Sunday, 30 December 2012

webby surprises


I was recently surprised -- that is, right now, today,  at the end of 2012 -- by this blog post by Catherine Zobal Dent  -- her informative and cross-conversational post Signs, Sentences and Thunder, which  had as its focus in mid-November two of the stories from my first collection, THE ELIZABETH STORIES.... I can't tell you (well, yes I can) how heartening it is for an author to learn that her work is still being read many years after having been published,  and that her notions about the human condition are still in some way relevant...

As a latecomer to the world of blogging, I am still mesmerised by the very idea that  devoted readers are exchanging views in this way... It is not yet my way but  -- who knows?  I am so thrilled by the positive comments about my stories on this website, I may want to enter the fray myself to add my own remarks concerning books -- those I have liked or loved, that is. I'd rather not do another writer harm by making negative comments here.

In the meantime, thank you Catherine Zobal Dent, whoever you are.... Come vist me at LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT website some day....

As we bid a final farewell to 2012, here is a photo taken down on the Mediterranean not so long ago...

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

SOLSTICE MORNING.... BOXING DAY

In the happy belief that no one is paying attention to my blog -- or anyone else's -- this time of year, I've not been assiduous in keeping up my weekly patter... But I intend to remedy that omission now with a few lines. Somehow we're already well along into Boxing Day morning, but what I want to talk about is the morning I woke up to the sunrise below... December 21, Solstice, the turning of the seasons, the coming of the light -- and not the end of the world.

Woke up, it was a solstice morning, and the first thing that I saw....
For me, this glorious sky is a good omen of all that is to come, and I want to share it with you, whoever you are reading these lines.

Now we're several days past this point, Christmas has come and gone, and we can feel the flow of time pulling us forward. The wrapping paper from the Christmas presents has been gathered and burnt in the fire place, and the living room is beginning to look normal again, with a few presents still stacked here and there. One of my favorite gifts was a CD of Christmas music recorded a few years ago on Toronto Island --  YET I WILL BE MERRY, sung by KITH & KIN, who are Ivy Mairi, Martha, and Kathleen Farquhar-McDonnell... their carols made a wonderful addition to Christmas morning.

This year,  miraculously all my Christmas wishes were fulfilled, among them  Alice Munro's new collection DEAR LIFE tempting me to just cozy down on the sofa and read and read and read....

However,  after several days of rain and mist which provided a good reason to stay indoors,  the sun is shining brightly this morning and the hills beckon. It's warmer than usual just now -- 12 degrees Celsius -- but that doesn't mean we won't have bitter cold later in the winter, and usually a few days of snow. Today, however, is perfect for a walk and my daughter & I are going to tackle a fairly steep trail on the other side of Anduze that will give us a terrific view of the snow-capped Cévennes mountains in the distance. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

almost too much to carry

Friday evening, and plans already being made for Saturday morning at the Uzes market where I will go with my daughter who is here visiting from Toronto... A happy enough evening, until  the sick, awful shock from the American news about the school shooting in Connecticut...And I note that on my "followed blogs" there is a response to this tragedy from my good friend Lauren, who has posted music, "Prayer for the Children", being sung by the Baylor choir... And what else can one do, in such a situation? We need to find ways to connect, to relate, to spread out threads of compassion among friends and strangers to draw us together for however long it takes to gather strength from each other and weave ourselves back into some cohesive idea of what it means to be human... and to somehow go on, bewildered by evil and fearful of the constant threat of violence. Now, I don't mean that the threat we feel is only a "it could happen to me" personal fear..... No, our entire planet is threatened by violence, of so many different varieties that my head spins crazily even contemplating this notion. Clearly a subject to be addressed in blogs-to-come...

Lauren is a Canadian fiction writer (I believe I've mentioned her and her work earlier, and I'll speak of her most recent novel, OUR DAILY BREAD, another time)... For now, you might want to check her site, which can be found at http://laurenbdavis.com/blog



And you look at this box of children's toys, for sale at a flea market here in Anduze not long ago, and  you begin to truly consider the origins of the violence that intrudes even into the lives of small children... where does it start and how can we stop it? And can we? Or are we meant to accept it as part of the human condition? Oh, surely not...
**
I also notice some mail in this evening from another wonderful writer-friend, Elizabeth Hay, who has become one of Canada's foremost novelists in the past few years (although she's also a dab hand at short stories). Lizzie and I have been friends since being introduced many years ago by our mutual friend Sheila -- with whom I hitch-hiked my way through Europe back in the mid-60s, you may recall that  I've spoken of her recently as she came down from Amsterdam for a visit with my Dutch friend Conny....

I cannot imagine my world without Lizzie.... An indispensable friend... une amie indispensable... (SAME word, but it sounds utterly different in English or French, depending on the syllabic stress....And I find my attitude toward the word itself alters slightly too... Somehow I prefer the French sound of it...)  You no doubt already know her work,  so check out her blog too, she only posts when she has something elegant or funny or insightful to say... www.elizabethhay.com/blog/

And while I am speaking of friends with blogs, it's a good time to mention my dear friend Beth Kaplan, who came here to LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT at the end of March for a few days, and who posted lots of photos and info about my place on her site... I follow her now -- as I am learning the ins and outs of this new world of blogging -- and am always rewarded by what I read, whether it's her personal take on events in her life OR her writerly overview on something she's read or heard. I always come away feeling richer and wiser.... www.elizabethkaplan.blogspot.com/


 and here we are, Beth and me, last March when she was here at LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT...
we were supposed to be discussing her latest draft, but I have a pretty good idea, looking at this photo now,
 that we had edged over into more chummy terrain...we go back a long way, after all... Beth read "Celia Behind Me" --from THE ELIZABETH STORIES -- back in the 1980s on CBC Radio's ANTHOLOGY, that incredible repository of Canadian short stories, under the careful and affectionate guidance of Robert Weaver.



Sunday, 2 December 2012

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

It's been one of those days that, now that it is nearly over, I am hard pressed to describe, hours that have blended into each other in the most extraordinary way to make a whole Sunday... Some outdoor work (raking leaves that have fallen from the micocoulier tree that resides by the house and covers the terrace with its leaves... taking these leaves down to the fruit trees to spread around the base of their trunks to keep them warm over the coming winter), some sorting of papers, some reading of manuscripts sent by email in the Humber School for Writers' correspondence program (even though I keep saying I don't work on weekends), a long SKYPE call with a friend in Hobart, Tasmania, and making vegetable soup that will see me through the week... and what else? Somehow, the day fills itself, and I find myself finally at the end of it sitting by the fire, watching the embers glow, listening again to Miles Davis (KIND OF BLUE) and yes, feeling a little blue. As it happens, I was listening to this CD exactly a year ago -- you ask how can I recall? strange but true -- and the 12 months since then have utterly collapsed, just as today has done.

