Tuesday, 28 May 2013


So enough with England already... let's have a look at what's been going on here in the French countryside. Actually, the same kind of grey, wet, cold weather as was happening in London and Leeds but somehow it's not so bad out in the country as it is when you're pounding the pavement in search of urban culture. Here, it's truly possible to say, "well it's good for the garden"... as it is. I've got my little "potager" (small kitchen garden, nothing too major) pretty well established now, although there's still some further planting to do next week. But I've had my first crop, as of a few days ago, planted in March by my daughter...

In France, radishes are served with sweet butter as an appetizer
While I was in England, my friends Sandra and Daniel came here in my absence to do several chores that needed to be done -- laying new tiles on the front terrace, and cutting the grass below the wall and in the orchard and olive grove (a big job). With some of the cut grass, they made me this wonderful welcome-home "face" (who remembers FRAGGLE ROCK and the talking garbage pile?) that I think deserves a place in the Tate Modern...

This is one grass pile I'll have trouble burning, it's a keeper
And here's another shot from "life at Mas Blanc"... down by the river, just as dusk was deepening, I caught our local beaver in action... you can see his tail sticking out of the water as he gnaws on a branch that seems to be his equivalent of stick-candy... He's a busy little fellow, this guy... 
Strangely, the local beavers don't DO anything with the trees they fell, except for chewing on the remains

In spite of grey skies and cold wind (5 degrees), I took two sets of visitors up to FLORAC last week, one of the villages in the Cevennes National Park that I really have come to love. Now, whether it's the setting (striking cliffs loom over the village) or the architecture (stone buildings that have darkened over the centuries) or the main-street cafe that serves fresh rainbow trout with the best french fries in the WORLD... yes, it may well be that last item on the list. That was my lunch twice last week and both times I came away happy, ready to drive the narrow and windy route back down to Anduze and home again, a trip of two hours, perhaps a little more... whereas the national road from Ales up to Florac is a wide, beautifully surfaced highway, the departmental roads in the back country can be narrow enough for only one car at a time, so passing is a matter of politesse and prayer (that you won't have to back up or down while on a curve.... ) Anyhow, enough chatter... here's how the Cevennes looked last week....  

This is a view on the way up to the hills, at Col Jacreste (832 m)
Now, as for Florac... Here's view of the centre of town/village, the romantic high cliffs in the background, the trout-filled river flowing through and over a thundering waterfall...
It was a gloomy day for photos, but still pretty lovely, no?
And here's a post-renaissance doorway to be found up a little side street, somehow seeming wildly incongruous in this mountain setting... but that's what's so wonderful about visible history in France, there are all kinds of U-turns and strange layerings of centuries no matter where you are... and Florac is no exception. Most people know it as a hiking or camping destination OR as one of the places through which Robert Louis Stevenson walked with his donkey Modestine
 in 1879...
Note the incongruous modern windows to the right of the door!
In mountain country there are always springs, "des sources", water flowing out of the rock pure and sweet and good to drink. In Florac there are several little fountains such as this one, so simple -- a classic of its kind... A good way to end today's post, more photos to come in a few days, don't want to overload your circuits... Remember how it used to be in the old days, when relatives would come with their container of slides to show you the picture of their vacation? Yes, well.... I'm cognizant of the trap that a blog presents...

But it was worth waiting for, wasn't it? the perfect little fountain?

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Last of the London Notes

Before I put aside my visit to London, I must share one of the truly astonishing exhibits at the British Museum. One doesn't expect to be surprised in a museum, really... educated and delighted perhaps, but astonished? Nevertheless, that was my reaction as my friend Sheila and I came into a large room that was all about "life and death" (one of my fave topics any day of the week) and saw directly in front of us the display you'll see below, titled CRADLE TO GRAVE.

The design component for these two long banners is....
...pills. Pills and more pills, pills and capsules of all shapes and sizes... Each of the tapestry banners holds 14,000 drugs sewn into the nylon filamant that provides the background for the pills which, as you can see, are cleverly arranged in patterns...It is a wonderful example of social commentary, because in viewing the banners you learn that the number of pills that an average English person takes during his or her lifetime is --wait for it -- 14,000.  Pertinent, even shocking information, which is, at the same time, a work of art. The installation was created by artists Suzie Freeman and David Critchely, and Dr. Liz Lee. One banner belongs to a man now dead, having died of heart problems at age 76.  The other banner represents his wife, who is still alive in her 80s. These two had illnesses or health issues that are entirely common, neither one had a long-term disease requiring special care. They were just ordinary people -- and their lives are documented along with others in photographs set on the edge of the tapestry. Breathtaking, to walk alongside the display and begin to contemplate all the drugs  taken over the years, for whatever reason... from headaches to hay fever to birth control to erection dysfunction to osteoporosis to stomach ulcers to depression... and in addition, whatever the current belief in Vitamins pushes us to take.. C? D? E? a nice combo of the Bs?

Worthy of reflection, our dependence on the pharmaceutical industry.... Perhaps we live longer, perhaps we live better... or do we? I do notice that when I am travelling, as I was whilst in London and Leeds, I usually forget to take the daily pills I bring with me in a little labelled vial... And somehow I manage to survive (at least in the short term).

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Of Gardens, Parks & Rhododendrons

I do know that strictly speaking photos of flowers in England do not constitute information about Mas Blanc Writer's Retreat... but when I have some stunning rhododendron shots in hand, I can't help but share them. They are so stunningly beautiful, I can be cheered up for days after viewing rhododendrons, no matter where I see them (they do very well in Tasmania too) because no matter what colour or shape the blossoms are, they simply demand complete attention, the kind of breathless adoration one might give a movie star or saint. Rhododrendrons are the very opposite of wallflowers, they are "in your face" gorgeous.....These shots were taken in a very pretty park called The Hollies, in Leeds... one of those walking-gardens designed in the 19th century that combines carefully thought-out plantings along paths and occasional untended areas that provide free-form natural foliage and flowers. The rhododendron bushes are scattered throughout the park so that every few moments I had to  express my delight with another "aaaaahhhh!"

