Friday, July 03, 2015

the coffee, the cave and the voices in my head.

Life here is increasing beautiful. I'm slowly finding the abiity to switch off the voice in my head that has been insistently needling that we need to decide what we're going to do and where we're going to go, that we can't live in someone else's basement forever, that we need to get jobs and make a plan and find direction. Muting that voice has been no small job. It has been the longest, most frustrating mediation session ever; three months long.

You know when you wake up in the night to pee and on the way to the bathroom a thought starts to form out of the delicious sleepy fog that you are drifting through - or worse, a song lyric sniffs out your vulnerable consciousness and tries to worm its way in while your defenses are down - and although it would be so easy to just let your brain drift where it wants to go you know that you have to silence that fucker right now or you will be awake for the next three hours singing Copacabana or wondering what exactly it is that you're doing with your life? That's what most waking moments of the last few months have been like but I'm finally reaching that place where when I go to listen to what the voice in my head is saying it's no longer there and instead of the awareness of silence allowing the noise to creep back in, I can just enjoy the quiet. It's pretty nice.

Things I have been enjoying about France recently have included;

Iced coffee. I'd only ever had it once before and it was kind of watery and crap. Then I made my own and forgot to dilute the supposed 'concentrate' and woohoo! That is how you drink it – icy espresso. I've had to ration myself though as I was getting a bit carried away. The first time I overdid  it and got the shakes it came as a bit of a surprise to me, as if I'd imagined that maybe coffee needs heat to trigger the reaction between caffeine and brain; reader, it doesn't.

Brewing it cold makes much nicer coffee than attempting to cool down hot coffee and making it is extremely easy in a cafetiere (which, FYI, we still call a chocolatey ear.) If you have one then there is no need at all to piss around with a kilner jar and repeated straining through increasingly fine filters. Unless of course you want to photograph the whole process for instagram/pinterest/your blog, in which case what I'm about to tell you probably won't cut it; fill your cafetiere 1/4 full of ground coffee, top it up with cold water, put the lid on but don't press down the filter, leave it in the fridge for at least 12 hours, press, decant into a bottle or flask or (if you really have to) a mason jar and voila, done. Dilute it if you must but it tastes better neat over ice.

Le Grotte. We live in the mountains, there are holes under the mountains, it's nice to go in holes on hot days. We visited Grotte de Clamouse with our friends who were visiting from Scotland. It was over thirty degrees outside and a very lovely fifteen in the cave. The tour guide was very concerned that we weren't wearing enough and that we'd freeze in these subterranean temperatures; 'you would like I give you some more clotheses? I think you should have some clotheses.' (we were in fact wearing clotheses, just not ones made from polyester fleece.) I'm not sure he believed us when we told him it was currently warmer in the cave than it was in Scotland nor understood when we explained that back in Glasgow much of the population would definitely consider this temperature Taps Aff.

Were I more poetic I would write about the Grotte (cave) and how beautiful it was. About the cathedrals of stalactites and stalagmites, about how they grow less than 10cm every thousand years, how some of the ones in these pictures are a million (A MILLION) years old, how the cave is in total darkness apart from a few twinkling torches that light up the crystalline growth. About the explorers who found it a mere 70 years ago, about how a river flows through it in the winter months and how some of those million year old formations break occasionally and come crashing to the ground, destroying other million year old formations in their paths. But I'm hot and I'm tired and I drank too much fucking coffee today and I have no poetry in me. Sorry.

(A Little Bit) The weather. It's glorious to be warm. It's glorious to wear very few clotheses. It's glorious to have a little bit of a tan even though we're not supposed to enjoy having a tan because any discoloration of the skin is simply sun damage and you will get cancer and die. I've never had a tan before for a number of reasons; 1) I'm Scottish and my natural skin colour in my natural climate is Reflection of the Sea Upon an Arctic Glacier (pantone 13-4404 TCX). 2) I have spent most of my life in the UK where temperatures have averaged at Disappointing. And 3) I've never holidayed abroad for more than a couple of weeks and it clearly takes three bloody months for me to stop looking like Anna when it all goes wrong.

It's nice to look down at my legs and see them look... healthy. To wear flesh tones and not have them disappear Who knew?

There are many other things that I've been enjoying about France; outdoor swimming, cheap as chips cherries, a dog to play Ridiculous Fetch with, happy free-range kids, being invited to French birthday parties, cheese and cheese and cheese, learning about wine, drinking about wine, planning camping trips in the woods, taking photos again,  visits to the lake, eating of the cheese and the cherries and the wine... I could go one but it's time to go and collect my kids from glorious French pre-school. L'ecole is about to end for the summer holidays and I predict that my mood may not remain so high for very much longer. (This post felt like an eerie premonition of the eight weeks ahead.)

On Monday we are off to camp for a few days in the mountains further north from here. I can't wait. We all need a break from this break.

