Victor Hugo had cried for her in his foreword… And it took a book (“Notre Dame de Paris“) to trigger major restoration works, as the elderly lady was notably suffering from severe erosion to time, history and the elements.
What happened last night felt totally surreal. Notre-Dame has survived so many ordeals – human assaults, the hands from time – and during those 850 years (or so), she saw a city grow and thrive.
Inside her so many memories. Her world famous bell – le bourdon – became associated with so many events (including the liberation of Paris in 1944) happy or sad… And against all odds, she has been standing in this Parisian sky.
Last night, my heart bled at the news, and this orange-grey cloud – flames from her heart, as the 19th century spire yielded to a raging fire that engulfed the forest – this nickname given to those 1300 oak trees that served as timber frame to support that huge slate roof.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched powerless, in disbelief, and heaved the following poem, as a tribute or way to cope with shock.
Ô Notre Dame, ta forêt brûle, ton coeur en flammes!
Une forêt de chênes de cent mètres de long, une forêt de chênes charpentée par des anges, une forêt de chênes anoblie par les âges;
toute une nuit orangée a dévoré ta flèche, ton coeur et ta charpente -
une forêt de chênes, maison pour un bossu et son Esméralda...
toute une nuit d'horreur, pluie battante d'ardoises retrouvées en poussière à l'issue d'un déluge -
une forêt de chênes au XXIe siècle toute réduite en cendres,
ton coeur, ce cher poumon, au plus proche des âmes.
Spring has multiplied signs throught that long and still ice-bladed month of March. If light has reached parity with darkness on the 20th day, and our migrating visitors called at night and settled back in our fields and meadows whilst others pursued their incredible journey north, the island still needs to wake to the promises of the season.
April, April… Life rekindles
March now behind us.
Tonight I heard eight puffin scouts have been located west of my favourite headland in our inshore waters. Earlier, friends reported the magical ascending song of a skylark as they wandered by abandoned crofts… Common Eider drakes already sit by their concubines… On inspection of the ground, daisies and bluebells have long braved snow, ice and thaws, re-icing and equinox gales. Even within the perimeter of my sanctuary, the grass has grown and would deserve a serious cut. Spring, voar, so precocious.
Light reappears on the 60th North Parallel.
I read somewhere that between the two solstices – and more precisely as we approached the Vernal Equinox – we were gaining up to two hours of light every month… Now, as April has entered in the great cosmic ballroom, my sunrises and sunsets are becoming more epic.
Strangely enough, fog has already been rolling on from our local hills. “Exotic” and “curious”, for fog remains an oddity before April… February and March both felt odd in places.
Yet April promises (or do I really take this for granted?) liberation from many claws – storms, gales, and other signatures from the icy months. And if I have yet to listen to my first skylark, I know it will not be long. The sky just needs to quieten a little more and our star to warm up those acres of storm-bent grass around our meadows… Wake, wake, wake, wake!
April is when you return to me.
As I am typing you are gradually falling asleep. Your case is packed. Your passport lies in a pocket of your handbag… Tomorrow, you too will begin your migration north – north by NE, as you will cross that stretch of your Irish Sea to find your way back in Glasgow before making your way to my North Sea from the mouth of a sheltered harbour. We can travel the world like swallows… or Storm Petrels. But to journey, we need a boat.
I may not wait for you from my favourite headland on Saturday, But I will gladly watch that great blue Viking efigee on the white hull we call da boat approach my favourite offshore island of Mousa at about 6.30 in the morning and drive parallel to you, as the bow kisses each wave from our sheltered waters. If we are lucky enough, Mother Sea will let you enter the Bressay Sound with grace.
It will be your first time. Selkies and seagulls will salute you on your passage. You are about to return to me as seabirds find their way across miles of oceanic deserts, da Roost to reconvene with my headlands, bays and meadows.
Now, my turn to find sleep from my northern latitude, as I will be by your side tomorrow, in voice and spirit. I have prepared home to welcome you on my northern island.
