Hello Dear Friends!
Welcome to my Spring Newsletter.
This last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. Last Saturday, the 22nd, was my birthday – a milestone one. We celebrated quietly but with gusto. M took me for dinner to one of my favourite “special” spots, La Colombe d’Or in Saint Paul de Vence. Sometimes we stay over, if we are feeling flush, which we are not at the moment, so we didn’t. When we go there I like to pretend we are Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who celebrated their wedding at this amazing aubergerestaurant. They also lived in the village, which was an artist -writer’s paradise back in the midtwentieth century, post WWII. Today, the hilltop village, still beautiful, is a little touristy but you can find the moments to visit out of season when it is quiet, when you can wander the stone-walled winding lanes with only birds and sloping views for company.
The top photo here is of Simone and Yves enjoying lunch on the terrace at the Colombe d’Or. (I have ‘borrowed’ the pic from the hotel’s website and fully acknowledge their copyright.) The hotel began life in the 1920s as a café-bar where people came to dance at the weekends. It was known back then as Chez Robinson. Very soon, its success and the owners passion for the arts attracted a wide variety of artists to its doors. The inn added three bedrooms. Sometimes, the artists paid for their stay and their meals with their paintings. The walls were very soon covered with modern art. The collection is fantastic, so inspiring. And it continues to grow. The Dublinborn artist-sculptor, Sean Scully, has recently given a large ceramic which sits in the shade by the swimming pool.
If you are in the south of France, down our Côte d’Azur way, I thoroughly recommend a visit to Saint Paul. Dedicate a day, don’t rush it, visit the Foundation Maeght, which is situated at the foot of the old village, have lunch at La Colombe d’Or, play Provençal boules, known as pétanque, in Place General de Gaulle (you can rent a boules set at the Café de la Place for 5 euros) and then head off and explore the old village. Donald Pleasance used to live at the very top near the church. Michel and I used to meet him occasionally for lunch at La Colombe d’Or. Long winefuelled lunches. Once, we were still there wining and nattering, talking show biz, as the waiters were laying up the tables for the early evening diners. No one seemed to mind. Happy Days in the South of France. It is all very laidback.
After my birthday weekend, on Monday of this last week, we set off for Spain. A crazy, far-tooshort trip to visit dear friends who have a lovely finca outside the seaside town of Xabia, also known as Javea. We took four days, stopping on the way down and the way back into France at a three-star hotel set on the coast in a small bay just north of Barcelona. This was the view from our bedroom window in Tamariu.
Spain has been a firm favourite of mine since I travelled all over the country by bus for my book, The Olive Tree. Each time I visit I discover something new. The Costa Brava, which identifies as Catalonia first and Spain second, is rich in history and resistance. A region that fought virulently against Franco.
We had intended to spend a night on our way back in Sitges, which I love. However, there was a petit malentendu with the hotel bookings so we returned to our lovely room with a sea view in Tamariu.
When I was a child my parents took us twice on holidays to Sitges. It is located south of Barcelona and the Costa Brava on the Coast Garraf. Little did I know back then about the underground movement which was so active. I have written a little about it in The Olive Tree. I am even thinking about setting a novel in this region. A good excuse to return to this coast on a regular basis!
If you are intending to drive in Spain this year, you will have two pleasant surprises: the cost of petrol/diesel is considerably cheaper than France and the government has done away with the road tolls. The roads are excellent and now there are no charges to use the motorways. It was a lovely little cadeau (gift)and definitely made a difference to our travel budget. We spent the savings on a visit to an organic food shop and bought delicious goodies to bring back to France with us. This coastal area is famous for its anchovy trade since the Phoenician days so we certainly stocked up on the small salty fish preserved in olive oil. The archaeological site of Empuries is close by and well worth a visit.
From Barcelona southwards, the sun shone and it got brighter and hotter. It had been cloudy along the Coast Brava. The drive in both directions was mesmerisingly beautiful. Immense fertile plains; field after field of orange trees, apples, olives; the whole world born anew as it always is in springtime, lit up by the electric green of new life. Our friends in Xabia gave us the best of welcomes. It was such a joy to see them. I find that since Covid we seem to be less in touch with people. Yes, of course, by Zoom and emails but that is not the same, is it? I don’t know about you but we seem to be less enthusiastic about darting all over the place, returning to our old peripatetic ways. It made this trip all the more special. Brief as the time was, we ate paella in a seaside restaurant, visited a fabulous garden centre together, loaded up the car with plants for the Olive Farm, ate breakfast in the sunshine surrounded by palms and grapefruits and olive trees. There was so much catching up to do and much laughter and many hugs to be had.
Home now since two days, I am sitting by a log fire (not cold but for the cosiness of it) watching the rain falling beyond the windows, for which I am very thankful. We are suffering severe drought conditions here in southern France – I saw it also in Spain – and all rain is gratefully accepted. Many of our trees have fallen or are dying. Not the olives – these are drought resistant. The underground water levels are very low. There are water restrictions everywhere. So, to see this gift from the sky, not so heavy as to cause damage but a gentle steady downpour is what we need and have been praying for. I am sorry for our cottage guests who are here to enjoy the south of France and all its delights, but the nature is mighty glad.
This last month, I have read almost nothing, which is very unusual for me. I was working long hours on the latest draft of my new novel, work in progress, and then just emptying my head. I have, I think, started reading four novels and got no further than forty pages in. They are excellent works. My head is just loaded with my own work and various other concerns. I am going to spend this deliciously wet May Day bank holiday weekend with my feet up and a book open. I might begin with an Elizabeth Strout, not too taxing but usually rewarding. Anything is Possible. Have you read that one?
Music has been my relaxation during this non-reading break. Predominantly jazz. Ibrahim Maalouf. If you don’t know his music, he is a Lebanese-French trumpeter with his own orchestra. We have seen him live twice before. A real master of his craft. The most haunting music. Do seek him out. We have tickets – one of my 2023 Christmas presents for Michel – to see him live in Reims next November https://www.ibrahimmaalouf.com I am already excited!
I bought several CDs of Burt Bacharach after he died recently. I also read that Willie Nelson turned 90 yesterday, 29th April, so I have been playing some of his finest. Bill Evans is one of my evergreen artists. When all else fails, switch on Bill Evans …
The rain outside is getting heavier, the plants will be delighted though I hope the force does not bring down the phenomenal displays of blossoms on the land at present. It smells like a perfumery out there – well, it is the origins of all perfumeries. And the bees and butterflies and songbirds make it a paradise.
Still, any thoughts of garden work today can be set aside. I swam in the pool this morning when the rain was lighter so I can put my feet up and relax without a smidgen of guilt.
By the way, if you are interested in bees, you might want to sign up for the Irish Native Bee site. nihbs.org
Enjoy the bank holiday and, if you are in Britain, celebrate the Coronation. I have been presented to Charles twice. He is a witty, kind and rather visionary man. I wish him all the very best. (I don’t know why I haven’t been invited to carry out the olive oil anointing ceremony – who better than me to perform this?!!)
Here’s wishing good health to us all, happiness, good books and plenty of friends and conversation.
Love to you all, thank you for dropping in here.