31 January 2011

The Oak Chapel of Allouville-Bellefosse

It is like something out a fairy tale or perhaps a Tim Burton film.  Yet the oak tree in the small French village of Allouville-Bellefosse is not a figment of the imagination or, indeed, an old film set.  A staircase spirals around its twisted trunk but neither is this an everyday tree house.  Instead of a dwelling place atop or amongst its branches the visitor will discover that the interior holds the secret of this ancient oak.

Within there are two small chapels, which are to this day used as places of worship by the local people.  How old the tree is exactly is the subject of some debate but it is without doubt the oldest known tree in France.  While it has persevered the centuries, others have come and gone but Chêne Chapelle (Oak Chapel) has remained.

It was growing when France became a truly centralized kingdom under Louis IX in the thirteenth century.  It survived the ravages of the Hundred Years War with the English.   The Black Death, the Reformation, the Revolution and the time of Napoleon all came and went as it spread its branches.

Local folklore places the time at which the acorn first took root as a thousand years ago. They maintain that William the Conqueror said prayers at its base before he went off to thrash the Anglo-Saxons near a small seaside town called Hastings. Yet tree experts put the real age of the tree at around 800, which puts its roots firmly in the thirteenth century.

As such it is still a wood-framed mirror to the history of modern France and of course each country has its disasters. Catastrophe occurred for the oak in the late 1600s.  It was nearing 500 years in age when one stormy night it was struck by lightning. A bolt with a temperature approaching 30,000 °C pierced the magnificent tree to its heart.

Yet instead of dying, something astonishing happened.  The fire within burned slowly through the center and hollowed the tree out. Perhaps it should then have simply slowly rotted away, but each year new leaves would form and the tree would produce acorns in abundance. In those religious times it was not long before the miraculous tree gained some pious attention.

The local Abbot Du Detroit and the village priest, Father Du Cerceau, determined that the lighting striking and hollowing the tree was an event that had happened with holy purpose. So they built a place of pilgrimage devoted to the Virgin Mary in the hollow.  In later years, the chapel above was added, as was the staircase.

The chapels are called Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace) and the Chambre de l'Ermite (Hermit's Room).  On August 15 of each year it is still a site of pilgrimage for local Christians.  However, the tree had at least one moment of peril after the original lightning strike.

The need to survive sometimes precipitates change. During the Revolution the tree became an emblem of the old system of governance and tyranny as well as the church that aided and abetted it.   Le Chêne chapelle was to experience its own terror.  A crowd descended upon the village, intent on burning the tree to the ground.

However, a local whose name is lost to history had an inspired thought – as sometimes people do when they have to think at a speed approaching light.  He renamed the oak the temple of reason and as such it became a symbol of the new ways of thinking. It was thus spared the lightning strike of political revolution.

Of course, a tree this old cannot go on forever and Chêne chapelle is showing its age.  Poles must shore up its weight where it once it bore its own, like a giant stretching. Wooden shingles have been used to cover areas of the tree which have lost their bark.  Yet as much care and diligence is given to the tree as can be, to ensure that it lives on as long as possible even though part of its trunk is already dead. Yet twice a year its loyal congregation gathers and mass is celebrated within the confines of this remarkable chapel of oak.

Kuriositas would like to thank Flickr photographers Philippe_28, Solangenp2004, Comment vous dire? and FRBC for allowing us to reproduce their marvellous photographs here.  Please visit their photostreams!

30 January 2011

Fellowship Towers - A Home for Heroes

Even heroes get old. So, what might happen to the Lord Of The Rings characters age and need a little more help with everyday things than they once did?  Well, there is always Fellowship Towers which will take them in and care for them – in return for a ring or two no doubt.

Unfortunately there was no additional information about where this was on Flickr, so if you have an aging hobbit or elf on your hands at the moment, please do not email me!

Salvator's Philosophy

I thought I would take an opportunity to share with you one of my favorite pieces of art. It is a self portrait by the rebel without a pause, Salvator Rosa, who died in 1673. It is entitled Philosophy and was painted in 1640. While you may scratch your heads today as to what the Latin inscription means, scholars of yesteryear had no such problem and found this picture immensely amusing.

It means:

Keep silent unless what you are going to say is more important than silence.


The eye sees a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination awake.
Leonardo da Vinci

The eyes are the mirror of the soul
Yiddish proverb

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
Groucho Marx

This is a great collage of pictures by Mortimer Brewster.  Throw in an REM soundtrack and you have an interesting four minutes. 

Paula Bunyon - The Musical

You may be familiar with the story of Paul Bunyon, but did you realise that the story is just a myth and that the real Paul was actually Paula? No, truth be told, neither did we, but here is Lisa Dosson's imaginative retelling of the story from the perspective of Paula rather than Paul.

To cap it all, it’s a musical! This is a funny and whimsical piece of animation – and the song is sure to get your foot tapping. Showing more than just her animation skills, Lisa also wrote the lyrics and sang the number as well.

Jodhpur - India's Blue City

Travellers journeying through the desolate landscape of the unforgiving Thar desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan would know when they had reached their destination.  The sky would fall to the ground and everything would become a single color – blue.  Jodhpur would lie before them, opening up like a blue treasure in the desert.

Why the population of the fortress city – the Blue City as it is universally known – took to painting their houses in various shades of blue is not completely certain.  Yet most believe it is to do with the prevailing caste system in India.