Blue, yes, but not so blue that I am not rejoicing in the memory of last weekend in Marseille, where there was so much stimulation for all my senses, and where I came across an inscription -- carved in stone across the portico of the restored Opera House -- that has taken up residence in my head ever since. Something to think about -- and I offer it to you, dear reader... Here it is in its original French, and then with my (no doubt imperfect) translation.... (remember, I do not have the capacity to add accents on this blog, at least not until Amanda, my friend from TEAPOTES who helps me with this blog, shows me how).

L'art recoit la beaute d'Aphrodite, le rhythme d'Apollon, l'equilibre de Pallas et doit a Dioynsius le mouvement et la vie.
**
Art receives its beauty from Aphrodite, its rhythm from Apollo, its order & balance from Athena and to Dionysius, it owes its movement and its life.
**
Good writing -- perfect art -- requires all of the above, doesn't it?  And it should be delicious, in some way too... no?


Life is not a bowl of cherries


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

See? It's Already Tuesday....

In fact, Tuesday is nearly over now as I write these lines, still remembering what an interesting weekend I spent in Marseille. For anyone coming to LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT in future, I will be promoting a visit to this city, and will probably recommend travelling as I did, by train, into the central St. Charles station, rather than trying to drive -- as negotiating the crowded and often narrow streets is a nightmare scenario for anyone not already accustomed to it.

These shots that follow don't show Marseille-the-port-city so much as they indicate what caught my eye and made the trip special in a visual way.... That is, they aren't identifiable as "Marseille"  -- except that the colour and energy and movement in this urban street art could hardly happen elsewhere. It surely doesn't exist out here in the vineyards... Here's one garage door that caught my eye as I passed...

Yet again, a photo has come in sideways, but you get the idea,
this is really a wonderful painting however you look at it
 And here's a shop front with the painting sprayed on the metal shutters that pull down at night. Such marvellous inventiveness -- and such a great 1970s look! (Saw a lot of 1060s and 1970s art, which to my mind seems quite recent but is clearly VERY retro to the young who are having fun with it...)

This one caught my fancy, something cheerfully bubbly about it.


And just one more before I say goodnight. This little scrawled heart on a blue wooden shutter seems to me so perfect in itself  -- it's heart-breaking, really... Who drew it? and why? Ah, there's a song coming to mind now, I can hear the first notes...
Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment... Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie.....

Ah, c'est vrai, c'est vrai...






Monday, 26 November 2012

MARSEILLE & FRIENDSHIP

Well friends, here we are on a grey old Monday, like so many other grey old Mondays it has a kind of comforting sameness about it... We know that this too shall pass, we can relax a little. Tuesday WILL come, this won't last forever...


Here are Pierre and his sister Danielle in the restaurant
Le Nautica des Gourdes, outside Marseille
 Not that I have any reason to complain about this Monday, having spent the past weekend in Marseille with dear old friends -- what a great combination. An exciting port city that is pure pleasure to discover by foot (we walked for hours), and the delight inherent in good conversation that has its foundation in times past. Indeed, more than four decades have passed since I was teaching Theatre Arts in Timmins, and met Pierre (then a student who had a part in a play I was producing) and his sister Danielle (then a teacher in another high school). And now we find ourselves walking the streets of Marseille (where Pierre lives), a far cry from Timmins -- or even Toronto, for that matter, a city we all still love.

Even though we don't often see each other, we  continue to share many interests in common, among them an enjoyment of fine food &wine, and a love of reading. Although we did have a marvellous lunch in a seaside restaurant in Les Gourdes outside the city, I have to say that the next day's lunch prepared by Pierre was equally delicious. Talking and eating and laughing, accompanied by a good red wine -- what could be better? Let me urge you, dear reader.... invite someone for lunch as soon as you can!

Sunday lunch at home with Ian, Pierre and Danielle,
absolutely divine (tiny stuffed pumpkins, for a start!)
Marseille offers marvellous opportunities for photography, and I couldn't resist hauling out my camera several times a day... The narrow streets, the port full of sailboats at rest, the splendid architecture of public buildings such as the Prefecture (political power & pride exemplified in stone), the happy jumble of people in street markets where vendors are selling everything from watches to clementines to fresh fish...All of it was asking to be captured by a click of my shutter, and of course most of it now resides somewhere behind my eyes in memory...The trick is, of course, to find the words to keep it all fresh.

This view of Notre-Dame de la Garde seemed a dramatic close
to the end of a perfect day exploring Marseille
.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

And FURTHER....(re: School Days)

Well, now that I'm in school-teacher mode, I have a few things to say, so listen up....

No, just kidding, as is my wont... But it IS true that I did develop certain strict & stern habits of character over my years in the classroom... and also  before that, as a copy editor and proof reader, in my first job,  back in the Golden Age when publishing companies actually DID hire young university graduates to make sure that there were no errors of any kind -- typographical, factual or grammatical
 -- on the page of any book they published. We learned to care, deeply -- our jobs and our lives depended on it -- about perfection. And we abhored mediocrity, which  was associated with careless and shabby English usage as well as a host of other sins.

I was reminded of this recently when someone drew my attention to a blog -- www.jenniferneri.com -- in which Jennifer, bless her heart, remarks on how she's seen  me on television, delivering a half-hour talk (videotaped at Humber College many many years ago) about how important I think it is to "get things right" ... And she quotes me as saying that I believe the world has enough mediocrity,  that there is already an abundance of of mediocre books, we don't need more. What we DO need are writers with huge hearts and open minds who care deeply and passionately not only about their subject matter but also about the craft of writing itself... language, punctuation, grammar... the tools and the material out of which we make our literature.

I so appreciated being quoted by Jennifer, and I felt perhaps I'd encountered a kindred soul, until I read a little further in her blog and found that HUGGAN (the name I took when I married, as I preferred it to my father's name) had been altered along the way to HUGGINS.... Now, that's carelessness, which leads to mediocrity... And it's a good reminder to me, too, as in writing a blog one can  so easily slip into "chatty mode" and not pay attention to particulars...I like Jennifer's blog a lot, but this did shake me...and reminded me to look to my own flaws and faults.