I leave you with this, scene from expatriated parenthood (and the extent of my French joke-telling ability. You are welcome.)

'une petit deux petit sat on a wall,
une petit deux petit had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
had their heads chopped off cause this is France.'  
'That's not right mummy.'  
 'No, but it's funny.'  
 'It's not really.'  
 'Tell me a properly funny one.'  
'une petit deux petit sat on a wall,
une petit deux petit had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
fell in a pile of poo.'  
'I preferred my version.' 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Market Day in the South of France

Our local town is not the prettiest town in the south of France. It's far from ugly - it's a small town in the south of France - but it's not picture postcard beautiful either. I don't believe that tourism is particularly high on it's agenda. It is a working town, bustling with local activity, its narrow streets lined with small shops catering to the needs of people who live and work here; oil cloths, chainsaws, candles shaped like cauliflowers. I find them all terrifying to be honest. They are so small, and quiet and piled high with things. The thought of performing my speciality manoeuvre here -  admire something on a high shelf reach for it, turn to show Nye and knock everything from waist to shoulder height to the ground with my backpack - horrifies me. It also horrifies my husband, which is why he mostly refuses to enter shops with me, in any country. 

The market is less scary. At the market I can disappear into a crowd of people, all busy and pushing and shoving to get to the best tomatoes. At the market I can pretend not to hear people ask me questions I don't understand over the din of everyone else in the town talking and laughing and shopping. At the market everything is at table height, so I would have to try really hard to knock anything over. Except for the teetering vats of paella and fritters and grilled chicken; they are at chest height. Which I suppose is sensible in terms of keeping them away from children's fingers, but that the stuff in my danger zone is sizzling hot is a danger that I could do without. 

We haven't been to the market a lot. To be honest I find it completely overwhelming, like a kid at Disney Land; it's fun and it's exciting and there are so many shiny things to look at! but afterwards I feel like something in my brain has short circuited. There is so much choice, so many things I want to eat but don't know how to ask for, so much to try and carry in two hands and one backpack, so many smells and noises and tastes and sights and people and OHMYGOD I need to sit in an empty room for three hours afterwards, at the very least.

The last time we went to the market the asparagus was in full season and apricots cost €5.90 a kilo, which means it was likely about five weeks ago. I think we will go tomorrow, five weeks is far too long. The asparagus will be gone but the sardines and the tomatoes and the rabbit brains in tiny plastic tubs will be ripe for the taking and apricots cost a third of what they did. It's a beautiful time of the year.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

France in May.

There aren't words for how beautiful it is here, for the colours that glow in the early summer light, for the shadows that dance under the towering plane trees, for the hundred shades of green on the vista over the hills and valley. It is, quite simply, ridiculous and we are, quite simply, incredibly lucky. 

These photos were taken a few weeks ago in late May, which I think is maybe the most beautiful time in the south of France, possibly anywhere. The roses are gone now and the greens started fading to yellow last week, in the scorching and unseasonable early June heatwave. Perhaps the swollen thunderclouds that have rumbled over the valley for the last week will break and drench the parched earth with the rain it needs to revive everything that is fading, including me.  

The land here is strange. It is mostly rock, in places acres and acres of vines grow from what stops just short of being slate roof tiles, it's called Schist and it produces wine that tastes better than it sounds. It's a mystery to me how the land produces anything, let alone anything as succulent as grapes, but it does and we're grateful. 

I could photograph this village every day of the week in every season and never get bored. It's a restored factory village that was built in the 17th century to produce cloth for the King, now it's houses and an art gallery and a record shop and a cafe with 17 flavours of ice cream. When it was built the words 'Manufacture Royale' were engraved over the gate but during the revolution they rubbed it out and replaced it with 'Honneur au Travail'. Wikipedia says this was crude but I like it, down with the monarchy, up with travailing. 

Note to self though: pee before you leave the house. Never has a toilet been situated so beautifully (see above left photo) only to provide such a horrifying experience on closing the door. There is no light, there is no flush, there is no paper, there is no toilet... There is a hole in the ground and well I won't go on. France is good at many things but lavatories are not one of them. 

When I was talking to a friend about moving to France vs moving to the Western Isles she told me she thought that the Western Isles would, from a photography perspective, suit my aesthetic more. She suggested that the tones and colours and atmosphere were more aligned with my style, that I find more inspiration there. She suggested, gently, that France was maybe a tad... familiar, visually. I think of her as I stand photographing roses against sandstone walls, as a pastel-toned vintage Citroen jumps out at me from in front of a wall of wisteria, as I compose images of piles of apricots under striped market awnings and wonder if it is possible for me to find pictures here that haven't been in a thousand holiday brochures, a thousand lifestyle blogs, a thousand magazine articles about the south of France. The jury is out. 

ps. The clouds broke as I was writing and the rain came. I have never heard thunder claps so loud and so long, it smells like heaven.