Summer season of friends.

Visiting favourite haunts

Visiting favourite haunts

It’s summer at last; a long spell of hot days with glorious sunshine in a piercing blue sky followed by long balmy evenings, and daily routines – especially blogging ones – thrown completely out of order.  I love it for all sorts of reasons; tennis (watching), gardens, Tour de France (watching), national holidays, World Cup football (watching), beaches and best of all, friends.  We’ve had a number of friends visit Paris in the last month, although I have to say it wasn’t always hot and sunny when the first visitors were here, but the last couple of weeks have been sublime.  Out on excursions I’ve found places I haven’t seen before even though I’ve walked the particular route many times before.  That is the beauty of leisure time, a casual pace and time to explore off the beaten path in the company of lovely people.  I really appreciate that our friends take time to get in touch and catch up with us when they are here.  It’s very special so thank you Di, Anne, Liz, Mike and Ingrid.


We’ve had a short excursion to England to visit long-time friends from New Zealand who live most of the year in Cheltenham, and some of the year in Auckland.  We spent a couple of wonderful days with them exploring the Cotswolds countryside and the beautiful regency town of Cheltenham.  Angie and David kindly took us to visit Hidcote Manor Garden, a place I have wanted to see ever since my “passionate gardening phase.”  I feel inspired all over again.  Gazing out across the rural vistas from the edge of the garden I could see exactly the sort of scene I had imagined years ago reading Thomas Hardy’s novels at school, even knowing I was in the wrong county.  We were perfectly far from the madding crowd.


We finished off the three days in Cheltenham with a weekend in London to see our son Sam and his girlfriend Anna who are settling into the thrill of London life, and excited to be living the Big OE dream.  (We are still excited to be living our OPOE* dream!)  Sam and Anna indulged me by posing for a photo shoot in their winter hand-knitted jersies despite London putting on the hottest temperatures for the summer so far.


Ready for winter

Ready for winter.  Anna’s jersey is from Debbie Bliss Fall/Winter 2011 magazine.  Sam’s jersey my own modification of two patterns.

The out-of-routine routine continues for a couple of weeks and then we will really be on holiday.  I won’t spoil the surprise yet and tell you exactly where we are headed, but you know I do like to be beside the sea.

OPOE – have you figured it out? Old Person’s Overseas Experience

War stories

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

Joe Sacco mural at Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station

There is a moving history lesson on display for commuters rolling along the travelator in the Montparnasse-Bienvenue Metro station at the moment – until 31 August.  The folding “comic strip” artwork created by Joe Sacco depicting the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, has been blown up into a 132- metre long wall-sized poster story.

It’s impressive; it would be enough to stop you in your tracks if the moving carpet would allow.  I went back to the start, this time walking on the solid tiled floor to take my time looking and reading.  In the poster version the scenes are captioned in French below the pictures, with German and English translations above.  The drawings are so cleverly detailed; it’s the minutiae of each scene that brings out the tragic horror of the battle; thousands of soldier figures waiting, sleeping standing up, walking, marching, falling, wounded, dead.  Stark facts reinforce the enormity; thirty thousand troops lost in the first hour of the battle, knocked down like skittles.  Handsome, young human skittles.

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Catastrophic losses sustained in the first hour of battle

Well worth a visit, or detour through Montparnasse metro station to see the mural.

Speaking of falling like skittles; the Tour de France has been rolling through the countryside in which the World War One battles took place.  You might have seen television coverage of the fields and fields of white crosses, or of fields of blue flowers, the blue cornflowers, called Bleuet de France.  The cornflowers grew in the battle riddled fields as did the red poppies, and like New Zealand and Australia (and other Commonwealth countries) have adopted the poppy as the symbol of remembrance for those who served their country in war, the Bleuet is the symbol adopted by France.  The French soldiers were also called the Bleuets because of the pale blue colour of their (new) uniforms.  Germany adopted the Forget-me-not flower (Vergissmeinnicht) as its symbol of remembrance.


Knitting military uniforms

Uniform for British soldier

Uniform for British soldier

Barbara and I have been knitting military uniforms.  Small ones; very small in fact.  We are just two of the team knitting doll-sized beige 4-pocket jackets, trousers and brimmed hats for the British Team (L’équipe Britannique).  All together there is an army of knitters making uniforms for tiny woollen soldiers of all the countries involved in World War One.  The project, commissioned  as part of the  World War One commemoration programme, is called WoolWarOne and is under the command of talented knitting artist, Anna who created the blog Délit Maille.