In anticipation to your arrival, I wrote a piece entitled North Voyager. It sounds and reads like a leitmotive… And yet it does epitomise that promise from Spring.
2018 has proven an amazing year, filled with challenges and adventures of all kinds, reconvening with old friends whilst bonding with new ones. It has taken me, the seeker-wanderer, across seas to discover unchartered places within the Isles. For the first time, I set foot in Glasgow in spring – and discovered the magic of Northern Ireland’s Co. Antrim & Belfast in October. How I loved meeting again with Chris and Roo whilst meeting for the first time (in the flesh) with poet & former Co-Editor from the Scottish Geopoetics Elizabeth Rimmer at Jim Ferguson’s book launch in Glasgow, as well as with Emma and fellow Shetland poet & graphic novelist Chris Tait at the Project Café. I would reconvene with Emma in Belfast in October. On both trips, I was also given the opportunity to share my own poetics and verse at the Project Café and the Sunflower respectively. Two great fun experiences where folk enjoyed selected poems from Compass Head.
2018 has been filled with challenges of many kinds – from translating an entire book (late Dec.- 30 March) to returning to studying whilst complementing my professional qualifications within education, now adding Edinburgh University to Oxford, Southampton and Université de Provence (Aug.- Nov.). If Georges Dif’s “Shetland” was a project that occupied many of my winter nights between late December and March, editing alongside Jonathan Wills continued till mid-April here at 60N whilst two fellow poet friends & authors Emma Van Woerkom and Andy Murray also added their critical eyes over the poetic side of Dif’s book. What a formidable teamwork it proved to be. We all raced against time to achieve it for the English version to be found on shelf at the Shetland Times’ Bookshop by July. Epic. 25,000 words or there about. Working without its original author proved the greatest challenge, and I can only hope Georges can only smile from the heavens.
2018 has continued to let my writer’s work fly within both my writers’ groups – Lerwick & Westside – and places around the island that welcomes the spoken word. From Mareel’s Open Mic sessions to Fjara’s Singer-Songwriters, respectively hosted by friends & artistes Keirynn Topp and Gail Wiseman, but also at Lerwick’s The String, as hosted by Jordan Clark and also, within the sanctuary nurtured by Radina and Alan McKay at Soul Time throughout the year. Fantastic bubbles of humanity treasured in my heart. Delectable moments of pleasure. On a wider level, I was invited to contribute to the #patchworkpoem through my Federation of Writers (Scotland) which was broadcasted by Andy Jackson on National Poetry Day. Great fun and gracious thanks for mapping Shetland through my humble contribution. I always value inclusion. 🙂
2018 homed an incredible summer of wonders and adventures under unparalelled blue, where I shared my passion with friends and kindred spirits – where I reconvened with my Norskie clan in style. Tattooed in my heart. I miss Norway, and Norway came to me.
2018 also celebrated the memory of Alex Cluness at this year’s Wordplay. This was the opportunity to salute the phenomenal work of Alex as a poet, but also as the “Father of Wordplay and Shetland Arts’ Trust’s main project has outlived him. For the occasion, friend, poet & author Alan Jamieson (RAJ) played MC at the Shetland Writers’ Celebration Night event with great flair, and he also conducted a brilliant Creative Masterclass at Bonhoga during that literary weekend. Memorable slices of life and creativity that awoke the pen in new directions. Fruitful writing that I later read at Wordplay’s closing event, the Open Mic’. RAJ smiled.
What a fabulous weekend it proved to be. So happy to reconvene with both Alan and Rozeanne on such occasion.
2018 also commemorated the century of an Armistice that engulfed humanity into genocide and the National Theatre of Scotland allied with C.A. Duffy to pay homage to all the men sacrificed in the Great War as Pages of the Sea. For the occasion, Lisa Ward invited me to read poetry at Ninian Sands. A very poignant experience.
Thank you, Lisa and NTS.
And as we descended back to the winter solstice, my school term eventually melted into a low December sun. Yule upon us, and the festive season kicked off with Singers-Songwriters’ Christmas Concert at Fjarå. Sadly, I had to curtail due to a double-booking, however, I honoured both. Thank you, dear Gail, for your kindness.
