And there is no one to trick me, except Mina, and I am well aware of
her tactics. She has been on the breakfast table – I can only laugh
rather than resort to discipline as I enjoy her theatrics – rolling on
her back with paws waving in the air, inching ever closer to my plate
so she can fish with her claws, but I was too quick.
I am in the walled garden, with mésanges (charbonnière) flitting from
bough to leaf to flower, singing. There are almonds beginning to form,
the cerisier is now in full bloom and the wild apple tree in the field
across the road is resplendent – the white clusters shining as the
morning rays light them, with Canigou’s snow capped peaks visible in
the distance. My new routine is to remove the cloches (in this case,
cut plastic bottles) protecting the lettuces, and the mini hothouses
I’ve constructed to shelter the artichoke (artichaut) and courgettes.
The last few days have been picture perfect and it is difficult to
imagine any better. Everything is suddenly alive with a new mantle
of brilliant green, there is not a cloud in sight, and as I think often
– as I listen to the cacophony of birds and the river below, or a light
rustling of leaves – the most rewarding time of the year. We can stay
in the sun all day, and the birds decamp in summer, whereas now they
are as busy as we are in the garden. New flowers are appearing after
self-seeding, and in the potting shed, I am excited to see more signs
of life each day, as I carefully water the growing collection of seedlings.
We have been mixing clover into the earth, compost and cow manure
(plentiful thanks to our regular visitors) – the beans are sown, as are
the carrots, onions and échalotes. The remaining red cabbages and leeks
from winter are thriving, but we have lost the passionfruit vine that
was to cover a pergola, and the hibiscus. I can’t wait to see the first
sweet pea flower, behind the pansies in a tub I found in the ruins of
the ‘porcherie’, at the edge of the forest. The strawberries (which
survived all winter) are now flowering and multiplying. The aquaduct,
planted with flowers and herbs, is showing signs of what will be a
wonderful wall garden, spanning from the potting shed to the water basin.
From the forest come the sculptural additions for the corners of the
flower bed (points of a triangle) – thick vines that destroyed
their host, which then rotted away, leaving a an intricate network of
curved open basketweave (like a strange casing) – they will form
the structure for the ipomée this year; blue morning glory flowers
with heart shaped leaves, which we also have climbing over arches
of noisettier (hazel), topped by lanterns.
I have just erected shade for the lettuces and Mina is sprawled
on my lap, mouth open, mesmerised by the sun. I am at a table next
to the framboisiers (raspberries), our stocks suddenly increased
by plants we were given – four that should produce white raspberries,
which I have never seen and look forward to tasting. The cassis and
groseilles are covered in new leaves. This week we ate baby dandelion
leaves in a salad, so now I know what to look for as I tackle the
weeds that are also happy to burst forth.
I often joke about living the life of a peasant, with dirt permanently
under my nails, but I had trouble cutting up a whole rabbit (thankfully
minus the head) and grappling with the idea it was ordered specially,
and had, until that morning, been enjoying the bread we save to give
to it (I hadn’t made the connection!). I have often visited them on
my travels – lapins in their little cages not knowing their fate –
the supermarket disconnects us from the source, and the reality of
where dinner comes from. Mina has no such thoughts as she devours
the offcuts; I can only be grateful to have such a fresh delicacy,
and hope it will be delicious – I am saving it for Easter.
Yesterday I went to the market at Port Vendres, a change of routine,
enjoying the shores of the Mediterranean. I always observe and listen,
fascinated by the differences here. A woman stated she was making a
‘daube’ and then it is up to the butcher to table suggestions and
prepare her order. It takes several visits before it is clear who
has the best produce, and to trust its consistency. There is a change
in our menu, as aubergines and capsicums flood in from Spain. White
asparagus and strawberries are now in abundance as the winter greens
diminish – the last bunches of blettes (like silverbeet) perhaps?
The tomatoes are of course ‘hothouse’, but getting cheaper and
tastier now. We are still squeezing oranges – they have been sweet
I dined on freshly shucked oysters and marinated anchovies, a speciality
of the fish market, and then marinated raw cod layered with potatoes,
red onion and pink peppercorns; a guest of locals who had been celebrating
the live recording of Thalassa the night before – a documentary series
showcasing life ‘on and by the sea’ – the crew travelling from port
to port along the French coastline, along with the yacht ‘Bel Espoir’
Today I am in my garden attire, which either reveals or conceals a bikini;
a light denim dress (against the dirt and Mina’s attentions), faded
espadrilles (comfortably squashed down), and as for some time now as
temperatures soar, coated in a layer of protective sun spray.
I can (almost) announce that my only surprise for April Fools’ day,
apart from the first violet iris in the front garden, was the large
cricket who firmly fixed me in the eyes, before jumping to my side.
I am lying face down, re-reading ‘The small pleasures of life by
Philippe Dherm (translated from French) – the chapter ‘We could almost
eat outside’, written in March as he opened the window to let spring enter.
Here it is almost too hot to eat outside, but we do anyway. Perpignan holds
the record for France again (warmer than the Côte d’Azur and Corsica)
– 26ºC and 12º overnight.
There is an inceasing haze obscuring the plains and Canigou; the sun
high as it passes its apogee. The clocks went forward last week and
we are now adjusting to later dinners, as the sun sets at 8.22pm.
Usually on a sunday I am off hiking, and today, even though the excursion
was to the Vallée Heureuse (Happy Valley), I decided to stay home. To have
a quiet day, with a lie in, and a breakfast of freshly baked banana and
walnut bread; taking time to digest the little wonders all around me.
As I am lying on the grass I can see wildflowers I have never even noticed
– tiny lavender stars pushing out from under a rock.
I am just back from a walk downstream, following the curves of our road as
white petals and dried oak leaves fall with the increasing breeze. The oaks
hold on to their shrivelled offspring all winter, only releasing them now;
as the road is lined with mysterious fruit trees, some ten metres high as
they push through the canopy. I am taking photographs to identify them as
we think they are wild cherries. Bordering the route there are holly bushes
alongside chêne vert and the stark châtaigners (many are dead or consumed
by vines), and cork trees (mostly with their bark harvested, leaving deep
ruddy scars from the base to around 1.5 metres – they take eight years to
renew their skin).
Even though I tread lightly, there is much flurried activity as I pass
– I have seen squirrels dashing across the road lately – but today I can’t
see any more than birds taking wing. As I round the lower bends of the
mountain, we are just visible, perched on the promonatory in the sun.
A cyclist startles me – I only hear the whir – I am sure many use our
road as training for the Tour de France: it mounts steadily and offers a
dizzying descent.On Sundays we have ‘traffic’, and I am again rattled as
motorbikes zoom past, perhaps after lunching at the chalet on the peak,
with its magnificent viewand sunny terrace.
There is more to be done in the garden on my return, this time in hiking
boots (as there are stinging nettles), carrying bags of stones from the
forest. I am creating borders to deliniate the garden beds and to stop
weeds. Frédéric has cut the grass and we can now admire our efforts as
the potager starts to take shape…