Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Auguries of Spring

Deep in the late winter freeze, it's hard to believe that last Friday I and friend Cal were sitting outside warmed  by the sun at the Chelsea Physic Garden, where in snowdrop week the excellent, if chaotically run, Tangerine Dream cafe serves up some of the best cakes in London. An hour later, the sun vanished for the weekend.

The lure for galanthophiles is the pretext for the 'psychic garden' opening to the public for a week in February - though of course members can come and go as they please. I hadn't renewed my subscription owing to high dudgeon at what they'd done to the south-eastern corner of the garden: once a glade with winding paths in marked contrast to the formal, educational beds elsewhere, and now a bleak suburban patio to show off medicinal plants. Still, the trees remain and the magnolias are in bud.

As for the snowdrops, there were more clumps in Brompton Cemetery as I cycled through on my way

but you do get a chance at the CPG to see their subtle differences up close in the 'theatre' by the statue of Sir Hans Sloane. This is galanthus plicatus 'Dionysus'

and this 'Trym'.

There's also one unpoetically called 'Grumpy' because it's down at the mouth. On the humorous front, I was taken in at first by this cactus in the little greenhouse abutting the house, though a little suspicious of anything of the sort flourishing in Wales and the Shetland Islands.

Cal laughingly put me right and touch confirmed this was indeed Notacactus.

Our lovely friend Pia Östlund, brilliant graphic designer for the CPG and elsewhere, was offering an all-day workshop on 'the lost art of nature printing'. Simple: you take your leaf or flower, ink it up with a roller between a folded piece of baking paper and then press in on to a folded card so that you get both sides of the leaf/flower in symmetry.

The subtlety of the leaf design comes through in all its glory, and of course it can be very different on each side. Geranium leaves work very well, I thought. Sadly I've lost both my specimens; either I threw them out with the bag in which Pia returned a Bergman DVD with a tiny snowdrop, or they're buried somewhere in this room. But I think it would be a good thing to take up for greeting cards at home. 

Pia was inspired by Victorian books which had made use of nature printing, sometimes via more complicated techniques. Here's Pteridium aquilinum in Thomas Moore's 1857 tome on tree ferns, nature-printed by Henry Bradbury.

Back to the time of year. Pancakes were consumed last night, and now Lent begins - as I'm very well aware with my Sunday Bach cantata ritual coming to a temporary halt until Easter*. Last Sunday was Estomihi or Quinquagesima. Its New Testament reading from Luke 18 verses 31-43 finds Christ not only healing the persistent blind beggar in Jericho - represented here by Duccio and an exquisite Rembrandt drawing - but also making the first announcement of his impending passion to the disciples. 

'Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott', BWV 127 followed directly on the heels of the earth-shaker I chose last week in the Leipzig 1725 calendar. Recorders (I like flauti dolci) soften the floridity around the opening chorale setting, very sensitive to 'endlich starbst' and 'bittre Leidung'. The tenor's fluid recit sets the scene for a total charmer - and a big soprano solo at last (on the Suzuki recording I heard, the estimable Carolyn Sampson). The vocal line of  'Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen' is complemented by a glorious oboe obbligato and supported by staccato chords from the recorders and pizzicato continuo. In a wonderful moment, the word 'Sterbeglocken' ('bells of death') brings in pizz. strings.

More typical contrast in Bach follows: the bass solo is another of those half-recits which break into arioso. It's the Last Judgment, so sound the trumpet, but only in sporadic animated bursts. It tumbles to earth and signals destruction, but Christ offers comfort. So, of course, does the closing chorale which ends with a sleep of sweet dreams. Here's Herreweghe on YouTube.

*not because I'm observing Lent by not listening to/playing music, but because Leipzig did.


Laurent said...

Your photos are so Spring like, no such luck here.

David said...

Nor here, now: it was one of those premature hints. I'd rather we had your snow than this sleet, grey and bitter cold.

David Damant said...