For example, I neglected to give a photo credit to my dear friend SANDY (who took the shot of me with Michelle, who runs L'Atelier), in the blog post a couple of days ago. Sandy was Sandra when I met her back in 1978 at Carleton University where she was a journalism professor and my husband Bob was taking his Masters in Journalism on his sabbatical from Loyalist College in Belleville.  She and I were of an age and we struck up a good friendship then, which has carried on even though she's now living in Canberra and has become an Australian citizen, and I find myself  continuing as a Canadian but living in France. We keep in touch regularly, see each other frequently, and have one of those marvellous connections that is  really life-sustaining.

Where would any of us be without our friends, eh? Well, that's another blog for another day.
Maybe tomorrow...

SCHOOL DAYS

Long ago, in another time and place -- seems now like another universe as well as another century -- I was an Ontario high school teacher, in places as diverse as Oakville, Scarborough and Timmins. I taught English and Theatre Arts and what was then called Mass Media -- remember those days?

In the decades since then, I've been much happier using whatever skills I acquired in the classroom to lead creative writing workshops instead -- smaller groups of motivated students make an enormous difference to a teacher's ability to transmit information, to encourage and direct and support. Everybody ends up happier and healthier when class size is limited... And so I watch  with much interest and concern and sympathy the struggle going on right now for Ontario secondary school teachers in their negotiations with the provincial government.

This week, I visited a local high school, the Lycee Jacques Prevert,  in St. Christol-les-Ales, a small town a few kilometres from Tornac. Through my friend Aline at TEAPOTES in Anduze, I recently met Edith,  a young Frenchwoman who teaches English, who asked me to come to her class to speak about Canada. In the designated program of study this term there's a chapter on "Britain and the Commonwealth", and it was in this regard that she asked me to talk with the students. For one thing, so that they could hear a Canadian English accent, as opposed to the English-English they might hear on this side of the pond... and for another, so that I could talk about how Canada was "a colony" a long time ago, but nowadays enjoys a very different relationship with the "mother country"... and perhaps explain how the Commonwealth was exactly what the word implies... an economic sharing of financial bounty among 54 countries in a fashion much more equal and mutually beneficial  than in the days of the empire.

Edith chose only 15 students (from a class of 35)  who had prepared by reading a short story of mine called "End of the Empire" (included in my second collection YOU NEVER KNOW), which concerns the way that Canadian affilation and affection began to switch from England to the United States during the 1950s.  But this period seemed so distant to the students, who had none of the cultural references (King George VI or Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys), that I had to do much explaining of "how times were different then".

The students -- all of them 16 -- were terribly shy and embarrassed to speak English even though I amused them by speaking their language in my awful "Anglo" accent, assuring them that they couldn't do worse in mine.  As we spent our hour in the library, the agony of being a high school teacher came back to me full force, and this was an EASY, pleasant little visit... Trying to capture and keep the attention of teenagers is a hellishly difficult task!

But we did have a pleasant hour in the end, although I must say their interest in the Commonwealth -- or in Canada's role -- was minimal. Their questions for me about my country were steeped in stereotypical imagery (snow, mountains, Niagara Falls, hockey, maple syrup) and when I asked if they knew any Canadian artists, writers or musicians, you know what they said. Yes, Celine Dion.
Still, I am glad to have been invited... I'd nearly  forgotten how utterly charming adolescents can be... Here's a view of Edith and some of her students, the photo was taken by Molly, a young woman from Colorado who is working at the Lycee this term.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

SMALL PLEASURES

There are times, I admit, that I reckon my life would be easier if I had one of those super modern gas fires that look like fluttering flames around a few logs in the fireplace, and the illusion -- as well as the heat -- could be acquired with the flick of a switch. But for me to achieve the same effect, I must hie myself down to the wood pile beneath the terrace and fill up two big blue plastic IKEA bags with logs and kindling, and haul them up the stone steps into the house and unload them in the woodbox... And then, cleaning the glass doors on the fireplace insert... And then, the matter of setting the fire with crumpled newspapers and twigs gathered on my walks in the hills... And then, feeling as if I am accomplishing my Girl Guide Badge in firelighting, one match and.... no, it'll take a second, it almost always does. But soon, the fire is blazing, and I have burned a few calories myself in getting it started. So that's the payoff... that, and the physical effort that puts me in touch with the world.

(And yes, I know that since we've read the recent story in the international press about IKEA using slave-prisoner labout in East Germany in the 1980s that I should boycott it, but hey, the bags are so useful, and I already have them here, okay?)

It is getting colder as each week passes, and that's why I close down LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT until the springtime. Staying in the barn during the winter would require an electric  heater to be on most of the time, and with the cost of electricity as it is in France, it wouldn't be a sensible plan, or even a comfortable one, at all... So this is just to say that the retreat opens again in  mid-March, and the last two weeks of March are already booked by Lindy,  a writer from Kingston, Ontario... You might want to visit HER blog, especially if you've  already been enjoying my friend Kim Moritsugu's food blog THE HUNGRY NOVELIST.... www.hungrynovelist.wordpress.com/

 Lindy's blog is mainly dedicated to recipes from a small restaurant in the Kingston area,
and you can access the blog by going to www.lindymechefske.com (A Taste of Wintergreen).

So the barn -- and its cozy bedsitting room -- are ready for occupancy from April through to June, and I am hoping for a range of writers and artists who will find the space inspiring -- and perhaps inspire me as well. The landscape here presents a wonderful challenge to photographers and painters, and the absolute quiet of this place -- le Mas Blanc -- provides an excellent spot for writers or composers or musicians who need silence. ( I do admit, I am hoping for a cellist to come some day....)

In the last few weeks, having a series of visitors from Canada and Australia, I took  several of these women visitors up to the village of St. Hippolyte to a small shop called simply L'Atelier... This is where I have been buying my clothes for the last five years, and I have been happy to be able to share this magic place ...And now, in Amsterdam, Melbourne, Canberra, Victoria, Toronto, Marysville and San Jose, Costa Rica, there are women wearing beautiful clothes designed and sewn by my friend Michelle and her various assistants.  What is magic about this shop is that these women visitors come in an array of sizes and ages with varied tastes and requirements for their wardrobe... And each one of them seems able to find just the right dress, or jacket, or perfect little skimmy "top" or pullover or tunic or pair of pants.. and every one of them walks away feeling that she has now found her best look ever.

