Thursday, July 30, 2009


Charmless Dutch Bulb-growing Neighbour often berates us for our weeds. But the birds don't.

I haven't seen one of these, a linnet, for several years, they are quite rare these days, red-listed. Then a pair of them appeared on the terrace today; they were quite confiding, and came fairly close to the back door apparently finding insects among the gravel. Listening out, I heard a song similar to a greenfinch, and later on a tremendous racket, which turned out to be the whole family they'd brought along, perhaps half a dozen fluffy brown young ones, demanding food, hence the searching for insects; they are usually seed eaters but turn to insects in summer to feed their young.

The second one in from the right is the female, who doesn't have any red on her, the male seems to be starting to moult, despite still having hungry mouths to feed (either that or he's just an Old Cock Linnet!). In the winter they are just brown, so it's possible they are around in mixed winter flocks but I just don't notice them, since they look much like all the other finches.

Next up, butterflies, or why we brook further complaints from the Bulb Grower and leave some stinging nettles to grow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Questions and thanks

Over at Compasses, Joe makes tight forms out of King Lear's disintegration, whence came the question 'Who is it who can tell me who I am?'.

Molly and we thank everyone for their concern and good wishes for her health. She seems well, and has healed apparently without problems, and hasn't even had to wear her bucket on her head. It seems that these troubles just are going to flare up from time to time, so the less invasively they can be sorted out the better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Proust, port and other pretty or peculiar things.

"Proust's in here, Mol," said Tom, indicating the bathroom of the blue-ceilinged room, which I am painting simply cream this time " I think Lucy's with him."

They'd just come back from a foray to Leroy-Merlin, seeking more materials (Did I really just supply a link to Leroy-Merlin's English language webpage? Expatriosis must be terminal...). We're trying to get this room done for when his daughter and her family come at the weekend. They're only staying for the weekend, so it's not really necessary to be busting a gut to this extent, as they could doubtless make shift perfectly happily with less finished accommodation, but we find deadlines can be useful and challenging, even when they are artificially imposed.

However, the pressure brings Tom's perfectionism to pathological levels, and it gets difficult to stop. I concluded the only way I was going to get time to do this blog was be reclaiming my 6 o'clock in the morning habit, but as I rolled groggily out of bed, I was only too aware my boon companion was extrememely alert already.

" I'm terribly worried about the varnish round the door" he told me.

"Shut up and go back to sleep for god's sake."

Molly is disgruntled at our attention being shifted away from the sofa, the kitchen and outside. She is at a time of her yearly cycle when nest-making becomes important, and insists on living dangerously among the dust sheets in the bathroom to make her point.

(She has had another abscess by her ear, which threw us into momentary misery, but it didn't seem so painful this time, and with all the regular vets being away on holiday, we saw a very kindly retired locum, who was inclined to be less needle and scalpel happy and more hands-off, and he prescribed oral antibiotics and a regime of cleaning, which seems to have worked fine, fingers crossed...)

" That Proust bloke always pisses off when I come into the room." says Tom, suspiciously.

"That's because he's a great big wuss," I reassure him, adding for good measure, "and a mummy's boy and a big girl's blouse" to allay the creeping jealousy he is evidently feeling about my current devotion to darling Marcel, who is, of course, all of those things, none of which prevents him from being sublime. In fact I turn the CD player off because I need to concentrate on listening and if we chat, or fret about varnish round doors, or whatever, I miss bits.

Which brings me on to Lovely Things Coming in the Post. This from Joe.

I had just been thinking that it would be really handy to have some kind of reference of who was who and where and how they fitted into the scheme of things, and was there a real place that Balbec was based on and wondering if I could afford more time on-line searching for such things, and little did I know that not only did such a book exist but a copy of it was already winging its way toward me! Now, without even possessing the full print text, but armed with a set of CDs, this book and Alain de Botton's 'How Proust Can Change Your Life' - another of the things that spurred me on to undertake this project, I am well on the way in my career as an apprentice Proustian.

And it really is a project. I do need the text, and preferably two translations at least, because the latest Penguin one is doubtless fine but really one needs Moncrieff as well, and I would really like it in French, not because I'm ready to embark on reading it in the original in its entirety but because sometimes something comes up where I really want to know how it was rendered. For example, when little Marcel reads in a grove of hornbeam and savours the other charms of the garden, is there a pun on the word 'charme'? Does Proust descend to puns, even such dainty ones? (Come on, all French people descend to puns, all the time...). And when he refers to Gilberte's 'wisdom', I'm thinking no, that's not right, Gilberte may be many things but wise isn't one of them, but perhaps it's 'sagesse', as in un enfant sage, that she is 'being good'. In other words, I want to be a smartarse to myself, perhaps to cover for the lack of profound and pithy things I really have to say. But I am just a beginner after all.

