Sunday, 26 January 2014

Golden door

For all sorts of reasons, this wonderful photograph by Evelyn Jackson of an old French door encapsulates the past week for me. The weathered yellow paint wants to give a sunny impression, but it has seen better days. The interesting locks are so rusted you wonder whether they will actually work, even if you could actually find a key. And, of course, the door is resolutely closed; whatever is behind it, we will never know...
I've been struggling, not being able to see properly. Without being able to wear my contact lenses, I haven't been able to work, which is infuriating. My glasses just don't correct my short-sightedness well enough to be able to look at a screen - or even a book - for longer than about ten minutes. The next novel is going to have to wait, at least for another week until I get the all-clear to start using my contacts again.
In the meantime, let me direct those of you who love pictures of the French countryside over to Evelyn's blog, Melanged Magic. She's Californian-born, now supplanted to La France Profonde, and she has a wonderful eye for detail.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The sight of lavender

Marthe’s head was brimming with new pictures: the fields of lavender at Valensole, all the subtle grades of blue and purple; the way twilight melted them all into one; the precise hues of the liquid distilled from each plant, the shape and colour of the bottles, and a new understanding of the surroundings where she was learning her craft. Just as plant variations were bred together to create new hybrids - like the lavandin from the delicate wild lavender - this was what she did with the descriptions her sister had supplied; she grafted them on to the sights she remembered from childhood and reinvigorated them.
                                                                   from The Lavender Field

I was sent a video link at the weekend by Frederic Vercammen, a beautifully photographed short film (very short: only a minute long) of lavender in Provence, with a meditative soundtrack. But before I could put it up here, by strange chance I ended up in A&E on Sunday night with a nastily scratched cornea. I must have scraped my eye with a contact lens. It was extremely painful and I could see very little.

Almost two days later, the eye is on the mend, but I'll have to wear my glasses for the next two weeks, which I never find very easy as the vision just isn't as sharp. So I'm blundering around, half the time without glasses as that is, perversely, more relaxing. It seems rather appropriate to give the link to Frederic's video here, with an extract from Marthe's section of The Sea Garden - and now that I've put my glasses on again I can see the lavender photo I uploaded is the one that shows tiny white snails clinging to the flowers.

Click here for a lavender interlude by Frederic Vercammen.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Opening scene

On the southern coast of mainland France, the Presqu’île de Giens is a ribbon of land dangling into the Mediterranean. At the end of the single road that reaches the sea is a beach and a simple café, a small ferry terminal and places where cars must be parked; they do not cross.

White sails dance across a blue infinity. A line of parked Vespa motor scooters stand by the picture windows of the café and, below, children play on a strip of stony beach. On a low rocky promontory over the water, La Tour Fondue sits squat and defensive: The Melted Tower. It slumps on its half-hearted crag, trailing rock roots through the shallow sea.

When a ferry arrives from one of The Golden Islands, the empty expanse between the café and the harbour buildings fills with movement and colour. Late in the afternoon, the crowds surge from the boat, bags bumping. Day-trippers. There are surprisingly few other travellers for the five o’clock return. Without a hotel booking for the night, no-one could can stay on the islands.

A simple ticket office and a stroll up the gangway on to the ferry. The sun is still fierce on bare arms and heads. Three miles across the water is a small paradise of pine trees, sandy paths and the clear peacock blue of the sea: Porquerolles.

  The island lay in wait, a smudge of land across the water.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Clear blue water

With the receding of the flood water here in Kent (not without a few dicey moments in the past week; thank you all for the caring comments on the previous posts), it's time to think about the blue crystal waters that surround the French island of Porquerolles. This is the Mediterranean setting for the opening section of The Sea Garden.
With the novel due for publication in the summer, both in the US and the UK, I thought I would start offering little tasters as I did for The Lantern in the run-up to its launch. Indeed, that was the purpose of this blog when I started it three years ago: travelling hopefully in the South of France to give a sense of its background and entice readers to give the book a try.
Here, then, is the rocky south coast of the island, where the land fissures into narrow inlets known as "calanques". The water is the bluest you can imagine, pooling into turquoise at the feet of the cliffs. There is fabulous diving and snorkelling, all shot through with dazzling light. You won't see it there in real life, but this is where I planted my garden by the sea.
  The grounds ran down to the sea, through wind-twisted pines, crumbling rocks and the unexpectedly lush green of the bushes and trees that held fast to every scrap of earth. On a cliff to her right was the lighthouse. Now she understood the way the house sat on its land, with the open sea to the south and the rocky bay of the Calanque de l’Indienne to the south-west.  

                                                               From The Sea Garden

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Waiting for more rain

After heavy rain yesterday, the valley is a lake. A break in the weather today, thank goodness, and I went out with my camera to look at the levels. It's pretty, but with three more days of heavy rain and floods forecast, and the rivers at some of the highest levels ever recorded, the feeling in the village is one of trepidation. I took this photo standing on the road that was underwater on Christmas Eve. To the left, the Medway has burst its banks, and to the right, so has the stream that comes off the Eden.

The road is passable for now:

But it won't take much more rain for the water to start spilling over again:

With a bit of sunshine, it all looks deceptively picturesque:

Yet this is what the force of the flow did to the fence at the side of the road...

The damage is far greater downriver, where the poor people of Yalding and beyond have had a miserable time of it, their homes standing in feet of muddy water. Our flood water is at least controlled, even if the roads get sacrificed for a while: it is a holding bay for a flood barrier.
Our domestic flooding is a different matter, due to a silted-up drain on the main road into which run-off water pours down from a sizeable hill. This afternoon, if the local council cannot spare an unblocking team - and unbelievably, as it's on a public highway, they say they cannot allow a private company or indeed the water company to do it in their place! - we hope for sandbags as we dry out towels and sodden newspaper, and compare flood defences with our neighbours... 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

A very Happy New Year to all my loyal visitors to this blog. Thank you for all the inspiring comments. wise words, and encouragement - you make it all worthwhile.
"Happy New Year, Outlook Stormy" seems to be the general message here in England and throughout much of Europe, not only in weather terms but economically and politically. But in our village in Kent, the rainstorms have brought a reminder that kindness and neighbourliness go a long way to dispelling the gloom. At a time when we all read about fractured communities, it's quite something to realise, as a friend put it last night at a big riotous dinner party (within walking distance from home for all but two of the guests) that we could all knock at any door on the High Street and offer or ask for help. 
As the year begins, the rain is still falling steadily but it really is warm inside, despite the dripping and quirky leaks of our old houses, taking on water like ancient ships. 

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