A Summer Like No Other

Hello dear Friends,

My goodness, we are are experiencing temperatures here in the south of France that are WAY above what we used to think of as average for this time of year. Every day it hits close to or a wee bit higher than 30C. It has meant a change of life in that operating in the day is more enervating. We roll out of bed around 6 am and start watering. As yet we still don’t have a drip-by-drip system or automatic watering. Installing it has always been a bit outside our budget, but we might need to rethink that. Simply because the amount of watering the plants need to survive these temperatures means that I never stop! If you see an old woman climbing a hill hosepipe in hand, the remainder curled across her shoulders, that’ll be me!

There has been no rain here to speak of since last October. Yes, the odd few days earlier in the year, one or two in May, but that was it. No wet February as we used to expect. February was always the month when the groundwater was replenished.  For the first time since we moved here 37 years ago, we have so few olives that we will not bother to organise a harvest. I will collect the fruits that remain on the trees in the autumn and put them in brine for eating. I was speaking to the miller at one of the local olive mills and he confirmed that the spring drought has caused a dearth of fruit. So, I am asking myself whether this is going to be a new concern that accompanies climate change? Food production shortages. Barren groves?

Can you see all the logs on our stone walls in the photo at the top of the page? This wood is the sawn-up trunks of all the pine trees that have fallen victim to storms here. Dry earth and shallow pine roots on our steep hill means that when the winds blow strongly, the trees keel over. They have no resistance. It has been a monumental task to clear the land of the massive fallen trees, and then stockpiling them. I have tried selling the wood but, so far, to no avail. If you live close by and you need winter wood, please get in touch. There is far too much for our requirements.

We have been very fortunate to have been given assistance from several volunteers during these struggling times. An archaeologist on a sabbatical, Oliver, helped us stack the wood. Merci! Two amazing sisters, English ladies, contacted me and asked if they could come and help us on the land. I was a bit nervous because the work is very physical but they arrived with chainsaws and strimming machines and did an astounding amount of clearing up for us. So, my huge thanks to Jo and Carol for superhuman efforts achieved with smiles and a few glasses of wine.

So, what else has been going on in our lives aside from saving our trees and plants from desiccation? Michel organised his Environmental Documentary Film Festival in the garden at our northern home, east of Paris, at the ‘Mad Old Chateau’. (It is not a chateau, but a thirteenth century stone house. I christened it Mad Old Chateau and the name stuck.)  

The CinéCitoyen Festival was great fun. From Friday evening through to late Sunday afternoon, first weekend of June, it was, either outside in the garden or inside in one of the cool rooms of the ‘chateau’ films were screened. This year, there were food stalls in the garden run by locals from our village, kindly ladies who grilled more sausages than I have ever seen piled in one place. Crêpes were served with a fabulous choice of fillers. Each evening there was music and dancing and plenty of discussions, sometimes heated, to follow the films. As this is a local festival the films are screened in French or with French subtitles. Even so, a few English friends came along and much fun was had.  

One or two of the films were really memorable.

Taming the Garden has stayed with me, haunting me since I watched it on the big screen in the garden beneath a panoply of stars.It is the story of how a very rich man in Georgia employs scouts to find and buy beautiful old trees. From everywhere they are uprooted and replanted in his private garden. Some of the trees even cross the Black Sea to reach their new destination. Will these magnificent trees survive the displacement? Who can say? Who has the right to own Nature? Try to find the film if you can.

The dates for next year’s festival, if you fancy coming along, are 7th, 8th, 9th June 2024. Watch this space next year or on my various social media pages for more details. Or contact me directly. Here is the link to the festival site (in French)  https://www.ecransdesmondes.org/festival/cinecitoyen/

Here is a pic I took in the back garden in the cool of May before the festival began. The ‘chateau’ is just visible to the right of the frame. Before you write and ask me, the heron is made of iron. I bought him at a local garden centre. In the past, when there were fish in the pond, a tall and very elegant grey heron used to visit. He came regularly until he had eaten all the fish and then he never returned. I missed his presence so much, I bought this iron fellow to remind me. We don’t keep fish in the pond anymore.