So, yes, with three sets of text, a set of CDs, sundry works of reference and comment, plus enough room to spread them all out, one could really set up a whole room of the house consecrated to total Proust immersion. Joe probably has.

At about the same time, Lovely Sister, (who is sometimes capitalised, sometimes not), sent me a parcel with this dear little pen in it,

along with a DVD of 'The Painted Veil', which I haven't watched yet. I'm slightly uncertain that the blurb describes it as 'a captivating love story', which from what I remember of the book, from about 30 years ago when I read it, it wasn't exactly, but perhaps I'm wrong, and the scenery certainly looks sumptuous.

The garden is sadly neglected in this blitz on interior work, but with all this, nature is never spent, there lives the dearest freshness deep down things... it carries on doing pretty things all on its own, like these snapdragons that had the nous to seed themselves right in front of the red grasses,

Japanese anemones, which are very easy-going,

and gladioli. These flowers are an area of some horticultural divergence of opinion, Tom wants to grow them, and I am not inclined. I am not, be assured, a garden snob, their vulgarity doesn't bother me; I like blousy rhododendrons, sky and cobalt blue hydrangeas, all sorts of loud dahlias, and many many plants and flowers that rate very poorly in terms of what is usually considered good taste. It's just that gladdies seem to be somehow on the wrong scale, and their colours and texture seem to me to be of some different material than that of other plants and flowers, and they have a lamentable tendency to keel over without much provocation.

However, I am prepared to make an exception of these lime green ones, which are smaller and finer than the others.

Evening primrose happily plant themselves all over the place, and are much more subtle in their demeanor,

and, its dismally jolly and unimaginative name notwithstanding, the Golden Celebration rose is a delight every year. It also smells gorgeous.

If I were a cricket, I'd probably want to live inside one too.

Going short of exercise and having to take pills smeared with butter, on account of her being poorly and our being busy, Molly has put on weight. Once she was better, and I had literally painted myself into a corner and could do no more until it was properly dry, a longer walk down the la Tantouille road and a visit to the mirabelle hedge was in order. The late, fine spring at the time when the trees were in blossom, and some sunshine in the intervening months, have, as I hoped, produced a good crop. So it'll be tarte aux mirabelles for Dick's visit, and perhaps some more foraging by way of entertainment for next weekend's visitors.

"Let's have a glass of white port to celebrate." I proposed.
"Celebrate what?"
"Getting a new bottle of white port?"

I'll end this tour of what I've found on my camera and other matters of little import with a whimsical interior shot of the sunlight filtering throught the not very effective fly curtains and falling on the telelvision table and stand. This was rather inspired by some of the photos on Jean's blog 'à la recherche de l'Absolu'. I've seen this one on other people's blogrolls for ages, so I'm probably very slow coming to it, but I find it a most compelling photo blog, especially the ones of quite ordinary aspects of life - often interiors, a plainly tiled corridor, a stainless steel tea pot and some glasses, the sun on rush-seated chairs, or the green tops of some leeks - but with the light catching and penetrating them in such a way that they sometimes become quite transcendent. I hate to say it, but what with the title and all, it's just a little bit Proustian...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cap Fréhel, more blue. And pink.

When my sister was here, we made a trip to Cap Fréhel. I hadn't been there for ages. It's a headland that sticks out northward into what is still the English Channel.

Looking west, you can see across the Bay of St Brieuc, up the Paimpol peninsular, to the Ile de Bréhat, at least on a clear day, which it wasn't really.

Eastward is the Bay of St Malo, the land jutting out in many little limbs, mostly named for saints: St Cast, St Jacut, St Lunaire, St Briac, St Malo...

It's a tricky place to come to by sea,

there's a fairly modern lighthouse,

built onto the body of an older one,

then, right out at the point, a small, stumpy one, presumably the oldest of all.

With rocky thin soil, moorland and a lot of obdurate rock, no one much bothered to develop it. Now I think it's protected.

So the birds, like these cormorants, can live their lives in peace, since even the many visitors who come to walk here can't get close to where they live and feed.

The photo below, without the zoom, gives you some idea how high you are above the sea and the rocks, the tiny black dots are the cormorants, the white flecks may well be gannets, a bird with a four-foot wingspan, I certainly saw some there.

And this shows how little the landscape is spoiled by fussy nonsense like safety barriers: the little boy who I inadvertently got partially in the shot is standing more or less on the edge of a sheer drop - his bigger brother was standing by him, though sibling rivalry being what it can be that was not necessarily a guarantee of his safety.

At the other end of the same peninsular is Fort La Latte. Remember that 1950s epic 'The Vikings'? It was filmed here. I think I'd like to see it again, but Tom says I'd have to watch it on my own, as he finds the chopping-off-Tony-Curtis's-hand bit too bloodthirsty.

