Monday, March 31, 2014

Nothing is so strong as gentleness,nothing so gentle as real strength.

This morning there's no queue in the bakers. The clocks have changed overnight and the locals are still tucked up in bed. The little market town is quiet at the best of times but this morning it's eerily deserted - Marie Celeste Ville. The beer and absinthe crowd have adjusted their clocks and are just starting on their first lager of the day when we arrive at the cafe. Angus warrants a mere nod of the head but the PON's get a 'Salut Bhub' and a 'Bonjour Sofeee'.

The PON's bark at a few pilgrims, howl at nothing in particular, chase blackbirds and glare at the red squirrels that scamper in the branches of the oak tree. Sophie discovers mole hills. These are excavated. Sophie excavates silently. Bob makes snorting noises like those little wild pigs that pester tourists in Arizona ( therein lies a tale ). Both PON's finally fall into a deep sleep on the table in the garden. 

In the afternoon 'the font'  prepares langoustine au sabayon leger au cafe. Neither Bob nor Sophie stir from the kitchen.

A hectic day, France profonde style.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

That too was easy.

Annual medical time. Bob is too busy sniffing the floor tiles to notice we're at the vets . By the time he's lifted onto the examination table and had his shots it's too late to complain.  After the check-up the vet says '' that was easy ". Bob heads out of the door into the safety of the car park at the speed of light. He'll be prepared the next time.

Sophie knows exactly what's going on. In the waiting room she howls as if she's auditioning for the lead role in Rigoletto .To everyone's surprise no sooner is she lifted on the table than she turns on her back and falls contentedly asleep. She snores. '' That too was easy " says the vet wishing all consultations were as straightforward . 

The diagnosis ? Brother and sister both robustly healthy. That wonderful stage in a dogs life. And a dog owners life.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Bright Field

The folks in the house by the church have opened their shutters and are hauling the lemon trees out of the greenhouse and arranging them around the pool. Sophie pauses to watch. Curiosity sated we continue through the village, turn left at the crossroads and stand at the top of the ridge looking out towards the mountains. Then the sun comes out, the hawthorn trees shine and there in the valley below - the doe - with not one, but two, fawns. The sight makes me laugh out loud . 

The arrival of these new neighbours an event too small for a diary but too important to go completely unrecorded. 

Here is a fitting Saturday morning poem by a great Welsh poet.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through 
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness 
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.


Friday, March 28, 2014

It is not cheaper things we want to possess, but expensive things that cost a lot less.


Seven thirty five. Outside the cafe under the arcades a gentleman with a small yappy dog is having his first beer of the morning. The dog occupies itself by leaping from its chair onto the corner of the table and then back again. It does this constantly. The man calls the dog 'baby'. From time to time 'baby' licks a beer dipped finger.

On our way back to the car, after the illicit half croissant, Angus notices that the Christmas decorations are still in place above the cafes front door. This must be a French thing.

The street sweeper stops to talk to the PON's. He does this as if it's the most natural thing in the world to stoop down and chat away to two small furry creatures with enormous noses. Bob likes the street sweeper, Sophie is less sure.

Back at the Rickety Old Farmhouse the tree peonies have started to come into bloom. Two years ago their flowering was marked by the arrival of snow and arctic winds.

Bob and Sophie chase blackbirds, bark at tractors, savage each other and then fall asleep .No sign of the doe. A typical Friday morning in France profonde.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do you know where the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?

Another day of scudding clouds and heavy showers. The hawthorns in full bloom.  A solitary doe has left the small herd of females who inhabit the quiet woodland by the stream. For the last few days she's been foraging alone on the small triangle of wilderness between the freshly ploughed field and the ox track. Home a steep sided cavern of fallen trees, moss covered branches and dark shade. This morning I catch a glimpse of her straining upwards to reach the young shoots on a flowering cherry. She moves with a grace that says this is where she was born, as was her mother, and this is where she'll give birth - later today. Maybe tomorrow. A private fortress held on long lease.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

The supermarket cashier is arranging an Easter tableau of plastic hens, chocolate rabbits and egg cartons along an underutilized stretch of shelving. This is something she clearly enjoys. In fact she enjoys it so much that she lets a line of seven people build up at the checkout. When diplomatically asked whether it might be possible to pay for a litre of milk she tuts, shrugs her shoulders and mutters something brief and ( thankfully ) inaudible. The milk purchase is completed in silence.

It pours with rain. Bob and Sophie play touch rugby in the upstairs hallway. Sophie enters into this with all the enthusiasm of an All Black on steroids. Angus throws the ball in the air, Sophie grabs it in her mouth and charges, head down, from end of the hall to the other. Her duck and weave footwork the envy of any half decent scrum half . To get near the ball Bob has to resort to sitting on his little sister.

Bob ends his day perched on the stump seat guarding the house against any wayward pilgrims. Sadly, with the heavy rain, there are none. Perhaps tomorrow ? 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In a really just cause, the weak conquer the strong.

No sooner have I lifted the tailgate than Bob rockets out of the back of the car in pursuit of a blackbird. From the way his tail is wagging, twenty to the dozen, we can assume this is his most joyful moment ever. His sister, by contrast, decides it's too nice a day for blackbird chasing and opts to stay in the car and sunbathe. She finally deigns to clamber down when she hears the table being set up for breakfast. Miraculously, Sophie then appears and does her ' I haven't eaten in a month ' routine.

