Archive for February, 2009

When I took a short walk yesterday I came across a helicopter practising taking water up from a lake and dropping it again as it’ll have to do when it fights forest fires.

I gathered the photos together in iphoto, made them into a slideshow, added some music by Max Richter and exported it as a movie.

Here it is. (I hope you agree the music fits the the photos really nicely)

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Come take a walk with me up the path towards Mont Sainte Victoire. Let’s start down here by the dam…

mont st victoire

and we’ll take this path…

the path to mont st victoire

The first surprise was seeing a helicopter collecting water from the lake

collecting water

and practising dropping it again

spraying water5

On the way to the top I stumbled across these strange tree roots….


…and these tiny, tiny acorns…


These pine cones were unusual too….

pine cones

This was high enough for me to go today

mont st victoire

On the way back down I came across the first butterfly of the year


and this lovely little ladybird. Look how red it is! Hardly any black spots!


The sun was hot and some of the trees were oozing their sap


There was lots of rosemary and thyme, but very few flowers so I was really pleased to come across exactly these four crocus plants!


What I can’t share with you is the warmth of the February sun, the sweet, fresh smell of the air, or the almost total silence of the countryside up there. You’ll need to go yourself to appreciate that.

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I’ve walked around the outside of Notre Dame countless times in my visits to Paris. Today, the queue was non-existent so I had my first look inside. Goodness, it’s an incredible building inside as well as outside. I specifically wanted to see what the great rose windows looked like from the inside. Before I show you them, here’s what Notre Dame looks like at night….

notre dame
notre dame

This will give you an idea of the scale of the stained glass windows –

notre dame

And here’s a closer look ….

notre dame

notre dame

And here’s the one opposite!

notre dame

I’m glad I didn’t pass on by as usual today.

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abundance of snowdrops

February is especially snowdrop month. In fact one of the common names for the snowdrop is “Fair maids of February“. They are beautiful and it’s lovely to see them come through the cold, winter earth. The ones above are not far from where I live. I wandered amongst them taking some photos today. Here are some of the others. The first photo above gives you an idea of how they can form a carpet of flowers. When you get closer you see the carpet is made up of little groups and clumps.


I especially like this small group of three, particularly as snowdrops each have three petals.

3 x 3 snowdrops

And here is a single one close up…

snowdrops closeup

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I read a lot of non-fiction. Something to do with my being insatiably curious. I often post about the non-fiction books I read, both as reviews which you might like to read, and to share what I learned or what thoughts they provoked for me. But what about fiction? I’ve decided I don’t read nearly enough fiction. So, I’m not going to have any days this year without a novel, or collection of short stories, on the go. I typically read several books at the same time so this shouldn’t mean I won’t be reading any non-fiction for a while.

One of the novels I’ve just read is “The Night Train to Lisbon”, by Pascal Mercier (ISBN 978-1-84354-712-9). If you google it, you’ll find a wide range of extremely divergent reviews. Some people loved it and some found it boring. On the front cover, Isabel Allende says it’s “a treat for the mind”. I agree with her. For me, this book was a treat.

The novel tells the story of a classicist who lives in Bern and who one day encounters a Portuguese woman on a bridge. The encounter is brief but it makes a huge impression on him so when he stumbles across an old Portuguese language book in a second hand bookshop, he just has to buy it. The book he buys is by a Portuguese author named Amadeu de Prado and is a collection of his reflections on his life and his self. Gregorius, the classicist does something impulsive for the first time in his life and walks out of the lecture theatre at work and takes a train to Lisbon, determined to learn Portuguese and find out all he can about Prado.

The two intertwined themes of the book are what hooked me. The first is how we can get to know someone through their text. Throughout the novel are scattered Gregorius’ translations of passages from Prado’s book. You could just skim through the novel reading only these italicised passages and be both inspired and stimulated to reflect on your own life and on how you’ve become who you are. But the other theme is equally fascinating, and it’s how a person is revealed through the stories told by others. Although Prado himself is long since deceased, Gregorius meets up with as many of the people who knew him as he can. They all tell stories of what they remember about Prado and each story reveals something else which helps to Gregorius to understand who Prado was and how he became that person. This is such an interesting truth……how different people have different views, different insights, memories and impressions of one person….and how it’s the collection of these diverse stories which ultimately reveals the reality of that person.

