Archive for March, 2016


Part of Lascaux famed cave drawings are photographed in southwest France, during a rare visit, Friday, July 25, 2008. Clusters of black fungus have been spreading over the drawings said scientists in 2007. The stains were the latest biological threat to the Lascaux cave drawings, which were discovered in 1940 and are considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric art. Carbon-dating suggests the murals of bulls, felines and other images were created between 15,000 and 17,500 years ago in the caves near Montignac, in the Dordogne region. In 1963, after green algae and other damage appeared, the caves were closed to the public. Only scientists and a few others are allowed to enter at certain times. (AP Photo/Pierre Andrieu, Pool)

I recently visited the Lascaux caves which are about a three hour drive from where I’m living now. I’d heard of them but I hadn’t realised they were as close as this.

You’ll see from that photo above, which isn’t mine, that the incredible wall art in the caves was deteriorating quickly due to the effects of fungi and carbon dioxide brought in by visiting tourists, so the government closed the caves to preserve them and did something astonishing.

They built an exact replica of part of the cave network, faithful down to 5mm, using teams of artists to recreate the artwork using the same kinds of pigments used by the original artists on artificial cave walls.

The caves were discovered in 1940 when a group of boys were exploring a forest. A storm had blown down some trees and one of the fallen trees had opened up a hole in the ground under its roots. Their dog disappeared down the hole so they went after it, quickly realising it was a tunnel into caves. After retrieving their dog, they went back home and got lamps, returning to squeeze along the dark tunnel until it opened up into a cave. Can you imagine how astonished they were when the light from their flames lit up the huge paintings of bulls, bison, cows, horses and deer which covered the walls and ceiling of the cave?

There was a lot more down there than what the boys found in the first cave. The paintings are thought to have been created up to 18,000 years ago and had remained, perfectly preserved, once the cave network was sealed off by the forest.

Lots of questions immediately spring to mind – how did they manage to paint such life-like depictions of animals under the ground in the darkness using just small lamps for light? They covered not only the walls but the ceilings. How did they get up there? They used the contours of the cave walls to make their paintings seem three dimensional. How did they have the imagination and the skill to do that? And WHY? Why did they put so much time and effort into the creation of this fabulous art?

It didn’t take long before the effects of thousands of visitors started to degrade the art work so the government sealed it off and created Lascaux 2, a replica. If you click through on that link you’ll go to an interactive tour of the re-creation.

So, I went down the stone steps with a couple of dozen other visitors and a guide. In the ante-room after the great doors were pulled closed, our eyes adjusted to the low level of light and the guide talked us through the story of the discovery of the Lascaux caves and the creation of Lascaux 2. Then he opened the far doors and we all squeezed down a narrow passageway between rough walls of rock. The passageway opened up into the Hall of the Bulls, so called because of the four, almost life size paintings of bulls which completely cover the ceiling of the cave.

He switched off the lights and lit a cigarette lighter. As the small, single flame cast its faint light up onto the walls and ceiling you could swear the animals were moving. It was quite cold down there and without artificial light it would be pitch dark.

We spend the best part of an hour exploring the cave and hearing about the different paintings.

So, you’re thinking. You just visited a replica? How did that feel?

You know what? It was magical. I thought it might be a bit Disney-like, but it wasn’t. You know what it was like? It was like standing in the middle of an art installation. That’s exactly what the replica is. It’s a work of art designed to communicate to you something of the experience of the artists. And that’s what this replica represents, isn’t it? A work of art. Created by unknown artists almost 18,000 years ago….

So there it is…one work of art, touching the viewer, stirring some kind of feelings which the artists had after they’d been inspired in a similar way by other artists, long gone, who left these astonishing creations.

Here’s my final thought. Isn’t it just wonderful that we humans create art? Not for a sum of money, fame, or some utility, but to…..what? Interpret our world? Interact with our world? Make sense of our world? Express ourselves, just because we can?


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book exchange

I was in the beautiful village of Sarlat La Canéda recently and stumbled across this glass box in the middle of the town. As you can see, it’s a book exchange. The two words, for those of you who don’t speak French, are “give” and “receive”.

Isn’t that a wonderful idea? Anyone is free to leave any book they’d like to give away, and/or to pick up a book which has been left by someone else.

This the second time I’ve come across this idea in France. A few months ago I saw this in Bordeaux, right next to a tram stop….

book sharing

Same idea, but using a wooden case rather than a metal one, and without any words on the glass indicating what it’s for.

What a lovely idea. I tend to hang on to books forever, but maybe if I could let go of any of them, I should pop some into a display like this somewhere….but thing is, most of my books are in English and I live in France now!

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The other day I was sitting outside enjoying some Spring sunshine when I noticed the strong shadows of the mulberry tree.

It struck me that the pattern of the branches was probably very similar to that of the root system under the soil. “As above, so below”, as the old saying goes….

I also enjoyed just looking at the patterns. There is something very beautiful about this branching pattern we see everywhere in Nature, isn’t there?

Then I realised I’d focused on the shadows rather than on the branches of the tree itself, and that brought back to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Do you know it? Here’s a link for you to explore it further. Or watch this video from the fabulous “School of Life” –


The prisoner who is dragged out into the light comes to know the shadows are re-presentations of reality, but I’ve often thought it’s a shame that when he returned to the cave, he couldn’t see the shadows any more. Shadows, after all, can be both beautiful and quite enlightening!


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peacock close


peacock full


peacock feathers

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Proud as a peacock.

Interesting phrases, huh? But isn’t it truly beautiful when we fully express our uniqueness? Isn’t it wonderful when we can be really present in the world and share who we are?

I don’t think it’s about flaunting or “strutting proudly”. Those are phrases used to suppress and control.

You are unique.

