Sunday, April 30, 2006

Les lacs du Connemara

Mention the Connemara to most French speakers, and the first thing that comes to mind is the Michel Sardou song. Or maybe it's just me? It was one of his big hits, and I'd say everybody from my generation can at least hum the first few bars. Unlike "La Mer" and "Li Bia Bouquet" (see March posts), I won't be able to sing this song to you, but I can hear it perfectly clearly in my head! Maybe I'll learn the words some day!

Anyway, we were in Connemara for the last few days. We toured around the whole area - Oughterard, Recess, Carna, Clifden, the Sky Road, Kylemore abbey, and we drove as far North as Westport. We were lucky with the weather - blue skies on Friday and Saturday. This morning was completely overcast and wet, but we didn't mind, as we were driving back to Dublin.

We stayed in the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. Whatever you do, don't go there! It's in bad need of a face lift - cracks in the tiles and the ceiling in the bathroom, old furniture, thin walls, dilapidated snooker room, 2 parrots outside their cage in the reception area... It is supposed to be a 4 star hotel and it's part of the Manor House hotels, so we expected a much better place. Brendan had read a review about it on the morning we left that alerted us to these issues, so we were not completely shocked. As we had booked it using Amex points, at least it didn't feel like we had spent good money for such a place! It wasn't all bad - the rooms were clean, the food was good, there was free tea with scones between 3 & 5, there was a free champagne reception on Saturday, and there was a helipad straight outside our room window, and we saw a helicopter land, refuel and take off from the comfort of our own room. But if you're expecting 4-star comfort and luxury, this is not the place to go!

The most beautiful spot of all for us was Killary Harbour and Leenaun. According to Wikipedia, Killary Harbour is Ireland's only fjord. We were lucky to see it on a very still morning. The water was like glass and reflected the mountains and the sky to perfection. We took plenty of pictures. I'll share some of these with you over time.
Remember to click on the pictures to see them on full screen.

And now, the words of the song, of course:

Terre brûlée au vent
Des landes de pierres
Autour des lacs
C'est pour les vivants
Un peu d'enfer
Le Connemara
Des nuages noirs
Qui viennent du nord
Colorent la terre
Les lacs les rivières
C'est le décor
Du Connemara

Au printemps suivant
Le ciel irlandais
Etait en paix
Maureen a plongé
Nue dans un lac
Du Connemara
Sean Kelly s'est dit
Je suis catholique
Maureen aussi
L'église en granit
De Limerick
Maureen a dit oui
De Tiperrary
Et de Galway
Ils sont arrivés
Dans le comté
Du Connemara
Y'avait les Connor's
Les O'Connely
Les Flaherty
Du Ring of Kerry
Et de quoi boire
Trois jours et deux nuits

Là-bas au Connemara
On sait tout le prix du silence
Là-bas au Connemara
On dit que la vie
C'est une folie
Et que la folie
Ca se danse

Terre brûlée au vent
Des landes de pierre
Autour des lacs
C'est pour les vivants
Un peu d'enfer
Le Connemara
On y vit encore
Au temps des Gaëls
Et de Cromwell
Au rythme des pluies
Et du soleil
Au pas des chevaux
On y croit encore
Aux monstres des lacs
Qu'on voit nager
Certains soirs d'été
Et replonger
Pour l'éternité
On y voit encore
Des hommes d'ailleurs
Venus chercher
Le repos de l'âme
Et pour le coeur
Un goût de meilleur
L'on y croit encore
Que le jour viendra
Il est tout près
Où les Irlandais
Feront la paix
Autour de la Croix

Là-bas au Connemara
On sait tout le prix de la guerre
Là-bas au Connemara
On n'accepte pas
La paix des Gallois
Ni celle des rois d'Angleterre

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Red Ochre

Here is an excerpt from Color, by Victoria Finlay. Her first chapter is about ochre. She spends most of the chapter in Australia, trying to understand the significance of ochre for the Aboriginals.

"...ochre is not only sacred but also dangerous. Red ochre is an integral part of the initiation ceremony of young boys when they become men"..."The paint is part of the secret of initiation - and perhaps it is even the secret itself. Many people have speculated on the significance of this red earth - and anthropologists have tended to focus on the symbolism of red as representing men's blood (meaning death), or women's menstrual blood (signifying, perhaps, the potential for giving birth). But there is an alternative theory, a curious one: that the iron in red ochre somehow acted as a kind of magnet, to show Ancestors and Aboriginal people the way along sacred paths."

