Monday, March 22, 2010

Little Boxes

Last week I accompanied Z's class on a school trip to the Cité Frugès in Pessac.

This housing development was designed by Le Corbusier and built in 1926. It was a visionary project for the era - individual modern housing for the workers from the local steelworks, and it is hard to believe that such a contemporary look was possible over eighty years ago. It seems, however, that the first inhabitants were far from overwhelemed by the look and practicality of their new homes. The houses were among the first to be made of concrete, a cold material in comparison to the local honey-coloured stone. They all had garages on the ground floor although almost none of the occupants actually had cars; the interiors are full of straight lines and cubic spaces which probably drove the housewives mad in a period during which fussy wallpaper, carpets and copious knick-knacks were the norm. Perhaps they were mollified by the indoor toilets and the central heating.

Unsurprisingly, the people who live in the houses have added their own touches here and there often kitch-ing away Le Corbusier's original pure lines.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nature Writing

I wanted to tell you a little bit more about that amazing sea of lava in Lanzarote - the tumultuous impression of jaggedness you experience as you survey its massive extent; that chaos of lava rocks straining towards the sea. I would have added something more perhaps about the variety of colours highlighted on the volcanoes' flanks, as cloud shadows scudded/glided/slid/oozed over their surfaces. But it just won't do.
I read a piece by Andrew Greig in the Scottish Review of Books last weekend in which he observes that : "In the attempt to get across the immediacy and power of one’s experience, Nature Writing too often leads to this over-emphatic, over-adjectival, overly figurative striving." He's right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This time last week we were enjoying summer temperatures in Lanzarote. On our return, it was quite a shock to discover that Bordeaux is still plunged in the chilly depth of an inhabitually bleak winter.

Several people had warned us that Lanzarote is a volcanic island meaning that the landscape is grey and arid while I associated the word Lanzarote with the worst of shudder-inducing British tourism. There was none of that and we loved it. The hues of the volcanic landscape actually range from a dull black through fruity purple to burning ochre. The volcano-sides are dotted with semi-circular hollows dug out to protect the vines planted deep in the dark ashes. Perhaps there are some horrible tourist holes but we didn't see any: Lanzarote was lucky enough to be home to an artist names César Manrique and he did much to protect the coastline and limit development to low-rise villages of white casas.

Fully intending to do some hiking while we were there, we had squashed our walking boots into our suitcases, but didn't get as far as actually putting them on. I think that if we'd had two weeks, we would have got round to it, but we only had one and there were so many other interesting things to do and see, and of course eat. So we spent the days visiting the cactus garden, the Mirador del Rio, the Manrique cultural centre, and Timanfaya national park where we ate meat barbecued with the natural heat of a volcano.

It is taking me ages to cull, organise and upload all of our photographs. Here's a selection — the rest will be here.


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...