Friday, March 31, 2017

French Polynesia, Part 2

The locals, and the tourist industry too, call the island of Taha’a the vanilla island. We had a tour of one family run farm. I think they are all family run.

 I drew the supporting plant and the thin green vanilla vine. Each plant has to be hand-pollinated, as the bees in the islands don’t recognize the plant. I think this means it is not native to the islands. So whole families are in the vanilla woods with little brushes to move the pollen to the appropriate part of the flower to start the growth of the bean. The farmer we met called them vanilla sticks. 

We got the full lecture why Tahitian vanilla is far superior to Madagascar vanilla. In essence, it is left on the vine until ripe, then massaged a lot to distribute the  oils throughout the entire bean.

The coconut shells keep the chickens away from the plants. 

I never saw a sprouting coconut before, so it was a must draw.

The chickens are everywhere to eat the centipedes.

Occasionally I draw from memory if the memory is strong enough. The last stop on our cultural tour around the island of Taha’a was this beach along a lagoon.

The holes are the homes of land crabs. The guide told us that the crabs come out of their holes during a full moon. At this time, the locals collect them and bring them home for a delicious treat. But first, the crabs need to be kept in a box and fed shredded coconut for a month to improve the taste of the flesh.

On the right is my memory of the flat black stones that make up a marae, an ancestral burial ground. One guide pointed out to us on the first day that no moss or anything grows on the sacred rocks. I looked carefully. She was right. Sort of spooky.

One day the cruise ship program called for a barbeque lunch picnic on a motu. I think motu means small uninhabited coral island. We had to wade to the land through waist deep water for an extra bit of cooling fun.  

A couple got married on the motu. The bride wore a white bikini with a short lacy coverup.

 It made an entertaining contrast to draw the cruise ship in the lagoon with a two person kayak in the foreground.

 We got to the picnic late, but there were still some coconuts to sip from.

The glass bottom boat was small. I recall a full load of eight passengers and a hilariously cheerful and good spirited young driver/diver. Twice he swam under the boat and clowned around under the glass window. With the fish.

These are the animals we saw from the glass bottom boat. Upon seeing about fifty other people in the shallow water, I jumped in, street clothes and all, to pet the sting rays. We were not feeding them, but they were crowding all around us like puppies. No one got stung.

And more exotic animals we don’t see in New Hampshire. The striped fish looked like the kinds you see in aquariums.

The volcanic profiles of the islands are fascinating and fun to draw.

We did go ashore in Bora Bora because we had signed up for something called an aquabike or underwater scooter. Honestly, we didn’t understand what we were signing up for. A better description is a two person submarine, where your head stays dry in a bubble of air, and the rest of you is wet. Bruce drove, and I gripped my seat. We were ten feet below the water surface for 30 minutes. Bruce followed the diver as he showed us the underwater sights. Fish food hung from the scooter so we had a lot of gorgeous looking freeloaders to watch.

Our diver guide was the grandson of the inventor. These machines exist in only two places in the world, both operated by this family.

The last island the ship sailed to was Mo’orea. This is the view from Tahiti. These two islands are close enough that many people commute by ferry from the quieter island of Mo’orea to the more bustling Pape’ete, capital of French Polynesia on Tahiti.

We didn’t go onto Mo’orea as it was raining and I had some paintings I wanted to finish before an on-ship presentation.

 The crossing between Mo’orea and Tahiti was the only rough water we encountered. It reminded me of the English Channel in that regard.

Even the tugboat was colorful and worthy of a sketch.

 On our last day we had another two hour tour of Tahiti, south of Pape’ete.  It was like a bookend to the first day’s tour to the north of the city. Here we are on a very windy day on a black sand beach. The people on the water with their windsails and kites seemed to be having a grand time.

I often finish out a post with something botanical and colorful. I so enjoyed the tropical flowers that could be found along the roadsides, on crowns on people’s heads, around the calves of the bellhops, circling the hips of the dancers, fashioned into bras for the nighttime shows, and above as decor on a bar. It was a feast for my flower-loving eyes.

French Polynesia did not disappoint. I think about it everyday.