How Michelle accomplishes this is a mystery, and I am soon going to be interviewing her to discover her secrets. Strangely, I've never cared much about clothes until I came across L'Atelier, and this has quite changed my life... and influenced the way I think not only about myself, but about how we present ourselves  -- in our physical lives, and in our literary lives, as well... Presentation is all about style, isn't it?  And a writer who has an authentic voice is one who feels comfortable in  herself or himself and who uses language that is appropriate to that "self"...When we say that we admire a fine writer's "Style", I think we mean the voice is true, not false... just as the best clothing is that in which we feel absolutely comfortable, as if we belong in whatever we're wearing.


Here I am with Michelle, wearing one of her tunics,
with a delicate scarf knitted by my friend Annie


Thursday, 15 November 2012

READING AND WALKING

I must count as a pretty boring person -- yes, I DO know that this blog is not exactly a ball of fire either -- as I admit my two favorite leisure activities are getting up & going for long walks and sitting down for long, even longer reads. Books & Boots -- that'd be my ideal B&B .... in the hills here in the Cevennes, or in the dales in Yorkshire where I  go walking with my sister, or perhaps in some hamlet in the Adirondacks where my husband and daughter and I used to spend hiking holidays. In another life, in a parallel universe, I am the proprietor of such an inn or auberge, urging my clientele to balance reading with walking and walking with reading.

Today has been the kind of November day that puts to shame everything I've said so far about this month, calling it damp and cold and not-nice (except for being a month of birthdays) ...Today has been sublime... sunny, warm, and absolutely perfect for a really good walk involving some steep paths -- a bit of sweat, good for the heart -- and some lovely meandering flat bits through pine forests after the climb is over. Thanks to my friend Peter  ( who, with  my friend Dorothy, took care of Mas Blanc during the summer while I was in Canada), I have a new stack of marked maps showing routes up in the hills within a stone's throw from where I live, and I am setting out now to time these walks so I have an idea how long they take and whether they are "snack" walks or "real lunch" walks.. Yes, food is always on your mind if you live in France, and a walk without some kind of little picnic is hardly a walk at all.

I took some photos today I'll attach at the end of this... But now, back to books...Yesterday, I went up to the nearby city of Ales to run some errands and to have coffee with the Scottish poet Sharon Black, who has become one of my very good friends here. I brought up the November Birthday issue with her -- why are there so many? -- and she solved it nicely. "Valentine's Day Evening", she said, and then also, in this part of the world, "those long cold February nights when there's nothing to do but...." So that answers that!

Sharon published a book of poems last year (TO KNOW BEDROCK, pindroppress, London, UK) that so impressed me I have sent it to several friends, in Canada and Australia, who have responded with much admiration and delight. I recommend you visit her website, which is easily found simply by googling her name, SHARON BLACK. She's a beautiful woman and a wonderful friend, and even in my times of distress -- of which there have been many in the last two years -- Sharon always cheers me. My husband liked her enormously too, and for that reason I asked her to read Billy Collins' poem THE DEAD at the memorial afternoon we had for Bob last year, as that poem was one of his favorites. But her poems are well worth a read themselves, believe me.

Sharon and I share books back and forth and she's just given me a collection by Elizabeth Barrett  (NOT the one who married Robert Browning), and at the same time has returned one of mine she says she really loves and so I'm going to order it for her from Pedlar Press in Toronto. The collection is called  SLOW CURVE OUT, and the poet is Maureen Scott Harris, whose earlier collection DROWNING LESSONS won the Trillium Prize for poetry in 2005. Sharon and I agree completely ...these are marvellous poems. Maureen's subject matter is the natural world and she manages to bring it so close you feel you are truly part of her world. Which you are... That's the magic of it.... Easy to acquire....

More books tomorrow. And more websites to check too... For now, a few of the day's photos, to give you an idea of just how beautiful this mid-November day has been. (My friend Bob Ferguson celebrated his birthday yesterday by going to the Bob Dylan concert in Toronto...now that's a terrific way to acknowledge that the passage of years doesn't mean a thing....there must be an entirely appropriate line from Dylan's lyrics that could pull this to a close, what might it be? )

There would be more photos to share except that they're suddenly deciding for themselves to slot in sideways. WHY does this happen? WHO can help?

It's the way these vineleaves LOOK like wine itself that knocks me out...
You pass this vineyard on the way to the path up into the hills


These are the berries on the "arbousier" tree, known as the strawberry tree for obvious reasons... Ripe for picking, all along the path...


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

STRANGE MONTH, NOVEMBER

You know, I don't know anyone who would choose this one as their "favorite month", and yet I seem to have an extraordinarily large number of friends who were born in November, and they must, in some fashion, identify with this time of year, wouldn't you think? Not only my old university chum Sally on the 4th but also, that same day, my friend Jelena turned EIGHT... and later this month, on the 27th, her sister Sadie will turn SIX! As anyone growing old can attest, it is important to have younger friends...I love sharing in their excitement at the notion of "growing up"...They LOVE November, and when I see it through their eyes, so do I....it is part of the great flow of change, and pehaps its most endearing aspect it that it never seems to last as long as March, its sister-month  in "aaarrrgh, dontcha hate the weather just now?"

Also in November I have sent cards to Audrey and Peggy, emails to several Cousins as well as to friends such as Bill Exley, one of the foremost musicians in the NIHILIST SPASM BAND (the musical group begun in the mid 1960s by London Ontario artist Greg Curnoe, who died  in a bicylce accident on November 14, 1992, a few days before what would have been his birthday). Greg was a good friend of mine and I feel his influence still -- I think of him every November, but that's another story.

 I can't quite work out why November seems to be the month of birthdays, but it is... and at its tail end comes the birthday my old chum Sheila, with whom I long-ago hitch-hiked around Europe in 1967 and who just recently came down from Amsterdam to visit Mas Blanc. Time passes, and the only correct gesture in response to that is -- CELEBRATION!

Ah, but growing old does have its down-side, and the fearful possibility of bones breaking hovers over us as we (those of us born during the Second World War) enter the stage of the broken wrist... the fractured hip... the shattered elbow... the torn ankle ligaments... We count ourselves lucky every year we escape injury and I am happy to report that friendly gossip concerning my own "serious fall" this summer has been slightly exaggerated... Indeed, I did have a tumble, and if you've heard that I fell off a cliff you can now reduce that dramatic story to "slipping down a steep slope"... It was not as bad as people made out -- well, I admit, I did make a bit of a fuss at the time and the drop left me a bit shaken --  but apart from some bruising I recovered quickly, thanks of course to ARNICA.