Délit Maille is more or less pronounced Daily Mail and is a play on those words:

délit means an offence

maille is the word for a knitting stitch

Délit Maille chronicles the daily news with knitted caricatures of personalities in the news.  Anna’s first creations for Délit Maille were knitted versions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and a hotel maid.  She followed up with a woolly Berlusconi doll complete with party girls, then a small sized Sarkozy doll.  Just before kick-off at the World Cup she posted pictures of Didier Deschamps and Franck Ribéry dolls.  You get the idea?

Quirky, bordering on kitsch even, these knitted characters are rather clever.  The Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent called La Piscine de Roubaix, near Lille, asked Anna to create an army of knitted dolls as part of the commemorations of World War One.  The exposition WoolWarOne will be on show at La Piscine de Roubaix from December 2014 to April 2015.

Meanwhile Anna is organising knitters worldwide to produce tiny knitted backpacks, helmets, belts, braces, jackets and all the uniform details to dress, as authentically as possible, the miniature battalions of French, Belgian, German and Russian, American, Scottish, British and Commonwealth soldiers.  Still coming are Greek, Turkish and Indian soldier dolls.  As well as despatches on her blog, there are Facebook and Ravelry groups for communication and at intervals she holds workshops where a troop of knitters get together to knit, sew and dress the dolls ready for their places in the exhibition scene.  It’s quite fun, there is a lot of camaraderie and the project has created sufficient media interest for France TV3 to air a story on their national news bulletin.

Back in the trenches in Montreuil, Barbara and I commandeered one of our regular Tuesday afternoon get togethers for an ANZAC knitting blitz, complete with ANZAC biscuits as per the NZ Edmonds cookbook recipe.  These were truly Allied ANZACs since I used French butter, French brand flour and sugar and Marks & Spencer’s English brand rolled oats, coconut and Golden Syrup.

We are planning an expedition to Roubaix in a few months to see the exhibition.  We’re keen to see the final designs included on the British Team soldiers to designate the ANZACs.  A full de-brief of our mission will be reported of course.

Revisiting Clichy Batignolles Martin Luther King park

A year ago I posted a story about Martin Luther King park and the residential building projects going on around the park.  At that time a green living wall was being attached to the side of one of the new buildings.  Well look at it now…..a lush, healthy vertical garden.


Vertical green garden

Vertical green garden

There is great progress on this park project.  It’s exciting to see each stage come to fruition and the works in progress advance visibly week by week.  We now have a beautiful wetland space with waterlillies, reeds and several other water plants.  The aquatic residents – and their offspring – have moved in and look very content.  This morning while I was exercising and the ducks were still sleeping there were workmen preparing the muddy edges for the next extension of planting.  Beyond this wetland area in the middle of the park, the north park is now open with a grand adventure playground, petanque pitches, various green spaces and the re-located basketball, football and tennis grounds.  The original spaces for these in the south park have been subsumed into the work on the extension of the Line 14 metro.  In total the park now provides 6.5 hectares of space, which will ultimately become 10 ha on completion of the project.

The Clichy-Batignolles area is one big urban development scheme comprising the park project, transport improvements (Metro, train and tramway), development of additional housing (3,400 households for an expected 6,500 inhabitants) complete with social services such as crèches, schools and aged-care, commercial services, car parking and recycling, plus the development and installation of the Cite Judiciaire (aka Palais de Justice de Paris comprising the High Court, magistrates courts and police ministry).

It’s ambitious, complex, costly and necessary.  Above all it’s enjoyed already.  It’s the little things that deliver so much.  In the grand scheme of this project the water spout space is probably a small thing.  But at 4 o’clock every afternoon when the water pumps rumble under the concrete slabs and the first jets of water spurt sky high the enjoyment value is measured in the squeals and laughter of the kids dancing in the water jets.  In the heat of summer in the concrete heart of a big city it’s magic.


The completion of the project is planned for 2017-18 with delivery of the Palais de Justice and the Metro line 14 extension.  It will be the culmination of years of planning (from 2001 onwards, which included plans for development of the site as the potential space for hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, but London won the bid), preparation with acquisition of the land (it was railway land) and creation of the Zone d’ Amenagement Concerte (ZACs) needed for public works programmes, and hours, days and years of hard work on site.

I cannot say enough good things about this park; as a nearby resident – albeit a temporary one – it adds considerably to the quality of my Parisian life.  I certainly want to come back and see the finished project.


