Friday, 18 February 2011

Plaiting, Twining, Nets and Knots

After a few winter months in the countryside teaching in Paris made a very welcome break. Born in London and having lived in one of its more challenging areas for 32 years, I realise now that the old axiom that ‘you can take the girl out of the city but not the city out of the girl’ is probably true. I am not fussy about where I get my fix but Paris is as good as, if not better than most of the ones that I have visited.

The week started with a five o’clock alarm. A different sort of alarm took hold on finding the car windscreen needed more than a credit card to clear the ice which resulted in a mad dash to the station chasing the lights of the train pulling into the station ahead of me. Leaping breathless and triumphant into a carriage, I then discovered that the train would wait there ten minutes before departure. I have obviously lost my city nonchalance but no one sniggered openly which they would have done in London.

Five hours and two changes later I eventually arrived at the Gare d’Austerlitz. Walking to the college, the traffic seemed less frantic than I remember and there were bicycles everywhere. I bought a sandwich from a boulangerie, which is another improvement, it used to be only possible to buy a sandwich sitting at a table in a bar or bistro. Now there are small canteens and sandwich bars everywhere selling good and cheap food and the bistros are struggling to compete. 

Eating my sandwich on a bench in the sunshine my delight at being there must have shown because I soon found myself engaged in conversation by a disarming and amusing Tunisian author with glossy jet-black ringlets and a tweed trilby. His name was Adem and when he invited me to be his 'Eve' for the afternoon I politely made my excuses and headed for the college.

As mentioned in the previous post the students in the Design Textile department at ENSCI  work on looms creating fabric designs, so my intervention was something very different for them. It provided an opportunity for all three years to work together and gave them a break from the very intensive work that they normally do. Only one of the students had done any basket making before, which she did with me two years ago, and I was  pleased to have her back in the class as she had been a very creative student last time. 

 I teach basket-making techniques and material skills because I believe it is important to preserve this ancient and universal knowledge by handing it on to whoever is interested in learning. I do not instruct students in what to do with these skills. That is, I believe, for them to discover and for them to choose. For me there is a parallel with vocabulary, the more words you know the better you are able to express yourself and make the purpose of your speech or writing clear. With basket-making, the more techniques  you have mastered the more capable you are of choosing the most appropriate one for whatever it is you wish to do or make. I also find that once the students have grasped the basics of a technique they naturally become more inventive and creative without me ever instructing them how to be so. It is the confidence that comes with learning a new skill that seems to give them the courage to try something different and it never fails to delight me.

At the end of the week the students displayed their work and I asked them to tell me and each other what they had discovered during the week, what had worked for them and what had not. Interestingly the thing most of them found really exciting was having created something they considered worthwhile out of newspaper. It was the magic of making something from nothing and I could not have been more pleased

The week also brought the pleasure of seeing friends and staying in the house of a man who is in his 101st year. It seemed an honour to have the chance to meet a centenarian who is also fit and healthy and only stopped driving a couple of months ago. It is known that genetics play a huge part in longevity but it also came as no surprise to learn that he takes a cold shower every morning, exercises every day, keeps his mind active, goes to bed early and has always eaten simply and healthily.

With this lesson playing on my mind I went on to London and out to Essex for a family birthday party weekend,  little sleep and plenty of alcohol,  though I did manage a stroll in the very picturesque Maldon before going to the pub  ….. my days are definitely numbered.

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