Sunday, 28 April 2013


There are many MANY shots of bamboo on stand-by here, so if you haven't had enough just let me know, I can post several more. Bamboo is the most elegant subject for the camera... knows exactly how to hold itself in an elegant pose without blinking.

Another artistic installation at the Bambouserie, cocoons among bamboo stalks
Regarding my friend Stephen Heeney, mentioned earlier as my walking companion in the post about the Bambouserie... I should bring to your attention that he is the author of a very fine memoir, SCRATCHINGS, which traces his successful search for his hidden Mohawk ancestry. A quick online-search will supply you with more information about this book, a compelling investigation into what it means to discover one's true identity... at the same time, it provides an entertaining description of some of his extraordinary relatives... no one who reads SCRATCHINGS will ever forget Squire Davis. 
As for my other favorite subject for photos besides bamboo -- tulips -- I have to say that watching this red bed by the front steps go through its life cycle has been an eye-opener in some profound way, as I've been studying the changes and relating to them from an emotional, human point of view. It's all about death, really...the stunning piece of news (did I just get it?) that nothing lasts forever... We already knew that was true about love (those of us who have had our hearts broken), and now it turns out it's even more true about life itself. Nothing lasts forever....but these pretty tulips bloom from bulbs and will be back next year... so no complaining allowed... They look like they're dying and dead but they're not REALLY gone. For the rest of us, however, growth & decay is a ticky bit more serious.

Hardly recognizable from the way it appeared in its kindergarten photo a week ago
And here's one more, to finish off this slightly sombre subject... this is how it ends, not with a bang but a whimper,  few sad petals in the rain...
Still beautiful, still beautiful...
Happily, with all these slightly morbid thoughts of life's fragility, at the same time that the tulips are fading and falling, the micocoulier tree is coming into leaf... Sometimes I swear I can hear the buds, little explosions of green energy.... And even as the sky darkens with thunderclouds, the branches are exciting themselves with new growth. And so it goes, and so it goes....

Maybe it's all about hope?

Friday, 26 April 2013


As I suggested in the last post, the background bamboo in the shot of the magnolia blossoms might lead to a little more information. The photo was taken at the Bambouserie de Prafrance, a wonderful botannical garden just the other side of Anduze featuring 300 different kinds of bamboo as well as a wide variety of other exotic specimens. The garden was first established in 1856 by an amateur botanist, Eugene Mazel, who fell head-over-heels in love with bamboo during his time in Asia, and thus brought back many different samples to his home in Generargues (beside the Gardon river that runs through Anduze).

Bamboo is now grown everywhere in the region and it can be found wild as well as planted alongside gardens (where it can be used as poles for supporting tomatoes, etc). I have three different varieties here at Mas Blanc growing between the house and the stream that I must keep clipped back each year to prevent them getting too tall and blocking our view of the old church across the vineyards.

At the Bambouserie there are giant bamboo varieties several metres high -- enormous, as tall as full-grown poplars -- and accompanying them along the pathways are palm trees as well as giant redwoods and oaks. Altogether a delightful place to stroll of an afternoon, particularly in the summer when the shade afforded by the trees is so welcome.

I took my old friend Stephen for a walk  -- the entire circuit takes about an hour -- a few days ago, hence the earlier magnolia photos. And now ... some bamboo. (I know, you've been anxiously waiting....)
Personally, I am partial to Golden Bamboo
Every few months, the Bambouserie invites artists to spend time in residence being inspired by the gardens and the bamboo itself... and the results are, more often than not, quite wonderful. Interestingly, it seems that visitors can't stop themselves from carving graffitti into those bamboos closest to the paths (the usual initials and occasionally rough images of genitalia): so this artist has taken the idea and done it up right... This is part of an installation of designs and quotations that add a special relevance to the gentle stroll throughout the garden.

It's sad to think that nature speaks and humankind doesn't listen
Let me show you one of the grand avenues, and you can imagine how, when you are strolling through the Bambouserie, you do find yourself in communion with nature... There's a sweet sort of tranquility that comes from the way the gardens are arranged, and a lovely quiet that settles around you as you walk. Except for the sound of birdsong, there is little to disturb deep contemplation of beauty.

