26 March Sunday
Inside is another word which gets regularly used with undue emphasis. When Inside is used along with In, I think it just says the same thing twice. I cannot get used to this doubling up of prepositions: Margaret is inside in the hospital. Teddy is inside in the shed. Gussie is inside in Clonmel. The dog is inside in the water. A dog can be in the water. But I do not understand a dog being inside the water. And inside in the water is a step towards complete confusion.
25 March Saturday
Two baby jackdaws fell down the chimney. They were young. They had no feathers yet. They were naked except for a tiny bit of fluff. No one was near the chimney when they fell. Gavin found them because he and another lad were in and out of the bar painting the loos. It was early in the day and there was no one else around. He showed the birds to Rose. The babies were still alive so she put them into an open cardboard box with an old tea towel. The Inspection Woman made a surprise visit. She came in shortly after the birds got settled into their box. Rose quickly put the box out in the small room that people walk through to go to the outdoor smoking area. She assumed the Inspection Woman would not go that far. The woman was busy looking everywhere for any breaches in Health and Safety. She reprimanded Rose for having an old and barely visible sticker for Silk Cut cigarettes on the underneath of the hinged bar hatch. No one ever sees the Silk Cut sticker except when Rose opens the hatch to go in or out from behind the bar to clear a table. The sticker has been coated over with varnish and old smoke for years and years now. It is barely visible. It is impossible to see where the sticker ends and where the wood it is stuck onto begins. The Inspection woman said that the sticker violates a law about openly advertising cigarettes. She made notes about a few other things and then she walked out the back door to go out to the smoking area. She squealed when she saw the two little jackdaws in the box. She asked no questions. She just said Get Them Out of Here! in a loud and imperative voice. She continued on with her examination. The birds were not mentioned again and Rose wonders if they will be noted in the letter with its inevitable list which the woman will be sending out later in the week.
24 March Friday
I stepped out of the barn to feel the warm sun. It is hard to believe that we had snow on the ground just two days ago. There is a sharp wind but in any sheltered spot the sun is hot. I sat down on the bench just outside the door and turned my face up to the sun. I lasted about three minutes in this pleasant position. Sticks and straw and leaves and little puffs of insulation material fell down onto my face and my shoulders. The starlings have been nest building in their normal spot up under the eaves. The ground is covered with the mess of construction. I was foolish to choose that bench for sitting.
23 March Thursday
We woke up to snow yesterday. About 3 inches of fat heavy wet snow. It looked beautiful and it covered everything thickly. It was a complete freak. We have entire winters, year after year after year, with no snow at all. Now, in late March, we get this lovely surprise snowfall. I am certain not everyone felt it was lovely. It could not be called a storm. It was a quiet gentle falling and all the time that the snow was falling the birds continued to sing as if it were another spring morning. The snow stopped by mid-morning and in the afternoon a soft rain began. By nightfall most of the snow had been washed away. Today the daffodils are popping back up again as if they had not been completely flattened to the ground by the weight of the snow. A very few of them have had their stems bent and their blossoms are hanging down. The bent daffodils will not recover but most of the others have shown amazing resilience. They are up and blowing in the breeze as if there had never been snow on top of them. The hills and the mountains remain white.
21 March Tuesday
There are two Oscars to meet on each walk up the path and around. The first Oscar is a young sheepdog with chestnut brown coloring. He is always desperate with desire for a tummy rub. He rushes out from the yard running low to the ground. He has rolled over and is waiting for a rub well before I reach him. After that first rub he stands up and hops about with pleasure. He hops with all four feet off the ground at the same time. Then he rolls over for more. If there is more than one person on a walk, we have to do a minimum of two good tummy rubs each before we can continue on our way. The second Oscar is the older dog. He is a big black Labrador. He rushes out from any number of locations, all in close proximity to his house. He greets anyone passing on foot with enthusiasm but he does not seek any rubbing, scratching or touching. This Oscar has little interest in affection. Just being together is enough for him. He wants a person to walk with. I am always happy to have him walk me home. And since he is getting a bit fat in his older age he needs as many walks as he can find walkers to go along with in a day. Living where he lives he is often without any walk at all as there are few people passing by.
