Monday, 7 May 2012

Women of Juvisy

Follow this link for a film, 'Femmes de Juvisy', summing up the community life of Juvisy and featuring some of the women who are making a difference.
The film is by Kristian Loro and is hosted by the eclectic local blogger Dandylan.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Dead wood stage

It's wick!
"I'm glad it's wick!" she cried out in her whisper. "I want them all to be wick. Let us go round the garden and count how many wick ones there are." The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
For me, those are some of the most powerful sentences ever written in the English language, certainly on a par with anything by Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen.  
In Burnett's classic story, Mary Lennox is a neglected yet spoilt orphan who discovered a secret untended garden on the estate of her uncle’s estate on the wuthering Yorkshire moors. The symbol of her neglect are roses that had tangled and grown together. She didn’t know how to tell whether a branch or a tree stump was alive or not. Fortunately the gentle and fascinating Dickon was around to teach her and her hypochondriac cousin Colin about the beauty and regenerative power of nature and a bit of pure Yorkshire dialect. As Dickon explains 'It's wick' means 'It's alive'.
Over the winter I've been considering dead wood. It can be very deceptive. The circular cambium of these felled trees in the Senat forest are providing fungi with all the nourishment they need to thrive.
How many species are represented in this tree stump? The whole mix of colours and textures from fallen leaves, acorns, moss, lichens and fungi makes a miniature landscape more dramatic than the forest landscape itself.

This fungus peeping out of the bark and inner layers of a branch was so white and fluffy that it really looked like a patch of snow that had resisted thawing. The dead wood days of winter were not as dead as they seemed.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A shorts story and a poem

It was a balmy afternoon turning into evening and the bells of the Notre Dame de France church in Juvisy-sur-Orge were ringing out for mass or perhaps just chiming the hour. Making his way down the pavement towards me was an old man dressed, appropriately for the sweltering weather, in shorts. Rather voluminous shorts for his spindly legs. The knobbly knees swung back and forth making contact with the shorts’ hems with each step.
Why was my first reaction to snigger at seeing old bare legs? Isn’t it odd that we expect old men to wear synthetic trousers? How many shorts does an old man own? Where and when has that same pair of shorts been worn before? Is there a link between the moments when men wear shorts and when they are living life to the full or on the edge?   
Rat in the desert

A reminder of those hot days before the rather disappointing summer of 2011 began, here is a poem published today in the Well Versed column, edited by Jody Porter, of the Morning Star, the only daily English-language socialist newspaper in the world.
Rather appropriately the history of the newspaper, formerly the Daily Worker, charts the lifetime of ‘that old man in shorts’. As a bit of background especially for French readers, Stanley Matthews is an English football hero, who began his career in the 1930s. He had an exceptionally long career due to his talent and his dedication to fitness. He would weigh his shoes down with lead when he was training on Blackpool beach, so that when he was actually playing a match, he would feel much lighter and nimbler. And, of course, he wore big baggy shorts.  
Now in lead shoes like Stanley Matthews

Monday, 20 June 2011

I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-s-sensation


Proof that Juvisy can rip it up! Televised concert by The Who at Juvisy Salle des Fêtes on the Music-Hall de France show in 1966. Wonder if any of my neighbours were there. Thanks to P for the tip-off.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Always look up : the mystery of the blue bird

One swallow does not make a summer
This post really sums up the theme of this blog. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever wherever you happen to find that thing. A few years ago I bought a book called Seize the Day as a present for a friend. I admit it. I seized the book figuring that my need was greater than my friend's. Anyway the book, which has a foreword by the late Anita Roddick, is simply a collection of good advice, whether practical, philosophical, esoteric or spiritual. There are 366 pages, a thought for each day including February 29th in leap years. A wide range of famous and not-so-famous high-achievers and eccentrics each contributed something for a day that was special for them. There was one suggestion that caught my eye because it seemed so easy to do. The thought for April 7 is simply, Always Look Up. PJ Kavanagh, poet, columnist and actor gave this advice given to him first by an architect friend. When you walk through towns along the high street, Always Look Up. You might see architectural treats, ironwork, columns, sculpture, cornices, stained glass, inscriptions or gargoyles that you miss when you are focused on the pavement.

