Monday 30 July 2012

The trail leads closer...

Another clue on the Luberon treasure hunt: where does this calade lead? My eagle-eyed blog friend, photographer Sacha has placed the setting: she knew immediately that the metal bird - so beautifuly made that you think for a moment that it might be real - was perched above the Rue Voltaire in the village of Bonnieux.

You can tell from her superbly detailed and quirky photographs of her surroundings in Provence that Sacha is exceptionally observant, which makes looking at her work such a treat. She has very kindly sent me this link to her vision of Bonnieux (here) and you can see more of the Luberon in general at her blog Un Jour...Une Photo. And, for those you you who enjoy the pictures on my blog, the first link contains a startling visual clue as to the treasure itself...

High on a hill overlooking the chequered Luberon valley floor, Bonnieux was settled as early as 972 AD. The old church surrounded by cedars at the top of the hill dates from the 12th century fell out of use after the "new" church was contructed further down in 1870. Local lore has Bonnieux as the pious Catholic stronghold across the side valley from licentious Lacoste, home of the notorious Marquis de Sade.

Nowadays the calades (cobbled stone alleys with central drainage channels) wind up to the summit past ornate stone houses from the 16th century, small fountains supplying drinking and washing water, to open out on spectacular mountain views.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Treasure hunt

We love a treasure hunt, and what better to do with a house full of people and several cars after several lazy summer days by the pool? A roving treasure hunt is an old-fashoned pursuit - overtones of the Jazz Age and all that - but huge fun. It's hot and sultry in Provence, so the destination has to be somewhere there is cool in narrow shady streets. Here's the first clue: a bird cast in metal peeping through a grilled window high in the building.

But where is the location of this house that might be from a theatrical production of Romeo and Juliet? And what indeed will be the treasure?

PS. Maddy says thank you for all the lovely comments on her post - and cheers for the compliments on her writing!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Embrace the Goth!

Hi, I’m Maddy, and no, I haven’t hacked the blog. While my mum is lying down in a darkened room (after all the rushing around involved in running ‘a small hotel’), she’s left it to me to write this post.

Traditionally we go by the philosophy that the three vital elements for a successful holiday consist of working sanitation, a swimming pool that generally manages not to resemble Listerine and a working WiFi connection.

I took this to mean we would jinx the Internet.

No sooner had our problems with septic tanks and the swimming pool’s aggressively expansionist algae had been sorted out, we were cast into a whole new dimension of stress. And this time it was not due to my pantomime-composing father sitting at a malfunctioning laptop laughing uproariously at his own jokes and thrashing power chords onto a piano – echo pedal all the way down of course, or the dramatic effect would be lost on the walls.

Normally, a theoretical collapse of the internet would be a major annoyance, but this time it was a matter of life and death: this was the day of our most ardent online-shopping campaign to date, a triple-flanked assault on the LiveNation presale. The reason for this chaos? Evanescence (a gothic rock band for anyone that doesn’t know) had decided to cast aside their usual far-flung haunts that constitute a tour and come to Wembley.

At 9.15 in the morning, the race against time began. By 9.30, one credit card (and seats in Row H) had already been rejected. Dreams of finally seeing Amy Lee and co. had been crushed ruthlessly by Barclaycard and their idiotically precise password verification system.

Trying again, we found that most of the arena had been taken over by people with kinder banks. We gave in and asked for seats somewhere in the northern hemisphere. They found us some in Row W. Victory from the jaws of defeat!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the aforementioned algae had spread out of the swimming pool and were now attacking the neighbouring field. Even mum and dad had stopped laughing at the theatre’s oldest jokes, and of course, it was only a matter of time before the pool vacuum cleaner failed…

Sunday 22 July 2012

The first guests arrive...

Against the odds, normal service has been resumed...just in time for the first of our summer guests who arrive imminently. There are times in high season here when I feel I'm running a small hotel, and it doesn't always go smoothly, but in the build-up to opening this time I have reached Sybil Fawlty status, with a touch of Basil himself thrown in, wild of hair and eye.

Now all that remains is to drift out, under the scented pines, past the sparkling swimming pool to greet the first visitors of the season with a beatific smile on my face. Make it look effortless, that's the key.

Friday 20 July 2012

Trouble in paradise

The lazy serenity of life in the shade of the catalpa tree was abruptly shattered this week. It was with a wry (if not tortured) smile that I read all the all comments at the end of that post about the tangible calm here. I've said it before that there is a selective truth throughout this blog: it focuses very deliberately on the idyllic side of life in Provence. When I started blogging, the idea was that it would give a glimpse into the dream world of Eve and Dom in The Lantern.

