Thursday, 23 June 2022

Of silk, nightingales and sorrows

 and of the passage of time which allows some healing.

Let's start with a pleasant and timeless item - the nightingales singing their melodies
in the woodlands along the River Gardon at Mialet


Mialet is a small town on a hillside in the Cevennes, a rural area, which was once home to a large community of French Protestants, or Huguenots. Their strict code of conduct meant they were hardworking, and usually skilled craftsmen. In this region of France, they were involved in the Silk industry, breeding silkworms, spinning the threads and weaving it into beautiful cloth, with a lustrous sheen, as well as exquisite designs. 

Spools of dyed silks at the Silk Museum in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort, Gard.

Silk was incredibly expensive. To avoid paying precious money to buy it from abroad, King Henry IV ordered the development of this industry. He also allowed religious tolerance [Edict of Nantes, 1598], as the region was mainly Protestant. However, in 1685, his grandson, Louis XIV, determined to impose one religion on France and make everyone follow the Church of Rome. He revoked the Edict of Nantes, and set up a cruel persecution of conversion or death. Huguenots were forbidden to leave the country, but as we know, they did in huge numbers, impoverishing France for generations. They brought their various skills to the benefit of the countries where they took refuge. 

During the years of intolerance, the Huguenots would meet in secret places, caverns or remote spots in the hills, to listen to a service. It was often a game of cat and mouse. Whole troops of dragoons constantly hunted them down. From 1685 until Louis's death in 1715, the atrocities were terrible, with forced conversions, entire villages massacred or burnt to the ground, men sent to the galleys, women to prison and any Protestant pastors tortured and killed. Thankfully, more enlightened leaders restored some degree of religious tolerance after this nightmare period. 

Today the sufferings and the indomitable resistance are commemorated every year in an open air ceremony on the first Sunday in September at the Mas Soubeyran, now the Museum of the Desert close to Mialet. The descendants of Huguenots who were forced to flee the persecution, come back from all over the world to celebrate their faith and love of their country of origin.  


The Musée du Désert [courtesy of Wikipedia Commons]

For more information on the Assembly of the Desert, see this link.

And to end on a lighter note, here are some photos of the quiet, rural area 
 and one of a few of the luscious silks woven in the factories of the region.

The old mill on the river at Mialet

The Bridge of the Camisards [Protestant rebels in the repression] 
photo by  Daniel VILLAFRUELA

Examples of silk clothing in the Museum. 
[photo by Maison Rouge, musée des vallées Cévenoles]

The Huguenot Cross. In times of persecution, the dove was replaced by a pearl, to signify tears. [Image -copyright - Huguenot Society of South Africa ]

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

The middle son

 Do you feel sympathetic towards a vulnerable Regency hero ?

Costume Parisien , courtesy of Wikipedia

Since time began the middle son has found his position difficult. The oldest has importance and responsibility, the youngest gets an easier deal. How is Number 2 going to make an impression?

The three Montailhac brothers are all very different, but loyal and loving to each other, even if there is some rivalry. Arnaut, the second son, feels a failure when he compares himself to his older brother, Henri, a skilled diplomat. In addition, his younger brother, Joachim, always very close to the land, manages the estate, both land and stock.

Thus both Arnaut's brothers have responsible roles and enjoy their work. Arnaut is desperately seeking a way to do something worthy with his life. It doesn't help that he's the handsome one, and the ladies all find him irresistible. He doesn't want to be considered a worthless rake. 

His mother is also concerned. She tells him, "stop chasing girls just to amuse yourself, "
    "But, mother, I don’t chase them," he protested, "really, I don’t."
    "It is time for you to settle down,’ his mother announced, waving her fan earnestly. "you will discover how wonderful it is to be happily married."
     He couldn't help laughing at her hopeful expression. Then he heaved a deep sigh. "Mother, I have nothing to offer a wife. Compared to Henri, I havent achieved anything worthwhile so far."

So how can Arnaut deal with his vulnerability? 

What role is there for him to show his positive qualities? Entrusted [at last] with a quest, he needs courage, endurance, diplomatic skills, and at the same time he has to fight off an excited gaggle of London ladies, all enchanted by his stunning good looks, his charming smile and his seductive French accent.

He perseveres, getting help from the only young woman who doesn't respond to his charms. But when Louise senses his despair at failing in his quest, she comes to the rescue. 

Hartwell House, Aylesbury.

Arnaut leaned his head back against the squabs and closed his eyes. He looked exhausted and Louise felt a stab of anguish that their mission had all been in vain. There was silence while she sought for words to comfort him. All at once he drew in a deep breath and sat up.

‘What a long day,’ he said, ‘but a successful one, thanks entirely to you and your estimable grandfather.’

‘Successful?’ She sat up, her weariness forgotten. ‘You gained his agreement?’

He beamed at her, his eyes shining. ‘Signed and sealed. Together with a bucketful of advice for a hot-headed young man, but I’m used to that sort of thing.’ He rolled his eyes comically. She laughed with relief at his improved mood.  He added in a more serious tone, ‘In addition, I learned an important lesson today. Now I’ll pity my brother Henri rather than envy him. Ouf!’ he threw up a hand to accompany the exclamation. ‘Diplomacy is nothing but waiting all day long for a few minutes’ conversation with the people in power.’ He made a comical face. ‘And also keeping calm and polite while waiting.' 

So now Arnaut begins to gain some self respect and confidence in his ability. He still has a long way to go, villains to outwit and a girl to woo. [and those London ladies haven't given up the chase, either.]

