Tuesday 8 May 2012

The springtime of the heart

Spring has finally arrived and the denizens of Montpellier are cautiously sauntering forth in long sleeved t-shirts and three quarter length trousers. It has not been an excessive winter, but neither has it been a decisive spring. By April the beach should have been offering a much needed respite from the ongoing political debates, but nothing doing this year. I am told that British people can be seen in the sea from March onwards, but am prevented from trying this by the derisive tone in which this observation is commonly offered. So I will play it safe until I receive some reliable reports that people of good judgement are getting their feet wet.

Now, there are many signs that spring has arrived and one of them is that these peonies are available. They only flower here for two weeks out of the whole year, so everyone makes the most of them while they can. They are strongly perfumed, short lived and very fragile; they start life a deep peachy apricot colour but each day after they're cut the shade becomes lighter and lighter, and the texture of the petals more papery until they are almost white.

Apple tart is always in season, thank God, so it is not one of the signs of spring, but I put it in to make you all jealous. This is my absolutely favourite ever dessert and as well as being deliciously light it is also made without sugar, so there is never any guilt involved.

This is a 'tarte fraises cassis pommes' and it does involve some guilt. I have to say that it was not me that made it; that is Sara's hand adjusting the final strawberry. We have completely different tartes every day, according to what the chef of the day feels like and what happens to be in season. For instance, last autumn and winter we served up a lot of creme de marron, hazelnuts, pumpkin, chocolate and so on; comfort food. So now everything gets a bit lighter and more fruit-oriented.

This is a 'tarte framboise banane', just out of the oven. Again, not made by me, it was Mukunja, but I couldn't resist recording the stylish purple streakiness of the raspberries against the creamily fragrant background of banana and vanilla. Sigh.

Other signs of spring can be found on the mural, whose landscape is coming alive with a riot of blossom; the colour rolling over the hills as though painted in by an unseen hand...

The indefinite and murky green hills are forming separate trees, distinct from one another, and little bushes of perfumed flowers are clustering about them. Or something.

Although my original plans for a chaotic Indian jungle have been somewhat tempered by the tastes of my client, I think the result is better overall. It is a lot softer now than I originally thought it would be, but it is much, much more harmonious, so I'm happy I made the changes. Nobody said to me, 'Oh, you have to change this bit' but when it is in such a public place you get an idea of people like or dislike; especially with French people, I might add. There are no tortured silences while someone tries and fails to tell you that something is not pleasing to them; everyone I have met here just tells it the way it is, or the way it is with them, anyway. So it's easy to get feedback!

I'm really enjoying all the little details, like leaves and flowers; I have been jumping backwards and forwards from one thing to the other, working on all areas of the mural at the same time, as the mood takes me. I could have gridded it off and worked laboriously from one square to the next, but that doesn't work for me. I remember once when we had a very, very long song to learn in Bengali, our Guru gave us some advice on the way to learn it. Instead of starting at the beginning and working our way through to the end (between ten and fifteen minutes in all) we should listen to it, choose a bit that inspired us and learn that. Then find the next piece that inspired us and learn that. And so on and so on. We found that it really works with a long creative act, supplanting rebellion with the feeling that you are making a choice about what you do. Actually I have no idea why it works, but I use it for nearly everything now, even tax returns!

On Saturday I went for a little stroll around Montpellier in the break between one restaurant shift and another, to see what I could see. This is the street that the restaurant lives in; just on the left, the second shop sign from the front.

A natural health centre/beauty salon, which I am curious to try but looks a little bit secret, somehow.

At last we are seeing the famous mediterranean blue sky that has been hidden so much in the last months. I love looking up through the streets and seeing the contrast of the stone against it's clarity.

One of my favourite shops, 'Etat d'ame', which seems to mean something like 'conscience' or 'state of the soul' or even 'mood.' Everything here is in exactly the right place; very expensive ornaments are sitting next to cheap, gimmicky items in such a way that you know the only thing that's holding it all together is the strong personality behind the design. When you get such a fortuitous display of items together, such an unlikely harmony, it speaks it's own kind of language, doesn't it? It makes it's own world seem logical because of it's continuity. I remember when I was working in a gift shop in Milano called Paradiso delle Sorprese I was confronted by this phenomenon. I thought that as an artist I would be pretty good at arranging shop shelves, placing gifts next to each other, doing window displays. But it turned out that it required a completely different set of skills to what I had imagined. I was far too perfectionistic and was used to controlling and designing relatively small areas, whereas the shop was big. Also I was plagued with multiple ideas every time I saw a new item to include in the overall scheme until I was struck motionless by all the possibilities. I was fiddling around with a window display when one of the workers came over to show me how it was done. In about ten minutes he had filled three shop windows with the new furniture we had to display, dotted similarly coloured articles around them and then scattered lots of the imitation roses we had just unpacked onto the top of it all. It worked because it was completely bold and confident, with a final dusting of beauty; a masterpiece, in fact, and a quick one at that. Then he just went back to what he was doing, unpacking cardboard boxes; a natural artist, unconscious that he had done anything out of the ordinary. I always remembered the incident because it reminded me of that quote attributed to Goethe:

"Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

I was curious about this quote and discovered that it actually comes from a very free translation of Goethe's play, 'Faust', by John Anster, which seems much more poetic and imaginative than other translations. The longer part of the quote usually attributed to Goethe is also by someone else entirely, a W.H. Murray in 'The Scottish Himalaya Expedition 1951,' who used Anster's translation in his memoirs:

"But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money; booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' "

So that was what was shown to me by means of a window display; fortune, and art, favours the brave.  I kind of knew it in theory anyway, but to see it in action like that was illumining. There are many different qualities that go to make an excellent artist; some people are born with everything they need to fully manifest their ideas, some have half the gifts and never manifest them; some, like me, are born with half of what they need and are in constant search of the rest, having to dive deep within, confronting inherited blocks, psychological traumas and the complicated nature of one's being in order to deliver the goods. Who knows why some people have everything they need and not others? Is it genetic? Is it a happy coincidence? Is it karma from a previous life? Does grace descend from above if an aspiring artist wants it enough? Is it the gift of determination that is the deciding factor, that is enough to gain everything else that you need? I don't have answers to any of these questions. The older I get, the less I know. But, I do know that those blessed with boldness will be successful in living their lives to the full, and that those blessed with wisdom as well as boldness can do truly remarkable things.

Continuing my afternoon walk around town; more perfectly executed architecture.

A definite indication that spring is here; Le Jardin des Glaces is open once more! Oh wondrous icecream Mecca supreme, oh tasty and not too outrageously priced delights; I abase myself in worshipful awe beneath the white umbrellas of your outdoor seating, and breathlessly await the arrival of your frosty splendour...

Mmmmm. What more can you say, really?

Well, okay, it all looks a bit unhealthy, but you can also choose simple scoops from a large selection of flavours. When my friends were trying to eat eighty flavours of icecream in celebration of what would have been Sri Chinmoy's eightieth birthday we had an outing to Le Jardin des Glaces and much progress was made toward that worthy goal.

One of the views one can enjoy while scoffing another icecream; this is right in the centre of town, just around the corner from the restaurant.

I should spend more time walking around; so many treats for the eyes.

Endless outdoor seating; the streets are lined with tables, chairs and potted trees.

In front of another unique shop, these little musical boxes offer a strange variety of tunes. 'The Marselleise,' 'Michelle,' 'Carmen: Amour de boheme,' 'Star Wars,' 'Happy Birthday,' 'The Wedding March,' 'The Magic Flute,' 'Yellow Submarine,' etc.

There is always someone playing them and laughing, usually a group of adults.

This is the shop with the musical boxes out front; 'Pomme de reinette.' The name comes from a French children's song about two different kinds of apple; they are both old varieties and seem to be a bit like a cox, a russet or a pippin, depending where you look for your translation. Anyway, this is a toy shop of the most original kind, full of jokes, puppets, masks, games, models and every possible thing you can imagine. 'Pomme d'api' is the part of the business devoted to very young children, just round the corner in another shop, and 'Pomme de reinette' is for the rest of us. The shop twists and turns inside and takes up a whole block, which is about five or six shops in this old part of the city. It is absolutely recommended viewing for anyone visiting Montpellier.

The window displays are animated and constantly change, so I think the shop owner must really enjoy their job. The Christmas display was extremely original and always had a crowd of people watching it.

Strange views of another Pomme de reinette window.

This little carousel goes round and round all day, just like the one in the centre of town; I would buy it if I could think of any excuse at all. That's why people have children, so they can buy all the stuff they want, like a Scalextric track or a complete set of Lego Roman Legionaries.

Inside everything is crammed together in bewilderingly excessive quantities. Christmas-stocking-filler-shoppers; behold the answer to your prayers!

