hope springs eternal

January 2, 2021

I hang my head in shame – refuse to blame covid or indeed political issues – and promise myself that in 2021 I must try harder . . .

to think about and organise and produce more posts to keep sane and hopeful. Today, January 2nd, it’s cold, windy and a tad grey – even here in the south of France – as the photo shows, but I appreciate the composition in the quickly snapped photo of the upper garden, the fore shortening and pixelation both of which have given the image an abstract quality. I appreciate and revel in the tones . . .

. . . as in the big view, the tones in winter are more beautiful and harmonious than in other seasons. The vines are mostly pruned and stand silently like battalions waiting to charge . . .

shame about the turquoise plastic collars around the new plants but they add a touch of something . . .

a cluster of poplars by the stream have the similar quiet attributes of clematis still now after scrambling along the verges – the fluffy seedheads still hanging on . . .

. . . returning home this winter musing is thrown up in the air like a jugglers ball when the persimmon greets me and shouts out ‘always to be blest’.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. Emily Dickinson

Back to visit a project designed some years ago (previous visit and related post is here). The estate sits on the edge of town, Monte San Savino, with the majority of the productive land – vines and olives – to the south west. The drive sweeps around climbing up through the land . . .

. . . to the main courtyard. These clients have rather exquisite taste and furnish and decorate their house unusually and perfectly.

The old orto/ potager/vegetable garden sat behind these imposing gates. It’s a walled plot . . .

. . . and 15 years ago became the pool garden.

Lines of Acer campestre (field maple) originally planted for the functional attribute of using the young twiggy branches to tie in the vines. It has decorative attributes too, of course.

I see I was very taken with the cork oaks previously. Obvious functional uses but what glorious trunks . . .

. . . and the cupressus make fine full stops. We planted these below to make a screen from the town but also to allow views through from the house. These have been shaped . . .

. . . the rounded canopy of mature pines contrast the vertical habit of the cypress. Irrigation canals run discreetly around the site which is terraced.

Long breaches make air spiral

as tangibly as the heartwood.

Its’ only human to think the olive

speaks, that there are mouths

singing, screaming, even, in the gashes

and you can’t help but see a figure

twined in the trunk or struggling out.

Layers of xylem and crushed phloem

are other ways we see ‘tree’:

there are always these speaking

gaps to put a fist or a heart. Jo Shapcott  Trasimeno Olive


We also went to assist in the olive harvest and gathered 500 kgs over the weekend which made 90L of oil. Hundreds and hundreds of litres will be made from the 10,000 trees.

The youngest member took some time out on the odd occasion . . .

. . . but was very interested in our visit to the press ,Frantoio Mazzarrini, working 24 hrs at this time of year. Lovely trip, friends.


Close to the gates a spacious garden lies,

From storms defended, and inclement skies:

Four acres was th’alloted space of ground.

Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mould;

The reddening apples ripens here to gold,

Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,

With deeper red the full pomegranate glows,

The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,

And verdant olives flourish round the year.

The balmy spirit of the western gale

Eternal breathes on fruits untaught to fail:

Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,

On apples apples, figs on figs arise:

The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,

The buds to harden, and the fruit to grow.

Here ordered vines in equal ranks appear

With all the united labours of the year,

Some to unload the fertile branches run,

Some dry the blackening cluster in the sun,

Others to tread the liquid harvest join,

The groaning presses foam with floods of wine.

Here the vines in early flower descried,

Here the grapes discolour’d on the sunny side,

And there in autumn’s richest purple dyed.

Beds of all various herbs, for ever green,

In beauteous order terminate the scene.

Two plenteous fountains the whole prospect crowned:

This through the gardens leads its streams around:

Visits each plant, and waters all the ground:

While that in pipes beneath the palace flows,

And thence its current on the town bestows;

To various use their various streams they bring,

The people one, and one, supplies the king. Alexander Pope (mod version G. Greer)     The Gardens of Alcinous




Richard Serra – an installation, a sculpture, a site specific sculpture – at Chateau la Coste to be viewed and interacted with on the Art and Arhcitecture walk around the domain. Seemingly I just snap away at things I like nowadays . . .

. . . remnants of the old farming estate have been kept such as the threshing floor outside a new chapel which I didn’t photograph.  A more interesting building ‘Four Cubes to Contemplate our Environment- a maze like structure from Tadao Ando. A palimpsest of translucent layers/facades offering plenty to absorb and think about  . . .

. . . on the way down to The Meditation Bell.

The Oak Room (Andy Goldsworthy), outside above and inside below, caught the imagination of the kids.

Big names here – Gehry, Ando, Bourgeois, Benech, Sigimoto – in this large glamorous and glossy winery vineyard cafe dining shop gallery space ‘art escape’.  Most likely the Ai Weiwei ‘Mountains and Seas’ might have flown away as my visit was some time ago . . . but I remember the very very beautiful work.

