Sunlight and shadow

Pompei, Italy

Mosaic floor, Pompeii, Italy

One of the most important truths of my marriage that I hold in my heart and mind is the realisation that Steve and I are two separate people.  No duh!  But in an ongoing, day to day relationship, it can be easy to forget this.

When Steve and I were on our honeymoon in Italy, I nearly started our first fight.  We had spent the morning at Pompeii and were on our way to another ancient Roman ruin called Herculaneum.  I was driving and Steve was navigating.   It was a hot day, on unfamiliar roads, in a foreign country.  We missed the turn off from the motorway to Herculaneum and I found myself driving into Naples on a two lane road which, somehow, had three lanes of traffic.  I started to get really pissed off.  At Steve.  But I caught myself and remembered that I probably wouldn’t be doing any better if I were in the chart room.  I also realised that I was not feeling confident behind the wheel in a big Italian city and was scared about ending up in Rome, driving in crazy Italian traffic.

It would have been really easy to explode with anger and blame Steve, but I was able to step back and get some perspective.  Instead of blowing up, I asked Steve to find a place where I could turn around.  We decided to go back to Atrani and venture out to Herculaneum another day.

Yes, we are two people and have infinite space between us, but can use understanding and communication to build bridges to one another.  Whether times feel good or bad, it is so important to step back and be mindful of the space between.  Then we can truly come together in a balanced way, in sunlight and in shadow.

Bon Anniversaire

Today is the 2nd anniversary of our first wedding ceremony.  We had a civil ceremony at the Registry Office in Exeter the day before our Soul Wedding.  Here we are enjoying a few quiet moments beforehand.  Good memories.

This Marriage

I’m in our kitchen and realise, have realised for some time now, that neither Steve nor I have been writing on this blog.  But that’s OK.  Other things are happening.

I came across this song tonight.  It is a setting of ‘This Marriage’ a poem by written by Rumi (13th century) to music composed by Eric Whitacre (21st century).  This poem was in a book of poetry by Rumi given to us by a friend and well wisher on our Soul Wedding day.  It felt good to become re-acquainted with it in song tonight and to be looking forward to celebrating our second wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks.

This Marriage

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk, this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter, our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe how spirit mingles in this marriage.


A Post Pre-Valentine’s Day Post

I wasn’t going to write about our Valentine’s Day.  It was very unromantic.  At least, that’s what I thought at first.

To begin with, Steve and I didn’t even spend Valentine’s Day together.  He was away for his work.  So we decided to celebrate on Sunday the 12th.  We were into our first week of the Dukan Diet*,  so I made a Dukanised version of Poulet Suffisant en Cocotte for dinner.  The recipe is from a little cookbook called The Best of France.  It’s only a small gifty type book, but all of the recipes are exceptionnel.

Poulet Suffisant en Cocotte

  • 1 chicken, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 teaspoon each of thyme & rosemary, minced or crumbled
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, 2 carrots, a celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup drained and chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 400°F/190°C.

Sprinkle the inside of the chicken with half the herbs and season it with salt and pepper.  I browned it in a skim of oil in a big skillet, then transferred it to our ceramic chicken casserole.  I love this casserole!  I saw it in the window of the charity shop on the way home last September and went back first thing in the morning and bought it.  It looks like it was made in the 1960’s, perhaps has a Scandinavian influence.  Steve thinks it looks smug (which it does) so hence Poulet Suffisant, or Smug Chicken.

Le poulet sussifant

Then I sweated the chopped vegetables in same skillet I browned the chicken in, with a little water and with the lid on for about 5 minutes, followed by the mushrooms for another 5 minutes, with the lid off, stirring occasionally.  If it starts looking too dry, add some of the wine or chicken stock or water  All this time, no oil is required and the veggies soften up and even brown quite nicely.  I never would’ve thunk it, because I cut my teeth on Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is all about butter, oil and more cream, s’il vous plaît.

Stir in the wine, stock, tomatoes and remaing herbs and bring to the boil.  If you’re using a vessel that you can put straight into the oven, put the hen in at this boiling point.  Or pour the juices and vegetables over your chicken, in it’s unique ovenproof dish, once they’ve boiled.  Hope that makes sense to you!  I’m confused.

Ready for the oven

Cover the casserole and braise the chicken for about an hour, until the juices run clear when the thigh is pricked with a fork.  I usually take the temperature with my instant read thermometer and look for 180°F.

