Monday, 30 March 2009

End of a 3-year wait

This Soldanella carpatica alba was purchased from Blackthorn nurseries 3 years ago (they retired in 2008). I actually got 2 albas from them and a blue one, seeing that I had already brought back another blue one from Poland in 2006.

The blue Blackthorn one was given as a gift to a friend, whose clients keep trying to buy it off her. You wish.

My 2 albas have been broken up into various accents and 1 stock plant. Needless to say, none have flowered until this year. There's a 3rd flower spike somewhere under all that foliage in this photo; but I am still a bit disappointed as the spikes do not tower the way the blue variety does. But then again, the flowers have only been out a couple of days.

As for the Polish blue, that continues to flower and self-seed. It's not as effusive as the hepatica in its seeding habits, but it is steadily inching up the ladder of world domination.

I have seen photos of a PINK soldanella variety and I WANT ONE.

Here's what a newbie looks like

I don't like throwing perfectly good plants away, and this little fern which had self-seeded within tons of liverwort in a pot of alliums was no exception. Its root system looked perfectly OK after I had carefully and painstakingly peeled off the crappy liverwort for what seemed like ages, so if he snuffs it I will be hacked off no end.

The pink-flowered geranium is something rampant that a friend gave us out of his garden. It's not a miniature by any stretch of the imagination. And when I say rampant, I do mean rampant. It has clumped up so much I have given away at least 8 large pots of it in the past 3 years. Several mountains of it are dotted around the garden, and every year or so they need to get thinned out and more bits wind up in pots.

This weekend, I noticed one of the smaller pots needed a good rescuing from the liverwort, and I managed to break off this small piece by accident. Again, a healthy root system came with it, so I decided to try a semi-cascade look. As it fills out over the year(s), I'll post updates.

Pot is by Walsall Ceramics. Total height of planting is about 4 inches / 10 cm from base of pot.

Primula denticulata alba

This accent is in its third year now. It used to have a much taller pompom flower, but as the plant established itself in the pot, the flower stalk has decreased in size. This year, only one set of blooms has come out, although it has been in full bloom for nearly 3 weeks now.

I suppose this guy is really pot-bound now and should get broken up next spring. Which probably means the year after we're back to the gigantic pompoms all over again. Sigh.

Pot is by John Pitt, who keeps saying I never send him photos of plantings I've done in his pots, and he's (almost) right, y'know. I have sent him a link to this blog, which is almost the next best thing, or so I like to rationalise ;o)

We have another white denticulata in a shallow Walsall, but this year it's been rather lazy, so no photos for him. Could also be because most of his soil has been washed out where the pot is so shallow and exposed to afternoon sun. One never knows for sure (unless one is a primula guru?). This primula in the photo is kept in a fairly shady spot and the watering is fairly controlled - probably 3 times a week given the current spring temperatures.

Friday, 27 March 2009

David Penny on a Saikei-delic trip

Sort-of liveblogging and photos as David does a demo tonight on the art of Saikei (Japanese tray planting) at the Solent Bonsai club.

A very enjoyable evening with David Penny taking you through the creation of a tray planting from scratch, touching briefly on the history of saikei and how it dovetails nicely with the art of bonsai. Above, David shows the audience how the 3 rocks are held together with clay soil.

The alpine (referring to a mountain view as opposed to little plants of the same name) composition included loads of binding material (either keto or ordinary garden clay soil with tons of organic + drainage matter), a large shallow pot, 3 BIG and HEAVY rocks just this side of being suiseki material, and 3 Cryptomeria japonica 'Bandai-sugi' pruned to resemble trees at high altitude. Oh, and loads of moss (or blackbird bait, whichever you prefer).

We ran out of time, so David was only able to moss up the front of the composition (see pic below); I believe the fully finished product will be up for view at one of the shows he'll be demo-ing at in the summer.

If your club is looking for a speaker, then I'd strongly suggest considering David's saikei talk.