If you don't know about the magical anti-bruising qualities of the herbal remedy ARNICA, you should... Here in France it is prescribed both before and after surgery in the hospitals, as its properties are well established and respected.  It comes from a daisy-like flowering plant that grows in the high dry mountains of this region, and somehow I feel that's part of why is works so well here, but I have tried it in Toronto too and it is just as effective!

And yes, this is a kind of "self-advertising", I suppose, since one of the final short stories in the fiction-section of BELONGING: HOME AWAY FROM HOME, is titled "Arnica", and has at its centre a scene in which the application of arnica has a positive effect. I am so pleased when I hear that readers are discovering BELONGING, just as I am when I hear that THE ELIZABETH STORIES is having a resurgence, thanks to Kerry Clare -- and Shashi Bhatt, who has mentioned the book  recently in an interview as well. Wonderful to feel that a character I created so long ago is still alive and well in the imagination of readers. She stays young -- and thus, so do I, in some strange way.

Now, one of the REAL things that keeps me young (maybe it even helps my bones, who knows?)  is my ongoing connection with writers in the Humber correspondence program, and although they are not always young themselves, their enthusiasm for various writing projects always gathers me up in a whirlwind of energy and excitement. Sometimes there is publishing pay-off, and sometimes not... but what everyone seems to agree, is that writing itself is a way to stay firmly in the world, and as long as that's the case, you never grow old.

I am proud to be associated with so many of the writers I've worked with, none more than GRETCHEN ROEDDE, whose memoir  A DOCTOR'S QUEST (published by Dundurn Press a few weeks ago) is a wonderful book, outlining her experiences travelling overseas as a doctor in developing countries working to help improve maternal and child health, very often in dangerous or difficult situations. The memoir is a rivetting blend of Gretchen's own perceptions and reflections on her various adventures and medical interventions as well as the people she has worked with and  met through her work. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable -- realizing how easy we have it in Canada (access to health care, clean water, social equality, etc.) -- then at least one of her aims will have been realized.

Another of my Humber writers is Laura Rock, who writes to share the good news that an essay she's written will be included in the anthology HOW TO EXPECT WHAT YOU'RE NOT EXPECTING, coming out from Touchwood Press in Victoria BC next spring... I'll have more on this later

Okay, it's not the Gatineau in full glory, but it's not bad, eh?
This is just down the river from Mas Blanc, this past week...
I'll leave you now with this shot of the vineyards down the valley from where I live, blazing colour... and I'll be back tomorrow with some further chat about writers and the writing life... November does seem to provide us with a gentle entry into the season of contemplation.... So much to think about, and so little time.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

REMEMBRANCE DAY


Piper at Vimy Ridge Remembrance Day Ceremonies, 2011
 It has been said of me that I am such a sentimentalist that every day is "remembrance day" for me... and in fact I don't take this teasing badly, as I believe that our memories are essential ballast that keep us sailing forward in some sort of balanced fashion. Remembering the First World War -- and the end of it, on November 11, 1918 -- is out of the question for any of us living now, but we can remember other wars, and other battles, and other times of conflict, personal or political or international, and meditate upon those aspects of  human nature that we deplore, and those we admire and seek to emulate. Even for those of us of pacifist persuasion, this is a good day to contemplate clear-thinking courage.  Last year at this time, with my friends Conny & Sheila & Brian,  I took a tour of several WWI cemeteries in France and Belgium, and we were fortunate to be  present at Vimy Ridge on the very day of the remembrance ceremonies. It was an enormously poignant occasion -- speeches, music, veterans carrying flags and of course a piper, whose playing brought tears to our eyes. I've always had a special place in my heart for the bagpipes, as did my mother, and I have always been very proud that my late husband's cousin John was a pipe-major of some reknown. Here's the piper from Vimy last year, and I regret he will remain nameless.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Vimy Ridge was to see the monument about which I'd read a few years ago in Jane Urquhart's THE STONE CARVERS, a novel that just about everyone has read but, if you are one of those few who have not, I recommend that you hie yourself off to a bookstore or the library to remedy this lack. I went back to the novel after my visit to Vimy, and found it even richer the second time.


The wonderful waterfall in the Ourne, November 11, 2012 
 Not much time for reading these days, as the days dwindle down to a precious few -- those final autumn days suitable for planting the last of the tulip bulbs among other outdoor chores. There has been a lot of rain in the last while, which makes the heavy clay soil here much easier to dig, so I'm doing as much work as I can before the inevitable cold weather comes. The rain has made a glorious change in the little stream that runs by Mas Blanc, and now there's a wonderfully loud waterfall again, loud enough that it can even be heard indoors... white noise, indeed.

And as you can see, the rain has had a marvellous effect on the cistern below my terrace, an enormous repository for spring-water that flows beneath the property, especially after heavy rainfall. The cisten was built in the 1700s, and until the flood of 2002 had a red-brick roof with a metal door that could open into the deep cavern so that the water was accessible. Now there's a flagstone roof and a small hole for the hose that can be inserted if we need to pump out water. When it is full to overflowing, as it is here, there's something magic in this  precious abundance. Makes me want to write a poem about happiness.

Sometimes joy, like water,  cannot be contained......

Sunday, 4 November 2012

NOVEMBER HAS BEGUN GREY & COLD

November 4, my friend Sally's birthday... Tomorrow, Guy Fawkes Day -- celebrated here in France by little clutches of English expatriate residents in various ways -- and, weather permitting, there'll be a bonfire or two and maybe some smallish fireworks displays in back gardens. There are a surprising number of English residents around Tornac and Anduze -- hence the popularity of the tea shop I've already mentioned earlier, TEAPOTES. Of course, success depends on adaptability, and TEAPOTES has made itself a fixture in Anduze by also providing excellent coffee as well as buttery teacakes and scones.  It has also become a favorite meeting spot for French locals, and afternoon classes in French & English are well attended. I've made an arrangement with a retired French teacher (Marie-Ange) to meet once a week over afternoon tea or coffee at TEAPOTES, where we spend an hour chatting... She speaks English and I correct her, and I speak French and she corrects me... It's a pretty good system so far, although I think she finds herself busier correcting me than I do her.

