By Ngaire Blankenberg
(What) are the stories of landscapes? It was something I was thinking about during a trip to the fabulous Eden Project close to Cornwall, UK last week.
In the 7-hour bus ride from London (albeit with stops) to the Eden project, the hours passed by with the slowness only truly felt on a long drive in a country that measures distance in miles instead of kilometers. There was plenty of time to look out the window.
This was my first experience of the English countryside- the rolling hills, the sheep, the historic farms, the springtime. It seems incredible I had not seen it before, so vivid were the memories the landscape provoked- of ruddy English children in patched clothing, feeding pigs and milking cows, running in the fields, exclaiming at the poetry of daffodils and reading by candle light.
It is no surprise that I, a child of New Zealander and South African parents growing up in Canada had the stories of the motherland indelibly imprinted in my memory. England’s enduring legacy in the colonies is found in the images of her stories; her landscapes brought to life in rhymes and fairytales and school texts.
But what about my traveling companions? Between the American and Taiwanese architects from the New York office of our hosts- Grimshaw Architects -the designers of the Eden Project, and our clients- a group of developers, engineers and property managers from Beijing China- we must have taken hundreds of photos. What did these English sheep and hills mean to each of us?
We passed Stonehenge sitting so innocuously in the field. We all snapped away in awe. For me, the sight conjured up images of a teenage me, collapsing with my friends into gales of laughter as we watched This is Spinal Tap.
The Eden Project is about ‘the living theatre of people and plants’ explains founder Tim Smit to us when we finally get there.”We use plant collections as a canvas on which we tell stories of what the future will be like”. In this re-created landscape of 2 indoor biomes (Mediterranean and Tropical) and the real landscape of the outdoor biome, the plants and flowers become alternatively the setting, the protagonist and the plot in a magical story that is as much about the visitor as it is about nature.
Nor is it all giant bugs and wonder- the stories Eden points to are also nuanced socio-political stories.
Throughout, ‘culture’, whether through story-telling, performance, music, exhibition and more- is a major vehicle to create connections between visitors and landscape.
Back in France. On Sunday, we did our customary Easter egg hunt. Every year the Easter Bunny hides chocolate eggs in some place she wants the now much-too-old-for-this children/teens to remember. This year, it was in the St. Germain Forest close to where we live. Among the roots of trees and in the bramble, the children search for bright pink, turquoise and yellow eggs.
We discover bunkers inhabited by Germans in the 2nd World War- covered in moss and leaves.
It’s hard to find a story that will capture all of this- a French spring, a pagan ritual, Jesus’ sacrifice, a Belgian chocolate bestowing bunny, Germans hiding and planning in France divided by war, a forest landscape… and us. But I will. It will be our first-Easter-in-France story- captured in photos and made memorable by the unique smell of this moss, the crunch of these leaves and the particular rustle of the forest.