I was also hooked by more personal issues and memories. Like Prado, I’m a doctor who thinks and who writes about his thoughts. Like Gregorius I’m fascinated by books, by language and by stories. I’ve only visited Lisbon a few times but one afternoon particularly stands out in my memory. My trips to Lisbon were to participate in teaching sessions for Portuguese doctors, and on one visit I had a free afternoon while one of my colleagues took the class. An old professor of archeology looked after me for the afternoon. He took me wandering around Lisbon’s old town showing me how the history of the city was revealed in its architecture and its archeological uncoverings. I spoke no Portuguese and he spoke no English. Like all Portuguese of his generation, his second language was French (just as Gregorius discovers in the novel), and my second language too (poor as it is!) is French. So we spent the whole afternoon together, a Portuguese man and a Scot, exploring Lisbon in French! The novel brought those memories flooding back.

The most enjoyable books are like that I think. There is something about them which can be appreciated by many readers and there’s something about them which resonates personally, or connects with the reader’s own experience or memories.

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friendship gate

As I was opening a gate to get into a field where I’d seen some standing stones, these bright colours caught my eye. Someone had tied these threads onto the gatepost. I think it’s a “friendship bracelet” and I’ve really no idea why it ended up here instead of around somebody’s wrist. Maybe it fell off and another person found it in the road or the field and tied it here to make it more obvious to the owner should they return. But maybe the bracelet was tied there deliberately by the owner. I like to think the latter explanation is correct because when I saw it I immediately had the thought “friendship gate” which made the entrance to the field feel particularly welcoming. Strange, but that’s how it felt.
I got thinking about the tying of knots and how a knot can bind two objects (or two people!) together. I also got to thinking how tying this bracelet to this gate had acted like a multiplier, or magnifier, of an event. However, it came to be there, somebody, instead of just leaving it lying on the ground where it would soon be washed, or blown, away, had fixed it to that specific place. The event, the leaving of the bracelet in this particular place, was no longer over in a moment, or even in few hours, but now, the event stretched out in time, so many days after someone else could encounter it. It also magnified the event in terms of how many people it touched. I’ve been touched by it, even though I’ve no idea who made, or bought, or left the bracelet here. And now you have too, because I photographed it and wrote about it and you’ve come along and looked at the photo and read the words.
All because somebody tied a knot.
That got me thinking about other knots…..
celtic knot
This is a typical Celtic Cross. There are thousands and thousands like it in Scotland. I love the Celtic knots design. I love it because it has no clear beginning or end, it’s pleasingly balanced, yet totally fluid. It’s hard to actually look at a Celtic knot and keep your eyes still. You are somehow compelled to trace the path of one of the lines, often getting distracted where it crosses other lines and finding yourself following one of those instead, returning to your original line only at the next junction. I love the interconnectedness it so clearly illustrates, and I love the looseness of the knot as well. It’s more like a weaving than a knot somehow.
These stone knots last for centuries. We’ve usually no idea who actually carved them, but they left their marks, and they left them in ways which touch the lives of many, many others over countless years. These stone knots stretch time for me also. They connect me to the past, to roots, to ancestors, and in so doing, somehow, they make the lives of those ancient peoples feel closer.

I was born and raised in Stirling and one of the major landmarks in Stirling is a knot – the King’s Knot (although local people often refer to it as “the cup and saucer”). Here’s a view of it taken from the castle walls….

King's Knot

The King’s Knot is the remains of a garden. The garden now is earthworks and grass, but originally, back in the reign of James IV (the 1490s probably), it was laid out with flowers, herbs and bushes. For some strange reason, I’ve never wondered why it was called the “King’s Knot”. Well, of course, I knew it was a garden for the King, but why a “knot”? Then I got to thinking about knots today (who knows why?) and I decided to write a post about knots. Having decided to write about it, I had to go off googling and find out why on Earth it was called a “knot”. It took a bit of searching but eventually I discovered that these knots are a variety of labyrinth. They were often laid out with herbs, or with small box bushes and were formal gardens created to be enjoyed in a manner very similar to that of a labyrinth.

Have you got any favourite knots?

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Essence of Glasgow

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