Thursday, February 25, 2010

Year of the Tiger

Sunday, I met my friend Tian under a very cold rain to celebrate the year of the Tiger in Trafalgar Square. Year 4708 for Chinese. The Chinese calendar is lunar, and it is celebrated in countries with significant Han Chinese populations and cultures with whom Chinese have had extensive interactions, including Tibet. The festivities of the so-called Spring Festival starts on the first day of the first month and it ends on the fifteenth day , called Lantern Festival. Traditionally, it was the day when young women, chaperoned by matchmakers, were going in the streets in hope to find a suitable husband. Nowadays it is interpreted as Chinese Valentine's day. Chinese New Year falls on different days of the Gregorian calendar, every year. But it always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The festival ends on the second full moon after the winter solstice and marks the beginning of spring. New year marks the beginning of a new year for a specific calendar. Various cultures around the globe have celebrated the New Year around Spring, such as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which falls on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox. Check it out on SOAS website ( This makes more sense to the gardener, than the worldwide used 1 January - as in the Gregorian Calendar, which continues the Roman calendar's practice since King Numa Pompilius around 700 BC. We ended up having diner in Phoenix Palace, which was like a trip to Asia. The message in my fortune cookie read " Your wish will be granted after along delay". What wish? Hurry up spring!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yesterday I was desperate to break the winter spell, and I thought I would visit the Barbican conservatory. My trip to the Brazilian rain forest was unsuccessful, as it was closed for a wedding. So instead I took a trip through the surreal maze of concrete buildings and suspended gardens. I lost myself through the different levels peeping at birds' nests in the tree canopy. It is probably one of my favourite place in London. I wish I could do a flat swap for a couple of weeks, and take a holiday here. One could not get bored in a place so full of resources. Visit the London Museum, and learn about 2 000 years of the city's history. The Barbican Centre is Europe's largest multi-arts centre, and holds memorable exhibitions. The concert room has an excellent acoustic, there are three cinemas, a library, a sculpture court and a tropical conservatory, which architecture and plant display I personally found more interesting than the Palm House at Kew. This large residential estate, built between 1965 and 1976, was Grade II listed in 2001. There is a real harmony in scale and cohesion, and between the architecture and landscape. Going up and down, left and right, I could be anywhere in the world, depending on the weather. A film director's dream! But what's a barbican? The etymology of the word is unsure: maybe from the French barbacane, the Arabic bab-khanah or mediaeval English burgh-kenning. My dictionary says 'a projecting watchtower over the gate of a castle or fortified town; esp the outwork intended to defend the drawbridge'. I did not see the drawbridge but the best preserved remains of the city's old walls.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The 'forest'

A grid of 25 cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) has been planted within a mirrored box, in the Emma Cors Gardens (corner of the Cut and Waterloo Road). It was commissioned by the Waterloo Quarter Business Alliance. It was so popular with residents and people passing by, that the display has been extended. I wish I had been with a playmate the day. Instead I played at guessing who would cross it and who would contour it. It is a good project to remind urban dwellers about the interconnection of every living things. Observing nature, rather than idealising it, could maybe help us to tune our lives to her rhythm, rather than destroying it. I suppose our relationship to nature is a little like a tempestuous love affair; learning the hard way through doing it all wrong and making a total mess. There is hope: no situation is insoluble.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Samten Kyil...

...means the Garden of Contemplation in Tibetan. The Tibetan Garden for Peace is located in the Imperial War Museum's ground, in Lambeth. For all information check I love the idea of a garden to help us reflect upon harmony and its constituents. Despite the cold I mooched around this tiny space for a relatively long time, looking at all the components and their symbols. There are many references to the Tibetan culture, of course. But the garden is primarily a symbol of harmony that can be created between different people and cultures. I observed its laying and found shared elements with gardens across spaces and times. Observing nature and learning about other cultures has open my eyes on the deep interdependence of all living things. I want to come back in the summer, when the pergola is covered with scented climbers. Maybe to meditate on harmony, peace and what could be my contribution to peace. I share the gardener Moustache's opinion on war : "...une petite guerre de rien du tout peut aneantir un tres grand jardin."

Monday, February 8, 2010


It is snowing again, and I wonder when it will stop. I haven't experienced a winter like this for years. Last Friday, Alix told me that she was scared she would stay in when spring arrives. It is not as bad as in Berlin though, where a 10 cm crust of ice hasn't melt in 2 months. However I kind of like winter. Maybe not when it is raining, but on a crisp bright day the landscape is beautiful. Just go in a park and look at the trees. In my opinion, it is the best time of the year to identify them at a glance, or by looking at their buds and twigs, if you want to know the species. Playing 'spot the difference' with the children is a lot of fun. The London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia, syn. P. x hispanica, P. x hybrida) develops with age a wide-spreading outline with massive branches, and finer twigs that look like lace. Fruits - borne in 2's, sometimes 3's - are dangling from the branches. The bark looks like a camouflage fabric in soft shades of cream, olive and light brown. It is smoothly rough to the touch. Check out the specimen outside the Dorchester Hotel in W1, very dramatic when lit up at night. The tree is a cross between the American Plane (Platanus occidentalis) and the Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis), which is a major feature to provide shade in Persian and other gardens of central and south Asia. I want to travel soon to both Isfahan and the Kashmiri valley to understand better the principles behind the gardens there.