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Hand in glove

Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies.  My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly.  Granny had only one arm.  The other was lost in The First World War.  Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid.  She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were.  She never expected to marry after losing her limb.  With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love.  However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper.  From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth.   Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together.  I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.

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Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent.  She had seemingly no filter between what  was in her head and what came out of her mouth.  For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly  have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her.  And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child.  ‘James’, replied Madame.  ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny.  It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which  as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently her means ‘one cannot see you any more’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after.   My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog.  She wasn’t.  She was saying the first thing that popped into her head.  I have the same tendency.  I try to control it.  I frequently fail.

So what is that preamble about.  Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair.  She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand.  Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.

Which brings me to Grenoble.  Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France.  The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin.  He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square.  I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves.  He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go.  Breathtaking in 1838.  When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.

You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment  provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and  as the time approached to leave it  I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave.   I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there.  Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find.  My candied pellet is this:  the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance.  Guess who?  Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one.  Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier.  I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric.  From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful.  I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times.  My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place  and also retain a cornucopia of original features.  If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to  but I never want to overtax with tedium..

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PS:  Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness.  I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock.   Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.

It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford.  She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin.  Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild.  As it turns out

G K Chesterton agreed with me.  Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …

To A Lady Seen From A Train

Frances Darwin Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much

The Fat White Woman Speaks

G K Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should

I am not done with my changes

Such little lives we live if only we would admit it.  All of us however fêted.  Marking out our  pathetic tiny snail trails as we go.  Imprinting what we do – good, bad, downright ugly through our little journey.  Imagining ourselves important or impotent when in fact neither is probably true.

Stanley Kunitz, born in a place that I ran (or rather more accurately staggered) last Autumn at a time when I thought I would never run again has it right in this poem.  I, me, mine … not at all relevant when you equate the microscopic me to the great landscape of time in which we exist.  Just let’s protect what we have – we can do our little bit by acting decently, by regarding others with an importance not by dint of  their shoes or their achievements or their accumulated wealth but just because.  Because they co-exist with us on this planet we all accidentally find ourselves on.

I have indeed walked through many lives.  All of them in this skin.  And I will not be done and I will not give up hope  until I draw my fatal last breath.  Never.  Not at all.  I am many layered and yet simple cored just like you … if we all accept that, the rest is blissfully uncomplicated.  I give you this in answer to the weekly photo challenge titled ‘Layered’ of which a delicious gallery of entries you will find here.

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The Layers

Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

PS:  The picture is taken at Vassieux-en-Vercors where people lived and died in a rather more profound way than I can ever begin to imagine.

If youre afraid of butter, use cream!

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Osyth

The very first walk I ever took in Grenoble was a tentative totter up to le Bastille which sits some 400 metres above the city.  I casually strolled up through le Jardins de Dauphines and found myself facing Philis.  Philis is rather arresting in a slightly aggressive warrior sort of way poised casually astride her rearing steed brandishing one-handed some sort of lethal rapierClearly this is a woman to laugh in the face of weak-minded affectations of femininity like sitting side-saddle or wearing frocks and who would not shirk from skewering all comers with her dirk.  In fairness and for the aforementioned reasons, I did not instantly realise she is a she, portrayed as she is as a rather masculine, if a little foppishly dressed fighter. Of course, mens’ fashions were, a little frou frou in 17th Century France. I inched closer and it was clear that I was, indeed, beholding a gallant gal.

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Philis is a legend.  We all know what legends are, I hope.  Legends are stories that are so old that no one can remember if they are true or not.  Keep that front of  mind as we sashay elegantly forward.  Philis was born  Philippe de la Tour du Pin de la Charce in 1645, the fifth child of high falootin’ tootin’ parents – hardly a surprise given the full mouthful of a name they blithely gave their infant.  At the age of six her Aunt, a poet of some acclaim, took her to watch a series of Roman plays in Nyon and SO amazed was the girl named Phil that she promptly declared she was changing her name that very minute to the entirely Roman Philis.  Which, let’s face facts was probably just a clever ruse to get a more girlie name.  However, it became clear that she had no intention of being a damsel, even though her newly acquired  name was a little less … manly, more maidenly.  She  competed brilliantly with her brothers  and became a breathtaking horsewoman and dashing blade wielder.  She fell in love with a Catholic, became betrothed when he promised to convert to the Protestant version of exactly the same faith as his but, a little  caddishly one might observe, he reneged on his pledge.  She then did what any self-respecting jilted girl might resolve to do … she became an even better horsewoman and an even greater blade and vowed that she would not so much as look at another man except down on him from high on her hot-blooded stallion.

