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.
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!
Six wonderful days in the great Scottish city of culture.
Reconvening with friends, meeting old and new ones – treading on flagstones and cobbles uncharted till then…
Book launch, Open Mic’ reading… Now Compass Head introduced, well received and since well shelved in Renfrew Street.
With gracious thanks to Christie Williamson and Hazel Frew for rolling the ball, Chris Tait for a great crack, Basil for homing the verse at tellit slant and orchestrating that marvellous night at the Project Café, and to E for being here all along.
So lovely to meet up with Elizabeth Rimmer at the Clutha Bar for Jim Ferguson’s book launch and blending with Glasgow poets that same night.
So chuffed to share such precious slices of life with precious friends.
Felt so welcomed at the Project Café as well as any public place treaded into. Glasgow shines through the folk who make the place!
With the Vernal Equinox, that sense of joy and revival, as Mother Earth awakes and grows deep in her bounty and belly, comes an invitation to create, celebrate, as today, Wednesday 21st of the third month, was chosen as our World Poetry Day.
The chance to reconnect with ourselves as Mother Earth’s children, and allow creativity to flow like sap inside our souls.
It is exactly what happened this morning during Period 3 in the classroom with Fourth Year pupils who wished to practise their own creative writing skills through poetry.
They asked me for the first theme, whilst they picked the second.
They sat down inside our world, and, with a few words of guidance, began to write their poetics. Not only happy to hint them into using their own senses, they asked me, the poet, to write my own.
It drips and clops like
a metronome against time,
Clop, clop, clop, clop…
that sense of Spring past Equinox, as they lash into their
cold water unleashed from clouds;
aborted, unborn icicles,
unwanted so late inside March.
I hear them crash against windows, on every corner of
meadows, and feel them
drop inside the
warmth of my collar, as
morning vanishes in
There isn’t a pebble in sight,
polished by angry tides,
riptides and rollers
rolled in wrath
a jealous moon pulled & twisted.
But there are prints from
our own past,
hundred of footprints in white sand
a gale will blow, obliterate through
hands of time, like
a school slate wiped by a child,
timetables & mathematics in
an attempt to unwind
Now your turn to be creative and celebrate the spoken word on this fine day! 🙂
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,
“Nat, I challenge you to a short poem…” I still remember Chris’ words one fine evening at the Mareel Café in Lerwick during one memorable Open Mic’ Night in 2016.
At the time, little did I know those words would generate such a fabulous collaboration with Visitors – a trio of very talented singer/songwriters based in Shetland (till band member Chris Grant left last autumn for his Glasgow homeground with a mix bag of excitement and sadness…).
To the poet, writing for a band feels playful and self-indulgent.
Whilst band member Chris Grant has known my writing from 2012 through the National Theatre of Scotland’s Ignition project, fellow members Cha Johnson and Andy Kinnear have been exposed to my poetical world from the Shetland Open Mic Night sessions. When it came to their project as a band, they had some of my spoken words in mind for the purpose of one song when the opportunity arose. Whilst they were assembling an EP later named after the final lines of my short poem, I quickly scribbled a very short piece recollecting my “first time” as a then visitor to 60N. This recollection never left my heart and mind, so magical and powerful this very first experience felt, and became imprinted in my heart forever.
This I translated into words,
submitted to Chris, who immediately related to the piece. Perfect was his response. And left it like this, until he recorded me in a tiny office on his last day at work.
Although I had no idea of what was really happening, I later received words from Chris explaining me about Visitors’ plans and project. A bigger picture began to shape in my head. With Chris in Glasgow, I left the spoken word in good hands. Meanwhile, Shetland Times journalist and singer/songwriter Adam Guest penned an article in the islands’ weekly. More light on Visitors‘ work!
An EP to be launched in Shetland
So little did I know Visitors would launch their work at this year’s Shetland Folk Festival in South Nesting. News filtered gradually via all three members earlier this spring. I still remember Cha’s lovely words- both at Gutters’ Gaet and Andy’s… We all turned more excited about such launch! From Cha’s messages to the rehearsals at Islesburgh and Clairmont Place, I discovered the entire EP, tasted fabulous slices of life (as well as Andy’s newly improved home made chilli con carne!) in fabulous company; a wild ride in Andy’s car to listen to the CD newly arrived in his lair, and reconvened with Chris and Roo.
On the night, 29 April 2017
Whilst Visitors had already invested the South Nesting Public Hall for the indispensable sound check, I joined in with the audience. Familiar and other faces lined up against the wall, ticket in hand. The air was crisp in a dry though overcast world… I left the comfort of my peerie buggy as soon as I saw my trio of artistes emerging from the building. Reunited on the night for the gig! Hugs, smiles and kind words filled our hearts.
Little did I realise the concert would be performed in a jam packed hall with other great bands following in our footsteps…
Visitors live on stage, 29 April 2017 at the South Nesting Hall for the launch of the EP at the Shetland Folk Festival 2017.
And Chris invited me on stage to close the act, whilst reading those words I once scribbled about “little did I know this would mean home”. The act well, very well received by the audience on this fun night of performance. Maggie already released in iTunes. The rest of the EP to follow in the great digital constellation of the apple.
Happy poet, humble and thanking you, dear Visitors for such an epic adventure 🙂
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.