Saturday, 10 August 2013


So look, I told him, didn't I? I warned him well. He was not a suitable suitor.
"You can't live with me", I said, "you'll die. You are a FROG, and I am a LADY." (well, lady-ish...)
But he wouldn't listen, he kept coming back, trying to get into my house and who knows, my bed.
And just as I feared, he is now one very very dead  Hyla Meridionalis.
It was my friend Patricia who found his small green corpse, flattened against the door frame where the door, at some point had slammed shut and  ended his pretty little life. "Well, he didn't suffer," said Patricia, brightly. But she would not allow me to take his photograph, even knowing how I like to record events here.
"Morbid," she said.
So he's gone, and so will I be now... although not in such a dramatic fashion, only for a few weeks or months.
The thing is, there have been some technical difficulties loading material on my BLOGSPOT blog that have been annoying and neither I nor my local computer-magicians, Jean-Michel and Jimmy, can find a solution. That's one reason to give the blog a rest... and another is the fact that there are no more bookings available for this autumn at the Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat.  I will fire up this blog again in the new year, either on blogspot or another carrier, we'll see how it goes...
The next rental period begins at the end of March, 2014, and continues until the end of June. So if you are interested in coming to the Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat -- be you writer, artist, or anyone else seeking a quiet place to work for a week or two -- you can get all the information you need from the website

One of my delights in doing the blog these past months has been sharing photographs of life here in my little corner of Languedoc, and so I will leave you with three shots from the river, the  daily source of enormous pleasure not only for me but, dare I say... for frogs. It is a strange, quaint truth that the land on which Mas Blanc sits has, for centuries been called LA GRENOUILLE -- the French word for Frog. In fact, in the telephone book here, that is part of my address but I've eliminated it in my correspondence as it is simply too difficult to pronounce properly (unless you happen to be French).

So maybe that sweetly persistent amphibian was simply claiming his territorial rights? who knows....

The old bridge over the Ourne on the way to Mas Blanc

River-walking in the shallows, early morning/

Water is endlessly asking to have its picture taken...
So I'll say bye-bye for now.... And hope that you've enjoyed sharing my life this last little while.

Monday, 5 August 2013

"STRAW!" she said, balefully...

To a gardener, there's a reversal of the old Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale in which straw is spun into gold... for me, it's the other way round. There's nothing like a good heavy layer of straw-mulch to keep in the moisture, and keep down the weeds. I remember  well,  a few years ago seeing the marvellous vegetable gardens of  Canadian writers Merilyn Simonds and Wayne Grady and learned then that the straw must be laid on thickly to do any good...

But getting my hands on straw here always proves a bit tricky, and this year I didn't get my bales delivered until quite recently, just as I was coming down with shingles (I'm nearly recovered now, it has been a long haul, thank you for asking).By the way, if you have anything like a garden where you live -- or even if you dream of having a garden of flowers or vegetables, or a combination of both --  do yourself a favour and obtain Merilyn Simonds' lovely recent book A NEW LEAF: GROWING WITH MY GARDEN, published by Doubleday, 2012... google it, find it, get it, really not to be missed. 

Just three bales, that's all I needed for my little potager -- that's the French word for a small kitchen garden that supplies summer greens and herbs.
This may not look like much to you, but to me it is GOLD
The following photos were taken 10 days ago, just after the straw was laid, and I must say that even in the hot dry weather we've had, everything is coming along nicely, and the garden appears even more lushly green now than then... Of course, the whole area  is watered every few nights with a sprinkling system that brings water up from the river... without that, no amount of straw would keep these plants from burning to a crsip. It's hot here, 35-degree-hot day after day,  but then that's normal for the south of France, also known as the "Midi" --  hot as noon (midi) most of the summer -- which is one of the reasons I don't rent the writer's retreat studio from June through until the autumn. It'd be impossible to be comfortable enough to work during these months... So maybe it's unfair of me to show Mas Blanc during its summertime manifestation? In any event, here are a few more agricultural shots...

