I've been home a while, after a busy few days visit from my brother and sister, and then a trip to my other brother's and sister-in-law's in the Mayenne, but I've felt persistently blog-shy. I've stacks of pictures, and I have been writing, but mostly pen and paper, not here. Of course it's been lovely weather, and house and garden have needed to be caught up with, and I know that a lapse of a fortnight is really neither here nor there. But it's probably the longest I've gone without doing anything here, and well into my fourth year of blogging, faced with ups and downs in my own mood, I could see how this place could be allowed to fall into neglect, and how the longer one stays away, the harder it might be to get back to it.
So I decided I'd try to do Three Beautiful Things for a bit, Clare's wonderful invention, described by Plutarch, who consistently does it to the level of high art, as 'up there with the discovery of penicillin' (or words to that effect, I'm quoting from memory). I began doing it on paper, as I didn't want to commit myself too soon to something I couldn't keep up.
There's a danger with it, perhaps, that it might seem like a rather over-jolly, Pollyana-ish, everything-in-the-garden's-rosy, don't-worry-be happy, kind of exercise. It isn't. The point of it seems to me that you have to make the effort to find the three things, even when you don't necessarily feel like it. You have to take the trouble to notice and appreciate and make the record of them. They don't have to be rosy-pretty-sugary things at all, but it's your business to find the beauty in them, be it charm or interest or oddity or rarity or their potential to raise a question. Sometimes too, you might have to fight against apathy and laziness and depression, the creeping that everything in the garden is far from rosy, to do it.
Anyway, it's not for me to teach my grandmothers to suck eggs; those two and many many others have been showing how it's done for a long time, and I appreciate more than ever the sticking power and talent that it's taken. I don't know how long I'll do it, I'll still probably want to do other things here, but I think it will be a help to me at the moment, keeping up with things here while leaving me free perhaps to write more in private too. And maybe it will also help to use up some of the photos I can't quite think how else to do with, since I've let my Flickr account slide.
So, here are four days' worth, from last Wednesday to yesterday (Saturday). I found six things yesterday, so that can serve for today's as well, as I'll probably drift off and do other things after that, like keeping an eye on the England - Germany game and taking a newly-bathed Molly out for the sunshine to finish drying her fur. I'll stick a photo at the end, and try to do it daily for a while from now on.
Wed 23 June
~ Ylang-ylang oil in the small raw cotton bag with the Indian soap-nuts, to wash the bath towels, instead of the usual geranium or lavender.
~ The pictures we finally got round to hanging in the blue room before our visitors arrived, including the tapestry monkey, and the tiny etching of a Scottish glen I bought in a Cheltenham gallery many years ago.
~ Getting into the car to drive again. I like driving too much, even though I'm not very good at it. I forget to turn off at the old railtrack, and Mol doesn't remind me, so we have to go on to the plan d'eau, which we really prefer. It only makes me slightly late for my yoga session.
Thurs 24 June
~ Having cut all the grass in the garden without murdering any toads, I should go into Moncontour to post a card and book a leg-wax, but instead I put out a wooden deckchair on the newly-cut grass and read 'Wolf Hall' until 6 o'clock.
~ A tub of organic chicken livers found in the freezer satisfies a craving I'd forgotten I had. Sauté (how does one anglicise that, with or without a 'd'?) with a sliced shallot and some thyme, deglazed with a splash of port and a spoonful of cream, served with boiled potatoes and marrowfat peas.
~ I speak with my sister and brother on the 'phone. We talk about Mont St Michel, Helvellyn, les Toiles de Mayenne, and how we hate goodbyes.
Fri 25 June
~ I've been picking up the Taschen paperback of Robert Doisneau's photographs, and wondering whether to go the the exhibition of them in Dinan next month. Seeing originals of photos is perhaps not as importantly different from seeing reproductions of them as it is for paintings. I decide to do so. He said, according to the English text, 'one should take a photo only when one feels full of love for one's fellow man'. A rather tall order, it seems, but then looking at the French text, what he actually said was not love but 'generosité', which is a slightly different kettle of fish.
~ Speaking of fish, fish pie, which I always make the way my mother showed me, seething the fish in milk with whatever seasonings, flaking it into the dish and then making the white sauce with the milk.
~ Cabernet d'Anjou, a mild summer tipple, sweet, quite low in alcohol, the colour of Tiza, a weakness I'm only slightly ashamed of. With an ice cube.
Saturday 26 June ( double dose)
~ The pointy end of the ice-cream cone (the old fashioned dry wafer kind, not the posh ones with chocolate in the tip), with a smear of ice-cream licked down into it, must surely always have been the dog's portion...
~ Our philadelphus, belle-etoile with a slight smudge of purplish shading in the centre, always blooms late. It waves over the laurel hedges, wafts its bubble-gum and orange-flower-water perfume across the garden.
~ I write a very short short story. Though I can't quite see when or how it might see the light of day, I am pleased with it, and getting it done feels like an achievement.
~ My brother in Mayenne sends a write-up and links to two websites, of artists they have come across on their travels. Stephen Meakin makes glorious complex gilded mandalas, and Rowena Maybourn, whose convictions about divining and the Goddess caused me to giggle with rather unkind scepticism when he told me about her, has quite won me over with mediaeval colour and mythical beasts and calligraphy, and seems to be ablaze with creative energy and drive. You can't knock it.
~ Taking Mol out for a last turn about the garden, I hear whoops and party trumpets from somewhere down the hill. I see nothing, but it sounds closer than town, and there's no circus there just now. The folks at the farm have had sad recent times, so I hope they've got something to celebrate.
~ A faraway friend throws out an unexpected line, which touches my heart deeply.