July 17, 2015
Just a few fleeting glimpses of up above . . . ‘a glimpse is much harder to pin down’ Howard Hodgkin.
And, down on the ground, from a few hours in Uzès. Basalt setts inlaid in the stone to give subtle definition – a pleasing aesthetic.
Old and new – skills and craftsmanship – and atmosphere.
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round. Margaret Atwood
June 6, 2015
France still closes down at lunchtine 12-2pm. Quite civilised and to be respected. Very pleasant sitting in Place de l’Eglise in Fontvieille – a small town that appeals more and more . . .
. . . wandering around the old streets, intrinsic compositions can be seen, admired and recorded.
A garden of pots – well tended plants, all thriving and with somewhere to sit and admire them . . .
. . . and a green roof, which some might say is just ‘les mauvaises herbes’.
Mûrier platane foliage on neatly managed trees shading a small modern square – very inviting – and just close by, in contrast, spreading branches of an ancient plane tree form a ceiling by the quarried stone face of the old town wall.
In the château gardens, now the town park, all ages are catered for. The home of Alphonse Daudet, the writer, now a museum dedicated to him and his work – most notably “Les Lettres de mon Moulin”. Water courses run through the parkland where holm oaks and pines cascade over lauristinius and broom providing a simple vegetation matrix
Following one walking route (there are many others to Les Baux, to San Remy and to Eygalieres) around the top of the town, the landmarks are three windmills named after their owners – Tissot-Avon (2 owners), Ramet and Ribet also called St Pierre and also also called Daudet’s mill with sails completely restored.
rather fell for it and the whole area of Les Alpilles.
J’ai dans mon coeur un oiseau bleu,
Une charmante creature,
Si mignonne que sa ceinture
N’a pas l’epaisseur d’un cheveu.
Il lui faut du sang pour pature.
Bien longtemps, je me fis un jeu
De lui donner sa nourriture:
Les petits oiseaux mangent peu.
Mais, sans en rien laisser paraitre,
Dans mon coeur il a fait, le traitre,
Un trou large comme la main.
Et son bec fin comme une lame,
En continuant son chemin,
M’est entre jusqu’au fond de l’ame!…. Alphonse Daudet L’Oiseau Bleu
March 21, 2015
A magnificent château dominates Murs . Murs was the haven and place where all the protestants (Cabrieres, Lacoste, Gordes) had settled to escape the persecution in mid 16th C. – women, children and old men. The feared baron of Oppede sent a lieutenant who started to defile the women and young girls, kill them and burn everything down they could find. Francois Morenas, a great Luberon specialist wrote about Murs:” Five years after the massacres their dried bones were still lying there”.
The walls circling the château are a thing of beauty. The building is privately owned and has quite a good deal of ‘f…k off’ emanating but it’s not a spa or apparently hideously ruined by the corporate world, maybe – who knows, all is hidden and discreet . . . . the trees are splendid.
Muscari are appearing in fields and verges. The acres of cherries and olive groves are carpeted with regular lines of dandelion sometimes mixed with Eruca, wild rocket. We decided on the Tour de Bérigoule circuit – 13kms – covering the valleys, the ‘balcones’ – the path that follows the contour of the rock face and offers up framed views to the east – and the 5 grottoes of a landscape that has strong historic references.
Good to look back and see the path that was covered early on . . .
. . . and the spoon shaped rock face to the west. While views from the balcones across the valley are quite mesmerizing . . .
. . . dropping down to La Bouisse, passing a cerisaie where good management was evident. Prunings well stacked and just the start of the flowering performance. Of the prunus family, the almonds are in full flower with a delicious scent and apricots too nearer Orange.
On the return to Murs. a formidable white oak stands sentinel at the entrance to the village – 16m spread.
It’s 3pm – school is finished and so are we after a long slightly taxing walk but that’s OK.
In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.
Love, like a carefully loaded ship,
crosses the gulf between the generations.
Therefore, we do not neglect the ceremonies
of our passage: when we wed, when we die,
and when we are blessed with a child;
When we depart and when we return;
When we plant and when we harvest.
Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
If others impart to our children our knowledge
and ideals, they will lose all of us that is
wordless and full of wonder.
Let us build memories in our children,
lest they drag out joyless lives,
lest they allow treasures to be lost because
they have not been given the keys.