You see what I mean? perfect!
One last view of the central part of the Bambouserie, which gives quite a different sort of ambiance and, at this season,  is extraordinarily beautiful because of flowering shrubs and the burgundy leaves of the Japanese maples. Perhaps this scene is too "man-made" for those who like nature in the rough... but nevertheless, the harmonic balance of the elements -- rock, water, tree -- is extremely soothing to the spirit.

Paradise, right here on Earth

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

spring in bloom

You remember those tulips from a few days ago? Here they are this afternoon... You can see that the colour has changed as well as their shape...

These tulips are now open-hearted, blowsy, good-time gals

 Interesting to see how a few days of sunshine has altered their appearance... now they're fading.  It happens to us all, there's no way to stop it. Recently, at the film QUARTET, one of my women friends wept at the end as the credits showed the actors as they'd been 40 or 50 years ago,their appearance very different from that  in the film itself (set in a "home" for retired musicians, it's a pretty sweet look at old age, really, and with Billy Connolly and Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay you're guaranteed a good time).

But maybe there need not be tears if we see the signs of aging as beautiful too -- a different kind of beauty, to be sure. My neighbour Dede and I agree today that a week ago the tulips had that "Audrey Hepburn look"... and now they're a bit more Simone Signoret.  I guess it depends how old you are which you might prefer...if either!

Speaking of tulips, I've just taken a couple of shots of magnolias, otherwise known as "tulip trees"... their season is nearly over too, but they're still mighty appealing to the eye.

 Am I right, that this is absolute perfection?
 And one last shot before I go... I have errands to do before tonight's book club meeting which is being held at my house this month. We're going to be discussing THREE JUNES,  by the American novelist Julia Glass... it's a richly rewarding read, even on the second time through, so I expect we'll have lots to talk about  this evening... After we finish our discussion -- usually an hour or so -- tradition holds that we finish with cake (it's out of the oven now and cooling, one of my favorite recipes from the old standby,  FOOD THAT REALLY SCHMECKS) and either tea or wine. So I'm off now to buy the latter at LE GRAND CHEMIN, a father&son vineyard a few kilometres away.  Ah, here is another type of magnolia...slightly more refined than the latter....

Notice the bamboo in the background? More on this later.....

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Leeks, Greens & Tulips

My new friend Lindy, the renting-writer, left this morning to return to Canada, and in lieu of her good company I am looking at some of the photos she and I took while she was here. Now I can show you what French wild leeks look like -- this is Lindy's shot of her first gathered leeks and greens from the field.

Here is part of Lindy's harvest of leeks and dandelion greens

Here they are cleaned, ready to be sautees in butter for the omelette
Of course I took Lindy to the Thursday market in Anduze, where we bought all manner of wonderful things -- olives, cheese, and greens from my favorite organic farmer, whose fresh beets --leaves and all -- were absolutely delicious. It's so easy to eat well here.

Buying fresh produce at the market is one of life's great pleasures
It really IS spring now, for sure... and what better indication of this state of affairs than TULIPS (you can take the girl out of Ottawa, but you can't take .... ) which for me are emblematic of the longed-for proof of that final change in the weather, whether in April in France or May in Canada... Here are some of mine here, beside the front steps a few days ago. Don't they just make you feel happy, looking at them?

In my humble opinion, the Platonic Form of Tulip is always RED

More photos later... That's all for now. Back out to the garden, there's work to be done... and I am accompanied by the singing of birds and the croaking of frogs in the millpond... wonderful spring music indeed.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

wild leek omelette

Mid-April, and it is near the end of the season for gathering wild leeks out in the fields and in the vineyards (they're called poireaux des vignes here, for the likelihood is that they'll be found growing between the rows of grapevines, but we also find them in our field where the fruit trees and olive trees reside). Happily, there has been so much rain this spring that there are lots of them waiting to be dug up easily from the moist soil, and so I was able to set my Renting Writer the task of picking them for our supper a few days ago.

Lindy Mechefske, a freelance journalist from Kingston (and the author of a beautiful cookbook titled A TASTE OF WINTERGREEN) has been renting the studio space in the barn since the the first week of April, and it has been a great pleasure for me to have her company, particularly in the kitchen. We've shared meal preparation several times, and it was Lindy who made this delicious omelette (I did nick over to Madame Cestini's vegetable stand to pick up the asparagus, so I can be said to have "helped" a little). Although the leeks had a slightly bitter taste (perhaps because it's the end of the season) even after being sauteed in butter, with a little cheese in the omelette they redeemed themselves nicely. Lindy -- as I have also learned to do -- uses a little cold water when she beats the eggs, thus achieving a "light as a cloud" effect and it was one swell omelette -- with fresh asparagus and a salad featuring young dandelion leaves (nature's bounty right at hand).

