The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 1 — Lourdes

cathedral bridge 3

The beautiful town of Lourdes, France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Two structures dominate the town and its history — the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, situated on the wide, flowing Gave de Pau, and the thousand-year-old fortress, the Chateau-Fort de Lourdes, built on a high rocky bluff.

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Lourdes has a rich and varied history.  Artifacts dating from the prehistoric times to the Roman  have been found in the area, and “the town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times.” (www.Britannica.com)

However, the town is best known as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics the world over, visited by millions every year.

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The identity of Lourdes as a market town, mountains crossroads, and fortified stronghold forever changed in 1858 when a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experienced numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the river.

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“The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862, and veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized. The underground spring in the grotto, revealed to Bernadette, was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site.” (www.britannica.com)

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Lourdes is an international destination, a place of hope for many who cannot walk or are battling sickness or a chronic condition. They line up to hear mass given in front of the grotto, and fill up bottles with the sacred grotto water from numerous taps. Behind the cathedral, alongside the river, are private bathing rooms where pilgrims line up to bathe in the waters, hoping for a cure or improvement.

Even in the offseason, the shops and crowds can make the place seems touristy, but the solemnity with which the pilgrims pray and believe, and the sheer beauty of the place, preserve the sense of the sacred.

cathedral way flowers

The Gothic-styled cathedral, with its soaring spires and long narrow windows, was built above the grotto in 1876. It is made of the same gray stone as the rock beneath it and seems to have risen directly from it.

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cathedral river

The chateau-fort, which was never conquered, sits high above the town and is today a museum. Like the cathedral, it is made from the gray granite of the Pyrenees and appears to be a continuation of the thrust of rock on which it was built.

Lourdes fort

From the fortress top, you can see that the village itself is nestled in the strong arms of the valley mountains. The vantage point offers spectacular views of the town and valley below.

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museum view fort

“The château fort de Lourdes is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. The castle’s origins go back to Roman times….The oldest remains date from the 11th and 12th centuries” and was reinforced several times in later centuries. (www.wikipedia.com)

“Within its walls there is a botanical garden at the foot of the 14th-century keep, and the Pyrenean Museum.” (en.lourdes-infotourisme.com)

museum stone

The museum is filled with artifacts and offers a glimpse into local life of the past centuries. Several exhibits are dedicated to marriage customs, clothing, farming and husbandry, and day-to-day living.

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As daytime draws to a close, the crowds disperse, the sounds of the day shift to the soft sounds of evening, and a tranquil beauty pervades Lourdes.

Cathedral eve

From one of the bridges over the river, you can look back and see the cathedral and, in the distance, the fort. These two main structures of Lourdes — perhaps representative of two opposing human impulses — today rest comfortably together in the valley town.

cathedral candles tree lit

With the church bells ringing, the grotto candles lit, and the lights coming on in the town, you realize that Lourdes is unique — a sacred site of hope and prayer, rich in layers of history — a town born of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees.

Manhattan’s High Line

 

HY cover

Transformation, rebirth, a visionary rebuilding, weaving the old with the new — words that come to mind on viewing the High Line park on the west side of mid-Manhattan. What was once a rusty, weedy, abandoned railroad segment of a freight train line, is now a verdant, blooming public park with spectacular views of the city, and ever-changing artwork.

The elevated park, which opened in 2009, runs 1.45 miles between 14th Street in the Meatpacking District (another transformed neighborhood) and 34th Street.

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Above the noise and traffic and bustle of the streets below, the High Line provides a calm respite, an opportunity to walk through the city without all the stop and go of the traffic lights. Running through the park is a relaxing walkway with remnants of the rail tracks still visible in the landscaped swaths of flowers, grasses, and trees.

There are various places to gather with friends, and seating that overlooks the Hudson River and the streets of Manhattan.

The park provides great viewing points from which to see the architecture of the West Side, new and old New York sitting comfortably side by side. To the north stands the Hudson Yards Project — a cluster of gleaming buildings towering high above the city. Further down, the ultra-modern architecture of Frank Gehry’s IAC Building and the new Whitney Museum stand among the lower brick buildings of a much older Manhattan. And the Empire State Building can be seen from various points.

At end of day, small recessed lighting softens the park, and from one of its many benches you can catch the setting sun glinting off the windows of Manhattan, or watch the sun sink slowly over the Hudson River.

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Summer Evenings in the Garden

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Long summer days mean that we can spend more time out of doors. And one of the best places to linger in the summer twilight is in a lovely garden. There’s something about candlelight and dinner in the garden that is absolutely magical.

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Though I can count such dinners I’ve experienced on one hand, they stand out in my mind. Some memories shine more than others, like tiny jewels in an inner treasure chest — clearer, sharper, more durable.

One such memory is of an impromptu dinner I once had with friends in Seattle. A guest was visiting from Switzerland and we decided to have our dinner outside, just beside the flower garden.