We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
March 4, 2015
A cabanon – small agricultural building – standing alone. Almost all are unused, neglected and generally in disrepair. These stone and tile constructions are liberally dotted across the landscape here in the Luberon and quite obvious now before the foliage on the cherries fills out. One is for sale for 95,000 euros in the village estate agent’s window. It is shown as a charming and romantic habitation decorated with a spread of wisteria frothing across the facade . . . water from the well but no electricity. It’s a simple cabanon under the gentrification.
Cherry orchards interspersed with olives groves, vineyards and the occasional lavender field are the prime managed elements hugged by the indigenous white oak and pine woodland. The generations of cherries show a marked variety of treatment. The ancient are left a while as skeletons and then decimated close to the ground before the roots are dug up – sounds harsh but there is a sort orf reverence for the trees that during life have produced hundreds of kilos of fruit.
The village looks good from here – the chateau and windmill stand proud – clusters of pines within the chateau confines mark the highest point above the terraced terrain.
Light playful showers tickle the senses. Clouds scud across Mont Ventoux . . .
. . . another cabanon comes into view. Turning to the east, the ochre rock of the Gardi and the remaining winter foliage on the oaks is pleasing. I hadn’t noticed this subtlety before – only being conscious of the more obvious contrasting dark tones of pine.
More abandoned buildings – stoic and solitary – not needed now for machinery, animals nor shelter.
And these two are not abandoned and not the slightest interested in my offerings of apples. The poem, more Beckett, he lived around here for a while after all and his poems have sparked an interest that is difficult to ignore. I can imagine those long thin legs striding out into this landscape.
what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust
what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness
que ferais-je sans ce monde sans visage sans questions
où être ne dure qu’un instant où chaque instant
verse dans le vide dans l’oubli d’avoir été
sans cette onde où à la fin
corps et ombre ensemble s’engloutissent
que ferais-je sans ce silence gouffre des murmures
haletant furieux vers le secours vers l’amour
sans ce ciel qui s’élève
sur la poussieère de ses lests
que ferais-je je ferais comme hier comme aujourd’hui
regardant par mon hublot si je ne suis pas seul
à errer et à virer loin de toute vie
dans un espace pantin
sans voix parmi les voix
enfermées avec moi Samuel Beckett
February 4, 2015
No one is out here in the village . . . but a few have been busy. A chance to observe shapes and patterns accentuated by the thick layer of snow . . .
In the graveyard . . . what to say? Just quietly and slowly move and absorb. Sorry to disturb.
The poem – beautiful and melancholic – just like today.
There are lone cemeteries,
tombs full of soundless bones,
the heart threading a tunnel,
a dark, dark tunnel :
like a wreck we die to the very core,
as if drowning at the heart
or collapsing inwards from skin to soul.
There are corpses,
clammy slabs for feet,
there is death in the bones,
like a pure sound,
a bark without its dog,
out of certain bells, certain tombs
swelling in this humidity like lament or rain.
I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.
Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot, a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring, stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth, a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo, hushed like a tree.
I do not know, I am ignorant, I hardly see
but it seems to me that its song has the colour of wet violets,
violets well used to the earth,
since the face of death is green,
and the gaze of death green
with the etched moisture of a violet’s leaf
and its grave colour of exasperated winter.
But death goes about the earth also, riding a broom
lapping the ground in search of the dead –
death is in the broom,
it is the tongue of death looking for the dead,
the needle of death looking for the thread.
Death lies in our beds :
in the lazy mattresses, the black blankets,
lives a full stretch and then suddenly blows,
blows sound unknown filling out the sheets
and there are beds sailing into a harbour
where death is waiting, dressed as an admiral. Neruda Death Alone
February 2, 2015
Today is Candlemas or la Chandeleur, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox- the pagan festival of light when the churches blessed their candles. Snow is forecast so a prompt to get out . . . and walk down from Goult through the pine and white oak scrub covering Les Terrasses to the valley of Lumieres. Poplars, planes and some willow line the river here – delicate ivy clings on its upward journey . . .
. . . a solitary young soldier on a plinth. As yet I have failed to come up with identification. Maybe a question in the epicerie will supply an answer. On the plinth: ‘Ge suis venne au roi de France de par la Vierge Marie”.
Scrambling up the Mange Tian ( a regional cooking vessel at the first level of research – the shape of?? or where food was offered??) – precipitous, slippery but exhilarating climb to the plateau covered with pines . . . and a few bories that young master H. Dupont Fogg would love to investigate . . .
