Sunday, January 29, 2012

Los Pajaros Perdidos de Lourdes

Jaroussky   Arpeggiata Jan 2012Tonight’s concert attraction in Lourdes is the improvisatory baroque ensemble L’Arpeggiata led by Christina Pluhar. Their album All' Improvviso was my favourite disc of 2006, and sits high in my pantheon of all-time favourites. Since then they’ve brought out one disc annually tracing music styles between the old and new worlds, instrumental and vocal pieces woven together unfussily to bring out the common strands of song and dance forms over hundreds of years.

In recent years they’ve employed the young French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky on a number of discs, most notably in music of Monteverdi such as this duet with Spanish soprano Nuria Rial “Pur ti miro”. The lead-in instrumental is the Cazzati ciaccona from the All’ Improvviso album, which is a bit of a signature piece for them:

CAZZATI Ciaccona + MONTEVERDI Pur ti miro

No advance program was supplied for tonight’s concert but it was bound to be weighted heavily towards their new album Los Pajaros Perdidos which is even more wide-ranging than usual, featuring music from South America from the baroque era up to the present times with Astor Piazzolla providing the title track. Quite honestly from my previewing of album tracks on YouTube and Spotify, this has to be my least favourite of all their works, and I have 11 albums. There are maybe 2-3 tracks I like but I would be kidding myself if I bought the entire album. I have a healthy amount of early to modern South American music in my collection, but this selection doesn’t sit well with my ears.


Anyway I had booked tonight’s concert last year before I had a chance to acquaint myself with the new music, but this is my first opportunity to see L’Arpeggiata live. I seem to be in the wrong hemisphere each time they’ve appeared in Australia and I would not miss this chance. A Toulouse concert was scheduled last year but even without any formal cancellation, the tickets never actually went on sale.

L'Arpeggiata with Philippe Jaroussky 
So, onwards to tonight’s event. After our pizza dinner in Lourdes, we drove back up the hill to the Cité Saint Pierre and followed a stream of cars into a big grass parking area, were directed into place and then walked on another 300m to the Auditorium Padre Pio. On the way through town we had a car with a very visible GPS display just in front of us. That car paused at the sign pointing the wrong way and I could see a head looking up, and then the car took off in the wrong direction. Poor lost people.

When the internal doors finally opened, we followed a crush of people into the auditorium proper (because queuing is forbidden under the Napoleonic Code) and were directed to the back of the room. At this point there was a lot of consternation – this was “free seating” – no? There were many many rows of free seats closer to the stage, and people from the 2 other doors were being directed into those seats.

After a little time I asked one of the staff what was going on. Now I’ve been to plenty of experimental performance pieces in my life, but never an experimental booking piece. It turned out that they’d decided to segment the hall crossways (parallel to the stage) into three sections – why? Who knows? A Psychology 101 experiment? This was not advertised: everyone paid the same price and were told it was unnumbered seating. The lady I spoke to said that the excellent acoustics would equalise it for everyone, despite the people next to me needing opera glasses to see the stage. No one could be moved as it was a sell-out concert. A few people stormed around to try to get better seats, but ultimately I think they were more aggressive queue jumpers than seat finders.

Jaroussky   Arpeggiata Jan 2012-001I looked over the concert program which begins with a number of works from earlier discs – like the Cazzati - and the final quarter seemed to cover the new Los Pajaros Perdidos material. I was very happy with that.

The grumbling from our section continued quite a while as the start of the show moved from 8.30 to 8.45 and then close to 9.00 an announcement was made about some parking issues and so people continued to trickle into the room some 40 minutes after the scheduled start. I told the lady staffer about the wrong-way sign on the main road and showed her a photo I’d taken from the car. She closed her eyes and groaned quietly.

The concert began and it was quickly clear that the venue acoustics were completely inadequate for an unamplified group of baroque instruments and a countertenor. The great Monteverdi Toccata which opens their 2009 Teatro d’amore album probably has more weight on iPod headphones than in this room. And then the coughing from the front rows began – which took down the effective acoustic several levels. That settled down a bit after twenty minutes, but as lovely and well executed as the program was, a number of the instruments were nearly inaudible – and I’m sure the people in the rows behind us had an even harder time of it.

