Water Dog under the Woodpile


27 March Tuesday

Sean arrived to collect his daughter to go and visit the mother in hospital, but he was thirty minutes early. She was not home yet.  He went next door to chat with Greg just To Put Down The Time .

26 March Monday

Niall came to look at the heating system. With a bit of fiddling, he was able to get it all working again. The pump was not gone after all. We were relieved. We feared we might be needing a new stove and the amount of money to be spent would be huge. The hardship of a few days without heat are already forgotten in our relief. Then Ned Coady came down with his plug-in generator to fill the fuel tank. As we drank tea together afterwards he joked that Simon was off his mark. Usually Simon calls the oil company and asks for 720 litres or 680 litres or whatever amount is needed. He is always spot-on with his order. He has no gauge on the tank. He only uses a long piece of wood that he sticks into the tank and from that he makes his estimate of the volume required. He climbs up a ladder and stands on the edge of the wall beside the tank to make his calculation. It is a joke with Ned and a joke with the men at the yard and and a joke with Simon and himself that Simon is always correct. He never orders more fuel than can be fit into the tank.  The tank fills to within a few centimetres with the amount he orders. The men at the yard cannot figure out how he does it. Today’s estimate was a bit off. He had ordered 650 litres and the fuel filled the tank about 250 centimetres below the top. Ned was not going to let this be forgotten. He was not interested in our days without heat and the almost broken heating system. He acted like he had won a wager. He was still chuckling when he left the house.

25 March Sunday

The older woman was shorter than me and she was badly bent over. She asked me to lift a box of porridge oats down from a high shelf. She said, “I don’t like To Put In On You but I cannot reach that high.” I did not know the expression but I understood the need for help. I mentioned it to Breda and she defined it exactly in the way I had understood it. To Put In On Someone is to impose upon them. There is always another way to say the exact things that I think I already know.

24 March Saturday

The path is wet and there is water running down it and there are lots of rocks covered with moss. The winter has been long and wet.  The moss is everywhere. But the big branches and the brambles are cut back. It is easy to walk without getting entangled or ducking down low, as long as I look carefully at the mud and the slippery stones.  Up near the top the mud dries up and there is so much wild garlic growing along the way that garlic is the only smell. I cannot smell the mud nor any of the other young green things.  The entire length of the path smells like garlic.

23 March Friday

Simon shouted for me to come outside. He said he’d seen the biggest stoat ever and it was under our wood pile. The stoat stuck his head out and looked at us both and then it went back in. It looked too big to be a stoat. We did not know what it was. It went in and out, and around the back, and in and out again, and it studied us without fear and with a lot of interest. It had a nice face. I took a few photographs as it took off and ran across the grass. When it ran it moved low along the ground with large elongated flexing and bouncing movements, sort of like a hare. It was black and sleek and long. A little later we were down at the shop. I asked the blonde woman behind the counter if she knew her animals. She said she did. She looked and said that she did not know what it was but that it was Not a stoat. She called Marian over and Marian said it looked like a stoat but it was too big for a stoat. My phone was being passed around. I thought it looked like a mink but I did not know if minks were native. Marie had a look and said it is more mink than stoat. There were six people discussing the animal now with each other and with Simon and I. My phone kept being grabbed and the photos studied and enlarged as everyone tried to solve it. Someone suggested a pine marten but others put that idea down scornfully. It was too sleek and too thin to be a pine marten. Without exception everyone disliked the pine marten as a possibility and as an animal. John Condon walked into the shop and Marie said “Here’s the man to sort this!” Someone handed my phone to John. He recoiled from it and said he did not have his glasses. The photos were enlarged yet again and shown to him. We all said what we thought it was or was not. Everyone was talking at the same time. John looked at the phone with care and shouted, “It’s a Water Dog!” There was a group sigh of agreement. Of course, a water dog! I had no idea what a water dog was. They all agreed it needed water nearby and Simon mentioned the stream at the bottom of our meadow. John made a flexing movement with his body and his back. He said, “It moves like this.” He imitated the movement exactly right. I looked up water dog when I got home and found all kinds of dogs, mostly Portuguese, which were called Water Dogs but not one of them looked like our animal. Eventually I found a picture of what we had seen and it was indeed a mink.

