Thursday, May 31, 2007

cuttlefish and other glories

Just off the headland, yesterday, I saw a little shark eating up a big cuttlefish.

A giant cuttlefish, it was.

The sea, while pretending to ignore me, is in fact putting on quite some show.
There is no use in me feigning false ignorance, otherwise I get shown a predator eating its prey. Or bump into something that is about-to-be-prey, which is almost as bad.
The Dolphins curl over and around like horizontal commas,the sharks are always an imperative exclamation.
Still, it isnt punctuation that comes to mind when a large shape emerges: the fins look the same enough.

So, the sea-lion enclosure is the safest place to be. Trouble for some, is that the water in here cools down quite rapidly during the night, as opposed to the sea temperature, which stays warm.

Oh, but I love it, the cold of winter water.

It rinses the gills and provides clarity of thought. And here, safe, one can dream undisturbed by predators and prey alike.

The sea has stopped sulking, I gather.
Whether or not this is a plot with which to cure one of wanderlust I can't be sure, but
the whales appeared today, four Southern Right Whales.
They gave themselves away not only with their spouting, but the sun reflecting off their bodies, briefly, as they jumped about.
Some cuttlefish bodies have been presented to me on the tideline, just to remind me who is the uber-being around here. They are rather large, and don't think for a minute I am ignorant as to what the teethmarks mean.

I just pretend that I'm not scared.

(cuttlefish 32cm long)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This is an old friend of mine, Sybil.
She is from Delphi, originally, but now resides in Rome. Rather high up in the Sistine Chapel, as it happens, quite a posh address.

I have been to visit her a few times, one time I lay on the floor to have a leisurely chat, but that was frowned upon and anyway, someone stood on me.

I own a book with her face printed in it, she is rather a famous friend and doesn't really have much time for chats. I did try and do this drawing from life, but I was compelled to instead purchase a picture and sit nearby and copy it. Which is sort of a strange concept and brings up thoughts of Walter Benjamin and "authenticity" and the aura of the original object. But I did render her , I thought, rather cautiously and carefully, reflecting my reverent attitude towards her.

So, I witnessed the authentic, the real, and produced a reproduction of a reproduction and then I gave her a lovely background of Winsor and Newton Bronze metallic gouache. To make her special and holy: Michelangelo would have been rotating in his crypt like a barbecued chook, given all those efforts he made to create volume and space and here's me giving her a very retrograde byzantine icon-style makeover.

Nonetheless, I have always loved her. Plus, being a Sybil, I was hoping she may have been forthcoming with a few portentious comments about my future, but she stayed mute on that side of things, sadly.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Time to make things, time to get down to it, time to think about things I've read and dreamed.
Time to fly away into the Fifi zone.
Time to smell the cadmium orange, time to smear wax, scratch the buff titanium and let run the Madder lake,
wipe and spread the cobalt blue, time to listen to the sing of naples Yellow,

Time to softly scratch the charcoal time to put seaweed in the sky time to sing about nabokov and listen to the memory of panes of glass covered by curtains. Gum Turpentine smells green even.

time to run my finger along the edge of arches paper, six hundred forty grams per square inch, cold pressed, look how it stands up by itself.
I love paper.

I am being looked at on monday. Time to get busy, in the nest of fish

Thursday, May 24, 2007

how the water won, again

I started into the blue today, having largely shaken off the sulks. That tide having turned, I was wondering what tricks a surly sea might try on, but I was being soundly ignored.

Under a wave almost invisible in its lack of colour, the light made flicky little lines on the bottom.

“I notice you’ve turned the temperature down. “ I said quite loudly,
but she didn't respond.
"I didnt think you would stay warm all winter, just to lure little old me into remaining faithful.

The sun seemed harsh and low, everything sharply defined in that autumn way. I idly thought about the absent shark nets, and the open sea beyond it.
Below, a single sand whiting, visible only by its startled eye, poked its long silvery snout around in a pointless fashion.

