Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life without the sea...


I could not have pinpointed the department of Ariège Pyrénées on a map of France, and yet, just six months after visiting this remote area, I upped sticks, left Ireland and came to live here. The mountains bewitched me; it seemed that no-where else on the planet could match the wild beauty of this place.

When the opportunity to move presented itself, I jumped at the chance and home now is a hamlet of just five houses in the foothills of the Pyrénées. The coast, in either direction, is a three hour drive. And here is the problem. Had I any idea how big a part the sea played in my life?

I grew up within walking distance of the sea in Dublin and when I was about twelve years old, my parents suddenly discovered caravan living and we were taken off to spend weeks of summer holidays in County Wexford.


We lived, it seems to me now, like children from an old story book, running in and out of the sea all day, playing on the beach and only stopping to be fed or, very late at night, to fall into our little beds, exhausted and happy, with more fun in store the next day.

Years later, having become chic and civilised, a group of friends would attend the Wexford Opera Festival. Those evenings were elegant, sophisticated, grown up affairs, but I always spent part of the days walking on the beach. October has a magic all its own; a wonderful light and the vastness of the sea and sky.

My aunt lived in Wexford town, my best friend still lives just outside Rosslare and over the years I have enjoyed the excellent restaurants, the great pubs and superb hotels of the area on many, many occasions.


Special memories include the magic of Our Lady’s island, glorious lunches at the Lobster Pot in Carne and always, the outstanding hospitality of any of Liam Griffin’s establishments. Before taking the ferry over to France to begin my new life, my new adventure, I enjoyed my last lunches and dinners in the sunny south east. The background to everything was the sea; did I take it all for granted?

Life here in the hills was wonderful, an amazing change; all the new experiences were fantastic. But, as time went on, it became obvious that something was missing. As magical as this part of France is, I know I am just too far away the sea.

Occasionally we drive over to the Mediterranean or up to the Bordeaux area, which means I get to see the mighty waves of the Atlantic. But those trips are not enough; living here full time, with just the odd glimpse of the sea, isn't the life for me, it appears, after all.


This wonderful department, which undoubtedly for some people has everything; magnificent mountains, rivers rich with trout and stunning areas of forest where the wild boar lives, still lacks, for me, something enormous. The sea was obviously a much more important element than I had ever realised when considering my move here.

The good news in all this of course, is that France has an enormous and tremendously varied coast line, and now, what another fabulous adventure in prospect, as I begin the search for a place nearer to the sea...or, even better, the Seine...because no matter where I live, I am always working towards Paris...
View from Hotel du Quai Voltaire

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Writing versus Men's 'real' Work

A sense of Déjà vu, as my dear one yet again needed to use the Laptop urgently. I left him to send his important mails and went upstairs to use the big old PC. Even if it is old and cranky now; I thought I would use the opportunity to look at my new Blog on a huge screen. I was pleased with the progress, the pages looked fine and I felt my pictures added something really nice to the whole effect. Not a bad effort at all. I was making notes of what my next piece could be and choosing a picture to go with it; I intended to start the very moment my loved one was finished on the Laptop.

I wondered if the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs heralded the probable end to my musings. I was correct. “I’ve finished now” he said. “Look, since you’re up here, not really doing anything, let’s put these protective sticky pads under the legs of the bed now; it will make it so much easier to move.”

I asked if he could see that I was working. He had a quick look at the screen, saw a photograph that meant nothing to him and promptly brushed aside my protests with “well, you’re not really doing anything that important, are you? Anyway, this will only take a minute.”

Job done. Back downstairs I decided to make a mug of green tea, bring it into my den and there begin the next stage of the Blog. “Will you pass me the long handled brush” a voice said behind me. I heard a heavy sound and when I turned around our huge fridge was being hauled out from its corner. “Let’s clean out behind this now, while we’re at it.” I left my mug down, got the brush, passed it over and turned back to my Zen tea making.

