Once again this letter is a little late. My sincere apologies.
It has been a low-key Christmas and winter for us this year, which explains my silence (nothing really to write about!). After I had finished shooting and recording the final episode of Carol Drinkwater’s Secret Provence (Channel 5 changed the title from A Year In … towards the end of last year) I decided I ought to give a bit of attention to my health. I wasn’t suffering from anything except tiredness. I just wanted to tick off a few check-ups, some of which were overdue due to pressures of my professional life. One or two small problems were found. Nothing dramatic or life-threatening but in need of attention. The good side of these little hurdles was that I have forced myself to rest. I have spent the winter pottering about on the land, watching films by a roaring log fire and reading. Reading, reading, reading. Books have become my food.
Fortunately, as spring approaches, I am feeling strong, rather well-read and raring to go, to get back out there to write and do some filming. I am now hard at work researching a new novel as well as researching some lovely ideas for a possible TV series.
The land has offered up some splendid early spring colours. The mimosa trees have been glorious. An egg-yolk yellow that seemed richer than ever before. Michel and I also took a trip to Tanneron to have lunch with friends. Tanneron is a small town with many surrounding hamlets set high in the hills behind Mandelieu. It claims to be the Mimosa capital of the south of France. What a climb, winding and ascending surrounded by yellow forests of flowering trees. Rather like driving through a tunnel in the sun, it really is a sight to set your heart leaping. And when you arrive on high, the views are exceptional, panoramic. On a clear day you can see the Ligurian coast to the east.
It was the British who originally brought the mimosa plant to the south of France from Australia. They mistakenly believed it would keep the mosquitoes at bay. Instead, the mimosa being an invasive fast-spreading plant began to claim the Riviera hillsides. At the turn of the twentieth century war was waged against it. As fast as it proliferated it was uprooted until eventually it was agreed that its late January, early February blossoms brought a joy and brilliance to the landscape. Now it has its own little festival and its Mimosa Route, a splendid invigorating walk in the hills sweetly perfumed by millions of these furry little flowers, like newly-born chicks.
For those of you who watched Carol D’s Secret Provence on Channel 5 (if you haven’t, it is available on their catch-up service, My5), you may remember that with formidable help offered by Marvin, Michel’s gorgeous nephew, we set up a music system in our greenhouse. It plays twenty-four hours a day and I can honestly say that it has made a very noticeable difference to the plants’ growth. What is more, the plants seem to lean towards the music rather than preferring the light at the windows. So, this was one of my funny experiments that has turned out to be a great success.
Here is a recent pic of Big Lad Samson, our mighty rescue dog. He is over twelve now if his adoption papers are accurate, born on Christmas Day. He is still with us but getting old and slow. He seems perfectly content and has no pain but his energy level has visibly diminished. Twelve is a grand age for a dog of his size – he weighs 56 kilos. Still, I am hoping he will stay with us for many years to come.
Here’s a quick round up of four of the many titles I have been reading this winter. They are not necessarily newly published books. This list is just few from the dozens I have read over the past few months.
Trio, William Boyd.
I am a huge fan of Boyd. This novel is set in 1968 and recounts the lives of three people: a female writer, an actress and a producer, all working in the film industry. Obviously, the showbusiness theme brought an added layer of interest for me. There are several other novels of his I prefer but Trio is witty and the plot moves forward at an engaging pace. It is very readable and very enjoyable.
The evening of the holiday Shirley Hazzard
Set in Tuscany during the nineteen-sixties, this is a powerful novel of passion and a love that will never find its future. A married Italian, separated from his wife at a time in Italy when divorce was forbidden by the church, pursues a young, half English, half Italian woman who is in Tuscany on holiday staying with relatives. The story is so delicately written. It is a hopeless love that can go nowhere yet they both pursue it until it is time to part.
I read this last November and it has stayed with me. Hazzard, who lived a fair amount of her life in Italy, captures the heat, the essence of Tuscany beautifully as well as the Catholic mores of Italy back in the sixties.
The Lost Daughter Elene Ferrante
I read this after watching the Netflix film adapted from this novel. I seem to be one of the few who does not really get on with Ferrante. However, it was fascinating to see how the film was developed from the book and where it differed from it. To be honest, I enjoyed the film more than the book; an added bonus was the fabulous Olivia Coleman in the leading role.
Actress Anne Enright
Marvellous. Another novel set in the world of theatre and movies, this one is such a rich portrait of a troubled actress (aren’t we all?!!) told through the eyes of her daughter. I loved it. Enright is such a fine wordsmith and she has a wicked sense of humour.
I am just embarking on little bird of heaven by Joyce Carol Oates, and rather ashamed to admit that this is the first of hers I have read. Discovering a new author is always exciting, like spending precious time with a new friend. Watch this space!
And you? What have you been reading? How have you spent your winter – or summer if you are reading this in the southern hemisphere? And the last months of lockdown? I have been counting the days, hunting for early signs of spring and the knowledge that travelling is going to be easier. We can visit people and they can come and stay with us! Going out is such a treat, almost an adventure. Michel took me to Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse for our Saint Valentine dinner. I was as excited as a girl on a first date. The street lights, the queues of people, the hum and thrum of others’ conversations. I had forgotten how I always thrill to eavesdropping on others’ lives and how I have been denied the naughty pleasure of it. Every lady was given a red rose by the waiters as we said good night. It was like re-entering another epoch after these two years of restrictions. All the posters for films along the Boulevard Montparnasse loomed large above the cinemas; the theatres were bustling with animated crowds along rue de la Gaité. Memories of Joséphine Baker, who I wrote about late last year after her induction into the Panthéon (see one of my earlier posts in January). That métro has been rechristened Gaité-Joséphine Baker in her honour.
Paris by night. Le Select brasserie opened its doors in 1925. It was a very fashionable watering hole for the artistic communty of the 20s. Hemingway, Picasso, Samul Beckett, many, many. Montparnasse was at the epicentre of the jazz age’s high living. Literati, glitterati. Hemingway wrote Le Select into his novel, The Sun Also Rises. It was where his party-loving characters hung out.
It was too damp and wintry to dine out on the awning-covered terrace. We huddled inside surrounded by dozens of busy tables, waiters running to and fro with plates of oysters, eggs mayo or steak and frites. Everyone seemed to be enjoying a coupe before their meal, raising their glasses in celebration of the day. Champagne for Love and Saint Valentine but also, I felt, for a new time, a new dawning. Life is reawakening. We are creeping out from the dark days. Time to set forth with a broad smile and embrace what is out there. Let us hope there will be much kindness and laughter. And plenty of exciting, challenging work.
Be well, take care of yourselves and thank you for reading this. Thank you also to everyone who has written to me after the TV series. Thank you for watching.
See you somewhere soon.