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A constantly curious and melancholic wanderer...

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Kitchen Garden (and the general sense of a loss of magic in the world)

My name is Autumn Leave.  I am an investigative journalist working for The Alternative News and Interesting Facts Daily.  I have been working for them for the last 20 years.  I used to cover cutting edge investigative cases such as truth about toothpaste and other everyday products we use, a study determining how many people yawn when they see other people yawn, and investigating why squirrels forget where they put their nuts 50% of the time. But in recent years, as I have moved closer to a retirement age I have been moved to the Obituary and Melancholic Memories section of the paper.

My writing has lost a bit of magic, they told me. I guess it has a lot to do with dealing with everyday life.  People don’t give me a lot of reason to believe in any magic or wonder or true beauty.  If you look around you, most of the time you see the opposite of that.  People say that I am a sceptic and a pessimist, but I just think I am realistic and logical – qualities I thought made me good at my job.  But I was assigned to the very last page of the newspaper.

That is until now.  I was requested for a specific article – investigative in nature called “The healing aspects of a Kitchen Garden relating to the layout and type of plants in the garden. This might not sound very interesting to you, but kitchen gardens have resurfaced in the last few months as a major topic of discussion after the Potager Phenomena of Basil Brown.  

She claims to have made some extraordinary discoveries while working in her kitchen garden.  Basil Brown suffers from an acute type of depression and paranoia, mixed with an extreme phobia of crawling insects.  

In the last few years, it affected her so much that she hardly ever left her home.  The technology of today makes staying at home much easier than in the olden days, with online shopping and chat rooms designed for specific groups of people.  She was quite content with having no contact with the outside world except for one very old and reliable exterminator who she met online on a site for “The frequently disheartened and doubtful of mind”.

John Cricket was as disheartened and doubtful as Basil in his younger days, but was able to overcome some of his sadness and loss of confidence and trust in the world, by focussing all of these emotions on killing bugs.  It was a known fact that many people with this specific mixture of depression and paranoia went hand in hand with a fear of crawling insects.  Mr Cricket therefore had a full-time job as a counselling exterminator.  He was well-known as the best in his line of work.  He would usually visit a person on a weekly basis, but some severe phobias required fumigating up to three times a week. 
It was Mr Cricket who told Basil Brown about some of the pest-repelling benefits of many plants and herbs and who suggested that she designs a kitchen garden or potager as known in French circles.  

Basil Brown started putting all her time into creating the perfect potager.  She researched everything thoroughly and spent days planning her design and structure.  In the end she decided on 5 specific plants to use and she would plant them in a specific way that made a lot of sense to her. 
She planted a Basil plant in the middle her little garden.  Basil was a known repellent of the Asparagus beetle.  This plant would represent her off course, carrying the same name and with a smell that she really found very comforting. 

She then planted two Venus Fly-traps and two Pitcher Plants to act as guards, trapping and digesting any insect that would come close to her special basil plant in the middle.  She then added some decorations in the form of Petunias – beautiful, but deadly to a variety of beetles, leafhoppers and some other crawling bugs.  Lastly she scattered Catnip all over the little garden, in between the rest of the plants to repel ants, a selection of beetles, including the colourful Japanese beetle and then of course Basil’s biggest fear – cockroaches.  

She attended to her garden on a daily basis, staying outside the house for longer periods of time.  Her garden started growing and blooming and becoming more beautiful to her every day.  She started inviting some people over – other disheartened and doubtful people who were not as confined to their homes as she was.  The therapeutic effects of the garden soon became very evident to Basil and her friends that visited felt an immense change in their mood and general sense of trust in the world, while in the garden.  They also realized the longer they stayed in it, the longer their new-found cheerfulness lasted.  Quoting Basil Brown”  “It is as if our hearts have been touched by some sort of magical power inside the garden.”

Now, many other people have kitchen gardens, myself included and even though there is some therapeutic value in being in a garden for some people, nobody else have claimed to experience the amount of happiness in their gardens that Basil and her friends experienced.  If there was any truth in this, you could deduct that it had to be the specific selection of plants she used as well as the very specific way in which she planted it.  

My assignment is to find out whether there is any truth in this story, to interview Basil and spend some time in her garden.  I am the only journalist she agreed to talk to – as she previously only read the Obituary and other Melancholic Memories section of the newspaper and therefore knew my name.  

This is a really big opportunity for me.  It will be my last chance to prove people wrong and show them that there is no more magic left in the world and that you can a sort of contentment in accepting what is real instead of longing for something more.  So today, I will expose Basil and her silly depression club and tell the truth.  That a bunch of nutty people have a sort of mad-hatters party in a kitchen garden once a week and that they probably all are as much on a trip as Lewis Carol when he wrote Alice in Wonderland.  

