Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Esprit de Corps

The Soirée de Dessin group that meets in my studio to draw from a model on Monday evenings is going to have an exhibition in my gallery on May 29th. Remy has offered to print up invitations and posters. I have thought of an appropriate title for the show: Esprit de Corps. (The French love double entendres.)

Elisabeth de la Perouse Coleman is going to open the show for us. She can always be relied on for a witty and pithy introduction.

Now the problem is going to be to choose a drawing for the poster. I thought of this one, but I think something a little more discreet is necessary for public consumption.

Les Saints de Glace

The days known as Les Saints de Glace, named in honour of St Mamert, St Pancrace, and St Servais, are on respectively May 10th, 11th, and 12th. I am told to expect a cold snap.

There are scientific explanations for this late frost. Astrologists note that the earth’s orbit takes it through a cosmic dust cloud which is supposed to reduce the sun’s warming rays and cool the planet. Meteorologists claim that this explanation is flawed because the cold spell is locally felt, whereas the astronomical dust cloud would cool the whole planet. They believe it has more to do with gulf streams and the change from winter to spring.

Woe betides any foolish gardener who plants before these dates.

Oh oh.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My own row of menhirs

What a lovely surprise awaited me after I cleared away the eight feet high briars, nettles, ivy and wire mesh: my own wall of sandstone menhirs, complete with fossils of shells. Eugene has offered me the use of a small piece of land next to my barn for my potagé, or vegetable patch this year. We burned the offending vegetation in a massive bonfire.

By growing my own vegetables, I have gone one further than Mark Bittman, a food critic who wrote a great piece for National Public Radio called Back to Basics, Good for You, Good for the Earth. Mark claims to have lost 30 pounds by only eating fruit and vegetables during the day, after being chastised by his doctor about his high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

I tilled the soil several times before putting in rows of tomatoes, spinach, beans, peas, green peppers, aubergines, radishes, cauliflowers and courgettes. Still to come are onions, melons, watermelons, brusselsprouts, mangetouts, lettuce, sweet corn, cabbage, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and various herbs. I am germinating some seeds in small planter pots and several times a day I examine them closely, but a week later there are still no signs of life and I remain skeptical that these tiny pinhead sized seeds are going to develop into plants, let alone plants that will feed me.

I will plant flowers on my side of the wall. The cats are thrilled with the wall and the new activity. Yesterday Peaches sat on my back as I planted a row of leeks, unperturbed by a light drizzle.

Hopefully I will not only be doing my bit for the earth and my pocketbook, but will have a tanned and lythe new body in a few months.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rignac garden exchange

Everyone in the village was in front of the cantonnier shed on Sunday afternoon for a plant swap- no money please. It's early in the season and I didn't have much to offer, so I rolled up some signed posters of a coq I printed up last year and managed to come away with flower, melon, vegetable and herb seeds, dahlia bulbs, a young lilac tree, a raspberry shrub and a tray of orange lillies- not a bad haul.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mixed blessings

For the last two weeks, a German family has been spending their spring break in the gite next door. The two little girls, Sandra and Julia, soon discovered Thabo, Sushi and Peaches and they were in love. Every morning right after their breakfast, they were here, ringing the bell, rapping on the door, calling through the keyhole "Katerina! Katerina! Wo sind Sie?" Groan.

Then all day long, "Kan ich lhnen helfin?" Groan.

Julia is eight and Sandra must be elevenish. From dawn to dusk I tried to find things for them to do: washing floors and windows, mowing the lawn, planting seeds in pots, carrying books, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying wood upstairs, cutting down ivy and brambles, weeding the beds. They were relentless and by the evening I was exhausted. Even Thabo tried to slide under the bed when he saw the girls approaching with his lead for yet another walk.

Yesterday the whole family were at the door. "Goodbye, Katerina," Sandra's lower lip was trembling. I softened and put my arm around her to give her a hug. Big crocodile tears poured down her cheeks.

"We live in a small apartment in Munich," the father told me. "The girls will miss you and the cats and dog." I had been meaning to go over and ask the parents if they could possibly keep the girls at home until at least ten in the morning. Instead, I told him how helpful and sweet his daughters had been, and that I hoped they would be back next year. The father smiled proudly. To seal the wish, I signed and gave them a copy of Spree in Paree and waved hard until their blue car had disappeared around the corner, wiping away a stray crocodile tear or two myself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Last night I went to see the film about the visionary artist, Séraphine Louis who lived in Senlis, north of Paris. I made a pilgrimage to Senlis this spring after making a note of the lovely village, the setting for another of my favourite films, King of Hearts with Alan Bates that I saw many years ago as a student.

The film is beautiful- very slow, very poetic, few words. It's a tribute to a woman who struggled through a difficult life, but nevertheless found peace and inspiration in nature which inspired her to paint mystical images of great power. She is known to us thanks to the German collector Wilhelm Uhde, who was also the first collector of Picasso and discovered Henri Rousseau. She was his housekeeper.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Better get the paintbrushes cracking

Got quite a few emails from concerned friends that I hadn't posted since that last rather alarming St Petersburg post, but I am home safe and sound. Just was really sick for a week or so, recuperating from the stress of so much work-related travel in the spring.

Anyway, the paneaux are up! The official signs directing people to my Studio-Art Gallery went up a few days ago, so yesterday I moved my 2CV, the lawn mower, wheelbarrow and summer furniture and stash out of the erstwhile garage/winter storage area, took down the washing lines, and scrubbed the floor.

Also have spent a few days readying land for my potagé, in which I plan to grow lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, radishes, courgettes, potatoes, leeks, green peppers, and herbs.

Last night I heard the first nightingales lilting and plaintive songs. Creative spring juices are flowing all around...