Hello all! It feels like ages since I've managed to check in with you all and, apart from some projects which I can't share with you yet, there's not much going on at the craft table either. It's the first time since I started blogging four years ago that I've had to take prolonged time away from it all (not to mention having to say goodbye to various Design Teams), and it's a strange feeling. Work schedules mean it will stay this way for much of the rest of the year, but I'll keep dipping in and out when I can. There are some exciting Guest Designer spots coming up, and there are still plenty of Encore projects awaiting their moment!
For now, I'm back with another instalment of my travels. As always, you can click on the photos for a larger view.
We're still in Beijing (so it's still February - see, that's how far behind I am!), and after being suitably humble as we made our way through Part I and Part II we've been allowed to pass through the final palace chambers and enter the Emperor's private garden at the very far end of the Forbidden City.
This area has a completely different atmosphere... it's much more intimate and welcoming.
That's mainly to do with the trees, I think, but also the smaller pavilions, and the twisting paths and grottoes - so different from the formality and scale of the preceding courtyards and buildings.
There's still plenty of grandeur, of course, and the Imperial symbology is still present in full force.
Look at these splendid fellows guarding one of the many arched gateways, one each side.
The golden metal really gleams in the sunlight, and that ferocious scowl should be enough to daunt any triflers.
I'm thinking they could do some damage with those tail tufts too...
And look at the glorious carving on the plinths on which they sit.
As you might guess, I was very taken with these gnarly twisty tree trunks. Love the patterns and texture in the winding stems and roots.
And the fabulous knobbles, rubbed shiny where people have touched them for luck....
This ancient specimen has to be protected from the superstitious stroking for its own good!
And the foliage is magnificent. It really does look like the beautiful foliage in Chinese paintings, somewhere between leaves and needles.
You keep catching sight of enticing pavilions between the trees...
... full of colour and exquisitely decorated...
... with those glorious Imperial Yellow ceramic roof tiles glowing in the sun.
And remember, each one of those end circle tiles is a work of art in itself.
The decoration even extends to the pathways under your feet.
This is pebble-dash with a difference!
Can you imagine how many hours the makers of the many pathways must have spent on their hands and knees?!
There are lots of rather weird, unearthly stone sculptures - mainly, as far as I could tell, natural stone formations chosen for their strangeness and mounted on plinths.
I wasn't sure that I liked them very much (but don't tell the Emperor!).
The entranceway to this particular pavilion shows that status and segregation was still the rule here in the gardens. Servants and lower-ranked family members had to scuttle up the narrow steps at the sides.
Only the Emperor himself was allowed to walk up the central slope over these wonderful carved dragons (just as well, I suppose, or they'd be completely worn away).
There are more of the vast cauldrons standing around which would have held water to put out any fires. They're so impressive.
And there's fabulous carving even on what appeared to be storage sheds!
Of course, what you discover pretty soon is that these gardens are where the Emperor's concubines whiled away the hours, awaiting his pleasure.
One of the larger pavilions is the "selection chamber", where aspiring mothers would bring their daughters, in the hope that they might be chosen as part of the elite corps of Imperial courtesans.
There are stone carved seating areas, where I'm sure perfectly innocuous tea-drinking might take place, in full public view.
But you can just imagine what might go on in any of the smaller pavilions dotted around the garden.
And the trees cast deep shadows allowing for liaisons to go on both inside and out, secure from prying eyes. Suddenly the intimacy becomes a little more secretive and a little less delightful!
Since the buildings in the gardens are on an entirely more human scale, it was here that I was able to get closest to some of the moulded ceramic ornamentation which I'd enjoyed so much in the earlier courtyards.
It's still tucked under the eaves though, so it's almost always in deep shadow.
The construction is amazing, and the sheen of the ceramic glaze catches the light beautifully. You can probably imagine how much that appeals to me.
So, we've finally made it to the end of our Forbidden City trilogy. This is where I'll come in future to remember this extraordinary visit, so I'll make no apology for the number of photos, but I hope you've enjoyed the tour too.
I've one final Beijing post for you, and that one will take us from this seat of Imperial power (and sexual shenanigans) to the artists' quarter at Liulichang - easily my favourite part of my Beijing adventure. Prepare for ink, paper, and thousands upon thousands of brushes!!
Princes are fighters or administrators. Neither of those things do much to spread joy in the world. Whores, concubines and catamites, on the other hand, are all about giving satisfaction. Now granted, sexual pleasure is a temporary sort of happiness, but it is better than a new tax or a sword in the gut.
My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines.
Trieu Thi Choi