But even as I wrote about my haven in the courtyard, I knew that come Monday morning I was going to have to get on the telephone to the company that installed the last of our two new fosses septiques. .For the uninitiated, la fosse septique is a term that strikes fear into the heart of the rural homeowner, especially when that homeowner is foreign and hoping to use that home for a holiday in high summer. It is the septic tank, or sanitation system that deals with all waste water and other matters.

Our first summer here, the fosse packed up in mid-August. That was bad enough, but we had realised by then we were probably going to have to replace it anyway. Then our first new fosse was destroyed by winter floods only a few months after it was installed at vast expense. The second, again constructed at extortionate cost, was supposed to be the Dreadnought of Fosses. But now one of our vital pipes had broken, deep under a new accessway we'd had made for the builders.

"What is it about France and plumbing and drainage?" raged Rob. "The bloody Romans worked it out two thousand years ago!"

The engineers had said they were coming the week before we arrived, but hadn't. On Monday I elicited a promise of Wednesday morning, and spent Tuesday nagging them not to forget us again. Black Wednesday began with a digger going deeper and deeper as the offending pipe was tracked. Several large holes appeared as the mystery as well as the earthworks deepened. It was finally found at midday, just in time for the chaps to celebrate with a three-course lunch. 'J'ai bien reussi avec mon ami anglais!' said the digger operator, patting the JCB on the flank. 

When they left that afternoon, the solution to the problem was well within sight. We could relax. We went down to the swimming pool on the other side of the property. The pool we had spent hours cleaning the previous evening. We listened to the cicadas chirruping into the silence. Too much silence. No comforting hum from the pool pump. A check inside the mechanism told us the pump had stopped working. We worked on it for twenty minutes, trying every rescusitation technique we knew but the pump was dead and the pool rapidly filling up with dead wasps and other nasties.

Rob went inside to fetch his mobile to call yet more help. On the way out to the garden again he listened to his messages, and found one for me from my literary agent in London who wanted me to call as soon as I could. We got our priorities right and called the pool man. Books and publishers are another story.

Sunday 15 July 2012

In the shade of the catalpa tree

And still the sun shines in Provence... The heat on the skin is pure bliss, but we're so unused to it so far this summer that finding shade is essential. The grassy courtyard in front of the main house is dominated by a catalpa tree, planted once upon a time for its dense green canopy. In June it flowers spectacularly with white orchid-like blooms with dainty pink speckles. Now the seed pods hang down like vanilla.

It's probably too close to the house and exacerberating the frescoes of cracks on the interior walls, but in July and August we don't care about that. Between the catalpa and the fig tree is the spot to set up a comfortable reading chair.

And this year we have a new shady arbour in the corner of the courtyard. For several years the space behind the lop-sided arch where carts might once have been brought in has been full of builders' material. One summer the masons even left us with a concrete mixer to remember them by while they took an August break. But by Easter this year it was finally cleared. I painted the far wall a very pale olive leaf green and bought some chairs and a low table cheaply at a brocante sale in Cavaillon.

Yesterday I hauled some oleanders and lots of shade-loving white busy lizzies back from Apt market and spent the late afternoon potting up. Et voila!

Friday 13 July 2012

Morning sun

It's been a crazily busy ten days, with barely time to take breath let alone write a blog post. But, after a two days driving south we are finally back in Provence. After the grey gloom of the summer so far in England it felt miraculous to wake up to find the sun streaming through the bedroom shutters this morning. This is the moment I always know la vie douce has begun.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

The Lantern: relit

Two new editions of The Lantern are out now: the first, with a creepily atmospheric new cover, is the British Large Print version from Windsor Paragon in association with AudioGO and Orion. As the author, I'm always fascinated to see what the visual presentation of my books will be, and I have to say that I've been thrilled by the care all the designers and editors have taken with this novel. This is probably the most straightforward representation - and I like its strength and fidelity to the story.

As an aside, I discovered a while ago that an excerpt from the opening of The Lantern was used as part of the Higher Level Art examination for schools and colleges in Ireland this summer! Candidates had to choose one of several texts to use as inspiration for their work. My curiosity is running high - I may have to contact the examination board and ask if they would let me see some of the entries. Satisfying too, because it illustrates so clearly how all forms of art influence others. 

The Italian edition, titled The House of Wind and Shadow, was published yesterday with yet another beautiful cover, highlighting a different aspect of the story. Obviously the choice of book covers is market-driven; publishers want to align each book with others that have been successful, and this positioning will be signalled to the potential book buyer by similarities in the visuals. 

But I like to think that it also has something to do with the way we can each read something and find something different in it - because that is the magic of reading.
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