Tripping around in Toulouse

Toulouse seen from beneath Pont Neuf - the "new bridge" built in 1543

Toulouse seen from beneath Pont Neuf – the “new bridge” built in 1543

We spent the last long weekend (Pentecost holiday) in Toulouse down in the south of France.  By coincidence I had been reading that Corey Flynn, (hooker for the Canterbury Crusaders and All Black rugby teams) is moving to Toulouse to play rugby there next season.  I think he will feel right at home.  When I arrived it was hot and sunny (and stayed that way all weekend) and the strong warm wind blowing made me think straightaway of a Canterbury nor’ wester.  The city had a decidedly relaxed, Antipodean vibe about it; plenty of blokes wearing shorts and T-shirts with sandals or jandals (aka flip-flops or thongs, pronounced “tongs” in French) so my dearly beloved was not the odd-man-out in his curry coloured shorts as he often is in Paris.

Even the colours of the Stade Toulousain rugby team are red and black – just like mighty Canterbury.

Toulouse is, and has been in past times a wealthy provincial city and it seemed to me to be noticeably modern whilst still having the appearance of a traditional French city.  It’s the 4th largest city in France and is the centre of the European aerospace industry.  Airbus have their HQ here and build many of their planes here (some are made in Germany too).  The largest cancer research centre in Europe is located here and a number of universities.

Historically Toulouse had earned its wealth through the Pastel trade.  Pastel is the French word for woad; the plant source of blue dye.  In the 15th century pastel had its hey day but by the mid 16th century, with the availability of large supplies of indigo from India, the pastel market had collapsed despite the protectionist efforts of European merchants and law makers who forbade the use of the nasty, wicked Indian dye!  The impact of the woad wealth is still obvious in the architecture in Toulouse.  The well to do citizens built beautiful brick mansions with typical fancy wrought iron decoration in woad blue, and city buildings and structures like the Pont Neuf were also made using the pinky-red brick.  The brick is still there, the blue decorative work is probably not original woad pigmented paint but you get the right impression.


Pastel is making a comeback now; the leaves are harvested, mascerated and treated to extract the natural dye, and oil for use in skincare products is extracted from the seeds of the plant.  I visited a very pretty boutique in the town selling the skincare products and another with pastel skincare, fabric and art material products.

Toulouse is also famous for the Canal du Midi. This canal, started in 1666 and finished in 1681 was constructed for the benefit of trade to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea by linking the different waterways; the Gironde Estuary (near Bordeaux on the Atlantic), the Garonne river and the Canal du Midi which then flows into the Etang du Thau on the Mediterranean.  (Later the Garonne Lateral Canal was added to improve the link between the Garonne river and Canal du Midi).

We took a short boat trip on the Canal du Midi, gliding just out past the Intespace and Airbus plants, with a highlight on this section being that we got to travel over the canal-motorway bridge.  Yes, we were on the boat, travelling the canal that went over the motorway; cars whizzing by underneath us and all that water.  Weird.


As well as all that modern and historical innovation on show we visited interesting and important historical and religious monuments; Les Jacobins, where the remains of St Thomas Aquinas are held, the Basilica of Saint Sernin, and the Hotel de Ville in the Capitol Square.  We were lucky enough to go to a free Concert de Pentecote (a programme of organ music played by Michel Bouvard) in the Basilique Saint Sernin.  After a day out exploring in the 30-degree sunshine, sitting in the beautiful cool Basilica listening to expertly played music fill the air was pure pleasure.  St Sernin is the largest Romanesque (11th century) church in Europe and is a stopping point on the christian pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.

Of course with all that tourist activity we had to make time for rest, recuperation and refuelling.  There are several pleasant open air spaces in the central city clustered with bar-cafes and restaurants but the perfect spot in my view: Place Saint Georges.  The central square, which incidentally used to be a place where public executions took place (egad!), is surrounded by cafes that buzz with activity all day and through the evening, then unfurl slowly like a new leaves next morning when the square is quiet.  Over the course of the weekend we enjoyed tapas and drinks while watching the tango dancing display in the square one evening, we ate the famous Toulousain sausages, savoury crepes for lunch and traditional French breakfast of flakey croissants and fresh orange jus.


Not a bad weekend eh!

Finished works and new yarn for new projects

Painted in WaterlogueIts time for a quick round up of knitting and crochet projects and to tell you about another yarn store that is well worth a visit.

I finished the Rose Garden crochet blanket in early spring with the idea I would take photos of it in a rose garden since that was my original inspiration.  We haven’t got to any rose gardens yet – partly due to weather woes and partly just busy-ness.  Never mind, the photos are here, including my attempt at art using the Waterlogue App; cheating but fun.  I love the blanket; as well as the finished look of the garden colours I enjoyed the crochet process and joining the granny squares as you go is just the best; no sewing up to finish is bliss.



Rose Garden blanket

The fox socks are done, and now I want a pair of my own.