Winter, like a dark Maenad following her lord
Throws her black cloak of forgetfulness over us,
Blotting out the hidden secrets of the past
And the bleak dreariness of the daily round.
A melancoly pleasure envelopes our soul
And a dreamy oblivion possesses the mind.
But now comes Spring to disturb this torpor,
A nebulous fear replaces our peaceful dream,
Realisation of what the year may bring
Shocks our mind out of its complacent rest,
And once more the heart is filled with vague terror
And the black horrors of shadowy despair ;
The season Spring with its tender green of new life
Brings with it hope and love and joy to those
Who with a clear conscience and quiet mind can hope.
But those who have not this purity of soul
See Spring as a mockery of all they cannot be

[Prospect of Spring, by Ceridwen Roberts]

David said...

Marvellous poem, didn't know it - but I do hope those sentiments don't apply to you. Me, I'm looking forward to the spring this year.

David Damant said...

This poem was written when Ceridwen Roberts was 17 ( as I was also at the time). Not bad for a 17 year old ?

And by their comments we can hope that all the contributors to your blog have " a clear conscience and a quite mind"

David said...

Do you mean in this instance lack thereof? Or was irony not intended? Let them come when they will.

Pia said...

Thank you for coming last Friday. It was nice to see some familiar faces. About 40 people dropped by in total to try their hands at nature printing and by the end of it I felt like a cracked record. I am of course delighted to be on your blog. It was a gorgeous and spring-like morning that day and you capture it very well.

David Damant said...

I am so sorry -- the comment was not ironic. I meant to say that as the contributors to your blog were so positive about life that they could hardly do otherwise but see Spring with hope and love and joy

I have not been in touch with Ceridwen for many years. She and I were in friendly competition at school

David said...

Always a joy to see our beloved Pia, but especially in her artistic element.

Thanks for clarifying, David. I think Ceridwen must have been suffering from adolescent angst when she wrote that. But it's a wonderful poem.

Susan Scheid said...

I had no idea there was more than one type of snowdrop, and how pretty they each are close up like that. (I love the nature printing, too.) Here, spring feels a long way off yet. The snow is melting down from the blizzard (though we didn't get hit so hard here as just east of us), but overall the scene is decidedly wintry. Still, we're halfway through February, so not so very long now.

BTW, must just note that today (2/15 still here) is John Adams's birthday, which he shares with the Edu-Mate (who has just reached a new age of majority-65--how did this happen?).

(Meanwhile, over my way, I'm in danger of losing all my friends, methinks. First it's the weird music, now it's weird poetry. I really do love John Ashbery's poetry--and such a decent soul he is, too. Well, guess I must like a challenge . . . but then I also really, really like a good waltz, as you know.)

Oh! last not least: what an incredible poem David Damant has shared here. A very different perspective on the transition from winter to spring than the usual, isn't it?

David said...

Methinks a belated JibJab card should make its way to the Edu-Mate via you. Did you take her for a Short Ride in a Fast Machine? What was the birthday music of choice, if any?

You need Pia's beautifully designed little Physic Garden book on snowdrops to learn how obsessed galanthophiles are by the varieties...I don't quite see it beyond a point, but there we are.

I knew you'd respond to the poem. Will shortly take a look at your latest celebration. Re waltzes - those I've recently been absorbing are the chain (not quite as systematic as A Little Night Music) in Jerry Herman's Dear World, an odd and charming musical; and the second movement - Valse Triste/Macabre - of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

toubab said...

How lovely to see Pia and her wonderful leaf prints! And to think there is a beautiful snowdrop called Trym - so many wonderful things we do not know about- well, at least not I...
Also approve hugely of you Bach phase and hoping some of the message of the texts will sink in,since you know I am a believer!

David said...

What, like 'deflect the murderous intent of Pope and Turks' (M Luther, chorale of BWV 126)? And some of these texts are VERY mawkish. But still much of the music is better than any of the operas that were being composed around that time.

