An Irish connection

P1080696My beloved is one among an estimated 80 million people worldwide who have Irish ancestry. Such huge numbers result from the mass exodus of Irish folk in the mid 19th century. They left behind a country wracked with famine, starvation, poverty and distress and set out for places near and far, as far away as New Zealand even, to try and make new lives.

My DB hasn’t been immersed in tracking the Belton family geneology, but the urge to see the place from where his great-grandfather set sail for NZ in about 1865 was our reason for heading to the town of Wicklow in County Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland as our first priority. The day of our visit the sea was as blue as the sky, swells burst into pristine white foam onto the rocks below the stone ruins of an ancient castle near the mouth of the harbour and the hills behind are as emerald as legends tell. It’s a beautiful place and must have tugged at the heart strings of every Irishman and woman who left.

Like working our way through a song sheet of Irish ballads we visited Kilkenny, Killarney (it wasn’t Christmas), Bantry Bay, Galway and Dublin of course, stopping off along the way to see special sights recommended to us by locals. At Glendalough in County Wicklow we found the Belton name on a tombstone, possibly no relation, but proof that the name existed in those parts.

Everywhere we went the beauty of the landscape made an impression; from ancient ruins and tombstones decorated with celtic motifs now encrusted with lichen, to vast green slopes that fall steeply down to the sea. Some aspects of the natural landscape are strikingly similar to NZ’s and made me feel right at home. As we tootled through the countryside I saw so much in the colours and patterns that will inspire my knitting and remind me of this trip.

County Kerry’s Dingle peninsula could not have been more beautiful, we stopped and looked and took photos again and again until we reached the car ferry at Tarbert to hop over to County Clare (Darling Girl) and head for the mighty Cliffs of Moher. Gazing out on a perfect afternoon the Aran Islands were easily visible in the distance. And yes these islands give their name to Aran knitting motifs but the story that there are family patterns by which fishermen drowned at sea could be recognised is plain fiction! Aran sweaters, socks, hats, mittens, ponchos and throws fill the tourist shops, some are handknit and others clearly not – some not even made with wool. Sacrilege!

Keiry KerryNear Cork we stopped to kiss the famous Blarney Stone and, because no trip is devoid of some knitting or yarn related exploration, we made a special visit to Hedgehog Fibres. Here the rapidly growing team of yarn artists create their modern magic with dye pots and woolly fibre. On the invitation to fossick through the bins of available yarn, I didn’t hesitate. There are a few hanks of speckled yarn in my stash to remind me of our wonderful trip to the Emerald Isles and already a pair of socks on the needles – guess what colour?


Emerald knitting

Burgundy – good for your health.

debeurdinoireI am less stupid than I was. That’s right, I’ve poked my head into a hole in a stone altar and am now “relieved of all the different types of universal stupidity.” You may be wondering nevertheless, so I’ll explain.

The special purpose of our escape from the city was not actually to visit the 11th century church at Saint-Germain-en-Brionnais in the gentle Burgundy countryside for “treatment” in the débeurdinoir – the miraculous hole in the altar. No, that was an entertaining diversion and something to tuck away in the deep recesses of the mind ready to recall for trivia quizzes. (Débeurdinoir derives from the word beurdin which in local dialect means stupid/simple.)

Our purpose was to enjoy a visit with our French-New Zealand family and see the newly installed organ in the Charolles church. Our cousin Lois is the driving force behind the 13-year (plus) project which has culminated in the installation of this magnificent organ that will be officially inaugurated during a week-end of concerts on 2nd and 3rd of July.P1080449

We were treated to a sampling of music and a guided “tour” of the knobs and handles that control the organ sound – what skill mastery to get everything right and take account of the temperature of the church interior as well.P1080472

As with all our visits to Charolles there were happy memories made. We renewed acquaintance with Clicquot the pet crow, ate delicious slow-cooked jarret de boeuf (charolais beef of course and cooked at home), enjoyed Burgundy wine, tasty French cheeses (we agreed on the ONE cheese we would select to have on a desert island: aged Comté) and fine chocolates made by local artisan chocolatier Monsieur Dufoux whose chocolate shop we had visited in the afternoon.

Dark chocolate, red wine, good company and a débeurdinoir – definitely a weekend getaway with more health benefits than we ever imagined.

