IRISH WINTER COLOURS

This blog goes back to December 2014, but I would like to reblog it, as I am not in Ireland at the moment – yet I like to think back of its beauty even in winter time, and reflect on it.

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During the winter months here in West Cork the colours of the landscape change dramatically, at least I think they do. I took my photos on the Beara peninsula, near the Caha mountain range. In summer these mountains, they are not very high, look fabulously green, but come winter they turn all shades of brown, ranging from sienna, to rusts, to sepia, and even burnt umber. It’s the grasses and the bracken that deck the landscape in such an array of colours. It never seizes to impress me, around every corner on the road there is another palette, it’s fascinating.

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AN EXHIBITION IN GHAJNSIELEM

During my walk today I came upon a small exhibition of cribs in the local village. In Malta and Gozo it is very traditional to build nativity cribs named ‘presepju’, quite often a whole village scene is built around it too, the structure can become quite large and is always interesting as features are used that shows life, and incorporates items of farming or domestic scenes from long ago set in local landscape. The traditional figurines that are made here, are called ‘pasturi’ they are hand-made out of unfired clay or wax.

I have been fascinated by some of these cribs here in Gozo, last winter I saw some beautiful and very artistic ones in a shop window.  The clothing of the figurines quite elaborate, my favourite was one crib where the figurines were all dressed in medieval textiles and clothing design of that day.  This time too among the cribs in this exhibition there was use of textile in the making of one of the cribs and the effect was rather nice, down to the minutest details of for example a slipper, made in miniature with fine gold thread and use of deep reds and greens.  There is no doubt that a lot of loving and patient work goes into making these cribs and it is fine to see exhibitions of them all over the island around this time of the year.  I took some photos to show some of the variety for your perusal.

In this crib all the figurines have been dressed in beautiful textile.

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This Christ child is surrounded by traditional flowers made of metal wire, silk thread, beads, and or jewels. This work is done by hand and is called ‘ganutell’. I read that this beautiful art form was practised in monasteries. But it also mentions that the Maltese in the sixteenth century made use of the spiral gold and silver wire called canutiglia, and together with silk thread, glass beads, pearls, gems, and gold and silver wire would produce these beautiful flowers which are mostly kept under glass domes now – and here is one of them. One of my Gozitan friends has made me a flower bunch like that, she told me that it is very intricate work, and I believe her. For more information on Ganutell see this link: https://www.google.com.mt/search?q=ganutell+malta&sa=X&dcr=0&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ved=0ahUKEwj8trq0v63YAhULbxQKHW10DQcQsAQILg&biw=1366&bih=622

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Another one of the Christmas traditions in Gozo is putting a crib in the window, it is an old custom, and I saw it a lot in Victoria last winter. Here is an example, made as part of the exhibition.

And these are then some of the ‘pasturi’ made in unfired clay, some of them painted.

More ‘pasturi’ but larger this time.

blog on exhibition in Ghajnsielem These is a collection of all the participant of this exhibition, I just wanted to include it in case anyone would like to know.
It was an unexpected and nice surprise to come across during my walk to fetch some milk today, things like this always teach me something more about Gozo and the Gozitans for which I am very glad and thankful.

GANDIKOTA FORT

In India, somewhere about 15 km from Jammalamadugu in the Kadapa district, in Andhra Pradesh, there lies a village called Gandikota. It lies on the right bank of the river Pennar.  This river creates a deep gorge while it runs through the ancient red granite rocks of the Erramala hills, whole big bolders of them, a magnificent sight!  About seven years ago I was there. It was new years day of 2010 and together with some friends we visited the fort there and the temples and mosque all well maintained ruins now. Gandikota Fort was constructed around the 12th century during the Pemmasani Dynasty, and became one of the most prominent forts in the country. Gandi is the Telegu name for gorge and the village and Fort got their name as a result of that. There was quite a bit to see at Gandikota, most immediately when you enter the area there is the impressive ancient Jamia Masjid mosque with its beautiful architecture, its elegant arches. Then there is the granary which is a very robust and dark building, very cool inside while intense heat outside, only air vaults letting in a tiny ray of sunlight.  Before long the eye catches another interesting building, this is the ruin of the Ranganatha Swamy Temple, very impressive with its magnificent carvings and pillars. The carvings depicting scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There are also the ruins of the Madhavaraya Temple and some other ruins in the vicinity.