Do come back - I've got a lovely ancient floorcloth to show you in the imminent post...

So enjoyed our exchange over on Djenne Djenno about Keita and The Sound of Music, with Elisabeth giving her Austrian perspective to boot.

Susan Scheid said...

The card arrived, and very funny it was, too. We were winging our way down to NYC (an Edu-break this week) when we opened the card to hear that wonderfully silly fellow sing and blow himself up along the way.

The actual day, since a workday for J, we sat before the fire and watched the American version of House of Cards. Not a patch on the original, nor to be recommended, but enough to keep us mildly entertained. Since I've got music going almost nonstop, J often opts for a bit of silence (if given the choice!)--though she's happy to listen to Arvo Part, whom she discovered first in our house, BTW. Speaking of music-must look for those Symphonic Dances. Long time since I've listened to any Rachmaninov.

Last not least, yes, we agree, the Chelsea Physic for lunch would be fun! (Amazing to think of a whole book full of different snowdrops--the book sounds lovely, though I, too, would have limitations on pursuing the varieties to that extent. More in my mother's line.)

PS: Tomorrow we're having friends to the apt for dinner, and J will again be cooking from the Moro cookbook. Looking forward to that.

David said...

I was confusing House of Cards with House of Games, a rather brilliant scam film by David Mamet starring Joe Mantegna. Rather pleased with myself for spotting the twist half way through, but it didn't ruin the entertainment at all. House of Games I've not seen in either version.

Chelsea Physic Garden a London must. The cafe is really a restaurant which does excellent lunches with locally sourced stuff where possible. And like I wrote, the cakes are to die for.

Have a good half-term (for J) break in NY. You may hear my friend the Houri shrieking down the street as he moves from one show to the next (he's over with his partner for the week).

wanderer said...

Snow drops - how wonderful. Even in Sydney, in the heights of the upper North Shore, my father grew them and I miss them, and him.

Of flowers and pressings, I must here mention again, less cryptically, that wonderful book by Molly Peacock - The Paper Garden; Mrs. Delany begins her life's work at 72. It is too delicious for words and I doubt unknown to you.

David said...

Welcome back, Wanderer: snowdrops in Sydney, well I never. Still strange to think of your heatwave as we wait and wait; hope it's subsided to comfortable warmth.

Molly Peacock unknown to me. Your link brings back 'not found', but I'll search her out.

wanderer said...

I'll try again with Molly Peacock, here. The Paper Garden is a splendid peep into the 18th C, from Handel to George III, as Peacock's brilliantly researched and at times almost meditative biography of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany unfolds, the template for the book being Mrs Delany's late life exceptional botanical mixed-media collages, now in the British Museum where interest has been so intense that access to them has been limited.

Despite Molly Peacock's unnecessary comparisons with her own contemporary North American life, it really is a wonderful read. Does the Arts Desk have a postal address, or is it all in the clouds? I did have a look thinking I'd like to send you a copy.

David said...

So kind of you re the Molly Peacock book, Wanderer, though I must get my own copy. There is an Arts Desk address somewhere, but the email address they gave me is quite public there: (which is not to solicit a gift, of course, just fyi in case you fancy dropping a line outside blog parameters).

Deborah van der Beek said...

Lovely snowdrops, especially the fat plicatus one. I've a an enormous kind, also plicatus I think. Might be Plicatus 'Colossus', though it is bigger than the 26cms given in description - more 36cm. Our soil is very good, so it could just be that.

You also took a picture of the yellow version of Chimonanthus Praecox. Does it smell quite as heavenly as the rather duller ordinary kind? Difficult, though, without having the two together. Ours is blasting out perfume at the moment, it's almost too much - a bit Tart's Boudoir, but i'm afraid I love it, whatever that says about me.

David said...

Delighted to have a name for the yellow one, Deborah. It did give out a faint aroma, now that you mention it. One of the few signs of life near the horrid, Surrey-patioed redevelopment of that part of the garden.