I took Lindy down to the field where the leeks can be found, and she had a pretty good time digging them up... I was happy... I was back on the terrace having a glass of wine while she did the work!

I should note that the wild leeks here are a slightly different variety than those we find in the bush in Ontario... They're from the same family but the Canadian branch is ALLIUM TRICOCCUM and these French ones are ALLIUM POLYANTHUM. The difference? French leeks are more "leeky" than "oniony", with a long stem and thin, dark green leaves. The white bulb is quite round, and usually has several tiny baby-bulbs attached, which can be rubbed off and left in the soil to start a new crop.

Wild Leek Omelette with fresh asparagus: SPRING!

Lindy has made several other lovely meals using TASTE OF WINTERGREEN recipes...including pesto pizza with blue cheese and dried figs -- delicious! You can learn more about Lindy by going on her website

Sunday, 7 April 2013

the end and the beginning

A sunny April Sunday, absolutely divine, green and blue instead of grey. The world has been washed clean in the past few days by the constant patter of rain, and I was starting to feel as if I lived in England, not the south of France...But now there's a load of wash out on the line blowing in the breeze, and I think I can put away the clutter of scarves and mitts and woolly hats, and take my bright red duffel coat to the dry cleaners to have it ready for -- no, don't want to leap that far ahead, let's just stay here where it is the end of winter and the beginning of this enchanting season, when life springs forth again.

It is also the end of the Humber School for Writers' Correspondence term for those writers who have been with me for the past 30 weeks, and we are in the process of bidding each other farewell.  This period since last September has been -- as is always true in this mentoring work I do -- an adventure in every sense, getting to know people through their written words and doing my best to help those same people dig deeply to discover what they want to say and then how to say it... and most of all, help them polish their prose or poetry. Every year I delight in the variety of manuscripts that come my way, as well as the various individuals who become as real to me as their stories or memoirs, even though we never meet (although it's true, some of us have seen each other now on SKYPE).

So to Tina, Michelle, Margaret, Lycia, Lainie, Jonathan and Bonnie, I can say it has been a great pleasure, although none of you has given me an easy time of it.... I've enjoyed helping you fine-tune your stories, and even more than that, enjoyed seeing each of you improve your mastery of the craft through revision... "Go at this one more time" -- you've all been recipients of that grand piece of advice, haven't you? And then one more time after that, and maybe even another.

WRITING IS REWRITING has been my constant counsel...

But sometimes it feels so difficult, doesn't it? As if you're banging your head against a brick wall... I know. Aiming for perfection is hard work, and it's not meant to be a piece of cake (oops, cliche)...But you're not meant to knock yourself out, either... Sometimes we have to know when to stop....

I would like to be able to give this advice clearly and distinctly to a particular bird who has come to nest near Mas Blanc in the last few weeks, and who is repeating a pattern of behaviour I've seen exhibited in other years... This fellow (definitely a male) is a yellow-bellied wagtail, with a prettier name in French: Bergeronette.  He spends his day, starting at dawn and continuing until dusk, bashing himself against the windows of my house. According to information I've found on the web, this bird sees his reflection as another wagtail in his territory, and by flinging himself against this competitor, he hopes to smash its hopes and drive it away. Another theory that prevails is that he is a lost ghost of some Protestant farmer who once lived in Mas Blanc and wants back in...And another theory holds that he is a wacko-headbanging birdbrain who gets a little thrill from throwing himself against the glass.  (Nothing deters him, not cut-outs of hawks, not newspaper pinned up, nothing....)

In any case, he does seem a pretty good little metaphor for that frustration some of us humans feel when we keep trying and trying to "get things right"... whether it's words on paper, or perhaps trying to get someone's attention, to be noticed ... or perhaps trying desperately to make a difficult relationship work out better.... This foolish creature certainly has my attention,  and I spend far too much time trying to take his picture, but he hits the window so quickly I've yet to have any real success. Still, here's one.

So here he is doing one of his least 100x a day