Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Maud, our adorable little hen, is a wise old thing.

Maud is a “silkie” or negre soie hen.

She is usually the first out the henhouse–keen to get on with her day.

She sort of explodes out of the house, her little legs–in the cliched language so beloved and abused by politicians–hitting the ground running.

Lucette likes to arrange herself properly for the outside world; you never know who you might meet. Important to look your best at all times, especially so soon after the moulting season. The fact that on occasions she has the residue of a poo hanging off her behind is not her fault; there are no vanity mirrors in the henhouse.

Lucette is a “rumpless” hen–an Araucana–who is supposed to lay BLUE eggs–not that we’ve seen any.

This morning it was Lucette waiting on ground floor of their duplex, champing at the bit. Maud was sitting in the background showing no interest in getting out the door.

When our cats are feeling–as my mother used to say–poorly, they behave in the same way. They find a comfortable, warm, quiet spot and wait for the “annoyance” to pass.

Beau has just emerged from just such a time. He hurt himself while out doing his duty patrolling the grounds.

We don’t know if he got into a fight (he doesn’t take kindly to intruder cats) or missed a leap from branch to wall; whatever it was, it left him limping for a good month.

A home visit from an animal osteopath and some cat medication (glucosamine) helped his recovery but instinctively he knew it was a matter of time.

“Sit it out, old chum–it will pass.”

All–wise, old things.

So what was bugging Maud?

Had she spent the night on the razzle? Bad dreams of maurading foxes?

Maybe she let her “feathers” down and lit up the town–and was suffering the consequences.

One thing is sure, she wasn’t sitting on an egg–more’s the pity!

Whatever it was, it passed and by lunchtime when I checked the henhouse again, it was empty.

No Maud.

I found her under the old henhouse scratching around, reunited with her friend, getting back up to speed.

She’d done the animal thing and sat and waited for the “annoyance” to pass.

Next time I’m sick as a dog/cat/hen; I’m following Maud and sitting tight.

Less foreign now….
In fact–Tout va très bien chez nous! 🇫🇷
 
 
Yesterday we collected our Certificates of Naturalisation from the Prefecture of our department (Tarn).
 

We’re smiling, though you wouldn’t know!

 
Then we sat in a traditional brasserie in a traditional French square and drank a traditional French petit café
and felt good about it!
 
 

We resisted the temptation to sing La Marseillaise!

 
The cup was slightly bigger and less thick than normal and the coffee was clearly the issue of arabica beans– brilliantly hot and delicious.
 
 
Maybe it was our delight we were tasting–but NO! it was the best café coffee I’ve tasted in years.
 
 
I will never be French and Meredith will never be British or French; but we now are undeniably bonefide French Citizens.
 
We can vote in the national elections for the President and the government of the country in which we pay our taxes. We have representation when we are taxed (especially meaningful for Meredith!).
 
Please excuse my perhaps over-enthusiastic donning of rose-coloured spectacles, but today I feel fully “legit” and c’est bien ça !

AND…

We are once again citizens of Europe.

 
Twenty-two years ago, when we told our friends that we were moving permanently to France, the news received a mixed reception.
 
Many people were skeptical.
 

“They’ll be back in six months,” predicted some.

“What are you going to DO there?” others asked.

“Have you spent a WINTER there?” (1200 kilometres south of London!)–another, puzzling reaction.

Two decades plus down the road….
 
Well–Stephen Sondheim’s superb French-Canadian interpreter, Jasmin Roy, tells it better than me…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mikis Theodorakis

The death is announced of Greek composer

Mikis Theodorakis

 

Are you married?

Am I married?

I have a house, a wife, children–the full catastrophe!

Anthony Quinn’s Zorba answering Alan Bates oh-so English teacher’s question in the film Zorba the Greek–before they dance the epic dance.

The music, of course, composed by Mikis Theodorakis, who died today, age 96.

On a magical first visit to Corfu seven years ago, we happened upon a Sunday morning rehearsal of a local young people’s dance group before they set off to NW Spain to compete in an international dance festival.

