Monday, 25 February 2013


Well what else is the day after the Academy Awards FOR if it's not for people to say to their friends "I TOLD you that Film X (or Y) was going to win (or lose)... That's the fun of paying attention to this odd, peculiar branding ceremony and I am not above partaking in the ritual myself, to say (listen up, now) that "I TOLD you that AMOUR, directed by Michel Haneke and starring Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trinignant was one of the best, most intelligent and moving films I've ever seen."

YAY! It won the best foreign film Oscar, as well it might have done, such a tender and sharp look at aging and illness and death, topics we most often choose to avoid or clothe in disguising masks.

I used to love watching this event even back in the day of black & white television coming in snowy from Buffalo WBEN, and I still cherish memories of stars accepting their statuettes and giving long, impassioned speeches (nowadays timing is such that everyone has to rush and is only allowed the slightest hysterical edge to their brief thank-yous). I don't actually watch it any more but tend to pick up the highlights the next day on the BBC online. (This is due to increased cynicism and decreased interest in American films.)

But of course I was thrilled  that (given its birth from Canadian writer Yann Martel's novel) LIFE OF PI did so well, and I have it on my list now of 'must sees", as it is still playing  here. Today my English friend Sue invited me to go with her over to Nimes to see LES MISERABLES that was showing early afternoon. Matinees always strike me as deeply wicked (daytime is for work, night is for movies), but I was in one of those what-the-hell moods, so off we went. Nimes is a beautiful city, so it's a pleasure to walk the streets just going to the cinema itself.

Where I live is but 45 minutes from Nimes, and so it's an easy trip in to concerts or films or shopping... Perhaps in another post I'll do a little paean of praise to this old city... Funny, how one begins to take for granted that it's NORMAL to walk by a Roman temple to Augustus on the way to the cinema -- and to see a film starring English actors performing in a musical about Victor Hugo's Paris.

And the music was grand, and we had a lovely weepy time, as had been predicted. And then we went for tea and "a little something" (in my case, a gorgeous macaroon) in a bakery-teashop called VILLARET that is quite famous for its breads and totally divine cakes and pies (gateaux et tartes). It seemed like the perfect decadent ending to a perfectly decadent day.

Ah, isn't it sad (or isn't it funny)... at this age, decadence becomed an afternoon at the cinema followed by tea!

Thursday, 14 February 2013


If you're searching for an image of two hearts intertwined,
 look no further,  here's your Valentine Message
Today is no longer my favorite saint's day, but  I do know and appreciate that for many  people St. Valentine's Day is set aside for celebrating love, in all its many forms...

This iconic shot was taken a while back, looking down on my neighbour's parking area one wintry morning... It's true, we tend to see whatever we're looking for... and my romantic nature saw valentines immediately... Foolishness, but benign, gentle, happy foolishness... mushy indeed and, it must be noted, no longer visible the next day. So much for love.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Almond Blossoms & BRICK

Sunday noon and I'm still in pajamas, having spent the morning in bed reading the latest issue (90) of BRICK, the literary journal that always arrives over here in France a little late. I'd been looking forward to it with much anticipation since reading Elizabeth Hay's blog a few weeks ago, in which she declared her delight in the section from the David Milne archives. I too have been in love with Milne's painting for a very long time, discovering it through an NFB film about him and his work back in the early 1960s. The late Hugh McIntyre (one of the Nihilist Spasm Band musicians) used to show NFB shorts at the London Public Library, and I remember going back to my apartment that evening knowing that I'd found an artist who spoke a visual language I could understand.  After that aesthetic awakening,  I sought out everything I could about Milne in the years following, every postcard I could lay my hands on. A couple of years ago, when I discovered room upon room of his paintings and sketches at the AGO it was with such a rush of pleasure that I almost yelped. There's something about his technique that speaks to me of how a short story is written, existing in a different world from the vast, thickly painted canvas of the novel.

So, BRICK on my knee, I turned first to the Milne, and then went back to have a look at the essay by Robert Hass, a remarkable study of the meaning of war...and from there, I kept going all morning: Alice Oswald, Dionne Brand, Colm Toibin, Leon Rooke... An amazingly rich BRICK... pure gold.  If you don't already subscribe, you are missing one of life's huge feasts for the mind and the heart -- and the perfect excuse for staying in bed of a Sunday morning.  At the very least, check the shelves of your local bookstore for this issue to get started.

Still in pajamas, I threw on a coat and my boots just now and nicked out to the garden, to take an update-photo of the apricot blossoms I spoke of yesterday. Yes, those lovely little pink explosions exist, but they are being slowly blanketed by snowflakes... Nothing like the weekend snowfall in Nova Scotia, but nature is trying its best to remember that it is still winter, no matter what.

Hmmm..I have the feeling that a haiku is lurking here.....