Take the chicken from the pot.  We discarded the skin a la Dukan.  Carve it.  Strain the vegetables from the stock to serve with the chicken.  Skim the fat from the stock and reduce over high heat, adjust seasoning.  Voila!

I was so interested in sitting right down to our romantic dîner pour deux, I didn’t take any ‘before’ photos.   It was excellent.  Very succulent and tasty.  Although we can’t drink alcohol in the Cruise phase of the Dukan diet, it’s OK to cook with as the alcohol burns off.  I actually used some dry Italian Vermouth and it imparted a lovely depth of flavour to the dish.  Normally, I would have stirred in some soft, unsalted butter at the end, but it was really good without it.  In fact, that’s one thing I noticed from the start with the Dukan diet.  Food doesn’t need to be cooked with butter to be good.  I feel light when I get up from a Dukanised meal, because it’s so low fat.  This time of year is a good time to be doing this, as Spring is coming and the days are slowly lightening up and lengthening.

My leftovers

Well, the meal together in our candlelit salon was wonderful and romantic.  Even though we’d spent the whole day together, we’d each been in our little worlds.  Then we went back into the kitchen and got back to work.  Steve at his laptop and I looked over the collages I’d made the day before in Sandra Meech’s Digital Imagery Onto Fabric workshop.


We did take a momemt to have our Valentine’s Day portrait taken.

Anyhow, I started out by saying that I wasn’t even going to write about this.  But we’re listening to Jazz FM and they just played ‘My Funny Valentine’ recorded by pianist Gene Harris.  Steve and I looked at each other and remembered that everyday is Valentine’s day.  And sometimes just being in the same space, even when we’re inhabiting our individual worlds, is romantic enough.

I couldn’t find Gene Harris’ version on YouTube, but I love Chet Baker’s from 1954 the best anyhow.

*For those of you who don’t know, Steve and I started the Dukan diet on 6th February, 2012.  It really works!! Pass it on.

Long Live the King and Queen!

 “What sign are you?” It’s a question that we’re asked remarkably often. When we reply, “Leo and Leo,”  the response is: “How does that work out?”

Anecdotally, we can confirm that Leo & Leo is a partnership which, in our case at least, works out pretty well. But, as our shared birthday weekend has just ended, I trawled through the online astrological literature to see what it has to say about Leo-Leo compatibility.

It seems that relations between natives of the same sun sign often have more good than bad aspects to them. But, the bad ones can be almost impossible to get over, simply because each Leo shares the same flaws.  However, there is a secret to success. And that secret is compromise.

Compromise is important because – of all the sun signs in the zodiac – Leo shines the strongest. Not surprising, given that Leo is governed by the Sun itself, at the centre of the system and so fully deserving his or her title of “King” or “Queen”.

What this boils down to is that a Leo-Leo relationship can be excellent – provided that you always remember that the Leo next to you feels the same need as you do for compliments, admiration and simple adoration.

In other words, you have to give as much as you expect.

The fact is: that shouldn’t be too difficult. Because, just like you, your mate is passionate and ardent, full of ideas and wanting to live life to the full.  Every Leo knows that what they do is refined, what they buy is stylish and what they think is bright. In a Leo-Leo relationship where each respects the other, each of us have found it remarkably easy to discuss what we do before we do it, what we buy before we buy it and what we think before we say it out loud and to company.

So how does this feed into our desire for more than a royal throne. How do we reconcile this apparent deference to each other’s views with our fascination with the power that we expect  to come with our regal position.

For us two Lions, our love story resembles that of a king and a queen. A great love, but sometimes a great rivalry too.  If you know how to offer each other enough power of decision and respect, this royal relationship is based on equal terms. We share the same elegant taste and refinement, the tendency towards hosting celebrations and parties, the love of going out together. As befits a royal household, neither of us are particularly good at administering money – so it’s a good thing we both know how to make it.

As Leos, we love being in love, flirting and paying court to each other. Each of us has finally found a partner who feels the same way as each other. Even now, we still pay court to each other.

Of course, there are some warning signs that the astrological experts are keen to bring to our attention. A Leo-Leo relationship, they say will certainly not lack for optimism. But, this means that we have to make an effort to remember to think about the future, too. You know, all that stuff about savings and long-term planning. Being extravagant and liking to spend a little on the good things in life, it appears, has a downside: it’s called tomorrow.

What they say about the Leo Man…

“He doesn’t attract the usual, the mundane, and the ordinary. To succeed in a relationship with him, you have to be somewhat eccentric and willing to forego numerous conventions. You also have to dress well, appreciate good food and be heavy on the compliments. This man is romantic and somewhat egotistical. But much of the time he’s worth an extra effort. No matter how exasperating he may be, he is likely also to be proud of you.