Pick Pockets and Louise Cake

P1080384What do pick-pockets and Louise cake have in common? Nothing. They are polar opposites; the pain and the pleasure of my week in Paris. A few days ago on the way home from my late afternoon knitting group session my wallet was stolen out of my handbag as I walked along the busy corridor of the Havre Caumartin metro interchange. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of orange, the colour of my wallet, and guessed what had just happened. A quick rummage in my bag confirmed NO WALLET. I retraced my route, determination in every step. Determined to do what, I don’t know. I knew I wasn’t planning to tackle the culprit and wrestle my wallet off him/her. Ahead of me two young guys were looking intently into something as they walked. At the cross-road in the corridor they stopped and looked back. And there I was, right in front of them, still not sure what I was going to say or do. One fellow was trying to hide my wallet in his man-bag, it didn’t fit. Ha! I didn’t need to say or do anything – he handed it back to me, sneering words as he did. All I heard, and understood, was “little” and “value.”  

So, my wallet stuffed full of the necessities for my life in Paris was of little value to these odious little pick pockets. They took the bundle of metro tickets I had just bought, but left the 5 euro note and few coins. They weren’t interested in my bank cards, Velib bike hire card, my French residency permit, healthcare card, my yarn purchase loyalty cards from L’ Oisivethé in Paris and Loop in London, my hairdresser appointment card, NZ driver’s license, a fistful of dog-eared business cards and the label from a ball of handspun angora.  

They didn’t find value in the coffee loyalty card of Matamata café in rue d’ Argout, and that is where they made a huge mistake. Had they known that is where you get the best Louise Cake in Paris – perhaps the only Louise Cake in Paris – they would have made off with that too. So this week I will be celebrating my luck with a trip to Matamata for a flat white and, if it’s still on the menu, some good old-fashioned, just like my Mum makes, Louise Cake served with Matamata’s charming blend of kiwi-French hospitality. I shall remind myself to follow my own advice about keeping valuables tucked away securely and I will continue to enjoy being out and about in Paris because one rotten apple will never spoil this beautiful city.  

For a treat, here’s a recipe for Louise Cake.








We’re celebrating! Stitching up Paris is in print.

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Originally posted on Stitching up Paris:
We are thrilled to announce the launch of our book Stitching up Paris: The Insider’s Guide to Parisian Knitting, Sewing, Notions and Needlecraft Stores. In late 2014 we began this exciting project to write about the many fabulous stitching and needlecraft stores that we love in Paris. We set…

New knitters, new skills, new friends.

A couple of months ago one of my DB’s work colleagues contacted me to ask if I would consider teaching her to knit. It was an easy decision, of course I said yes. We had already met a few times at work functions so I knew we had plenty in common as fellow antipodeans and the idea of being able to pass on the knitting spirit along with some skills to young knitters delighted me. In a flurry of emails we finalised arrangements and by the time we met for our first lunchtime get-together our party of knitters had already grown to four. The following week another new recruit, then another and another, and now we are regularly 6 or 7: a New Zealander, an Australian (of Italian descent), 3 (or more) French and 2 Venezuelans. Knitting is a globally transmissible addiction!

It’s been quite illuminating for me to think about how I knit and explain that. At our second meeting I proposed that I would try and explain as much as I could in French and the knitting pupils, all fabulously multi-lingual, enthusiastically assisted with the language; a fair exchange, a win-win and a lot of fun. Some had no knitting experience, even holding the knitting needles felt uncomfortable at first, others had tried before, two are left-handed – oooh challenging for right-handed me – and now they are all knitters.

The transition from careful d-e-l-i-b-e-r-a-t-e movements w-r-a-p-p-i-n-g the yarn r-o-u-n-d behind the needle, p-u-l-l-i-n-g the stitch t-h-r-o-u-g-h the loop and o-f-f the needle to the rhythmic click clack of needles in nimble hands is a lovely reward for all of us. These debutantes have mastered cast on and off, knit and purl and conversations are peppered with discussions of point mousse (garter stitch), point jersey (stocking stitch), point de riz and point de blé (seed or moss stitch and double moss) , dimunitions and augmentations (increases and decreases).

PicMonkey Collage2 OIE

New skills are added week by week, the first projects have been finished and new, more challenging WIPs are on the needles. I am so proud of them.

I’ve reflected on my knitting year with a sense of satisfaction that in addition to the knitting projects completed and the new skills gained through those, I’ve been able to pass on the baton – or should I say the needles – to a new group of knitters to enjoy knitting as a social activity, a means for mental stretching and an effective antidote for stress in busy lives. Here are some of my knitting projects from 2015 that haven’t already made it into a blog post.

 PicMonkey Collage may projects


Two straight steps forward

20151206_120206Foot surgery is probably not most people’s idea of excitement. It’s not really mine either but I am a bit excited because I’ve now had the unsightly and painful bunions corrected on both feet and my toes are straight. It’s a good feeling to end 2015 with this behind me.

