WordPress weekly photo challenge, treasure

It was really hard for me to chose because I tend to classify so much as “treasure” in my life, but then I came across this photo of a little test tube of fossilized seashells. This is about the only thing I have which belonged to my birth father; who I lost when I was very young. It is a little treasure in my life.

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For the WordPress weekly photo challenge. :D

Special, true moments

I was thinking that the last year of my father’s life we drove to his cabin on as many weekends as we could. He loved it there.
Up there on East Twin Lake, six hours out of the city, up there with the loons, the morning moose, the northern lights and the millions of stars making up the milky way, up there he was at peace.

One time we left Vancouver quite late and got there after dark. I remember driving along the dirt road and the headlights illuminating the bone-white birch trees on either side and I remember seeing a cameo reflection of those birch trees in a puddle in the pitted path. It may have been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and, combined with the harsh winter settling in, and not knowing if my father would be able to visit again, I captured that image in my memory.

This painting was born from that memory. I like it here, in the hallway outside my bedroom. I haven’t hung it on the wall because I like the way the lamp light puddles the image. I’m not sure I’ll ever hang it up.

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Do you have a visual memory of a special, extraordinary moment? I don’t really know why, but seeds from the garden always remind me of my grandfather.

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I suppose that, growing up in Europe where things are treasured and shared more than they are here in the North American built-in obsolescence consumerism culture, I remember my grandfather folding little paper envelopes to store his garden seeds in.

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I remember doing that with him while he wrote the botanical names of the plants on the outside of the paper. That’s something I’m always compelled to do…to collect and store the seeds form the garden flowers, (and paint puddle paintings…lol) But what does one do with millions of white Japanese anemone seedlings, or a grove of maples?

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Mind you, as I was carrying the trumpet vine seed heads thru the house, seven seeds fell to the floor and I scooped them up in my hand. I put them on the mantle. I think they’ll stay there for a while.

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Snow puddle painting: Oil on canvas
Fox: Oil on the cut-off end of last year’s Christmas tree

When you think of France, what do you think of?

Paris? Provence? Bordeaux?

Today, the lovely Anita from Castles, Crowns and Cottages invited me to share what my France is.

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My France almost always is the High Savoy.

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One of my ancient family seats is the village and the Castle Allaman in Switzerland, on the north side of Lake Geneva, (Lac Leman).

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As a matter of fact, my maiden name is Von Alemann, a gentle spelling deviation thru the centuries since my family began with a strong Saxon tribe in 1218, but the same name none the less.

I’m drawn back to Geneva, where I’ve lived for great lengths of time in the past and each time I do, I spend every second day in France. France is just a short drive across a simple open border and then suddenly you are in the glorious Haute-Savoie.

I’ve been dragging my children around from village to Alps and back to village since they were very little. Hiking, swimming, eating… living.
I think Chloe’s fondest memories might be of a great big St Bernard named Lou-Lou and raclette, (it’s a long story).

The French side of Lake Geneva has two special villages so close to my heart. Yvoire and Thonon-les-Bains.

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Yvoire, the magical, medieval village with the spectacular le Labyrinthe Jardin des Cinq Sens, and Thonon, in which there is a pool right beside Lake Geneva, is where I can be, normal to me, and suntan topless with the other moms while our children play in the crystal waters. Chloe still has a friend she made at that pool when she was nine who she corresponds with today.

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But then it’s always into the mountains we go. La Clusaz, Chamonix, Mt Blanc. Where the most delicious mountain air makes for the most delicious hikes and small chalet lunches.

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My most favorite has always been the complex salads of that region and a baked potato, lardons, reblochon dish called Tartiflette. I make it where ever I am and instantly bring my France back to me. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll make it tomorrow and post the recipe.

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So please go dig up your treasured memories of France and tell me about them. :)

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Horse Chestnuts and the magic of Autumn

Horse chestnuts, the bitter chestnuts, the pagan magic tonic chestnut. The poisonous one, the narcotic one.
Why can’t I keep away from them? Bet you can’t either.

Isn’t it satisfying to find these big, fat fruits and hold them in your hand? Don’t you want to gather them up and take them home just to own their rich, brunette beauty for as long as possible?

It’s true love, I’m afraid, and, as we all know, true love lasts forever.


Prized by small school boys as weapons in the game of conkers, kept on windowsills to keep away spiders (you reading this Jeannine), stored with the linen to prevent moths, taken as a sleeping tonic, (often with disastrous results) and gaily exploded in bonfires.

As Pertuhcio said,

And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a Chestnut in farmer’s fire?
— Taming of the Shrew, act i, sc. 2 (208).


For me though, the magic is rooted in my childhood. In my chestnut hair, in my grandfather’s willingness to part with his matches…yet again…for the sake of huge herds of chestnut deer, who stand on my windowsill every Autumn, silent and proud on their matchstick legs.

Of August 20-21, 1968. Memories come

At the sea
Vacation at the sea
To the sea we go wrapped up with love and family and splashy, splashy fun.
Warm August happiness in the German sea.

Next morning…panic.
We children were protected.
Things are fine, they said.
A Czech convoy out of Germany under armed guard.
Panicked, sleepy drivers, up all night. Mom at the wheel overtook. Honked.
Detained by the guards. Warned to cooperate. Put at the front of the line.
Czech border at night. Russian soldiers. Machine guns. Soldiers standing in a row.
Green soldiers with guns. Machine guns pointing.

Guns.

In the back seat babi put my head in her lap and covered me with her coat.
If they start shooting, will the coat protect me?
Warm hands. Wrinkles in the shape of stars.
Terror. Apprehension. Questions. Fears.

