More Memories of Provence, with Inspirational Quotes

I’m still milking all those lovely pictures that I took during my five days in Provence. I was going to say that this is because¬†‘I don’t get out much’, but I think I may have complained in the past¬†about my work involving too much travel, so it won’t be plausible. Also, I seem to be attending an awful lot of cultural events since moving back to the UK.

So my only excuse is:¬†it’s the misery of November, we’ve got to compensate somehow. You can see why artists are so attracted to that region – the lights and colours are unbelievable (all are taken without any filters, simply with my phone, which sometimes suffers in poor light conditions).

A welcoming front door...
A welcoming front door…
A house gleaming in the afternoon sun...
A house gleaming in the afternoon sun…
A room with an autumnal view...
A room with an autumnal view…

I didn’t mind the gloomy weather – besides, the Luberon needed some rain after an exceptionally dry summer. I just curled up in my cosy room and read and wrote. One of the books I stumbled across was Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself. The author was a counsellor and lay minister, who wrote this slim volume of New Age/Christian wisdom, aphorisms, inspirational thoughts, which became a huge hit in the 1970s. It perfectly captured the spirit of the time.

I cannot ‘make my mark’ for all time. Nothing will have meaning ultimately. Nothing will even mean tomorrow what it did today. Meaning changes with the context. It is enough that I am of value to someone today. It is enough that I make a difference now.

A place for the weary of heart to rest and write both indoors...
A place for the weary of heart to rest and write…

Why do I judge my day by how much I have ‘accomplished’? I am holding this cat in my arms so it can sleep, and what more is there. [This consoled me as I realised that I would not finish my first draft.]

... and read tons of poetry, both indoors...
… and read tons of poetry, both indoors.

Perfectionism is slow death, If everything were to turn out just like I would want it to, just like I would plan for it to, then I would never experience anything new; my life would be an endless repetition of stale successes. When I make a mistake, I experience something unexpected.

... and outdoors.
… and outdoors.
A faithful friend to keep you company...
A faithful friend to keep you company…

A sure way for me to have a disastrous experience is to do something because ‘it will be good for me.’

... a fellow creative in her atelier to inspire you...
… a fellow creative in her atelier to inspire you…

There may be a natural, healthy kind of fear, but the fear I don’t like and want not the obey is the fear that urges me to act contrary to my own feelings or to act before I know what my feeling are. It is usually a fear of displeasing other people.

Interesting little houses to explore...
Interesting little houses to explore…
Lavender fields (subdued in their winter sleep)
Lavender fields (subdued in their winter sleep)

If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write. Standing before the refrigerator. If I have to ask myself if I’m hungry, I’m not. [Ouch! This one stung a little!]

Quirky window decorations...
Quirky window decorations…

If someone criticizes me I am not any less because of that. It is not a criticism of me but critical thinking from him.. He is expressing his thoughts and feelings, not my being. Before, I thought I was actually fighting for my own self-worth, that is why I so desperately wanted people to like me. I thought their liking me was a comment on me, but it was a comment on them.

Another door, another paradise awaits
Another door, another paradise awaits

 

 

Friday Fun: Vaucluse/Provence – Things to See, People to Meet

While my Provence retreat was a working holiday, I did also go out to do the touristy thing on occasion. [I have to add that my laptop died on the very first day Рthe third gadget in three months to do that, so perhaps that contributed to my lack of progress regarding my WIP.]

I was going to spend the morning in a café in Roussillon, working on my novel, but it was surprisingly busy (it was a sunny day after several cloudy ones), no seats to be found, so instead I bought nougat for the boys at the weekly market and wandered through the picturesque streets.

Like all villages in the area, Roussillon was built on a hill, with a view of potential marauding hordes.
Like all villages in the area, Roussillon was built on a hill, with a view of potential marauding hordes.

This area was a major producer of ochre pigment for approximately two centuries, and if you look at the cliffs surrounding the village, you can understand why.

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There is a lovely trail around the former quarry - full of tourists in summer.
There is a lovely trail around the former quarry – full of tourists in summer.

The village itself ticks every box in the quaint category.

Narrow stairs leading to the upper part of the village? Check!
Narrow stairs leading to the upper part of the village? Check!
Terrace with a great view from the top? Check!
Terrace with a great view from the top? Check!
Le tricolore flying on the town hall? Check!
Le tricolore flying on the town hall? Check!
Cute little houses and artist's galleries? Check!
Cute little houses and artist’s galleries? Check!
Villas for sale? Check!
Stone villas for sale? Check!

On another evening I accompanied my hosts to an event at the beautiful Dora Maar house in M√©nerbes. The villagers of M√©nerbes were originally flattered to be featured in Peter Mayle’s series of books set in Provence, but he turn was not always flattering about individuals (and did not believe in anonymity), plus it led to it being completely overrun by tourists. Not hard to understand, when it looks like this.

From sablethome, com
From sablethome.com.