Here is a picture I found on the Web when I did a search for this post. I'm not sure if this artist is Aboriginal even, but I think it's gorgeous anyway. Here is the website where I found it: 'Out from Alice'. The artist is called Ochre Lawson and it's called Papunya in the Wet. Have a look at that website. There are some wonderful paintings there.

You'll find at this website some Aboriginal prints.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


I'm reading this book by Victoria Finlay, called "Color, A Natural History of the Palette". She travels around the world researching all the pigments that make up an artist's palette. Nowadays, all you have to do is go to the shop and buy tubes of oil paint, acrylics or watercolours. But the old masters didn't have it so easy.

If you saw the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring", you will remember that Johannes Vermeer, or his assistant - in the movie, the lovely Scarlett Johansson - had to grind stones into powders to make up his paints.

She has a chapter on each colour, and tells her stories well. It's a pity that the book doesn't have that many pictures in it, but you can always search the images on Google. In a way, you get to make your own journey to discover the colours that way.

She talks about the importance of ochre for the aboriginals in Australia, about the search for the perfect steadfast red, about the poisonous effect of lead in white paint, etc..

In her chapter on Black, she talks about the use of charcoal in the earliest paintings discovered in Europe - in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche Valley in France. These were discovered in 1994, and the paintings have been dated to be 30,000 years old! Twice as old as the Lascaux paintings! I don't think any of my drawings and paintings will last that long -unless I start drawing in charcoal!

The Chauvet cave paintings cover 10 metres on one wall - there are a dozens lions, rhinoceroses, bison, mammoths, a reindeer...

Even just reading about it, you feel the excitement of the discovery: "In one place four horses seem to rear up, ready to gallop; their heads are skillfully shadowed in charcoal while their bodies are just sketched roughly. This tendency to concentrate on the fronts of the animals gives the sense not just of movement but of stampede"

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Day at the beach...

There was finally a hint of Spring on Sunday. We went down to Sandycove for a walk by the sea. The sea breeze was bitterly cold, but the little beach at Sandycove is well sheltered and you could sit by the wall and enjoy the lovely sunshine. We were not the only ones - the beach was packed with kids enjoying the last day of their Easter holiday and people enjoying the sun. And a few mad men swimming at the Forty Foot. We sat on the wall by the beach and soaked in the sun for half an hour, and then walked back towards Dun Laoghaire on the seafront, had a look at the market in People's Park, and walked back to Sandycove where we had parked the car. I always love the walk from Dun Laoghaire to Sandycove - it just feels like walking through time - Sandycove has an old-world, sleepy, feel to it.
I used to work there, in the early days of ITP, so it's full of fond memories - I remember one of the early parties we had in the backyard - we kept on going to the off-licence to buy more champagne (Sales must have been good!), and I remember sitting on the benches at the seafront eating a Jarlsberg and lettuce sandwich from Caviston's on a nice summer's day...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Shinobu

Shinobu's birthday is on the 22nd.

Happy Birthday, Shinobu!

Here is a picture of a cherry blossom tree I took in Airfield last weekend.

Miss Incredible

This morning, I was at the gym, happily cycling away at a leisurely pace, with Abba music in my ears, when a man tapped on my shoulder and asked me "Do you know the Incredibles?"
"The cartoon?" I said
"Yes", he said. "When you were standing at the window facing the sun, you looked just like Miss Incredible - great body. Keep up the good work"
Those were not his exact words, but close enough. Needless to say, I was thrilled. I thanked him and told him it made my day! Then, as soon as he had left, I went and told Brendan all about it! And now, I'm telling you all.
Brendan often tells me I have a great body. (Actually, he often tells me when I get out of the pool in the morning!)
But it's not every day a total stranger tells me this! Even when I was younger, I wasn't the type that men approached at the disco (something to do with my mad hippy-dippy style of dancing, maybe?).
Big smile on my face!

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I've been busy this week, so I don't have much time for blogging. And I realise now that it does take me longer than 15 minutes to write up a post. Between finding nice pictures, checking the information, writing etc., it does take a bit of time.
So, today, just a picture of a turtle. This particular picture is from 2003, on the reef in Baros. The legs in the background are Brendan's, so I must have taken this picture myself

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is Arnold a bird?

I'm sure Arnold Schwarzenegger would like this one!