The entire concert lasted 60-70 minutes, I just wished I could have heard and seen more of it. When the applause started I motioned to Gustav to make a quick exit, as I didn’t want to be behind a thousand people trying to get their vehicles out of the field and down the narrow hillside road into Lourdes.

We got to the car pretty quickly but discovered as I tried to drive out that not only way the booking for the event rather experimental, but the parking was even more so. The cars had been packed so close together by the auto-Tetris playing parking attendants that we were stuck until the outer vehicles had gone. So we had to wait for enough audience members to leave and move the necessary vehicles to make any further progress. It took us 30-40 minutes to extract ourselves fully from the Cité; with other vehicles arriving to pick up some of the audience members, the long chain of vehicles ahead of us could not exit. Not a good conclusion to a big let-down of an evening, especially with a two hour drive on winding country roads ahead.

If Beethoven and Elvis came back to earth to do a joint concert at Auditorium Padre Pio, I would not go. I can’t wait to see L ‘Arpeggiata again in a more appropriate, less “experimental” venue.

Lourdes: a re-visitation (part 2)

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes-003Behind the façade of the grottoplex is the grotto itself – a small indentation in the rock at ground level with a non-animatronic Madonna stuck up high to represent Bernadette’s 1858 vision.

Before you reach that there is a low row of taps (most out of service) dispensing the miraculous waters from the spring which is now protected by a sheet of glass. Visitors queue up to fill up their containers with Lourdes water to dispense miracles at home. I was hoping for a car-wash to help out the old Zafira as it lumbers around Gascony. Air-borne pilgrims are now forbidden to bring their water containers onto the plane, which probably leads to some interesting sights of outraged pilgrims guzzling or bathing in their cargo at the Pyrenees airport.

After the grotto, there are rows of metal carts with burning candles and then a set of metal queuing corrals guiding people who want to bathe in the waters. I couldn’t quite see where they bathed – it all had the appearance of entering the change rooms for a dilapidated municipal swimming pool.

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes  2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes-005
Retracing our steps we took a quick swig from one of the miracle water taps – in lieu of any drinking fountains. Even though my hand got wet, it did nothing for my chafed knitting fingers.

We paid a quick visit to the Crypt and Upper Basilica. The former is a small space lined with plaques acknowledging “spiritual favours”. A side-room has this small gold vessel that claims to have “fragments taken from the body of Bernadette in 1925”. It’s a cheery old place.
Madonna looking over my shoulder at the grotto

As we left the outside temperature dropped another five degrees, so we took momentary refuge in a row of gift shops, warmed by neon and enclosing panels of tea-towels decorated with shepherdesses and Pyrenean Mountain Puppies.

Bits of Bernadette  P1080044

It was now time to go looking for tonight’s concert venue “Auditorium Padre Pio”. The site maps of the booking agencies using this venue neglected to provide a map to it or the “Cité Saint Pierre” in Lourdes where it is located. Neither of them are listed on my GPS or Google maps.

The booking agency emailed me a written paragraph description which seems to assume a familiarity with Lourdes streetscape and gives roundabouts names which aren’t on the maps. I could see the venue noted on a street map in the city and took a photo to consult later. It wasn’t going to be easy because most of the streets leading towards the area of the venue were temporarily(?) blocked off to traffic.

Back in the car, we tried to follow the instructions sent by the agency and finally saw a road sign at a five-way intersection pointing rather unhelpfully into a building, and not to any particular road we could follow. We drove in a big circle for a while trying to see if any of the close-by roads had further signage. None of them did, so we got back to the original sign and followed the road it pointed away from. Eventually we found ourselves up a hill and some small printed cardboard signs from the event organisers showing the last past of the journey for anyone lucky enough to have got this far. It was now dark and we were now a bit “off the grid” for road-signage or street lights, which gave me pause for thought: would the concert might be very poorly attended? Had it been cancelled?

Finally after a few steep twists and turns, we pulled into into what I took to be the Cité Saint Pierre, the entrance blocked by a manned boom-gate. The attendant told us the site wouldn’t be open for another two hours. I asked him if there was anywhere to eat there and he told us there wasn’t.  I mentioned how difficult the site was to find, and informed him that the one sign leading here from the main road was pointing in the complete opposite direction. He found this rather hilarious, saying it had happened before. It must be someone playing tricks as it’s a big arrow that doesn’t look like it would turn in the wind.