Unbelievable little dolls-house things; buckets and watering cans, milk churns, baskets, clogs and tankards, an old style washing board and even what looks like jam making pans.

Sacks of goods and miniature spades, shovels, hoes and straw hats.

Look at the little champagne bottles and garlic! Before I moved to France, one of my friends who was living in Montpellier at the time, Bhashini, sent me a little dolls house gateau for my birthday, complete with cake slice, from this shop, and it is a treasured possession of mine.

More balconies. If you don't like balconies you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.

Horrendously expensive but stylish furniture shop containing items I seriously considered using next month's salary for and defaulting on my rent.

Such as the long wooden table, the large metal lamp and the cushions. Of course, the articles are arranged beautifully, which makes it all much more enticing, but even armed with that knowledge one is not really exempt from the visual manipulation. And nor do I want to be, actually. I don't want to go through my whole life on my guard, thinking, "At least I wasn't fooled by that..."

Me, revealed by my photo!

Looks like this must have been the old town gate, given that the wall is so substantial and the bar next to it is called "Bar de la Vielle Porte." Must learn more city history.

Ah, the Botanical Gardens. Last port of call before I head back for the evening shift at Tripti Kulai. This is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, dating back to 1593. It is very simply laid out and natural, much more like a real garden than a batch of specimens or an allotment, which botanical gardens can sometimes feel like.

Lovely furry palm trees, somehow reminiscent of Where The Wild Things Are, if you know what I mean. Montpellier has so many palm trees. Try as I might, my mural is looking more and more like the south of France instead of India. And strangely, everyone seems to be very approving of this. I have just put in some much darker foliage on the hillside and a customer came up to me and said that it was much stronger, much more like France, and practically patted me on the back! I have given up all resistance now and am just so eager to finish the work to it's own satisfaction that I paint without thinking what I am doing. My friends have criticised me for this attitude before, feeling that endowing a work of art with it's own opinions is a kind of opting out, but I do hold to my belief that a painting contains within itself the knowledge of what it wants to be. This is obviously fairly dodgy philosophical ground, but I reckon that if externalising part of my psyche and calling it the 'painting's will' helps me finish a piece of work, that's what I'll do. 

Very small bamboo forest, taking one back to House of the Flying Daggers! No bamboo in my mural though. I have forbidden things that are overtly Chinesey, although I am very fond of China, as the mural is based around an Indian deity. I have also banned Korean temples, picturesque boats or any other signs of human habitation, however stylish/soulful/appropriate they may be. 

A really weird monument that I was too tired to investigate properly, although I did consider it for some time without coming to any useful conclusions and also listened to conversations in French by other people who couldn't work out what it was, so I feel I did my bit.

People admiring the lily pond, quite rightly. This pond also houses giant lotuses that make their appearance in June, so I shall be back for that.

And what on earth is this? Humanity's first Alien Vessel Identification Dome? I wouldn't put it past the French. They are very innovative, I'm finding. 

Here we are; classic shots of water lilies.

I like the way that the surface of the water appears viscose in this picture.

Ah yes, the obligatory tabby cat photograph; I'm making rather a habit of it. Actually I couldn't help it; the cat came whizzing past me on the run from some miniature nature enthusiast. I saw it cowering under a bush, clearly thinking it had got away. I had to make many noises to convince it to turn it's head towards me, and so the expression on it's face is not so much lazy enjoyment of the sun as intense irritation that I am giving it's position away.

Then, as I retreated, the persistent little botanist that had been chasing it before caught up with it, and the cat was forced to interact, even though it's ears were back the whole time in an annoyed kind of way. Perhaps it's part of a botanic garden cat's duties to talk to the visitors?

Actually, there did seem to be some sort of conversation going on; the little girl threw some grass for the cat, and it started to eat it, so maybe it wasn't feeling so martyred after all.

Cactus house; we weren't allowed in, as they were doing renovations, but I will get in as soon as I can.

Look at those snake-like cacti! Or more like a giant, furry spiders I suppose. They really look like they're coming for you over the rocks...

After I had seen enough cacti I went to sleep under a large olive tree and only woke when it was time to go back to the restaurant. I live out of town so if I have a split shift like this it takes me too long to get home again, so I hang around town for the break.

The next day, Sunday, I came in again in the afternoon to address the mural once more. The lighting is really bad in the room I'm painting in so I try to do find all the lamps I can to light the place. It is hard most of the time to really see what colour I am putting on the walls, but it is kind of working out so far. 