Saturday, 9 February 2013


This is what winter usually looks like here at Mas Blanc

This is the view from my study window, and bleak though it seems in some regard, it also offers a lovely study in perspective... The  recently inserted fenceposts for the  new vineyard (planted last spring to replace old vines) are still bright and shiny and they catch the sunlight, making wonderful patterns. We have had a little snow this winter but nothing substantial -- not like Toronto or Montreal or Halifax -- and it has melted away leaving just the pale grey-brown that is the sign of the Earth resting. Dormant, waiting....

In fact, already now  there are signs... the tulips and daffodils are pushing up their little green noses, there are crocuses in the garden and an explosion of pink blossoms on the almond trees, both in my field and throughout the countryside. Can really make you believe that whatever cold sadness you are suffering now, it will eventually be transformed.

Well the truth is, I don't understand it, this passion of mine for rugby, but watching the games today (Scotland beat the pants off Italy,which was a bit of a surprise
and Wales beat France in a tighter, tougher game, a score that disappointed me as it seemed for the first half that France was the stronger team).

I have come to one conclusion... and that is that men -- in general, and in particular when playing rugby -- are an absolute mystery to me. That's what draws me in... My gentle feminine sensibility is alight with curiosity. Do they REALLY like doing this? Do they know what they're doing in a scrum? I can never work it out, really, and yet they seem to have a plan... I can follow plays on the field but a scrum? man, that is total weirdness.

And of course what wins my heart is the upper-class gentlemanly roots of the game  that show when,  immediately that they're finished, men from both sides are clapping each other's shoulders and shaking hands, exchanging smiles of "well done! bien fait!" Even if not sincere, and especially after a match that has been especially rough and brutal, this "it's only a game, bro" always delights me. What a great bunchaguys, I say to myself... And must wait until tomorrow for the Ireland-England match which is bound to be brilliant.And I even look forward to the hyperbole of the commentators' analyses...

In the meantime, cleaning email files, and discover the new blog by Laura Rock (one of my former Humber School of Writers correspondence students)  who has just begun an entertaining look at life as she knows it... Her last postings have dealt with peanut butter, and finding perfect taste at the same time as avoiding extra sugar and additives. (That's how I knew beth kaplan (of was going to be a true friend, when she arrived last March to stay in the writer's retreat  bringing me a large container of the BEST organic peanut butter that did me for a long time after.)

Have a look at Laura's blog, I'm finding it entirely enjoyable, never know what topic she's going to tackle next.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

February Blues?

Saturday afternoon, and I have the telly turned on without sound so that from time to time I can check how things are going in the rugby match between Wales & Ireland. It's the opening game in the  annual Six Nations international tournament (the other teams are France, England, Italy and Scotland) to which I have become slightly addicted over the past years. I used to watch with my husband who had played as a young man, and who could be relied upon to explain elements of the game if I didn't understand a ref's ruling.  Perhaps I continue to tune in now as a way of remembering him, but I suspect it's also through love of the rough & tumble action in which I always find splendid metaphors for life itself.

Ah well, it's February, and one must do what one can do to keep one's spirits up... This can be such a dreary time of year in the northern hemisphere, and although we don't have Canada's snow here in the south of France there's nevertheless a drab, draggy sort of mentality. It takes huge effort to get through a day, more often than not. One must search around for ways to cheer up and happily, there was an email this week from The Writers Union of Canada bringing the good news that Douglas & McIntyre has been acquired by Heritage House Publishing and Greystone Books will continue now to honour the contracts already in place and print books... Writers like Lorna Crozier, whose clever & lovely THE BOOK OF MARVELS was published by Greystone can now look forward to more readers as the book can now be reprinted.

My friend Mary in Belleville recently sent an amusing little paperback that I am just now starting to look at but think I can recommend even on the basis of the first few pages, depending of course on whether or not the subject matter is relevant to you or someone to whom you might give the book. Written by an American writer named Meghan Lasklocky, it's called THE LITTLE BOOK OF HEARTBREAK, and rather than being some awful self-help book about how to deal with a broken heart, it gives historical examples of love gone wrong in a cheeky, sly and quite appealing way.  Published by Plume Books, bright yellow cover, it could be just the right Valentine's Gift for the right person -- or the wrong person, come to think of it.

So we must look for the best in February, and perhaps that means realizing it is indeed the shortest month and eventually March will give way to April and we'll all feel sunny and sane again. In that regard, here's a shot of what we have to look forward to... a happy bunch of wild flowers picked along the vineyard beside the river last April. Although I do sometimes buy flowers at the market in Anduze, for much of the year I have only to stroll along the lane to make my bouquets.

Readers of BELONGING may recognize the vase from the story THE WINDOW,
although its provenance is rather different in reality from its fictional history.