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The rock structures of the gorge are magnificent, the red granite majestic in huge blocks precariously grace the tops of the gorge, you have to climb over them to get to the edge and see the view. Granite is an igneous rock made up of a variety of mineral, like quartz, feldspar, mica, and hornblende. The composition of small amounts of mica, amphiboles, and other mineral is what gives granite its red colour.

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I spent many months in this vicinity over several years but alas it is now seven years ago I was there last.  This visit was one of the outstanding natural and archaeological beautiful places that I visited in Andhra Pradesh, but there are many more. It’s been too long since my last visit to India, me thinks.

THE SILK FLOSS TREE

Ceiba speciosa or Silkfloss tree

This is the flower of a most beautiful and exotic tree, it is called the Silk-floss tree or in Latin Ceiba speciosa . It is a deciduous tree that belongs to the mallow family.  A native of South America I have watched it growing and flowering here on Gozo and what a delight it has been, at first to see the beautiful yellow and cream flowers – though for some reason some of the flowers on this tree turned out to be pink, then to see the flowers wilt and one by one fall off to expose the fruits, and today when we walked in that area again I saw the fruit fully grown and some had burst to expose their fluffy white silky material.  It was only hard to reach high enough to get good photos, so these will have to do.  While doing some research on this tree I realised that it is not from this species that kapok is produced, namely this white silky fibre, which as children our pillows were filed with. This made me more determined to look up as much information as possible, it heightened my interest in this tree species. Of course it is always interesting to learn what the uses are of any plant or tree. I learnt that the kapok is produced by another Ceiba, the C. pentandra, this species is found growing in the tropics, it does not grow in Malta or Gozo as far as anyone I have asked knows.

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So going back to the C.speciosa our local Silk-floss tree, I noticed the other day that there are fruits or seed pods to be seen. And then I found this white fibre underneath the tree, it was as close as I could get to see the texture. White, fluffy and silky is how I would describe it and the seeds are embedded in this white fibre. I now know that it is not the real kapok. Though the fibres of the C.speciosa can be used in a similar manner as those of the C.pentandra. The C.pentandra is cultivated in South East Asia for its seed fibre. I also found that kapok is the lightest natural fibre in the world, with a density nearly five times as light as cotton. I read that this fibre was used in the design of the first life jackets because of its buoyancy. As a child I remember seeing kapok, feeling it, and found that it was quite dense actually. Something tells me that it is not used much anymore these days, you never hear of it being used, maybe because it is highly inflammable. I also seem to remember that while it was lovely to have natural fibres in our pillows, it did become lumpy quite quickly, so maybe it just isn’t a practical material for today’s needs.

In my research I then came across the Red Silk Cotton Tree, Ceiba Bombax. Also from the family Malvaceae. What is used from this species are the unopened flower buds, they are called Marathi Moggu and are a fragrant spice indigenous to south India’s Chettinad region, used in its regional cooking. They also go under the name of Kapok Buds and are roasted to bring out their flavour. In Thailand they are traditionally used in curries.

A fruit hanging down, and one of the flowers well passed its blooming time, fallen on the grass. C.speciosa

Photos below, here can be seen the seed pod and some of the fluffy material, also a seed pod that fell off the tree before it matured.

 

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Some more facts are: The flowers of the Ceiba trees are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees, although apparently they are often pollinated by bats. http://www.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/may252005/1679.pdf
Native tribes along the Amazon River harvest kapok fiber to wrap around their blowgun darts. It is grown commercially in some countries but to harvest and separate the fibers is labour-intensive and done manually so it is probably another reason why it is not very popular anymore. Then it is also difficult to spin.
Another use I read about is the oil that the seeds produce, this is used in manufacturing of soap and sometimes it is used as a fertilizer.
I guess this is about all I found out about the Ceiba tree, the three different species that I examined a little. Only one of them I found growing in Gozo. (C.speciosa). One mature tree, at least some years old, but close by I found a very young one that has been planted by the council. Nice to see this.

I am on such an exciting and interesting journey here, getting to know more about the native plants, the rocks, the trees, the agricultural practices, the people (Gozitans) and their traditions, the vernacular architecture, and then sharing some of it via my writing.
I would like to thank you for reading some of my story.