I knock on the the door…

*Story inspired by a very interesting topic: "The Kitchen Garden" for my monthly writers group.  You can read more about a kitchen garden over here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Paris in Black and White - Part 3

Our very last day in Paris...  We got off to an early start and decided to skip breakfast from the little restaurant with the menu we didn't understand, but went to the local supermarket and got some breakfast from there and some snacks for the day.  We also bought a few little last minute presents.  Then we had some coffee (and wi-fi) time at McDonald's and we were ready for the day!

First stop: Versailles.  It was a rainy day - perfect weather to visit a palace I guess.. We had an interesting train trip on the way with some super intelligent British kids keeping us entertained.  And I saw the Statue of Liberty again. So soon after our New York trip :) A little bit smaller off course... Here is some interesting facts about this one:

Pont de Grenelle
This second Statue of Liberty in Paris is near the Grenelle Bridge on the Ile Aux Cygnes, a man-made island in the river Seine, 11.50 metres (37 feet 9 inches) high.  Inaugurated on July 4, 1889, it looks southwest, downriver along the Seine.  It's tablet bears two dates:  July 4th, 1776: the United States Declaration of Independence like the New York statue, and July 14, 1789: the storming of the Bastille. This statue is shown in the movie National Treasure:  Book of Secrets as one of the historic locations. *

Eventually we arrived at Versailles after about an hour on the train.  I didn't know that much about Versailles except that it is where Marie Antoinette stayed and where she said "Let them eat cake!" And something about the French Revolution....

On our way to the palace in the rain... 

At the golden gate (which would be more visible if the photo wasn't black and white)

It was difficult to get a picture without someone else trying to get a picture.

A look back at the suburb...

Some interesting information on the Palace of Versailles before we continue:

As copied directly from Wikipedia, because the first sentence is so funny :)

"Versailles" redirects here. For the city, see Versailles (city). For the Japanese metal band, see Versailles (band). For other uses, see Versailles (disambiguation).

The Palace of Versailles (English /vɛərˈs/ vair-SY or /vərˈs/ vər-SY; French: [vɛʁˈsɑj]), or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles.
When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres southwest of the French capital. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

Here follows my experience of the palace.  I was completely overstimulated by the excessive extravagance of it all, so I focused on my favourite thing:  lamps.

Chandeliers count as lamps don't they?

That is mostly what I can remember of the palace... lots and lots of lamps :) 

 We had a quick visit in the beautiful garden grounds before we had to head back to central Paris for some last minute sightseeing.  

A last look at the Palace..

and back in Paris...

 to the famous The Avenue des Champs-Elysees (series in Sepia)

There was an awesome energy on this street. Lots of people walking up and down with many little market shops next to the road where you can buy souvenirs and some sugary goodies. We had some delicious sweet sticks (can't remember the real name).  

Some Christmas decorations left on the street... 

The rest of the street was mostly expensive designer shops.  This is definitely a good street to walk and do some window shopping.  

Here's a cute song that I love about Paris and Champs Elysees :) 

The Arc de Triomphe.  It was quite beautiful and definitely worth putting into our busy schedule...

Some extra information as usual:

 The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle (originally named Place de l'Étoile), at the western end of the Champs-Élysées.[3] It should not be confused with a smaller arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands west of the Louvre. The Arc de Triomphe (in English: "Triumphal Arch") honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. *

Another postcard moment...

I cannot remember where this was, but I think it was on our way to Rue St Antoine.  That is the problem when you put up photos a year and a half after the actual trip. All I can remember is that I needed a bathroom at some point and that I had to wait in a very long line. This made me think of another Paris bathroom moment, where I had to use one of those fancy street ones that are automatic and that cleans the whole thing when your done.  I kept on going in and just as I was about to take my pants off, the door would open.  It was very funny - although not so much at the moment. 

The Marais Walking Tour which we attempted to do on our own.  On this tour we were supposed to see:  the city's medieval roots, explore quiet passageways and grand squares, admire Parisian mansions or hotels particuliers, and see Paris' lively historic Jewish quarter, where gastronomic treats call from all corners.  

Unfortunately we didn't see most of that, and we definitely did not see the Jewish quarter which we really wanted to find, but it was still a nice experience for people who did not have enough time left to do the a tour with a tour guide, but chose to be adventurous on their own...

Then we had to rush back to Montmarte and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica to end our Paris trip where we started it.  With one of the most amazing views of Paris, some crepe's and a whole lot of fridge magnets to take back home... 

Paris - the city of light...

This was one of the most amazing experiences ever and I will always remember this beautiful city and how it made me feel. I hope to return back there very soon.

So, that is item number 1 on on my very-long-to-do-list done.  I completed my Paris in Black and White (well most of the time) series.  I have about a hundred things left to do.  But let's take it one day at a time.  

Today was a good day...