Still, I have to declare with some pride a kind of linguistic breakthrough experienced this past week when I went to the cinema with my English pal Joanna, she who is married to a Frenchman and thus is really completely bilingual. We went to see AMOUR, the Michel Haneke film about the elderly couple facing illness and death together, that won the Palme D'Or at Cannes this past May -- and well might it have won, for it is a film I can't recommend highly enough. Tough to watch, but worth every minute. Brilliant, intelligent, important.  And what was really important for ME, watching the film --in French without subtitles -- is that I understood at least 80%, perhaps even more... Now, it does not escape me that the dialogue was extremely simple, infrequent, and delivered in a slow fashion as befits the elderly.... Nevertheless, I have gained some courage and confidence and may continue now to hie off to French films without subtitles...

Living in two languages is, they tell us, good for the brain. I hope so... But even if it's not good for me in some avoiding-Alzheimer's-kind-of-way, it does provide more scope, more enjoyment, more delight in the sound of words themselves...

I mentioned Kerry Clare's site www.picklemethis.com a few days ago, and must draw your attention to it again as she has added to her initial comments about THE ELIZABETH STORIES now that she has read the whole book. It's wonderful to feel so warmed by her appreciation for the stories, especially on this chilly, dark, rainy November evening...Indeed, I have to nick back downstairs to add some logs to the fire.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

DAMP & COLD HALLOWE'EN

Although there's not much in the way of real Hallowe'en festivities here in the French countryside, in the nearby city of Ales this morning I noticed pumpkin&witch decorations in a few shop windows and in the big supermarket. Here, the real holiday is tomorrow, TOUSSAINT (All Saint's Day) when schools and businesses are closed, and people visit cemetaries to embellish the graves with flowers -- usually pots of chrysanthemums but cyclamens have become more popular in the last decade or so. Still, it is mainly mums, and so much associated are they with the act of honouring the dead that they are not acceptable as hostess flowers (bringing a bouquet when one is invited to dinner is more the custom than bringing a bottle of wine, for the latter implies that you don't have confidence in your host's cellar).

It's rainy and cold, and I hear that it's rainy and cold in Toronto today too, which makes the trooping around neighborhoods in costumes a bit dismal for all concerned, little kids and big kids and parents alike. And with the city still recovering from the impact of the last few days' storm weather, this may be a Hallowe'en to avoid and forget.

Until today we've had good weather here,and the vineyards are starting to colour up nicely. It's not exactly the Gatineau show of maple and beech and birch glowing ruby and gold, but it'll do, it'll do...
Imagine an entire vineyard shining in the sunlight....
Given the rainy weather today, I've spent a bit more time at my desk, and want to pass on some very interesting writerly blogs here that can provide enjoyment and information if you have the wish to investigate. One is by an American friend of mine in Michigan, Michael Steinberg, whose blog focuses on non-fiction writing (this is his specialty, both as writer and as teacher). Do have a look

http://www.mjsteinberg.net/blog.htm.

Another one you shouldn't miss is a site devoted to science writing by a terrific Canadian writer, Kimberly Gerson...  A few years together we worked together in the Humber correspondence program, and I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for the way she embraces the natural world...Expand your horizons and check it out

http://kimberlygerson.com/

And the last one here I've just begun exploring, it's called PICKLE ME THIS by a Toronto writer and teacher and critic whose name is Kerry Clare. I was sent it by my friend Susan Swan (whose new novel THE WESTERN LIGHT is a must-read, especially if you were a fan of her earlier novel THE WIVES OF BATH but even if not...), so that I would be aware that my collection THE ELIZABETH STORIES, nearly 30 years old, is still having a life. Ah, there's nothing so satisfying for a writer than to know that a book continues to be read.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

OCTOBER 25

oops, it's gone sideways again! who can help me fix this?
So as October draws slowly to a close, the season of  ripe fruitfulness does likewise, and I find myself making grape jelly again -- as I do every year, using the grapes from the vine that winds itself up the brickwork beneath the front terrace. It has always been here, and I feel a kind of housewifely obligation to use what it yields for a few jars -- 6 this year -- of dark purple jelly, shining and brilliant on the spoon before it melts a little on the hot toast, or blends itself into a pot of yoghurt. It is a crazy "waste of time" in some ways, as it is so labour-intensive, but aftrer a few hours of picking, sorting, smushing, boiling, dripping through a muslin bag and boiling again, pouring into jars and sealing with wax, voila! writing the labels to stick on the lids, I have an enormous feeling of satisfaction. Here are the grapes, pre-jelly.


some of this year's apple crop, stored in the cellar
Now there are still lots of apples in the cellar for making apple sauce, and apple pie (particularly Aunt Christine's Apple Pie, a big favorite with Mas Blanc guests), and there is a large bag of almonds ready for someone to crack during the Christmas season. The apricots are now happily jammed in jars with a few marischino cherries for colour, and the plums? well the plums didn't do well, same as the cherries that were eaten by enormous beetles -- done in by forces of nature.  It'll be a bad year for the olives this year too, on account of that freeze that came in February, and I am not even going to try to gather them, as there'll not be enough to make a difference at the mill. There have certainly been some happy days picking olives in the past, but not this year. I can never spend time out among the olive trees without missing Bob, my husband of 40 years, who was so much part of this place, Mas Blanc.


 Only a few years ago, Bob and I, working together, picking olives
The last of my visitors has been taken to the train station in Nimes, and now there is a quiet period of reflection to go along with the work of cleaning up the garden and finishing the painting of the shutters -- the wood is always painted blue, and the job is being done this year by my friend David, partner of my friend Patricia... whereas I am painting the metal hinges and bars with shiny black "non-rust" paint, a most satisfying persnickity job one must accomplish with a very small brush. It is the editorial finishing touch.

And I will finish now, for tonight. Mas Blanc is resting under a sky filled with stars, and a moon that is filling out nicely. A good way to end the day.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Glorious October

It has been a warm dry autumn here, and although the level of water in the river (well, stream) Ourne is at the lowest I've ever seen it in fourteen years, there's still enough blow the old mill across from us for my neighbour to enjoy getting out his little "boat" occasionally for a nice end-of-day float...This shot was taken only a week or two ago.



But the light is shifting now, there's a change in the angle of sunlight flooding the south terrace...nevertheless most days this month, when there haven't been visitors to Mas Blanc, I've been able to sunbathe in the early afternoon. However, there have been so many visitors  -- Australians following Canadians for the past several weeks -- that my tanning hours have been severely curtailed. However, I am not complaining, as the good company has been a tonic, and some of these friends have lent their hand to various chores on the property.  When my friends Garth & Annie from Victoria were here, Garth did some serious cutting of bamboo that grows below the north terrace. It was getting so tall it obstructed the view of the river, and now that the poles have been stripped of their branches, they'll be of use next year in the garden to stake out the tomatoes.