My not very high-tech and totally makeshift work station. Still, what do you really need except paint, brushes, thinner and lots of kitchen roll? When I have my own studio (at some unknown point in the future) it will be laden with all kinds of materials and constantly laid out for many different kinds of work. I have tried this sort of thing in numerous bedsits but paint, charcoal and mosaic chips all react in an unfortunate way with bedding, clothes, documents and domestic animals, so I have had to discontinue my experiments.

There seems to be so much wall to cover! Still, step by step. I have vowed to finish in June, so hopefully my ego will propel me forward.

Some trees I have redone again and again, as I feel I can do better each time. This particular tree holds the record. I have repainted it five times now. Hopefully this one will stick and I can position some parakeets on it. While I was painting, at about 20.30, I became aware of loud drumming sounds coming from the city centre, just around the corner. It could only mean that the Socialists had got into power, so I went out to see how French people celebrate a political win.

There was a band of drummers that kept it up for about an hour. The people in the crowd were all dancing about and making it difficult for me to photograph them, hence the blurred photo. I had expected an air of mad exuberance, but what I found was what I can only describe as an atmosphere of sanity. People were cheering, but in a genuinely enthusiastic way, and there was none of the feeling one often gets at public celebrations in the UK where you feel the crowd is about five minutes away from an alchoholic bender of gigantic proportions. The French just do not do binge drinking, it's not their thing. Even though I often leave the restaurant very late at night, or early in the morning if I have been painting, I never see drunken youths staggering into walls or herds of underage vamps stilettoing their way down the street in search of a good time.

This guy was so sweet I had to photograph him. I wanted to get a good shot of his flag, as it was tied to a broom, but he kept waving it about and jumping around, so this is the best I could do!

This was just a mini version of what was happening at the Bastille in Paris, and a lot more tame I'm sure; this one was full of good nature. If Sarkozy had got into power again I might not have viewed the celebrating hoards with such affection, I know. But my affection was not just for the people who had voted for the same party that I would have done. It was for the 86% of the mainland population who had actually gone to the polls. (Because there was a slightly lower response from ex pats the average percentage of those voting came down to 80%, but that is still incredibly motivated.) Look sharp, Brits; if you bother to vote you might get what you want. You may not, of course, or you may not like it once you've got it (as we discovered after jubilantly voting in Tony Blair) but you will have exercised your right to vote and become a conscious part of the political process that each of us is heir to.

When I asked the girls in the restaurant if they were going to vote, they said that of course they were. They didn't really feel that any one candidate was the ideal person, and they knew that the next few years were going to be really difficult whoever got into office, but they wanted to make a choice anyway. One of them said that she voted not because she felt that her tiny voice made a difference, but because so many people had given their lives for her right to express her opinion. I was touched by that, because it's so true.

I have no illusions about the problems Mr. Hollande is facing now, but let him try it his way and see what happens. Democracy is supposed to be about the will of the people, and he seems to believe that at the moment, rather than thinking he has some God-ordained right to lead the country in whatever way takes his fancy from day to day. The French really believe in democracy; I don't think that's a generalisation. They are prepared to make choices and to stand up for those choices. I would go so far as to say that they are bold. Sarkozy said something very important in the speech he made once he realised he had not retained his office. He urged his supporters to support Hollande in his efforts. He said, "From the bottom of my heart I want France to succeed with the challenges it faces. It is something greater than us, France. This evening we must think exclusively of France."

Back to my mural for the rest of the evening and managed to put in a lot of underpainting for the remaining trees.

Next time I paint a forest I will start with a dark colour; God alone knows what I was doing here. Still, the mural has taught me a lot, and you can't practice what you don't yet know.

Indian cows; difficult to draw and the client wants a herd of them. Hmmm. Still, it is helpful being pushed to the limits in this way, otherwise I might just chicken out and do what's easiest for me.

Now I have to wait for it all to dry before the next leg of the journey. But I can see the end in sight for the first time. As springtime comes to my painting I feel a lightening of the heart, a hope that I will soon have fulfilled my part of that bargain that is an artistic gift, and have the rare experience of closure. At least I have tried. Use it or lose it, as they say. 


  1. Oh, the mural is looking completely gorgeous! I am supposed to be working on a wee commission myself right now, but all the same, I am very grateful to have had this delightful bit of escape that you have provided here with your lovely post. I feel like I have window shopped all day in the loveliest of places. Also, I loved winding around with your thoughts on artistic talents, and celebrating along vicariously that Sarko is gone. What an adventure of a post! Good luck reaching your goal of finishing in June... it really looks like you will have no trouble, but I'll wish ou luck just in case.