22 March Thursday

I admired his fancy designer spectacles. I could see they were new. Since I had never seen him wearing any glasses at all before this, I asked if he had always worn them. In fact, he said he had never worn glasses, but he had been instructed to wear them twenty years ago. He said it was hard enough being gay in school. He said that wearing glasses would have finished him off. I asked what wearing the new glasses did for his vision. He claimed that the world was a new place. When I suggested that poor vision was a liability in his line of work, he looked at me in the mirror and we both fell about  laughing. He said that every head of hair he cuts now is a brand new head of hair even if it is a head of hair he has been working on every week for the last fifteen years.

The Pump Is Gone on the Central Heating.

21 March Wednesday

The pump is gone on the central heating. We think it is the pump. We hope it is the pump. It might be something more. We are lucky it is not too cold today. No snow. No sleet. No rain. No wind.  We have kept the wood stove going all day. Sadly, that heat does not reach everywhere. Niall, the plumber, cannot come until tomorrow evening. That means anytime after dinner (lunch) and before about six o’clock. All we can do is wait.

20 March Tuesday

After the torrential rain. After the snow. This morning, I spent half an hour outside on the bench. I sat with my back against the wall feeling sun on my face. With coffee. Out of the wind, the sun was hot and lovely. The first primroses are showing in the boreen. It has been a week of high contrasts. Big holes out on the tar roads remain treacherous. The road drops away in chunks. The tar and everything supporting the tar just drops down to somewhere deep. The holes are big and flat, when they are full of water. If they are filled with water there is no way to know if the hole is an extremely deep hole or a shallow puddle. If there is a really large hole, big enough for one or more car tyres to drop into, we might call it a pot hole but more often it is spoken of as a sheep dip.

17 March Saturday

The market was quiet today. There were only eight stalls. The weather did not help. It was cold and sleety and horrible. The big field behind the castle was completely covered with water. If you did not know that it was usually a field, you would believe that it was always a lake. There were few customers. The good news is that Maria, who makes the pates and terrines and wild garlic pesto is now selling cheese. She had five kinds of cheese on one end of her table. They were all Irish cheeses I had not seen before. One was a smoked cheese and one was a hard sheep cheese and the other three were made of cows milk. We have not had a cheese seller at the market since Katherine left to enjoy her retirement and to play more golf. That must be at least four years ago. Maybe five. We bought three kinds of cheese.

Keith was selling long stemmed daffodils. The stems were 24 inches (62 cm long). I measured them when I got home. I have never seen such tall daffodils. He said he grew them in the poly-tunnel. That explains the height. Our own daffodils get knocked down by the wind. Today they are lying flat under yesterday’s surprise snow, but I know they will stand back up again as the few inches of snow melts. They will never grow as tall as Keith’s daffodils. Our daffodils fight the weather so they will always be stunted.

The Apple Farm had Elstars on offer which made me happy. I know they keep the apples in a cooler over the winter, but still, I marvel that last autumn’s apples can taste so sharp and sweet and crunchy in March. Pat had homemade butter from Tinnock Farms in Wexford along with plenty of fresh fish. We complained together about how buttermilk is being mixed in with a lot of commercial butter these days. It is a way to lower production costs. It makes the butter do funny things in a pan. The new egg woman, who is Australian, had two goats in a pen beside her table. They were young goats rescued from an elderly neighbour who could no longer care for them. Their names are Jim and Debbie. I hope they return next Saturday.

15 March Thursday

I had looked ahead at the weather report. I knew there was a lot of rain falling. I knew that copious amounts had fallen throughout the night. Even with this knowledge I was not ready for the reality of so much rain. It is easy to forget how much rain can fall in Ireland if one is away from it for a short time. As we neared the area close to home, all of the roads were flooded. There was water rushing off the fields as though they were always fast running rivers and they were never fields. The gashes that the council digs out of the sides of any road in preparation for exactly this kind of thing were all full and overflowing. The dikes along the road were also deep and fast running.

