“Totalement Désarçonnés” — The best graffiti in town
Posted on October 9, 2014 by pennedinparis
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling distinctly jaded by the news right now. The global ISIS crisis, a possible Ebola pandemic (it’s in America), democracy clampdown in Hong Kong (Tiananmen Square No. 2?), 31 climbers lost in Japan…
I was listening to yet more depressing news on my car radio the other day, when something out-of-the-ordinary caught my eye. Chaconne the horse, a stately bronze statue I pass each day, was dressed in clothes. To be precise, he wore a knitted yellow and turquoise patchwork saddle and matching tasselled ankle warmers. I lost myself momentarily, and ended up going around Chaconne, and the roundabout he occupies, twice, just to get a better look.
Chaconne, a stately bronze horse that greets visitors to the 17th century Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte, dressed in the latest knitwear.
There was more. On my way to town I passed a bus shelter cloaked in a knitted red blanket and fluffy pompoms that swayed in the breeze, a tree dressed in a delicately croqueted scarf, road bollards topped with bright bobble-hats and a woollen mobile dangled from a street lamp, like a Chinese lantern.
Urban graffitti near Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte — enough to make a grown man coo.
What curious sights. A knitter’s world. A world quite different from the one I’d woken up in that morning. My mother, an avid knitter unlike myself, has always praised the therapeutic value of knitting, but just looking at these woollen-wonders decorating my town was instant therapy in itself.
It wasn’t long before I had tracked down the person responsible for these warm fuzzy creations and talked her into having a coffee. Delphine Blas was not the dear old granny I was expecting, but a youthful, energetic 43-year-old who was more than happy to unravel this wool movement, albeit in French.
She explained that the urban art around our town of Maisons Laffitte was actually part of an exhibition called “Totalement Désarçonnés” or “Totally Thrown” — a phrase I identified with more than once during my first, all-French interview (applause cue). She was the brains behind the idea that was hatched last year among a small gathering of her close-knit friends, all of whom share a passion for “tricotage” (knitting). Delphine had read all about the “yarn bombing” or “graffiti knitting” craze that started in America in 2005, when a Texan lady used her leftover wool to knit a fancy door handle for her boutique. “Why not do something similar here?” she thought.
France’s Centre des Monuments Nationaux, working in conjunction with the town hall’s cultural department, gave the green light for the dress-the-town-in-wool project. And for the past three months, Delphine and her team of 85 knitting, croqueting and macramé enthusiasts have been frantically stitching away.
“It’s been a busy time” Delphine laughed, but “I’ve enjoyed every minute.” “And it’s brought people in the community closer together too, both young and old”. A class of nine-year-olds from a school just up the road from my house —L’Ecole Maternelle Colbert — made the pompoms and the oldest participant was an 85-year-old granny.
“We had two men in our team too, Marc Poitreneau, a 42-year-old electrician, and a 70-year-old gentleman from a local retirement home.” After his daytime job, Marc would return home to knit an elaborate arrow motif to slip over the front railings of the town’s 17th century chateau — Château de Maisons-Laffitte.
She showed me a town map which outlined the walking tour of the 14 “œuvres de tricotage”, explaining that each was linked with a historical theme like “Sofa des Reines” (Queens’ sofa) a town bench draped in vibrant knitted covers, and the “Courtisan”, a knitted white-ringleted wig, fashionable in the time of King Louis XIV, displayed outside the town hall.
Knitted Louis XIV wig perched on a lamppost outside the town hall.
The urban art exhibition coincides with a funky contemporary art show in the chateau, the highlights of which can be viewed in this video, which also reveals, contrary to popular belief, that the French do have a sense of humour.
Before leaving our sunny spot outside Cosy Cafe, Delphine told me that the inhabitants of Maisons Laffitte would be able to enjoy these woollen-wonders, come rain or shine, until the 26 October. Good news. And talking of news, I shall be reading my newspaper outside this month, to be “Totalement Désarçonnés” when needed. Can’t think of a better form of therapy. Can you?