water and woods

September 30, 2012

After some bouts of gusty weather, the eryngium  inhabit the sand and blow about like sharp filigree skeletons. Serignan beach is still  inhabited  by just a smattering of us heavy mortals too. It’s still beautiful – the sea warm – natural vegetation continues its cycle. But, when the clouds appear it seems a good idea to move east to visit Cap d’Agde. . .

. . . dark blackish sand here and many more humans around – mostly well over 70 – seems like the land of the long forgotten but, of course, this is the new important strata of society that instills itself on the rest. Early retirement on large pensions and the expectation of many years to come – although here medical health is privately financed  – means that many such ‘retirement’ developments will continue crop up along the coast. A neighbour told me that in the early ’70’s, Cap d’Agde consisted of hectares of mounded sea shells with not a building in sight. Blimey, now it’s concreteville of the worst sort. I didn’t take photos of that, only of the views out to sea  . . .

. . .  Atriplex halimus left to stretch itself randomly or, clipped down to form flat tables, as below. Sparrows love it and spread the seed wherever they nest and shit  .  . . .

. .  the coast line and the sea have such strength of character – it’s the factor of the effect of the light on the transient nature of the elements.

Withdraw directly north by about 20 kms,  into the land of the Saint Chinian AOC, a ‘forest’ of eucalyptus (La Forêt des Eucalyptus) has threads itself quickly though the dominant pines near Cessanon-sur-Orb. More a wood than a forest but the title is attractive anyway. The Greeks discovered the use of the essence of the gum for its disinfectant properties, as well as, a decongestant for  respiratory problems. Juniper, holm oak and sweet chestnut also form part of the taller layered growth.

The leggy effect of stem in relief against massed greenery makes a visually pleasing composition for me. Looking at close quarters through the pines, a sense of stillness pervades . . .

. .  stems with personality.

The foliage of the eucalypt is delicate against the sky, with the very young leaves still rounded before becoming elongated in this specific variety . .  the stems look photogenic . . .

. . .  a greenscape (what a ghastly phrase) but nevertheless descriptive of the garrigue/maquis vegetation lying below the hills . . . softness, rounded forms and varying in texture.

Pines become sculptural graphic elements as the lines of foliated stems rise higher and higher leaving bare branches at the lower levels in the shade. Arbutus now shows colourful and seasonal fruits . . .  firm spherical rounds . . .

. . .  a few trees are graceful in habit – absolutely self contained.

Here I love you.
In the dark pines the wind disentangles itself.
The moon glows like phosphorous on the vagrant waters.
Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.

The snow unfurls in dancing figures.
A silver gull slips down from the west.
Sometimes a sail. High, high stars.

Oh the black cross of a ship.
Sometimes I get up early and even my soul is wet.
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.

Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.
I see myself forgotten like those old anchors.

The piers sadden when the afternoon moors there.
My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose.
I love what I do not have. You are so far.
My loathing wrestles with the slow twilights.
But night comes and starts to sing to me.

The moon turns its clockwork dream.
The biggest stars look at me with your eyes.
And as I love you, the pines in the wind
want to sing your name with their leaves of wire. Pablo Neruda  Here I Love You   Aqui Te Amo

in the market

September 23, 2012

Attractive colours like the Italian flag on this display of onions at the weekly market in Place Émile-Zola in Béziers. Spheres, squares and fluted lines of green. In the last couple of weeks, the odd stall features ceps for sale – not quite sure the variety and not much information comes from the stall holder but perhaps there’s an assumption all is understood and known. The soft brown caps are strokeable but that wouldn’t go down too well . . .

 . . . strokeable as well, but appear scared of being on view. Not to buy as a pet presumably and unfortunately . . . . . . .

 . .  the poultry likewise. 

In the next street, on offer are chemises de nuits . . .

 . . and couvertures lits. How to choose? Look quite scary to me.

The stall on the corner by the bins is tastefully laid out with carefully selected produce. Not too much of anything but just enough to attract and with lovely bunches of mixed flowers. I want everything on this stall – that’s good marketing I guess.

