Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The morning chorus woke me at 6 again this morning, the third time this week. As soon as the sun looks like it will rise again, the birds wake up and fly into our olive trees. Someone pulls out the pitch pipe, they tune up, and the singing begins. If I must be woken at 6, then there are worse ways.

The birds are here, of course, to let us know that it is spring. Wildflowers are popping out everywhere: the terraces under the old oliviers are covered in tiny white daisies whose petals have purple undersides that show off in the slightest breeze. The wild iris--I know, it seems unlikely, and yet there are large and small iris colonies everywhere, around utility poles, by the side of the lane, on our path to the village--the iris that are so omnipresent that no one could have planted so many are beginning to bloom, shooting up their stalks with all those buds of promise. Hellebore, wild orchids, flowers and bushes and shrubs I can't name are all blooming everywhere.

Marjolaine is back. We saw her at the rond point on Sunday, her pink scalloped umbrella shading tables of fruits and vegetables and flowers. She'd been away all winter, a latter day Persephone, having both of her knees operated on. (It says something about the French health care system that the fruit and vegetable lady at the roundabout had the same knee surgeon as the retired upper crust English schoolmistress who lives in the village.) Now she's better, back on her feet, and, while she hasn't got any of her own produce to sell, she's still driving down to the organic wholesale farmer's market at 5 in the morning, three days a week, to bring back goods for her stand. Sunday there were tiny bunches of spinach, broccoli, potatoes, apples, onions, and a few bouquets of ranunculus for good measure.

When we came up to the stand, Marjolaine was reading Une année en Provence. Peter Mayle is popular in French as well, and apparently Marjolaine is a fan. We traded favorite parts--she likes the description of the mistral as actually flattening the world--and, when we told her we'd just been and found the house, she wanted the directions. One of these days, now that her knees are fixed, she's going to drive over there and find it. Even though he's not from here, she said, he understands what Provence. I told her that I had always thought that Mayle exaggerated his characters. Then I came to live here, I said, and--she interrupted me. He writes about us exactly as we are, she said. Il n'exagère pas.

That night we had fresh spinach for supper. Soon there will be wild asparagus, and morels from the forest, and then the first strawberries, and cherries. How shall we ever taste it all.


  1. How lovely that your fruit and vegetable lady sticks up for Peter Mayle. I may have to go back and give the guy another look-see because I've always been put off by his writing on France. Since the two of you agree that he isn't exaggerating as much as it felt like to me, I am intrigued.

    BTW, thank you for your observation about the egalitarian nature of health care in your little corner of France. It encourages me quite a lot.

  2. Ah, A Year in Provence. I remember reading it when it first came out. I was with my Australian girlfriend, her French mother-in-law and another French friend, sitting round the lac Ste Croix one hot Summer’s day, tears rolling down my cheeks.
    The two French ladies did not find it funny – I don’t believe it was lost in my translation … until it appeared in French a few years later and everyone was reading it !