By contrast, also near Aix en Provence, a jardin remarquable, in a small town – Éguilles. Max and Anne Sauze have created somehing special in a relatively small space around one lone tree. Now there’s more and consequently increased shade and lots of bamboo. Max, the master of metal, is also a master of arrangements, of collections . . .

. . . and of pleating paper. All objets are recycled and put together to form whimsical and quirky and thought provoking ‘things’.

Mostly site specific and crossing from design to architeture to horticulture but intensely personal.

In every corner and on all surfaces, he can’t stop himself – thank goodness.

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and

school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry. Marianne Moore   Poetry 


a post with few humans – a couple of tourists and some carved in stone – it’s easier for me to engage with this landscape as such. At Pont du Gard, in the terrain around the landmark, those maintaining the landscape show good skills – using just enough management. The olives in this grove have a balletic quality  – a certain strength underlying a lightness of form . . .


. . . equally, the dry stone walling is rhythmic in contrast to the static character of the remnants of this ancient aqueduct that carried water from Uzés to Nimes. Some is very fragile awaiting restoration, perhaps . . .



. . . a sprinkling of chêne vert left to edge the informal track leading down to the first dramatic glimpse. Nothing could be more powerful and appropriate.



Masterful engineering – perfection in the detail of the construction – a simple and beautiful junction of stonework.



At the Monastère, ‘the antechamber to heaven’ but also close to home, the small church is receiving attention – completion of the interior next year perhaps  – with the facade finished and decorated with a frieze of ‘Eric Gill’ style carving.



Eclectic architectural details which somehow work spread around the entrance, the spacious courtyard which I was to shy to photograph, the chapel and the nuns gathering room – they’ve employed a sensitive architect. Also, stupidly, I didn’t pluck up the courage to ask to see the productive gardens – all that convent schooling still affects me badly . . .



. . . but here at the quarry at Vallabrix, no hestation on pushing through fencing and security bondaries to get as close as possible. This sand is used to manufacture Perrier bottles – so much better to drink water from glass than plastic . . . and it’s a stunning landscape to behold and walk around although the locals are not so keen on the noise and night time working. Two poems for this post, Attwood and Paz, what can I say . . .




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



Between now and now,

between I am and you are,

the word bridge.

Entering it

you enter yourself:

the world connects

and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,

there is always

a body stretched:

a rainbow.

I’ll sleep beneath its arches. Octavio Paz



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 . . .

cabanon 2

. . .  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.

village 2

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

around La Gardi

December 27, 2014


Road side crosses mark the boundaries of the village but not all are hidden within the oak scrub. This cross is only visible on the ascent out of Goult on the road to Roussillon where the rising ground is covered with differing landscape types depending on the geology and the aspect; known as The Gardi, an area originally used for sand extraction, then more recently as a motocross ground and, now, being restored back to nature as much as is possible with human interference. Vineyards sweep down the south facing slopes owned and cared for by  Domaine de la Verrière and further towards Roussillon, Domaine Bonelly where Beckett worked for a while.


The Boxing Day shoot is in progress  around The Gardi. Whether the shoot was for birds or boar . . . I didn’t enquire. Well organised, as far as humans were concerned, but the barking of the dogs was surely and hopefully a forewarning for the hunted.


domaine de la verriere

Domaine de la Verrière plant roses at the end of the vine runs – some say that the roses give a previous indication of blight  – an early warning system – but also decorative to boot as long as they remain healthy. Just further along the road – down an incline and around two or three bends, I came across a group of renovated buildings – farm house and barns – that had received immaculate attention, The garden beyond was clipped to perfection . . .


barn + house


. . . the end wall well restored with the red ochre bricks clearly visible and the renovated old house, just ready for rental.

the farm house

Bamboos growing beside the stream, gleam in the winter sunshine . . .

bamboo hedge

. . . and looking down into the bassin, darker reflections and detail.



Circling back up to The Gardi, the ochre hill sides, where areas of  Garrigues and Matorral landscapes can be discovered. Juniper and 3 types of pine  – Aleppo (Pinus halepensis), Maritime (Pinus pilaster) and P. sylvestris dominate with Juniper as understorey (Genévrier communis). Back through the vines leading down to the village, derelict cabanons stand guard. They are on sale for 90,000 euros with a bit of land.

mas 1



But this one standing within the poplars is part of larger estate and very beautiful. Not for sale.


Et, des lors, je me suis baigne dans le poeme

De la mer infuse d’astres et lactescent,

Devorant les azurs verts ou, flottaison bleme

Et ravie, un noye pensif, parfois, descend;

Ou, teignant tout a coup les bleuites, delires
Et rythmes lents sous les rutilements du jour,
Plus fortes que 1’alcool, plus vastes que vos lyres,

Fermentent les rousseurs ameres de l’amour.