This, thanks to Meredith’s miraculously steady hand, is what we saw.

The rehearsal took place at the Cultural Association of Sinies on the northeast corner of Corfu. The inspiring teacher is Viahos Ioannis.

It’s nearly nine in the morning; Lucette and Maud are up and ready to face the day, but seem in no hurry–content to scuffle around, chatting to themselves, making the usual plans.

They have passed the night in their little house nestling in the coop between buttresses on the northwest side of the church.

Our friend Thomas built the coop while the little split-level house inside was a gift from our friends Flo and Thierry. (Foxes, weasels and buzzards are a threat!)

Lucette has the upstairs, Maud the ground floor.

Maud hesitates as I open up and waits for Lucette to descend to ground level before shooting through the opening to the day beyond. Lucette follows at a more measured pace.

She is the larger of the two and usually leads the dance, with Maud content to follow in her wake.

Our pair of chickens, each with her own likes and quirks, ways and daily rounds, begin another day, mirroring all the days that have gone before, since the odd couple arrived here about one year ago. They are creatures of habit.

I secure the doors and watch two bobbing feathered behinds pecking their way up the path, past the tomato patch.

The pecking order operates only by virtue of Lucette’s longer legs; Maud, if it really matters to her, will put in a spurt of her short-legged bobbing waddle to outpace Lucette to that tasty morsel.

The odd two were three; but one day, when I went to close up in the evening I found a flat pancake of feathers near the door to the pen.

Poor Amber had hit red–she was dead.

No sign of an attack or any aggression, simply the image of a life departed. The end.

It was distressing–but also a relief that it appeared to have been natural and peaceful.

 

The magnificent Amber

The three hens came from a life in Montpellier on the Med, to the southwest of us.

They are breeds called Negra Soi or Silkies (Maud) and Araucana (Lucette).

Lucette, the larger one, is supposed to lay beautiful blue eggs.

In her time here, she has produced only ONE, small egg–albeit BLUE!
I made the smallest omelet in the world which Meredith and I shared.

Eggs are not the reason we delight in our odd couple. It’s simply THEM and their ways.
Lucette is always on the lookout for handouts–tilting her head coyly as she catches my eye.

“I’m here…”

She’ll take advantage of an open front door, nipping in to sample the cat food, which she relishes, and knows is often leftover–no flies on Lucette.
Graciously she shows her appreciation by leaving evidence of the visit.

“OOMPH!–delicious thanks so much.”

She is the more companionable of the two, often just hanging out with us.
Maud keeps her counsel, content to peck her way to a full stomach in the courtyard.
They usually siesta together under the old henhouse–hens with a sense of the past.

It’s perfect shade, and a place of safety from circling hawks and buzzards.

The cats keep a wary distance and are no threat to Lucette and Maud, who early on made it clear–with a fluttering of wings–that they would take no messing.

Ben–on higher ground–keeps a wary eye

None of the six cats have ever shown any inclination to “mess“.

At dusk, they retrace their steps and head for the tomato patch where they have a soft earth bath in a favourite place, nicely warmed by the afternoon sun.

 

“Lovely”

Then, in a leisurely fashion…

“No sense in rushing, you understand, being hens of the south….”

…they head for home, and after a little desultory pecking, turn in.

Lucette upstairs and Maud downstairs.

Another day well spent!

What a life!

The right to vote…

I want to share a timely piece published yesterday, by Heather Cox Richardson…

 

 …a professor of American history at Boston College, specializing in the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and the American West. She previously taught history at MIT and at Amherst.

She also writes what she calls “Letters from an American” six days a week on the US political scene. She takes notice of history, which many people don’t! (It’s highly recommended and free–though contributions are welcome.)

“Today, Americans across the country marched for voting rights.

Looking back..!!

Meredith was searching the archives for photos of a very young Beau yesterday and picked up a photo album for 2012–the ones that Apple used to do so well.

We spent an enjoyable half-hour revisiting what turns out to have been an eventful year–Meredith’s 60th and my 70th.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles!