It is thought that Brahmins – members of the priestly class – first took to coloring their houses blue (yet perhaps it should really be called indigo) to signify their domicile and to set them apart from the rest of the population.  Soon, however, the rest of the population followed suit. History does not tell us which brave non-Brahmin was the first to do it, yet it happened and since that day the people of Jodhpur have steadfastly maintained this tradition.

Ask a local why all the houses are painted thus and the usual reply is that the color keeps the interiors cool and fends of mosquitoes.  Yet if this truly worked then it would be quite likely that the whole subcontinent would be awash in various hues of indigo.

More likely is symbolism.  Although an unscientific response, what answer would most give when asked the color of water?  It is likely that the ubiquitous blueness of Jodhpur is an exuberant display of human resilience against the stark Thar desert which surrounds the town.   Against the bleak backdrop of parched brown earth the blue city exerts itself magnificently.

You might think that closer inspection would lessen the impact of the color, yet a look at many of Jodhpur’s streets immediately puts that idea to rest.  The word unremitting springs immediately to mind.

The modern trappings of life go side by side with evidence that many people still live as simply as they have always done.  Although Jodhpur was only founded in 1459, the state of Rajasthan is significant in Indian history as it formed the bedrock of the Indus Valley Civilization, thought to be one of the most ancient human civilizations on the planet.

Perhaps the color has a calming effect but humans and animals seem to coexist peacefully side by side in Jodhpur.  Even with the animals, inter-species friendships are not unheard of.

Squatting above the city like a giant bird mourning its broken blue eggs is the mighty Mehrangarh Fort the foundations of which were built in 1459, the year in which the English knight John Fastolf died – to be immortalised much later by Shakespeare as Falstaff.

The fort was ordered by Rao Jodha the ruler of Rathore who had decided to move his capital there. One legend has it that in order for the fort to be built the only human resident, a hermit, had to be forcibly evicted.

He cursed Jodha with the words May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water! Although the ruler did eventually appease the hermit by building him a temple the city is still hit by drought every four years or so.

A much darker legend is that of Rajiya Bhambi.  Jodha promised that his family would be looked after eternally if he did one thing for him.  The request was that he would be buried alive in the foundations of the fort.  Rajiya agreed.  To this day his descendants still live in a blue house on the land they were gifted by the ruler which is known as Rajiya’s garden.

The color of Jodhpur tells the history – and makes it legend - of a populace who shaped a paradise in the heart of the heat and sandstorms of Rajasthan.

29 January 2011

The Ice Book

Technology allows performance art to do things today that were only dreams a few years ago. The Ice Book tells the story of a princess who entices a boy into the woods so that she can warm her heart of ice.

The performance merges the moving picture, puppetry, and film to take a pop up book and bring it to life in an extraordinary way. I really like the way in which lit and unlit scenes are shown so we can see the transformation ourselves.

This is the work of husband and wife team Kristin and Davy McGuire, who create genre-busting productions for stage, screen and exhibition spaces that blend elements of film, animation, theatre, puppetry, installation art and good old-fashioned illusions in to something quite new and different.

Egypt: A Nation Forced Offline

The political situation in Egypt, where people are protesting against the virtual dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, has meant that it has become the first country in the world to block all internet and cellular access.

This sorry state of affairs has come about for a variety of reasons. If you need your head refreshed as the build up to this enforced isolation from the rest of the world take a look at this timely animation by Michael Marantz. It takes the Tunisian explosion of demonstrations as its starting point and brings you up to date.

Let’s hope the people of Egypt can break themselves free from the shackles of truly repressive government in the very near future.

28 January 2011


If you want to be something other – or more – than what you are, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

This is a very cool animated short film by Mike Dacko. As such it is his first independent film. General advances in 3D allowed him to fully realize a concept he had come up with a long time before the technology existed to make it real.

He managed to create all of the visuals on a Dell laptop. Wow!

What is a Social Network?

What i
This may seem, in this day and age, like an obvious question but sometimes the answer is harder than it seems. 

What is a social network is one of those questions that you think has a quick and easy answer until you try to articulate it.

So, using Facebook as an example here is a pretty good definition of a social network, nicely put together by Robin Al.  So, next time someone asks you, you have the answer at your fingertips!

Forever Young

This is lovely.  An old woman reminisces about her youth, the love, the music, the energy – and is transported back to her heyday by the magic of memory.   There is little plot here – it is more of an animation of insight than of story – but the back plot is rich and it is easy to imagine a whole lifetime in just a few minutes.

This is a student film, made by Solveigh Jäger at the Media University of Stuttgart – so as such you have to forgive the rough edges as this was made on a miniscule budget.  Yet it is obvious that a great deal of care – no, love – has gone in to this project.  Thanks, Solveigh, for suggesting that we feature this – you should be exceptionally proud of your work!

This charming animated short will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, so if you are feeling a little low, give it a go!

23 January 2011

Desert Bizarre

This is a landscaping and nursery business in Cave Creek, Arizona. Flickr user Cobalt 123 was driving by on the highway and spotted an amazing nursery devoted to desert landscaping and saw this rather bizarre sight.

He has no idea why the trees and cactus are bonneted, but the effect I am sure you will agree is quite surreal.My own second best guess is that they are to protect the cacti and other plants from the atmosphere, which I find a little unlikely if they already grow there.  The better guess is that they are there to protect the tops of the animals from the pecking beaks of local birds, particularly if they are bearing fruit.

Most likely neither is correct, but if you know the answer, please let us know!

Postscript:  Although I am more inclined to believe the first commenter below, Kuriositas Axton Nichols - (ltsalts on Tumblr) has given us food for thought.

No, surely not.  Please, tell me it's not true.