses gossamer-thin, light, stretchable fabrics in nylon or cotton that resemble fine membranes and  fixes them to the ceiling by long, stretched threads so that his works hang down into the room, creating shapes that are almost organic. Sometimes they are filled with scented spices and hang in tear-shaped forms like gigantic mushrooms or huge soft, blobby, stretchy membrane-like things. He also creates peculiar soft sculptures which the visitor is allowed to feel through small openings in the surface or even wear. His spatial labyrinths further encourage the visitor to experience his work and interact with it. The experience must be very pleasant and unique.

His monumental 2006 installation Leviathan Thot at the Pantheon in Paris was supposed to "contrast the animality of a tulle-and-polystyrene creature suspended under the dome of the Pantheon, with the weight of History and the cultural layers of this landmark".  It looks absolutely mind blowing.

Leviathan Thot, 2006
Leviathan Thot, 2006
Leviathan Thot, 2006 
Other works

Breathing the Voyage, an interactive work incorporating camomile and lavender 
(photo by the Guardian), 2010
While nothing happens, 2008
While nothing happens, 2008
Circleproteitemple, 2010, photo by the Guardian
Horizonmembranenave, 2010, photo by the Guardian.
The edge of the world, 2010 - photo by the Guardian

Otheranimal, 2006

Ernesto Neto in his studio
Ernesto Neto in his studio

PS - None of the pictures in this post I mine; sorry if I don't credit all of them, they were obtained from a lot of different internet sites through Google Images. If I've used one of your photos and you'd like me to remove it, please drop me a line.

The portraits of Ernesto Neto are by Jacob Langvad Nilsson, and are copyrighted to him. Please take a look at his gorgeous site here: