Posts Tagged ‘France’

Silences

September 25, 2013

Saturday morning and the air has stilled.  September sunshine brushes the market square and the warm stone houses in the hilly village of Ste Sévère.  No movement in the little streets, except for mine – and I a stranger.  In the Post Office – nearly midday, nearly closing time – I am the only customer.  A peaceful woman weighs the card I want to send – it rests, light on the scales, while she tickles my cheeky dog.  Those huge ears.  The local bar is sleek with the smell of leeks cooking. I drink excellent coffee alone, and chat quietly with the chef about black pepper and circuses, and leek fondue.  (Did he really mean ‘leek fondue’?)

 The ancient square is still empty, but the church bell strikes its rich tone, calm and precise.  It hardly resonates in the dry air, so limpid, and for once I don’t bother to count the strokes.  I slide the car gently out of town.

 Not a soul in the fields – no sound of machinery, no movement of beasts or men.  The great black and white donkeys stand at angles, close together but detached.  Wheat stubble rests; sunflowers and maize are drying – so slowly – imperceptibly small changes darken the grains a fraction more.  Across an empty field, the brook’s rush-rustling tumble runs below the silence.  For a few steps my boots crunch gently across a sprinkle of last year’s acorns.  Some small cautious creature briefly disturbs the dry grasses by the path; a tiny grasshopper lands on a papery dead leaf with the lightest of sounds: flick.  A pale, grey-brown sound.  Down the hill, across the little iron and concrete bridge and past silent well-kempt farmsteads, the dogs romp and I walk quietly, into the shade of the woods on our left.  On the other side, expanses of tall-growing flowering balsam run wild, all the way down damp margins to the stream. 

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They say a blog is better with pictures – I’m not sure that I want to chop this one up. 

Here it is again with pictures – tell me what you think!

Silences

Saturday morning and the air has stilled.  September sunshine brushes the market square and the warm stone houses in the hilly village of Ste Sévère.  No movement in the little streets, except for mine – and I a stranger.

empty streets

empty streets

In the Post Office – nearly midday – I am the only customer.

The Post Office - ring to be admitted.

The Post Office – ring to be admitted.

A peaceful woman weighs the card I want to send – it rests, light on the scales, while she tickles my cheeky dog.  Those huge ears.  In the local bar (the Relais du Facteur), sleek with the smell of leeks cooking I drink excellent coffee alone, and chat quietly with the chef about black pepper and circuses, and leek fondue.  (Did he really mean ‘leek fondue’?)

no-one needed behind the bar

no-one needed behind the bar

The ancient square is still empty, but the church bell strikes its rich tone, calm and precise.

Across rooftops, the bell tower of the church.

Across rooftops, the bell tower of the church.

It hardly resonates in the dry air.  For once I don’t bother to count the strokes.  I slide the car gently out of town.

I slide out of town

I slide out of town

Not a soul in the fields – no sound of machinery, no movement of beasts or men.  The great black and white donkeys stand at angles, close together but detached.  Wheat stubble rests; sunflowers and maize are drying – so slowly – imperceptibly small, molecular movement.

maize drying on the cob

maize drying on the cob

Across an empty field, the brook’s rush-rustling tumble runs below the silence.

stream bubbling in the distance

stream bubbling in the distance

For a few steps my boots crunch gently across a sprinkle of last year’s acorns;

acorns scatter, shatter on the path

acorns scatter, shatter on the path

something disturbs the dry grasses by the path; a tiny grasshopper lands on a leaf with the lightest of sounds: flick.  A pale, grey-brown sound.

a grasshopper, still and undetectable on the dried grass

a grasshopper, still and undetectable on the dried grass

Down the hill, across the little iron and concrete bridge

concrete and iron

concrete and iron

and past silent well-kempt farmsteads,

well kept farmsteads: the Moulin Gras

well kept farmsteads: the Moulin Gras

the dogs romp and I walk quietly, into the shade of the woods on one side;

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on the other, expanses of tall-growing flowering balsam run wild, all the way down damp margins to the stream.

flowering balsam on the field running down to the stream

flowering balsam on the field running down to the stream

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stubble fields – August

September 22, 2013

All around us for the past week the harvesters have been busy.  Their engines sound steadily, rumbling across the fields – distant, close, distant, close – as they work the lengths of wheat.  Brown grain (not golden) bursts out from the spout, pouring into great piles in the following trucks.  A toddler’s delight: ‘Trac-a-tor! Trac-a-tor!’  Then the turning and the spinning, late into the dusk, to and fro, to and fro, ordering the spread lines of straw all down the long, odd-shaped fields.  Still dusty brown.  At last huge rolls of straw stand.  Suddenly, in the evening light the stubble really does look as golden as fairy-tale straw.  

rows of straw on the stubble - dusty brown in the shade under a wispy sky

rows of straw on the stubble – dusty brown in the shade under a wispy sky

Buzzards circle the middle-air above, their wings unmoving, like sails spread to hold their course.  I rarely see them stoop, but they must – why else are they there?  A hare fled out of a quiet stubble-field yesterday.  Two tawny-beautiful fallow deer bounded away towards the hedges.  We watched them cover the distance.  The working fields must be full of all kinds of edible life for a buzzard.  High, cat-like shrieks – not ‘mew’ but ‘miaou’.