But the work was just beginning. “This glue that stuck to the floor when we were trapping the mice, I know exactly what will remove it. Run downstairs and get that firewater Eau de Vie from the cave.” I went and found the bottle of the stuff that some of our neighbours actually drink. It was poured on the glue. He hunkered down and tried and failed, despite much fierce rubbing and grunting, to remove the stuff.

“Right! Petrol, that’s what we need. Is the small fire in the lounge turned on yet?”
“No.”
“Ok, grand.”

In he ran and came back carrying the small tank from the electric fire we use to boost the temperature in Maugham room. Yes. We call our lounge, with its ancient wooden balcony overlooking the hills, a room with some interesting pieces of furniture, small Buddhas, many candles and wall hangings, the Maugham room. It sounds calm, doesn’t it?

The frantic activity continued. He unscrewed the tiny top, held it delicately between two fingers and handing me the tank, said, “Fill this up.” It was ridiculous. I tried, very unsteadily, to fill the tiny item and of course it spilled down the side and onto the floor. Large sighs.

“Can we hold it over the bin, or pour in directly onto the floor?” I asked. We did and it sort of worked. I tried to mop up the overspill on the floor, but not before he went striding across the kitchen, leaving petrol footsteps. Standing in front of the fire he suddenly jumped and shrieked “Oh no! My bloody toe has gone funny from squatting down!”

I made my tea and wiped up the petrol marks as best I could; difficult with two people still walking around the space. I intended to add salt to the dishwasher and I had left it ready on the floor. But before I could begin the operation, my buddy suddenly rushed over and began to grab down utensils from the hooks to begin cooking, and in the ensuing rush, he sent the dishwasher salt and its grey funnel flying, the tiny salt particles adhering nicely to the many wet areas of petrol and bleach. It seemed an awfully long time since I had been asked to vacate my desk and let him send a few important messages.

I abandoned the green tea, took up a larger than usual glass and poured myself a huge Pineau des Charentes.



Saturday, April 2, 2011

Measure my Head! he shouted

“Come in here and measure my head! I’m buying a hat online and I want to get it right.” 

These bizarre words floated into my consciousness when I was writing, old fashioned style, using a pen and large notebook.

My husband was using the Laptop in my little den. He had come in as I was writing and explained that he needed to do a few urgent things; that the big PC upstairs was now just too slow, everything took absolutely ages, and ended by telling me what a pain in the neck all that wasted time was.

I had logged out, left him to it, gone into the kitchen with the great idea that while he was busy in there, doing his urgent things, I would use that time to make something of all the notes I had scribbled on bits of paper and thrown into ‘The Drawer.’

Now this is The Drawer that I’m sure everyone (writer or not) has; you find your small mirror there, the top of that compact that fell on the tiled floor, broke in two but you felt the top, black with inlaid pink design was simply too lovely to throw out.

There’s also that huge grip for holding back hair when cooking, but you forgot where it was, and there is the broken necklace, all the beads in a small plastic bag, that will one day surely be fixed, beside a very old but lovely soft lip gloss, a snazzy travel shower-cap (why?), that wildly expensive tube of hand cream that reminds you of when it was received as a gift, you made a vow there and then to pick it up and faithfully use it each and every time you washed your hands. It's still full.

And oh look, there are those e-mail addresses from that trip we went on to northern Spain; I wonder how he is, that great guy, and did his big new job work out in Madrid?

Floating around in the midst of all this detritus are lots and lots of notes, written on the backs on envelopes, old business cards, postcards and torn off bits of paper. Writing wise, I am something of an organised woman. Every so often I take these notes from The Drawer and put them into various files in my Laptop. If I want to develop an idea, I find the physical writing into an A4 pad very useful.

But on that day I didn’t get very far; in no time I was loudly requested to race in and measure the head of the man who had earlier spent a good five minutes explaining to me his need for time on the Laptop in order to do urgent things.

It is interesting, is it not, to note how one person views the others creativity as something that can be interrupted whenever, while their own activities are accorded the highest level of importance. Deep breaths, a plan to clear out the drawer another time, I picked up the tape measure and went back into my den to assist him in the hat buying.