Most of this coast is granite, but this is part of a strip of pink sandstone, (not pink granite, as is found further west on the pink granite coast round Perros Guirrec) that runs mostly under the sea, but emerges again at the northernmost tip of the Ile de Bréhat, where it seems to take on a quite peachy hue, and another lighthouse has been built from it, so it rises from the rocks it stands on in a very harmonious and all-of-a-piece amnner .
Here it has been sculpted by the elements into dramatic stacks and towers. I wonder how long that chunk of stone has been trapped in that space, and when and why it fell?

It blends with the blue-grey and golden lichens, and with the yellow gorse and reddish heather that cover the landscape much of the summer, and looks quite vivid against the blues of sea and sky.

And the birds seem to like it too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

La vie en bleu

This is what's been occupying me. The beamed ceiling in a room of my own, as will be. It used to be a cow stable. When we moved here it had the old drinking fountains for the cattle plumbed in, a channel down the floor for cow's effluent, and a very nasty looking stain on the wall. Upstairs, which is now our bedroom, wasn't really upstairs at all, just a kind of hayloft, made from old roofing felt and wormeaten branches. There were bales for straw of uncertain age and a rat's skeleton. Tom fell off the ladder a couple of up there times in our first year, which did him no good really. It wasn't a nice place.

He built the ceiling (and most else of the room, though I did mix and barrow the concrete for the floor...), now I'm painting it.

Blue. Very blue. Turquoise no.3, though it's not as turquoise as I expected, except when it gets in my eyebrows when it looks more so. It's rather toybox blue, woad blue, cerulean, maybe. The blue of lost jewels and of Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere's robe. Perhaps the 'strong blue' of Gudrun Brangwen's coat which she scandalised all by wearing with emerald green stockings (someone, I forget who, wrote a funny essay on that, positing that DH Lawrence was a fetishist for women's stockings...).

It is not a safe decorating colour. But I cannot describe the thrumming below the solar plexus that the sight of this blue gives me. I love the red of the dining room, the soft woody green of the living room, I'm happy enough with the lavenders and purples and heathery colours in the bedroom, and I had half a hankering for some wild and madderish pinks, but this is something else. It is not sad, it is deep.

It's hard work to paint; the beams make the area much greater, and overhead is always more difficult. My hand, arm, shoulder and neck all ache, as it's thick paint and I'm averse to rollers and second coats, using only a two-inch brush to get into all the corners. But it's worth it; going up the ladder is like putting my head into the sky.

And I get to listen to Proust while I'm doing it ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bosmeleac, and the roaring boys of summer.

Bosmeleac is an artificial lake, a barrage, built about 1840, on the river Oust. It used to feed the rigole d'Hilvern, a winding channel which supplied the Nantes-Brest canal. The builders of this water system suffered; it was hard, perhaps forced labour, they were hungry, sick and overworked. Now little of it is used in any working capacity, but just for pleasure and leisure, and presumably for water supplies.

It's only half an hour's drive from here, if that, but I'd not been there before. It lies beyond the railway, and the once important station town of L'Hermitage-l'Orge, on the other side of the frontier, beyond which baleful mists and miasmas rise up from the benighted hinterland. This side of the watershed, we are Armor, not Argoat, and never the twain...

Which is all nonsense, of course. In fact it's not far at all, not very different, and often very pretty, more wooded, flowery and watery than our slopes towards the sea often are. There is a sense of the interior being a somewhat closed and hostile region (ask Rosie!), but I'm sure many people who live there would say otherwise.

However, expecting it to be rather remote and undeveloped, we were quite surprised to see clean artificial beaches with play equipment, a campsite, a bar and restaurant or two. A few families were spread on the beach, and in the water, a group of adolescent boys were playing a noisy game of improvised water polo.

'Roaring boys!' laughed my sister, then 'Where's that from?'

I thought it was Dylan Thomas, but it isn't. The Roaring Boys were Ben Jonson's Elizabethan crowd of young, hot-blooded, trouble-making playwrights and actors, 'Shakespeare's Rat Pack', as one recent book describes them. I was thinking of Dylan Thomas's 'boys of summer'.

I see the boys of summer in their ruin
Lay the gold tithings barren...

But it got me picking up Dylan Thomas again anyway. I was reminded of the rather flayed and fleshy, gamey quality of much of the poetry, especially this early stuff, the (usually) male anatomy only barely covered by the obscurity of the imagery and the highly-wrought and twisted language. Makes me squirm a little as ever (saints preserve me from attacks of the vapours!), but it's also rich and heady and amazing.

And high summer is gamey, and time and change and the seasons, life and generation and birth and death all rolled woven and stitched in with each other can be shocking and cruel.