Gooses, geeses
I want my geese to lay gold eggs for easter
At least a hundred a day
And by the way

I want a feast
I want a bean feast
Cream buns and doughnuts
And fruitcake with no nuts
So good you could go nuts

No, now

I want a ball
I want a party
Pink macaroons
And a million balloons
And performing baboons and
Give it to me now

I want the world
I want the whole world
I want to lock it
All up in my pocket
It’s my bar of chocolate
Give it to me now

I want today
I want tomorrow
I want to wear ’em
Like braids in my hair and
I don’t want to share ’em

I want a party with roomfuls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don’t get the things I am after
I’m going to scream

I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes
And sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes

And now

Don’t care how, I want it now
Don’t care how, I want it now Roald Dahl I Want It Now

en camargue

September 21, 2012

A stand of flamingoes in the Pont de Gau Ornothological Centre in the Camargue. Why won’t pink show truly on photographs? But I like the descriptive noun which describes exactly a grouping of these pre historical looking birds.

A good threesome . . .

. .  and even better twosome . . .

. . . and making a heart! The tamarix flowers match up with a colourful second flowering.

Now the a pair grey herons want to disguise themselves and nearly succeed.

Beautiful horses in the sea lavender landscape. Then we escape the mosquitoes and flee to the beach at Ste. Maries de la Mer.

A hundred mares, all white! their manes
Like mace-reed of the marshy plains
Thick-tufted, wavy, free o’ the shears:
And when the fiery squadron rears
Bursting at speed, each mane appears
Even as the white scarf of a fay
Floating upon their necks along the heavens away.

O race of humankind, take shame!
For never yet a hand could tame,
Nor bitter spur that rips the flanks subdue
The mares of the Camargue. I have known,
By treason snared, some captives shown;
Expatriate from their native Rhone,
Led off, their saline pastures far from view:

And on a day, with prompt rebound,
They have flung their riders to the ground,
And at a single gallop, scouring free,
Wide-nostril’d to the wind, twice ten
Of long marsh-leagues devour’d, and then,
Back to the Vacares again,
After ten years of slavery just to breathe salt sea

For of this savage race unbent,
The ocean is the element.
Of old escaped from Neptune’s car, full sure,
Still with the white foam fleck’d are they,
And when the sea puffs black from grey,
And ships part cables, loudly neigh
The stallions of Camargue, all joyful in the roar;

And keen as a whip they lash and crack
Their tails that drag the dust, and back
Scratch up the earth, and feel, entering their flesh, where he,
The God, drives deep his trident teeth,
Who in one horror, above, beneath,
Bids storm and watery deluge seethe,
And shatters to their depths the abysses of the sea. George Meredith The Mares of the Camargue

From the Pont du Diable, looking up the gorge at the more modern bridges that span the river Hérault, there’s a sense of tough rhythm – scrubby holm oak cascades down the limestone rock face. Looking to the old Roman bridge, the vegetation appears more layered with olives predominating due to the sheltered conditions no doubt. This area has history and it has legends.

One legend concerns this bridge. There are many such legends associated with bridges and the devil in this area. The bridge owes its name to an old legend which claimed that during the construction of the bridge in XIC, the devil came to demolish each night what the men built during the day. One day, Saint Guilhem, of the nearby abbey made an agreement with this one: it could take the heart of the first creature which will pass on the bridge. The men made pass a dog in first and thus could complete the work. Insane of rage, the Devil in vain tried to destroy the bridge without reaching that point and was thrown in water, from where the name “the bridge of the devil”.

History is OK, but my interest dwelt on the contemporary landscaping of exposed aggregate paths and steps – cleanly laid out and well constructed – simple and practical and appropriate. Signage that ‘rolled’ around to give explanation in 4 languages and cor ten steel railings to the side of the ramp with a mild steel hand rail.

I liked the seating and picnic area furniture too – monastic in feel – in a shady terrace overlooking  the small lake created within the river course. It would have been good to see it inhabited though, just to see how it functioned. Visitors at the lake play around in kayaks and swim below the bridge.

I can see how this space  – tha main square in St. Guilhem – le – Désert  –  little way up the gorge works. A trasmocho plane well supported wires and slings where necessary. St Guilhem of the legend  was a childhood friend of Charlemagne and fought under him in later life winning countless military victories. He became a recluse having discovered this valley and built a monastery in the year 800. The abbey became a place of pilgrimage after his death and housed 100 monks. The cloisters are all that remain of the 11C building.

Fish pond and well renovated niches within the cloisters. Sweet face.

A 10km walk circuits the the town and is carved through the dolomitic rock ascending to 500m. The first cliff that confronts the walker is La Bissonne. The path below was a route used by the monks taking sheep up to graze on the plateau.

