Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday Afternoon by the Fire

It's a chilly Sunday here at Mas Blanc, and although I started down the lane for my usual "constitutional" -- a 45-minute walk down one side of the little river Ourne and back the other -- by the time I'd reached the bridge I had second thoughts, and turned home again, just now lighting a fire and putting on a CD: something reflexive about a blazing fireplace and the need for some warm comforting music.

In this case, it's a CD that has become a passionate favorite over the last several months since receving it in Halifax from a former-student-now-friend, the writer Julie Vandervoort (GOOGLE her, you'll read about her book PERIMETER DOG, published by LIBROS LIBERTAD, a unique collage of creative non-fiction and order it! read it!). Julie  is an environmental activist (among other things) and this passion, as well as her love of singing, led her to the music of Carolyn McDade, an American composer of choral music that celebrates the natural world.  For several decades she has promoted women's singing circles across North America -- have a look at

 There are several CDs to McDade's credit and this one, WIDENING EMBRACE, was recorded in Banff in the summer of 2011, with a choir of  256 women from Canada and the USA. It's beautiful -- lyrical, rich, thought-provoking and soothing all at once. I would never have come to this music, or McDade's urgent message of greater responsibility to the earth, were it not for Julie, and I am grateful for the way that friendship so often enriches me in surprising ways... This music has become part of my life now -- so much so that when I learned that McDade is giving a singing workshop in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia in September, I registered this week.  This decision means a number of changes to summer plans already made, but I know it's the right thing to do. I want to find out what it's like to sing this music with others.

What this also means is that I won't be renting the writer's retreat space here at Mas Blanc in September, so this is a change I'll have to make on the website later today.

But first, back down to the fire and the music. When this CD has finished, I'll put on something instrumental (I've been listening to Beethoven's string quartets recently, getting ready to see the new film A LATE QUARTET) and read... And of course, I'll be reading poetry -- a fire demands poetry, does it not? My choice today will be a second reading of my friend Marilyn Bowering's exquisite, intelligent, compelling new collection SOUL MOUTH, available from

You can view Marilyn reading from her work at

Friday, 18 January 2013

mid-January thoughts

It's true, the light is on our side of the pitch now... (an oddly British expression, that, but it seems right.)

Afternoon stretches way past where it was a month ago, and although the cold weather is here, to reassure us that winter still exists in spite of global warming, there's something in the slant of sun giving me hope.

 Not that I am not happy in this season, for indeed I am, as I've long had a passion for snow -- and as for skating, back in the day  (Ottawa, the early 80s), I'd be up well before dawn to take my place at Brewer's Park speed-skating oval or down on the canal, slipping over the ice by starlight, happy as a ... hmm... happy as a... what? Well, certainly I was happy then... and I remember the sensation of skating with something akin to pure joy. In fact, it WAS pure joy.

No doubt my skating days are over -- only last year, cleaning out the cellar, I gave up a pair of skates I'd saved for 25 years  and took them, rusty and pathetic, to the Recycling Shop in Anduze. But my love of snow, no never, it's with me forever. Sadly, I avoid going up to the mountains here where there is snow this time of year, because snow tires are not part of one's kit in the south of France, roads are often slippery with black ice and drivers here seem not well trained to brake correctly in icy conditions (meaning that the accident rate in the hills is daunting). But when snow visits me, I am enthralled.... a child again, standing under the falling flakes with my mouth open and my tongue extended: exquisite pleasure.

Here's the snowfall from my bedroom window, over looking the vineyard

And here from the back terrace over looking the river Ourne,

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Arbitrary Division...the New Year

Nearly two weeks into January, and I have not had the heart to write much here in these past days... On New Year's Eve, with my neighbour Dede, I took his old black labrador Nelson (named after Nelson Mandela) to the veterinarian in nearby Ales, for the final and fatal injection to end his life. The poor dog was in such pain, the "putting to sleep" was an act of mercy I could only wish for myself when my time comes.

In the past year or two, Nelson has spent increasing amounts of time at my house, and in the last months he has been a fixture, either under the piano bench or on the carpet closest to the fireplace. Arthritic, deaf, and incredibly smelly, he was still one of the most adorable creatures I've ever known, and I loved him dearly. Some days he was nearly puppy-like in his enthusiasm to come in the house, or to receive a few extra scraps for his supper... but much of the time he slept... As he is here, is how I will remember him...

 Nelson, under the the mulberry tree.. let sleeping dogs lie....

Thursday, 10 January 2013

OUT OF SYNCH -- April 2012 returns!

(It would appear that, once an entry gets misplaced in the system, there's no way to put it back where it belongs, so if you come to this now, in January 2013, you must let your mind drift back several months to last year's springtime... and for further enjoyment, you can always visit Beth Kaplan's blog, any time of year....)

Well, as you've noticed if you come on to this blogsite from time to time, I only come on here from time to time too... I wish that I had the blogger's gifts of dedication, continuity and constancy, but the truth is, I am just getting used to this idea, and it turns out that I am slow to the boil (and so if I were a sauce, you'd say I was a bit thick... well maybe that's the problem!)

Still, here I am again to report that Beth Kaplan's visit to Le Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat was an unqualified success (although she did make a few improving suggestions which I will follow) and for a more thorough story on that account, check out her website from where you can easily move to her blogsite...

The day she left, I went up to Paris by train for an overnight on my way to Rotterdam... Paris presented itself as the gorgeous city we all know it to be, and the sunshine reflected beautifully off the perfectly cleaned front face of Notre Dame. I visited my old friend Brian Spence, proprietor of THE ABBEY BOOKSHOP, the only true Canadian bookshop in Paris (29 rue de la Parcheminerie, just off the Boulevard St. Germain at the corner of the Cluny Museum and that lovely old church Saint Severin).

And then on to the Netherlands where I had the good fortune to lead a workshop with ten exceptional women, including one other Canadian, Kate Carpenter, who lives in Brussels now with her husband and family, and who has just released a terrific CD -- her own voice singing, her own compositions, and the haunting back-up harmonica of an extraordinary Argentinian muscian... It's called TRAVEL ME, and you can get more info about this from

With my friend Conny Steenman-Marcusse, a Dutch academic whose great interest is in Canadian literature, I spent some happy days at her house south of Rotterdam, and we cycled through the tulip fields, me thinking that I must have died and gone to heaven... We were joined by my old friend Sheila McCook (with whom I hitch-hiked through Europe back in the 60s), who presented a wonderfully rich paper to Conny's English class on the writings of two artists, Vincent Van Gogh and Emily Carr... An innovative and exciting look at how artists present themselves in words.

All in all, a most satisfactory time. And now I am home, and am going to see what I can do to add a few photos to this page... Without Beth's help, it could be tricky.