By lunchtime it's started to drizzle. A group of pilgrims in yellow cagoules wander by. Bob vaunts onto the stump seat at the gate and looks at them. Bob has worked out that perching on the stump seat has two advantages. 1) It makes him look more imposing and 2) it keeps his undercarriage off the wet ground. The pilgrims, unintimidated, wave at him.

Monday, March 24, 2014

You are what you do today, not what you say you'll do tomorrow.

A trip to buy wine. Then onto the town hall to vote in the local elections. There's only one mayoral candidate so this is more a show of solidarity than of democracy. The mayor, the deputy mayoress and a lady with a clipboard are all seated in the lobby. The mayors wife is also there with an enormous pile of honey croissants. '' One for each voter " she says by way of explanation. She then repeats herself, slowly, to make sure I've understood.

While 'the font' votes the mayor makes small talk. '' Do you know pigeons and doves drink by sucking up water. All other birds use their tongues ". While I ponder what to say in reply his wife offers me a second honey croissant. This is politely refused. Not all croissants are created equal. Bob, who is sitting patiently on the doorstep with his sister, looks through the plate glass door as if to say ' Why would you turn that down ? '. 

Seven in the evening. The count takes place. Sixty seven villagers on the electoral roll. Sixty five vote. The Very Old Farmer and the Widow in the cottage at the crossroads don't . The mayor, the deputy mayoress, the Old Farmer, two new town councillors, the mayors wife and the man in the day-glo yellow jacket wander by to give us the news. They stay just long enough for two glasses of champagne. 

Democracy in action. France profonde style.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years.

The long, uninterrupted, spell of sunshine turns to grey skies and a feisty hail storm that lasts all of half an hour. Bob and Sophie are intrigued by the hail storm. First they want to go out in it. Then they scratch at the door wanting to come in. No sooner are they toweled dry than they want to rush outside again. So it goes on. Our patience with this game is exhausted sooner than theirs.  The hail brings out long hidden scents and makes the soil much easier to dig . The PON's are delighted. 

An unexpected discovery. In a cupboard in the upstairs hallway an old battered  paperback. ' I have something to tell you ' by Thomas Wolfe. The book, which had him banned in Nazi Germany, ends with these rather beautiful words : "Losing the earth we know for greater knowing, losing the life we have for greater life, leaving the friends we have for greater loving and a land more kind than home, more large than earth ".

William Faulkner thought Wolfe was America's greatest author - 'there was a stamp of greatness upon him '. Is he still an author that is read or is he now 'unfashionable' ?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A wind is rising, and the rivers flow.

Sophie goes exploring in the orchard. She returns half an hour later looking like heaven alone knows what. Bad hair day factor 10. 

The mud on the end of Bob's nose is always there. Wash it. It returns. Wash it again. It returns. He's turning into a really happy dog.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Humans see what they want to see.

We're up and in the car early. Bob keen to get down to the cafe under the arcades for his illicit half croissant . On our way home a side trip to the stream . Young deer around, lots of them, so the angelic duo are kept on their leads. Bob drinks lustily while his sister tries her hand at fishing. Sophie makes a lot of noise sploshing through the water but is ultimately unsuccessful. Stealth is not a PON trait.  A group of Belgian pilgrims are sitting have breakfast on the village green when we return. Bob keeps an eye on them from his vantage point at the front gate. From time to time a pilgrim waves at him. The certainties of a one year old PON's life.

This morning the PON's find the laundry basket. Left by mistake on a chair in the hallway.  Angus's socks are 'liberated'. They have been rewashed. Two pairs now sport holes. How dull and ordered it must be to live in a house without furry mischief .

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Worry gives small things a big shadow.

A ceremony at the war memorial. Something to do with the end of the Algerian War. The mayor in his tricolor sash, the little lady with the Edith Piaf voice, a gaggle of  retired gendarmes, a slightly flustered Madame Bay with a petulant grandchild. In the centre of this small crowd the old and very old farmers. Bob and Sophie look on from their 'secret' corner of the garden behind the laurel hedge. The old farmer is wearing a blazer, grey trousers , lumber jack hat with ear flaps and open toed sandals without socks. A model of formality.

The first of the seasons gariguette strawberries. Slightly bitter. Give them another week and they'll be perfect. Nine years away from Scotland and we're still amazed at having strawberries in March.

Bob and Sophie are given their first haircut of the year. Sophie turns on her back and falls asleep while the clippers hum. Bob squirms and complains. Brother and sister like chalk and cheese.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

They are so knowing that they know nothing at all.

First light. Bob is up and out into the garden, head high, tail higher. Hedge boundaries to be checked, barns to be inspected, car tyres to be christened. Sophie follows him out. She lets out three whoops of delight as she crosses the threshold. Bob is a silent guardian. When Sophie wakes the village wakes with her.This morning she clambers onto a large pile of logs and has to be helped down.

In the garden centre all the lime green plastic lambs have gone. On the shelves all that's left are two snarling pugs, what might pass for an endearing squirrel (were it not in purple) and a matching rabbit . The lens on the i-Phones camera struggles to do justice to the colours.

Here's an interesting take on the Malaysian Airlines Flight  :
and this rebutal