The Indo-European root "or" means "large bird". One of the derivative forms means "eagle"
One of the derivatives from this root is the High German "Arenwald", which meant "eagle power", and has given us the name "Arnold"

So, that's how "ornithology" and "Arnold" are connected.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Place de la Concorde

At long last, Place de la Concorde is finished. Well, I got it finished about a week ago, but didn't get around to taking a picture until today.
The picture here looks a bit darker than the original, but taking a picture with the flash was washing all the colour out.

It looks well in the Shomera, beside the other Mondrian-imitation. I don't think I'll be going near straight lines in a while! My shoulders were sore from hunching over the canvas to paint the black lines, then to tidy them up. On the other hand, it was much more satisfying to paint the lines by hand rather than using masking tape and then to paint over it.

And here is a picture of Brendan sitting in front of them.

I'm very happy with the result, but I don't think it's my style. Right now, I'm experimenting with watercolour glazes. I got a book called "Paint watercolours that Dance with Light" by Elizabeth Kincaid. Very interesting, but very daunting for the poor amateur that I am.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I have my Palm in my handbag most of the time. When I accompany Brendan on a PC Medic housecall (, I often wait in the car. Rather than sit there and be bored, I often take the opportunity to draw little scenes on my Palm while I'm waiting.

I would not feel confident enough to take paper and pencil out outside somebody's house. The Palm is perfect for that - I could just be checking my busy schedule for all people know. And the Palm suits the 1-minute sketch approach which is perfect for my lack of patience (and my lack of skill!).

When I get home, it's just a matter of putting the Palm in the cradle and synchronising with my Mac mini.

Yesterday, I decided to take this one step further. I copied the drawing into Photoshop Elements. I enlarged it. Then I added a few bits to the drawing to finish it better. Then I added some colour to it. The pictures today are three different stages of the same drawing, with some grey-scale and a bit of colour

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Here is some information on octopuses I have found in "Marine Life of the Maldives", by Neville Coleman, Atoll Editions.

First - I have no idea what the proper plural for "octopus" is - is it "octopuses" or is it "octopi"? The book I have here says "octopuses", so let's stick with that for now.

Besides having this fabulous ability to change colour, octopuses are supposed to be quite intelligent - they have a "well-developed brain and a highly responsive nervous system". Judging by the reaction of the one we saw in February, I would agree with these statements. The minute it saw us, it did its best to avoid us, first trying to change its colour so we wouldn't see it, then diving deeper and deeper until Brendan couldn't dive down any further. I'm sure it was thinking "will this man ever give up??"

At least, it didn't use its squirt of ink to distract us. Here is a bit from the book that I want to share with you: "Octopuses in shallow tide pools will often spray ink, or a jet of water as much as 1 metre in height. They have excellent aim, as anyone who has had a cold spurt up the leg of their shorts can vouch." Don't say you haven't been warned!

Now, how do they change colour? Here is the explanation from the book: "Cephalopod colouration is regulated by pigment cells called chromatophores in the skin. These cells can be expanded or contracted by the cephalopod at will. By rapid condensing and dispersing of the pigment cells the animal can cause instant colour changes to take place."

Not only can they change their colour, but also their texture. One minute it looks lovely and smooth, and the next, it has big white spikes all over, and then changes again to look like the rock it's sitting on.

In 2004, we saw two octopuses mating - a very quiet affair - the male has a "special organ on the end of one of its arms" which it inserts "into the mantle cavity of the female". From where we were watching, it just looked like they were sitting on a rock holding hands!

We also saw one of them in a dispute with a lunar-tailed grouper (the thugs of the reef - they always seem to be looking for a fight with other fish. It's always worth following them, as they're likely to be looking for a fight and lead you to a moray eel or another big fish). The octopus and the lunar-tailed grouper both took a similar colouring as they were facing each other off - with a big white band down the face and back. A bit like the Indians in the old Western movies with a white band in the middle of the face!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Birthdays this month

Ingrid, Laura (Irish Laura, not Belgian Laura) and Shinobu are celebrating their birthdays this month.
Happy Birthday!
And Eve was born at the end of last month. Congratulations to Niall and Rita. Mummy, Baby, and Daddy are all doing well.

And with these birthday wishes, I'm giving you a picture of the octopus we saw on our last day in Baros in February. Of all the times we've been, we've seen octopi only on 2 occasions - in 2004 and this year. When you see how they blend in their environment, it's not surprising really - you could be snorkelling just above them and you would not see them. They can change their colour, and their texture, in a split second. This guy here was reddy-brown with a white spot on the head a few seconds before Brendan took this picture. They are really amazing. Seeing this octopus on the last day of our holiday was a real bonus. It certainly made my day!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Newfangled, cordial, hearty

A few extra notes on how all these words are connected...