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This area of France is historically named le Dauphiné which means ‘dolphin’ and accounts for the fact that though we are 275km (170 miles) from our nearest coastline,  there are an awful lot of dolphin references around the city.   Forward to  1690 and enter stage right or left depending whether you are facing North or South, Victor Amedée II. You are absolved of any guilt for not remotely realising there was a Victor Amedée I, even though it actually turns out that, in fact there was also a further Victor Amedée imaginatively named  Victor Amedée III.  Victor’s correct title was Victor Amedée Duc de Savoie.  Savoie was next door to le Dauphiné (it still is) but he had absolutely no intention of being an affable neighbour.  He far preferred the idea of snatching the Dauphiné lands to add to his already bulging, to the point of vulgar, property portfolio.  According to her legend, Philis organised a résistance and heading an army of peasants she successfully saved her region from the marauding Victor.   The rather mealy-mouthed scolars who variously argued the story for over 100 years,  claim she simply fronted a band of looters who often came here “to collect contributions from citizens of local towns and villages” and that it was thanks to her relations with the French Royal Court in Paris that she was ever rewarded with a pension from King Louis XIV.  Whichever version you choose, by the 19th Century her myth had mushroomed and for a while she was called Jean d’Arc du Dauphiné.  Several historians have muted her laurels but she is still proudly acclaimed Heroine de Dauphine on her statue.  I know which version I prefer.

And as this guest piece is being written for a cookery blog I thought it only fitting that I give you an appropriate recipe: Le vrai Gratin Dauphinois.  You will kindly notice that a real Gratin Dauphinois has no cheese in it even though it is said that Escoffier experimented and was rumoured to occasionally add a little.  Like a Quiche Lorraine, here in this Gratin’s spiritual home, the real deal has no cheese and that is how I infinitely prefer it.   If you doubt me, give it a try – I promise it is a sumptuous experience that belies its meager list of ingredients.

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Ingredients:
Potatoes – not waxy new ones.  King Edwards are perfect
Double cream or Crême Fraiche – you can dilute with milk if you prefer.   I don’t prefer.
Garlic
Freshly ground nutmeg
Butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt – if your butter is unsalted
Method:

  1.  Preheat oven to 150C
  2. Butter a shallow but not too shallow oven-proof dish
  3. Peel (reserve the peelings) enough potatoes to fill the dish when thinly sliced
  4. Rub with a cut clove of garlic
  5. Peel, chop and smoosh the garlic
  6. Slice potatoes into slender rounds – some use a mandolin, I don’t have one so I just keep them as thin as I can without adding slivers of finger – never elegant
  7. Layer the potatoes with a sprinkling of garlic, grated nutmeg and ground pepper
  8. Repeat til all the potatoes are used – three layers for my dish
  9. Dot with butter (mine has salt crystals so I don’t add salt)
  10. Drench it in cream – I used 50cl
  11. Bake for 2½ hours until bubbling, unctuous and smelling like your life depends on eating it.  In fairness, your life WILL be incomplete if you don’t.

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I served ours with green beans and Diot.  Diots are a traditional Savoyard sausage.  I apologise for being unable to resist the irony …

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PS:  Eat only fruit for many days afterwards as a penance for the ambrosial decadence of the dish and to notionally save the impending blockade in your arteries.  But not before you have triumphantly taken up the saved peelings, coated them in a little oil of choice (always olive chez moi) and a good grind of black pepper.  Or frankly whatever you like to season them, who am I to dictate to you?  Pop them in a highish oven for 10 minutes.  Recline on sofa or chaise longue and idly nibble as a little snackette with your choice of libation.

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PS:  The title is Julia Child – une heroine culinaire

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun

It is with an aching heart that I write these few lines. Terry of Spearfruit, who many of you knew and admired, died yesterday afternoon at home with Gary, his husband, at his side.

I am so grateful to Kerry for letting me know by email and for Jodi for posting the sorrowful news in the comment section of Terry’s very last post.

I need not write any more except to acknowledge the numbing pain that Gary must be feeling and to send a heart-full of love to him and to all those close to Terry.

Sleep well, dear friend, at peace and released from your suffering. I’ll be eating cupcakes and ice-cream with you this afternoon even though the sky is suddenly gushing wet, fat, appropriate tears, as I type.

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I would like to dedicate these words to Gary:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W H Auden

And this one is for you, Terry:

And for everyone who loved Terry:

PS: Because there is always a PS. The picture was taken in Concorde MA a year to the day before Terry took his quiet and sombre leave of us. A year ago we were planning to meet in Massachusetts where Gary was raised. One. Short. Year ago. We none of us know what is ahead, behind the railings, round the corner, through the gate, in the next field. So in honour of this most dignified of men, I ask everyone to celebrate what they have, and to cherish every moment of this little life we are granted. Terry was the same age as me.