Peter was driving us from the airport. He was shocked and worried about his car. He was worried about so much deep rushing water. We were not worried as we have seen it so often before. We knew that it could be much much worse than what we were seeing. At one point I got out of the car and walked through a large lake of water which covered the road in order to let him know how deep it was before he drove through it. It looked deeper than it was. I was glad that it did not come up past the top of my boots. My boots are only ankle boots and they are made of leather. It is not really a good idea to wade through water in leather boots. If I had not done it, he would not have dared drive any further, so there was not much choice.

He told us how he and Maud had returned from a winter holiday in the south of France where they had suffered badly from the dry air. He said the aridity day after day hurt their lungs. He said that it was just Too Dry. When they stepped off their plane in Cork, they were glad to be back in the dampness. He said they felt the moisture wrapping itself around them and then they knew they were home. Immediately, their lungs and their bodies felt better.

I listened as he spoke.  I knew that no matter how long I live in this country, I will never feel good about being damp. I was even more certain about this as I surveyed the rain water pouring down our bathroom wall and into the cupboard in the big room and in the little passageway. I have become very efficient at mopping up water with towels and newspapers. I am good at drying things out over as many days as it takes. I know that I will never fully belong here unless I learn to accept all this dampness. That will never happen.

Porte de Passy & Porte Molitor

We took these two Portes  at rather a tangent, not the normal traveling to their extremity and the walking back to our centre, the Rue de Bretagne, as has been the usual approach. This time we made an angle along a short periphery of the western city, to take in some of the more opulent parts of Paris, the well-bred and well-clad shopping streets of the 16th arrondissement. Nothing could be further from its exact parallel on the other side of the city.

We had walked north of the Portes to visit the Musée de la Contrafaçon.  I would like to translate it as the Museum of Contradiction, but really it is the Museum of Fakes. How apt you might think for our times. But nothing was focused enough to have any point to be made, and it was really just a kind of incomplete and clumsily-arranged set of copyright infringements. As far as I’m concerned, one box of La Vache Qui Rit (fake already) cheese is all the same whether it came from France or China!

The only momentary stir of interest came from the very mention of the name of Ivan Puni, the Russian avante-gardiste, attached to the label of a painting that wasn’t by him, and you could see why. It was a long way from those constructions of an earlier time where he left real tools in the picture plane, and probably one from his later years in Paris where he had changed his name to Jean Pougny. Are we almost in the realm of the genuine counterfeit, I asked myself ?

Beneath it was a folder of drawings by a completely fictitious artist, as far as I could tell named Ivan Pruitt, which I would be happy to reproduce as a fake book. The small machine parts-like cogs and steel mill blades–were almost Constructivist or even Suprematist in a cartoon-like way. They were attached in the folder by photo-corners that looked so brittle and brown in colour, that this fake must have been made a long while ago.

These things went with me as we walked the plenitude of Rue Mozart, between La Muette and the metro at Porte Molitor, having taken in Porte de Passy by implication.  SC


Fruit Labels

It is not a new thing for me to play with the tiny labels found on fruit.  I think my whole family fiddles with them. My father was never happy until all labels were removed from any fruit which came into the house. He took them off and he threw them away.  It was a form of tidying. It might have just been fussing.

I too remove labels from fruit but increasingly I have been doing it in order to save the labels.   I began to line them up on a gridded card and then I wrote the name of the fruit in French. I was able to do this as a way to trick myself into believing that it was a vocabulary-building exercise.  The only two fruit words I did not already know were those for Persimmon and Pomegranate.  Now that I know these words are KAKI and GRENADE, I am no longer learning any new fruit words.  But I am still collecting the labels. Vegetables do not have stickers on them.  There is no chance that my learning will extend in that direction.

When I enter a supermarket I go all around the fruit and vegetable section removing labels. I sometimes stick the extra labels onto the fruit that I am actually buying.  Sometimes I stick the labels on my lapel. I love finishing my shopping with six different colourful labels lined up on my coat.  Sometimes I press a bunch on the back of my phone.  Other days I arrive home with my bananas covered with multiple labels from apples or clementines or grapefruits. It is important that I do not stick the labels onto a paper surface because if I do, they will tear when I remove them. If I am walking past a fruit shop, or in the outdoor market, I reach out and take one or two labels quickly.  I am ready if someone asks me why I am nicking the labels.  I shall tell them that I am collecting them for a child.  I figure that will be an acceptable answer.  In the supermarket there is one security man who has followed me around as I collect nine or ten stickers at one time.  I am expecting him to question me but he does not. I guess it is because there really is no harm in my peeling off the labels. It is just not a normal thing to be doing. No doubt his job is dull so he might enjoy wondering what I am doing and why.