Part of the walk follows the pilgrim route to St Jacques de Compostelle but I didn’t meet anyone with scallop shells this time. Les Fenetrelles, arcaded walls and butresses were constructed by the monks at the head of the valley looking south east.

View from Max Negre, encompasses the valley floor, Font de Paulier, and the elevation of the natural line of the foothills of Cirque de l’Infernet. An on the top of the world moment. This has become a travelogue  – not what I intended so will wallow in Chanson de Roland.

Roland a mis l’olifant à sa bouche ;
L’enfonce bien, sonne avec grande force.
Hauts son les monts et la voix porte loin :
A trente lieues se répéte l’écho.
Charles l’entend et tous ses compagnons.
Le roi dit “Nos hommes livrent bataille !”
Répond Ganelon : “Qu’un autre l’eût dit,
Ces paroles sembleraient grand mensonges”.
Roland, à grand-peine et à grand effort,
A grande douleur, sonne l’olifant.
Et de sa bouche jaillit le sang clair,
Et de son crâne la tempe se rompt.
Du cor qu’il tient, le son porte fort loin :
Charles l’entend, lui qui passe les ports.
Naimes l’entend avec tous les Français.
Le roi dit “J’entends le cor de Roland.
N’en sonnerait, s’il ne livrait bataille.”
Répond Ganelon : “De bataille, point !
Vous êtes vieux, tout fleuri et tout blanc :
Par vos paroles semblez un enfant.
Vous savez le grand orgueil de Roland :
C’est merveille que Dieu le souffre encore …
Pour un seul liévre, il va sonnant du cor ;
Devant ses pairs doit encor s’amuser…
Comte Roland à la bouche sanglante.
De son crâne la tempe sest rompue.
Sonne l’olifant à grande douleur.
Charles l’entend et ses Français l’entendent.
Le roi dit : “Ce cor a bien longue haleine !”
Répond Naimes : “Un baron y prend peine !
C’est bien une bataille, j’en suis sûr.
L’a trahi, qui vous en veu détourner.
Armez-vous et criez le ralliement
Et secourez votre noble maison :
Assez oyez que Roland se lamente !”
L”empereur sitôt fait sonner ses cors.
Les Français mettent pied à terre et s’arment
De hauberts, heaumes, épées ornées d’or.
Ont des écus, de grands et forts épieux,
Des gonfanons blancs et vermeils et bleus.
Tous les barons montent leurs destriers .
Eperonnent au long des défilés.
D’eux tous, pas un seul qui ne dise à l’autre :
“Si nous voyions Roland encore vivant,
Avec lui nous donnerions de grands coups.”
Mais à quoi bon ? Ils ont trop attendu.
Roland repart, pour parcourir le champ.
Son compagnon Olivier il retrouve.
Contre son coeur étroitement le serre.
Comme il peut, il revient vers l’archevêque.
Sur un écu il étend Olivier,
Et l’archevéque le signe et l’absou.
Lors redoublent le deuil et la pitié ;
Roland dit : “Beau compagnon Olivier,
Olivier, étiez fils du duc Renier
Qui tient la marche du val de Runers
Pour rompre lance et briser les écus,
Pour vaincre et abattre les insolents,
Soutenir, conseiller les hommes sages.
Pour les malfaisants vaincre et écraser,
En nul lieu ne fut meilleur chevalier.”
Le comte Roland, quand voit ses pairs morts,
Parmi eux, Olivier qu’il aimait tant,
S’en trouve ému et se met a pleurer.
Son visage a perdu toute couleur.
Si grand son deuil qu’il ne peut rester droit ;
Le veuille ou non, tombe à terre, pamé.
Turpin (l’archevêque) dit : “Baron, c’est pitié de vous !”
L’archevêque, quand vit Roland pamé,
Ressent de sa vie la plus grande douleur,
Il étend la main et prend l’olifant.
A Ronceveaux se rencontre une eau vive :
Veut y aller, en donner à Roland.
A petits pas il s’en va chancelant,
Mais est si faible qu’il ne peut avancer ;
Force lui manque, trop a perdu de sang ;
Avant qu’il ait pu franchir un arpent,

