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?

Monday, 1 July 2013


It's a difficult day, July 1, as I think about how far away I am -- in time and space -- from Parliament Hill.... and the experience of standing in a crowd under bright blue skies singing the national anthem, feeling wildly sentimental and proud to be Canadian. Even though I'm living on the other side of the pond, I am extremely proud of my heritage and certainly find more occasions to announce my "Canadian-ness" than I would if I were still in Ottawa. Here, at every opportunity that arises, I vouchsafe that "mais, je suis Canadienne"...

Sometimes it gets me down that neither the French nor the English among my acquaintances have any idea of my country's history -- no one around here knows that today is Canada's 146th birthday -- or its politics (no one knows who Harper is & although that might be seen as a good thing it still annoys me).

I am not speaking for all of France, mind you... just my rural situation here in Tornac & Anduze. Over the years I have spent several happy Canada Days in Paris, where the Canadian Embassy throws open the courtyard of the official residence to Canadians -- those living in France and those visiting on holiday. My favorite recollection is of the year I attended with Brian Spence who runs the ABBEY BOOKSHOP, a wonderfully jammed-and-crammed-with-books Canadian bookstore at 29 rue de la Parcheminerie, just off the Boulevard St. Germain in the 5th.  (
We were thrilled to see that Pierre Trudeau had arrived with two of his sons, and we were not the only ones thrilled. As if the crowd were composed of iron filings and the former prime minister were a magnet, within a few seconds a line had formed, people wanting to shake his hand. He met hundreds of admirers that afternoon, speaking with everyone for a minute or two... His days of political power were long over, but he still had that extraordinary gift of personal charisma... un homme inoubliable.

 July 1 is a bittersweet day for me, there's no question. Missing my homeland, and also missing my closest friend who died four years ago today. No one, nothing can ever replace her, I'll just go on missing her forever.

So here's a summer bouquet , picked this morning on my walk along the river, from me to anyone reading this post today...Happy Canada Day.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

summer bliss

It's really here, we've passed the solstice and we're right in it -- glorious glorious summer. And that of course means beach time and at Mas Blanc, that means driving down to the Mediterranean. For years, I've had a favorite spot, the long stretch of dunes at a beach called Espighette, about half an hour from Montpellier, which is itself an hour's drive from here. There are several kilometres of nothing but sand and sea and sky....

This is my idea of a perfect beach: uninhabited
So that's where I wanted to take my niece Katie who was visiting recently, and we set off last Sunday for Espighette. On the way I told her how beautiful it would be, absolutely serene, just us and the sea... and assured her that we would not venture down to the section designated as "nudist". Besides, the water would likely still be too cold for swimming, we'd just sit and have our picnic lunch on the dunes.... However, several thousand other people had the same idea, and a traffic jam kept us on the highway for nearly an extra hour in the noon heat... I began to fume and curse, and in frustration gave up that route and turned off to Stes.Maries-de-la-Mer, where I knew we'd have to settle for a more public beach. And yes, it was quite a different scene from the one I had described -- and oddly enough, a whole lot of fun. It was like being part of  a joyous impromptu street theatre production in which we were observers and participants at the same time... music, colour, laughter, such a mix of young and old together: the French DO know how to have a good time.

The French take on Beach Life -- NOT Lake Huron.
Here at home, there is continuing work in the garden, and as it is quite windy these days as well as dry, I've been watering my potted plants early every morning. Today, round about 7 am, I spied a little shiny eye peering at me from the edge of a large clay pot... I waited, and eventually this lovely little fellow came out to greet the day -- I'd heard his sweet voice last night but didn't know where he was hiding.

Some days you just get lucky...
I water the fruit trees in the evening, and yesterday, as I stood down in the field with the hose -- a small pump brings water from the river -- and watched the moon come up, I remembered that I'd read earlier in the day that it would be a particularly enormous moon, something to do with where the moon and the earth are vis a vis each other... and that this would be a PERIGREE moon. And it was... The universe provides such treats for us, whether or not we know the terms... all we have to do is pay attention...  and be grateful for unexpected pleasures.

Okay, it's only the moon... but still... isn't it just divine?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


So now, a little break from nature, and back into the world of words... Here's what is on my bedside table of late -- those books that the French call "livres de chevet" -- and I recommend all three, depending on your inclinations.... whatever are your druthers when it comes to reading (an Americanism from the late 1800s, meaning "would rather")...

Let me first suggest the fifth in the Marc Edwards mystery series, this one titled BLOODY RELATIONS (published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster). You'll probably enjoy it more if you've read the earlier four, but in any case I draw it to your attention for various reasons, not least of these being that it is fiction set in 1838, a period of great struggle in Canadian history. The blending of mystery with history is unusually effective in this series, written by Don Gutteridge, author of forty books of poetry and fiction. I admit my bias here -- Don is one of my favorite people, our friendship stemming back to my days in Grade 13 when he was my English teacher and one of those who encouraged me to write (the other was my history teacher, Bob Huschka... without these two I  probably would not have dared to begin thinking of myself as a writer even at that early stage).

