Le Levant, La France
It is the last day of July, a Sunday, and there is no better place to begin
than with ‘the now’, the present moment. The rays of late afternoon sun
have arrived to illumine my leather armchair. Morning on the terrace
and quiet reflection in the corner; each day I follow the sun like a plant.
I need its warmth and light – to throw open the shutters and invite my
most welcome friend to join me.
Today has brought a surprise that changed any dinner plans to dessert
– the highlight, the headline; the hero that has unexpectedly dropped by
to share in the delights of our table. My hands were quick to give away
my secret, and one arm longer than the other when I arrived with my
treasure, 668 grams (I couldn’t wait to find out) of ripe wild blackberries
from a patch I had not yet discovered. Gleaming black jewels from the
forest that are there to be enjoyed, freely available to all who take the
time to notice (and avoid the stinging nettles) – in the pleasure of the
moment it is all too easy to forget to look down, until a sharp reminder
says “take care”.
When I was young we walked the plank; laying down my Dad’s heaviest
piece of wood, reserved for scaffolding – it was easy to reach our prize.
Here, I am on still unfamiliar terrain, in a climate far from my childhood.
Yet the smells are the same, as the tart is nearly ready and announces
its presence with a fanfare (and a hint of myrtille liquer, bilberry, to
please an adult palate) – “voila, here I am, the result of the fruits of
your labours”. Yet I know I have not done much, and it is nature who
has performed all the work – those busy bees (as I ducked past the hive),
and the recent rains, have all contributed to dinner.
I had intended to look for cèpes and got carried away by my find instead
– it is like that here, each day there is something new to change the focus,
or the course of ordinary events, which mainly revolve around food. In the
quest for a simple life, what could be more important?
A basket full of goodness awaits in the corner of the kitchen as my mind
concocts, formulating the menu. Yesterday when I plucked a courgette it
cried “farci” as if it chose its fate – too plump for the brochette it might
have been the day before. Last week we had a run of cucumbers, queuing
up to take attention away from ‘what to do with the patissons’. After much
research, various recipes start to reassure me, and, as if to confirm ‘all is
indeed well’, the chevre vendor was at the market.
That about sums up the thoughts that occupy my time – quince paste
and jamon de Serrano, and is there too much wind for a grillade tonight?
Shall I leave the aubergine a few more days, and how has the velouté
frozen? Will the haricot nain survive its maladie? (sadly, no). What variety
of potatoes have we just harvested?
I am more accustomed to thinking about the traffic, and the creative
projects that would mount and demand my attention, or ‘work’ as it might
be labelled. I’ve always had something ‘waiting in the wings’ that would
call for all my energy and time to be directed towards its completion
(as perfectly and as quickly as possible), in line with my enthusiasm,
and ambition to explore the potential that often bubbles over and insists
that I respond with ‘action’. Sitting admiring the garden (as I am now)
seems like such an indulgence – can I give myself permission to just ‘be’?
– to listen to the response of the leaves as they are rustled by the breeze,
as I notice the shadows of the olivier dance across my page, which flutters
in reply to the trees.
Each corner of the garden speaks in turn, and I am in the centre of
a vortex, which passes from left to right, through the bamboo and along
the stone wall at my rear. There’s not a cloud to be seen, but our
neighbour has predicted it will rain, for the wind has arrived from Spain.
It is now the 3rd of August, a Wednesday, and she was right of course,
but so far only a few droplets have fallen and the lettuce seedlings
are content, even if I am not, for the humidity came with an unexpected
wave of mosquitoes. The light has changed – it is eerie and filtered,
as thunder clapped “réveil” in the early hours. Today my companions
are a golden bee and a fly, and an assortment of living ‘water craft’
(araignées d’eau, water spiders) which propel themselves towards
their prey. The dragonflies (libellule, at least 10 cm long with stripes)
follow the stream upwards, and I have only the music of the cascade
and birdsong – near and far – to accompany the fluttering of a papillon.
Can I think of anywhere else I would rather be? Is there anything that
calls for my attention?
It is not hunger; our morning commenced with pain au chocolat and
croissants, which I warmed, before arranging in a rose and yellow
linen panier. The croissants were accompanied by ‘Confiture Bonne
Maman, fruits des bois’, spooned onto the ornate porcelain plates
(that I found in a vide grenier; one euro for the entire stamped and
initialed set). The lovingly restored wooden coffee mill (branded Peugeot
Frères, before they ventured into voitures) came from the same market,
and fits between my knees (as demonstrated by Frédéric’s mother who
has a collection), as I ‘revert to tradition’. Frédéric had carefully chosen
roses for an impromptu bouquet; orange tinged with red, like flames,
wrapped and sealed with a sticker ‘je t’aime’.
I would love to stay here all day on the ‘throne’ I have claimed on the
weathered rocks; lulled to sleep by the current and the slow movements
of a tiny fish. I am keeping an eye out for the frogs that will be
delicately relocated to the basin that guards the water supply for the garden.
I have prepared their shelter; hollow logs of cork bark (chêne-liège)
that float like semi-submerged crocodiles. I thought my grasp of French
was already admirable, yet wasn’t prepared for all the ‘bricolage’ (DIY)
terms which now flood the pages of my journal, and the most important
and time-consuming – ‘tuyau’. Our garden is fed by the pure water that
courses from the mountain stream I now observe.
