chrysanthemum

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Chrysanthemum by Piet Mondrian (c. 1909). Drawing held in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.

The Christian holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (on 1 and 2 November, respectively) are to me inevitably associated with the chrysanthemum, a flower that blooms in autumn.

By (or on) 1 or 2 November, most people in Belgium — where I grew up — will make sure to visit the graves of deceased family members and place chrysanthemums on the gravestones.

In my childhood, these chrysanthemums used to be large, pale, globe-shaped or  spidery flowers. Nowadays, they’re round bushes with button-like flowers and strong colours.

The word ‘chrysanthemum’ comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek for ‘gold’ and ‘flower’.

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Sint-Agatha-Rode cemetery in Belgium. Image © Wouter Hagens, reproduced under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

 

swallow

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Japanese stone figure of a swallow with opened beak (c. 1925–48) by an anonymous artist. Held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.

I went to a literary dinner with Danish author Sissel-Jo Gazan at Denmark House here in Melbourne a while back, and I’ve been reading a couple of her novels since — The Dinosaur Feather and The Arc of the Swallow. These two novels have some characters in common and they both mix crime with science and academia. I’m not keen on the author’s writing style but the storylines have kept me reading.

The ‘swallow’ of the second novel is a little wooden sculpture Marie, one of the main characters, receives as a gift because, when they first met, she had reminded the giver of a baby swallow he had rescued as a child. But he had also quickly learnt that swallows are tough birds, trekking the distance from Africa to Europe and back again every year.

I had only just started reading the book when I stumbled upon another punctuation metaphor

Søren scooped Lily up, placed her on the sofa next to Anna and left to hang up his jacket in the hallway. In the doorway he turned and said, ‘By the way, we don’t need to organise someone to look after Lily until she’s better. You can go to the faculty whenever you like. I’ll take care of her.’ Anna looked like a question mark, but when Søren added, ‘I’ve just quit my job,’ her expression turned into an exclamation point.

magnolia

magnoliaIt smells of spring today!

The jasmine on the garden wall is starting to flower and the first buds on the bare grapevines in the courtyard have opened.

Outside my window, the magnolia is in full flower. It’s not my favourite tree but it came with the house. So far it’s doing well, except in summer when its leaves get burnt on the first 30-plus degree day …

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Sparrow on a flowering magnolia branch (1900–30) by Ohara Koson. Woodcut print held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.

 

Magnolia trees were named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638–1715). In his book Prodromus Historiae Generalis Plantarum, in Quo Familiae Plantarum per Tabulas Disponuntur (1689), Magnol was the first botanist to group plants into families according to characteristics of their roots, stalks, flowers and seeds. This was an important step forward for botany, and other botanists, including Carl Linnaeus, improved on Magnol’s groundbreaking classification.

In 1703, another botanist, Charles Plumier, named a flowering tree in Martinique after Magnol. This was the first magnolia. Carl Linnaeus later also adopted the name for the genus Magnolia.

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Magnolia branch with four flowers (1910–25) by an anonymous photographer. Radiograph held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Public domain.

consolation

painting of two football teams playing under the smokestacks of an industrial city and under dark grey skies

Any wintry afternoon in England (1930) by CRW Nevinson. Painting held in the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, UK. Public domain.

The FIFA World Cup has made me feel a bit isolated. It’s winter down here, so it has been hard to get into the summery, festive atmosphere we were seeing on TV. It’s also in the middle of the night, if you watch the live matches. Strangely, none of my colleagues — even fellow immigrants — were following the event, so there was no football-related small talk in the kitchenette or elevator at work. If it hadn’t been for my seven-year-old neighbour, who plays both football and AFL in his backyard, I would have felt quite alone … To make up for the lack of a team, he tends to play everything: goal-scoring player, commentator and referee. ‘And … he SCORES!!!’ goes his little voice, and then he changes roles, ‘Play on, play on!’

I had to explain some of the rules of the competition to my partner. Luckily, in Dutch we often use the English words interchangeably with the Dutch words. So we may say corner with an accent, of course for hoekschop, penalty for strafschop and off-side for buitenspel. The competition is played in two stages: the group stage (groepsfase) and the knockout stage (knock-outfase). The latter consists of the round of 16 (achtste finales, literally ‘one-eighth finals’), the quarterfinals (kwartfinales), the semifinals (halve finales) and the final (finale). Quite logical compared to the AFL finals

One oddity (compared to AFL) is that, before the final, the two teams that have lost the semifinals have to play off for third and fourth place in the competition in a match unimaginatively called the third-place play-off in English. In Dutch, this match is called ‘the little final’ (de kleine finale) or, rather poetically, ‘the consolation final’ (de troostfinale).