Not a shy, retiring sort of blossom, the rhododendron say "here I am!"
I love gardens of all kinds, from those found in public parks to those made in back yards... and perhaps especially those that are grouped together in allotments, an old British custom that is making a visible comeback not only in in the UK but here in France and over in Canada too (GOOGLE the McVean Farm, situated outside Brampton near Toronto, to see an interesting version of the community garden writ large). The following photo shows the allotment  on a hillside behind my sister's house in Headingley (Leeds), for more than 120 years a place where individuals have been keeping their gardens together.  As we walked around its perimeter at dusk, blackbirds filled the air with song and we spied one of the resident foxes hightailing it down a grassy alleyway. So green, so peaceful, such a sense of communal connection in the work of growing food -- and flowers, too. Everywhere there were forget-me-nots in bloom, although they are not so visible in this photo taken as evening fell.

This is just one section of the Allotment, but you get the idea

Forget-me-nots..as if a little patch of heaven has fallen onto earth

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

London to Leeds & Home Again

Those of you who are following me may have noticed my absence these past two weeks and although you've not asked for an explanation I am ready to tell you.... I was off in England visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Leeds and several friends in London. I wonder if it is a symptom of my having truly put down roots in France that I now prefer the word Angleterre to England... somehow, it just sounds prettier to the ear, no? In any case, it is certainly a different country from this one, and the difference is detectable as soon as you alight at St. Pancras Station (assuming you've arrived by Eurostar train, as I did, a most agreeable way to travel).

But that's another story, I want to move quickly to some of the photos I took during my English holiday... First of all, London, where I spent one marvellous day in the company of Sheila Johnson Kindred, who has been my friend since university days at UWO in LondonOnt, and with whom I crossed the Atlantic on a Cunard liner back when we were still "young things" off to see the world (she to study and me to work as a supply teacher, both of us in LondonEng). Sheila led us on a tour of favorite old haunts -- and for a few hours the weather was in our favour, so that this first shot of tulips in Green Park was taken under blue skies, amid the jolly marching music -- and the noise of crowds -- from the nearby Changing of the Guard.

I'm always a sucker for red tulips and these were particularly splendid.
 Sheila and I had lunch at the Foundling Museum, just off Mecklenburgh Square...Those of you who have read Audrey Thomas's lovely novel TATTIECORAM (Goose Lane, 2005) will know all about this orphanage, and if you haven't read it, I urge you to hie off to the library to find this little gem. We then spent several happy hours at the British Museum, where I was able to view once again one of my all-time favorite artifacts, the reliquary of St. Eustache, dating back to the 13th century... I love the idea of a head being full of saints' bones.. and whatever else.

The wooden head is the receptacle over which the gold one once fit.
Visiting old friends was certainly part of the pleasure to be had in London, augmented of course by visits to the Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, etc... I was able to spend time withs several chums, two of them met in Kenya back in the late 1980s:  English hospice organizer Ruth Wooldridge, with whom I saw two plays by Alan Bennett (one of my literary heros), and Canadian writer Debra Martens, whose continually entertaining blog CANADIAN WRITERS ABROAD is well worth following. (canadianwritersabroad.com/) On our way to lunch, Debra and I walked along Kensington High Street and stopped to admire one of the most glorious flowering cherry trees... an exuberant display of fluffy pink blossoms... In spite of the dreadful cold wet weather, London was definitely in bloom.

Debra is learning to love London, as have so many Canadians before her.
Did I mention the cold, grey, wet weather? Honestly, it made walking through the city much less enjoyable than it might have been, but I did what the English do, I put up my brolly and just kept going, head bent against the wind. Lest you think I am exaggerating the grim conditions, here's a view of the Thames with Tower Bridge in the distance... you get the picture.

GREY, utterly grey...

Monday, 6 May 2013


Well, you have to be of a certain age to remember CAMELOT, that wonderfully musical Broadway musical from a few decades ago... but if you are that old, you'll not only remember that the 1960 production starred Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Canada's Robert Goulet, but you'll probably have a pretty good memory for some of the songs...("If ever I would leave you, it wouldn't be in springtime...." etc.etc.) And you might even be, as I have been these past days, humming your way through the first bars of "It's May! it's May! the merry month of May!!" and then far too quickly have to begin hunting madly through your mental files for what comes next... Nevertheless, this cheery little melody with its pretty lyrics does come to mind, when the world awakens in the most lush and sensual sort of way. Even those of us who have a propensity to feel a bit blue during the winter months find ourselves floating on a cloud of well-being once May is here. I mean, just look at my apple tree, have you ever seen anything happier?

This little apple tree produces wonderfully sweet Jonagolds...
May is a wonderful season for visiting France -- just a little ahead of the major tourist invasion, and in the south it is not yet too hot. In fact, it's just about perfect, so I was very glad that my new friends Ingrid and Phil, from Portland, Oregon, were able to make their brief stay at this perfect time of year. Of course we dined seasonly -- asparagus, organic salmon and new pototoes, followed by fresh local salad greens, and after the cheese course, a big bowl of just-picked Clery strawberries with cream... a meal very like the one I described last year for Kim Moritsugu's HUNGRY NOVELIST BLOG).

We enjoyed  our evening of conversation, and equally, we enjoyed spending time out on the terrace this morning, where Ingrid had opportunity to sketch the old mill across the stream.

The view from the terrace is ideal for those lucky souls with artistic talent....

Better than a photograph when you get home, the sketch or water colour is truly YOUR memory