20 March Monday
The walls that contained the compost heap have been collapsing for a long time. Instead of another make-do repair, the bin has now been completely rebuilt by Andrzej. He built it in the way that he decided it should be built and not at all the way it had been before. The only thing about it is that is the same is that the structure has been built with the re-used wood of a pallet. The pallet he found to use was a painted pallet. It was bright blue. Suddenly the compost bin is colourful and exciting. And it has a hinged cover.
19 March Sunday
Breda and I walked the lumpy fields again today. We love these fields. We were discussing the fields and how they join up. We know that each one must have a name because how else would anyone be able to say where they were going or where they were putting the cows if they could not put a name to the place. One of the fields has a clash in it. A clash is a kind of saucer-like indent in the land. It looks like it could be full of water but it is not. That is the easiest field for us to give a name to. One is shaped kind of like a corner piece. We decided to attempt a Field Count but we were talking as we were walking and we kept losing our count. We think that we ended up with nine but there are several fields we did not even walk into so we still do not have a total. And anyway I think we might have lost count somewhere between eight and nine.
18 March Saturday
There is a particular way for houses to be built of concrete blocks and then for the front of the house to be clad in stone so that from head on it looks as if it is a stone cottage. It is easy to see that the building is not completely made of stone as the sides remain concrete walls. No one seems bothered that the building has two different finishes. The stone clad front is an attempt for the house to look fancier and better presented to the world. And as Mick declared when admiring a newly built house, “There can only be one Front.”
17 March Friday
An elderly dog lives just down the road from Frank’s shop. The dog is deaf and his eyes are not good. He makes a visit to Frank’s shop every morning. A white line is painted on the road. It starts just at the point where the old dog lives. The line goes right down the middle of the road. Not many of these roads have a painted line. The old dog is fortunate that there is a line because with his poor eyes, he needs the line to get to the shop. He walks right along the white line with his head down keeping his full attention on it. The white line takes him to the shop and the white line takes him home again. When he gets to the shop he wanders around outside for a little while. He smells things and he pees on things. Then he sits down on the step. When Frank sees the dog he comes out and gives him a piece of yesterday’s cake or a bun. After the snack, the old dog takes a nap and when he wakes up he goes to the center of the road and walks along the white line until he arrives back home. We all know this dog and his scheduale. He cannot hear a car coming up behind him so it is up to us to be aware and to be careful if we are driving that bit of road mid-morning.
16 March Thursday
Taking To The Bed is what people do when they are poorly. They might be feeling sad and depressed or they might be ill with a cold or a flu. When someone is said to be Taking To The Bed, it is best not to ask too many questions.
15 March Wednesday
One bit of Joe’s field hovers high above the ditch. A cow standing up there makes the height confusing. It is not like the cow is merely looking over the ditch with its head visible.
14 March Tuesday
It has been four years now since her father died. She was mad at him when he died and she remains mad. She goes to his grave nearly every day to tell him how angry she is. She also tells him how much she misses him and she tells him how much work there is for her to do all because he is not there to do it. Her mother died last year. She is not angry with her mother. She saves all her rage for her father.
13 March Monday
There are daffodils in bud and daffodils in blossom. Daffodils are everywhere. There is the promise of more daffodils to come even while enjoying the early ones. Gorse. Forsythia. Lesser Celandine. Primroses are beginning to bloom down the boreen. Every blossom is a yellow blossom. Things are burgeoning. Nests are being built. The mornings are noisy with birdsong.
12 March Sunday
The moon is full. It popped up and sat right on the edge of the hill for a long time before it rose any higher. Now it is full and bright and high in the sky. Tonight will never be all the way dark.
11 March Saturday
I bought the first rhubarb of the year from Keith and Jim at the Farmers Market. I was looking forward to preparing it and eating it. I poked through the ginger in the supermarket. There were only a few scruffy pieces and they were shriveled. I was picking through to find the best one I could find. The young man whose father ran the supermarket for many years saw me. He has taken over the running of the market from his father and he is eager to be helpful. He loves his work. He showed me that there were some packages of organic ginger. The organic ginger looked fresh and firm but it was expensive and there was an awful lot of it in one packet. I told him that I only wanted one piece today. I told him that I just wanted some ginger to cook with the first rhubarb. I said I would keep sorting through the loose bits. He came over to help me in the looking. We found a few small pieces which met my approval. He put them into a little bag and then he threw in a few more. He said, Now put those right into your pocket. There will be no charge. This is between me and yourself.