And so to Juvisy-sur-Orge post office. It is in itself an interesting example of early 20th architecture. According to the local suburban architecture museum, it was designed by an architect named Aubert and was built between 1930 and 1938. So it must have survived the heavy bombardment by the Allies in 1944. The curves of the administration side of the building are almost like a wedding cake.
Here’s the thing of beauty that I walked past for at least 4 years because I wasn’t looking up. This little fellow was hiding in the middle of all that red brick just above the lintel of a disused doorway.

La Hirondelle, Swallow

There’ll be bluebirds over 
At the beginning of the century the French post office was part of the all-encompassing PTT - Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones. You can see how the style of the PTT logo changed from Art Nouveau to Art Deco over the years. However when the post office became independent from telecommunications in 1960, Guy Georget designed the new La Poste logo. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a paper dart? It’s whatever you think will wing your message as fast as possible to its destination. It is also been transformed over time but the yellow of the French post box remains.

But there’s a mystery. Was the swallow already a symbol of La Poste/PTT before Georget’s iconic logo came into being? Is the current logo based on a swallow? Or was the bird tile added to Juvisy post office when the logo changed? The style of ceramic colours and the parallel lines on the tile is certainly in keeping with the Art Deco of the 1930s. The swallow may relate to the tattoos sailors would get to symbolise how far they had sailed, their one true love, or drowned souls being carried up to heaven. The thought that swallows could send messages and migrate far away is summed up in a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson.

‘O Swallow, Swallow, if I could follow, and light
Upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill,
And cheep and twitter twenty million loves.’
Of course though this is a physical example of the rewards of Always Looking Up, the advice can be taken figuratively. Maybe just changing the tilt of our thoughts can help us see things that have been there all along just waiting to catch our attention.

Always look up

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A lot can happen in a month

When Nature moves faster than blogging…

After a frosty, cold and snowy winter, everything was well on cue to sprout, shoot, blossom and bloom as soon as night ground frosts lifted and days lengthened. With that extraordinary long hot spell in the middle of April, the roses in local gardens already in full bloom at Easter are starting to look past their best, some decidedly fanées, and it’s still the first week of May.  
Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
At the end of March, the Sénart forest floor was carpeted with white starry wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) and sunny bright celandines (Ranunculus ficaria). The Forêt Domaniale de Sénart is an ancient forest where the kings and court of France would once hunt. Now managed by Office National des Forêts, the forest just less than 3000 hectares, is a very popular weekend destination. As we arrive in Soisy-sur-Seine, one of several entry points into the forest, after passing over the Seine behind the Ris-Orangis rail station, husband P unfortunately still gets the ‘not done my homework’ feeling, a reminder of the compulsory Sunday afternoon family walks of his childhood.  
Map of the criss-crossing pathways through the Sénart forest
However when we visited in March, many people were enjoying walking, horse-riding, cycling and scooting. One group of women and children had optimistically attempted rollerblading but had soon come to the conclusion that the surface was not really ideal for skates as they struggled back to the car park. The forest is geometrically divided by long pathways that join at nodes, allées and carrefours. Be sure to make a note of the number or name of allées, painted on or nailed to tree trunks, as it’s easy to get confused.  Once we had to rely on following the setting sun to find our way out.

Cute but invasive species
It’s not too difficult to spot the cute but invasive species, the Siberian chipmunk or Korean squirrel (Tamias sibiricus). The animals were imported from Asia and sold as pets, but some escaped and have formed several colonies in France’s forests. The effect on the native ecology is being studied by researchers at National Natural History Museum in Paris. Forest fires often occur in the summer when cones of smoke and attendant helicopters can be seen from our vantage point in Juvisy.
I’m not sure if climbing trees is allowed but there are some prize specimens that are hard for children and teenagers to resist. Meanwhile the merisiers, wild cherry trees, looked beautiful with their white blossom making confetti in the wind.
Cherry blossom (Prunus avium)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

You are now entering Département 91

A place of contrasts, where commuting, new towns, overcrowding and pollution to the north give way to rural villages, farmland and ancient forest to the south.