Two views of the potager two weeks ago... that's kale, by the way
Down in the "orchard" -- which is not really an orchard so much as an area where there are a few fruit and nut trees -- the apples are coming on nicely, but it's war now between me and the big  jays, who like to swing by during the day and peck a few holes in a few apples just for the hell of it... I didn't get the netting on soon enough this year, and my old scarecrow doesn't seem to be doing the trick somehow...
Poor old fella has really seen better days...
More later. Have to go out now and pick some beans for supper. And a few cherry tomatoes, although they'll probably not make it into the kitchen, I love popping them into my mouth when they're still warm from the vine. Life is good... particularly life-after-zona....

Sunday, 28 July 2013


He's back.

My amphibian amorata is stalking me again, although "stalking" is not perhaps the best word to describe what a frog does... he either slides or leaps, and this one is particularly acrobatic, demonstrating skills to escape capture that would be far beyond any human endeavour. (Well, he does have sticky feet, after all.)

Yes, I admire him. Yes, perhaps I even love him... but I know it won't work for him to come to live with me, and have told him so. EVEN if he were to hold still long enough for me to kiss him into princedom, we just don't have enough in common.

We're both chordata, I said, but look sweetheart, you are cold-blooded, and we are not going to make music together. This was my tough stance the other morning when I found in my kitchen sink at 7 am... and suggested that he vamoose.

Here he is scrambling out of the sink up the drainboard....
When he discerned that I was keen to catch him and get him outside, he went further up around the little kitchen window, the same window where that marvellous spider web is located. When I  opened the window thinking to toss my froggy-friend OUT, I realized I was stretching the web too far, and had to close it. Since then, the spider has done some judicious mending, and the adding of several support filaments.

Here, climbing up the side of the window, pretending to be invisible

And here, with the funnelweb spider's work in danger...
And then he made his fatal error of judgement, clinging to the lace curtain at the top of the window, believing he was hiding and couldn't be seen. Aha, I cried, and took down the brass rod with curtain attached...
Oops! Caught out!

So it was a simple matter of transferring the curtain rod to the big windowsill on the terrace, and then closing that window tightly shut, and going round to discuss this ongoing issue with Mr. Frog... I sang Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" as I prepared my speech, telling him he really could NOT live in my house, that it would kill him in the end, and I was not prepared to be responsible for that. Much as he adores me, I insisted that I am not the girl for him...

He didn't say much, just tried to get into the house again. Talk about single-minded.

Determined to find a way in, just like that foolish wagtail!
Eventually, I went indoors, as it was clear our conversation was a one-way street. And this is how I will remember him now, from the other side of the window, still trying to get into my house. "Can't we discuss this further?" I hear him, I hear him.

Amazing little critter, makes Spiderman look like a weenie amateur
And so it goes, and so it goes, and I'm the only one who knows that a tiny frog is in love with me... and possibly, in some way, I have grown to love him too. It IS rather nice to be courted, and I feel badly for rejecting him....but hey, let's be realistic, eh?

This final rather abstract shot suggests that he is now "part of my heart"...  (Reading this, remember that I am still on strong drugs to counter the pain of shingles, so maybe I sound a little crazier than usual... but really... this frog and I are having an adventure together. Or at least one of us is....)

A bit blurry but you get the dreamy idea.....

Thursday, 25 July 2013


It has been more than a week now since my diagnosis and the beginning of treatment for this case of shingles -- zona -- with which I am still afflicted. (Oh, I do like that word "afflicted", it carries with it a mantle of suffering worthy of Job....) But thanks to strong antiviral drugs and painkillers, I am on the other side of this malady, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel (more on tunnels later). Nevertheless, I will welcome a "magnetiseuse" this afternoon, who may put the final touch on my recovery.