Fox socks

Fox socks

My latest sock project on the SockwithSarah KAL was a challenge; a deliberate challenge.  Sarah offered a lucky prize draw for participants who tried something new.  I entered with my mission to try knitting Toe-up socks for the first time, using a pattern called “Straight Up Socks” by Kelie Oreb, which involved a tricky manoeuvre called Judy’s Magic Cast On; and look – it worked.

Not only did the instructions work, but I won a skein of yarn in the prize draw!  The yarn I chose from Miss Elle Knits has just arrived and it is even more gorgeous than I had expected; a striped hand dyed skein that’s a lively radiant blue with black/dark charcoal.  More stunning socks coming.

My yarn prize - from Miss Elle Knits

My yarn prize – from Miss Elle Knits

Right now though, my “main project” is a jersey for my son to be ready for his first Northern hemisphere winter.  He’s requested a snow-scene; trendy and hipster these days.  This is on the needles:

Snowflakes, reindeer & pine tree.

Snowflakes, reindeer & pine tree.

The yarn comes from Café Tricot Studio, 2 rue August Barbier in the 11th arrondissement.  I first went to this boutique with my friend Barbara when we were stepping out a new route for one of her StitchingupParis tours.  I had remembered seeing quite a range of good quality merino yarn in solid colours so when I was looking for a deep forest green for Sam’s jersey I checked out their on line store and found a few suitable options.  Dark green is not easy to come by, so a good start.

I visited for the confirm/deny mission and happily it was soon mission accomplished; the yarn colour was just right.  The yarns are mostly Italian brands; 100% merino in solid colours in a range of yarn weights that are lovely for knitting garments.  They also stock natural colour yarns, tweedy ones, mohair and gorgeous quality cotton yarns in every hue and offer classes and individual help.  The people there are charming; (I’ve met Veronique and Elisabeth), this store matches the experience I wrote about in my last post on politeness in Paris.  Definitely lovely to visit and to shop there.

Now it’s on with the knitting, and some more writing.  I’ve got another away-from-Paris weekend to tell you about.  A bientot.





Politeness in Paris

Great service at this souvenir shop in Montmartre

Great service at this souvenir shop in Montmartre

Parisians get a bad rap for being rude; and yet politeness rules.  When you enter a shop you will always be greeted with Bonjour Madame/Monsieur, and farewelled with Au Revoir, Bonne Journée.  Even at the doctor’s or dentist’s surgery new patients arriving to the waiting room will greet the other patients already there with generic Bonjour Messieurs-Dames.  The key is that it goes both ways.  When I need help in a shop, or at a reception desk, starting with Bonjour Madame/Monsieur goes a long way to guarantee I’ll get the help I need and I coach my visitors to do the same.

When Mum and Evan were holidaying here recently they were impressed with how polite people were.  The counter staff at the local bakery, the fruit and vege shop, the butchers, and the cheesemonger were all so polite and friendly it was a treat for Mum and Evan to come along on our regular food shopping expeditions.

Perhaps surprising was the number of people who stood and gave up their seat on the Metro for us.  We didn’t ask, or even hint that they might, it was just spontaneous and happened regularly.  Another occasion on the bus a woman gestured to me that she would change seats with me so that I could sit across the aisle from my visitors.  Spontaneous genuine courtesy; what a treat.

Others went out of their way to provide helpful advice and information.  I had located a cluster of string-instrument shops on rue de Rome for Evan to visit as he is an amateur violin maker and was keen to locate some special supplies for his craft.  A craftswoman at one shop suggested we visit a specialist supplier of cabinet making materials that she recommended.  With Google maps in support we tracked down Laverdure on rue Traversière in the 12th arrondissement not far from the Bastille.  This shop was indeed a treasure trove of Spécialités pour Ébénistes (cabinetmakers) with delicate paint brushes, coloured varnishes, paint, metallic finishes, and all sorts of interesting stuff – even edible gold and silver crumbs for decorating cakes and desserts.  But what really impressed was how kind and helpful the in-shop experts were.  Nothing was too much trouble.  While Evan decided what he wanted and small quantities of powdered varnish colours were weighed out to take home, I admired the unusual window display.  Dusty jars of chemicals, gums and powdered paint with intriguing names that looked like the remains of an ancient chemistry set.  Inside the collection of magnificent books on furniture art were almost enough to tempt me into taking up a new hobby.  We left delighted with the whole experience.

Thank you Parisians, your true colours shone.  Like many who visit Paris, my visitors had arrived with a sense of wariness about the reputation of the Parisians.  They left with an impression of having spent two enjoyable weeks amongst people who were courteous, friendly and helpful.  La politesse…’s an art – and practice makes perfect.