I had surgery on my right foot in September and then on the left foot on 25 November. After one week I was able to get out and (slowly) about to enjoy the sights of Paris again. My first expedition after the November surgery was to the newly re-opened Musée Rodin to take advantage of the free entry for the first Sunday of the month. Even then in the grasp of winter there were several brave roses blooming in the garden. The museum has been completely renovated over the last 3 years, the new look is subtle and becoming for display of Rodin’s works. His famed work, the Walking Man, struck a chord with me on this visit; strong straight feet and powerful legs – something to be thankful for. Everything in this museum is intense, full of emotion: passion, anguish, despair and thought flow from the huge marble and bronze figures. Such a treat.

At home or out and about I am restricted to wearing special shoes designed for therapeutic use after front-of-foot surgery. Not surprisingly these beauties won’t be seen on a Paris catwalk but they are magic.

Endowed with an inherited tendency my big toes have been gradually tipping sideways for a long time. I had reached the point where I had only one old pair of trainers and a pair of ugly sandals that I could wear all day without feeling significant pain. No matter what shoes I bought, (and there were a few) high quality, orthotic friendly, low heeled, wide toe, the result was the same: intense pain after an hour of having them on my feet. Enough is enough, I enjoy walking, I walk a lot wherever I am and I want to keep walking. I decided on bunion surgery now while I am fit to recover easily.

I had both operations done at the Institute Hospitalier Franco-Britannique under local, epidural anaesthesia and came home the same day. The entire team of people caring for me were simply Top! Preparing me for theatre the anaesthesia and nursing staff were totally professional, kind and friendly. We chatted, en français, about rugby, la coupe-de-monde and la belle équipe neo zélandais. This was one of the more weird French language experiences I’ve had. Talking to people wearing masks really focussed my listening skills and to be helpful my nurse insisted to her colleagues: articulez! The journey has been straightforward from start to finish. I’m so very grateful to my surgeon for his excellent care and skill, and perfect English.

Straight toes for the New Year? That’s definitely exciting, and in 3 weeks I will graduate to trainers then after another month’s time I ought to be able to wear regular shoes just in time for spring in Paris.  Meanwhile Happy New Year to you all.

Here’s the proof: top = before, centre = right side done and below = both feet done. At the moment my left foot is still a little swollen (and cold when I took this photo) but improvement is coming along visibly.





P1080057In the last couple of weeks I’ve reflected a lot on what it means to belong. I’ve talked with friends about what it means to them to belong in a place, to a community; how do you know you do, when does it happen?

We’ve shifted several times in our lives; in the days before children, then with our young family a couple of times and now overseas again for this second big OE. I’ve known the feeling of being new, anonymous, alone, not part of a place, and then the lovely realisation that you belong. In my experience there has been some thing – a comment, an event, a moment of revelation – that suddenly makes you think, “oh yes I belong here, I’m part of this,” but the transition itself is gradual. In the introduction to his cookbook The Sweet Life in Paris, American chef David Lebovitz amusingly recounts the moment he knew he had become Parisian when he found himself changing into “good” clothes to take the rubbish bags out. I laughed in recognition reading the story, knowing I might add a dash of lipstick too.

Almost three weeks ago The Thing happened that made me realise how much I belong in Paris. I don’t mean I belong here and nowhere else, or that I’ve stopped being a New Zealander. No, I’m still me, but I am here in Paris, I’ve adopted aspects of la vie parisienne and I belong to a community, a circle of friends of French and expatriot Parisians whose lives are happily connected with mine.

Never before (and I hope never ever again), will it be a tragedy like the terrorist attacks in Paris that trigger my realisation that I belong. Immediately I knew of the attack my fears were for our friends who live, work and socialise in the area where the terrorists struck. It is an area we know well, the weekend before we had met a friend for lunch at a café just a stone’s throw from where 11 people were gunned down at La Belle Equipe on rue Charonne. Two young American knitters I had met at knit night only a week or so before had me worried, one I knew worked and lived in that same neighbourhood. As social media updates and messages appeared we established that all our friends and their families were safe. Thankfully my two new knitting acquaintances turned up to knit night the following week, safe and sound, wondering like all of us how could this happen in beloved Paris.

As our family and friends rang, messaged, emailed and texted to check on us in the aftermath of the attacks we knew we belonged not only in our immediate Paris community but to a caring circle of loved ones with arms that stretch around the world. Thank you all.

Belonging in a community of love, respect and goodwill is a notion to be cherished. We must make it happen, safeguard it and nourish it. I figure it’s the best protection we have.