My elderly former neighbours, Jean and Josiane, had a painting on their wall. It had been bought from an itinerant seller, a formulaic rendition of a romantically misty, highly-coloured wooded lake scene, but Jean loved it because, he said, it reminded him of Bosmeleac. When they were youngsters, in the summer, he and the other children of the village, and the visiting friends and cousins down on the train from Paris and elsewhere, including Josiane as a girl, would gather in groups and ride their gearless bicycles out to Bosmeleac to swim and picnic and hang out.

There in their heat the winter floods
Of frozen loves they fetch their girls,
And drown the cargoed apples in their tides

It was still quite quiet when we went there, the holidays having only just begun, but as well as the families, small groups of kids from the campsite were gathered on the stone bridge, in shorts and swimming costumes and bright lycra, with the odd scooter, the younger girls observing the older ones with sharp and timid curiosity.

There in the sun the frigid threads
Of doubt and dark they feed their nerves...

Occasionally one of the boys would drop into the water with a yell ,

Or lame the air with leaping from its heats;
There in their hearts the dogdayed pulse
Of love and light burns in their throats.

But a short walk away, all is quiet, and oaks and chestnuts almost dip their leaves in the gently rippling, olive or sky-reflectingwater,

the beeches still have enough translucency in their leaves to form a lively tracery overhead,

occasional patches of coniferous trees scent the air differently, and alter the quality of the light,

rough footbridges of wood and stone cross the tributary streams in the dappled light,

and there is room for everyone, even those who want to be quiet and solitary.

Despite the summer, in the continual moist turnover of soil and dead matter, there were still curious funghi emerging into the tenuous light.

I see the summer children in their mothers
Split up the brawned womb's weathers,
Divide the night and day with fairy thumbs;

There in the deep with quartered shades
Of sun and moon they paint their dams
As sunlight paints the shelling of their heads.

We agreed that somehow there is always something slightly melancholy, slightly oppressive, about dams, a stillness tinged almost with menace. Perhaps it is the forceful and vertiginous danger of sluices and spillways, of sheer drops and man-made waterfalls, the formidable stonefaces of barrages. I remember an enormous one in the Auvergne, way down in a valley among woodland, which seemed to be entirely empty of human life, where crag martins peered mistrustfully up at me form their niches as I looked over the precipice of the dam wall.

Or perhaps it is the way the structures look like fortifications - many in the Welsh hills seemed to make an architectural motif of this, so one felt small and agoraphobic approaching them on foot, like Childe Rolande coming to the dark tower. And indeed they are, I suppose, battlements against the vengeance and power of the held back water.
Or the knowledge that, most likely, settlements, villages, hamlets, farms were sacrificed and flooded to create the reservoir.

Perhaps too, in this case, it was also about the slight air dilapidation created by half sunk, algae-speckled pleasure boats, and empty pontoons and landing stages.

But in fact, this was an early season dereliction, of things mostly just not brought back into shape yet. It was really only the start of the summer holidays, and yet already there is the sense of everything going over, of incipient decay.

But isn't that always the way, as the poem says? That every season, every phase of life contains the germ of every other, the 'pulse of summer in the ice' and 'Death from a summer woman'?
It's there in the winter warmth of the woodpile stacked and seasoning in the July heat,

and the parasitic globes of the evergreen mistletoe drawing its strength from the soft green summer poplars, which will in turn nourish the mistle thrushes that will lay eggs the colour of the sky next spring.

The dog-days can be melancholy days, and still calm waters are places of reflection.

But seasons must be challenged or they totter
Into a chiming quarter
Where, punctual as death, we ring the stars;
There in his night, the black-tongued bells
The sleepy man of winter pulls,
Nor blows back moon-and-midnight as she blows.

Just by the way, something that gave me a real blogging boost today: our friends A and C had guests in their gite near here who they got on very well with, and who were very active and curious explorers of the area, having done plenty of research in books and on the internet. The lady happened to mention that she'd found a blog which she'd enjoyed and found informative, by a woman living somewhere nearby with a dog called Molly, a blog called Box Elder! A and C are somewhat unusual among my incarnate friends hereabouts in being familiar with Box Elder, and even more unusual in perhaps considering it of any interest or value, though they don't read regularly, not having broadband and not living much on-line, so they were pleased to report back to me about this. I have to say it did give me a buzz to know that it's proved accessible and interesting to people who want to find out about place where I happen to live, and that they might even be prepared to be sidetracked with details of topics so diverse as Dylan Thomas, audiobooks of Proust, fence post typology and sundry other tangential ruminations to stick with it. It kind of makes it all worthwhile...

So Jude, if you're reading, sincerest thanks, and feel free to leave a comment if you should ever want to, you can do it as anonymous and just put your name at the end.

( I know this post could do with some links, including to the full 'boys of summer poem', but I'm out of time tonight, so I'll do it tomorrow!)