“He loves to see you laugh, as long as you are laughing with and not at him. The Leo man demands attention. He is fiery, romantic. He can be an easy victim of the green- eyed monster, too. He can also be offended and aloof if he feels you regard him as anything less than the centre of your universe.

“The Leo man likes the theatre, but dislikes theatrics. The Leo male admires beauty but not the obvious kind; he prefers the subtle. He is repelled by women who use too much makeup, by women who cry openly, by women who laugh too loud and – most importantly –  by women who steal the spotlight. He believes in equal rights for men and women, but expects you to accept the concept that he is just a little superior. He’s also affectionate and lovable.”

What they say about the Leo Woman…

“If you are pursuing a Leo woman, compliment her and tell her she’s beautiful…and she will be. She has a flair for the dramatic. Let her have the spotlight. But, maintain an air of mystery. She loves to hear about herself: read her palm and check her horoscope. She demands that you be aware of her. A touch, a gesture, a secret signal, something special. That’s the way to woo and win the Leo lady. Your own manner should he regal. She wants to be with someone who is admired by others. In more intimate moments, she admires tenderness: a caress more than heavy- handed overtures.

“She is sexy but she wants you to want her for more than physical reasons. She values herself and doesn’t give herself away. That is, you must court her; thoughtful gifts mean more than their cost.

“She is romantic and needs to be needed. She is likely to be attractive and she expects to be jealous of you, but doesn’t want to be reprimanded for her own flirtatiousness. Make yourself a fascinating challenge. Involvement with a Leo woman can be fatiguing, but you will learn about life and living and love. Her nature is fiery; she is passionate, giving and generous. If you win her, the prize will be a great one. She is stubborn, but she is usually trying to work out what is best for you. Recognise her good qualities, which are numerous. In being amorous, avoid being coarse. Sex, for the Leo lady, is just one part of love. It is the rhythm of life but to be a part of her life you must first earn her admiration.

“She abhors the humdrum, routine, and stupid. She revels in the creative, in excitement. She could be an addict of the theater and she will share the spotlight if she feels you really have something others would admire. She’s unusual, complicated, and opinionated but she can be one of the most beautiful experiences in your life.”

As two Leos who are together, each of us feels that our relationship is based on trust, honesty and loyalty. Each of us knows that we need to avoid competing with each other and to complement each other, making room for each other to share in the spotlights we crave.

Together, as two Leos aware of both our strengths and our weaknesses, we are more powerful than two lions wandering alone. We have respect for each other. We have the ability to take pride in each other’s achievements. We have a love forged in the heart of the Sun.

Fly Me to the Moon

We went to the South of France in May to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and flew into Nice especially to visit the Musée National Marc Chagall.

The Bay of Angels, 1962

This was a once in a lifetime experience for me as Chagall is one of my favourite artists.  One room was filled with huge canvases illustrating the Song of Songs, paintings that he dedicated to his second wife Vava.

Le Cantique des Cantiques III, 1960

We stayed for about a week in Arles at the elegant Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, decorated with terracotta tiles, carved furniture, vintage bullfighting posters, wrought iron, beautiful textiles and photos of the luminaries who’ve stayed there over the years:  Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and scores of famous toreros.

Charlotte Rampling, 1973 by Helmut Newton

Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus, staircase

My best souvenir of the entire trip was found at a flea market in Aix-en-Provence.  Aix is a supposedly gracious city filled with fountains.  It was a bit touristy and traffic-filled so we walked around town, visited the flea market and went onto Marseilles.

One of the “thousand fountains” of Aix

My prize was a pair of Luna Moths in a frame.  The price was €20 and I was offered to take them for €15.  So I did.

Actias luna is found in North America. When the adult Luna Moth leaves its coccoon, it is not ready to fly.  It usually hatches in mid-morning and climbs a tree trunk to hang its wings, so they can fill with blood. Once the wings are inflated, the adult moth will wait until nightfall to fly off to find a mate. Adult Luna Moths don’t eat; in fact, they don’t even have a mouth. They only live for about a week, and their only purpose is to mate.  They are lime green when alive and dry to a beautiful cream colour when they have died.  I think that if any creature could fly to the moon, it has to be a Luna Moth.

Male luna moth and coccoon

Female luna moth and coccoon

I cleaned the glass, re-gilt the frame and wrote a letter in French to Steve about my experience of our trip, which I collaged onto the sides of the box.