    1. I need your luck, Jodi, thanks! I am far from being so confident about finishing, as I have only Sundays to myself in the restaurant, but I kind of have to finish, so maybe I will... Then at last I can start other things. I really love the mural and it will always have a place in my heart, but the idea of actually finishing it is so intoxicating! From now on I hope it is going to be things I can work on in my living room. There is a big jump, motivation-wise between, 'oh I'll just have a couple of hours on my painting', and 'oh, I'll just cycle into town for half an hour, spend a few hours on my painting and then cycle back!' But I wanted to paint a mural, and now I've nearly done it...

      By the way, I read that you are staying in Aberdeen for another few years now; it must really be a relief to have both made a decision on that. It's horrible not knowing where you're going to be, I mean, exciting too, but it's impossible to make plans, isn't it? And you're going to move house, which is exciting. I myself was really thinking of moving from here, for various different reasons, but it became clear to me this week that I should not make any big jumps for a while. I think I was just frustrated with my grasp of the language and getting ratty with people because they didn't speak English and had different ways of doing things! Hm, I'm living up to a not very attractive stereotype.

      You live in such a beautiful place over there; I am sure the natural magic can sustain you for another three years before you move on. And you have your inner world too, to give you strength, so here's hoping it is a productive and delightful time you have there!

  2. It has been so worth waiting for, this post, Hita. I have been enchanted all the way through - and not a little envious of the wonderful 'tartes' and amazing shops in Montpellier! It all looks so vibrant. We have some sunshine here now, after a bright but very cold winter and a soggy April, but the locals haven't shed their scarves and coats yet and no way would I see anyone other than a Brit in three quarter length trousers. This week, though, I am going to venture out in my sandals - what the hell!
    Your mural is stunning and it's so nice to see you working on it. I love it all though the very last photograph, with the birds flying past that lush greenery may be my favourite bit. I am now going to have another look at your beetle print, which is on my son's bedroom wall. A sense of connection.

    1. Ah, the beetle! One of my favourite creations. How did you actually even find my Etsy site? Was it via Rima's blog?

      You should wear your sandals with pride, even in the cold. I used to wear my flip flops well into the British Autumn, rain and all, because they gave me the illusion that I lived in a warmer climate. And they're better in the rain, anyway, because you don't get wet socks and shoes.

      Wish me luck for the coming weeks on the mural! I need plentiful good wishes from everybody sent through the ether to take with me on the final stretch...

      Now, don't forget: off to Corduba with a camera! By the way, did you ever read Lindsey Davis books? She has one called 'A Dying Light in Corduba' if I remember rightly, and although Ancient Roman detective fiction may not be your cup of tea, all her books seem to be really well researched. I enjoyed every single bit of every single one! But that's just me; I can't resist the Roman motif.

      Thanks so much for visiting me here, Annie, and do come again xxx

  3. wow! i agree that this was well worth waiting for! what a ton of things to think about and lovely, lovely things to see! i agree that the garden looks like a small paradise to wander through, as opposed to collections of specimens--and that gives a completely different experience, doesn't it? and i have to confess that i am now starving, and your jealousy-inducing apple tart is killing me :D

    the goethe quote is something: like your story of the first reading of your chart, which gave you the boldness to move forward, and things magically fell in line--i think it's key, the moment of decision...and i like the idea of flipping a coin, especially because i almost fell over laughing that it wasn't the coin that made the decision but the terrible sinking feeling of disappointment that followed, making you head the other way! perfect!

    the mural is spectacular! i am enchanted by the corner shot, the lushness of all that green, with both the sense of dark, shadowy mass and particular detail. and i think your cow is so beautiful, i would want a herd, too, so. the whole of it is beautiful.

    the tabby's expression! i'm glad at least he got the grass.

    thank you for this post. i will have to wander through it again and again, i think.

    1. I'm glad you like my tossing the coin trick. I think Sherlock Holmes used to do something related on occasion; ask Watson his opinion on some aspect of the case and then set off in the other direction. Sometimes I use that technique as well. I know the part of me that is selfish and destructive, so if I ask it a question I can pretty much work out the right thing to do by default. God, it all sounds so awful when I write it down! Still, what can you do? We are what we are.

      I'm glad you are encouraging me to paint a herd of those cows; I will need all the encouragement I can get. Perhaps it will be the very last thing I do on the mural so that if I run out of sanity on the seventh or eighth cow I can just collapse in a heap and never do anything to it again.