Here is David with the (nearly) finished product, unfortunately I got so caught up with talking to people, I didn't manage to snap a photo of the saikei against a background other than his black shirt.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Kiyohime maple on rock, fully awake

While all the buds on the trident maples in the cold greenhouse are just starting to break into leaf, this guy is almost fully open. It used to be in a deeper pot; in late January this year it got re-potted into a shallow Walsall which is good timing, all things considered.

This bonsai's total height is about 6 inches / 15 cm from the base of the pot to the crown of the tree. Some leaves are showing signs of windburn, hopefully this will not have affected the ramification in any way - I'd really like to show this tree in winter image, since the rock is more visible then.

Kiyohimes and Kashimas are among the first to open in the garden. The big kashima is kept outdoors and is not quite as open as this guy. I re-potted a couple of 2-year old mountain maple seedlings in mid-February, and though the roots seem to have recovered well enough, their leaves have yet to unfurl to the same extent as this Kiyohime.

Monday, 16 March 2009

So was it a success?

Thinking about the EBA conventions that I've attended from 2005 till March 2009, I can't help but compare what I thought were 'successful' vs 'unsuccessful' shows. But with my marketing hat on, what does define a successful show? Well, in reality it's whatever the show organisers say it should be.

Bear with my analogy here. If the guys who 'own' a show say, 'well we don't care about revenue or profit, all we care about is getting bums on seats and we set our baseline at 300 visitors' - and they count the tickets sold at the door and they hit 350 tickets sold, then it would almost be fair to say that they had a successful show.

Now the display may have been crap, the food abysmal and the customers completely dissatisfied - but if they weren't measuring any of that, how would anyone know? All the stats that would be released would be around the 350 tickets sold, right?

Like I said earlier, this is an analogy. I read in the local paper that the Spanish Bonsai Association had 500 registered convention attendees for EBA, but whether any further success indicators will be released, I don't know. The tickets were being sold by the trade organiser Expoflor, so I imagine you wouldn't be able to numerically separate the people who came purely for bonsai as opposed to the bloke down the street who came to see some cut flowers because he had nothing better to do with his 3 Euros on the day.

And if I asked myself, was it a success - well, I caught up with European bonsai buddies who I only get to see perhaps twice a year at most. The cafe con leche was fantastic, the lunches at 12 Euros were way beyond decent, but the breakfasts (included in the convention package) were average at best - unless you like toast, which I don't. Demonstrations by the big names are of minimal interest to me, although I do like checking out the finished product. The suiseki display is always superb at an EBA show. The smaller demos/presentations were a welcome change. The lack of Spanish potters was a keen disappointment to me, and the prices of trees were higher that what I expected - although the locals thought it was all a fair deal. The display infrastructure was the best I have seen to date, but I will admit that the gamut of the bonsai displays did run from the ridiculous to the sublime. However, 238 individual bonsai displays is really not bad at all. Most clubs would struggle to find enough space to show the half of that. So on the whole I would say, yes it was a success.

A bonsai aficionado who walks into a display hall will inevitably think of the cost involved in setting up the show. Whether it's a 'wow how did they manage to do that' vs a 'WTF did I really give them money to see this'. The display infrastructure of the Lorca show was probably the single biggest contributor to the success of the show - i.e. if the trees are good but the display structure is bad, then the trees will suffer for it. If the trees are mediocre but the display structure is stonking, then the trees are enhanced by it. And at Lorca, the carpets, lighting and backdrops were WAY stonking. That infrastructure was underwritten by local government and the trade council, but a lot of the manpower behind the show was still provided by the local clubs.

Still, every bonsai person wishes show organisers well. We rejoice in their achievements, we commiserate in their disappointments. We feel for club members and the effort they put in to making their show a success. Whatever that success may be. Even if they have outdone the show we put up previously, we have room in our hearts to wish them well. At one time or another, we have all been in the same boat.