“One fish. Very big deal”


“AND its nearly June, and I haven’t seen one single whale! Where are they all, I wonder. This time last year I saw absolute packs of them. What have you done?”


I was feeling rather justified in my state of wanderlust. My wishing to be elsewhere.
“I’ll leave you, alright, you cranky old piece.”
But she didn’t alter her shifting one small bit., just shone and glittered.

They erupted not ten meters away, huge, black and shining,
the dolphin pod.

The biggest one reflected the sun in flashes. So big, I could recognise his broken fin from where I was. There were dozens of them: I was trying not to shriek lest I reveal my excitement.
So many babies! Six very small ones, identical forms in synchronised miniature, six babies. Babies grown up, big ones, mothers, the pod much grown.

They circle intently, weaving in and out of one another with a sense of purpose.
Over and under, gleaming in the light and sliding down.
The fishermen think they are catching fish when they do this dance, but I know better.
They are tying a love-knot.

A love-knot in the water, and a very complex one, like an aquatic manuscript illumination.
They make no sound. Over and under and around. If I slip into the deep, I can see them, ultramarine blue with the light on their backs. Tangling their love knot.

I cannot restrain my twitching face any longer.
She has won, the sly old sea, that wily old body of water.
“Perhaps I’ll not leave you” I tell her. Such an easily seduced little whore I am.
She says nothing.

“I know.” I say
“I am alien everywhere else but here”

The dolphins continue to tie a darker love knot, further out to sea.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

in which Fifi herself has a sulky tantrum

tears fell, three times today, must be that sort of day.

I lost all my essay grades, my memory card wouldnt unload, I missed a big deadline I'd had my heart set on, a blues band was practicing downstairs, so loudly I couldnt think.About a million other things.
I just have a blue head on today, but tomorrow will be another day, and I will look brightly toward the horizon once more, yes I will.

I dreamed of printmaking last night, and that was nice.

Monday, May 21, 2007


I have been simultaneously tagged, by two persons, Meli at Northern Lights, and Isabelle at In this Life, both of whom I have listed as friends in that column on the right of this page.

I find this tagging thing intriguing, since it's the cyber version of a chain letter. I couldn't think of much random information which anybody would care to read. The best one I have ever read is Ask The Bronte sisters.
Sadly, I dont have 8 people to tag. So I shall just tag JANE at This Bower My Prison, and that will certainly stir her up. Anyone else on the list would surely kill me. Everyone is screaming towards deadlines, including me, but I am doing my best to divert myself from this fact.
Hope you dont mind, miss jane.

Eight random facts about me.

1:My piano teacher used to call me “Miss Tempo Rubato” because I couldn’t keep time to save myself. We used to joke about many things, included the musical term “hemiola”. I retorted that it sounded like some kind of contagious disease of the bottom, at which he almost had a seizure.
Last week I found a CD he had recorded and given me. He had signed it “yours in hemiola, James”.

2:I am a really crap pianist. But I adore listening to others.

3:I am not afraid of snakes, spiders OR sharks, but the thought of being old terrifies me.

4:I can go to sleep anywhere, anytime I want to. It’s a gift.

5:I have attracted three stalkers in my life. When I was 15, 23 and last year. The last one was a Polish man in his seventies.

6:I have now taught people from age 5 to 65. I taught a masters subject last year, and one guy was 65. In this fact, I possibly equal Mieke Bal. I am currently teaching sculpture to 10 year olds, as well as teaching university students.

7:I was a vegetarian for many years, until I had a (psychotic episode)
dream where a Renaissance angel visited me and told me I should really eat meat. So I did. I still don’t know how to cook it, so the butcher writes instructions on the wrapping paper.

8: I didn’t know, until I was 22, how short-sighted I actually was. I wore my first pair of contact lenses, sobbing piteously, because I could suddenly see leaves all the way to the tops of the trees, the other side of the harbour, bricks to the top of a building. By then, my habitual squint was ingrained. I still do it, and have the marks to prove it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

where the sea throws a most unbecoming tantrum

I was waist-deep in the sea, and whipped by rain,
when she decided to pelt me in the face with briny foam.
"What did you do that for?" I asked, and wiped my eyes.

