On the way to the station I noticed a workman’s hard hat; it was pinned to the wall just above ground level. Full of water, it carried the sign ‘dog bowl’ above it! In Paris the Musée du Quai Branly also makes full use of containers attached to walls: it’s ‘mur vegetal’ is a living green wall entirely covering one side of the building opposite the Seine: all sorts of plants – flowery, leafy, grassy, ferny – are abundantly growing there, spilling down from their special pockets, seemingly defying gravity.
Inside the museum, a new building hovering above lush gardens overlooked by the Tour Eiffel and its myriad human ant visitors, the ethnographic displays are compelling. From Amazonian feather bonnets to Congolese fetishes and Indonesian doorways the old magic is palpable.
But in some ways the new magic is the strongest – Charles Sandison’s The River: this unending flow of names projected onto the path of the winding access ramp makes a mesmerising stream in which one can paddle uphill and down, meandering among the logs and rafts of words as they jiggle and jostle along. Join in here!
Across the city the luxuriously patterned tiled walls of the Grand Mosquée enclose courtyards and gardens – perfect for sipping glasses of sweet aromatic teas at wobbly tables. On a hot afternoon among the overhanging trees cheeky sparrows peck at honeyed crumbs, fountains play while gossip and romance scent the still air.
Very different, after a morning’s train ride West, is the wide expanse of the Atlantic; the breakers in the bay crashing on to the Breton sand, the wild wind playing havoc with the clouds, and when it gets the chance the sun glinting off the tumbling spume. Lovely fun to dip and dive in, not exactly what you’d call swimming though sometimes floating – often buffeted tugged and pummelled like rags in the spin cycle. But oh that first splash is definitely the coldest.
At lunch – deliciously French – we were treated to a little musical performance by our host. Having cooked us the tastiest meal he fetched his Irish pipes and deftly assembling them began to squeeze the windbag with his elbow and play us some merry tunes. He’d turned and fashioned the ebony himself, and sewn the bags too. It was hard to resist jumping up and dancing.
The garden, the view, the walks, the talks, the laughs – and then all too soon I was back in London. The journey in from the City airport coincided with the start of the Paralympic games. I was impressed by the number of smiling helpers darting forward to offer advice to puzzled travellers, and the many purple-clad volunteers busily riding to and fro. So unlike the Paris metro, where the enclosed underground world seems to live a life of its own, and function mysteriously with no officials present at all.
Home again and back to work. I was delighted to receive the printed notice of the Textile Society’s AGM, at which I am a guest speaker in November. Have a look at the weekend programme – it is open to all and has loads to offer.