10 March Friday
The path up to Johnnie’s has been cleared. There are no longer horizontal trees to duck underneath. There are no more fallen branches to crawl under. The brambles are trimmed way back. There is still a muddy uphill climb over slippery mossy rocks, but now I can stretch my arms straight out from side to side before I touch anything. It is now a big airy tunnel rather than a narrow tunnel. It will get overgrown again soon but for now it feels like a whole new place to walk.
9 March Thursday
Breda and I walked over the small unevenly shaped fields behind Jimmie and Esther’s farm. They no longer keep cows themselves so they rent out the fields to another farmer. He grazes his cows there in the months of good weather. In the winter Breda is free to walk out with the dogs with no worry about electric fences or climbing over gates or meeting cows or bulls. There are a lot of fields. I lost track of how many there were. Some of them are deep with wet. They are boggy after all the rain. None of the fields are large. They are not the kind of fields where the ditches have been torn out to make large expanses easy for big modern equipment to get in and move around. There is no ploughing nor planting in these fields. Perhaps they are fertilized a bit with a small tractor just to make sure that the grass keeps growing. Cattle move from field to field to eat and eat all the grass until they eat everything and then they get moved to another field. These fields are never flattened by heavy equipment rolling over them so they are uneven with cow hoof prints and the pushing up of gnarly tree roots. Walking though these lumpy fields in the sunshine was a pleasure even while it was hard work. There were no cows. We saw a buzzard, a fox, and a pheasant.
8 March Wednesday
Dawn lives downhill from a dairy farm. She rents her house from the farmer. Water in the house is at the mercy of the farmer and the needs of his cows. The water supply for the house and the water supply for the cows both come from the same well. During morning and evening milking times there is no water in Dawn’s house because the farmer must wash the milking parlour and flush out the milking equipment. The farmer calls this Cow Time. His cows have priority over his tenants. If his cows are grazing in one of the fields which is lower than the house, water gets pumped down to them for drinking. Then there is not enough pressure for it to go back uphill to the rented house. Keeping water stored in 5 litre bottles is an all year round job at Dawn’s house. The filled-up bottles of water are kept in the shed so that there is always water even when there is no water.
At a nearby gallery in the fashionably dubbed Haut Marais*, our friend Didier Mathieu, from the Centre des Livres d’Artistes, has laid out a book exhibition entitled récits / écrits. It is a display of formative of work from formative women artists, largely American, from the heyday of the self-published democratic book or printed format. But almost as a tangent to the content of the publications, is a clarity and assurance of the value of the display of printed forms. This is not often the case. I think that most of us working with such material feel very ambiguous and conflicted about putting books under glass, or on the wall in frames. They are meant to be held, turned, closed and re-opened, and an exhibition by its nature prevents this, except as a memory of such activation in the mind.
Didier Mathieu has always had a most concise idea about how book shows should be done, but this time it is exceptional, even to the point of hanging pages and centrefolds on the wall. They slightly articulate in the movement of air in the space, as Mallarmé’s newspaper reader in the garden is interrupted by a flying insect, and incorporates it into the narrative.
It is far from another exhibition visited recently, L’Esprit du Bauhaus, at the Musée d’Art Décoratif, where the overcrowding, an often problematic thesis and history, should have been kept in a book and not placed in vitrines nor on plinths under glass domes. Nothing could have been further from l’esprit. By contrast Didier Mathieu’s display animated itself from within, and was firmly within the reductive clarity of that early modernist school.
* récits /écrits mfc-michele didier, 66 rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, 75003 Paris
As a memory of the days of blithe walks across the city, at least as a memory of them from the edge back to the middle, I offer two Portes done before the fall on the staircase. Nothing particularly remarkable about these two veiled and barely distinguishable listings on the southern edge of the péripherique. They are precisely the kind of destination that our Parisian friends would think of us as not being proper tourists for wanting to go and see. But that’s the whole point of the Porte Walks, to examine the debris of the city, and encounter things of no importance. Like these beautiful cast aluminium pots in some Moroccan shop just after we had left the metro at Porte de Vanves, heading for Porte Briancon. Should I go back and buy them, I ask, but they are big ?
