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Green walnut

This is the story of a French walnut tree and a trip to Georgia over 30 years ago. First Georgia. I went there with Gog Theatre and our play Birdman in the late eighties. From the moment we arrived, after a 3 day train journey on the Yerevan Express from Moscow, we were plunged into fabled Georgian feasting and singing.

Georgia 1

Gog meets the Young Rustaveli Theatre Company

Every meal was a momentous event. Even breakfast.

Georgia 2

Breakfast table

When it was time to leave and I thought I was packed (very heavy bag), my host family appeared with presents that they absolutely INSISTED I had to take with me: 2 bottles of heavenly Georgian wine, several packets of fragrant Georgian tea from the shores of the Black Sea, and a large jar of homemade Kaklis Muraba – delicious sweet pickled walnuts. Thus I brought the taste of Georgia home, and the memory of it can transport me straight back to that wonderful country and its people.

Fast forward to the Dove in 2020 and the French walnut tree. It had started life on a steep slope in the Gorges du Tarn, several years after my Georgian trip. It arrived via a friend, and I planted it on the meadow where it grew imperceptibly – until, it seems, this year. Lockdown arrived, and so had the walnut.

Walnut tree 5

Walnut catkin up close

Walnut tree 4

Young leaves. The colour reappears in the wine – see below

Two months later, its first proper nut crop started to appear

Walnut tree 2

and it hit me: the memory of the taste of Georgian Kaklis Muraba. It was June, the perfect time to pick walnuts for pickling, and it was lockdown, so I had plenty of time. I found a recipe on the internet and set to the day after Solstice. First peel your walnuts:

Pickled walnuts 1

My solstice walnuts, peeled and soaking

Pickled Walnuts 2

Still soaking 2 days later, but some colour change!

Soaking goes on for 6 days, and while I waited I kept picking walnuts. It’s the best thing to do here, I’m stealing a march on the squirrels. Here are some more walnuts steeping in vodka with lemon zest, spices and sugar to make Nocino – the Italian walnut liqueur

Nocino 3

Nocino first steps

A by product of all this activity: boiled up walnut peel to make ink

Ink the colour of the walnut chest brought to me from Pakistan by my sister many years ago

Walnut chest 3

I couldn’t stop! I started soaking leaves for walnut leaf wine

Walnut leaf wine 1

The strained liquid came out this colour. From green leaves. Going to be some wine

Walnut leaf wine 2

Still waiting for the walnuts to soak (that is how they lose their bitterness as you have to keep changing the water), so I started to delve into the the background of the walnut. First, its name, Juglans. Juglans goes back to Jovis Glans, or ‘nut of Jupiter’. It was considered to be a nut of the gods, and the Greeks had got there first with their myth of Dionysus and Carya. Dionysus fell in love with the nymph Carya, and when she died he transformed her into a walnut tree. Artemis carried the news to Carya’s father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called Caryatides, or nymphs of the walnut tree. The word for walnut in Greek is Karydaki. In many traditions, including indigenous American, it is seen as a sacred tree: magical, medicinal and edible. Not to mention its use as a strong, durable and beautiful timber. Pretty good going! To finish this brief summary, I’ll quote Culpepper, who says’ This is a plant of the sun. Gather it while green, before it shells.’ So I did.

Walnut tree 3

A Plant of the Sun

I just need to look at all these colours together once more, for this week has been as much about colour as taste

 

It’s also been a trip around the world, from my kitchen:

Georgia France Italy Pakistan Somerset

Postscript: I bottled the pickled walnuts yesterday: they taste AMAZING.

 

 

 

Sometime in May, Judy Willoughby invited me to post an artwork a day for a week on Facebook, without title or any other explanation. It took me a while to get into this, as I had decided not to accept any challenges of this nature, but one evening I decided to bite the bullet and pulled a random book out of my bookcase, which happened to be of the art of Franco Vecchiet. I know Franco from Venice, as he taught relief print for many years at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, where I ran some etching weekends, and also took part in a residency. You might be forgiven for imagining this installation was in Venice, but in fact it was in Spalato, in 1987.

artwork a day 1 Franco Vecchiet

Awake, Installation by Franco Vecchiet, Spalato 1987

For the second artwork I did much the same thing: a random book selection, this time ‘The Art of Dove Bradshaw’. I was given this book by Gareth Mills, of Glastonbury bookshops fame: he explained that I was probably the exact person who should have it. My near namesake, Dove Bradshaw, is an American artist who works with ‘nature, change and indeterminacy’. She combines unstable materials with traditional ones, setting off a metamorphic process.  Here the materials are copper and acetic acid on paper. She also, incidentally, was friends with, and worked with, John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Someone after my own heart. I want to be her sister.

Artwork a day 2 Dove Bradshaw

Without Title, 1994, Dove Bradshaw, Copper, acetic acid on paper, 13 3/4 x 3 inches

So far, the work has been by artists who are not well known in the UK. For the third artwork, I resorted to a better known artist, Marino Marini.  He is mostly known for his sculpture, but I really love his 2D work. I saw this and other paintings and prints at an exhibition in Chartres, France, in 1993, and they’ve never left the back of my mind.

Artwork a day 3 Marino Marini

Transparence, 1959, Marino Marini, Oil on canvas 1.51 x 1.20m

Artwork number 4. This is from a book in my bookcase that I have haven’t seen there before….honest. It’s a kind of catalogue of book works, and starts with a memorable quotation from Jorge Luis Borges: ‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.’ So many images I could have chosen, but this one truly did sum up my feelings the day I posted it;  it is the world I would like to inhabit. It’s from a book by Juergen Teller, ‘bringing together images from the Spring Summer 2008 Vivienne Westwood campaign. In his usual style, Juergen Teller photographed the collection by creating a highly theatrical mis-en-scene which involved the collaboration of not only the models but also the designer herself. ‘

Artwork a day 4 Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood Spring Summer 2008, Juergen Teller, photograph

Day 5. By now I had a sense that the number of images left was limited. I always intended to include this painting by Leonora Carrington, entitled ‘The Artist Travelling Incognito”. I love her humour (and wisdom). I saw it in an exhibition of her work in Tate Liverpool some years ago, and bought the postcard.

Artwork a day 5 Leonora Carrington

The Artist Travelling Incognito, 1949, Leonora Carrington, oil on canvas 45.5 x 35.5cm

When I first saw this image, I thought that the artist, Yinka Shonibare, had wrapped all the books in African fabrics. But they were bound, not wrapped. An astonishing installation acquired by the Tate for its permanent collection, the books ‘celebrate cultural icons and diversity. Three walls of the gallery are taken up with shelves of 6,328 books. On 2,700 of the books are the names, printed in gold leaf, of first- and second-generation immigrants to Britain who have made significant contributions to the country’s culture and history.’ An artwork for our times.

Artwork a day 6 Yinka Shonibare

The British Library, 2014, Yinka Shonibare

And so to the last artwork. So many candidates for this! But I decided to go back to my – and everyone’s – artistic roots, and posted this owl from the Chauvet Cave in France. A humble little sgraffito which nevertheless demonstrates the extraordinary skill of the people who decorated the caves. Just a few lines say it all. One of my all time favourite quotations is from ‘On Drawing’ by John Berger, who visited these caves and afterwards wrote: ‘Art, it would seem, is born like a foal who can walk straightaway. Or to put it less vividly… the talent to make art accompanies the need for that art; they arrive together.’

I couldn’t end this project on a better note.

Artwork a day 7 Chauvet Cave Owl

Owl, Anon, Chauvet Cave, Le Pont d’Arc, France

 

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