Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Adventurers All…


I am discovering that the broad waterfront facing onto the River Herault defines the nature of this city of Agde.

Sailing down the mouth of this river came Phoenicians with their bands of rowers, Greeks with their full bellied sail, the Romans with their revolutionary lateen sails, the bellicose Spanish, and various other adventurers and pirates all leaping ashore to trade, to conquer, to plunder, to fish, to find wives, to settle, to farm, to build a city. It’s said that there are five cities layered here if one digs deep enough. And in the evolution of such a city the craft of the sea and the courage and skill of the sailors has been paramount.

Through history the River Herault has been a crucial conduit for importing and exporting goods – and people for the whole of France, linking as it does to the great Canal de Midi in one direction and the great outside world in the other. At times this has contributed to periods of great affluence and wealth in the city and the region – witnessed by the great Mansions – now split into smaller houses – in these narrow streets. (See next blog ‘The Loves and The Fishes…)

The docks on both sides of the river, once lined with ships waiting to unload, are, alas, no more. In their place are houses and restaurants stretching out on pontoons doing a different kind of trade with travellers and tourists, who come to Agde in the summer to share its very special appeal.

But further alonDSCN0259g the river there are still some fine working fishing boats and boatyards which specialise in building and mending boats of modern commercial and leisure trade,

In the modern world sailing right along this coast and on the Mediterranean make this river mouth a sailor’s paradise. DSCN0256

To be honest, although I love the water, I have always imagined sailing as a rich man’s hobby. But here and on the canal I sometimes see some travellers who take their pDSCN0261leasures in a way with which I can identify. Picnics on the shore, washing on the line….

It is all very tempting. I did spot this one little boat A VENDRE (for sale) which, had I been a year or so younger, I would have thought twice about…

(Let me declare an interest: I am researching all this about boats coming up the river in 100AD for some early parts of my novel…)

But really this post is an excuse to talk about the unique , adventurous Alan and Nira, the owners of the house where we are staying. They live just by the river in an exquisite house where the terrace is like a ship’s prow. Alan is English, and a painter by profession, a seafarer by preference. Nira is Israeli, the daughter of silversmith and a restorer of ceramics. These two met in London in the 1980s when they were both living on boats on the Thames. Alan was painting, into buying boats and sailing. He went to Amsterdam, bought a a decommissioned barge, rebuilt it entirely as a sailing barge, and with Nira, sailed it across the channel and down the rivers and canals of France right down here to the Mediterranean at Agde, this home of boats of all kinds,.

They loved this ancient city when they got here, settled, and eventually applied their amazing boat-restoring skills to restoring these lovely old houses where we have stayed. They brought up two children (now grownup) in the first house I stayed in. (The inspiration for my new novel.) This house is at least four hundred years old and looking at the papers I feel there has been accommodation on this spot since the Greeks were here.

I remember reading that Elizabeth David - the writer who transformed attitudes to food in Britain after the second world war - made this same journey as Alan and Nira , travelling with a lover right down by sailing boat to the Mediterranean in 1939, only to be arrested and held for a while by the Italians. Beautiful woman, that.

Adventurers all…


The sailing barge (now retired) that Alan and Nira restored

and sailed from England through France to Agde.

Work In Progress from

‘At The Villa d’Estella’;

I stumble on the uneven lava blocks that pave the quayside and he takes my arm. I can hear the jingling of boat tackle and the shout of voices but there are no boats drawn up on the quay these days, just waiters and waitresses setting out cutlery and napkins in the smart pontoon cafes huddling by the boat-less quay, in the place where ships once docked snugly, side by side, ready to unload.

‘You know Madame Patrice? You said you knew her?’ I try to make some conversation.

If you call by,

just leave a post to say hi

so I know you’re there!


Sunday, 24 May 2009

Counting Kisses on Sunday


Going to a town church or a mosque or a synagogue is one way to discover something about about its community. So, attending a Sunday morning service at the Cathedral of St Ettienne this Sunday morning was a natural part of my voyage of discovery here in Agde.