There wasn’t much we could do at this point other than mark our location on the GPS and go back into Lourdes to look for some dinner.  This was rather frustrating as well – although there were a number of cafes and restaurants open, it took some searching to find one that served food before 7pm. Our concert was at 8.30 with free seating in the venue, so I wanted to make sure we had enough time to eat, get back to the car and then to the venue in time to get decent seats. Eventually we found a pizza place that was serving food, and got were able to sit somewhere warm, relax and eat.

Lourdes: a re-visitation (part 1)

LourdesLourdes is another 20-30 minutes away, passing the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees airport which mostly trafficks in Catholic pilgrims on charter flights. There is a service from London Stanstedt but despite it being closer than say Bordeaux, the slow roads into the Gers mean it’s a much less practical airport for those making the pilgrimage to see Munson.

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes1 2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes
By the time we arrived, the Pyrenees had disappeared into clouds and the temperature was dropping quickly. In contrast to the late summer visit that I made with Bondi some years ago, the town was very quiet and most of the cafes and hotels built Vegas-style to accommodate those gambling on a miracle had closed up for the season.

Yes Lourdes has a hospital! We’ve got 4-5 hours to kill before the evening concert, with first priority being to locate the venue and somewhere for dinner. I parked slightly before reaching the town centre, not knowing what the traffic situation would be like. Lourdes gets around five million visitors annually, and doesn’t have the great open road network of Las Vegas: it’s a twisting labyrinth of narrow one-way streets near the main attraction. We walked down past the hospital that does the real curative work here: even the church only admits to 67 “miracles”out of 200 million visits. With the money spent here, a lot of medical aid could have been productively applied.

Even with the off-season closures: the remaining stores around the Sanctuary are just as tacky as ever: glow-in-the-dark Madonnas and Jesuses, plastic jerry-cans and bottles for carting away water from the shrine; from shop to shop, an escalation of kitsch without peer.

Exit through the gift shops

The shroud of grey cloud over the complex of chapels, crypts and basilicas stacked over the grotto made it a very gloomy place away from the neon.

Not having penetrated the area of the Sanctuary on the last visit, the place was slightly easier to take without hordes of pilgrims, nuns with fluorescent bags of trinkets pushing unfortunately wheelchair-bound charges inexorably past the candles and souvenir coin machines.

approaching the sanctuary
Taking note of the sign at the gate warning us that terriers, gelato and synchronised swimmers were forbidden to enter this magical kingdom, we passed a creepy zone of crosses that led up to the grottoplex.  It’s a far cry from the Lithuanian Hill of Crosses, which had the virtue of symbolising a refusal to yield to Soviet domination.

basilica-plex  under the dome
Inside the first chapel there’s an odour of frankincense and damp, like a consecrated swimming pool. Most of the visitors are camera-wielding tourists, but i can’t really say the place was aesthetically noteworthy – most of these structures were knocked together hastily in the last few decades of the 19th century and have no congruity with the time or place.

souvenir medallionP1070984

exterior detail  150th anniversary  Flagellation
… continued in Part 2.


Tarbes mural

A change of pace today as Gustav and I have headed two hours south for an evening concert in Lourdes. Munson is having a home day as there’s no other sensible arrangement I can make for him during the concert hours.

P1070932As we got closer to Tarbes, the snow-covered Pyrenees made an impressive appearance. Last time I was here, during a late summer tour through the mountains, the place was pretty quiet. Not so different today outside the big supermarchés on the edge of town, most of the merchants have closed their doors for the two hour lunch. Even the big book store in the centre has the shutters down, so no lunch-hour browsing. While Tarbes runs a distant centre to Toulouse size-wise in this region, it’s twice the size of Auch, our capital of the Gers. There weren’t many choices for food either – I think most of these places had shut up for lunch!
Fauré Fourreur  P1070940

We didn’t have much option but to walk the streets for an hour or so, and at least there were some odd bits of street art to contemplate.
Querelle?  Danton
P1070931I’m not sure why the statue of the 18thC revolutionary figure Danton is given such prominence in the town centre. He came from the opposite end of France and was executed at the young age of 35, telling his executioner “Don't forget to show my head to the people. It's well worth seeing.”
The pose of the figure suggests that he might be uttering his famous “We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity!”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Knitting: day 6


Slower progress this week as I’ve a few other things to get done. The front (sans collar) is all done, so that’s the two biggest panels out of the way. The colour layout on each section will vary somewhat so it may look a bit like a partly tie-dye quilt when it all comes together.