This year's garden is pretty well over now, with only the kale still in the ground and a few cheerful cosmos still blooming, such gorgeous shades of rose and cerise. They make a good bouquet for the kitchen window, especially when combined with the deep purple of wild sage that is having a second round this season.  I am always sad to see the sunflowers go, and they seem equally sad, as you see here...


When my friends Scott & Heather from Ottawa were here, I took them down to see the old wine cellar beneath the house, which has been dated at 1598, as there was a pottery on this property at that period and there is evidence pointing to the existence of this cellar (thanks not to my research but that of an historian who was writing a book about local potteries and asked to see and measure our cellars). My husband Bob enjoyed collecting wine from the region, and this was a perfect place to store his discoveries...And the cellar has always had a particular ambiance, because of a  high shelf lined with VERY old bottles that we never touched for fear of them tumbling down. "Is that sawdust?" asked Scott, as he looked at the shelf and indeed, it does seem that deterioration is in progress, and the shelf must be replaced. Since this photo was taken I've removed all the bottles, but they'll go up again once the new insect-proofed shelf is in place.


There are a few more photos to share, I'll save them for another post. Now I am going for a walk up past the spring where the sign says that the water is not tested, but everyone comes to fill their plastic containers anyway... and so far no one has died as a direct result.... (well, as far as I know...)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

September 26

So, it would appear that summer has come and gone... and here we are, well into autumn at Mas Blanc, with the grapes not yet picked hanging heavy on the vines. A bit cool and rainy, but still quite beautiful at this time of year.... I'm glad to be back home after a fine summer in Canada, visiting friends in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Although I enjoy getting down to the Mediterranean for my dose of "sea" now and again, I have to admit there's nothing like a few days on the Atlantic (Nova Scotia) to really give me that fix of sky&water that is so good for the soul. Another wonderful side of the weeks in Nova Scotia was spending time with some fine writers -- Joan Baxter, Julie Vandervoort, Lorri Neilsen Glenn.

To make a perfect holiday even more perfect, I rented a car and drove the Cabot Trail around Cape Breton, and was fortunate to have perfect weather, as you can see from the photo below. Adding to my pleasure was a wonderful morning of conversation with Alistair and Anita Macleod, on my way to Sydney where I stayed for a few days with retired professor Afra Kavanagh. She made sure I got my fill of all things wonderfully Nova Scotian-- good music and seafood. A real change of scene from Tornac!

Sunny morning on Cape Breton


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

So here we are and it's nearly the summer solstice, a wonderful time of year in any country but particularly here in France where it is also La Fete de la Musique -- June 21 has been now for many years a day in which villages, towns and cities all over the country celebrate music in its many forms... in the streets as well as in concert halls. In Anduze tomorrow there will be music from the afternoon onward, and I am looking forward to seeing some of my friends from the djembe drumming class I have attended over the last many months. It'll be a great day, no question.

Nice to find time for music as a diversion from the gardening chores this time of year. My fruit trees have been bearing nicely -- and I'll post a shot of a basket of cherries as well as a bowl of apricots (now turned into jam). My little potager -- veggie garden -- is doing well after some serious weeding and final mulching with straw, and now I can pick cherry tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce every evening for supper. This all takes work, of course, but it is pleasant work with the sound of the river nearby and the constant chatter of birds. Le Mas Blanc really is an idyllic place to live.

Speaking of birds, at this time of year there's a daily visitor in the stream, usually in the early morning. I think it's always the same heron, although it could be his brother or his wife, they all tend to look rather the same... And I am always trying to snap a photo without scaring the heron off. Last week I got lucky, and here's the result of that attempt, a beautiful bird in fishing mode. I'll add on a poem written a few years ago, not about this particular heron but certainly one from the same family...





Wednesday, 30 May 2012

LOOKS LIKE MAY IS FADING OUT

Hard to believe how quickly spring turns in to summer, but here we are now at the end of May with the prospect of hot weather showing itself with each passing day. That's one of the reasons that I've decided not to offer the writer's retreat space in July and August, as it is simply too hot here to think in any creative fashion.... Not to say that summer in the south of France is unpleasant -- not at all!  But it's a time for swimming and lounging and taking it easy, NOT a time for sitting at a laptop sweating over the perfect sentence...

And besides, I very much like spending those two central summer months in Ontario, my annual chance to catch up with family and friends. Of course, I get a chance to see those same people over here when they visit as well, and only recently had a fine visit with old Belleville chums who helped me with a lot of the outdoor work that is part of Mas Blanc life...

Now, if anyone looking at this blog can tell me HOW it is possible to re-figure photos correctly, after they've come in to the blog "sideways", I will be grateful unto death... This has now happened twice, and I can't see a way to prevent it happening OR to fix it once it has occurred!


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

MAS BLANC MAY TIME

Here we are sliding into May in fine fashion, with visitors from Hobart, Tasmania (the McQuilkins) followed by old friends from Belleville, Ontario -- the Miniellys, Hugh & Mary plus son Michael. Their stay was much appreciated as they continued the outdoor work begun by my nephew, mowing and digging and chopping and much else, so that the gardening season begins with me a little ahead of the game. We even got netting spread across the cherry tree to prevent the jay-birds from nibbling the cherries that are ripening beautifully...

Cherries follow strawberries in the garden...

Madame Sestini's fruit & vegetable stall, sideways...
It's a great time of year for "eating local" and so serving meals to guests is particularly easy, involving not much more than a quick run to the nearby fruit & vegetable stand run by Madame Sestini and her good-looking son. You can read more about how I present their asparagus and strawberries by turning to Kim Moritsugu's blog, (THE HUNGRY NOVELIST wordpress.com)... this is a terrific space for all food-lovers, whether you want recipes or recitals of marvellous restaurant dining experiences, complete with beautifully appealing photos.... you feel you've had a meal just by looking.

Another blog where you can read about LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT -- and much else besides -- is a new blog begun by DEBRA MARTENS who is currently residing in London, England... she's named it CANADIANWRITERSABROAD and if you google that, you'll come up with this very interesting site which explores not only Debra's experiences in England, but provides interviews with many other Canadian Writers Abroad. Have a look!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Spring is in full swing

Now, the missing photos from the last blog entry... a quick trip back to the Netherlands...