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the baler working in the field opposite – just turning in the distance

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coming closer

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and down – in clouds of dust

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– and back

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– and down

- and back -

– and back –

pale fawn at midday - the baler working its way along the rows towards us.

pale fawn at midday – the baler working its way along the rows towards us.

the raincoat

August 14, 2013

Mentioned in despatches twice now, the raincoat feels that it deserves a moment all to itself.

a downpour in the Berry - raincoat doing well.

a downpour in the Berry – raincoat doing well.  Also note strong sandals.

Dostoyevsky purportedly said that we all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’ – he meant the short story, of course, not any literal overcoat.  It turns out that he didn’t mean ‘we all’ in the sense of the whole human race, though one can easily place that kind of interpretation on Gogol’s story.  Taken in context, his comment referred (I am told) to the cutting-edge fiction writers of his time in Russia.  Dostoyevsky’s own ‘new wave’ of writers who explored what it is to be human – and to be human in the darkly cruel social world of contemporary Russia.

There you go – it wasn’t just a post about a raincoat after all.

In fact this is my favourite of all the many raincoats that I have never bought.  Back when we had teenage children, there were lots of visitors to our house.  Sometimes they arrived in wet weather, kindly kitted out with umbrellas and/or raincoats by their fond parents.  Many times the rain had stopped by the time they left, or else they were going somewhere where sensible practical garments were just not cool.

Too cool for a raincoat - no names no pack drill!

Too cool for a raincoat – no names no pack drill!

They left their coats hanging in the hall, and their brollies dripping quietly in the lean-to conservatory out the back.

Darth Vader never wears a raincoat.

Darth Vader never wears a raincoat.

When we packed up that house and moved out we found maybe six or eight ownerless raincoats, and three useful brollies (I didn’t count the broken brollies).

A brolly would only get in the way.

A brolly would only get in the way.

I’ll admit that we had bought some of the raincoats for ourselves in France – caught out by unexpected summer rain (one daughter-in-law would deny the word ‘unexpected’).  One can buy very useful, flimsy rain jackets cheaply in SuperU.  Of all of those, though, the raincoat in question was clearly superior – lined, a perfect fit, strong, and sporting its own hood.  It is even a recognisable brand-name, that chance acquaintances and even my adult kids respect.  Perfect.  Yes – I really did try to find its owner – but it has a happy home with me now.  I am growing ever fonder of it, as it progresses through so many adventures of its own.  Maybe I, at least, have come out of this wonderful raincoat.

more about the dogs

July 29, 2013

Thank you everyone for your kind advice and thoughts about Shadow’s ‘bowl rage’, especially to Rosey of Rosmarinus, over in Norfolk, the ever-helpful owner of Shadow’s sire.  Rosey uses a diet for her dogs involving bones and raw meat, which I find a little difficult to manage, even though I agree with her about its advantages.  But I had indeed been falling behind on getting bones in for my dogs.

Yum yum - raw meaty bones.  Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

Yum yum – raw meaty bones. Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

 

The issue of dominance or hierarchy still seemed relevant, as well.  There is one truly useful website (amongst quite a lot of dross) –  which talks about dominance amongst dogs and how we humans interact with it.  We often inadvertently send our dogs mixed messages about their status, and as a dog ages her status may change – but not necessarily.

 

Like all of us, Bella was young once.

Like all of us, Bella was young once.

 

Based on both of these bits of advice, we have started to boost Shadow’s nutrition and we have also decided to pay a little more attention to Bella, to enhance her status in the pack.  We thought we might take care to feed the dogs with our laid-back lad, Bandit, in between the two females, as a kind of buffer zone.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

 

Lo and behold, on that very first morning, even before we had put any of this into practice, the dogs seemed strikingly happier and calmer.  And that has continued today, as we have put these changes in place.

 

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them.  Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them. Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

 

Now, I don’t believe in canine mind-reading or anything like that, but I can’t help wondering what made the difference to them.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Here I am in a quandary – it only looks like a stream.  The dogs understand what is going on, while I am just grinning at the camera.  Heigh ho!

 

Trees at the barn in the Berry

October 30, 2009

Back in Autumn of 2000 we bought our barn in the Berry,  in la France profonde – which loosely translates as ‘deepest, darkest France’ or perhaps as ‘the back of beyond’.  At first we thought of it as a wonderful place where the whole family would gather for holidays, which would perhaps develop a kind of mythic quality for our kids and (in the fullness of time) their kids.  Grandchildren would come to play on swings hanging from the fruit trees; hammocks and wine would charm their parents.  At that stage our grandchildren added up to just one tiny infant in Australia, unlikely ever to see it, and our variously-parented English children ranged in age from thirty down to twelve.  The old barn, its fields and crumbling outbuildings were saturated with rural peace and calm; vast white Charolais and chunky caramel-coloured Limousin cattle were our neighbours and the nearest shop was seven kilometres away.  How could they fail to love it?  The answer is: easily.  Our twelve-year-old loved socialising at home; our urbanite twenty-somethings knew how to holiday in style at Italian villas – and had the incomes to support that habit; and our older kids soon started to be immersed in immoveable babies and toddlers – far too precious to risk at a location perceived as primitive and potentially unhygienic.  (This view was fostered by our richly narrated tales of life at the barn without electricity, heating or water.  The tales were true at the time, but I suppose they were so vivid that any updated version, showing greater comfort, didn’t stand much chance.)

The field behind the barn is completely flat and had been grazed by cattle for years.  It is about a hectare, or two acres.  We began the tree-planting with some fruit trees – apples and a cherry – fairly close together, like a little orchard.  In the middle distance we put a cluster of silver birches and a larch; and right at the back we set a little whippety beast: an infant Cedar of Lebanon.  These are the ones that have survived of those earliest plantings.  A roll-call of the dead would be substantial, as we had no choice but to neglect our trees over the winters, when cold and wet, or cold and drought, easily kill off young trees.  Deer will gnaw the bark of young saplings if theya re not protected, effectively ring-barking them.  All the trees suffered before Andrew developed his effective deer-proof cage for young trees.  The marks stay visible on the mature trees to this day.  Three (I think) magnolias went west – one of them painfully gradually.  Eucalyptus trees, too, died easily, even the ones I brought back from Australia, though I had carefully chosen varieties that can survive high altitudes and frost.  I can tell you that seedling oak trees – endemic as weeds in the Berry – die if you try to transplant them.

Flying in the face of these experiences, after a couple of years, we had the thought that it would be nice to plant trees in the field, each representing one of our kids.  We asked each of them what they would like to have as their tree.  The kids were charmed by the thought.  They told us what they wanted, and now, some years later we have almost completely forgotten what they said, apart from some obvious ones and some impossible.  (Will wanted exotics.  He may have named the Moreton Bay Fig – which I think will only grow in sub-tropical or warm temperate climates.  Josie, my Australian daughter, nominated a gum tree.  I recall Jonny saying the phrase ‘a mighty oak’ – but whether that was for him or for his little son Ben, I’m not sure.  Kate wanted a London plane tree.  Someone mentioned a weeping willow.  And that just leaves Mike and Nick – one or both of whom may have mentioned silver birches as a fallback choice.)  We didn’t in fact get around to planting many of their trees until this year, unless one wants to count previously-planted silver birches and self-seeded oaks – but that feels a little bit outside the intention of the project.)  Then when Morgan, the elderly greyhound, died at the barn (and that’s another story) we thought that a tree ‘in memoriam Morgan’ would be a good idea.  We planted a weeping willow for her this year (2009).  And I do feel a little uneasy about that, because – well – didn’t someone else want a weeping willow?

All of this is by way of decoration of, and explanation for, some pictures of the trees.  Animals and some people are included to give a bit of an idea of scale.

The London plane tree. (Kate)

Andrew and the plane tree - 2009

Andrew and the plane tree – 2009

Bandit sitting a bit unwillingly (good dog!) by the Quercus Rubra ( a red oak – and therefore almost exotic enough for Will).  Behind and slightly to the right, the flourishing plane tree.

Bandit with the Red Oak

Bandit with the Red Oak

The Weeping Willow – for Morgan

Bandit reluctantly models the willow tree

Bandit reluctantly models the willow tree

apples trees and a cherry in the mini-orchard; medlar doing well (almost out of shot)

in the orchard

in the orchard

Below, in a cluster: foreground, Red Oak again; l to r:  Rowan; Larch; (rear) Rowan; (front) something – I’m not sure what; (right) silver birches.  Josie’s eucalyptus (this one bred in France and doing fine) must be in this shot somewhere, but I can’t spot it.  (not including the big trees in the hedge in the middle distance, which have been here since long before us.)

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