My first cookbook, Delicious Dishes, was published; a revised and expanded version of my memoir, Making Poldark came out; then there was helping with the olive harvest in Tuscany, and seeing it pressed it for stupendous oil 

Ten years ago!? Pas possible!

Next year: 70 and 80 loom! Chin up!

Continuing in that spirit revisiting our yesteryears, and this being serious courgette/zucchini season, this morning, I pulled out a couple of old favourites from the cookbook-laden shelves in the larder, hoping to rediscover lost gems to cook for supper this evening.

Marcella’s Kitchen often yields rich pickens out of left field.

A short section entitled sautéed zucchini offers four summer recipes using fresh, young courgettes with a choice of three herbs–or smoked bacon–as agents of taste.

Bingo!

I shall do the others later, as the harvest from our four plants continues–but tonight’s little dish will be sautéed zucchini with onion, thyme, olive oil and a little butter.

I fancy it–perhaps the only reason to cook something.

Marcella says in her memoir that she taught herself to cook in NYC after she married Victor, a naturalized Italian-American:

…there I was, having to feed a young, hard-working husband who could deal cheerfully with most of life’s ups and downs, but not with an indifferent meal.

Lucky Victor–how times have changed!

She says recalling how her grandmother’s cooking tasted and smelled, helped calm her nerves and guide her cooking.

It’s done when it smells done!

Imagine the young Marcella willing that Disney-like wisp of flavourful smoke from her Grandma’s Venetian stove to drift West across the ocean to her Manhattan kitchen–what a resource!

I must try it with Mother Molly’s recipe for stuffed marrow!

A young Bob Dylan once sang that his sixties girlfriend…

...got everything she needs, she’s an artist
She don’t look back…

Sure, but a touch of nostalgia can pass an idle half-hour–looking back over a busy year.

And nostalgia got Victor Hazan fed, and us an evening meal.

(Disney wisp invisible!)

 

 

Beau’s preferred pose

a refinement

Alert refinement!

Or perhaps you’d prefer me like this?

Phooey–I’m fed up with all this posing…

Strange? An osteopath for cats, dogs, hamsters…? Well, not really, when you give it two thoughts. Beau has a head, neck, spine and four legs. Vulnerable joints, like us. He is subject to daily wear and tear–like us. He’s getting older–just like us! His limbs are not as nimble to get him out of scrapes, and not as swift to heal when he’s injured. Which we assume is what happened a few days ago. When Meredith passed him on his way to the end of the garden–he was walking normally. An hour later, he came limping back. We waited a couple of days and he seemed to be improving but those big eyes were looking at us as if to say:
Im trying to be brave (I am head cat), but I’m in pain and it seems just resting and being sensible isn’t working. You know that lady who came here a couple of times and worked magic on me? Perhaps she’d be willing to come back and work magic on me again?”
We took the hint, and Sandrine drove over the Black Mountains from Carcassonne.
Anything’s better than that twenty minute roller coaster ride to the vet clinic. Hateful, he cries–cruel. How can we know where you are taking us and what will happen when we get there?
Sandrine spent 30 minutes gently manipulating Beau on the dining room table. He was remarkably compliant– knowing and trusting her. Later he walks into the kitchen at a steady pace, a hint of a limp, but not complaining. He asks to go out the back door. Duty calls–the Evening Check on the Perimeters.

Friend or foe? You never know what you might find…

All our cats are/were refugees from a world elsewhere–we have never known exactly where. Meredith discovered him one evening in the garage. He was hardly larger than a tennis ball–purring, purring, purring, as though his life depended on it. It did–and he was found. He sat in the palm of my hand and was beautiful, so beautiful, hence his name, Beau. Incomparable Pippa was Head Cat back then, and served as a good role model for Beau. After she was buried in the garden, he assumed the mantle, and the other cats accepted the revised pecking order.
Vive les osteos!” says Beau, big eyes clear of the tension of pain–for the moment.
All down to the nice lady from Carcassonne, prepared to take the trip over the mountain, in the broiling heat. The pharmacy in Lautrec ordered his homeopathic arnica medication, so we’ll see.