All that said, I would like to know (even as a mere convention visitor) that the organisers were cognisant of their expectations, that their objectives were clearly laid out and quantifiably tracked, and that some measure of customer satisfaction was taken into consideration. After all, how else would you be able to ensure the show next year would improve on this one, right?

Because you'll be wanting to take my money at the next show, and I definitely wouldn't want to spend my heard-earned dosh on something that's below my expectations, would I?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Now about what happened to the car...

Have had to relate this bit of our adventure so many times since we got back; so here is the story - just in case you're among those that haven't yet asked me in person:

On the first day of our drive down to Spain, less than an hour after we stopped for lunch on the A10 direction Bordeaux, the rain started whomping it in mega-buckets. The whole autoroute slows down. As we all start negotiating this gentle bend in the road, the heavy rain suddenly turns into snow (talk about schizo).

Suddenly around 20 cars start spinning on the A10 like some weird synchronized ballet. We miss the car in front of us (who by the way was a mum with kids in the back, we found out later - they musta been scared sh*tless) on the first 360 deg spin, except we're now only a few metres from the crash barrier. I watch this lump of metal approaching my side as the car changes angle, going "sh*t, sh*t, sh*t" aloud, and wondering inside, "is this going to hurt?". The cliché really is true, it's like watching things in slow motion. The car hits the barrier headlight first (but not with the impact I was dreading - almost anticlimactic), scrapes lightly along the side of the car (at which I ask myself, "will I be able to get out of here"), then thumps the rear light for good measure.

After the obligatory exchange of 'are you all rights' we pull off the road and check the trees. The only real casualty was a small orchid we had brought for Bruno which had spilled some of its compost over the bigger trees. Hooray for Team Tree Packers. You done a good job guys.

The car was drive-able, even if the headlights had to be propped up with duct tape (and bonsai wire once we hit the convention - hooray for Richard and 6 mm ali) . Still, after breaking the journey at Lasarte, we had to cross the Pyrenees and it started snowing just 30 mins after we left the hotel at daybreak. Not the most comforting thing to know that we had to watch our speed, watch the car's performance, watch out for speed freaks (they exist no matter what the weather) cover 650 miles and get to the EBA hall in time for set-up at 17:00. Which we did, without mishap, at 17:30. Check Twitter out for the soundbytes of that leg of the trip.

And boy did we have to take some stick when we rolled into the convention centre and the Dutch, German & Austrian lads were all at the parking lot, watching us drive in....

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Best Original Composition EBA 2009

This was the sole entry from Portugal, I believe, and the picture does not do it a lot of justice. And this will be one of those 'you either love it or you hate it' things.

The tree is a proper shohin-sized olive (around 7 in /18 cm) and the accent is a little alpine strawberry. The black box is around 3.5 x 2.5 ft /107 x 81 cm conservatively, and there are 2 little spot lights on the top which you can just discern in the photo. Think VERY small, VERY modern, VERY zen tokonoma.

This is what I call a whole load of funk, and I do applaud any effort to push against the norms. That said, I hope people realise that when they do something outside the norm, it will either go down swimmingly well, or it will tank like a Sherman in the Atlantic. I think this display went down very well with Joe Public, but how the more traditional bonsai aficionados thought is anyone's guess. Still, Japanese master Takeo Kawabe gave it a distinguished prize.

My view? That would be telling, wouldn't it?

What I do have a view / query on is that there wasn't better representation from
Portugal, seeing that they're just down the road...

Rosemary accent

This is something a lot of Northerners would covet:

A neat little Rosemary in flower. This guy is only around 7 in / 18 cm from base of the pot. There were other Rosemary accent plants in similar styles, but I chose this one for your viewing as I thought it had the best balance of tree size in relation to the pot.