This is one of the many ways in which life here is different from anything I knew in Canada. In the last week, on hearing of my case of shingles, four French friends have immediately said, "But you must see a healer/conjurer/witch/magnetiseur!" They come by many names, but the relevant factor is that some people are given the "gift" of healing burns -- sometimes even before they happen -- and the sensation of burning pain. It appears to be more common in this part of France than elsewhere.

When I had radiation therapy after breast cancer surgery three years ago, even the nurses at the hospital recommended that I see a healer during the six-week period of radiation, it seems to be "something everyone does". Indeed, I did make regular visits to a local "magnetiseur", Monsieur Domenichini, and so I know that the woman who is coming today will probably not touch me, but will move her hands slowly around my head, taking away the pain.

She is the wife of Eric, who helps me with garden chores I cannot manage on my own, and he says she has "the gift". One never pays directly for this treatment, as it is a "don de Dieu" and therefore cannot be "commercialized"... But I will find a way to pay Eric a little more for his work.

In the meantime, I follow my own treatment, which is to find ways to take my mind off my head (so to speak). And a couple of days ago, I found a fine focus for my attention... I was startled to find the spider web below on my kitchen window, as it seemed to have appeared overnight. It is the work of only one small creature who has made it in order to trap unwary insects... It is an intricate, beautiful killing apparatus, and as such reminds me of a great argument I had with Pierre, a French friend who lives up the hill nearby. He is an afficiando of fighter jets, and  loves to watch them do their manoeuvres over the Cevennes -- they come over this way from Salon-de-Provence to practice. He stated that he believes they are "beautiful". With much agitation, I disagreed, my point being that a killing machine can never be beautiful because of its function... And here I am, Pierre, eating my words.

Look at the engineering that has produced the attaching filaments.
 The little spider who made this marvel is called a funnelweb spider (agelenidae), and there are at least 400 varieties around the world who makes their webs into tunnels in order to trap their prey -- those in Australia can be poisonous, but here in the south of France, humans need have no worries. There are different shapes of tunnel-webs, and with this in mind I went out this morning to see what others I might find.

Look carefully in the upper righthand corner of the web.
What you see here is a massive exercise in optimism, really... the spider, having done his/her work, waits at the bottom of the tunnel for roomservice breakfast to arrive... In this case, all that's been caught is the empty husk of a cicada who has left this body behind in order to become its better, final, mating self... making that crazy buzz-saw music all day long that drives me slightly mad... At this season, as the cicadas go through this metamorphic process, you find these empty little left-over "bodies" all over the orchard and garden, attached to tree branches, iris leaves, lily stems...

Amazingly perfect, even though discarded
Ah, wouldn't it be wonderful if we human could discard our old bodies as we move from stage to stage in our lives, the way that the cicadas (in French, cigales) are able to do. I'd sure trade in mine right now...

Monday, 22 July 2013


Terrible word, shingles... Since I was diagnosed by a nice young doctor last week, it has made me feel as if I am a delapidated building covered in overlapping grey cedar shakes or worse, those pebbly oblong tiles of black tarry-asbestos. As my friend Pen declared in her email yesterday, I've been roofed....

And yes, I've tried to imagine a lovely shingle beach somewhere on the south coast of England, with the waves moving the smooth stones in a rhythmic growl... but it doesn't work.

Better by far to suffer the indignity in French, in which case I have come down with zona, the reactivation of the chicken pox virus I had as a child. I am in the zone and the zone is pain, surprising pain.

I won't bore you with all the information about this malady gleaned from GOOGLE and well meaning friends, just to say that my particular variety has limited itself to my scalp, ear and throat, and my eyes appear to be safe. However, the random shocks of electric nerve-pain are quite extraordinary,  as if some mad sadist is attacking the back of my head with an electric drill.