Tombe, défaille, la tête en avant,
Et le gagne sa mort par dure angoisse.
Comte Roland revient de pâmoison.
Se dressent debout mais agrand douleur.
Regarde en aval, regarde en amont,
Sur l’herbe verte, auprès ses compagnons,
Il voit là gisant le noble baron,
L’archevêque, représentant de Dieu,
Qui crie sa coulpe ; il a levé les yeux ;
Vers le ciel a tendu ses mains jointes,
Prie Dieu qu’il lui donne le paradis.
Voici mort Turpin, le guerrier de Charles,
Par grandes batailles et par beaux sermons,
Contre les paiens il fut son champion,
Dieu lui ait sainte benediction. Chanson de Roland

city of trees

September 16, 2012

‘I must have trees all about me’  (Roger Deakin Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and if you love trees, then read another of his books, Wild Wood). I have decided that I must have trees too – I know I seek them, and am transfixed, and worship them. Even in cities, my attention is focused on trees – the atmosphere and functionality they provide – the species – the planting and the management – part of my job, I suppose. In Montpellier, a thoughtful close planting of umbrella pines providing shade and also pump oxygen into the urban environment. Behind the Cathédrâle St-Pierre, there’s a simple piece of tree planting – a group of young slim stemmed celtis; a tree I’ve become aware of physically and emotionally as the branches of a mature celtis inhabit my present abode. Both pine and celtis are native to this area.

Most folks wouldn’t get excited by this structure but, for me, the promise of an afternoon in Jardin des Plantes part of Faculté de Médecine is quite thrilling. My friend below wasn’t as excited as me – seen it all before!

Cannas looking even more exotic with a backdrop of pines. A touch of decorative planting within the area set out to show all the trees growing in  Mediterranean  basin as well as those with parts that were, or are, used medicinally. This olive – over 200 years old – has a ‘trasmocho’ apperance although it hasn’t been  pollarded.  Roger Deakin writes a good deal about ‘trasmocho’ – a favourite treatment of trees.

Beautiful clean multi stems on lagerstroemia with just a hint of the flower heads high up – unusual and very pleasing to see this treatment –  and the most stunning ancient trunk of a Maclura pomifera. Huge limbs, supported by strong stakes, spread out in a 10 metre radius with new shoots erupting from the ground around.

More bark and stem texture . . .

. . and a monument with good advice.

A stand of cupressus, stone bench, a vase and frothy tamarix . . .

. . local vases from Anduze. Vases that are better without plants.

Some more decorative finds on the walk around.  An old rather rusty cupola, on what I presume is a small observatory, surrounded by ricinus and spent gypsophilia. Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, and echinacea  . . .

There is a restoration programme happening within the Botanic Garden. All the order beds by this orangerie were in the process of being cleaned out and replanted. Other elements from past centuries form part of the circulation in the area of palms . . .

. . chusan palm fronds quite sculptural here.

Strolling back to the Promenade du Peyrou with its sweeping views across the surrounding countryside of Garrigues, Cevennes, Mediterranean and Mont Canigou near the Pyrenees, I note the foliage on the pollarded plane trees  – more trasmocho – is turning to camouflage with the gilt ornamentation on the metalwork. Platanus orientalis, native to the area, are suffering.

Louis IV expresses pride in the tree planting. I agree – stunning.

The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,—
I know what sound is there. Edna St Vincent Millay

vertical gardening – encore

September 9, 2012

In Rocquebrun, almost 5 months on from the last visit to the Jardin Méditerranéen, I was expecting to be rocked by exotic colour. A touch of something to come in the streets way below the garden  from a bougainvillea draping itself lazily over a wall and completing the composition of the view to the bell tower. The bells pealed and many cars with foreign, mostly British plates, swept in to the village to celebrate an ex-pat wedding – thought for a minute that I was on the set for a remake of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Some more colourful planting in Rue sous les Fenêtres as an appetiser . . . .

. . . but I clearly was mistaken to think that this garden would be a carnival of colour. Instead green and more green but many different foliage surfaces mean different tones of green. Looking back to the post on the visit in April (has some factual info that I’m not repeating again), I read that the harsh weather of late winter had knocked back many plantings – foliage was looking browned off and fed up – still signs of this on aloes, agaves and acacias. But the strength of the architectural form and the combinations of form, habit and texture make this a powerful experience in its own right.

Plenty of new buds on the mimosas . . .

. . and a flavour of how the precipituous journey on sloping paths and narrow steps through the exotic and succulents and on to the botanical path of cistus and mimosa collections   . . .