A note about the native language. As seen in my writing above, it often features an apostrophe between two identical vowels. This appears to be optional, but highly recommended for clarity. It indicates that the vowels are pronounced separately, with a brief stop in between, and not combined into a long vowel as in English and other languages. We learned in an onboard talk by a Dartmouth linguistics professor that this is often characteristic of languages that are a bit higher in the family tree than the more contemporary ones, and that the concept goes away as languages evolve into more simple forms. Yes, I got a few of the apostrophes wrong in the notes on my drawings.

We also learned that the language is spoken without stress on specific syllables. It was rather jarring to hear the familiar word Samoa pronounced that way.

Sam oh ah, with no stress

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Maple Syrup

It is Spring in New Hampshire. That means it is still snowing but the sap is flowing. It is the time of the year when the sugar shacks are collecting sap to boil down into maple syrup, nature’s health food.

Yesterday we drove over to Sunapee, to Harding Hill Farm. Here is their sugar house with the steam billowing out of it. Next to the steam vent is the chimney for the smoke from the pine log fire under the evaporator.

In the modern system, sap is collected from the maple trees in plastic tubes. It all runs down hill into the tank. You still see some metal sap buckets on some trees in the area.

The inside of the sugar house is very very steamy. If I drew all the steam, you wouldn’t see much else. Here we see the end of the stove which has just been opened and filled with split pine logs. The evaporator tank is behind the red label. The reverse osmosis equipment is in the far room. This process extracts a large proportion of water from the sap, saving time and fuel to boil it down. We had a lovely small cup of warm syrup to sip and savor.

We both enjoyed being in the same room as this little girl. She was so interested in everything that was going on and asked great questions. Curious children are such a delight.

Mark your calendars for the weekend of March 25–26. That’s New Hampshire Maple Weekend, and sugar houses all over the state will be open for tours, demonstrations, and samples.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

French Polynesia

French Polynesia, Part 1

Yes, we just returned from a cruise. And no, I hadn't been on a cruise before except sailing on a passenger ship from NYC to Le Havre France when I was twenty. So why did we go? Why not, as they say in Tahiti. The brochure had beautiful photos, the ship was small enough to sail into a lagoon, and we don’t ski. So New Hampshire in February can drag on.

You see from the map that French Polynesia is midway between South America and Australia. You can get a sunburn in ten minutes. The ocean tides are only 12 inches so don’t matter. Winter and summer are not truly very different from each other, at least from my perspective. I believe the wind changes direction. We learned that French Polynesia (or FP) has an area as large as Europe, but of course 99% of it is underwater. But those coral reefs and clear waters are important.

Our core group on the boat was MIT alumni and spouses and family. That made up eleven of us including our fearless leader Lauren from the MIT alumni office. She has great cat herding skills, and we loved her help and kindness too. We enjoyed our MIT chums. We usually got caught up on our day’s activities over dinner. Alumni groups made up about half of the passengers on the cruise. Some were accompanied by professors who gave well received talks on subjects of local interest and history.

We visited a new island each day, sailing many hours through the night to reach the next place. They are not within sight of each other.

I started sketching at the LAX, Los Angeles airport. I was already enchanted with the royal blue and aqua uniforms and the flowers behind the ears. Soon I would have a flower behind my ear. They are tiare, the symbol of FP. A member of the gardenia family, they are cool, waxy, and fragrant.

Before we got on the ship, we took a tour of part of the island of Tahiti. A marae is a native ancestral worship site. It was blazing hot and humid, but drawing focuses your mind. At least for a few minutes.

 The market in Pape’ete was colorful. You could buy anything there from a woven hat to a very expensive black pearl necklace. I bought a red fan and swished it in the direction of my red face. My husband bought me some jewelry that I love, of the reasonably priced kind. Carved shells, and pearls.

Before we set sail on the first night, I was up on the top deck drawing Pape’ete. So green, with enormously steep hills.

Our first island to explore the next morning was Huahine. Our ship the MS Paul Gauguin is sitting nicely in the lagoon. Our friendly guide drove about ten of us around most of the island, stopping often. (There were many choices of off-ship excursions every day.) 