      The cat! I didn't think anyone would really get the comedy of it, but it was extremely amusing, at least to me. It was strange when the cat started eating the grass; normally they don't do anything to order, do they? Perhaps it was all part of the service.

      Thanks for your comment, Zoe; I shall be over to visit you in Wonderland again soon!

  4. Oh Hita, what a feast! I feel almost like I've had a lovely long weekend in Montpellier, transported directly out of the squall and drizzle of northern England, thank you! The peonies alone are enough to leave me dreaming of spring…

    Your mural looks absolutely amazing, the darker background and the rich decoration on the greenery is so inviting, and Mahalakshmi seems all the more radiant and alive inside it. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous, that little flock of parakeets speeding along (gasp). I found myself wondering what it must feel like to be able to create something like that – just that one tiny detail, let alone the whole thing. Sublime. Good luck with finishing it, you're on the home stretch.

    I so enjoyed the little tour of the shops! I remember going into Etat d'ame once, and it was a job to get me out of there again. I don't consider myself particularly materialistic – I have such a tiny flat anyway I usually shut my mind to joys of soft furnishings and the latest trends in crockery – but that place… It was the only time I have been hopelessly infatuated by a dressing gown. For shame! It still gives me such joy every day. Yes, it's the boldness – in each individual item and in the collection as a whole. There's nothing perfect and nothing matching, yet a common thread of loveliness links everything together.

    I remember Pomme de Reinette too, magical! Where else would you find such a place? In fact it's a little scary when you're inside to have the senses overloaded with so many perfect tiny objects isn't it? I used to have a thing about dolls when I was little – really didn't like them at all – but I loved dolls' houses and all things you could put in them. It was a dilemma I never resolved. Maybe the best would be to have just the house, and pretend the inhabitants are on holiday. Your third photo of said establishment is a tad disturbing for someone with my disposition – the ghostly form of an outsize marionette with a fixed grin and hands poised for… something unimaginable in the balconies above! :-O

    Your whole post is serving to make me hungry, which is I think what you intended. Yes of course I'm happy for you that you can have such a glorious guilt-free apple tart whenever you want to. The same goes for Jardin des Glaces… (mmm)… but I found myself absent-mindedly and somewhat enviously scanning the menu as though to place an order.

    As for the mysterious domed building in the botanical gardens, could it be a little observatory for star-gazing? Or is it too small for that? I just thought it looked like a mini version of the London Planetarium, but that might just be my mental associations getting carried away …

    Enjoy the spring, and think of us poor folk left in your motherland with skies the colour of cardboard. Have you noticed how the sky in one of your photos almost seems to blend seamlessly into the background of this site?

  5. When I'm finished with it, I'm going to get you to write a poem on it and I'll put it up here, please. When my brother posted a particularly good article once I was moved to write a poem to him, using his foundation premise as my starting point, and there was something very satisfying about art responding to art. So perhaps you would? It should all be ready for you when you are here in June, I hope. That is, if you are in the mood. I dunno, I just thought it would be fun! I like it when art or poetry or whatever kind of spills over at the edges and becomes something else too. Like the Haiku's that used to be passed from one poet to another in the leisured classes of Japan, each poet adding a verse and shaping it's new direction. Or 'I packed my bag and in it I put...!'

    Exactly the point of darkening the scenery a bit; Lakshmi is more radiant, as she should be. The trees are not going to stay quite as dark, as they need a bit of detailed foliage, but the underpainting gives me an idea of what it should be like. I have to admit I nearly took away the parakeets, as they are getting in the way a bit of the overall flow (that's why the animals and birds should be the last things to go on) but I knew that Padmasini would kill me, and they do have a lot of life, so they have been given a reprieve. Can't wait until I can put my tiger back in; it had to come out because it was the wrong size for the position I'd put it in and it's now wandering the corridors of that in between place that pending art is trapped. Guilt!! But it won't be long now, and he'll have a better position, darker background to set off his fur and so on, so all should be well.