Another Spanish entry, this was an accent for a large Juniperus chinensis. The main tree was a good specimen too, but large Chinese junipers are not lacking over here. Small rosemary with pronounced shari? That's something that would have difficulty thriving in this corner of the globe. Not saying it can't be done, but I've not seen many of it either, especially in this size.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Talking about people...

If you're like me, you'd be one of those who are more interested in the trees than in the bonsai artists themselves. That said, our little bonsai club has been fortunate enough to have had many prominent speakers come through our doors in the past years.

But having a cohesive European bonsai scene is not just about the creative artists and the public as consumers, it's also about a whole load of people who give selflessly of their time and effort to promote the hobby, sometimes on top of a full-time day job.

So in this pic are a couple of Belgian 'greats', to the left is Marc Noelanders who most everyone will have heard of. To the right is René Vantilt who was Secretary of EBA for a long time and is a stalwart champion of the growth of bonsai in Europe. René's health has curtailed his appearance at recent shows, so his attendance at Lorca together with his wife Monique was good news to us all.

This pic was taken during refreshments just after the opening ceremonies, and despite appearances, we were all standing around having a good laugh and enjoying a very good Syrah from a local producer.

Not the best photo ever taken of either Marc or René (sorry guys!) but there is a time lag from the second you press the shutter on this phone's camera - it's not all operator incompetence, y'know (but it is a good part of it).

René has served European Bonsai long and faithfully; we hope to continue benefiting from his experience for many more years to come.

Papyrus accent

This accent was created using papyrus and a variety of the curly wurly / corkscrew rush. Although not the smallest accent planting (more a medium size IMO), it still has a delicate look and feel to it, as well as being harmonious with the size of the tree it accompanied.

Dutch shohin display

This is a difficult one to take a photo of, given that the entire composition is actually quite wide. The use of colour on the scroll was both discreet and effective. The accent plant to the left, under the juniper? That's a tiny spider plant.

Click on the photo to enlarge, you'll see the award that was presented to Bruno & Rob for this one, just to the left of the display table. It's a wire sculpture about 2 ft /61 cm high, and the 'wires' are thick - I'd place it at 0.8 mm thickness, not sure which metal was used. And that award is whopping heavy; the guys had talked of having to take their clothes as carry-on luggage and the heavy metal in the hold, that way hopefully they avoid overweight charges. I hope the award didn't go into a canvas bag / suitcase, otherwise it could tear the bag (or any cloth protecting it) to shreds.


You read me right - two large metal links, set in coloured sand. In accompaniment to a large tree. Certainly pushing the boat out... no pun intended.

Again, the photo is a bit dark but I'm unable to brighten it any more than what I have now.

1st Prize EBA

Olive - Olea europaea var. sylvestris - from Spain, about 3 feet / 91 cm tall, in what seems to be a brown Northern Chinese pot. Unfortunately details of the accoutrements were not included in the labels, so I'm making my best guess here.
Also, ignore the strip of light just above the lowest left branch - that's from all the flash going off around this tree at the time the photo was taken. Yes, it looks like a label or a price tag, I know...

Prize-winning Pomegranate

This is a Punica granatum negikan, which apparently will set orange/red fruit. The tree is a Spanish entry and was awarded first prize for the shohin display. It's about 20 in / 51 cm though, but a lovely tree it is nonetheless.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Ficus carica

There are probably a lot of stylistic dissenters out there on this one and I'd be one of you. The point of interest for me was the lobed leaves - proper little fig leaves of the common fig. (Which by the way was also growing outdoors wild.)

I'm so totally not a fan of tall cascade pots, and this one seems too big and too distracting to my eye. But that size pot may also be due to the amount of rock beneath the soil line. I had also wondered if the composition wouldn't benefit from being turned around; looking at the line of the trunk, perhaps that isn't a possibility.

Still, those leaves are a whole load of funk.

New Talent Contest Winner

This is the winning entry from Gianfranco Rossi of Italy. Tree is a needle juniper.