I began by writing out four fruit words on a card along with four labels.  Now I have extended to six words and six sticky labels per card.  I very much like how busy the cards are looking. I do not think I can add more to the cards.  The fullness is just enough.  I cannot stop looking and peeling and coming home with labels, so I have to continue making the cards.        EVH


On the day when I walked past this shoe repair shop in the 13th arrondissement I did not question the fact that it was closed.  The painted notice on the door said that the shop was closed on Saturday and Sunday.  It was a Saturday as I was passing. Or was it a Sunday?  Or was it any other day? At the time, I was mostly taken by its shades of red and the fine hand-painted lettering.  Since I have had the photograph to look at I have found myself wondering when the shop was last open. It might have been months ago, or it might have been years since the shoe repair man was last open and working inside. It might have been on Friday.    EVH

Nothing and Everything

One of the most irritating things that entered my hands over recent weeks was the book /’catalogue’ for a ‘curated’ group exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, New York in 2017. The feeling of staleness that surrounds such arbitrary linkings of artists under the guise of formative art history is now so palpable.

This often emanates those imperial dealers* who are the dregs of what was once fresh, lively and open, and who want to claim the world in their own formulation. Not content with that, they take it as a life-style choice, the supreme hobby and plaything of the over-wealthy. Once it was golf and yachting, now it is contemporary art, and there are is no depth of obscurity that they will not undermine in the need to seem ‘cool’ and exciting.

What in fact they do is debase the mystery of difficult things, the gradations, layers and revelations of slow discovery, and make everything equal. Too much information, taken as ordinary and undifferentiated, too quickly pretended.

Then at the same time they invent artists work, as custodians of their estates, they cull notebooks and sketches, and produce work that would never have been made. They even invent artists, but that is a longer argument and one for another occasion.

The half-decent dealers retired early, like Anthony d’Offay and Yvon Lambert, knowing there was nothing left to do except empire building on the golf course, and selling all the bad pieces they had left in storage to too-late collections like the Vuitton Foundation and the Benesse Art Museum in Japan.

* I resist the list, but when you see the inducements to artists, art-historians and their oligarchical clients, you might be forgiven for compiling one!  SC

Eglise Saint-Merri

I was walking home when the skies opened. Rain and sleet came lashing down.  I could not make it without getting completely soaked. Buying an umbrella was an option. A cup of tea was another option. I was passing the Eglise Saint-Merri so I dashed in and sat down for a few minutes just to be out of the weather.  There are always people sitting in churches. A friend of mine used to go into any open church to meditate.  Another is able to take a quick restorative nap while sitting up. No doubt some people are praying.  Many homeless people spend the day inside churches, especially in winter. I was happy to be out of the weather. The church was not warm but it was nice to be dry while I decided what my next move would be. 
The wooden chairs each had an S and an M and a small cross burned into the back of the chair.  The cross was after the S so that it made the St. abbreviation for Saint even though Saint-Merri is never written with the abbreviation St. It always has the word Saint and a hyphen and then Merri.   There were hundreds of chairs with these letters burned into the backs. I sat in the church for long enough to marvel at the enormous amount of extra work this entailed.  It was not like anyone was going to steal the chairs. As always they are all attached along the bottom by pieces of wood so that one long row of chairs would need to be stolen just to get one. I am pretty sure that the branding iron or whatever sort of heated tool made the letters was made as one piece, rather than separate letters. It was rolled across the rounded back of the chair. Sometimes the heat or the pressure was uneven so one letter looks darker than another.       EVH

Souvenirs from Earth

I caught up with Souvenirs from Earth is an international cable TV station, currently broadcasting in France and Germany, which I’d forgotten from previous years. It presents a 24h art program, of Video Art, Film, Visual Art, Music, Installations and Performances.