The Dora Maar house was bought by Picasso for his mistress when he was trying to get rid of her (he himself never lived there). It had fallen into disuse, but in 1997 an American philanthropist and friend of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston bought it and renovated it. It now offers midcareer artists, writers and film-makers the opportunity to work in peace for up to three months on a project of their choice.

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I don’t know about you, but I would happily have given up Picasso for the sake of this house…
Street view of the house.
Street view of the house.

I had no battery to take any pictures (the pictures above and below are from the website of the house), but it was an unforgettable evening, featuring readings and film excerpts from two film-makers (from Australia and the UK), a Mexican writer and an American poet. My favourite place was the cosy living room/library, of course. The evening was animated by the charming Gwen Strauss, who is the director of the fellowship programme but is herself a writer, so knows all about artistic temperaments.

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So you know where to find me when I am more … mid-career, shall we say?

I also made the acquaintance of Canadian artist Wally Ballach, who has been living in nearby Gordes for 25 years. His paintings (some of which you can see on this site) are unusual, rather dark and¬†disturbing, full of artistic and literary¬†references,¬†but Wally himself (like most crime writers) is a lovely, sunny personality. Provence is full of artists and authors who take advantage of the quieter winter months to work really hard… but they also socialise and the cultural life in this rural area is amazing.

Finally, here is an image of Gordes, the golden hilltop town that I only passed through in the car. Next time (and I’m sure there will be a next time!), I will be sure to stop.

From Avignon-et-provence website.
From Avignon-et-provence website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Days in Provence: A Working Holiday

Karen and Jack’s house in Provence may be a little corner of paradise, but I wasn’t just going to laze around in a night-gown and listen to harp music all day. I had tremendous plans going there: I was going to finish my novel and send it to my mentor for structural edits. But that was based on the flawed assumption I made back in early June that I would have spent a total of 5 weeks on the novel by now. Needless to say, that did not happen between July and October. I wrote precisely zero words since mid-June.

View from the window of my room
View from the window of my room

Having all the time in the world and inspiring landscape galore was not immediately productive, however. I wrote about 1500 words and rewrote a full outline of the novel, filling up any plot holes, but no more than that. Now, I could choose to focus on what I did not achieve, but for once I will focus on the positive.

Lulled to sleep in the evening and woken up in the morning by poetry (Karen has a whole room full of poetry books – 4 bookcases full!), it’s to be expected that I succumbed to my old passion. I read 13 books of poetry during those five days, so¬†it was like bathing¬†in sunlight.¬†Of course, you know what it’s like with poetry collections,¬† you don’t read them cover to cover,¬† you find the poems that really resonate with you.

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Here are some which I would love to share with you, all by women poets (although I also read William Stafford and Peter Meinke, I spontaneously picked up women this time):

Let’s start a conversation. Ask me where I’m from.

Where is home, really home. Where my parents were born.

What to do if I sound more like you than you do.

Every word an exhalation, a driving out. (Vahni Capildeo)

I keep finding you in ways I didn’t know I noticed, or knew.
Every road, every sea,
every beach by every sea,
keeps lining up with what you loved.
Here’s a line of silent palm trees.
It’s as if you answered the phone.
(Naomi Shihab Nye)

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I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.

You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.

You will want the earth, then more of the earth –

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.

It is encompassing, it will not minister.

Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,

it will not keep you alive. (Louise Gluck)

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I, like a river,
Have been turned aside by this harsh age.
I am a substitute. My life has flowed
Into another channel
And I do not recognise my shores.
O, how many fine sights I have missed,
How many curtains have risen without me
And fallen too…
And how many poems I have not written
Whose secret chorus swirls around my head
And possibly one day
Will stifle me… (Anna Akhmatova)

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This poem is dangerous; it should not be left

Within the reach of children, or even of adults

Who might swallow it whole, with possibly

Undesirable side-effects. If you come across

An unattended, unidentified poem

In a public place, do not attempt to tackle it

Yourself. Send it (preferably in a sealed container)

To the nearest centre of learning, where it will be rendered

Harmless by experts. Even the simplest poem

May destroy your immunity to human emotions.

All poems must carry a Government warning. Words

Can seriously affect your heart. (Elma Mitchell)

The result of this electrolyte bath of poetry? I wrote 25 new poems of my own. All requiring a lot of work still, but more than I’ve written in the 6 months January-June 2016. I will make sure I always have at least one book of poetry on the go at any moment in time.

Five Days in Provence: How It All Began…

Of course we all dream of relaxing and creative holidays in beautiful landscapes, so it won’t come as a surprise to hear that the 5 1/2 days I spent in Provence were simply¬†fabulous!¬†The¬†weather was¬†mostly cloudy, there was even some rain, so I only had 1.5 days of sunshine, but I didn’t care. This was paradise.

The Hameau Les Reys, near Roussillon, in Luberon.
The Hameau Les Reys, near Roussillon, in Luberon.

