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.
I never thought I would be back with eight pupils and a member of staff, leading them all to twelve days of Norwegian experience in families and school.
It took just under a month (from our new term in Shetland) to land back at Flesland, and wander back in my now familiar Bryggen i Bergen, Vågen, via Bybanen – Bergen’s Light Railway that links BGO to the great sentrum – only this time for a pioneering trip to 62N.
I love school exchanges. I still reminisce that in Germany three years ago, led by my colleague and friend Peter Haviland. This one, however, had a couple of twists: back to familiar territory, and, unique in its nature, for it encompassed four Shetland schools with that in Måløy, Sogne og Fjordane, on the island of Vågsøy. It felt such a great honour to be vetted with both such leadership responsibilities and setting a precedent by both the Association – under the helm of Graham Nicolson and Per Kåre Nybakk – and my school. Three years earlier, I was asked to find host families for a small party of young Norwegians by friend and Shetland-Måløy Twinning Association… This time, I would return with a small group I affectionately christened “the Shetland Gang”. That first term at my High School in Lerwick would prove both hectic, challenging and exciting!
The trip proved to be epic! A two-day trek that would require two boats (Shetland-Arberdeen and Bergen-Måløy) and an aeroplane (ABZ-BGO). And what a saga!
Back in the mythical land, back in what I have always called heim since I first stepped onto Norwegian soil… Where I feel home on this other side of the North Sea.
Back in Måløy, Anita’s homeground… The one who opened the door to it all – NYBAKK, more than a boat, a clan, now my Norwegian family. My first visit there would prove the stepping stone to this year’s voyage and exchange. The great Norskie jigsaw is shaping up with flair and grace.
The ride would prove long and tiring for us all, as we arrived long after dusk on 14 September and engulfed ourselves inside the ferry terminal. Arve was there, with such a huge smile! Our host families, ready to welcome those young Shettis, as the school’s Rektor (Headmaster) Kåre Bakke nicknamed us all, for a good night sleep before our very first day at his establishment. Happy but exhausted.
Some stories to write and share! A brand new taste of Norwegian life began for all. And each of us – pupil & staff – experienced our own along the way. For my part, I was reunited with Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik at Gate 6. And my temporary Norwegian home life was rekindled with unbound joy. Immersed in norsk (with flings of English to relieve my brain!) inside their home, with family and friends, would help me improve my humble knowledge of Nynorsk, and local dialect. Challenged by so many voices, including that of a friendly story teller on the first Friday night at Kraftstasjonen Restaurant! What a night! Anne Mabel and Arve ensured I would have a memorable time, and that they managed effortlessly. I really felt home; helped out Jarl Eirik with homework, felt an integral part of the clan, especially once Sam (their dog) accepted me fully… Hmmm. I knew that leaving them would mean tears in my heart, and it did. They ensured I would explore this wonderful island called Vågsøy.
heim (home) with a view
to each sunrise, new adventure!
skog trening (forest hiking) with Anne-Mabel, Jarl Eirik and Arve for fun!
The Educational Experience
Up at 0630 every morning – each school day began at 0830 and finished at 1410. The Norwegian system encompasses different ethics, which would either make smile or terrorise any British teacher! Some differences – from the day structure to the more informal working relationship – we all tasted for five full days. Our Shetland Gang was challenged every day, and undertook a blend of private study, assembling and delivering their Shetland presentation (as requested by the Association) which they delivered on nearly 10 different occasions to a myriad of class groups – as well as start preparing their own for Shetland, and they even cooked for their Norwegian counterparts & Rektor. Colleague and friend Tanya Myhre would keep us smiling every morning. The In-School programme shaped up for such pioneering experience, and, every single member of staff made us welcome and fully supported. My Deputy Leader would also prove invaluable on a daily basis. What an eye opener!
But we did more than this.
Whereas Tuesday was spent visiting four different local businesses around Måløy, the final Saturday would be felt as the ultimate prize: sightseeing in and around Geiranger , where we also celebrated one of our pupil’s 14th birthday. I believe he will never forget.
trekking through the mountains
Geiranger at water level
stepping out at snow level on the roof of Western Norway
Per Kåre Nybakk and Kåre Bakke worked hand in hand all all levels, and employed a gang of host drivers for such unforgettable experience. I cannot thank them and everyone enough for enabling this entire trip.
An experience our young Shettis and us, team, would never forget.
Some extraordinary stories to tell about their Norskie life chapters, as well as to share with their families & friends back home. Our journey back to our islands’ shore proved as epic as the inbound adventure, as we had to overnight in Aberdeen because of flight and boat timings… But we made it, and now we are resettling into our Shetland lives, we are barely beginning to share our tales.
Thank you, Graham, Per Kåre, Valerie, Mandy, Peter and Lewie, for all your support along the way – Marina, for accompanying such pioneering trip, Tanya, Kåre and everyone at the Vågsøy ungdomskule for all help and friendliness, Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik, for having me at home – as well as all our host families and friends. But foremost, to you all, dear Shetland Gang. You were awesome 🙂
On the topic of migration, hirundines – the embodiment of summer – and swallows in particular have always captivated my heart. I remember them nesting under the roof in rue de la Libération in Gisors as a child; and their return every year throughout life – wherever I have settled – remains magical.
Today I watch them return on the island, so far away from my grandmother’s home, and every time they rekindle that moment of discovery as a child… They fly from West Africa to reach us. Their journey feels incredible – travellers without papers across our northern hemisphere. They come to create the next generation – they have two homes, they are the product of two worlds, and they embody with so much grace many of us, humans, who have been blessed with more than one home…
A powerful allegory.