Back on the job with Ben as assistant–Beau though, grabs the spotlight!

Tomato Patch

It’s going to be hot today–97F / 36C is forecast.

Close the windows and batten down the shuttersil faut!

I’ve managed to water the courgette and cucumber plants, conveniently in the shade until noon. The tomatoes need no watering, they fend for themselves, their roots penetrating deeper and deeper in search of water. This wisdom was told me by Julien, our gardener, and so far it has proven good advice, for a second year.

The problem with the toms is that in my eagerness to have fresh tomatoes on the table as soon as possible, I bought almost exclusively “précoce” (early fruiting), consequently, the kitchen bowls and baskets are now overflowing with red gold, eager to be used, one way or another.

Me next–I’m ripe, sweet and juicy.

Catch me while you can!

(I froze one yesterday and found a collapsed pomme d’or in the fridge this morning–no good for salads, but still good for cooking?)

Well, I’m doing my best, and enjoying every minute–and trying not to think about the end of August, when this bounty may subside….

Each time I totter into “the wild” where tomatoes grow, Marlon Brando in The Godfather comes to mind, and it makes me nervous.

Remember the scene when Don Coreone is entertaining a grandchild on the edge of a tomato patch? He has made a miraculous recovery from the murderous attack in NYC, and has retreated to what looks like a garden paradise.

He playfully chases the boy through the thicket of tomato stakes, begins to lose his breath, starts to cough, then crashes to the ground–massive heart attack.

DEAD!

Arrivederci, Don Vito Corleone!

Just desserts maybe, but quite a nice way to go, though I’d prefer to munch the tomato, and then go….

In fact, I’ll settle for munching tomatoes and leave the GOING ’til later.

I once was driving over Chelsea Bridge into London–a Sunday morning as I recall–and hit traffic backed up from the lights on the Embankment.

Two lines.

I looked across at the limo stationary beside me, and to my astonishment, Marlon Brando was looking down at me from his high perch, front passenger seat–perhaps just arrived at Gatwick Airport.

What I should have done was cooly wind down my window and tell him quietly how much I had enjoyed that wonderful scene.

I did no such thing, of course. Instead, my face moved not an English muscle; I did not blink, showed no recognition, shock, delight, amazement, but turned back to face the lights, which changed and we moved–the moment was gone.

Arrivederci Marlon!

 

 

 

 

At last–you might be muttering–something has happened in that intriguing interior.

Yes–it has been three years since we gained access to the old church and started seriously to think about what how we might engage its 160-year-old deconsecrated space.

It was carte blanche for our friends, with a sense of humour.

A nightclub?

An indoor swimming pool, a discotheque–some of the ideas floated.

So helpful, thanks.

We came to the tamer, but more reasonable conclusion that to kick off its new life as a deconsecrated piece of local history, a concert of a classical nature would be appropriate.

Spin forward to last Thursday evening and the sight of 80-odd people from up and down and roundabout moving slowly towards the doors, rubbing their hands with expectation (and disinfectant!) and donning masks.

What greeted them inside was l’ancienne église bursting with pride and light– having found a purpose again.

Has to be said: The pride and light was down to some hard-grind cleaning by the initiator and prime mover of the occasion: Monsieur Jean Michel Vinay, art dealer and master of the evening’s revels.

A recent arrival in Lautrec (he bought the beautiful property where I did the cooking classes), he had heard about the church in the middle of nowhere and–looking for an exhibition space to show the work of his painter friends–was keen to see the space.

He liked what he saw and on Thursday the former parishioners found unfamiliar images looking down on them, temporarily covering the simple murals that had overseen their Sunday worship for the past 100 years.

Jean Michel had other friends. One is renowned bass-baritone opera singer, Vincent Le Texier, who reacted favourably when Jean Mich suggested he might enjoy a busman’s holiday–stay with Jean Mich, bring the three kids, and try out the promising acoustic of this unlikely setting, with a view to a summer concert, sharing the platform with his wife, Gabriela Enderlova–a talented mezzo-soprano–and the brilliant pianist, Jean-François Ballèvre, making up the trio.