I have heard, she hissed, that you wish to visit the NORTH SEA.
I’ll give you North sea, if you wish to see it. I’ll show you water the colour of pale tea and filled with things unknown to you."
And she drew back deeply, sucking up a good amount of sand with a generous portion of broken sea weed beads for good measure. Then flung them in my face.

“THERE. Do you like that? And, whats more,”
she said, poised for another shot, fortified this time with small fragments of stinging things she had obviously cast around for, way down somewhere deep.,
“ there is rain, and very unfriendly wind, and if you don’t watch out, the North sea will steal you from the very shore if you linger to peer at the wet sand. As you, I have noticed, are very prone to doing.”

This time it was such a forceful wave I was forced to dart right down to the bottom and hold onto the sand in the clearer depths, while the tantrum passed.
Her fury turned the water to champagne, for though she meant to frighten, it really was not in her nature to be malevolent, and even with the meagre ammunition, pieces of weed and wavefuls of sand, the waves still smelt turquoise and redolent of pears. Certainly, nothing to be frightened of.

“My waves are bigger. I cannot imagine what business you have, dreaming of being so far away, when I have made you such a safe and pretty home. Iceland indeed. England!”
At this, she whipped me again. I was beginning to itch. I rubbed my eyes again, and removed long strands of my own hair from my mouth before I spoke.

“I’m just going for a look, it won’t be long! And how can I see here, where I am, if I cannot be reminded of there, where I am not? For part of my history lies there, you know. Small patterns, yes, and old ones too, but there, nonetheless.

She was quiet, for a moment. The waves milk green and fizzing.

“And anyway, where does one ocean end, and another begin?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.

That afternoon, the raft of rainclouds rolled out to sea, and the next morning sharp and blue as ever. She wasn’t speaking to me, merely shifting and rolling , silent in the aura of her dark blue beauty.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

another day in the saltmine

After a startling visit by a blanket of fog, today was hard and bright.
I found it hard to shake off the night previous, a literary event featuring the worst speaker I have ever heard, (how DID he manage a whole book?), and some unpleasant conflict prior to that.

Thursday is studio day, in the nest of fish.
S and O were there, making a boat to fly in the sky.

By the middle of the day the sun streamed in. Listened to the patter of their voices: I love nothing better than to have a conversation to listen to, and none better than theirs, really. They have low, pretty voices. O has shaved his very nice head, and now looks like a durian fruit.

After some stand up attack at the easel, I sat down with my brush in my hand on the sofa, ostensibly to think.
Their words bounced like a stream on pebbles.
At some point, my world slid into dreamland. I dreamt I was drawing with liquid paper all over the canvas, in big white webs.
When I woke up, i told O that i had put liquid paper onto the painting and he thought this quite feasible, except that he knew I had not.
I joined in the making of the star-boat. Sitting in the afternoon sun, knotting lengths of timber and wire with twine, listening to the S and O narrative was completely captivating. I said that I wished I was a fishing-net maker in Portugal, sitting on the pebbles knotting and listening to stories. Pleasant for me, of course, but there is a deadline for THEM, hence my helping.

But back to my own task, I managed a little resolution of one canvas.
I will be off now for some liquid paper, for it seems like a good idea.
They will all be finished, soon.

"I hear your voice when I am sleeping" oil on wood.


At least someone round here remains blissfully good tempered.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Yesterday the sea gave me many fine gifts.

Ropes of jade beads, three strands thick. Jewels to adorn my neck, my head, my arms.
And curtains of green silk to weave into my knotted seablown hair.
Sticks silvered by salt, the feathers of birds, worm-eaten shells.

But surely, I dont deserve these gifts, said I.
I should be rewarding you.