We just caught the traveling Carl Andre history at the Musée d’Art Moderne, and it was a good time to think about the so-called ‘poems’, largely from earlier times in the work. I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to call them that. They are really inventories of language as yet another elemental material, to be stacked, repeated, laid flat, pushed up against the wall. They use none of the devices of the language of poetry, title and play of content, metaphor as displacement and alternation, but they merely state themselves as material fact. Nothing wrong with that, I would add.
Maybe all this is too retrospective an analysis, far too formal, and they really occurred in a more spontaneous time, along with other surprising vestiges of mail art, a plethora of postcards sent to friends through the available system at your doorstep. But what I really admire now about Carl Andre is the fact that he stopped working at a given point, and resorted to the hand-held manipulations of material shapes and forms that he continues to give to friends.Not for him to become the factory of the artworld, the manufacturer of storable property and space-fillers for over-sized collections. He remains fluid and adaptable, in spite of what at first might seem a puritan monolith of chaste material.
On Sunday, my furthest journey to date with the impediment. To the Armenian church on Rue Charlot, long-time bastion of the free concert, especially at the weekends. The programme is not always riveting, but this time we had to get there for two of my favourite pieces. Two young pianists were working together for four-hand pieces by Ravel and Debussy. Ma Mère l’Oie, with its finale of The Mechanical Garden, reflecting all the clockwork toys and mechanical games that Ravel had in his house in Montfort l’Amaury. You could see the construction of hands required to produce it on the keyboard by sitting not too far from the piano.
Debussy’s setting of the poems of Chanson de Bilitis by Pierre Louys as Six Épigraphs Antiques has been with me since I first encountered it back in the nineteen sixties, with its wonderful finale, that needs restating.
Stepping out, or more like hobbling-out for the first time with the torn ankle, to see the wonderful Alighiero Boetti exhibition I had seen in London last November. In there I heard that Jannis Kounellis, one of his working compatriots had just died. The work was not close at all, but they shared a time of radical change to raw materials that we have still never recovered from. Hearing of him in that context caused a reverie of one of his great works that I had seen in the early nineties in the middle of France in the most unlikely of venues.
It was in Chagny in Burgundy that Pietro Sparta made a gallery to show his Arte Povera friends and a few others, largely, if I remember, because of the presence in Chagny of the truly great restaurant Lameloise. The artists wanted to eat there, and could be persuaded to come to the middle of nowhere and make a large exhibition. Here, passing through Chagny on the way south, Erica and I encountered the remarkable 1988 work of Kounellis, made of glasses of grappa and cut lead shapes. I understood there to be as many as 40,000 glasses of grappa, and the work was arranged in a far more fugitive state than the more formalistic museum presentation of future years. The smell was overwhelming, and you could hardly enter the rooms of the arrangement. Of course, the grappa evaporated and had to be topped-up continuously. An interesting aside to the Bill Culbert work Small Glass Pouring Light which is conserved by drinking, in its case the red wine of its subject.But here there was just far too much grappa to begin with that as a means of conservation, socially involving as both pieces might be. They are both great works and live in the memory.
Pietro Sparta had a partner in the gallery who was called Pascale Petite. There is a poet in Britain of the same name, and I have never known if she took another career. There was loose talk at the time of Pietro doing a show with Ian Hamilton Finlay, if I remember correctly. Not a bad idea I thought to myself, since their combined names made Little Sparta, the homestead of Mr Finlay!
Somewhere on the southern boundaries, beyond the tram lines, but before the péripherique, chasing one Porte or another, what could be the original Jacques Tati ludicrous formica Hotel, in all its early plywood symmetry and glory. The vinyl canopied foyer may be a later addition, but it still speaks of an era frozen in time, even without the nearby seaside
The biggest truck you have ever seen pulled into Rue Crussot to discharge its cargo of caged animals for the Cirque d’Hiver. How it will negotiate its exit, presumably backwards into the main Boulevard, I have no idea, and it certainly cannot proceed down the street, which only gets narrower towards the bottom. The truck is as large as the first part of the street, and painted a suitable beige to camouflage itself from the Hausmann vernacular apartment blocks, corresponding to the vehicle that would have captured the lions and tigers in their own more colourful habitat SC