The way I interpret the connection between the Dutch word "vangen" and "newfangled": Something newfangled is something that's just caught on.

Cordial and hearty - the French word for heart is coeur.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


I've taken all information on Indo-European roots from "The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European roots", revised and edited by Calvert Watkins, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000. I've just written it in my own words (and possibly misinterpreted some of the information!). I bought it on Amazon a couple of years ago.

All Indo-European roots have been reconstructed, based on the various languages that have evolved from them. There is no written record of the original Indo-European language or languages, as they are pre-historic. You really have to admire the work done by linguists who have devoted their lives to reconstructing these roots. What I love is the way sounds have evolved. For instance, p and f are from the same letter originally - pag and fasten

The root pag means to fasten. There are various forms of it - There is a nasalized form pa-n-g, which has produced the Old English fang, which means plunder, booty. In Dutch, apparently, vangen means to catch. The nasalized form is at the root of the word newfangled.

In Latin, pangere meant to fasten. From it, you get compact, impact, impinge.

Another form of the root is pak (there are a few squiggles on top of the "a" in the dictionary that I can't reproduce here), which has given the Latin word pax, which means peace - "a binding together by treaty or agreement" That's where I find it becomes all so interesting - From this, you get the following words: peace, pacify, Pacific, appease.

Then, there is a suffixed form pak-slo, which has given the Latin word palus, which means stake (fixed in the ground). From this, you get palisade, pole, impale, travail (which means work in French) and travel! I read on a website somewhere that the words travail and travel were derived from a form of torture in which three (travail, travel) stakes (pag) were attached together. So the French word travail and the English word travel basically have their origin in some form of torture. Definitely not a holiday! Note, however, that I wasn't able to verify the validity of that statement. It sounds plausible, though.

And then, you have the words pagan and peasant, derived from the Latin pagus, which means "boundary staked out on the ground, district, village, country"

And here is another one: pectin, from the Greek pegnunai, to fasten, coagulate.

And here is my personal favourite: page (like a page you write on). Now, how does that relate to fasten?, you might wonder. The Latin pagina means "trellis to which a row of vines is fixed", hence (by metaphor) column of writing, page.

All of this from one little Indo-European root - pag

And this is why I love diachronic linguistics.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Truly Madly Deeply

Last night, Lucinda called around and we watched the DVD of Truly Madly Deeply that Brendan got me for Christmas. It's one of my favourite movies, and it makes me cry every time!
I love Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman in it (he's got a very sexy voice). And I love the cello too, my favourite instrument. And it makes me want to sing "the sun ain't gonna shine anymore, the moon ain't gonna rise in the sky, ... when you're without love" (the "..." I always sing as lalalala, as I'm not very good with words).
For those of you who care about the lyrics, I found them somewhere on the web, so here they are:

Loneliness is the coat you wear
A deep shade of blue is always there

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
The moon ain't gonna rise in the sky
Tears are always clouding your eyes
When you're without love

Emptiness is the place you're in
Nothing to lose, but no more to win

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
The moon ain't gonna rise in the sky
Tears are always clouding your eyes
When you're without love
Without you
Oh, I need you
I can't go on

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
The moon ain't gonna rise in the sky
Tears are always clouding your eyes
The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
When you're without love

The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
Not anymore
The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
Bring it back, baby
The sun ain't gonna shine anymore
Oh, baby
And here is a bit of trivia I found on the site above:
" Alan Rickman had cello lessons, and handles the right (bowing) hand, but the left hand is provided by a real cellist standing behind him with his arm through Rickman's armpit. Juliet Stevenson does play her piano part however. "

I haven't forgotten about the "pag" root. It means "to fasten". More to come...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Palm Tree against the Sky

I'll tell you about the Indo-European root "pag" later.
In the meantime, here is a picture I took on Baros.
I'm currently thinking of doing a watercolour of a tree against the sky, and I'm going through my pictures to see one I can use as inspiration. I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Diachronic linguistics

Diachronic linguistics was one of my favourite subjects in college (along with technical translation). It is also called historical linguistics. Basically, it's the study of how languages evolve over time. We studied the history of the English language, which is fascinating.

I've forgotten a lot of what I learned (it was over 20 years ago, after all. Which reminds me - in October, it will be 20 years since I arrived in Ireland!), but I remember a few buzz words.

