The Ore Of Mama Juju

Credited to A Taste Of France.ComToday I was going to write about Mothers Day.

I’ve now changed my mind. Hehe. A woman’s perogative?

Instead I want to take you on a little trip. It’s a bit of time travel trip, so please bare with me for a few minutes. We’re going to step back to 20th of February 1888, when Vincent Van Gogh – tired and languishing in Paris – decided to take a train to the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse. He “needed sun, as though the sun would be the only torch that could stir his soul and give life to his brush.”

Yet as Vincent stepped off the train in the south of France, instead of sun and blue skies, he discovered ice and snow. This didn’t deter the artist. He rented a snug room in Arles (see the photo above) and gradually, with the arrival of spring, his injured expectations about the world and his art began to heal. After some time he moved into the “Yellow House” and in between painting the fruit trees and scenes of life in Arles, he began to dream of creating a comminity of artists in the town. He longed for his friend Gauguin to visit him.

Gauguin did eventually visit, but at this point Vincent’s quick-tempered personality, taste for alcohol and bouts of depression meant that his friend only stayed for a few weeks. After one extreme argument between the pair, Gauguin left, fearing for his life. This was interwoven with that infamous “ear” incident and not long after Vincent was hospitalized at hotel-Dieu in Arles.

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Poor old Vincent. But unfortunately we’re not going to hang around with him in his post either.

I want to take you to a different part of the region. Sitting on a sandy quartz hill between Luberon and Monts de Vaucluse, Roussillon en Provence shines in the ochre light.

Located in the heart of the largest ochre bed in the world, Roussillon has been described as one of the most beautiful village sin France. Here the maze of lanes and squares are painted in rust colours, flamboyant reds and subtle lemon yellow, the importance of colour and ochre vibrantly display the earth’s generosity.

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Just outside the village are the former ochre quarries. The land here is literally loaded with pigment. Hundreds of years ago the Romans exploited this, mining the ochre and carrying it on donkeys to Marseille by crossing Julien bridge and travelling along the Lourmarin valley, and from there was sent out to traders in all four corners of the Empire. Then came the decline and fall of the Empire. The quarries were deserted and centuries past before a villager Jean-Etienne Astier rediscovered the rich ochre pigment in the landscape. In 1780 he began to once again manufacture solid and beautifully coloured paints from his red and yellow land.

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Today the process of manufacturing the ore remains the same and when my mum visited the ochre quarries a few years ago she brought me home some of these beautiful pigments.

For some time I left them untouched. They seemed almost like a magical gift of nature; paint so near to its natural form … lifted straight from the flesh of Mother Earth.

I have now begun to use the colours, yet each time I do it is with a sense of reverence and awe. Admittedly I have only used them to do the illustrative work for my book Grow Your Own Gorgeousness, but to me – in my ongoing obsession with the gorgeousness – this seems like a worthy enough project for the Roussillon gold dust.

So this is what I decided to write about for Mothers Day … the Ore of Mother Earth and her gifts to us.

It’s so staggeringly to think that everything – EVERYTHING – we have comes from the planet.

Whether it’s the futuristic mobile phone sitting in your pocket (made out of lead, plastic and gold) or your flatpack bed from Argos, everything “man-made” is actually “earth-made”.

Today I am sending massive thanks to our amazing Mama Juju (Juju is a word I learned recently. It is the north Queenland, rainforest people’s name for Earth). Our Mama Juju is more than embedded in every “thing” we own or use or consume … she literally IS everything we own, use and consume. And let’s face it, without her, we have nothing.

I love you Mama Juju. Happy Mothers Day.


One thought on “The Ore Of Mama Juju

  1. Pingback: Frida « Bethan Stritton

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