I’m getting a bit of a chafing sore on a couple of fingers – I think it’s from the knitting, but could as well be from some of the prickly brambles I tore up a few days ago.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Knitting : day 2


My progress has been at the same rate as yesterday and I’ve finished the back panel. Four balls of yarn took me to within a half dozen rows of the top.

You can see how the self-striping yarn has revealed itself in five different colour bands that alternate with the base colour. Again because I’m knitting double, I’m holding a strand of base yarn and a strand of self-striping yarn together.

Tote that tree! Lift that trunk!

two fallen treesLest anyone think I’m just sitting around throwing stitches over knitting needles, there’s also heavy labouring to be done outdoors.

Sometime in December a couple of trees fell into the pond, taking some saplings with them which have bent into the water under the weight of the heavier trunks.

Inspection of the bases showed that both had been well chewed by insects and were now only supported by ivy stems and the interlocking of higher branches with neighbouring trees. Whether it was wind, water or coypu that ultimately dislodged them I don’t know, but it was only a matter of time before they rotated like a ball joint and toppled to the water.

Whatever roots are remaining are still in the ground to bind the soil, but the weight of the  trunk bases is providing some downward pressure on the banks.

I’ve had a couple of goes at pulling the topmost tree out of the water from the opposing bank –both alone and with Gustav - but didn’t get very far till the third attempt. At this point I’d been aided by rainfall filling the pond and giving some more flotation. I could have tied a rope to it and pulled it out with my car weeks ago, but part of the point of the exercise is the exercise itself.

Last week I pulled it about 80% clear of the water (as shown above), but was defeated by a combination of the heavier weight of the tree base and some branch stubs digging into the ground.
first removal  second removal
With the top tree out of the water, the next one proved to be much easier and it joined the other on dry land. The only tentative plan I have for them is to strip away the branches and drag them down to the other end of the pond to use as reinforcement for the banks that the coypu have hollowed out.
clear pondWith these two trees out of the way, the western end of the pond is now clear of most of the debris that has fallen or been thrown into it. There are a few more zombie trees that will fall in  sooner or later which can be dealt with as that happens. I’ve also cleaned out most of the dead branches interwoven with long thorny bramble branches that were forming a canopy across the centre of the pond, some of which was blocking my view southwards to the Pyrenees.

Munson went into the water a few times today, and for the first time ever came out cleaner than when he went in!

In the front of the last picture here you can see part of an old metal door that I’ve left in the water. It was lying further up on the pond and I dragged it back here to give me something to stand on when I was cleaning other muck out. I’m going to leave it there for now to improve access to the water, if only for the dogs who would otherwise get quite muddy.

There’s a few more smaller clearing and reinforcement tasks to be done over the next few weeks before Spring growth  begins.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Knitting: day 1

Knitting - day 1

I picked up the knitting needles today to begin my first project of the millennium.  I’ll provide details of the pattern I’m working to when I’m finished; for now you can see it evolve over the coming weeks.

I got much more done than expected. This is the back panel at the end of the first two balls of yarn. The yarn is held doubled which means I’m knitting two strands as if they were one. I’ve reached the end of one ball slightly ahead of the other because I cast on with a single thread. I’ve just switched to a self-striping yarn, which will become more apparent in my next report.

I realised belatedly that I forgot to incorporate some knit-in elastic in the waist band to compensate against it sagging in later life.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Munson in the edit suite

Munson in the edit suite

I captured some video of Munson & Legend. Munson is quite fascinated by the whole thing. He talks his own commentary over the top of it. I’m intrigued by how much he can follow on screen. Bondi paid no attention to televisual images but Munson will  have his attention caught by sights or sounds on the screen, and will watch what’s going on for minutes at a time.