Here, to celebrate those amazing avian wanderers, a string of micropoetry, first written in French, then, translated in mirror.
des anges habillés bleu et noir,
avec dans leurs yeux, du courage;
l’iris riveté au soleil, avides d’amour hors des nuages, sous
les génoises, elles font un voeu.
they, angels clad in black & blue,
with courage in their eyes;
iris riveted to the sun, avid to love in cloudless skies, under
a roof they make a wish.
elles traversent déserts, champs et mers,
se confient aux cours d’eau, les chansons de la terre
pour retrouver enfin une once du berceau.
they fly across deserts, meadows and seas;
confide to waterways, the many earthly songs, to
find at last an ounce from home.
Je les entends venir enfin,
leurs longues plumes dans mon ciel,
s’arrêter sur un fil de fer, entre iris et mur de pierres,
un rebord de gouttière,
la latitude de leurs ancêtres.
At last I hear them come,
their long feathers inside my sky,
to perch on a wire, in between iris and stone walls,
I am water, not the rock – I am able to flow instead of being eroded.
Powerful affirmation in a world that never teaches us to fall, but our ability to rise again and adapt, mend our bruises and scars, with time and sheer resilience, remains a strength in many of us. Life takes us to amazing places, a thought I very recently shared with a close friend – sometimes, totally unexpected, with their areas of “shimmering” and “dark” areas… The fear of the unknown, the dark lands with its own pitfalls and question marks – paths littered with both flowers and pot holes, sometimes deep. Irrespective of all this, we make our own choices, and, when trusting our own decisions, select the path ahead. Because we dare to take a risk and our eagerness to see the light will act as a magnet. We, journey folk through our lives, will use our boots and hearts well. To adapt in a world in perpetual motion, with its own sudden twists and turns, sometimes out of our own jurisdiction, is key to survival, living. We can at times lose track of the compass – our own sense of direction – however, it is our own ability to steer our own boat and free that sail – be resourceful, innovative in our own sense of self and trustfulness.
At different stages in our lives, we shall reach crossroads; a change of wind that may define a change of current. That’s when our compass tell us of change to come. We are living in extraordinary times, with others taking all kinds of decisions on our behalf. Again, our survival senses that need to re-assess our current position and, with wisdom and trust in the water, will help us find and write a course in life that will take us away from a maelstrom that can feel dangerous or too dark to our taste. This journey may feel treacherous, it is however necessary to find ourselves in calmer waters, because we simply need it.
And yet, I need headlands, and lighthouses.
In the kingdom named Animalia, we are, by definition, land mammals. This may make many of you smile… But is it a fact. And I am with a passionate sense of place, solid, with a beacon that reminds my being and spirit where “home” is. Because we make it where it is. Home, that concept – feeling more than a place when one comes to think of it – can be reached, eventually. For nearly two decades, I have experienced the joy of such feeling, and rooting up like thrift, or sea rocket, by the edge of the water. A poet friend once confessed to me how “fortunate” I was to reach such el dorado, feeling of home, for she was still searching for it. Being born in one place on Earth does not necessarily defines it automatically as home. Far from it, as we have neither chose it in the first nor do we have necessarily have to simply “get on with it” and die where were once born. Some of us will feel a pull from a far away land… Yes we turn back into what our ancestors were, nomadic in our minds and hearts. We were made sedentary by politics imposed by some elite in pursuit no other than materialistic, or sheer wish to control us – where we are, what we do, what is expected of us as contributors to their world (not ours).
I believe in bettering myself whilst contributing to the community in which I have settled. Important as it will define my sense of assimilation within such community, hence, feeling home. I am the water, not the rock, and adapting to where I anchor my mind and heart feels paramount. Enriching the self whilst enriching others with a different culture. A two-way process in a multi-cultural world, or island. My own island where I live has been subjected to this throughout history, as it is bathing in both a sea and an ocean. Nomads in search of their own treasure island mingling, blending with natives to contribute to the fabric of a much more open society. A blessing and a powerful feeling.
My own beacon still shines very bright on top of that headland. However, I have reached others that feel equally powerful in their luminosity, hence defining and accepting in my head the notions of hame, Heim, home in an effort to avoid losing either partial or complete track of the compass. From the moment I chose to leap out and make my life an adventure, as encouraged by my grandmother (who always believed in me) I have begun to believe much more deeply this is a wonderful privilege to be able to have more than one beacon. I have felt and found myself in a couple of treacherous types of maelstrom in the past half decade, but, with the love of support of what I consider my kinsfolk, soul family, as well as all those who deeply embrace me as a human being, have helped me to flow again as I naturally do it.
I owe her the back cover photograph of my book, a lifetime friendship on a plate, a well of laughters and shared moments of emotions…
We are woman, beautiful.
I met Aneta Lukzikova through Anita Orheim (see blog post “Vakker #wearewoman “) over a decade ago. Like Anita, Aneta was then in academic transit and decided to establish her own “hame” on this latitude. Our friendship blossomed through time and shared slices of life. We earned each other’s trust and respect gracefully, travelled the length and breadth of our islands, and even crossed the sea last summer to reconvene with Anita on her homeground for a weekend of sheer happiness in and around Fana. I had promised Aneta a beer in Bergen, we did just that. Today, we know ourselves pretty much inside out.
Of this, I’m very proud. Forever grateful to have her friendship, her love and trust as a woman and a close friend, so close I can call her my Czech sister.
For you, dear Aneta, I am going to improvise you a poem as I’m typing,
We have travelled so many roads,
crossed many bridges,
sea, earth marks.
listened and dried
so many blueprints from cold rain;
laughed at my face by
the White Wife,
helped me to
We crossed the sea to
share a pint,
taste simple pleasures in Bryggen to reconvene with
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.