Look, sighed the sea ,
her warm briny breath fanning onto my ankles,




Sunday, May 13, 2007

ceci n'est pas un poisson

All threads of thought this week have taken me to France. Each conversation and drawing. Everything I read.
It didn't start with Bachelard, though he was in the thick of it. And I'm not sure where to start, though I could start at the bottom of the sea, which is where I usually start, if I wished, but just for a change I will not. I could mention Sartre and Beauvoir, but I shall not.

I have been to France rather a lot, considering that I live here.
Though living in the glary suburbs, my head wedged in books and dreaming of elsewhere, possibly had something to do with it.
Once upon a time, I thought I might live in France, but I never did. I spent eight years learning French, and last week discovered I could remember the word for garbage-bin, but not for blueberry. That the word for "garbage bin" was in fact a much nicer word in french for that of "dawn".
I was thinking that I cannot count in any language, except in colour. This is a true fact.
(green times green equals blue)
French numbers are lost on me. Cent, cinq,six, seize. All numbers are lost on me.

Though I have been there many times, it is a different place altogether every time I go. Perhaps each time I am a different person altogether.
The first time I arrived in Paris, I felt I had arrived into a Dickensian novel. I ate a croissant, and smelt the disappearing smell of the metro. Diesel.
Another time I was chased out of the Louvre for kissing a marble statue in the sculpture gallery. He was waiting for a kiss, though maybe not from me, but with my arm around his neck, on one toe, I gave him one.

Staying with a dear friend beneath the Sacre Coeur.
Looking through the gates of the Sorbonne.
Later, trips in the name of commerce, staying in posh Hotels. The breakfast buffet like every other in the world, enticing one to eat more than one might want.
not nearly as evocative as the first cheap croissant in the dickensian dark.

Le Piscine les Halles: an obnoxious body of water.
The Seine cannot be swum in. Nor the ponds at Giverny.
They scrubbed the Notre Dame.

Each time, it shifts to become a faintly altered yet familiar place.

I met a girl from Villandry last week. I said that she was the only person I had ever met that came from Villandry. She told me that I was the only person she had ever met to have gone there. Specifically.
One time I went to France, just to go to Villandry, though I was worried that my expectation would exceed the reality.
I had a bit of a botanical thing happening. I looked at plants and gardens in all forms. Chateau Villandry, Giverny, The Engravings, in the Louvre, of plants. No kissing that time, just buds and roots and overgrown dahlias and all manner of botanical item. Formal arrangements of flower in vases. Rows of flowers at the markets. Peonies. Aquilegia. Delphinium.

Reading French cultural theorists always makes me think that their ideas could only come out of France. Out of that particular intellectual background. Those Bachelard images, of Paris and the french countryside,of cellars and garrets, are so located in time and place that they are perhaps less archetypal for us , here and now. Well, for me, here and now.

I wonder what I will be like, next time I visit.
Perhaps I shall go somewhere else. Maybe Iceland.
Or maybe I should go see the ghost of that kissing girl, in the Louvre.
She ran fast, that girl.
I still run pretty fast, if I have to.

(peinture en huile par fifi)

Friday, May 11, 2007

existentialist crisis

I had a complete existential crisis this week.

At one point, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the world and my insignificance within it.
Each paragraph I read, rather than informing me, seemed merely to remind me how much Ididnt know. How much I needed to reread, how much I had forgotten. How convoluted and knotty my brain has become.

The whole idea of tiny little clusters of people, people making things, hundreds upon thousands of people making and saying and knowing, and here me in my corner, scratching around, disappeared into an endless milky way, among which a couple of stars glared in their brilliance amongst the millions.

Torn between my reading and my painting and my thinking and my working and the bloody housework and the Jobs List and the parenting. Ohhh.

I had to lie down and spend the day SIGHING piteously with despair.
(I quote)

One evening, I went up to
Long reef and sat in the near dark. Under a light.
There was a row of date palms shaking their fronds.

I read aloud, quite LOUDLY, as it were , to an invisible audience.
I read out loud about Gerhard Richter, and his “atlas” project. I read about anomie, and other ideas. I spoke in my lovely loud voice.

Apart from a fisherman and the hockey team practising behind me, only the sea heard.
It didn’t comment.
Or ask questions.