We pulled out the kitchen table, draped it in a lace tablecloth, and added details to make the dinner even more special — fresh flowers from the garden, antique water goblets and an Art Deco silverware set that belonged to my grandparents, and a tiny salt and pepper set — green and white enamel owls. One of my roommates, who was attending a culinary arts school, created a sumptuous meal full of summer freshness — I remember a cold blueberry soup with creme fraiche swirled on top and a salad with orange nasturtiums from the garden.

I never made the connection before, but surely that evening found its way into my novel The Garden House, which is set in Seattle. There’s a scene where the main character, Miranda, sets a beautiful table on the garden deck and enjoys a lovely summer evening with her husband and a few friends.

The Italian poet and author Cesare Pavese said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those words came to him as he sat in a summer garden at evening.

GH eve book

Amazon Link: http://a.co/hsncwXs

 

 

 

Beautiful blue

blue ocean

“Blue, darkly, deeply, beautifully blue.” – Robert Southey

blue mosque

“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.” – John Ruskin

blue cathedral rectangle

“A certain blue enters your soul.” – Henri Matisse

Ultramarine – “The most perfect of all colors,” Cennino Cennini

“Sometimes called ‘true blue,’ ultramarine is made from the semiprecious gemstone lapis lazuli, which for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan.

Lapis first appeared as a pigment in the 6th century. Around 700 years later, the pigment traveled to Venice and soon became the most sought-after color in medieval Europe. For centuries, the cost of lapis rivaled the price of gold.

lapis painting 1600

Legend has it that Michelangelo left his painting The Entombment (1500–01) unfinished because he could not generate the funds to buy ultramarine blue. Raphael used the pigment scarcely, applying it above base layers of azurite when depicting the Virgin Mary’s blue robe. The Baroque master Vermeer, on the other hand, bought the color in spades, so much so that his indulgence pushed his family into debt.” http://www.artsy.net

Indigo is a natural dye rather than a pigment for painting. It was used to color fabrics, clothing, yarns, and luxurious tapestries. Unlike lapis lazuli, whose rarity drove its high prices, the indigo crop could be grown in excess and produced across the world, from India to South Carolina.

blue thread

Commonly considered a shade of blue, indigo is not a separate color in its own right, so why does it get its own band in the rainbow?

Indigo dyeing was especially popular in England, home to physicist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton believed that the rainbow should consist of seven distinct colors to match the seven days of the week, the seven notes in the musical scale, and the seven known planets. Confronting the fact that the rainbow only displayed five unique colors, Newton pushed indigo, along with orange, much to the dismay of some contemporary scientists.” www.artsy.net

“Jean fabric was first produced in Genoa, Italy, in the 17th century; the French city of Nimes copied the technique shortly after (“de Nimes” aka “denim”). The cotton twill fabric, dyed with indigo, was sturdy and washable, making it perfect for workers.” www.artsandculture.google.com 

“Blue has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color.

blue glasses

Dark blue: trust, dignity, intelligence, authority

Bright blue: cleanliness, strength, dependability, coolness
(The origin of these meanings arise from the qualities of the ocean and inland waters, most of which are more tangible.)

Light (sky) blue: peace, serenity, ethereal, spiritual, infinity
(The origin of these meanings is the intangible aspects of the sky.)

Most blues convey a sense of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding. On the other hand, blue evolved as symbol of depression in American culture. “Singing the blues” and feeling blue” are good examples of the complexity of color symbolism and how it has been evolved in different cultures.” http://www.colormatters.com

“Pink for girls and blue for boys is a surprisingly recent tendency. Even as late as 1927 some fashion stores recommended pink for boys.” http://www.express.co.uk

blue stucco ornament

For a fascinating book on color, read Victoria Finlay’s books.

Finlay book
Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay  Link: http://a.co/bfRUBxs

 

Images from my Pinterest board on color

Tea in the garden

In my novel The Garden House, the main character, Miranda, often takes a cup of tea out into her beloved garden and curls up on a bench as she takes in the beauty of her flowers. Her garden offers both solace and pleasure.  It’s the perfect place to read a good book, to visit with a friend, or to sit quietly and enjoy the simple tranquility of nature.

