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Archive for the ‘other sides to this life’ Category

Little Amal is a Syrian girl in the guise of a giant puppet who has been charming young and old these last few weeks as she’s journeyed from the Syrian border to the shores of the UK in search of her mother.

Three-and-a-half meters tall and operated by teams of gifted puppeteers, she makes an impressive emotional impact as she passes, fluttering her eyelashes and beaming out a gentle humanity, which is difficult to ignore.

She arrives in the UK tomorrow (19th Oct) in Folkestone, Kent, on England’s South coast.

She will be visiting Canterbury, London, Oxford, Coventry, Birmingham, Sheffield and Barnsley and Manchester.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/17/little-amal-in-britain-giant-puppet-of-syrian-girl-reaches-her-journeys-end

Brother Jack’s partner, Claire Béjanin, is bidding her farewell after a hectic few weeks overseeing the journey through France.

Catch Amal if you can–she gladdens the heart.

See Amal in action here: https://fb.watch/8J4blbwZwy/

Timeout‘s article has the London itinerary details for Amal–where and when you can see her, which starts Saturday outside of the grounding gates to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (1pm Sat Oct 23).

She visits the Southbank Centre as part of the London Literature Festival, which features a novel about refugee children and then at 5:30pm, a choir welcomes Amal to the National Theatre terrace.

At 7pm, A special dance will welcome Amal to Somerset House.

Sun Oct 24 is Amal’s 10th birthday and the party takes place at the V&A Museum. (Free, but book tickets in advance.) Highlights include a massive cake from Yotam Ottolenghi that will be shared with the audience.

A special birthday concert takes place at the Roundhouse that evening at 7pm. Book early! Tickets £20-£35.

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Our friend, Prue, has been staying with partner Michael–only our second set of visiting friends in eighteen months. Prue is a walker–a 10,000 steps-a-day walker–and an inspiration, as such. She’s got me going again and I thank her for that, although I can no longer walk at her pace, so we don’t walk together.

Yesterday like the Grand old Duke of York, I marched (marcher —to walk) right up to the top of the hill and I marched right down again. Thirty minutes plus; a short walk compared to Prue, for whom it would have been a sprint. Horses for courses- and at present, I’m happy with my cart horse shorter distance–long enough to make me feel virtuous, and exercise those small muscles in the feet and ankles which are critical for keeping balanced.

Today–more adventurous–I detoured up a pathway, two hundred yards from the house, a shortcut linking the road to the hameau [hamlet] above us– a rutted tractor track for the farmers.

I’d been wary of it, tempting though it is. Too overgrown with long grass and brambles, and to be honest, I feared tripping and falling–and not being able to get up! (Oh dear, how has it come to this?).

Then a couple of days ago while driving past, I noticed that it looked cleared, more approachable, less hazardous for a walker. Perhaps a farmer had run an old tractor over it. Nonetheless, I took two walking sticks today to help steady myself, and set off.

I picked my way gingerly (an early 16th-century term–meaning elegantly, daintily, walking or dancing with small elegant steps) up the path, collecting some freshly fallen walnuts and squeezing a black fig for ripeness from a bush, then discarding it. Not a good year for figs!

Reaching the hameau I set off again in one piece and proud! As I rounded the corner to join the main country road, I heard a low buzzing on my right. The buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees! *

This was turning into a rich nature walk!

A high wall of flowering ivy was a “hive” of activity, so to speak. And not only with bees! Beautiful Red Admiral butterflies and flying insects were sharing the feast.

What a sight and sound–and only yards from chez nous!

I paused in wonder and then moved on down the hill and home.

Prue might not be too impressed with my short walk–though she would be too discreet to say so. No matter! I’d bearded the path and emerged unscathed–richer by a couple of walnuts and already remembering other paths with walnut trees in season and the odd fig tree too.

 

 

  • Big Rock Candy Mountain–I remember being charmed by Burl Ives singing this on Saturday morning Children’s Favourites, BBC Home Service, in the early fifties.

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Sunflower seeds…

I sprinkled a dessert spoonful of sunflower seeds on the tuna salad for lunch yesterday without immediately making the connection with what is happening in the fields around us.

Toasted sunflower seeds

Giant harvesters are scything the blackened flower faces and spewing the processed seeds into large rectangular skips.

It has been an exceptional year for sunflowers. Great painterly swathes of yellow covered the countryside for weeks before succumbing to the heat of the sun and bowing their heads in submission.

Their span has always suggested soldiers to me–from green recruits through seasoned professionals to weary veterans–a life in the field.

Witnessing this pattern repeat itself each year is one of the many pleasures this old townie looks forward to, living as we do, en plain campagne [in the heart of the countryside].

The thrilling cycle continues–the ever-changing face of the countryside ’round here.

Now’s the time to “plough the fields and scatter”–a hymnal phrase from my childhood. Never much thought about at the time, but now it’s happening outside my front door.

Never too late to learn.

Also, a scene in an early episode of POLDARK episode comes to mind.

Exactly what I was doing on a cold autumn day 40 years ago with Jud (Paul Curran ) by my side.

Too chilly for baring the chest 😉 !

Field-to-table–a connection not always made by city-dwellers.

No sooner has the seed spewer done its job than a smaller niftier tractor with plough attached behind starts in to turnover the stumps and transform the field into a plantable plot again.

Garlic this time around perhaps; l’Ail Rose de Lautrec (our very own pink garlic).

Lightly toasting the sunflower seeds over a lowish heat makes them even more delicious–but keep an eye on them, or they’ll quickly burn.

From my third cookbook, Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics

Tuna Salad

A handy, quick standby, when you feel at a loss for something to serve for a light lunch. 

for 4

2 tbsps dijon mustard

4 tbsps tarragon vinegar

300 ml olive oil

4 tbsps plain yoghurt, drained through a sieve (to thicken it a little, and extract the liquid)

2 tbsps parsley–chopped fine

2 tbsps chives–chopped fine

2 tbsps chervil–chopped fine (optional–a plus, if you can find it!)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/2 a cucumber–peeled, quartered, deseeded, and chopped fine

2 spring onions– cleaned and chopped fine

1 tbsp  sunflower seeds– lightly toasted in a dry frying pan

2  200gms/7oz tins/cans of tuna–drained and flaked (I like it best when packaged in olive oil.)

a little extra parsley– chopped fine

1. Place the tuna in a favourite serving bowl;

2. Whisk the first eight ingredients together into a thick sauce;

3. Add the cucumber, onions and seeds;

4. Pour the sauce over the tuna;

5. Mix carefully;

6. Sprinkle over the remaining parsley;

7. Serve with a crisp, green lettuce. 

I often serve them on “little gem lettuce” which serves as “boats” for the cargo–and in this case, with hardboiled eggs.

Spot Lucette in the corner, ever hopeful..!

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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.

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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…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!)

 

 

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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!

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