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

What's in a book ?

A precious find among the ruins

Ukrainian firefighter saves books from a building destroyed by Russians in Chernihiv, #Ukraine

This photo is so moving. The utter devastation of a building destroyed, homes gone forever and lives blown apart. The Firefighter knows the books he's saving are most precious. They are a link with their owner's previous life, chosen stories or workbooks, old friends, and a source of comfort.   


Sunday, 20 March 2022

How my virtue was saved

    Anna explains:  My virtue was only saved thanks to the Language of the Fan


                                                                                                   Marine Parade,   Brighton, 
31st August 1814                                                                                                                                                                                            Dearest   Emily,

             Today I shall not be present at Donaldson’s for the teatime meeting. It is a great pity when the weather is so mild and the sea is calm. However, Lady Fording is fatigued and so we must remain quietly at home. She won quite a large sum at cards last night, and continued playing longer than usual, encouraged by her success. I do love her for being such a sprightly old lady. And she is very kind to me, but even so, I cannot tell her anything about the Events of last night, even though it is thanks to her that I had the means to escape a Horrid Fate.

           Emily, you swore you would keep anything I told you a Secret and so I will share what happened with you. Let me begin from the moment when that odious Mrs Chetwynd interrupted our little gathering at the Castle Tavern last night. By the by, did you see how low cut her gown was? If she had so much as sneezed…! She took me into the other salon, into an alcove and [I shudder as I write his name] that horrible roué, Sir Bilton Kelly, was there, with his dissipated face and oily manner. Between the pair of them, they thought they had me trapped, so that I would submit to being taken to the Prince Regent’s private party, which they kept insisting I must do.

The Castle Tavern, [digital image owned by the Society of Brighton Print Collectors]

             My dear Lord Longwood had warned me repeatedly against accepting any such invitation, and indeed, I was very Angry, but could not push my way out of that narrow alcove with Mrs Chetwynd blocking the way. It was most humiliating to see that many people in the room were watching, some more discreetly than others. And, oh, thankfully, at the far end of the room was Lord Longwood. He noted the general silence and turned in my direction. Lady Fording has been instructing me in the language of the fan, and so, even though my hands were shaking [with anger, not fright, you understand], I hastily took mine in my hand, waved it, then snapped it shut, laying a finger on the top of the sticks. That signals ‘I wish to speak with you’, and Lord Longwood understood.

At once, he made his way over toward me. Mrs Chetwynd was angry and tried to distract him, but he ignored her. When Sir Bilton Kelly blustered, he stared at him through his eyeglass in a truly Terrifying manner. Then he offered me his arm and so I made my escape. Once we reached the hallway, my knees began to shake. You know how Lord Longwood’s face goes dark when he scowls, and his black hair falls over his forehead. He assured me he was not angry with me and suggested we should take a turn along the path up towards the Pavilion and back, so I might compose myself.

In his company I soon felt calmer. But then he announced that he would be leaving Brighton today to return to London. That made my heart sink into my boots, for he is always so kind and helpful towards me and, as you have suspected, I do love him with all my heart. On an impulse I begged him to kiss me goodbye. But I asked for a proper kiss. He was shocked and then, his face changed, those wonderful green eyes glowed and he did, indeed kiss me. In those moments, I went to heaven. But now I am Wretched, for I want more of those sensations. Oh, Emily, I depend on you to support me through the next days as I struggle to appear calm. At least, until we can meet for a conversation, I have my copy of Lord Byron’s Corsair, to divert my mind from its sorrows. Truly, Emily, I cannot decide if being in love is a blessing or a curse.

                                                                             Your friend,                                                                                                                         Anna


                                                           The Rake's Challenge

Saturday, 26 February 2022

When Rose met Tom...💕 London, the pair of them fell instantly in love💕 but...

after getting caught in a passionate embrace, Rose is whisked away in disgrace. She hears no more from Tom, and accepts the marriage her family arranged for her. Soon widowed, she travels to Egypt with her aunt and uncle, keen antiquarians. As Rose is a fine artist, her drawings are most useful to them.

Fleeing a sudden uprising in Cairo, Rose, with her sister and her aunt, arrives in Constantinople, and they go to the British Embassy for help. 

To Rose's horror, there she comes face to face with Tom. 😨

Tom has two days to complete his top secret report for the Sultan. The last thing he needs is for three Englishwomen to arrive, wanting his help, especially when one of them is Rose, the girl he's been trying to forget.... 😩  

 As they glare at each other and the air vibrates hostility, enter Kerim Pasha, the powerful and handsome chief minister. Smitten by Rose's English beauty [and also being a most courteous gentleman] he whisks the ladies away to his luxurious mansion for their safety and comfort. 

Then he offers a series of tempting lures...


gorgeous robes of silk or velvet,

with gauzy shirts and embroidered sashes,

delicate muslins, soft linens, silken pantaloons
and jewelled slippers


[picture courtesy of]



Not just an agreeable place to sit during the heat of midday but the only safe place for conversations about planning great political changes. It is in the kiosk, too far away for any prying ears to make out what is said, that His Excellency, Kerim Pasha, can discuss the proposed vital military reforms with Tom and Rose, who is needed for her artistic talent.


A pleasant outing on the Golden Horn in a graceful caique is something that always pleases the ladies.

                               [ picture courtesy of ]

Are all these delights enough to tempt Rose to choose a life in the Ottoman style? 

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

"Books break the shackles of Time" - Carl Sagan


Carl Sagan
American astrophysicist and popular science writer

[photo courtesy of Wikipedia]