With a style more defensive and  military than ecclesiastical, St Etienne’s DSCN0272Cathedral is a massive black, lava stone edifice on the Agde waterfront. It’s a jutting landmark from everywhere in the town. This morning the bells peel out at 10.30 and we join other attenders walking down the streets to the side entrance. The buzz in and around the  building tells us something very special is happening here.


Inside, before the richly decorated Louis x111 altarpiece, a great crowd  is gathering – talking, calling across to each other, making spaces, kneeling, genuflecting, chatting, laughing. And there is a lot of kissing!  Everyone is  kissing each other: it’s a matrix of kissing - between old men, young men, teenagers, old women, young women, children aunts, uncles, cousins…

I begin to realise that there exists a code of relationships that youKissing can discover by counting the kisses. One for slight, two for friends, three for intimates.  Nobody kisses four times,  although I remember people kissing four times in Paris. (I suddenly realise that  I was somewhat  over-intimate with someone I met on Friday…)

No church I’ve ever attended in Britain was ever so full of greeting, comradeship and vocal neighbourliness. Then through all the chatter the music master gets to the microphone and, without quelling the movement or noise, rehearses the anthems to come. He has a  sweet voice and generates some sweet response. But still the people go on greeting and kissing.

The cathedral is now packed and we decide to vacate our seats so that genuine  Agathoise could have their places in what is obviously an important local event. We go out through the great front doors which give out straight onto the quay side and the broad sweeps of the harbour area of the River Herault.  This is truly a seamen's, even a pirates’ church.DSCN0284

And outside we find the reason for all the excitemeDSCN0278nt.

A crowd of girls in white robes with flowers in their hair are chatting,  laughing, and  beginning to queue up to make their entrance into the service.

First communion, probably. More generically it seems to me to be  a Maytime DSCN0285 (2)celebration of youth and promise that might go back in this place to a time before even this great cathedral was built.

When all the kissing began….


Work In Progress  from

‘At The Villa d’Estella’;

- We’d not been speaking for three days when, out of the blue, someone in Philip’s office offered him a house in the Languedoc for two months. Seemed she’d rented it but couldn’t make the dates now. He was very keen to do this. Perhaps he thought it was the last chance for us. He broke his silence. ‘So it would be a chance, Stella, to get away, to freshen up.’  He rubbed his hand down his face. ‘It might help… you…’ -

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Library and The Hunter Gatherer


The Thursday Market in Agde is normally a big event. (See licked spoon‘s wonderful photo essay on the market). But today it has been enhanced by the fact that it is a Bank Holiday. We learned this when trying to make the routine writers’ visit to the library to email, research etc – perhaps even to write this blog!

Did I mention the library? This is a tall gracious building at the end DSCN0158of the square called the Jeu de Ballon. Once the town’s Lycee (grammar school), the building was transformed in the 1990s to an elegant library, charmingly called here the Maison de Savoirs  (The House of Knowledge, I call it… ) 

It reminds me of my own library in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. It was transformed about the same time as this building, from a small Victorian Town Hall into a library, theatre and art gallery. My have made many fruitful writer’s visits there in my time and it is here that my novels are usually launched.

Today we spend some minutes hovering with other hopefuls clutching book bags  and peer at notices about the somewhat esoteric opening hours, before it dawns on us all that it is definitely shut, not delayed. The news  seeps through to us that this is a Bank Holiday. Abandon work all ye who enter here.

So, we have to resort to the Bank Holiday market, which is bigger thanBattlememts 3n ever, reaching tight down from the Maison de Savoirs, stretching  along the long tree-lined promenade, right round the corner under the old battlements.

I have to tell you I’m no great shopper. In fact I’m a very reluctant shopper. But today I have a lesson from Writing Junkie in how to rake around in a market for real bargains.

Apart from the gourmet and gourmand food stalls described (and used) elsewhere so well by licked spoon, there are many wonderful stalls of baskets, bags, straw hats, lingerie, toys (many of these), shoes, sheets, towels, beautiful soap,  clothes (designer), clothes (cheap and cheerful).