You can get more information about Don's series by going to

Here's another suggestion, of a very different nature. Set in contemporary eastern Ontario, KEEPING THE PEACE Is a collection of short stories by Colette Maitland that might be categorized as realistic fiction... holding the mirror up to life itself...In the words of Diane Schoemperlen, "these are stories about the people you do know, and about strangers too, those people you pass on the street without giving them a second thought".... These are, indeed, stories that wake you to the complexities of human existence, your own as well as the fictional characters who struggle to keep the peace in their difficult lives.  Again, I admit my bias: I met Colette several years ago in the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop in Toronto, and she shone out in the group of writers for whom I was the instructor. We've never met since but I've kept my eye on her, and she's maintained some contact with me, so that I could see that my faith in her talent has been justified and verified. Her debut book is bound to be only the first of many -- this one published by Biblioasis, a new publishing house that is bringing forward a wonderful range of new Canadian authors.

 You can get more information about Colette and her collection at

And now, for something completely different....

Check out BRICK #91, the current issue on the newsstands/bookshop magazine shelves NOW...
Yes, I must make full admission here as well, for drawing your attention to BRICK in this case is not only a literary service but also perhaps rather self-serving. My essay "Reprise" is fortunate enough to have found space in this particular BRICK -- the little sister to an earlier essay titled "There Is No Word For Home",  published in 2000. I'm also part of a fascinating series of brief pieces by 25 authors about our favorite endings to novels -- or, in the case of Jan Zwicky, her thoughts on the final bars of Hadyn's last string quartet.  NOT TO BE MISSED!

For more info, have a look at

Friday, 14 June 2013


Honestly, all I want to do is share some of my pictures, so I will have less to say than usual but I do have to tell you right off the bat the sad news that Mother and Father Dove did not achieve their aim of producing a nest of dovelettes... When I arrived home from Nantes one of the first things I did was to check, with the aid of binoculars, whether there was still a dove sitting on the next in the cedar hedge across from my bedroom window. Yes!  and the next day looked again, quite expecting to see little dovies... but no. Not even Momma.. GONE. A close look at the situation leads me to believe that one of the feral cats who roam around here closed in on the nest, and did the babies in... either in egg stage or.... I found a couple of adult feathers in the hedge the next day, which would suggest some kind of battle took place and the bird-side lost. I've hated these damn cats for a long time, but now, should one stray into my path in the next while, there'll be a rock thrown in its direction for sure.  I don't mind so much that they keep down the mice and rats but killing birds? Not acceptable.

As you know, I love the birds here, even the noisy Nightingales who keep me awake half the night. I am very fond of the Hoopoes who generally arrive from Africa sometime in the early spring -- this year, I saw the first one in May, a little later than usual. A pair has nested close by this season, and one of the offspring has a decidedly curious nature, checking out Mas Blanc in various ways -- windows, and here, on the terrace table.

There's something inherently hilarious about Hoopoes, especially young ones.
Lest you think I am totally fixated on creatures with wings, let me assure you that I have broader tastes in wildlife than that. Here's a shot of one of my VERY favorite animals, and this one too is a baby... would fit on my palm if I had tried to pick him/her up but it would have been a ticky bit too prickly...

Indeed, this is a  sweet little hedgehog... the French name is HERISSON...
So from fauna to flora, here are a couple of recent photos of some of the marvellous flowers that show themselves this time of year in the Cevennes. Pretty well finished now that the warm weather has come, the wild orchids are a brilliant addition to the fields an roadsides, such delicate beauty and colour...

Orchids, of whatever variety, need to be seen individually
But by this time of year, there's another flower that is lovely in itself, even lovelier in small groupings of three or four or nine... but best enjoyed, I think,  in "mass profusion"... and every so often you come across a field, like the one below, and you can do nothing but jump out of the car with your camera and sing "hallelujah!"

Isn't this where Dorothy fell asleep in THE WIZARD OF OZ?
 And just to end this stroll through nature's wonders here in the south of France, a shot or two from the recent visit to Florac, about 75k north of where I live, up in the hills of the Cevennes. Leaving flora behind, here's a little fauna... well, a horse, in fact. White horses are indigenous to the southerly part of Languedoc, their initial home being down on the wetlands of the Camargue along the Mediterranean. They are popular throughout the region now, and I thought this one particularly pretty.

If you've read my story "Sitsy" in the collection YOU NEVER KNOW,  you will know that
 this is indeed a Sitsy and if named so, will bring good luck.