Our next date in the diary, beside our daily work here at the Olive Farm, is a trip to the Greek island of Kastellorizo where Michel is International Director of another documentary festival, Beyond Borders. I confess that I tag along to enjoy a seaside holiday and some good films. I take my computer with me and work in our hotel room till lunchtime and then I revel in the luxury of an island experience. Lunch on the beach, bliss! In the evenings, I join Michel to watch films from all over the world. They are screened in Greek and English. To earn my keep (!), I sometimes take part in one or two of the events such as book launches. I read in English from newly-published or classic Greek works. This year, I will be reading some poems from a giant amongst Greek poets, C.P. Cavafy, who was born in Alexandria in Egypt in 1863 and died there in his home city on his birthday in 1933.

Photo of the Greek poet, C. P. Cavafy from the Greek City Times
Photo of the Greek poet, C. P. Cavafy from the Greek City Times

Visiting Cavafy’s burial place at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery in Alexandria and his home, now a museum, is on my bucket list. A private pilgrimage I have long intended to make. It means that reading some of his poetry in public will be a very special honour for me, if a little nerve-racking given there will be so many discerning Greeks in the audience!

I am always astounded that neither Cavafy nor Nikos Kazantzakis, (Zorba the Greek), won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I only mention the Nobel awards because I was equally astounded to discover last week, after the news of Milan Kundera’s death at 94 in Paris, that he, too, missed out on this accolade.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, probably Kundera’s most famous novel, was published in English and French the same year I moved to Paris (1984, just before we found and bought the Olive Farm). So many of my early recollections of the city such as strolling the Left Bank discovering teeny cinemas that seemed to play films all day and most of the night, obscure bookshops where the window displays were stockpiled with Kundera’s new novel, and then later in 1988, the film poster was everywhere bedecking the streets. The screen adaptation of the novel was made by Jean-Claude Carrière. It all seemed to me back then, with my own new life unfolding before me, that Paris was not only the City of Light but the City of Liberty and, of course, Love. It was a magical time to be living in Paris. So many memories came flooding back to me last week when I read of Kundera’s passing.

This takes me on to my own writing and to what I have been reading. My own new novel has been delivered to my agent a few weeks ago. Now I must sit still. This is always an anxious time waiting to hear feedback on the work, to know whether it will see the light of day or end up in a drawer! I spend these hot uncertain days working on the land – as I said, many hours of irrigation – and reading. Yesterday I finished Ben Okri’s new novel Tiger Work, which is an epic love song to our planet and a caution to the dangers we are heading towards – well, we are already facing. Reading it in this heat, hiding from the sun, curled in the shade, somehow made its vision all the more poignant. “Forests are becoming legends, as rare as unicorns…”

Two or three weeks back, Michel and I drove from Paris to Germany for a family gathering. Germany is full of beautiful forests but | was taken aback to see how many trees in the forests had died or were dying, suffering from the heat, the aridity. Ben’s is a personal and passionate work found it harrowing, yet uplifting and lyrical. A must-read for anyone who cares.
about the planet “Can you hear the Future weeping?’ Okri asks. A clarion call not to be ignored.

Before that I read Bernard MacLaverty’s Midwinter Break. I am not quite sure how. I missed this when it was first published in 2017, or how come I have never read anything by MacLaverty before, especially given that I read a great deal of lrish literature. The fault is mine and will certainly be rectified. He writes with affection, humour and muscle. I really enjoyed this book and found the unpeeling of the relationship of the married couple, away together in Amsterdam on a short winter break, tender and heartbreaking. I SO wanted them to resolve their issues, to not give up after so many years together. Both characters, husband and wife, are beautifully and sympathetically drawn. The writing is excellent.

So, that’s me up to date, I think. I am taking the first steps towards my next book, slowly in the heat, dithering a little bit between two very different subjects. My mind is not at its sharpest in such temperatures. Still, I am grateful for every day and feel blessed that Michel and I can enjoy these quiet weeks together. And the flowers here are a riot of colours.

Enjoy your summer days or winter if you are on the other side of the world. Thank you for all your letters and feedback for my writing, the TV series Carol Drinkwater’s Secret Provence (originally titled A year in Provence with Carol Drinkwater). It seems, to be showing everywhere judging by the mail I am receiving. Thank you. There will be more news on my recently-completed novel when I have it.

Love, and take care of yourselves,


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