Legend and the overfriend

Munson & LegendI haven’t given a size update on young Legend since September, when he was about chin-height to Munson. At nine months he’s grown just a wee bit more – he’s slightly taller than Munson, and gangly as all get out. Being much your out-in-the-fields hanging-out-with-the-livestock or watching the driveway for visitors sort of dog he’s not the relentless seeker of human company that Munson is. One of the pictures below shows the typical contrast – Munson looks you in the eye, inviting interaction, whereas Legend tends to look away, dropping his head to avoid a direct gaze.

But they do play so well together.

Munson, Legend - video grabs
Munson still his little-stick schtick for luring playmates; it works for tiny dogs and big dogs all.

Legend, Munson, Gustav  Legend bows to Munson

frog in lavenderAfter the play session was done, I was walking back inside when I stopped to check how some of my pots of lavender were doing. I spotted a small green resident deep in the foliage of one of them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A slightly rocambolesque expedition

We’re off to Toulouse again today. Gustav’s returning from Sweden on an evening flight so I’m going to take Munson for a leisurely drive across the Gers to check out a few places and then fill in time at the shopping precinct close to Blagnac airport.

First stop was in Auch to check out a wool shop, but it looked like they’d not come back from lunch for the afternoon so we kept going. Incidentally Brent has suggested that I buy a sheep to have a personal wool supply, and run it with the cow herd on the farm (comme ça). My preference is to run angora rabbits with them, which will give Munson something to chase during knitting off-season.

Forsaking Auch, I called ahead to Laine et Co in Monblanc where Yvonne & Mike run holiday rooms, a needlecraft centre and an internet supply centre. I checked off my immediate needs for correctly-sized needles and looked at some of the wool stock so I could get an idea of texture when choosing my next yarn. I have a standing invitation to return with any knitting project in progress for a cup of tea and another long chat. Yvonne mentioned an Anny Blatt store near the Capitole in Toulouse, so that gave me a little mission while filling up the remaining hours.

Josette Jourdain / Anny Blatt wool store Toulouse 
I found the Anny Blatt store very quickly on a side street away from the Place du Capitole. The centre of the store was mostly taken up by a group of ladies knitting around a table.  As I entMunson @ woolstoreered I got the usual raised eyebrow assessment of  a man appearing in an unfamiliar zone: “he’s been sent by someone and I hope he knows what he’s doing”.

I quickly got the manager on side with my precise list of requests for various circular and double-pointed needles. She told me that some of the quarter-sizes like 3.75mm were Anglaise or Americain and I’d have to make do with 3.5mm or 4.0mm.  I guess I’ll actually get those over the internet and having an extra or two in those sizes will just be extras for the knitting toolbox.

She asked if there were anything more and I said I just wanted to browse through the wool, but first I needed to check my dog outside. As we reached the door, another lady was pushing her head around it asking “is that your snow dog? He’s magnifique!”. Madame manager took one look and with swooping arms and an “Entrez!” told me to bring him in. I rescued Munson from a group of ladies on the street and delivered him into the cosy set inside. He found the whole thing quite diverting, aside from charming all the humans he wanted to sniff all the interesting animal hair piled up around the walls.

Larcenet JakolassAfter this I popped back to Album store to look over some more bandes-desinées  graphic novels, as I think they’re a good way to bolster my French. I spent a productive hour browsing through titles, marvelling at the artistry in so many of these slim volumes.  At the moment I’m reading a very witty comic homage to the universe of the Valerian series by Manu Larcenet titled L’Armure du JakolassNot being familiar with his earlier work I had a poke around on the net, and bookmarked a few titles for later. I also came across his blog where he’d posted some rather wonderful images this month:

Manu Larcenet - Un labrador sur le toit du monde  Manu Larcenet - Van Gogh passe dire bonjour à Monet 
A labrador on the roof of the world                       Van Gogh comes to say hello to Monet

Larcenet - Le temps du chienI don’t know if these are stand-alone images or come from other novels: he does have a book about Vincent van Gogh and in the same spirit, one that’s grabbed my fancy: Le temps du chienrecounting a story of Sigmund Freud crossing the American West in the style of Don Quixote albeit with more overt psycho-analyses, during which adventure rocambolesque he encounters a stray dog searching for its soul. Something for everyone!

Munson @ Toulouse Blagnac airportFinally we wound up at Blagnac airport, just in time to meet Gustav as he stepped out onto the concourse. Munson was very excited by this as I think he got a bit confused by Gustav’s disappearance there two weeks ago.