Essonne is a relatively small, around 1800 km2, département in France and part of the Paris region known as Ile de France or la couronne, the area that includes Paris and all its suburbs stretching into the surrounding countryside. A département is an administrative area with its own elected council, rather like a British county council, but départements tend to be much bigger and don’t always respect historical county boundaries. There are 100 départements in France mainland and overseas (DOM, département outre mer) at the moment. Essonne is number 91 (quatre-vingt-onze).

Orly Airport in 1965
 For many Essonne is the first place they step foot in France. Part of the sprawling international Orly airport is in Essonne. This year 2011 Orly international airport is celebrating its 50 years. In the early 1960s, more tourists came to visit the public terraces of Orly-Sud’s terminal building overlooking the runways to watch planes taking off and landing than visited the Eiffel Tower.

Suburban Athis Mons and Massy are at the northern limits of Essonne and the country towns of Angerville, Méréville and Milly-la-Forêt skirt the southern limits. On the west are Gif-sur-Yvette, Dourdan and Limours and on the east Yerres, Brunoy and Corbeil-Essonnes. The large central towns of Etampes and Palaiseau are chef-lieux, sharing the administrative burden in their territories or arrondissements with Evry, the chef-lieu of the entire département. The comedy La Totale, the French precursor of the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis film True Lies, was filmed in Evry in all its new town splendour.

The rivers Rémarde and Yvette join the Orge tributaries that join the Seine near Juvisy-sur-Orge. Over the south Essonne, the Juine joins the Essonne tributary flowing into the Seine at Corbeil-Essonnes. Sadly the rivers of the region are badly polluted although attitudes to management of the environment are gradually changing. South of the densely populated outskirts of Paris is the fertile agricultural land of Hurepoix and Beauce, le grenier de la France, that borders département Eure et Loir, the gateway to Loire valley.
Essonne boasts the Gâtinais regional national park, shared with neighbouring département Seine-et-Marne, that includes parts of the ancient Fontainebleau forest. In my 2002 copy of Le Petit Larousse Illustré, the handy fount of knowledge every French household should have, the green outline of Essonne looks like a hazel leaf. 
Hazel leaf (Corylus sp.)
Even if you are not Essonnien born and bred, in the French administrative system you soon become inescapably linked to the département where you settle by your identity card. EU citizens are some of the few who can escape this connection, as la loi Sarkozy, introduced in 2003 when France’s current president was interior minister under Jacques Chirac, removed the obligation for EU citizens to apply for a carte de séjour, a permit for temporary residence in France. EU citizens (4% of the Essonne population are European immigrants) can instead use their passport and a proof of address (a rent or utilities bill) when proof of identity is needed, so EU citizens are free to move around France for work, rest or play. Social security numbers and car registrations also link you with your département. It is a national sport to spot cars along with their owners’ terrible driving habits. Paris drivers have the worst reputation and there’s some strong evidence to support it. In a league table of driving offences or PV for procés-verbal the capital’s drivers pick up on average more than three PVs per year. Essonne appears neither at the top or the bottom of the league so presumably the roads are fairly safe here.  

The first hypermarché, a mainstay of French life, was opened by Carrefour at St Genevieve des Bois in 1963. My mother-in-law must be one of its most faithful customers having shopped their since the 1970s. Although the hypermarché sells almost everything you can think off, my mother-in-law was unable to procure a cochon de lait, a suckling pig, from Carrefour in time for Easter Sunday lunch. We had to settle for the traditional gigot d’agneau and beans; the complimentary cheese selection went down very well though.