Thenceforward, fused in the poem, milk of stars,
Of the sea, I coiled through deeps of cloudless green,

Where, dimly, they come swaying down,
Rapt and sad, singly, the drowned;

Where, under sky’s haemorrhage,

Slowly tossing In thuds of fever, arch-alcohol of song,
Pumping over the blues in sudden stains,

The bitter redness of love ferment. Samuel Beckett



fin de l’annee

January 1, 2013

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Many of the last hours of the end of the year were spent wandering around Avignon – discovering, admiring, absorbing – and doing some stocktaking. Place Saint Pierre, tucked behind the church, forms the smallest of cross axes and has quickly become a necessary cut through.  Strange window decoration close by . .  macabre

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. . . the bell tower by Place des Carmes is topped with intricate metalwork – fine contrast to the simple architecture and stonework.

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Golden rays surround cherubs carefully transporting the head of John the Baptist to some holy place on the facade of the Baroque Chapel of the Pénitents Noirs de la Miséricorde. More macabre goings on . . . . my last post showed images of the public space by the Place du Palais . . .

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. . . the smallest family member got to grips quickly with the spacious areas here on his way up to the playgrounds in the Rocher des Doms and, hopefully, banked the architecture of  the Conservatory  ( beautiful frontage and originally the Papal Mint) for future reference.

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What we thought were scarecrows in the small Papal vineyard turn out to be installations by local art students – decorative and functional. The magnificent supports to the old pine have the same qualities to my mind.  Returning down to Place de l’Horloge, the Xmas market is still in full swing around the Carousel. The owner is quite grumpy but, all those who try it out and also their proud relations who applaud, smile and make up for his poor attitude. The interior of the roof has salacious scenes from classical myths – a good bit of nudity to warm up minds at this cold end of year – but a little incongruous.

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Final sunset to herald a New Year – looks promising if only for the short term.

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Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky. Rainer Maria Rilke

I love surprises especially those in the landscape. This feature wouldn’t have been a surprise if I’d read the guide book before visiting Oppidum d’Ensérune. Of course, Oppidum is a remarkable site on a hill  with 360 degree views;  so a smart strategic choice for seeing those  down on the plain who might have threatening ideas. An ancient settlement occupied the hill from  the 6th century BC to  1st century AD. The Romans ran the Via Domitia alongside connecting the Alps to the Pyrenees and below the hill sits this landscape -Étang du Montady – a large circular expanse of drained land which is now wedge shaped fields separated by irrigation ditches that converge in the centre. Monks in the 13thC drained the freshwater wetland following orders from the Bishop of Narbonne! I found it amazing as a piece of land art which is also functional. So, the ditches allowed water to flow in radial lines to the centre of the circular depression, from which it was conveyed through underground pipes below the Malpas hill  several kilometres to the south. (I think I prefer the image above in contrast to the photoshopped one below) . . . .

. . .  the fact that the drain for Montady went through Malpas encouraged Riquet, the designer of the Canal du  Midi, to build a tunnel through the same hill for his canal. The image below is from the Malpas tunnel excavated and constructed in 17C  to accomodate the passage of the Canal du Midi – Europe’s first navigable canal. In the nineteenth century, a third tunnel was excavated, passing through the Hill d’Ensérune beneath the Malpas tunnel to house the railway freom Beziers to Narbonne.  The hill had been riddled with holes.

‘History is just one f . . . thing after another’ (expletives removed). Alan Bennett  The History Boys

The mist sits in the Tarn Valley and floats under the viaduct designed by Norman Foster. He wanted it to seem that ‘it has the delicacy of a butterfly’. Well achieved  and it works as the highest road bridge in the world with the central pillar taller than the Eiffel Tower.  Beautiful to look at as a landmark and a beautiful experience when crossing.

Simple immoveable benches in the spacious area around the vistor centre – an old farm building – that offers the best vantage point for viewing. The Fench are good at space and very rarely clutter it up.

Between the viaduct and the Étang du Montady, rests the remains of the Abbaye de Fontcaude – hot spring in Occitan – on the pilgrim route to St. Jacques de Compostela. Many events caused destruction to the building – burnt to the ground during the wars of religion – sold by auction during the French Revolution – fell into disrepair and became farm building in the 19C – before the start of restoration only 40 years ago. It looked over restored to me.

So over restored that it lacked any sense of the past. Hanging baskets and horrid planting filled the cloister area. The only images I’ve posted are those that have a glimmer of history and the ancient construction. I did like the carved figures of St. Jacques on the capitals with the slochy hat, capacious outer garment and the loose bag over the shoulder. Back to craftsmanship then  . . . .  but hats off to more recent engineering !

Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.

Entering it
you enter yourself:
the world connects
and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,
there is always
a body stretched:
a rainbow.
I’ll sleep beneath its arches.  Octavio Paz  The Bridge

My six-year-old mechanic, you are up half the night

inventing a pipe made from jars, a ski-ing car

for flat icy roads and a timer-catapult

involving a palm tree, candles and rope.

You could barely stand when I once found you,

having loosened the bars from the cot

and stepped out so simply you shocked yourself.

Today I am tearful, infatuated with bad ideas,

the same song, over and over. You take charge,

up-end chairs, pull cushions under the table,

lay in chewing-gum and juice

rip newspaper into snow on the roof.  Lavinia Greenlaw Invention

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

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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