Mesmerising, field after field of tulips in bloom
Before I chatter on about how lovely spring is now at Le Mas Blanc, here are a couple of photos missing from the earlier blog about my marvellous time in the Netherlands during my visit with Conny Steenman-Marcusse  (L) and Sheila McCook (R), my two dear friends who have now become friends together too.

And now, back to life at Le Mas Blanc.

In spite of temperatures that are lower than normal for this time of year, the greening of the countryside is going on apace here, and there's such a busy hum in the air of birds and bees that I swear I can hear the leaves on the trees unfolding and growing. We had a little rain recently -- the south of France, as many other parts of the country and of Europe and Britain as well, has been suffering drought for several months -- and that has made a grand difference. There's some water coming over the dam again, and the grass under the olive trees is bright green instead of dry and brown.  This means, of course, that it is time for the first mowing, and I was lucky to have my nephew Tom Howey (a  typographer- book designer in London, England) come for a brief visit, right at the moment whe he was needed for field work. Well, we had a pretty good time together besides the mowing... and went into Anduze one afternoon for a cuppa at TEAPOTES, where Tom, who is from Yorkshire, got on famously with Aline Rideau, who grew up in that part of England too. They were able to revert to their "local accent"  and understand each other!

here's Tom with the heavy mower
 While my nephew was mowing, I was busy with a few other chores, including the setting up of the orchard scarecrow, this year featuring a broom from the Philippines as his/her head. I'm quite pleased with my labours, I have to say, it is definitely a scary epouvantail...


here's the scarecrow, still nameless... any ideas?
you can see the result of his labours here, a view of the small olive grove and lilacs planted in memory of my goddaughter Carrie Newman whose birthday it would have been this month had she lived.  Sadly, the period of freezing temperatures in February seems to have been harmful for the olive trees -- as well as killing my lemon tree -- but local advice suggests that I just "wait and see", they should eventually recover...
freshly mown

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

back home from the Netherlands

Well, if you're in the habit of checking BLOGS frequently, you'll have seen that I am not yet a dedicated blogger, such as my good friend Beth Kaplan who did try to give me a few lessons while she was here at LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT at the end of March... She's got the knack of the every-day discipline to observe and record... I'm still learning the ropes.

Here's Beth, while she was here, at the clothesline... As I say on my website, I don't have an electric clothes dryer but you know, no one ever seems to mind the smell of freshly dried clothes off the line!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

WRITERS IN THE SUN

Well, here we are, Beth Kaplan from Toronto, my first writer-visitor here at the Mas Blanc. She has come to stay here for a few days, to work on a manuscript that is essentially finished, but needs some "quiet time" so that she can re-look and revise... We're longtime friends, and so her choice to come here to the Writer's Retreat has been a great way for me to start this new venture.... To see who Beth Kaplan is, if you don't already know, AND to see what she has written about her stay here, go to her website at  bethkaplan.ca.......

A BIENTOT!

Monday, 27 February 2012

oops

oops... at the end of that last message, there's a strange NO that has landed there from outer space. Ignore it, as my word of choice is always YES... positive attitude, all the way. And I am feeling quite positive now about the new website that is up and running for LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT, thanks to my friend Rick Kitto in London, Ontario, who creates websites... Check out his website to see the kind of work he does (RICK KITTO WEB SITE DESIGN)  -- I think he's terrific, and am singing his praises to all who will listen... I am grateful for the way he's helped me put my idea "out there" where it is accessible ... my idea being to have a place where writers or artists or musicians can come to work alone, in an undisturbed fashion. (Although, insofar as writers might need editing or proofreading or mentoring help, I am available for these tasks.)

So here's the site -- http://www.isabelhuggan.com/

Have a look, and let me know what you think... Suggestions and questions will be welcomed.

back at my desk

Well, it has been a month since I was last here at my desk and my blog. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks out in Kenya, visiting good friends and re-visiting some of the places I grew to love when I lived in that country, 1987-90... Here are a couple of "classic shots", Mt. Kilimanjaro shining in the sunlight and a stray giraffe looking out as I passed by. NO




Friday, 27 January 2012

Time for tea?

When you're in Anduze, the village only seven kilometres from Le Mas Blanc, you'll want to drop in for a cup of tea or coffee (excellent coffee!) at TEAPOTES, a tea shop where you can relax, chat with other English-speaking (and French-speaking) local people, and explore the used bookshop upstairs from the tea room. As you'll see on this site, the shop offers a wide range of activities..... Not to be missed!
http://www.tea-potes.com/

it's coming along nicely

End of January

Just a few more finishing touches and I’ll soon be ready to rent my new bedsittingroom -studio, and I’ll have the link to the website here.  Until then, I’ll post one or two more photos of what the room looks like, to give you an idea of the space. It is situated on the second floor of the old barn, up a set of wooden stairs, which means it is not accessible to anyone with hip or knee problems.  Beside the studio at the top of the stairs is a pleasant little blue& white bathroom with a shower, with shelves and a rack on which to hang clothes.
 At this point, I’m hoping that the news of LE MAS BLANC WRITER’S RETREAT will pass among friends and acquaintances by the trusty and trustworth old system of “word of mouth” (in French, the phrase involves the ear as well, “bouche à oreille”).  My hope is to give other writers and artists a truly quiet and nurturing place in which to think and write. I know I’ve benefitted in the past from such situations, when I’ve been able to leave ordinary responsibilities behind for a few days and simply concentrate on my work.  Although the space can accommodate two people – the fold-down couch makes a double bed --  I’m expecting solitary individuals to come, as the idea is to “get away”, even from the most beloved partners or families, in order to put every ounce of energy into the work at hand: writing, composing, painting, whatever.
For me, running the Retreat  will provide a good solid reason for staying in France, which has been my home now for so long I can’t imagine living elsewhere. I'll post more specific news of how to book your space at Le Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat later in February. For now, I'll leave you with these photos so you can imagine the place.

listen to the waterfall as you work... the river is just below Mas Blanc


this old stone barn, across from the main house Mas Blanc, 
 will be your "home" while you are creating your masterpiece

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

the room is nearly finished!

Here we are in the middle of January, and the weather is lovely, cold in the mornings but warm in the afternoons, perfect for walking in the hills. The new studio-bedsitting room in the barn is nearly finished, so I can take some time off to go for little strolls...and then come back home to admire the new room... There are still some details to fix, before it'll be ready for the writers and artists I hope will come to use this friendly space.