Paris Belvedere @ centre stage

It’s exactly two years since we spent a long weekend with our family in Paris, walking the streets, enjoying early morning crepes, visiting galleries and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I’d decided in advance though that we must visit the the city’s Belvedere, built just after the 1867 Great Exhibition in Paris.

After a few enquiries we got some positive directions. It was in the North East of the City in the 19th arrondissement and easily accessible by the metro and a short walk. It was located we discovered as the centre and crowning point of Le Parc de Buttes Chaumont, a jewel of a place with a lake, cliffs, gardens, grassy slopes and people enjoying the sun and feeding the birds. It could be paradise!

Imagine then our surprise to read this last week that the network of jihadists responsible for the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and of police and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket trained here in this beautiful spot and now were being described as the Buttes-Chaumont cell (Financial Times Weekend, 10 January 2015).

For the record the Belvedere, curiously described in the Guardian (13 January 2015) as a ‘faux Roman temple’, was erected in 1869, exactly the same year as New York’s Belvedere was built in Central Park. Some cultural rivalry is surely evident here!

The site of the park was originally a quarry opened up for the construction of the 1867 Exhibition (See engraving of the original site) and the Belvedere stands in a central position on the rock, high above the surrounding lake. From its lofty position it has a magnificent view towards the centre of Paris, with the Sacre Coeur evident in the distance (See picture below)

A new kind of Cargo cult?

Remember the talk of cargo cults in the 1960s in Melanesia? People in some of the least developed countries believed they were seeing a god-like revelation, when planes carrying items from the industrialised world arrived in their lands from the skies. It was a clash of cultures, a disjunction that pointed up some of the inequalities across our world.

I got an inverted sense of this kind of thinking on flying recently to the UK from impoverished Nepal via the oil rich gulf states. Here a ‘reverse cargo’ cult was developing, but now the cargo is human. The vast majority of the 250 passengers climbing aboard the plane (see photo) in Katmandu were young Nepali men, returning or looking for work in the huge construction projects being developed in centres like Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This is the world of the remittance economy, where young men earn money abroad to send back for supporting their families and children at home. They make real the dreams of the oil sheikhs, dreams of soaring office blocks and World Cup 2022 football in Qatar.

Nepal and India are heavily involved in this, but things are often not what they seem. The young man beside me on the plane talked about his experience in night security work – long hours, bad living conditions and low wages, with the security companies taking the lion’s share of the contract monies.

The construction work is often dangerous and in some cases workers have been forcibly prevented from returning to their own countries. Many have died on the work.

In an interesting article, “Oil-Led Development: Social, Political, and Economic Consequences”, Terry Lynn Carl from Stanford University describes the impact that this model of oil-led economic growth – with the importing of cheap labour – has on the receiving countries, creating slower growth, a lack of incentives, high unemployment, poverty, poor government and corruption. This ‘paradox of plenty’ or the ‘resource curse’ has harmful repercussions for the dominant resource-rich countries too.

Quartered oak – a love affair

I acquired this particular piece of quarter cut oak timber about 40 years ago from a joiner’s shop in Brixton. I knew it was something special from the start but had no idea what I would use it for. About 40 inches long, it was covered in dust and dirt and has lived in the cellar, waiting for its turn to be called.

For years I’ve kept an eye on it but knew that it was much too good for just another cellar shelf for storing boxes or jars. And it had one potential defect – a curved split about six inches long, which would always be very obvious, whatever I used it for. A few years ago I planed the top of it with care and found a lovely surface – but again put it away, waiting for inspiration.

As happens so often, the idea dawned on me when not expected. We were up on Tyneside a couple of years ago visiting friends and walked down to The Biscuit Factory (, Britain’s largest arts, crafts and design gallery, where a curved walnut hall table caught my eye. It was its two shapely black steel legs which excited me most. I took a couple of photos and let the idea mature.

I soon realized however that the curving of the top was the solution to the existing split and could be extended along the length of the piece to make a new hall table at The Larches. By then I knew too that the long steel legs would be out of place. I needed an elegant solution and not a couple of L-shaped grey brackets!

A visit to see Martin our local blacksmith came up with just the answer – a D-shaped metal support under the shelf with a Δ-shaped support welded at right angles to it for fixing to the wall. A call to a local joiner friend with a heavyweight bandsaw and router got the cutting and shaping job done in half an hour.

Now that it’s in place, sanded and oiled you can see just how beautiful is this near 100 year old quarter sawn oak shelf with its light flecking, rippling across the surface from end to end. Rarely available now, because it’s too expensive to cut in this way, quartered oak became popular at the end of the 19th century. It was typically used in the Arts and Crafts movement and fits perfectly in to The Larches style.

A gift of flowers

A special thanks to a recent guest, Pauline for a delightful display of blue and white flowers, which were left for us early last month after her family’s stay at The Larches.

We will find a place where they can be kept. They are beautifully made and very much appreciated.

It is always nice to find items, which have been left for us by visitors. These have included a pencil drawing by a young child and a striking view of Skiddaw from the breakfast terrace by an American visitor, Nina.

A stoop stones story

Ok so what’s so interesting about the two pictures below? Just a couple of stones and a pretty young Nepali girl? What’s the story?

One cold January morning five years ago I remember carrying the large stoop stone on the left of the picture up the bank at The Larches with four other friends to where we planned to erect it beside the breakfast terrace. I had found it in a neighbouring farmer’s field and the owner kindly allowed me to take it for our garden.

It fascinated me because of its age and construction. Made of a huge piece of Lakeland slate, it weighed well over 2 cwt and had six beautifully crafted square holes. This stoop stone, one of a pair, was designed – in the days before hinged gates – for holding cattle in enclosed fields and keeping other animals out. It was probably 200 to 300 years old. It became evident from my research that similar ones could be found in Cumbria, but otherwise they were not widely known or found.

The stoop stone system allows a farmer to place bars in the holes at either side of the opening and remove them again when access was required. One of the stoop stones has square holes to prevent rotation of the pole and the other has round ones to facilitate opening and shutting of the gateway.

I had definitely not thought that this kind of stoop stone gate was found outside the UK, until last month, when I walked through a narrow cobbled pathway in a small village in Nepal near Pokhara. On the track that was leading up towards the Annapurna Sanctuary I was approached by this young girl, who was happy to be photographed beside this lovely old three holed stoop stone.

Is this an example of quite independent technological development in two different countries, or adoption of a practice as a result of travellers or others spreading information and promoting the idea? If you can tell me of other countries, where you’ve seen similar old stoop stones, I’d be really interested! Better still, send me a photo of it!