All the contest entries were put up for sale after the competition, I believe they were sold at €95 apiece. Some were purchased by the contestants themselves, although interest from members of the public was also expressed.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Gardenia in fruit

Now this is something I haven't seen much of outside Japan. Check out the yellow fruits just peeking through the leaves.

Tree is a larger shohin, about 12 in from base of pot. Composition by Mario Komsta, who by the way, has been living in Spain for the past couple of months or so.

Distant mountain stone

Understated elegance from Willi Benz. This stone hails from Pennsylvania.

Both Willi and Gudrun had suiseki on display, I've only managed to capture Willi's entry. Also, as Gudrun already has her pic in an earlier post, and as I didn't get a chance to nab Willi for a photo op, I decided to post a photo of his suiseki instead.

That said, I believe it was Gudrun's stone that won a prize at Lorca.

Piedra abstracta

The title says it all.

Stone is from Cantabria, Spain, as is its owner. The shoku or what would be its display table is a piece of roughly textured wood, this looks like it had a glossy varnish.

The dai is also (to my untrained eye) a diversion from the traditional dais, in that it is a roughly textured piece of wood in an organic shape that seems to cup the stone rather than a base carved to fit the shape of the stone.

Piedra de Tunel

I really enjoyed this suiseki, even if I found the display table a bit too classical for the shape of the stone (I'm sure an expert would shoot my argument to pieces easily). I'm wondering if a simpler table would have proved less distracting from the lines of the stone, although that could be a function of dissecting a photograph rather than viewing the suiseki in display conditions.

Still, I liked the stalactite-y looking bits on the left. Way funky.

Provenance of this stone is Liguria, Italy. This is probably another Spanish-owned suiseki that may not get exhibited much outside its home country. Although there are a lot of collectors who were willing to travel to an international show within the country, travelling abroad while carrying a couple of hefty pieces of rock (+ display tables, dais or suibans with sand) is an onerous undertaking at best.

Montana de la Sombra

Origin of this suiseki is Youlan, China.

Mario Komsta presents...

A roomful of attendees comes to hear Polish expat Mario speak on preparing a bonsai for show.

This was one of the better bonsai talks I had attended for a while. The finished tree is immediately on Mario's right (a juniper with pronounced deadwood). The presentation followed the development of the tree over several years, with Mario answering ad hoc questions on the techniques he used for root arrangement and so on.

Mario is now living in Spain after having lived and worked on bonsai in Japan for years, so hopefully we will get to hear from /see more of him in future.

Before & After of a Big Lump

The yew, not Kevin Willson. An exquisite amount of detail is being crafted out of the deadwood.

Just watch out for that hand, Kev ;-)

Update: here is the final image of the yew at close of show - although the angle of the photo really doesn't do it justice. The detail of the carving on the right is something beautiful to behold.

I'm told Kevin has a pot all ready for this big boy; I'd love to see the tree when it's in its new home.

Arbutus unedo

Fruit has already set on this tree, giving it an added touch of interest. The deadwood hasn't been whitened, which makes a nice change. Tree stands about 3 feet tall from base of pot.

Here's what's outside

This photo was taken at the start of the day, just as the public was starting to come in.

The building at the right houses the floral trade section. The ginormous warehouse on the left is all the bonsai activity, with a tiny section for ornamental plant sales. Inside, this building was divided into 4 corridors for bonsai display, a large room for suiseki, the auditorium for New Talent / workshops, a cafeteria and a large section for bonsai traders. Plus a couple of break-out rooms for EBA meetings and smaller talks.

Looks like someone brokered a really, really good deal.

Talk about footfall...

And that's just at the entrance of the bonsai pavilion. 500 registered delegates. Add to that the walk-in numbers that came for the cut flowers and the ornamental plants. This is just Saturday morning 10:30.

Someone got good coverage

A full page spread in one of the local freebie papers. The interview with the head of the Expoflor cites 500 registered EBA delegates bringing in revenue to the local community.