And now a turn back to flora, to end this posting with a burst of colour, the brilliant yellow of genet (also known as broom) that covers the rocky hillsides here this time of year,  evident on the hillside in the photo of this Sitsy, as well as all along the roadside. It is a thorny plant and not to be taken home for bouquets, simply enjoyed as a visual treat when driving through the Mediterranean region.

Glorious to look at... and with a lovely perfume as well.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


I belong, I admit, to that enormous throng of older women who adore Rafael Nadal not only for his prowess on the tennis court but for what seems extraordinary sweetness alongside his angry-looking facial expressions while playing to win... And indeed, he did win, his 8th French Open title, on Sunday, breaking records and still managing to look slightly surprised and grateful as he took the trophy. Okay, I know I sound star-struck.... so let me explain... The first time he won the French Open, in 2005, he was only 19, still very much a boy.... I happened to be stuck in bed, unable to move much after some neurosurgery in the Clinique Millinaire in Montpellier... but a kindly nurse turned on the television set above me, and I began watching tennis with an interest I'd never had before. It was "something to do", after all. The match on that particular Sunday, when Nadal first won, was quite exciting as I recall, but that's not what has made me his loyal fan ever since. When that boy realized that he'd won, he tore across the court, leapt the barrier, and embraced his mother (then Uncle Tony, his coach). His mother! A boy who loves his mother... that's my Rafa. I'm a fan.

Now, on to other more serious matters, such as how beautiful France is this time of year...Nantes was impressive and it was easy to gain access to a real sense of historical time while walking the streets and visiting the churches and museums. But for pure pleasure, give me a seaport town.... My stay in La Rochelle was entirely satisfying -- for one thing, the rain had stopped -- even though all the museums and churches I had intended to see were closed for one reason or another (Monday is never a good day for public monuments in France.) I didn't really care, I just walked and walked and walked and every so often came back to the harbour for a coffee or a bite to eat. I suppose in one way the following photo shows a world in which the rich hold the power -- count the sailboats and multiply by thousands of euros -- and one could view it with some anger at social injustice. But oh my, isn't it a pretty scene?

From this port, thousands of French citizens began their immigration to Canada, some for reasons of religion and others simply in order to begin a new life in a new country
After La Rochelle, I drove down toward Bordeaux through flatland close to the sea that is as different from where I live as day from night or chalk from cheese... But that's true every few hours in France, you seem to be entering another region that has its own identity through geography, architecture, history, food.... Everywhere, however, I was struck by the woods and forests -- France is well treed in spite of having been cleared for farming practices over many centuries. I think I must have counted fifty shades of green on my way into the Dordogne, an area famous for its beauty (and for the overlay of English ex-pats who now live there, so many that it is known as "little England" and this is not necessarily said in complimentary tones).

Not too far from city of Bordeaux lies the place I have long wanted to visit:  the Chateau de Montaigne, which has been rebuilt since the 16th century when Michel Eyquem de Montaigne lived there but which has incorporated the actual tower in which he cogitated and then wrote his "essais", and is now a museum dedicated to his memory. For many years I have kept the book of his essays by my bedside, and he continues to inspire and educate and delight me with his wit and grace and endless curiosity about himself and about life around him. All set for a great sentimental moment, already harkening back in memory to a visit I made many years ago to Yeats' Tower (Ballylee) near Gort, in Ireland and I was vastly disappointed to discover the Chateau closed to visitors (Tuesdays as well as Mondays).  Out of frustration and to prove to myself that at least I had tried, I took a photo of this memorial to Montaigne in the village.

 It's true, I have strange heros..French essayists and Spanish tennis players
  If you haven't read Montaigne's essays -- or even if you have -- you should have a look at a recent book called HOW TO LIVE: A LIFE OF MONTAIGNE by the British writer Sarah Bakewell. Aiming to live well -- who can quarrel with that as an ideal to follow?

For me, living well means having a walk every day if I can -- not too crazy about cold wind and rain, that'll keep me in by the fire, but if it's fair, walking is the best way to feel entirely human, one's mind kept turning over by thoughts as one's body is moving through space... As I earlier mentioned, I was impressed by the abundance of trees I saw everywhere in my travels, and none more lovely that in the Dordogne where I stayed overnight with friends, Dorothy & Peter, who are renting a country cottage for a few weeks. Dorothy and I took a perfect 5k stroll through flower-bedecked pastures and shady green forests, an extra pleasure for me to be in the company of deciduous trees so like those with which I grew up...  I could almost imagine I was back home in a maple bush.

Heaven. Pure and simple.

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Don't want to bore you to tears with more travel photos but... but these are really nice, okay? And as they've come from FRANCE, where LE MAS BLANC WRITER'S RETREAT is located, they at least have a certain relevance beyond their attractive appearance.