  One of the stops was a shallow stream where the sacred eels live. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see 6-9 foot eels, 6 inches in diameter, but I can tell you that they were adorable. Bright blue eyes, a cute smile, big ears, and they gathered around the guide like puppies. Wet puppies. The natives never eat them, but feed them fish guts and table scraps, and the guides feed them fish from a can.

Fakarava is an atoll famous for wonderful places to scuba dive. The atoll is sort of a thin circular island only a few feet above sea level. The middle volcano portion has fallen back into the sea.

We don’t scuba dive, so we sat in the shade, took a walk, spoke in French to adults, children, babies, and dogs. Then we went for a little swim avoiding the coral. We both saw lots of minnow-like fish, all bright blue.

I spotted this while on our walk and it looked fun to try to draw. My new friend on the beach said it is used for racing.

While waiting for the tender to return, I drew some kids playing tag in the heat. 

This is my attempt to draw moving water from our porthole. 

We had flowers and fruit in our room, which makes an easy still life. The fruit isn’t tropical, but the flower is.

We had quite a few cloudy days and a couple of rainy ones. These storms didn’t move any closer. The water really was sort of royal blue.

More next month

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Hampshire

A multi-season trip along Main Street in New London, New Hampshire,
posted in anticipation of Spring

At the south end of Main Street sits Mount Kearsarge and her sister mountain on the right, Black Mountain. The woodlands are mixed growth of evergreens and of deciduous, which turn all showy colors in the autumn. Mount Kearsarge is a monadnock, meaning an isolated peak in native language, not a part of a range.

Our beautiful Pleasant Lake is at the base of the mountains. The lake has only one small island called Blueberry Island.

As we travel up Main Street towards the center of the town of New London, we pass by this field. Various animals graze here on most days. On this day it’s a llama, some sheep, perhaps a donkey. The distant hills are almost always a wonderful blue color.

 I like to draw and paint in the winter because I can see farther distances through the bare trees. Our local ski resort is called Mount Sunapee. The ski trails are carved out of the end of a long high ridge. I don’t ski. I just draw.

 Another view of Mount Sunapee from farther along Main Street. I did have to stand in the middle of the intersection with Pleasant Street to draw this. There was no traffic, and I am good at getting the basic shapes down fast.

Halfway up Main Street we have a park called the town green, or more formally the Sargent Common. 

Two winters ago I drew the first day of the winter carnival, where the biggest event was ski joring. Skiers are pulled over jumps, and for added challenge try to grab a ring as they whoosh by. 

Here it is shown with snowmobiles. It was also done the traditional way with horses. There’s one over at the left awaiting his turn.

The Colby-Sawyer College campus sits on the high edge of Main Street. The students are usually ages 18-22 and receive a BA or BS when they graduate. There are 1000 students who come here from around the world. The school of nursing is one of the most highly regarded curricula I believe. One class teaches the science of making maple syrup.

Those are traditional metal sap collecting buckets attached to the sugar maple trees. The sap starts to flow in March when the days warm a bit. This is considered the first sign of spring, the sap buckets. Spring is often late and merges right in with the beginning of summer.

Forty pounds of sap must be boiled down to get one pound of maple syrup. There are newer methods for doing the whole process.

Our town library is in a former home. The yellow clapboarded wooden building was also once the town hospital. A modern addition juts off the back on the left. 

Our small town has no need for stop lights. Farther up Main Street we have a new roundabout, or as they used to be called, a rotary. But that is only a word used in New England. Elsewhere, they were called traffic circles.

I drew the traffic light which blinks red on Pleasant Street and yellow on Main Street.

Two summers ago I drew the New London Barn Playhouse. The wooden cow barn became a playhouse in 1934. Playhouse is an American word that means live theater. After each performance, the actors gather on the porch as the audience streams out.

Seasoned professional actors come to New London to perform with the summer interns: 16 young actors from around the country. They are usually aged 18 to 22.

You can learn more about The Barn from my Summer 2015 project of drawing behind the scenes, available at this link here on the blog.

Continuing up Main Street we get to Spring Ledge Farm. Vegetables, flowers, and herbs are grown from seed in greenhouses and in several fields. The land is preserved as land for agricultural purposes only.

 I feel that we all need a flower come January or February. Here is a Stargazer Lily drawn with a digital app on my iPad. My left index finger pushed around the colors made of pure light.