That was last year–but Covid 19 restrictions forced a postponement, and the concert happened elsewhere.

They’d rehearsed in the empty church though, and fallen for its natural ambient charms and extraordinary acoustic.

The same trio of musicians showed up again this year.

So, soon after 7pm, I walked up the side aisle and opened the proceedings with a little speech—in French.


I hadn’t been so nervous since first nights in Stratford in 1976.

For nearly two hours we sat transfixed by a programme of French solos and duets; music a touch too esoteric for my taste, but brilliantly performed. The hypnotic sonority of the voices bouncing off the walls, and down our backs, pinning us to our seats!

It seemed no-one left after the short interval.

Then pot luck supper in the garden under the setting August light.

The buzz was joyful and infectious–and the church, presiding, fairly beamed with delight.

“You’ll be back for more….”

Je n’en doute pas–à la prochaine fois, alors!

Close to midnight, when most of the revellers had dispersed to their homes, the irrepressible Jean-François fulfilled his promise to Meredith to play Scenes from Childhood by Schumann.

An impromptu recital–and the second recognisable tune of the evening!*

It was a joy–and played with such respect and love for the music–it felt a privilege to be listening.

*The first was a lovely waltz–an encore–caught here during a rehearsal.

The wheels are turning to fulfill the church’s prophecy. A clarinettist is coming this week to try out the space.

The next day, young Shadow inspected the art–a private view!

,

.

Ring-a-ding ding

A tale for ❤️Valentine’s Day❤️

Came back from the organic open-air market this week, parked the yogurt, the whole rye loaves, the bouquet of Swiss chard and made up the fire. Lit it, and headed to the sideboard for my pistachio treat–a custom now of the late afternoon.

As I scooped the nuts into the little Florentine bowl, I realized something was missing: My wedding ring!

My finger was missing its ring!

There’s a particularly unpleasant punch-in-the-stomach feeling–WHOOSH–when something hugely-valued is not where it’s supposed to be.

And this is not the first time it has happened.

“Grace under pressure, Robin, grace under pressure….”

I retraced my steps.

Scanned the sideboard where the jars of dried fruits and nuts are stored–but no ring.

Tipped out the pistachio jar, nuts all over the countertop–but no ring.

I turned to the fire, which was picking up nicely.

Moments’ pause, then PANIC as I remembered….

Maybe it slipped off my finger when I tossed in a handful of dry kindling, before deciding I deserved a few pistachios. 

 “How resistant is gold to melting when subjected to intense heat?”

No time to GOOGLE–get dismantling the blaze, without burning my ringless fingers!

The ring is in fact THREE rings in yellow, white and rose gold–a Russian wedding ring. It will have been my close companion for 31 years this August.

I recently “changed hands” from left to right (the traditional hand for Russian rings) because my left had become too thin.

I carefully shovel hot embers aside into a pile, hoping I catch a glinting glimpse of gold.

No ring. 

Meredith arrived back from the shops and calmed me down.

Grace under pressure, grace under pressure—yawowwww!

Together we finished the fire “dismantlement”, without finding the ring. 

We searched the car, the courtyard, the front hall, the bathroom.

Perhaps the pile of warm ash would yield treasure tomorrow.

Next morning, I still felt a glimmer of hope.

It WILL turn up. Something in my water told me so.

I lost the ring once before but remember never losing hope–somewhere, patiently waiting for me to get my act together, would be my ring.

In my head, the image of a gold prospector.

I found a garden weeding stool and, armed with my kitchen sieve, settled down with a bucket of ash outside at the side of the church.
 
 
Awkwardly combing the ash, shovel by shovelful, the pile reduced–along with my hopes, WHEN…
 

THERE IT WAS!!—looking up at me innocently, as if to say: “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?”

A joyful reunion!
 
Bless its little heart.
 
Meredith and I embraced!
 

YIPPEE!

 
It is on my ring-finger now with a little piece of twine attached to keep it snug.
 

Happy Valentine’s Day!