Until now, the closest ‘my’ team had ever come to winning the world cup was the ‘consolation final’ in Mexico in 1986, which they lost. This time, they won the match and therefore the bronze medal, so c’est la fête after all!

blue book, red pencil

spilliaert blue sketchbook 1907

Self-portrait with blue sketchbook (1907) by Léon Spilliaert. Painting held in Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerpen, Belgium. Public domain.

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Self-portrait with red pencil (1908) by Léon Spilliaert. Painting held in Mu.ZEE in Oostende, Belgium. Public domain.

holiday in mentone

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A holiday at Mentone (1888) by Charles Conder. Painting held in the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, Australia. Public domain.

It still feels like summer. Temperatures still easily reach into the thirties, there’s no rain, and the lawn looks the driest I’ve seen it since we moved here two and a half years ago. Here is Mentone, close to the bay and the beach. I’m not a beachgoer, but I love that the afternoon sea breeze and the smell of salty seaweed reaches our garden and, when the weather cools down, I enjoy a brisk walk along the bay. Since we’ve moved here, I haven’t wanted to go away — living here feels like enough of a holiday.

Charles Conder’s painting A holiday in Mentone is said to be ‘the first to capture the intensity and brilliance of Australian light’. It is this light and — in summer — the accompanying heat that keeps me indoors on a day like today.

When Conder was painting here, Mentone had not long become more accessible from Melbourne — the railway had opened in December 1881. And in 1884, to encourage more visitors and residents, the sea baths had opened (visible on the right in the painting).

The lady in the foreground of the painting is reading a magazine with a pink cover (and so was the gentleman who is having a nap below the footbridge), apparently a copy of The Bulletin. This was a controversial (to say the least) weekly publication that had been in existence since 31 January 1880 and that, by the time Conder was busy painting on Mentone beach, was taking contributions from its readership. More and more, it published early work of people who would become Australia’s literary and artistic figures of their time — people like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Miles Franklin and Norman Lindsay. In October 1887, The Bulletin published Henry Lawson’s first published poem, ‘A Song of the Republic’, and in December 1888, it would publish his first story, ‘His Father’s Mate’. In December 1889, it would publish Banjo Patterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, followed in 1890 by  ‘The Man from Snowy River’.

Apart from poems, short stories and cartoons, The Bulletin ran political and business news and a page of literary gossip and opinion. Because of its romantic portrayal of outback life, it attracted a strong readership in the outback and became known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’. From 1908 onwards, the magazine became gradually more conservative and less popular. It lingered on until 2008.

 

making jam

botanical drawing of a type of fig showing four figs on a branch with four leaves and a halved fig at the bottom of the drawing showing the inside of the fruit

Fico rubado [Ficus carica sativa or Common Fig], print from Pomona Italiana: Trattato degli alberi fruttiferi conteneate la Descrizione delle megliori varietáa dei Frutte coltivati in Italia, accompagnato da Figure disegnate, e colorite sul vero (1817–39) by Giorgio Gallesio. Book held in the New York Public Library in New York, USA. Public domain.

 

I looked out the window the other day and saw a magpie and a wattlebird in the small fig tree in our garden. It was time to have a look at the figs. I don’t like figs but I don’t like to let food go to waste either, if I can help it, so I looked up some recipes and made fig jam. Sugar, a bit of water, a bit of vanilla, a bit of pectin, a couple of old jars and a fair amount of patience. Money for jam, indeed.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the word ‘jam’ back to 1736, to Nathan Bailey’s second edition of the Dictionarium Britannicum, in which (according to the OED) Bailey states that the word stems ‘prob. of J’aime, i.e. I love it; as Children used to say in French formerly, when they liked any Thing’. In 1755, however, in his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson writes: ‘I know not whence derived’. The OED is careful, too, stating that the word is perhaps derived from the verb ‘to jam’ in the sense of ‘to bruise or crush by pressure’.

Last year, I made my first ever marmalade from cumquats from our garden. Also a great success! Still according to the OED, ‘marmalade’ is an older word than ‘jam’, borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada and dating from 1480. It was originally used to describe a solid quince paste that could be cut in cubes. Citrus fruit only came into the picture from the 17th century onwards, as an optional ingredient, but these days the word ‘marmalade’ is almost exclusively used to denote a preserve made of citrus fruit.

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