But today, deprived of the Maison de Savoirs, our target is a particular extended stall  where all kinds of clothes – good size men’s, women’s and children’s  -  are heaped on the surfaces like an English jumble sale. Here I  learn to be patient,  to rake through for treasures - many of them linen,  or linen and pure cotton - jackets, waistcoats, dresses, trousers - many with modish labels like MaxMara and Laura Ashley. They are crumpled, as though they’ve just been tipped out from some container. (We do have a very good iron, of course ..,)But the these clothes  are the real thing and they cost  just a few Euros rather than the fifty or sixty (or more) pounds they would have cost in England.

Around this stall you witness visible excitement. We stand and watch two elegant Finnish women trying clothes on over their jeans - one a taupe and grey stripe dress with an apron front,the other  a raspberry linen dress. They both   look a million dollars.


‘Eight Euros Madame!’

Me? I succumb to some very nice linen jackets and waistcoats - pockets for pens and notebooks - and come away feeling like a very successful hunter-gatherer bringing home the bounty.

DSCN0125 Then we retire with our bulging bags for a breather in the crowded Cafe Plazza . People meeting, people talking.  A man is carrying a shopping bag, custom- made to transport a  tiny dog who is anxiously looking out of his window at the crowds.  Another  man makes his way out of the cafe, walking with the careful walk of an alcoholic.  A woman is weaving her cautious way through the crowds with her bicycle. Young people in orange tabards are handing out leaflets urging people to vote in European elections. Politics! There is so much engagement, involvement here.

My dear mother always used to say comparisons are odious. But I do wonder where in Britain I would find anything to compare with the Bank Holiday buzz here in this relatively small provincial town in France. Of course the sunshine helps. As do the linen waistcoats for four Euros.

The disadvantage is, of course, I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to post this blog and do my emails. I must check the opening hours at the Maison de Savoirs.


Work In Progress                               from              ‘At The Villa d’Estella’

‘…It took them six days to find the boys responsible. The younger one was finally forced, by nightmares and unwarranted vomiting, to confide in his sister, who told their mother. The family, not unused to concealing rather more petty crimes, considered the problem and decided the secret was too large, too terrible, to keep and went to the police…’

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

HOORAY New Cover!


It’s always a glorious day when, having worked on a novel for one, two or three years, finally to see it as others will see it on the shelves in a book shop.

And here is my novel -

The Wwoman who drew 2oman Who Drew Buildings

in all her finery.

A cover is crucial to a book – a good cover can express the feeling of a novel, the mood, the context, the atmosphere. It can get my story into the hands of people who will  really enjoy it.

At its best, as well, it will appeal to those important booksellers and librarians who ensure it will be out there,  available for those who hear about the book through articles and reviews – and perhaps through this account on my blog!


This novel was inspired by tales told to me by the wonderful  and somewhat  mystical writer and artist, Mary Davies who now lives in retirement on the Isle of Arran and who has also, in her time, drawn buildings.

It takes place in Poland in 1981 and Britain in 2006 . What’s it about? It’s about  the consuming nature of art, the shadowy place between now and the hereafter; it’s about passionate encounters arising from a confluence of cultures and the long journey of a mother and son to mutual understanding.

And also I’ve been told it’s a damned good story…

This brilliant cover is a result of the careful response to me and my novel by my lovely editor, Harriet Evans   - in combination with  the design department at Headline. Sadly I am losing Harrie , an accomplished  novelist herself, who is going off to concentrate on novels entirely: my loss and the reading public’s great gain.

I am also delighted because incorporated in this design are drawings by my friend Fiona Naughton  www.fionanaughtonarts.com  - who also is a woman who draws buildings! This is quite something for me, as I have watched Fiona develop from a child who could draw into a fine artist in her own right.

So I hope you like the cover and – when you get your hands on the book in September – I hope you love reading the novel as much as I love writing it.

Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Wendy R

Sunday, 17 May 2009

There’s A Cafe on The Corner…

DSCN0188  Just a minute away from  from the house, on the way to the library, the market, or the other side of the old town, there’s a large cafe on the corner: the Cafe Plaza. You can eat in the restaurant next door, but in the cafe you just drink – ‘Café, café crème,  du thé, chocolat, Orangina, une bière, pastis?  ‘Oui, Madame!

Cafe In the Morning

I might go there once twice, three times a day to to chill and watch the world after a hard day’s walking, looking,  emailing, or writing. It’s a good place to take stock and think of what you have done and what you might do later in the day. (This is important when only you can motivate yourself  for the large task of writing a novel…) I might go there with Writing Junkie but sometimes she is off on her aventures au bicyclette* so I’m happy be there on my own. DSCN0172 

On market days the cafe and the pavement outside are crowded. On sunny days there is always a steady flow of customers.  On rainy days (there have been a couple) there are less customers, but even then I have joined the regulars to sit under the sun canopy and  drink our petits cafés or our pastis to watch people passing by under their umbrellas.

On a hot day I slip out of my denim writing jacket (good pockets for notebook and pens) and dump my laptop bag.


‘Un café et un verre d’eau, s’il vous plait.’

Oui Madame!

I sit there with the sun on my back, my head shaded by the canopy, drink my café and water, and note the wide range of The Plaza Café’s clientele: 

  • DSCN0189 Some local men at the bar behind me are  arguing and talking in the deep local accent. The Languedoc has its own language so even French is rendered differently.

DSCN0189At the front are three generations  of a Spanish family  with dark strong looks. They gesticulate and talk as they watch their children play football in the square. We are very near Spain here.

DSCN0189Local Gitan people talking, perhaps doing business – the town has a residual population of Romani people who have a distinctive  presence here  in the old town.

DSCN0189There are two affluent looking couples in designer sailing gear who look as though they may be off a boat at the nearby yachting harbour of Marseillan.

  • DSCN0189A group of young women talk over glasses of wine that glitter  in the sun, their  toddlers in strollers beside them and tumbling about their feet.


An elderly couple, very smart in the bourgeois fashion , sip red wine,  On the table beside them are oysters  in a smartly labelled box and a fancy wrapped cake ready to take home for their Sunday afternoon treat.

  • DSCN0189I notice a small girl with hair so shiny that it’s slipping from its ribbon. Her brown feet are tucked into glittery sandals. DSCN0189

I see a man with an orange leather crossover bag carrying a poodle in his arms like a baby.


I note how well the young French women walk – straight backs, hips jutting slightly forward. I wonder if they have deportment lessons in their lycées. I can just see them walking with books on their heads.

All of this goes into my notebook. To this extent it counts as work. Any of these observations might end up incorporated in the novel. I don’t know yet. But they are there for me.

I just remembered something my art lecturer said to me in college. ‘You know how to look, Miss Wetherill. Once one knows how to look, one is never bored.’

Now that is so very true. And so very true here in Agde.

* Read about her bicyclette in her current post.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Staff of Life


In the brochure no 11 is described as The House With The Stone Door’. But the door of the house is a perfectly serviceable dark green wood with a very stiff lock.. To get to the stone door you have to cross the wide kitchen floor, go through an open archway, cross what I have imagined as an old alleyway (see earlier post) to the back wall , where sits this heavy black stone basalt door more than six inches thick, two foot by two foot in size.

This is the door to an oven which used to be the heart of a boulangerie – baker’s shop – that used to occupy this space. The hinge of the door alone is a work of of the ironmonger’s art, its strength relying on the fact that the iron is embedded right around the stone, so the stone’s own strength works with the hinge rather than against it.


We meet our landlady Madame C in the cafe by the port. After assuring her how much we love the house and admire the way her updating is in harmony with the history of the building, we mention the oven.

She beams. ‘Do you see inside? It is amazing. Like a church!’ She sketches a cupola with her hands.

We had been nervous of actually opening the door. ‘It’s all right to open it, then?’