They say in their information spiel that the digital revolution, in TV broadcast has freed bandwidth for special interest programs and at the same time new flat screens and sophisticated projection technologies opened a field of new possibilities, and that the public space TV belongs to, is now ready for a station that is a work of art as a whole. Video art pioneer Nam June Paik said that in the 60s, already having the concept for an Art TV station in mind: “….normal TV bores you and makes you nervous, this soothes you….”…well that’s the theory at least! Like most video-art, and stuff that seemingly-innocently demands your attention, it becomes wallpaper. As old David Brown used to say art is always 99% crap!

But at least it’s money-where-your-mouth-is territory, and it streams out 24 hours a day if you have the patience for it.

What I do like is the closing sentence of the website : as Captain Kirk might have put it: “We collect glimpses of every day life, ‘souvenirs from earth’, to be used in a darker future by a couple of people that escaped our planet before it collapsed. This hypothesis may allow us to get a better view on the very simple things of our life, generating a global awareness for the grace and fragility of our life on planet Earth.” If that 1% works it’s truly worth it!    SC

chauffe-pied à eau chaud

I made a visit to the Musee des Arts et Metiers.  I was longing to see the Brazilian steel-toed flip-flop again. I knew I had a photograph somewhere but a photograph is never is good as the real thing. I walked  through the entire museum revisiting a lot of favourite exhibits and spending an unusually long time looking at the large scale models of bridges and aqueducts.  I visited Foucault’s Pendulum again, not because it is a favourite thing, but simply because it is there. I always leave that as my final thing before departure. I found a nice group of egg beaters and learned the term for them. There were nine of them:  Neuf Batteurs a Manivelle.  A Manivelle meaning that they were operated with a crank handle.  
I could not find the steel-toed flip-flop anywhere. I went to the section about construction. I think I went everywhere.  Eventually I came across a small library area where books are available for study, browsing or research. I described the flip-flop to the woman at the desk.  She had no idea what I was talking about.  We struggled along as I tried to explain it in my faulty French. She got a bit excited about it. She disappeared into the back room and came back with a pamphlet about an exhibition which had been held in 2013-2014. It sounded like exactly the kind of exhibition the flip-flop would have appeared in. She had no record of it but she showed me a fine photograph of some foot warming devices which were made of metal and filled with hot water before the person using them stood upon them. Chauffe-pied a eau chaud. They were a fine thing to see. I was not allowed to take the pamphlet but she made me a photocopy of the foot warmers. 
When I got home I remembered that I had a photograph of the Brazilian flip flop on this blog already.  The dates she provided helped me to find it.  (It is there to be seen on 22 February 2014 in these Notes) I wish I had shown the librarian the photo. The Musee des Arts et Metiers is free every Thursday from 6 in the evening.  I shall plan to return to show her the photograph then, but she might not be there.  Perhaps she only works in the day time. 
The couple wanted pyjamas made. They wanted their pyjamas to match. They said that they always slept in matching pyjamas. They arrived with two pairs of their favourite pyjamas which they wanted to have copied.  The old ones were well worn and very soft. They were Italian.  Susan, the seamstress, said it was no problem to duplicate the sizes and style of the Italian pyjamas, so the two men went away to shop for fabric.  Susan copied the pyjamas and made two patterns in paper. The couple went shopping and returned some days later with beautiful cotton cloth.  I do not know if the new cloth they bought was Italian. They had purchased three different kinds of striped fabric. The order was for six pairs of pyjamas. Three pairs for each them. I saw the pyjamas as they were being cut out and I saw them as they were being sewn. I saw them as they were folded neatly in a stack on the table. I never saw the couple. I like the thought of the two men asleep and entwined in bed wearing their matching pyjamas, not knowing where one body stops and the other body begins.
I am still without a hat.  After wearing Kate’s fancy hat and then returning it to her, the weather got warmer.  Now it is cold again. The wind has been vicious.  I have borrowed a few hats from Simone and Erik’s coat rack. Once I am wearing a hat in the cold I have no desire to look for hats.  When I am not wearing a hat I do not need a hat so I do not even consider looking for a hat. The city is full of hats. I should just force myself to buy one.