Wednesday, 31 July 2013
It's bric a brac/ brocante season again but this year has not been good for the vendors. The local paper forecast it would be the best year ever in the region because a record number were planned, but nature intervened. Earlier in the season, quite abnormally, it rained heavily without fail every Sunday. The rain and cold was followed by searing heat and who wants to slog around a field in 34C looking at dusty things? Certainly not me. So, this year I have, so far, escaped most of the pitiful cries of orphan baskets calling out to me from under tables.
This Sunday was a close call however, as I nearly came home with an enormous and truly handsome basket. But, in the end, I decided it would have been like bringing a comatose giant home that couldn’t do much of anything except occupy a huge amount of space.
Coincidentally, I would not have even been at a brocante had it not also been for extreme weather. A terrifying thunderstorm with hurricane force winds and torrential rain on Friday night cut off the electricity and phone for the weekend. Not knowing how long we would be without electricity and having a dead mobile it seemed a prudent idea to go somewhere to charge it, preferably a nice bar. So, it was a bonus to arrive in Aigre to find a brocante in full swing. There were a lot more local baskets for sale than usual, but now they really do have to be good looking for me to be susceptible to their simpering. It’s prejudice, I know, but I have to look at them every day!
Chatting to a friend, without my glasses on, I noticed what looked like a large ridged metal container in the distance, then I tuned into the whingeing and knew that it wasn’t metal. Putting the glasses back on revealed a tour de force of coiled straw one and half metres high and about 70cm across and oval in form. Rather sinisterly there was an ancient doll lying face down in the depths as though she had fallen fatally from the rim, I wanted to pull her out but couldn’t reach down far enough.
The vendor said the basket had come from a boulangerie in the Limoges region but she had no idea what it was for. You couldn’t put anything too small in there because you would never get it out again and if it was for flour the flour at the bottom would never be used, which could prove fatal for the customers!
Friday, 12 July 2013
Brandbjerg Hojskole near Jelling in Denmark was the setting for Flettetraef last week. This is the name given to the week-long biennial summer school run by Pileforeningen the Danish basket makers association. Topics this year were, the ubiquitous, cultivated willow and the increasingly popular willow bark employed in various ways, along with rush and cardboard.
My students, like all the others, worked like crazy. I could see the light on in our workshop after 11pm most nights as they pushed themselves into new territory, wrestling with strips of cardboard and discovering things about it, and perhaps themselves, they hadn’t found before.
But the week was not just basket making. There were also guided nature walks, keep fit classes, a trip to the royal burial mounds in Jelling, talks, meditation, communal singing and dancing, a fair on the Wednesday afternoon where you could buy books and baskets and materials, an exhibition of the students work and an end of week party. Of course, all of this takes a huge amount of voluntary organisation by many people, but particularly in this instance by Else Marie Pedersen , Solveig Langballe and Suzanne Kampp for whom it had been two years in the planning and to whom everyone involved was extremely grateful.
All the activities I have mentioned were of course pre-programmed but on the final night we were given an extra curricula treat.
Whilst the basket makers occupied most of the building there was also another much smaller group staying at Brandbjerg who were either learning, or practicing, Argentinian Tango, I’m not sure which. We hardly saw them all week but they were invited to come to the exhibition of our students work and after the celebration dinner their tutor gave us a short talk about the origins of the dance and an explanation of the differences between Argentinian Tango and the more macho European version. His students then offered to put on a performance for us. Slightly overawed by the large audience and somewhat shyly they danced for us and in so doing gave something of themselves to us. It was a gesture that many of us found profoundly touching. I only had my phone with me so the quality is not good but you can see a short clip of one of the performances here.