Oh yes,’ she said. ‘You must see it.’

(A note here to say that all Madame’s houses – she has five – are unique and wonderful. Each has its own character and there is art in the way she tackles the need for bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and terraces, while respecting and showcasing the idiosyncratic historic nature of these buildings in the old town, making the almost random connections between floors and rooms work as a charming whole.)

When we get home Séan - the strongest man in the company - opens the door. Madame has supplied a light so we can see the interior. It is amazing. As Madame C said, it is like the interior of a small church, with lines of red brick rising to the high domed centre. Our resident cooking guru (lickedspoon) tells us that it might have taken up to a week to fire the oven to the correct basic temperature and the fire would then be maintained day by day to maintain it. ‘Licked Spoon’ says the stone door will have preserved steady high heat for long stretches of time.


An article on the wall in French (the memoirs of a boulangere born in 1919) tells us that the ovens were normally fired with faggots of vine clippings gathered from many miles around. The boulangeries – in this boulangere’s time -there were 25 in this small town – served their own close districts, every day producing different breads favoured by their customers. She said they made special longer lasting bread for poor customers who could not afford to buy fresh bread every day. She told how they would allow special customers to bring their own cakes and casseroles and other large, more communal, dishes to bake in the cooling oven.

So now into my imagination stream all these people coming here day by day for their favourite bread, or bringing their large dishes of cassoulet, or wheels of fougas – sweet bread - to cook in the oven with the stone door.

It’s worth noting, however, that the oven did not bring unmitigated delight. It made our other housemate, Writing Junkie, shudder (avriljoy.com) You’ll have to read her post to see why.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Lucky Dip Reading

Avril gets stuck in...  I’m saving your new novel for my summer holidays!’

‘I take  half a dozen books on holiday. It’s the only time I have to read.’ 

How often do I hear that!

It has just occurred to me that this puts the simple act of reading books on a par with exotic, esoteric activities such as scuba diving or camel trekking. In fact reading  is the most straightforward of activities: you choose a book; you engage the eyes, the mind and the imagination. Then you’re off.  Lovely!

Perhaps reading for simple pleasure has been lost (apart from holidays) even by the most literate of people like you and me. In our non-holiday lives we respond to the siren call of television and the World Wide Web as an easy fix for exhaustion, stress and boredom. We  may claim - with some justification -  Bookshelvesthat TV and the Web may be as intelligent and as good an escape any day, as some old book. And easier.

But at least on our holidays many of us  find time to read a book. To be honest, reading widely is so much part of the writing life that reading yet more may not count as much of a change for me. But what I enjoy on holiday, in a strange kind of way, is the lucky dip you experience when you rent a house. What you find is a strange collection of the books that others have left behind -  the literary flotsam of other people’s lives. These books are not precious enough to take home but show keen evidence of enjoyment.

The shelves here at Number Eleven reflect a very wide range of tastes - James Michener, Marilyn French, Erica James, Stephen King, Minette Walters, Kathy Reichs, Joanne Harris, Noel Coward… Pile Of Books

I did my usual thing and railed against panto-speak blurbs that might have  – but did not – put me off some very good reads. I have to admit I threw into a corner one made-for-the-market collation by a famously faux-Fascist comedian. Of course, he might say it isn’t his faux that I don’t have a sense of humour…

Of them all, I very much enjoyed  a novel as yet unknown to me Horseman, Ride By, by David Crackanthorpe, an ex barrister born in Cumbria who now lives (or lived - the publication date says 2000) in the South of France. It’s a kind of suspense novel but more than that. This writer’s take on modern French history and culture and his unique sense of character - as well as his dark, loving evocation of the port of Marseille and the territory of the Camargue  - lifted this book out of the straight suspense category.     The best treat here is the main character - a complex, haunted lawyer called Bernard Vipont, whose family came to Marseilles generations before, from the English port of Liverpool: this novel was an unlooked-for treat in the pick ‘n mix of books here at Number Eleven.