Two days away from a New Year, and I returned to Ninian Sands, my dear sand bridge, where the sand shifts on either side.Your shoormal looks peaceful at low tide, Christmas Day, a mere memory. Time to sample the now, reconvene with great friends, and share a slice of life.
2018 has been a fruitful year. May the forthcoming one keep you well and happy. 365 brand new pages I hope to fill with joy and brand new adventures!
Happy Yuletide and New Year, everyone!
One hundred years ago, a small party of men gathered in a wagon inside a French forest somewhere in Picardy to stop madness and attrition, a futile butchery, unparalleled till then, agree to terms for an Armistice. Humanity defaced, filled with hurt, on its knees.
To those millions of innocents, victims who fell and died, I wrote a short poem four years ago, entitled
Of Flowers and Men
Little lead men
fell one by
inside a field other than theirs, where
red flowers now flourish high -
scarlet to colour
a river to remind us
inside our walls.
Four years later, on that same month of November, I penned a string of verse to remember you all – irrespective of alliance, skin colour or religious denomination – because you were all human beings turned inhumane inside a theatre of death. You fell or you were shot, because you had beliefs.
On this occasion, the following verse is in your honour.
In memoriam, 14-18 Now
Time belongs to lush poppy fields.
They walked by their millions in wet mud,
France or Flanders,
leather laces in No Man's Land, along with
shells and barbwrire.
Canary girls back in Clydebank or in Gretna
manufactured what was to kill
somebody's boy in a cornfield, or
their own genes here on homeground...
An assemblage of sacrifice in
the name of an empire, country or king.
They fell by millions in cold mud,
furrow or field they never sowed -
through earth layers,
chromatic world recorded shell shock and their fears,
Within an hour, I will join all those who remember them at my local beach – St Ninian’s Sands – and read poetry to those clad in a uniform as part of this project #pagesfromthesea because I don’t forget. Later tonight, as part of this year’s edition of #shetlandwordplay (the annualbook festival in Lerwick), I will join in for the last event, the Open Mic and read both aloud, as part of a sequence dedicated to #14-18now.
Marcel Proust had his madeleine in France, I have mine in Lerwick!
Falling in love with an island (or any place on Earth) will make you shift mountains and turn a dream into reality.
This certainly happened to Valérie and Didier Pîquer, today’s proud owners of C’est la vie, located in Commercial Street opposite Harry’s Department and the Fort Café (the town’s best Chippie).
An authentic French experience guaranteed from the moment you step in. The décor, atmosphere and a welcome with a smile invite you to a very convivial establishment. Your eyes are drawn to the myriad of treasures ranging from le comptoir to the brioche and other delicacies displayed under glass bells on a table in one corner.
Whereas Valérie comes from Paris, Didier is Basque. A magic blend that brings an amazing 3-page menu on a clipboard! There is something for everyone.
From the famous Croque Monsieur family to the platter of charcuterie, they offer you the best produce. Brioche, madeleines, cookies, gauffres and langues de chat are homemade. If some dishes are directly imported, Didier confided they came from the finest Basque (from either side of the Pyrénées) or French supplier – local artisans.
Each plate feels gastronomical – each bite, an exquisite moment your senses will memorise for a very long time!
Valérie shared her deep delight as clients shared smiles and even their appreciation in French, as it feels such a heart warmer.
Although they only opened to the public on the third day of April, locals and visitors are already flocking in, sampling what C’est la vie has to offer, and the menu has so much to offer.
It is the start of a great adventure!
If you are a fine gastronome in search of some culinary and traditional Gallic delights, just come along and push the door. You will be in for a real treat!
The Federation of Writers (Scotland) is an organisation dedicated to making the written and spoken word available to the public of Scotland, with respect for diversity and recognition of additional support needs. Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) ’S e prìomh-amas Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) litreachas sgrìobhte is labhairte a chur mu choinneamh poball na h-Alba, a’ toirt spèis do dh’iomadachd agus feumannan-taice a bharrachd.