I feel much better today. Perspective has almost shifted back to normal.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The poetics of space

"But we still have books, and they give our daydreams countless dwelling places. Is there one among us who has not spent romantic moments in the tower of a book he has read? These moments come back to us. Daydreaming needs them. For on the keyboard of the vast literature devoted to the function of inhabiting, the tower sounds a note of immense dreams."

(Gaston Bachelard, "The Poetics of Space" 1958)
watercolour, fifi

In the houses of our childhood, the memories with which we construct our world,few of us will have had a tower like that of Gaston Bachelard.
Discussing this piece with a friend, she admitted to feeling very angry, because she had no house, just a string of rented apartments, and she resented the house described by Bachelard, with its towers and garrets and attics. In what kind of space do MY daydreams sit? she asked.

As for me, the places in which I construct my daydreams are many.
Some of the houses weren't even mine,
some of the most special
are only one room.
There was sun on the wall.

I loved it there. It is with me still, defining my understanding of the universe.

Monday, May 7, 2007

turret fish

This is a turretfish.
It has a bony exoskeleton, free moving fins and tail.
Its body is covered with stars tightly packed.

Waves wash the turretfish onto the tideline. They dry and harden in the sun.
It has very very sharp and pointy dorsal spines, a fact you may consider when removing one embedded in your foot.

Sharper than a bindii.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Eurynome. By way of explanation.

As a descendant of Eurynome, I am compelled to spend much time in the ocean. Those with even the faintest trace of the blood of the Oceanides display similar traits.

These are as follows.

An unwillingness to remain unimmersed by water, preferably salt, for more than three days. After this time a feeling of confusion and vertigo descends.

Frequent misinterpretation of the meaning of the language and intent of the 90 percent of persons among whom they live. Eurynomic descendants have unusual belief systems and tend towards the more fluid and cyclic rituals of major religions.
Therefore the worship of vessels is quite happily followed, such as that of the Eucharist, as is the practice of libationary worship, such as that of the Minoans, although this is largely out of common use today.

Kindness to those who are believed to be deserving.
This can be traced to the sheltering of Hephaestus under the sea, where he made lovely artefacts under the care of Eurynome. This trait is often seen as a type of naivety, whereby strangers are often adopted as instant friends, yet the bulk of the population are treated with amused incomprehension . This particular characteristic can be seen by some as a fault, but there are many souls lying in wait for contact with the Oceanidic female, and are much nurtured when they are found. They do not know for whom they are waiting, but can be very much soothed when this occurs.

We are secretive, and live multi-stranded lives.

The offspring of the Oceanides are not bound to show the water gene, although lying underwater staring up at the surface is a common trait of the very young. Males tend to have the ability to breathe underwater, but are less likely to show the other female traits. Every couple of generations will produce an Oceanidaic female. We teach our young in strange ways.

In appearance we resemble other people, but display in some way the essence of water.Most often have blue eyes, and hair the colour of driftwood. Some develop strange streaks of white in their hair during adolescence, and tend to be overwhelmed by love at that time also.
Our first loves are never forgotten, and remain embedded within us all our lives.

Although it is possible to domesticate a Eurynomic descendant, we do not live up to the expectations our appearance seems to suggest. We do not take kindly to restrictions, and tend to dream of faraway and otherness. We are very affectionate and amusing, but disturb others with our tendency to inhabit slightly parallel worlds.

We manage.

We usually find each other. Recognition occurs instantly.

We love ritual, and the creating of pictures, stories and objects.

Sea birds are attracted to us. Many kinds of fish also.
We are happy among people, and are very instructive, but dependent on the deep ocean, and easy to crush in the glare of the everyday.

I hope this has been of some help, for you may know others.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Invisible, your clocking tides
Break on the lovebeds of the weeds;
The weed of love's left dry;
There round about your stones the shades
Of children go who, from their voids,
Cry to the dolphined sea.

extract from
"Where once the Waters of your Face"
Dylan Thomas
watercolour, par fifi