Thursday, 30 July 2009

diary of a French odyssey…postcards from the route nationale

...the next few posts will appear haphazardly and from a variety of locations…we are motoring through france en route to the languedoc to stay on the edge of montpellier on bertie’s old boat.

forgive me then if they are more sporadic even than usual, being hasty reflections, vignettes and sketches of the journey and places spied along the way….

here's the first offering:

rough common: gothic splendour in the mundane~

driving through the side roads of the English countryside, revelling in the verdant verges of its many motorways and b roads en route, i caught myself thinking how much lovelier are these patches of wildscape, how much more vibrant with their cornflowers and poppies, bulrushes and wild roses, dragonflies and butterflies darting here and there, than the tarted up landscaping and flowerbeds adorning so many city and suburban roundabouts. perhaps it’s the startling contrast, the show of nature’s resilience even in the least likely of spots, bright and defiant amidst the worst that we can throw at it, the grubby concrete, the fumes, blown tyres and dented bumpers. but i’m being sentimental again, romantic even. a dark gothic romance for sure, finding beauty and wonder in a few weeds on a scrubby graffitied roadside….

how appropriate then to discover that we were driving through the inauspiciously named hamlet of 'rough common'. just how did a town decide to call itself such a prosaic and seemingly down trodden name as rough common?

and then i was reminded of owen hatherley’s theory, put forward in militant modernism, of the underlying English preference, elevation even, of plainness and austerity, of ugliness over the classic and the pretty; a rejoinder to European modernism in the same vein as that earlier romantic reaction to the enlightenment expressed in the gothic tragedy of frankenstein, the tainted morality of dr jeckyll and the dark excesses personified in the lives of Byron and Shelley, a preference for the corrosive glamour of heathcliffe or maximillian de winter over some handsome pallid hero played out a century later in the emergence of punk and continued today in the squalid dramas of pete doherty and la winehouse.

and i wonder if here is a link to the urbanists, loiterers and various flaneurs championing of the failures of modernism and its much maligned material of choice, the ubiquitous concrete, a substance which given more than a cursory glance is simply waiting appreciation of its subtle shades and textures, of the sheen of its burnished corners, of the unlikely alchemy of its mauves, aubergines and royal purples, brilliant after a rainstorm, tantalisingly brief as any rainbow. perhaps it’s the climate, a difference in hues, where the sun drenched European palette of pinks, terracotta and aquamarine is sadly wasted on grey skies and cold light: only in this god forsaken corner of the world could we, must we, make a virtue out of the drab clouds and rain sodden skies; discern a vibrant palette from such an uncompromising end of the colour spectrum. necessity clearly is the mother of invention.

this then is the veiled allure of the humble hamlet of rough common, the unexpected reward for a small effort, a closer look, a second glance...

as a friend recently advised me, there is no room in the modernist's vocabulary for the term ugly, merely the embracing of that juste mot - a challenge!


The Shrieking Violet said...

I went for a walk along the Ashton Canal last week, it's lvoely at the moment - it's turning into a jungle. There are loads of really tall purple flowers (my mum told me the name for them but I forget!) taking over everywhere, like nature claiming back all the old factories and mills, it's like you're walking into a purple cloud! There was a lone clump of poppies on one bank too, bright red against a pile of rubble. I tried to take some photos but nothing could capture the atmosphere! When I got back I thought about it and realised that's probably why I'm so drawn to that bit of the canal - it's so untamed compared to the rest of the city and almost feels like countrside (I love Fletcher Moss but you can still tell it's a city because of the roar of the motorway). I understand the Ashton Canal corridor is soon to be completely razed to the ground and tarmacked over with a huge shopping centre/ loads of new houses, but for now roll on blackberry season - I got loads there last year!

Bluestocking said...

your description of the poppies bright against rubble sums up the secret garden quality exactly...a wildscape in the city, a haven for the urban underbelly, the foxes, herons and mall rat alike...we lose these places at our peril. i shall be sure to take my sunday stroll canal side as soon as i return....