GH tea 6“Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company” ~Author Unknown

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GH tea 10“Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.” ~Saki

“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” ~James Norwood Pratt

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“You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ~C.S. Lewis,

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“Where there’s tea there’s hope.” ~Arthur Wing Pinero

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Mother’s Day — and the story behind my story

Some thoughts and lovely vintage images for Mother’s Day from Pinterest:

“A mother is the one who fills your heart in the first place.” – Amy Tan

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“Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”  – Gail Tsukiyama

mother daughters

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“I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”  – E.M. Forster

mother baby porch

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

mother fishing

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” – Maya Angelou

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“Because even if the whole world was throwing rocks at you, if you had your mother at your back, you’d be okay. Some deep-rooted part of you would know you were loved. That you deserved to be loved.” ―Jojo Moyes

mother teaching

Mother and kids

“But behind all your stories is your mother’s story, for hers is where yours begins.” – Mitch Albom

This last quote really resonates with me. Our mom’s “story” became our story: Life is an adventure to be celebrated. You go forth into the world, against the odds, and spread your wings, and follow your dreams. Her story was to live life fully — to do good where you can, to love and protect others — especially children, to laugh often, to remain curious and to read widely, and to always do good where you can. To smile through adversity, and take delight in the small beauties of every day.  All this was taught to us by example and was embedded in the details of her life. I tried to capture my mom’s story in my first book, The Dreams of Youth.  It is the story behind my story.

Amazon Link: http://a.co/8WKiB33

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Giverny — Life as a work of art

For quite some time, I’ve been dreaming about my next trip to France. Paris, of course, but I also want to see Normandy. Among other sites, Mont Saint-Michel has been beckoning for years. And high on my list is a trip to Giverny — Claude Monet’s home and gardens. I would love to see it in all seasons, but for my first visit, I want to experience it in the springtime. Giverny is what happens when you give yourself completely, and passionately, to something you love.

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Quotes from Monet’s letters:

“My garden is a slow work, pursued with love and I do not deny that I am proud of it. Forty years ago, when I established myself here, there was nothing but a farmhouse and a poor orchard…I bought the house and little by little I enlarged and organized it…I dug, planted, weeded myself; in the evenings the children watered.” – Claude Monet

 

“I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” – Claude Monet

 

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” – Claude Monet

 

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” – Claude Monet

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“I work at my garden all the time and with love. What I need most are flowers, always, and always.” – Claude Monet

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“I want to paint the way a bird sings.” – Claude Monet

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“My heart is forever in Giverny.” – Claude Monet

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden House – a novel

A story of love, family, and home set among the lush summer evenings of Seattle. When Miranda rents out her garden house to a mysterious new tenant, she begins to have disturbing dreams that someone is in danger. Is it mid-life crisis? Empty-nest syndrome? Or is something sinister lurking right outside in her beloved garden? There’s only one way to find out.

“Enchanting, beautiful and heartwarming.” – Amazon review

“I was completely swept away by this tale.” – NetGalley review

“A thoughtful narrative with a mystery at its heart.” – Goodreads review

“Inspiring, romantic and suspenseful.” – Amazon review

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Passages from The Garden House

Clara had loved the profusion of forget-me-nots that surrounded the garden house, and decided to christen the cottage the Forget-Me-Not House.

GH forget-me-nots

[Miranda] loved every section of her garden, but this shadier and damper part always stirred in her a feeling of tenderness. It grew thick with hosta and ferns, and perennials that didn’t need much care – patches of bleeding hearts and shy lily-of-the-valley.

Paula stood and held up a potted flower. “Just look at this clematis – it’s as big as a saucer.”  Miranda reached out to touch the pale purple flower. “It’s beautiful.”

A sigh released from deep inside. Home. She was home and everything would be all right.

Filling her arms and basket, Miranda carried the flowers and greenery into the house, and spread them out on the kitchen table. Then she began arranging the flowers in vases and jars, and floating them in glasses and bowls.

Miranda led the way to the lower garden, where the tree-like rhododendrons and lower azaleas formed a sort of double wall.

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Amazon Link: http://a.co/6NUjTZI

GH with link

(All images are from my Pinterest boards)

 

 

Flowering doorways

 

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There’s something about a flowering doorway that moves the heart, that speaks of beauty and happiness.

It greets those who enter by framing them with fragrance, color, and loveliness,

and when leaving the abode, it provides a way of welcoming the day, a portal to pass through sure to initiate optimism and joy.

And if you are simply passing by, it offers a wish for happiness —

 

a silent act of generosity that bestows the gift of beauty and enriches the viewers, who, if their hearts are open, will carry the sweetness with them.

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(all images from Pinterest)

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

 

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March came in like a lion, roaring and pouncing upon us with several snowstorms. After yesterday’s March Nor’easter #4, the world this morning appeared soft and white, with the fences and tree branches outlined in snow.

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Some of the trees looked like cotton bushes — fluffy white, and light as air. As if you could pluck a bunch of snow, stretch it thin, and spin it into cloth.

 

 

And yet — once spring has officially arrived, and April is close at hand, no one wants to hear about how beautiful the snow is. They’re ready for color and a bit of warmth, for signs of growth in the garden, and the first touch of green on the trees.

snow crocuses

I’ve found a hint of spring in my garden in the small cluster of crocuses and a few green spears of hyacinth leaves — a welcome sight. All it takes is a bit of color to assure us of the promise of spring.

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