The tuyau (pipe or hose) is fixed to an ancient barrage that regulates the
flow of the river, and then traverses the forest and field for a kilometer
before it fills (the verb remplir) our newly sealed reservoir, that once
contained water that was fed in by a stone aqueduct. We can walk the
length of what remains, and have unearthed sections that have long
been buried. Water is the necessity here – without it nothing would bloom
– and the ongoing project (for months now) has been the restoration or
‘réparation’ of the system, with each section of pipe carefully checked
for leaks or damage after the cows have moved on. They arrive in herds
(with an âne – a donkey – we have just learnt he answers to ‘Clémentine’)
by way of ‘the middle of the road’ or a randonnée track, their presence
announced by the clanging of bells, and car horns echoing down the
mountain from drivers entering the tight bends on the route. The tuyau
passes right across their chosen pasture, and although it is now enterré
(buried) by rocks covering each passage into the woods, it is vulnerable.
At present, everything is in perfect working order, with happy gurgling
sounds that reassure, and tadpoles even that have been sucked into the
system and remerge in their new surroundings – which brings me back to
my current mission, to ‘attrape’ or catch frogs: the concern is they may eat
the existing têtards (or tadpoles, another word I never thought I would
add to my repertoire). The idea is that the frogs will eat any mosquitoes
so we can dine in the surrounds of paradise without ‘les bêtes qui pique’
(in other words, without being bitten) – for ‘perfect’ leaves no room
There are many definitions of paradise depending on our personal tastes,
but for me it has always included ‘space’; vast tracts of pristine natural
wonders that are already ‘in harmony’, like the giant outcropping of rocks
as I look up through the canopy of trees that provide my shade today,
and follow the lines of the ledges that bear tiny ferns and mosses. They are
our ancestors; there long before any of us walked the earth they remain,
slumbering. They are the record keepers, telling of a time that has now
passed, by way of traces that remain etched – ravaged, yet remaining, just as
the undulating, smoothed river bed marks the passage of time through the
The levels are clearly visible, with mineral traces, and glistening pools
are all that are left in the shallows until the rains come and alter the
course in the continuing cycle that governs all things. Plenty follows
‘a trickle’ yet it always flows – this too shall pass – it is the nature of life.
We are subject to the laws of nature, and all that enables us to survive;
water does not grow on trees, it comes from the heavens nurturing
everything we need. So why is it ‘money’ that fills our dreams and holds
us prisoner, as we equate it with means? The ability to choose, to have
and to control – it imbues us with the power to buy what we want.
Yet wants and needs are worlds apart – what is it we require if we listen
to our heart?
Warmth and light, with shelter over our head – a place we call home
that contains our bed? Peace and quiet that allows us to relax, a meal
in good company, fresh and full of flavour – time that is our own so we
have a chance to savour all of the pleasures we might consider ‘treats’,
filling our days with laughter and joy we are replete. With love for all
we undertake we can easily leave burdens in our wake – letting go of
cares and chores, liberation is what we appreciate the most.
Deciding how we will spend our time is what we call leisure, or play
– a vacance or a holiday. Yet when it ends, for we are sure it must,
reality dawns and it is back to ‘bust’. Mounting tension, with a list
of things to do, and maintain or achieve – how? We haven’t got a clue
– pressures dictate necessity as wants inflate and jostle for a place;
work is on our plate.
Yet here, by the stream in the dance of life, there is nothing to be
done but to celebrate, for the overwhelming essence is ‘appreciate’.
Taking time to notice the little things; the bubbles that float and
the iridescence of wings – an aerial show as insects swarm and sparkle
for an instant that has disappeared now. Fleeting things, that enter
a changing canvas, for movement is the key to Life’s constant purpose.
Fluidity in the form of adaptation – death and rebirth – mutation from
one state to the next in the kingdom that balances all of its acts;
each feeds the whole, contributing, this is known.
Each creation has a reason for ‘being’, it performs a function that
supports by giving. Yet counting the spots on a butterfly’s wings may
seem pointless when faced with the demands of society – do we have
the time to admire Nature’s creations, shouldn’t we be more concerned
about the fate of nations? The human race is what dominates our time,
and our thoughts, and how we operate – there are few who would
disagree at this rate. The pace of life has us running, it is sure;
there is never enough so we search for more. Money, for a start, in order
to float; to keep our head above the surface as we try and cope with
the rise in demands that separate us from rêverie – there are not
enough hours in the day to enable ‘simplicity’. A cloud has covered the
face of the sun, a shadow falls across the land – what is there to be done?
Answer to a now rumbling stomach, indicated by a natural rhythm.
Following the urge that indicates and gives a clear sign of the action
to take – “à table” one and all, when you hear its call – regardless of
the hour we have our own reminder, an inbuilt timer.
Pâte and cheese, ham and pain ancienne, washed down with a lively rosé,
and a peach from the orchards of Roussillon – the branches now also
laden with nectarines and apricots, row upon row as the sunshine
makes them blush. Competing with the vines, as they too claim this region,
ripening each day as summer heightens for August is prime time
– le monde has arrived.
The routes are bursting at the seams as festivals fill the calendar of dreams:
something for every type of taste, last night (a Thursday) we enjoyed
flamenco on the stage. The soirée began with a medieval group, and
finished with a flourish of frills and a well-timed stomp. Sangria and tapas
(anchoïade, pan con tomate, moules Catalan and chorizo) took us well in
to the night, and in the streets of the old town we explored by lamplight
– elegant in its heyday, Amélie les Bains still has charm, with the river
that meanders its way under the many bridges that span it, fed by canals
and its arteries – the stars clear above, held in our gaze.
Last Wednesday it was the Campo St Jean that captured our attention as
each ancient arch was lit, and the eglise St Jean’s roofline shone into
Perpignan’s quartier St Jacques – the airways filled with the unique
bohemian gypsy inspired fusion of Goran Bregovic; the vibration felt
as the crowd literally jumped in response…