. . .  to 150m above the River Orb. The rock face housing the garden is sheltered from the north, east and the weather from the west  . .

. .  the highest part, The Mediterranean Orchard, is inhabited.

My search for flowering plants rests here with cactus. In truth, the opuntia fruits are just colouring up and bits of caprobrotus and lampranthus showed a few flower heads – just a visit at a quiet time; a flowering siesta.

Like these babies tucked out of harms way and a new plant to me, labelled as Haworthia fasciata. Mmmm, not so sure . . .

. . .  massive heat is retained within this volcanic intrusion – hence the choice of poem.

Over the surging tides and the mountain kingdoms,
Over the pastoral valleys and the meadows,
Over the cities with their factory darkness,
Over the lands where peace is still a power,
Over all these and all this planet carries
A power broods, invisible monarch, a stranger
To some, but by many trusted. Man’s a believer
Until corrupted. This huge trusted power
Is spirit. He moves in the muscle of the world,
In continual creation. He burns the tides, he shines
From the matchless skies. He is the day’s surrender.
Recognize him in the eye of the angry tiger,
In the sign of a child stepping at last into sleep,
In whatever touches, graces and confesses,
In hopes fulfilled or forgotten, in promises

Kept, in the resignation of old men –
This spirit, this power, this holder together of space
Is about, is aware, is working in your breathing.
But most he is the need that shows in hunger
And in the tears shed in the lonely fastness.
And in sorrow after anger.  Elizabeth Jennings  A Chorus

bois flottée

September 2, 2012

Bright, blowy weather this morning buffeting the coast and the beach landscape at Sérignan. Strong westerly winds meant that the sand was whipped up to sting any areas of flesh that weren’t covered but also offered up the opportunity of capturing the bois flottée more obvious on the sand without the sun worshippers. Strange light . . .

 . . .  a series of studies of beached timber.

The morning is full of storm
in the heart of summer.

The clouds travel like white handkerchiefs of goodbye,
the wind, traveling, waving them in its hands.

The numberless heart of the wind
beating above our loving silence.

Orchestral and divine, resounding among the trees
like a language full of wars and songs.

Wind that bears off the dead leaves with a quick raid
and deflects the pulsing arrows of the birds.

Wind that topples her in a wave without spray
and substance without weight, and leaning fires.

Her mass of kisses breaks and sinks,
assailed in the door of the summer’s wind. Pablo Neruda  The Morning is Full

a change in landscape

September 1, 2012

After many trips to Aix to see special people and enjoy the town,  it was welcome to view and be involved in the surrounding landscape at close quarters. Previously on the trips from Languedoc to this part of Provence,  I’ve  just had the tantalising glimpse of Mte Saint-Victoire whilst whizzing down the last part of  La Provençale – elegant name for a motorway. The muggy afternoon prompted the short trip to Le Tholonet, below the mountain which figures in Cézanne’s work. The white limestone of the summit contrasts with the red clay on the lower level.


Le Tholonet sits within the area of Réserve Naturelle. Rangers block off certain parts of the twiggy wooded areas at this time of the year as forest fires can ignite without warning. Fastigiate cypress punctuate against the rounded forms of the pines  – the look of Provence – vineyards and fields of wildflowers also form part of the landscape.

L’Arc et La Cause are the two rivers which wend their way through the Haute Vallée de l’Arc. Streams cascade down and bubble over the rock formations on their way to feed into the rivers creating a cool atmosphere. Also a wet and slippery playground . . . .

. . .  hardly a soul here. Plenty of space for all on a week day afternoon.

Holm and turkey oaks form the scrubby layer under the pines. Gorse, broom and rosemary figure too but at this time of year it’s predominately a green landscape with just the herb layer of grasses and thyme browning off.

Back in Languedoc, the agricultural feel dominates. There is heavy tall woodland here too – all holm oak – denser and rougher than in Provence. Some olive groves contribute to the look of the landscape but to a lesser degree. The olive has given way to the vine. The vehicles – tractors and white vans –  are more noticeable in the vineyards now denoting final tweaking in the last few weeks before the vendange.

Clematis flammula and oaty grasses greet me again on the verges of the tracks around the village. Love it.

I’m amazed the earth hereabouts

lets me breathe its atmosphere,

that the voices I hear

permit me to listen.

When a word soars: such a flight

through these distances,

you’d need the voce of a nightingale

to take its measure.  Jo Shapcott  Born Off

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