Good to see someone knows how to leverage the marketing machine.

Friday, 6 March 2009

New Talent Contest Friday 06 March 2009

Remember that big empty auditorium space? Here it is with the New Talent Contest in full swing.

Raw material provided to the contestants is chinese juniper, much taller and chunkier trees than in previous years. The winner will be announced tomorrow evening.
The judges have already put in their scores, but no-one gets informed of the final results.
Each EBA member country has a representing judge. This year they weren't allowed into the contest area until after the contestants had finished their trees, and I think they weren't told which trees belonged to which country.
I think this is the same area where they will have the 'big names' doing demonstrations on the Saturday and Sunday. Notice the big screen feed in the background; this should give the audience a close-up of when someone cuts themself with a sharp object... no, of course things like that never happen....

Meditating Buddha stone

This suiseki is Chinese in origin, classified as a sugata-ishi. (Will find out more about that tomorrow.) It's not very big, standing about a total of 7 inches high from the base, and apparently weighs a ton (no, not literally).
The amount of suiseki in Spain is outstanding. Will post some more tomorrow. I suppose it's not surprising that these viewing stones don't travel very far out of their home countries, because of the weight and the hassle of moving them. This one is not very large, but others on display here are quite voluminous.
Mrs Benz told me that they have travelled to shows by air with a couple of stones, and the customs people have thought that a little daft. I can just imagine the conversations that went on...
Ever since the demise of the Suiseki association in the UK, there really hasn't been a platform for increasing the profile of this hobby, which is really our loss. This part of the EBA and other European shows makes it worth the journey for me.

Accent mame

This isn't the central feature of the display, but I just had to take a picture of it.
The cascade stands about 5 in from highest leaf tip to base of pot. I couldn't find the owner so will have to give a best guess. I'd say a mulberry. The accompanying planting is about 2 in high (including the pot) and the same across, it could be a pennywort or a very, very, very small geranium. To give an idea of scale, the rectangular wooden display stand is about 8 inches in length.
What is really notable is that the whole composition is an accent to a suiseki. The stone is lovely in its own right, but this was the first time I'd seen a mame + accent together used as an accent. The suiseki itself is rather large, so I wouldn't be able to fit the entire display in a single photo. Will try and get through the crowds tomorrow to take a photo of the stone.

The latest word in garden furniture

So who says white garden furniture has to be boring and utilitarian?
This is one of the trade booths. I do wonder how this would fare in our wet winters, and whether or not it is to my taste is moot. What I do like is the idea of someone pushing the envelope on what garden furniture can look like.
These displays are housed in a different building, which is the ExpoFlor Lorca, which reminds me of BBC Gardeners' World Live (although in a smaller scale). The EBA bit is actually the bigger part of the ExpoFlor.
What is not evident (and makes the rest of us roadies envious) from these photos is how the Spanish bonsai association was supported by the horticultural sector, the community and local government. My understanding is that the pavilion and the entire display infrastructure were footed by the commercial and government sectors. And the upside is that we get to share these superb conditions for our displays as well.

Almost an entire shohin display

Like I said, almost. Couldn't quite fit in a view of the whole UK shohin composition, as my phone doesn't have wide-angle capabilities. Address all complaints to the Sony Ericsson people pleeze.
Missing is the tiny accent on the right of the juniper. So let me try to explain instead. Imagine the composition as a large triangle pointing to the accent on the left. The tiny little thing to the extreme left of the photo is a ranunculus ficaria (the wild one) in a Keramika pot, total about 3 inches high and across.
Hope this explains the flow of the display a little better...

How many???

This one has to be seen to be believed. And I have seen a lot of small trees in my time.

51 little elms - Ulmus glabra - the tallest no more than 6 inches high. The entire planting is probably about 16 in /41 cm across, if that. This entry is from a Spanish bonsai artist.

51 boggles your mind? Go on, then - count 'em.

