End of April. Plane trees – platanus hispanica – are now sailing along in the clear morning light. Horse chestnut-trees and paulownias have reached the peak of their beauty.

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The time of the euphorbia has passed. The time of the wisteria is drawing to an end.

(Euphorbia near Pernety, purple wisteria in Rue des Thermopyles, white wisteria in my street)

In the gardens, bind weed is awakening : awe.
Ivy-leaved toadflax finds its way in small cracks in the pavements, and is now flowering : joy.

Over the Channel, in my small Canterbury garden, are the peonies in full bloom ? Have the Siberian irises come to grow and thrive ? Or did the Kentish summer draught bring their young shoots down ? Voices too thin to carry over the sea, however strong the wind.

Longing for silence and light
to the swift morning breeze
I commend my desire –
may it fly 
to Southern shores where grow
their hearts and mine alike
plane trees

vast as a summer sky

How I now fear that my parents will leave the Mediterranean town I have come to call home.

That one could dwell under mountains born by the sea, among rocks and flora interwoven in an unmistakable treasure of light, that one could walk paths of thyme and rosemary in a landscape of limestone beauty, and envisage to leave them is beyond me.

To the great pines standing still under the Summer halt, and whispering in the evening breeze, that one could say farewell ?

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Pine trees on Cap-Brun

Greek Summer

Today is the day when Spring and Winter join the tips of their fingers.

I had a dream yesterday. I was talking with my friend M. about somebody I don’t remember now, a man, I believe. I said something like: what is good about him is that he believes in the soul. My friend looked a bit sceptical. So I embarked on a long, convoluted and utterly self-addressed explanation of the reasons why I know souls exist. I can’t remember any rational argument now. But I can still feel the images, the colours, the touch of the light.

I was trying to make my point through images (the things you do in dreams), the very pictures which have stayed with me after reading L’Eté grec by Jacques Lacarrière a long time ago. On my journey from a mythical Greece I had chosen as my “patrie imaginaire” deep in childhood, to living in the real world and embracing Christianity, that book (how do you translate a “récit de voyage” ? Traveler’s tale ? Account of a journey ? Travel story?) built a bridge which allowed me to cross a rift that I had never imagined I would want to or be able to cross. Sometimes people ask me why I became a Christian. I may have been able to explain it quite well some years ago, but the words and the chain of events have left me now (my memory is capricious). Yet I know that I would probably have died without that conversion. And I think with tenderness of the moment when my friend lent me his volume of L’Eté grec (he used to scribble poems by Ronsard on tiny bits of paper during the German lessons and, if he at first expected me to take my turn in this literary game, he soon came to realise I wasn’t able to do it, being far less cultivated than he was. Yet he didn’t hold a grudge and carried on making the destroying of Heinrich Heine bearable).

How I loved that book ! The Mediterranean sea, the colours, the smells, that beauty you recognise at the unmistakable piercing of your heart, Lacarrière’s lighthearted step on the stony paths of Mount Athos, the funny encounters with a few crazy monks, and the song of the waves – yes, of course, we have a soul. Mount Athos became a sort of key for me, the key to the gate linking the Greece of my dreams to a real country where people lived real and sometimes Christian lives (how I was heartbroken when I discovered I would never be able to visit the Holy Mountain!). I was young when I read it. Yet I trust the book must really be what I thought it was then, because my friend’s taste was very sure and his mind truly brilliant.

If you haven’t read Lacarrière, get yourselves a copy of (The?) Greek Summer. The man, an erudite Classicist who practised journalism, literary critics, theatre and of course traveling, is very inspiring, and his style lively, witty, poetic, similar in some aspects to that of Nicolas Bouvier (how on Earth does Bouvier do funny, poetic, original and deep at the same time? I find his writings have the precision and the evocative power of those estampes where a few strokes create a world).

Jacques Lacarrière

Jacques Lacarrière, source : http://www.babelio.com/auteur/Jacques-Lacarriere/8690

My dream wasn’t really about the existence of the soul. It was about this very moment when Winter and Spring join the tips of their fingers. Our bodies take part in that unmistakable swelling of the new season, which in the depths of my unconscious memory connected to the rise of that Summer light. A new door was opened then, to the landscape of a Greek Summer which kept me alive.

Couverture : L'été grec

About a little garden’s destiny

It feels good starting to work again in the garden. Some hard pruning, some repotting, some cleaning (and some slug pellets scattering, alas). And the hot questions which keep me awake in the early hours…
Will the blue hydrangea stay blue this year ?
Will the snake-head fritillaries survive the imposition of a gorgeous Candy Love Hellebore in their midst ?
Will the very young Ceanothus recover from the violent attack which almost tore it from its roots (the culprit, I suspect, might be one of the neighbour’s cats) ?
And the rhododendron which was given to me last year by a visiting Japanese professor, the leaves of which are unfortunately spotted with brown marks, how will it fare ? (Visions of Himalayan slopes in my terraced house…)

Always ahead of myself, I pay little attention to the daffodils and hyacinths preparing their buds, and imagine the glory of my five types of alliums balancing their purple and silver spheres in the breeze. I keep inspecting the branches of the five Japanese maples (wet feet they got this winter, alas), thinking that this Spring will be the first time I witness their leafing out.

The garden is the reason I wouldn’t want to move away too soon (nothing of the sort planned yet). I did so many little changes and, in such a limited space, planted so many creatures I would like to see growing and maturing. In how many years will the eight snowdrops create one of those white drifts that make woods an enchanted place ? Would the tiny Acer Shirawasanum Aureum really grow to be a large tree crowned in shimmering gold ?

Funny feeling : people come and go, and gardens… Would the next owners hate my alliums and my thistles and replace them with roses, as I replaced the grass and ferns by flowering plants ? Would they think three hydrangeas are over-the-top in a small garden ? Would they care for the ivy I am fighting all year round ? And what will I do if I go back to live in one of those French flats where gardens are only a distant thought ? It is true, isn’t it, that the gardener plants his heart in the soil for which he cares. I don’t think I will ever be the city girl I was before coming to England, not any more.