As I explained in the last post, I was invited by Alberto Manguel to attend an international writers' festival he organized in the city of Nantes (at the mouth of the Loire in lower Brittany) this past weekend that was the first in what will be an annual series of ATLANTIDE literary events. The "glue" holding the festival together was the concept of MYTH, both ancient and contemporary... Writers from Canada, Spain, England, the United States, Slovenia, Portugal, Iran, Argentina, Albania, Korea and Iceland came together to share ideas and address some interesting notions about how myth underscores our human existence... from the myth of Hollywood to the myths of the Haida people to the myth of Happiness, and more... Discussions and arguments to delight the mind and heart.

I drove from Tornac to Nantes, stopping twice along the way. The weather was pretty bad, so I didn't get to go "walkabout" as much I might have liked, but I still was able to revisit some places I'd long wanted to see again, such as the Loire Valley. I spent one night in Saumur in a hotel across from the town, that afforded a pretty-well perfect view of the chateau... this shot was taken in the morning BEFORE the rain started again.

The chalky stone from which buildings in Saumur are built is called Tuffau.
Nantes itself is an enormous city -- the 6th largest in France -- and I saw but a miniscule portion of what it has to offer but even that was extremely satisfying, including the cathedral, the Jardin des Plantes (where they've been keeping records and examples of "foreign flora" since the 16th century). It was a Sunday morning, and the park was full of happy families strolling paths through beautifully landscaped gardens where special exhibits, created of shrubbery, had been included to amuse and delight children. I particularly liked this one.

How can shrubbery have such a sense of humour?

 Iwill  also include here a shot of the old LU biscuit factory which may only have meaning for those of you reading this who have grown up loving those cookies called LE PETIT ECOLIER (plain biscuit with a chocolate coating on which is stamped a scene of a schoolboy). LU is a famous biscuit-maker in France, and much identified with Nantes (there is a buttery cookie called after this city made by LU as well).

A detail from the LU factory main entrance...SERIOUS biscuits.
Tomorrow I'll add some shots from my travels homeward... I know, I know, you're impatient but you'll just have to wait. And who knows whether I'll get to this blog before or after the FRENCH OPEN tennis in the afternoon, during which I will be crossing my fingers for Rafa...

Friday, 7 June 2013


Here at Mas Blanc, where I have just come back after a week away in other parts of France, this is a season filled with the sound of music, especially now that the heavy rains and cold winds have abated. Everybody and his uncle -- birds included -- is singing Halleluyah or the avian equivalent...There are sparrows, redtails, thrushes, blackbirds and nightingales all doing their best .... "peep peep, cheep-cheep, twiddle-oo-churr-churr, dix-huit dix-huit, and coo-coo-coolly coooooo"... This latter song-cycle being the ring-necked doves who have again decided, as they do nearly every year, to raise their young in the vicinity of the house. Usually they've picked a spot high up in the enormous  micocoulier tree that shades the terrace, and often the winds that sweep through this time of year have tossed their nests to the ground. This year, however, they've picked a nicely sheltered spot so close to the house that they've been using my bedroom window sill as a spot to bill&coo, a kind of lift-off site from which they foray fluttering forth.

So whaddya think, lovey-dovey, shall we settle down & make a nest?
As it happened this year, the perfect spot offered itself to these two as they sat on my window railing, considering their options... "Why yes... the cedar hedge right across from us! why did we never think of that before!" Several days of flying around with bits of straw from the garden in their beaks, and before you could even look surprised, there it was, a nest with Mother Dove well enconsced and looking, well, decidedly broody...

Oh honey, this is the BEST nest in which I've EVER laid an egg..
So now I've been away for more than a week -- more about that in the next post -- and still Mrs. Dove is sitting there looking for all the world like one VERY bored bird, waiting for the birdlings to hatch. (So I was very very glad to read Kerry's post on her blog PICKLE ME THIS, letting us know that long-awaited baby Iris has indeed made a happy appearance... Congratulations all round! )

Mr. Dove comes and goes as is his wont, and does the occasional "waiting to be called to the delivery room" pose just so I can snap his photo.  I do like birds and I prefer to think of these pretty doves as "higher creatures" than pigeons, even though the birdshit on my windowsill would be hard to distinguish, one from the other....

Is this my good side? Am I divinely gorgeous?
Now, just a little teaser for the next post, to explain where I've been and why... I drove up to Nantes (in Brittany where the Loire begins to open out into the Atlantic,) to attend ATLANTIDE, an international literary festival organized by my old friend, Alberto Manguel. Here's the poster that adorned the Centre des Congres where the three-day event took place, an image more than appropriate for the festival itself and for Alberto's influence in choosing the writers who came -- that is, reading... reading and books, and more books and more reading, and more books....more ideas, more conversations, more exchanges, more and more and more.