You are special.

Express yourself.

Share your uniqueness with the world.

I suspect that’s why you’re here.


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Two gardens.

Could they be more different?

The first is the Hanbury Botanic Garden in Ventimiglia, Italy, and the second is Marqueyssac in the Dordogne, France.

Thomas Berry, in The Great Work, describes the two forces of the universe as wildness and discipline. David Wade, in The Crystal and the Dragon, describes them as the moving, flowing principle, and the ordering, or structuring principle. You get the idea? One tends toward expansion and one towards constriction. Empedocles wrote about Neikos and Philia, the forces of repulsion/separation and of attraction/combination.

Our left cerebral hemisphere is great for sorting, labelling, and ordering. The right seeks out the new and makes connections.

There is no right or wrong here. Both forces need each other, like the yin and the yang. As they interact with each other, as we produce integration (the creation of mutually beneficial bonds between well differentiated parts), we create.

These two gardens are examples of this. In the first case, the Hanbury Garden, there is a glorious “far from equilibrium” quality brought about by encouraging diversity and a light touch on control. In the Marqueyssac, constant pruning, trimming and shaping brings this astonishing spread of geometric and repeating forms.

Is one more beautiful than the other?

I suspect each of us have certain preferences…..drawn towards the wildness, or drawn towards the discipline.

Isn’t it great when we can have “and” not “or”? It just requires the will to explore and to stand back and see the view from Sirius.

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When you look at seeds starting to burst out of their pod, you glimpse some possible futures…..but which seed will take root, which will be nurtured, which will thrive?

Don’t think there’s any way of knowing……

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tree wall

I didn’t see any white rabbits, but, like Alice, I stumbled across this.

What is this? A wall with a tree growing in a strange, separated way over it? Why would a tree grow that way?

A portal deep in the woods? A portal which someone has walled over? Why would they do that?

There’s a story here.

How would you like to tell it?

Let me help you to get started. Once upon a time……..

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4 elements

As I stood looking out over the Mediterranean I saw this.

Water. Stretching in every direction. From this distance it looks calm, almost smooth. But from where I stood I could hear the waves breaking on the rocks, the water spraying into the air then slipping back down from the land into the sea again. Without water, no Life.

Fire. That silver shining strip of light caused by the Sun’s rays sparkling the sea. But it’s a false horizon. Beyond that apparent edge, if you look carefully, you can see more water. The fire of the Sun warms the water and warms the Earth. It’s the source of all our energy. Without the fire of the Sun, no Life.

Earth. Look more closely now, beyond the water on the other side of the sunlight. Can you see shadows? Hazy impressions of something more solid?  The Earth. Islands, other lands, rocks and stones and sand. Earth, the element which changes so slowly. Without earth, no Life.

Air. No, you can’t see the air. But as I stood there I filled my lungs with it. The clear, fresh, sea-scented air. The most invisible of all the elements, constantly changing, as I breathe in and breathe out again. As you breathe in and breathe out again. As all living creatures breathe in and breathe out again. Without air, no Life.

Then look again. Look down at the bottom right hand corner of this photograph. See the tree? Doesn’t she look like she has a fancy hat on? Doesn’t it seem as if she is looking out over the water, the fire, the earth and the air?  It seems to me that she is stretching both her arms up towards the sky and celebrating.

Makes you want to join in, don’t you think?

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Do you ever wonder about purpose? About who you are and why you are here? I do.

One of the answers I keep coming across is that each of us in unique, and each of us has an inner drive to be alive and to flourish….to be the most, the best, the fullest me I can be….because nobody else in the Universe can do that. Nobody else was ever identical to me and nobody in the future ever will be.

I think it’s just the same for every living organism.

Look at the way this flower opens herself up to the sunlight and manifests herself to the world. See how beautiful she is. How delicate, fragile, yet gloriously strong to grow and develop to this fullness.

It seems so appropriate to choose to illustrate this idea with a flower – after all, isn’t that where the word “flourishing” came from?

Isn’t that at the very least one of my true purposes in Life – to flourish in my uniqueness. I think it’s yours too. You, too, are completely unique, and only you can share that uniqueness with the rest of us. I hope you do.

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Menton, France.


Ventimiglia, Italy.

You can drive from Menton to Ventimiglia in about ten minutes. Each town is about five minutes from the border between France and Italy. Crossing the border, despite what the “state of emergency” in France, was as simple as waving to the Border guards as we drove from the one country into the other. It was as easy both ways. I suppose this is what the “Schengen” agreement really means….the ability to travel from one European country to another without even having to stop and show a passport. I love the diversity of Europe, and the ease of movement from one country to another. What a shame all that seems to be at risk now, with some countries building barbed wire fences along their borders and anti-European rhetoric ramping up in the UK as the referendum approaches.

I think you’ll agree from my two photos here that these two towns have clear similarities, but for me, a Scot who speaks some French, to travel from Menton where everything felt quite…..well, distinctly French with an Italian twist, to Ventimiglia which is distinctly Italian, without a French twist, it was, as Forrest Gump said, like going to “a whole other country”.

I’m in the habit now of saying “Bonjour” when I walk into shops or cafes, so my first encounter with difference in Ventimiglia was the response “Buon giorno”, to my “Bonjour”. In a cafe, I was surprised that when I gave my order in French (I know, why did I do that??), the Italian waitress responded in English. Not only did she pick up I wasn’t Italian of course, but she picked up I was an English-speaker speaking French. Well I suppose I speak French with a strong Scottish accent. I’ve since been told by a French person that it’s common to find Italians prefer to speak English rather than French. Is that true? Well, I reckon if I lived in or near Menton and could pop back and forward between France and Italy so easily, I’d be learning Italian as well as French – and speaking them both with a Scottish accent!




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