You won’t fully appreciate just how much those days away from family and work meant to me, until you hear of the weeks preceding it. Of course, the usual¬†insomnia, anxieties great and small, travelling for work with¬†tiring, woefully unprepared¬†workshops¬†(not only on my part), tense moments with my parents who had come to look after the children while I was away, meticulous forward planning but still not enough time to do all the laundry. It all culminated on 21/22, when I had the following timetable:

  • 06:00 CET: get up extra early to get to the training venue¬†to change some slides and check in online (as the friend I was staying with was having some internet issues)
  • 09:00 – 16:30 CET¬†– ‘stand and deliver’ all day
  • 16:30 – 17:00 CET – polite small talk and feedback with client
  • 17:00-17:30 CET-¬†rush to the airport
  • 17:30 – 20:30¬†CET – discover the flight is delayed and there¬†are additional security checks in force for UK destinations, while the 90 minutes free Wifi at Geneva airport expires and doesn’t allow me to access my mobile boarding pass at the gate
  • 23:00-01:30¬†GMT –¬†unpack one suitcase and pack two (for myself and the children), leave the house¬†reasonably tidy¬†for some friends who would be staying there over the holiday week, print out boarding passes for everybody, make sure my parents have packed everything, driving instructions to the Provence, telephone numbers for all of my children’s friends, confirmation for rental car, save chapters of my novel on a USB stick etc. etc. etc.
  • 01:30-05:15 GMT¬†– disturbed sleep on armchair-bed in study, with a restless cat trying to rest on my legs and waking up with a wonky shoulder
  • 5:15-7:15 GMT¬†– make sure everyone eats, gets dressed, leaves behind keys they don’t need, takes with them medicines and keys they do need, don’t forget their mobiles or cuddly toys, take everybody to the airport, leave car at long-term car park,¬†make sure my parents find the way to Terminal 4 while we get through security in time at our terminal
  • 7:15 GMT – 12:00 CET – another flight, another delay, but arrived safely in Geneva, where I hand the boys over to their Dad, and get my rental vehicle
  • 13:30 – 19:30 CET – drive down to Provence, but have to avoid the Swiss motorway (no vignette, you see), then¬†take a wrong turn and end up going the long way round, adding at least an hour to my journey
  • 19:30 – 20:30 CET – the final portion of the journey was in complete darkness, along narrow country lanes with ditches on either side, trying to find a tiny ‘hameau’ while avoiding the beguiling road signs for Roussillon
  • FINALLY make it to my friends’ house and have a glass of wine to celebrate before collapsing in bed and sleeping for 12 hours straight

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My friends, Jack and Karen McDermott, are American, but used to live in Geneva. They retired to the south of France four years ago and bought an amazing farmhouse in the Luberon, which they have lovingly renovated.Karen is an artist (painter, ceramicist, photographer), as well as a poet, so you can imagine all the lovely little touches that have gone into both interior and exterior decoration.

The kitchen, where Karen prepares breakfast for her guests.
The kitchen, where Karen prepares the most delicious meals for her guests.

Three years ago, Karen and Jack opened up their wonderfully cosy, welcoming house to writers and artists who need some quiet time to rest, refocus and create. So far, all their guests have come through personal recommendations, so you can be sure that you will feel very much at home. Prices vary according to room size and season, but each room has its own quirky décor and, more importantly, all contain a desk for writing and good reading lights. A family after my own heart, who knows just what a bookworm needs. Oh, and did I mention that the house is full of books?

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Outdoors is just as enticing, pure balm to the wounded or exhausted spirit.

The swimming pool was just being prepared for its winter cover.
The swimming pool was just being prepared for its winter cover.
Plenty of inviting spots to read and write.
Plenty of inviting spots to read and write.

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Of course, the vineyards of Provence are all around (and Karen and Jack have the perfect wine cellar for it), as are lavender fields and olive trees. The delightful ochre cliffs of Roussillon, the picture-perfect hilltop village of Gordes and Menerbes of Peter Mayle fame are a short drive away, while Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Chateauneuf du Pape and Manosque (home of Occitane en Provence cosmetics) all make for perfect day-trips.

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But I was there to work, not gallivant about. There was a small amount of gallivanting involved though, as you shall discover in¬†another post. But, for now…

My little corner of paradise, a studio with a separate entrance.
My little corner of paradise, a¬†room of one’s own,¬†with a separate entrance.

Friday Fun: Provence in the Spring

Just back from a business trip to the South of France. I didn’t have much time to stop and smell the flowers or take pictures, but I couldn’t resist a few images of sun-bathed bliss and mountainscapes along the way.

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Relais du Grand Logis, Mirabeau.
Relais du Grand Logis, Mirabeau.

The hotel where I stayed is a former coaching inn dating from the 17th century in the small village of Mirabeau on the Durance river, on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence.

I sat and read on a bench  under the plane trees, with a waterfall sussurating in the background.
I sat and read on a bench under the plane trees, with a waterfall sussurating in the background.
Too early to use the swimming pool, but plenty of sun...
Too early to use the swimming pool, but plenty of sun…
You can walk for miles among the vineyards and hills.
You can walk for miles among the vineyards and hills.

Now I dream of returning there for a holiday… or maybe organising a writing retreat?