Here is a buzz word to impress: "the great vowel shift". It refers to a period where the pronunciation of vowels in English changed completely, around the 14th & 15th century. I had forgotten a lot about it, but Wikipedia has plenty of interesting information. During the vowel shift, the pronunciation of /a:/ (like in the word "father") changed to /ei/ (like in the word "make" for instance).

Another important time in the history of the English language was 1066 (Battle of Hastings), when William of Normandy arrived in England, and brought the French language to the court - that's when all the fancy French words came into the English language.

And that's why there are 2 words for a lot of things in English. For instance, a calf grazes in the field, whereas veal is what ends up on the plate. The word calf comes from an Old English word, whereas veal comes from an Old French word, which in Modern French has given us the word veau.

In French, we often only have one word for the live animal and for the cooked meat. English often has two - a word from Old English for the live animal and a word acquired from French for the cooked meat: for instance: calf/veal, pig/pork, sheep/mutton.

Generally, a lot of the French words that came into the English language after 1066 are associated with the Court - food, finer things in life, etc... Somehow, they feel more lofty, but not quite as real.
One pairing I remember from college was "hearty welcome" vs "cordial reception".

And that's all without talking about Indo-European roots and all the connections that can be made between various languages. I must tell you about the Indo-European root "pag". How did the words "page", "peasant", "peace", "impale", "propagate" and "travel" all come from this little root? I'll tell you all about it next time!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Trinny and Susannah

To those of you in IBM, this has nothing to do with my dear old colleagues Susan & Susanne.

My life has changed a lot since leaving IBM - I still get up around 6 am (though, some days, I just turn around and sleep on for another hour, or two!). But instead of getting on the M50 to get to work by 7, I head to the gym instead, where I do a bit of exercise. Not too much - I never believed in too much exercise. And I'm ready for work around 9. And I even have time to dry my hair properly and put on mascara - at my age, you need a little bit of extra work to look presentable!

That's where Trinny and Susannah step in. To those of you who have never heard of them, they are the TV presenters of the series "What not to wear". They basically terrorise women into wearing clothes that suit them. They are real bossy bosses. The women who appear on their show seem to hate the experience, but love the results.

As I'd got stuck into a rut of wearing the same old clothes the whole time, and felt that I looked really drab, I got myself a couple of their books. I have found their advice really useful. It hasn't quite changed my life, but I now realise that wearing jeans turned up did nothing for my short legs. I have now started to wear trousers that don't look too short on me, and I feel I look much better. I haven't brought myself to culling old clothes in my wardrobe yet, and I haven't gone shopping to buy lots of new clothes. I find it a lot harder to find clothes in shops now, as I have to actually think about whether the clothes suit me or not. So it will take a while before I'm completely transformed. One step at a time...

If you go to their website, you will find a handy section where you can enter details about your shape (long legs, big boobs, etc.), and they give you a list of what to look out for when you go shopping for clothes. A must have for girls. I'm not sure there is a section for men... Sorry boys.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


We're nearly at the end of the DVD set for Firefly. It's such a pity that there were no further series made after this. We became hooked after seeing the movie "Serenity". The creator of Firefly and Serenity is Joss Whedon, who also created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has the same kind of tongue-in-cheek humour that appeals to all geeks (And to me. Does that make me a geek? Surely not!). It's set in a vague future where the crew of the spaceship Serenity are good guys stealing from bad guys to make money. A bit like Robbin Hood and his men, I suppose, except that they don't give to the poor much, and that the future in which this is set is like an old Western movie. So, there are horses, gun fights, desert landscapes, saloons, etc.

Just like in Buffy, it's got a motley crew of misfits, who are also wonderfully-gifted individuals. Kaylee, the ship's mechanic, has a special affinity for engines, but like Willow in Buffy, she's the geek of the class. Mal, the captain, is in love with Inara, but Inara is a "companion" (some sort of high-class prostitute), and, although it's pretty obvious to everybody that she loves him too, it looks like nothing will ever happen between them. And then there is River and her brother Simon (the handsome doctor, whom Kaylee fancies), who are on the run from the Alliance, who were using River for some experiments and have turned her into a weird individual to say the least... And I haven't mentioned Zoe, the fighter, who is truly devoted to Mal the captain, Wash, the pilot (who is also Zoe's husband), Book, the preacher, and Jayne, the mercenary who only cares about money (and women)...
If you want to find out more, there is plenty on the fansite and on the Serenity site.