    Sorry about the marionette! I just thought it looked mysterious; I didn't think that it could be plotting something awful in the balconies... ugh. Yes, dolls houses are not really for dolls, are they? I was reading an article in the Guardian just yesterday about a guy whose hobby it is to make his own, ideal house in miniature, called 'Victoriana.' And the lady writing the article had interviewed lots of dolls house owners and discovered that in most cases people did not want dolls in 'their' house because it would be like an invasion. The only people who allowed dolls in were those who were ostensibly putting the house together for their children. Lots of those interviewed said that they liked to keep it empty so that they could go in at any time, in their mind, and live out their fantasy lives. A bit like those reality games on the internet I suppose where you have an alternative life and actually shell out real money for imaginary things to go in your imaginary world. A bit like Pharoahs trying to take slaves, pottery, furniture and so on into the next world. Or any burial with stuff offered as tribute for that final journey. Dolls houses are more fun, I think. You get actual items for your money and you can enjoy them in this life.

    I shall have to go back to the little building in the Botanical Gardens and see what it really is. Perhaps when you come over we can go and check it out? If the blue skies are holding, of course : )

    1. A poem! Moi? I would be honoured to make an attempt! I haven't "done poems" for a long time. The world doesn't seem to need poets anymore, as I found to my dismay several years ago in my local Waterstones – the island where all the poetry books had always lived was entirely wiped out by a "self-help" epidemic. Well, I thought to myself, what could be more helpful than poetry? But alas time has moved on, and what cannot be done on the way to work in "5 minutes" or "7 easy steps" is apparently not worth having. Since then all the poems inside have sulked and pouted and stamped their feet. So they will be very happy to hear you asked after them…

      I love the idea of the dolls' houses being like secret alternative worlds – I think that's the charm of them really. The dolls always seem to look awkward and uncomfortable in them anyway. I just got back from a meeting in Liverpool, and heard about the massive wooden figures that had visited there from France a few weeks ago. Did you hear about it? The little girl is so beautiful! Wish I could have seen it – this kind of doll doesn't count as creepy :-) Here's a clip if you're interested: http://youtu.be/ZJKmuLOSgB0

    2. The doll is amazing!! I watched a few other clips of her in other countries too; she seems to be a real ambassador of from another world, doesn't she?

  6. Hita, this post had me smiling from ear to ear. Like a leisurely stroll through Montpellier on a sunny spring day.
    It brought back so many fond memories: the scent of peonies, the beauty of the Jardin des Plantes in the springtime, Montpellier's particular architectural splendour, the abundant gorgeousness of Etat d'Ame, the endless fun to be had in Pomme de Reinette and the tarts, Oh!the tarts! and the ice cream, Oh! the ice cream!
    I think the really weird monument is dedicated to the botanists who founded the Jardin des Plantes in the 16th century. It was originally created to grow medicinal herbs for the medical school- Montpellier is home to the oldest medical school in Europe, established in the 12th century if memory serves me correctly.
    I always thought the mysterious domed building was some kind of pump house. Not really sure what a pump house is but there's one in Kew Gardens so maybe...
    Hope you're not too impatient to get inside the cactus house. It was closed for renovations for the whole four years I lived in Montpellier :)
    I do love the indian cow. I remember you painted a whole herd of them before then took them out because they looked "too sinister":)
    So glad to hear you still have the dolls' house gateau. We called it the "voodoo cake". As long as the voodoo cake remains in your possession a steady supply of delicious desserts is assured.
    Good luck with the final stages of the mural. Deadlines seem to intensify your creativity so I can't wait to see the finished product in June.

    1. 'Deadlines seem to intensify your creativity'; put that in the third person and you could have written my reports in high school.

      That's funny you remembering about the sinister cows. I think the problem was that the green of their background was too bright and it kept making me think I was doing something a bit kitsch; kitsch and disturbing. Which is not the tone I am really trying to strike. The cows actually serve a really important purpose; every time I hit a piece of painting that is a bit much for me, I think, 'I could have a go at the cows now' and I suddenly find that whatever I was avoiding seems much more inviting.

      You know, now that I come to think of it, I started to put on weight just a short while after receiving the voodoo cake from you. Is that part of it's doom? I am countering the curse now with 21 repetitions of the Tibetan rites every morning and nothing but grapefruit til noon. Do you remember Sumangali saying she could never do those rites because they're so boring? She was right. But the grapefruit are okay.

      Very much looking forward to your visit! Maybe we can make solid plans for the next murals. You know what I mean: 'The Giant Jam Sandwich' and 'The Pink Blancmange Elephant.' At least there won't be any cows in either of them, or trees, just lots of dessert.