Enough. In times of trouble, what to do? Look out into the world and see what joys might be available close at hand as diversion from too much inward-dwelling. And for me, lying abed early morning, this is what I saw...mysterious shapes, leading my imagination in many directions....I seemed to be watching fleshy human bodies in configurations so odd and disturbing I thought of  Michelangelo's paintings let loose and gone off the rails, turning into Lucien Freud's paintings, and then into the grotesqueries of Francis Bacon's figures.. but there were moments of beauty too that were perfectly Rubenesque and then for a few moments, a silky Japanese hanging on which perfect golden leaves sailed down a dark black stream.

But of course this strangeness was all a result of early morning light coming in the screen of the bedroom window, filtered through the leaves of the micocoulier tree. So ordinary and so bewildering, so magic.

The world offers itself to us every morning, all we need do is open our hearts.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Yes, that frog again.
You know I took him outside and told him not to come back?
Well he did. Just like someone who clings on to a love affair that is SO over, this little critter would not take "no" for an answer.
Found him yesterday, in the laundry room, quite dessicated and a rather sickly colour, his tiny body hunched up under a damp sponge mop. Clearly, it was the only place he could find some comfort, but as I'd used that mop earlier to clean the kitchen floor, there was a strong aroma of MR CLEAN evaporating in the air around him.
"You stupid frog," I said, but in a kindly tone, as I used a dishrag to scoop him up and take him outside again.... and this time set him in the flowerbed at the bottom of the stairs, a lovely place full of mint and basil, paradise compared to a sponge mop.
And did he say thanks? Nope. Bounded off, his mind probably damaged by inhaling chemical fumes.  I wonder if he'll be back again.
Made me think how we humans so often continue to look for comfort even in the wrong places... how we don't listen to good advice and persist in believing that we know better than anyone else what we need. Well, that may well be true, but my adventures with Mr. Frog (okay, maybe it was Ms., but there did seem something truly masculine in his persistence) have reminded me to think carefully the next time I continue on an obsessive course. When is an obstacle something to be surmounted, and when is it a good reason to take a different direction?
Next time he turns up, I intend to have a deep philosophical discussion with la petite grenouille (the word is feminine in French, maybe that's a clue).....

I seem to be often visited by small creatures this season, and here is a baby bird who came to rest on my kitchen windowsill. I think it might be a very young redstart, but am not so good on avian identification that I can say. Sweet as butter, it sat there for a while and then flew off, leaving a small smear of poo on the sill. Thanks!

And this is the season when the garden thrives. This photo, taken last week, shows the space well weeded in preparation for the mulch of straw that goes down this week. Already I've had a small harvest of beans, a few cherry tomatoes, and several courgettes, not to mention a head of lettuce every day for good measure.
La vie est belle.

Friday, 5 July 2013

you know that frog?

You know that lovely little mediterranean tree frog whose photo I took a week or so ago? the sweet little green fellow peeking out from a flower pot one early morning?


Just found him on the stairs on my way to bed this evening... He didn't look quite the same, he was a funny brown colour.... and whether that's a kind of camouflage effect (the  tiles inside the house and on the stairs are ruddy-brick-red) or whether it was the result of being indoors and losing his natural pigment, who knows? (If you know, save me the GOOGLE time!)

So either it was the same one, or another very close relative (perhaps the equivalent of the black sheep in the family), but there he was, and both of us were startled, and one of us was deeply alarmed. His reaction was to jump under the bookshelves at the top of the stairs. Mine, was to try to figure out how to get him outside again... not that I would be fearful of having a frog in the house, but I'd feel awful finding his dead little body some day under or behind some piece of furniture.

It took some time, but eventually I devised a clever system involving a tea strainer and the New York Review of Books, and using these two implements scooped him up and got him out the door. This did not happen as easily as it might sound, there were a few near-misses and some terrifying moment for the frog...  

But just as the bell over at the Mairie was ringing ten chimes to mark the hour, Mr. Frog and I parted company, and I told him, as nicely as I could, to clear out and not come back.

Dear Reader: Should I have kissed him?