How to travel in style with your bonsai

The Dutch guys have been showing their little trees at EBA since Poland 2006, and have consistently garnered prizes for them. Since they had to fly to Lorca, their shohin & mame went into the hold, nicely cocooned in these specially-made wooden boxes:

The interior is foam, with niches cut out to the size of the pots. The boxes are roughly 4 times the size of the trees. In the photo above, some of the accents that didn't go on display are still inside their foam slots. The empty space is buffered with more foam once the slots are filled.

Bruno offered to model a box in a pose reminiscent of the nude calendar vogue, for some indeterminate reason his offer was unanimously declined ;-)

Here are the bonsai getting packed away at the end of the show; notice how the boxes sport the icons for 'This Side Up' and 'Fragile'.

African Violet accent

This guy is 15 years old and is a triple-trunk accent. He is also photographed back-to-front, as the photo was taken before the display was finalised. This is from the Austrian entries; the leaves on this plant are also extremely tiny. The display table is ceramic and made by one of their local potters.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Demo stage

Did I say this space is huge?

Ficus retusa brevifolia

I'm not normally a fan of the ficus family as bonsai, but this guy has ramification to die for. Unfortunately the photo doesn't show the base of the trunk, which almost fills the length of the pot. The leaves are tiny, not surprising given the number of branches on this tree. The only criticism I had was the faint limescale marking (apparently hard water is an endemic challenge in Spain) on the leaves, which was vaguely distracting.

This photo was taken way before the displays were set out. The white marker tag
is still on the right-hand leg of the table.

Accent is a yellow iris about to unfurl.
Update: the flower was fully open on Sunday, it's a pale lemon yellow bearded iris. Small irises seem to be a popular accent in Spain.

Trident maple on rock

Acer buergerianum with roots growing over a cave-like rock; part of the UK display. Accent is a pewter crane taking flight.

Shohin display

From the UK. Lighting of the hall is fantastic.

First Glimpse

This photo looks a bit dark to me, although I have been assured it comes out well. Must be my settings.
Tree is a cascade Chaenomeles japonica, accent figures are 2 boxing hares cast in bronze. The plant is a wild Ranunculus ficaria, unfortunately not in flower.

The Gang's All Here

Well almost, as we're missing Willi Benz. But I collared Gudrun Benz and Vito di Venere for the 'before' photo of the suiseki area. The stones get set up this evening; if you look closely at the tables, the skirting still hasn't arrived.

Not for love or money...

... will the owner part with this superb specimen. This olive tree stands about 7 in high and has wonderful gnarly bark. Photo taken at the trade stand of MediBonsai.


Yep, finally arrived at the expo site in Lorca. And a massive hall it is, too. Here's a sneak peek at pre-convention prep.
See the black cloth used as skirting around the tables? They had a guy on a sewing machine in one of the back rooms, putting these and the white top cloth together until early the next day.

Hostal El Asturiano

Had lunch at a tiny bar/country hotel at Sarrion. This is a plate of local ham, with tortilla of potatoes and freshly baked bread. This seems to be game and truffle country.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hotel Txartel

Found this charming little 3 star hotel in Lasarte, while driving through the pouring rain. They're just off the motorway, very reasonable rates and the staff are extremely accomodating. They also speak English!
They operate a bar annexed to the hotel and, while the atmosphere is too smoky for my taste, their food is excellent. We sampled their lamb chops and .... wait for it .... octopus.
The picture frames at the left seem to be photos of old Formula 1 racing cars. Perhaps early races held locally?

This is more like it

Just demolished a perfectly medium rare grillade de boeuf at a truckers' stop off the A10.

So all I have to show you is dessert: tarte aux fraises and an ile flottante.

Autoroute Gastronomy

I waited 60 km for this. Better be worth it. On the upside, not a lot of traffic on the autoroute.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ferry Lights

Big ole boat. No hassles with port security.