  7. What a glory of a post, sister!
    The mural has become a masterpiece - I wish you all the strength and lightness I can that you finish it punctually and well, and in good spirits. When I was 'finishing' The Falcon's Child, all I wanted to do was lie down on the pavement and sink into a coma, but it was the knowledge that I could be done with it that kept me going, the knowledge that there would come an end-point when I could emerge!
    I love your walk around Montpellier - I particularly salute your efforts towards the 80 flavours of ice cream. As you say, a noble crusade if ever there was one.

    You are so talented - your writing is marvellous and your art is stunning. I'd like to see one of your murals outside somewhere, where it can be admired by all who pass. Could you arrange that? Ta.

    Speak soon - good luck with the final stretch
    X t

    1. Lovely to hear from you, brother. I actually have spent quite a lot of time lying on the restaurant floor trying to avoid doing the next bit of the mural, but as you say, it is the bewitching concept of 'The End' that gets one up again. The trouble is, the more I look at it, the more I see needs to be improved and adjusted, and it's just SO BIG! So although there will come a point when it all seems perfectly aligned, that point will be somewhere between 'enough, the world's not going to end if the parrot isn't exactly the way I imagined it' and 'enough, the world is going to end if I don't finish it.'

      A more public mural would be fun, wouldn't it? Although haven't I had enough of murals??? Something with a simpler concept, maybe. I want to illustrate the phrase, 'Above the toil of life my soul is a bird of fire, winging the infinite.' You know, giant firebird comet thing with planets, stars and music streaming along in it's wake. Would that do?

      Thanks for all your encouragement. It's so important, particularly at key stages, when things can get tricky, to hear the voices of one's loved ones cheering us on.

    2. I think what actually happens is that a singularity in space-time occurs in which 'enough, the world's not going to end if the parrot isn't exactly the way I imagined it' and 'enough, the world is going to end if I don't finish it' somehow co-exist and consume each other - this is the singularity that you're tethered to when you begin such a work, like a firebird caught in a Vogon tractor-beam. Funnily enough, on the subject of firebirds (did you see what I did there?) we helped schoolkids paint one in Suffolk last Monday. We'll send pictures when they've finished it. I thoroughly recommend getting schoolkids to do the paint-work - they're mad geniuses every one, little bright singularities with paintbrushes!

      Very proud of you - and yes, murals with phrases would work excellently as public monuments, no? Time for city council commissions!

      Much love
      T x

  8. Wow and thrice wow! This was such a great post dear Hita, thank you!
    I thoroughly enjoyed rambling through it and let a whole pot of tea go quite cold..!
    You really are so very talented, that mural is absolutely stunning! And you must take on board all these well deserved cheers here; I think you might be a little like me in not quite hearing them wholly for the loud self critical voice that sort of edits the praise... but, really, you are a marvel!
    Your writing is brilliant too, I was put in mind of a writer/diarist of the last century or two, detailing in beautiful delight all the sights and thoughts and works of a journey, really set in a place - in your study of its people, political happenings, smells and sights and treasures and so on.. Your blog deserves publication!
    And that shop! I hope we get to visit it one day when we come and see you in France :)
    I wish the boldness and wisdom you own blossoms in your heart this spring and that you final push in this epic painting brings you fulfilment and freedom for the next adventures :) ...
    Much love xxx R

  9. Praise indeed, coming from you, Rima. Not sure that I deserve the superlatives, but grateful for them. Wish that I had time to do the mural to the standard it deserves, but I think that it will be just be overjoyed to be viewed as a finished work rather than an on-going one. (Although you and I know that it is not really finished until I breathe my last; I could impulsively visit it at any time in the future and change something, or add some more animals, and that's nice to know as well.)

    I deeply admire the amount of work you produce, finish and send out; I can only aspire to such a productive lifestyle. I am trying to find my way towards it, though, and this has been a good place to learn to paint with oils, so much more resilient than the pastel work I was doing before. Actually, I have a feeling that your art would go down very well in Montpellier; how about coming and doing something here? Yesterday I went out to look at the shopfront of that shop, 'Pomme de Reinette' as I was thinking it could do with a painting as part of it, and I discovered that there is an empty panel above the shop title which is just begging for some images! I was fantasising for half an hour about what I would put there if asked, but your own work would look more fabulous, I think. Couldn't help remembering your recent machettes, and well, everything you do. Did you ever do shop signs before? I'm sure you could do a roaring trade in them if you ever wanted a break from clocks...

    So, thank you so much for your generous comments. I'm very proud that I made you forget a whole pot of tea. If I need to do some advertising I could use this: 'Imagination-Chariot is so good Rima Staines let a whole pot of tea go cold while reading it!'