Home.

Huge hole in the wall of the Great Museum.
Tanks. Shouting. So much shouting.

So much silence.

Rosy cheeks turned ash. All the colour drained.


Written for Jane Ann’s memoir challenge

Of sunshine, rum and dandelion chains. Memories come.

Some days there is a golden light that happens in the evenings. It comes thru the trees, from the west into my house. The thoughts of Prague are just on the edge of my mind then, except this west coast light is too blue to be convincing enough. It’s too blue because it is reflected by millions of viridian trees and the cold Pacific instead of millions of gilded statues and warmed cobblestones. Memories of my childhood are coloured gold and warmed by those stones.

Until that black day, all I can remember is sunshine. Until that black day there were mostly two of us…my cousin and I…the two of us playing with dolls, running thru the fields below the cabin, climbing into the hay stacks getting supper itchy, bringing baby pheasants home for babi to have to pen with the chickens and, after a stern warning not to do that again, dumping grandpa’s matches out on the nearest table to use the matchboxes for May beetles. Great, big, giant May beetles. When we lost interest he just let the beetles go and put his matches back.

One spring I chained a dandelion chain around the whole cabin. One autumn I hid under babi’s heavy feather quilt because there was a huge storm and babi said feather quilts protected children from storms. One summer I toppled off the swing that grandpa built for me and broke my left humerus just below my shoulder. Boy was I annoyed…no swimming that summer. One summer I got a blue swimsuit with a thin red and white stripe down the sides and a world globe piggy bank for my birthday. My mom had been to Italy on holiday and brought these treasures for me.

Babi kept a small treasure box for me full of single earrings, broken necklaces, pins, bits of shiny ribbon, gold brocade, gloves, silk flowers. She called them “tzingerdlatka” roughly translated as sparkly-shineys. I couldn’t get enough of this toy. Grandpa would to pay me a few small coins for handfuls of linden, St John’s wort and mullein blossoms for his tea. I felt so rich. Grandpa would sharpen my coloured pencils with his pocket knife till they had the sharpest point possible. I loved the sharpness of those pencils. Aunt Vera washed her face with the morning dew to stay beautiful. I knew that’s what did it. She also used to let me muck about with her oil paints. I thought I was such a great artist to use those oils.

Each year, just before Christmas Eve some carp were bought and stored live in the bath tub. We children loved to look in and poke at the fish even though we knew we shouldn’t. Then the carp would be turned into Christmas supper and we got to play with the “spirits” of the fish, (actually the swim bladders, but just fine as balloons). The door to the living room would be closed all day until after supper. Then there was a knock on the front door and St Nicholas would be there with the devil beside him to ask us if we were good. Somehow we always were because then the living room door was opened to the most spectacular tree lit up with real candles, with presents, chocolates and oranges underneath and I always got a tiny spoon of fragrant Czech rum in my tea as a treat.

There was no TV, only nature and culture and folklore. It was Bohemia in the truest way imaginable. It lasted eight glorious years.

Written in response to Jane Ann’s backstory blog challenge

Of pipe tobacco and pepermints. Memories come.

The other day I walked thru Victoria Park at dusk. There were lots of people in the park. The beautiful autumn weather is holding and everyone wants to get the best of the west coast before it succumbs to its alternate name of “wet coast”.
I stood in the middle of the park and watched some children throwing sticks into the horse chestnuts to dislodge big, fat conkers. I popped a Tic Tac into my mouth and suddenly I thought my grandfather was with me. I turned around and saw a man sitting on the park bench smoking a pipe. He blew the sweet smell in my direction.

My grandfather was always old. Babi, (Czech for grandma) said that he went to war and he returned with shock white hair. Babi said his right ear was shot off by the Nazis. Babi said he was the best at making mayonnaise because he could drop oil into the emollition drop by drop and stir it gently with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Babi said a lot of things. Grandpa never said much, but he had a thin scar where his right ear should have been and his mayonnaise never broke.

I wear his family crest on my finger and read his journals. His journals are hard to read. He wrote in Czech, English, Russian, French, Italian and German. Mostly German. He wrote in small script, in runny ink, in his own code, but mostly I can manage to figure out what he wrote. He called me Renny, (with a very soft, Czech R), and it’s a thrill to read his account of my childhood. Mostly I made him laugh.

When I was little we lived in Prague while he and babi lived in Terezin. Weekends and summers were spent at our family cottage on a hill side above the river Elbe. When I was little I used to hang on around grandpa’s neck while he swam across the river with me. When I was little I used to garden with him, sleep out on the terrace with him, hike to the castle ruins with him and pick wild mushrooms in the autumn to roast them for lunch on hot rocks around the camp fire. He made the best open faced sandwiches with rye bread, mustard, salami, diced onions and hot, melting chanterelles.

He had an exceedingly long name. He was called Karl but his full titled name was: Ritter Karl Emilian Von Alemann. He was a gentle, studious, intelligent man, a lord, a knight, a general in the Austrian army, but mostly he was my grandfather who taught me the botanical name of each flower in his garden as naturally as one would say dan-de-lion to a child.

He’s been gone for a million years. Babi was heartbroken when he died and kept his ashes in her china cupboard between her crucifix and her sherry glasses for the rest of her life. When she died I took them both back to Vyšehrad and interned them in the family crypt. They rest in the soft pink light of Prague.

Mom said he never smoked a pipe. Beats me why I remember him smelling of pipe tobacco and peppermints. Mom said it was probably camphor from his arthritis rub. Doesn’t matter really.

His photograph hangs in my studio. It’s taken from his left side.