Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eden Project - Time of Gifts

(picture heavy)

Steve recently finished what I shall tactfully describe as a "gruelling" work contract (and yes, that is putting it mildly) which took a toll on both of us, and we decided that we were owed a little break before getting into the fun of preparing for Christmas and trying to figure out where our life goes next.

Given a free choice of anywhere to go, nine times out of ten I will pick the Eden Project (the tenth time I will beg to stay in bed and be brought cups of tea). In the last year we've been to Cornwall three times, and on each occasion we've visited the Project for two or three days, and I still always feel sad to leave.

Last time we went was in May, when it looked like this:
Inside the Mediterranean Biome at Eden. Blue skies, blazing sun, abundant green leaves, people wearing summer clothes.

In November, even inside the Biomes, it's more like this:
Steve kisses me, in the same Biome. We are wearing warm jumpers, the leaves have dropped and those that remain have changed to autumnal colours, and the sky outside is grey and cloudy.

I still get a great sense of peacefulness and well-being from the Project. And the access. Oh, the access. No being sent round the back, no staff tutting at you if you can't keep up, no "special" holding pens areas, no leaving you sitting by the bins while they try to find out if anyone knows where the keys for the service lift have got to. Universal design, access is front doors and main paths all the way. The slopes can be a bit of a workout and there is a certain amount of mileage involved in getting around the place, but they have scooters and powerchairs which can be booked in advance. November being the off-season, they weren't all booked out, so at the gate I was politely offered the option of using one of their powerchairs "if it would be easier." More importantly, my choice of sticking with my own chair was accepted without fuss.

As he tends to, Steve took hundreds of photographs of all sorts of beautiful plants, flowers, sculptures and suchlike, and I'm sure soon he'll load them up to his Flickr stream which will be much better than me trying to describe. But he's let me pop a few onto my own Flickr stream so that I can blog this.

The second day of our stay, the Friday, was the beginning of the winter celebrations at Eden, which they call the "Time of Gifts". There is, of course, a Father Christmas with a cohort of elves and a stable full of actual reindeer, much of which is centred around the Sami people of Northern Europe. I was more interested in the goings-on within the Mediterranean Biome, though - storytelling, music and craft activities particularly. There are definitely worse things to do on a Friday afternoon than to sit and make Christmas decorations and chat with a bunch of friendly strangers, listening to live music and surrounded by the gorgeous smells of Mediterranean plants. As it got darker, Steve returned from his photography spree and brought me a hot chocolate to warm me up while we listened to the evening story and music.
Silhouette profile of a person's face, sipping from a cardboard cup of steaming hot chocolate which they are holding with both hands
Inside the Biome. The bubbles are dark blue with the reflections of lights looking like constellations. Some plants are uplit, others are in shadow

Then it was time to leave the Biome and get ready for the lantern parade. There were large sculpture lanterns being carried mostly by staff and volunteers, but anyone who wanted could join in the parade with a pyramid-shaped lantern on a stick, with a candle inside it. Anywhere else, I'd have assumed I couldn't participate. At Eden, no one batted an eyelid. So here I am, in front of the big Christmas tree outside the Core, carrying a lantern wedged between my legs and my wheelchair, waiting for the parade to start:
Mostly dark picture with pyramid lantern lit up. Me wrapped up in cold weather clothes and smiling. Some small twinkly lights in the background
And modelling my own handknit hat by the light of my lantern:
Me smiling, wearing a grey knitted hat. My face is yellow and red on the side lit by the lantern, and blue on the shadow side

The procession began with large sculpture-lanterns coming down the ZigZag path towards the Core building, where we were waiting. It was an impressive sight, although with a slightly hairy moment as a nearby child forgot to pay attention to his own lantern (my reaction of "excuse me! please don't set fire to me!" made me realise just how incurably English I can be). As the sculpture-lanterns and their accompanying drummers came past, we were filtered into the procession. It was quite a strange experience to be actively participating in something like this, being one of lots of little bits. There was a very carnival atmosphere.
The parade. Large white lanterns resembling a tea party, an origami bird, a mushroom. In between the white lanterns, lots of yellow pyramid lanterns. The carriers cannot be seen except as occasional silhouettes

The procession wound around the gardens outside the Biomes, lit by flame torches with occasional groups of non-participating onlookers. It ended by a gazebo of fairy-lights, where the Eden Choir were waiting to perform. Since the wheelchair makes me an honorary short person, I was ushered to the front with the kids so we could see.
the yellow pyramid lanterns and silhouetted carriers gather around a gazebo covered in white fairy lights, while the larger sculpture-lanterns continue past
lots of people including me, lit by the pyramid lanterns, listening to the Eden Choir

Listening to the Eden Choir was lovely, and some of the drummers joined in ad lib. Then there was a short and unexpected burst of fireworks which sent Steve whirling around to try and catch a shot:

Finally, this lovely piece of fire art, lit while the choir sang, reminded me very much of the Paralympic closing ceremony which meant that in a strange way it reminded me of summer again.
Fire picture of reindeer and the sun