. . . dry stone walls retaining the terraced land and also free standing structures as boundaries. Some ruins of a hamlet . . . about 6 houses clustered here no doubt with livestock – cereal growing, olives, vines and other crops – on the open plateau. The terrain would have been intensely farmed enough to sustain a small community. Now holm oak and the white oak have regenerated to cover the land and the lack of light is evident.
. . . where nature has started the process of reoccupation.
The journey along the narrow paths has dramatic interludes when and where unstable or tired trees perform their dance of death. More dancing from those lively specimens alongside too – all elbows, hips and flashing legs . . .
. . . and then a solitary sign of another wasted object left to rot – Citroen Ami? Interesting that the lichen and algae have inhabited the surface – shows how clean the air is.
Down and beyonds lies an area called Les Fenêtres Rouges where the ochre landscape sits centre stage. This occurs intermittently within this intimate terrain but always surprises visually and evocatively . . . No other souls around. Bliss.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost The Road not Taken.
January 7, 2015
The terraces in Oppède-le-Vieux hold a decent collection of native plants – all labelled with correct nomenclature and explanation for herbal or culinary use if applicable – but it’s difficult to concentrate on these when the panorama is so splendid – the Luberon valley, Mont Ventoux and part of the Vaucluse – like tiers of old stage flats punctuated with pencil slim cypress. Clients often express the misguided notion that trees will block the view but there are ways of planting trees to emphasise the view as shown here . . .
These terraces are dedicated to Sainte Cécile. Flat plates of Umbilicus rupestris – navelwort – are springing forth now in the crevices not only here but in many dry stone walls in the area. Below is the site of the old threshing floor – aire de battage – now an angular foot print but originally it would have been circular so more practical for the tethered animal to do his or her circuit.
From here, the old village is seen spread across the north facing side of the Petit Luberon. The winter sun starts casting its shadow by midday so houses beyond the medieval ramparts are dark, humid and tricky to maintain apparently. The domination of the restored church of Notre-Dame-D’Alidon and the ruins of the castle are felt from a distance as well as within the village streets. I found it a charming and quirky place and many others have enjoyed it and settled here. Following the armistice of June 1940, architect Bernard Zehrfuss founded a commune of artists in the old town, a project that attracted French sculptor François Stahly and the writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry. The commune proved short-lived but, interestingly, it was the basis for Saint Exupéry’s fictionalized account, published in 1946, called ‘Kingdom of the Rocks’.
Looking at close up details, the clock and bell tower on the town hall and then at even more smaller scale . . .
. . . a statuette, religious of course, as the Popes, based in Avignon, dabbled religiously and relentlessly here. The main route up to the church and castle was the village street; access points of the wash houses and modest homes are still evident . . .
. . . they retain a theatrical feel (like a discarded film set) of the past – very beautiful and evocative. In the 19th century, the inhabitants had enough and started to move down in the valley, dismantling the roof of their houses to stop paying property taxes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Oppède-le-Vieux was a ghost village and a new community was officially established in the valley, with larger streets, cosier houses and farmers closer to their fields – the new village – Oppède-les-Poulivets (“nice view” in Provençal),
The Chapel of the White Penitents is set half way up the stepped ramp path, beautifully laid, and then, in the full light at the summit sits the church (12C) and the medieval fortress.
Spacious steps with integrated landings below cantilevered gargoyles lead to a rocky unmanicured area where temporary safety fencing protects the castle – an engineered structure integrated within the natural environment. Work due to start in 2015.
A line of Renaissance villas line the north facing rock face – a mix of superbe, mysterious and the fairytale. Glamorous and expensive.
Sitting in the cemetery, something I do in a regular fashion, and looking beyond the walls, the tiers of vegetation – ivy in flower, Viburnum tinus in berry, olive, oak and pine gave me goosebumps. And then the surface of the wall, encrusted with stonecrop. Marvellous.
Despite the open window in the room of long absence, the odor of the rose is still linked with the breath that was there. Once again we are without previous experience, newcomers, in love. The rose! The field of its ways would dispel even the effrontery of death. No grating stands in the way. Desire is alive, an ache in our vaporous foreheads.
One who walks the earth in its rains has nothing to fear from the thorn in places either finished or unfriendly. But if he stops to commune with himself, woe! Pierced to the quick, he suddenly flies to ashes, an archer reclaimed by beauty. René Char.