I nearly didn’t read this one because it was literally falling to pieces, as though it had been dropped in the sea twice and rescued. But it was very much worth rescuing.

Up to present, though,  my favourite book here - without  so much as a flashy cover or a panto-speak blurb -  is a battered, 1958 edition of Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durell’s account of buying and  living in a house in Cyprus in 1953. He says in his preface This is not a political book, but simply a somewhat impressionistic study of the moods and atmospheres in Cyprus in those troubled years 1953-6.

(As an over-aware child I was very aware of the strains between Britain and Cyprus in those years before the partition of Cyprus and its separation from Britain. Yet again I am reminded that not only do I write about history – I have lived through it! A chilling thought.)

Nothing chilly about this book though. What follows this preface  is a wonderfully joyous evocation of a place and people  written in a fashion that is literary , transparent and  very Bitter Lemons  (1958)accessible. I did wonder know how politically correct it may be,  though, in these days when both Peter Mayle and Louis de Bernieres have been seen to have bitten the hand that fed them.

Even so I enjoyed reading   it and would not have read it, had it not been on the shelves here an Number Eleven…




Sunday, 10 May 2009

A Day For Work

Street Scenes 010

It will be a comfort to some to know that today has been cool and rainy and without sun. Reminds me of home. Very conducive to work, of course. I was up early, transcribing some stuff from my big brown notebook onto the  laptop.

This is always an interesting part of the process. Sometimes the words and phrases stay rock solid in their original inspirational form. Sometimes they are a launching pad for a whole new set of ideas or movements in the story. Sometimes I change a word or phrase and change it again until it makes proper sense. And I know that one way or another these transcribed and evolved texts from the flood of ideas on the pages of the notebook will end up between the covers of the book.

I made notes about  a dream I had straight out of the 1970s. I was in this room entirely covered with silky black drapes trimmed with silvery white ribbons. More bordello than funeral parlour,  I have to say. I was aware that I had lots to discard from the room before it would work for me. There is a person  waiting patiently. I remember his face. Distinctive bones, slightly fleshy.Olive skin  Black hair. Thick at the back. Combed across at the front, almost obscuring bright blue eyes full of questions, gleaming with knowledge and fun.

I think someone has just walked into my story.

Later, sitting sheltering from the rain  (not the sun…) I watch the regular clown who makes swans out of balloons and has a Mr Punch squeaker, making his Pied Piper way around the market.

And I note that three kisses are the de rigeur  greeting in this part of the world.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Finding The Right Place To Write


Marks of TimeThis is a tall street house with - as I have said here - its own history which I find engaging. But my main purpose in staying in this house is to write this novel which was inspired by earlier sojourns in this town.  But it has taken me nearly a week to find the right place here to work.

I have tried the enormous kitchen table which has space for prepping, cooking, reading, talking eating and drinking . but somehow it doesn’t work for writing, I’ve tried it. My mind wanders away from Stella/Star and her world to the more urgent and somehow easier  human dramas around me.

Through a Glass Brightly

The table is very good for playing  around with my new  lap top.  I can write my blog. I can teach myself how to download my photos to illustrate what I say here. I can play music from the vast collection downloaded by Sean.  But I can’t get into Stella’s world. I can’t begin the new chapters.

I did try writing on the roof terrace    Evening Sky


But the distant view of the  hills of the high Languedoc hills is distracting. And it can get hot here in the afternoons when the best thing to do is to sit under the umbrella and drink whatever comes to hand. A glass of wine rather fits the bill.


I discover -  at last -  that  the best place to write about Stella  is my bedroom on the first floor (at one time, perhaps, the salon). It has a quarry tiled floor, floor-length windows with lace panels and a nice big square table now tumbling with notebooks.  The geraniums in the window box play host to a butterfly of a species I don’t recognise. As I write I can  hear the children playing below in the alley and see across to the house opposite  where  the builder is working on the renovations. He walks around a lot and smiles up at me, lifting his trowel in greeting. 

Writing Table


That’s better.  Other parts of the house have their purposes. This  table is where the novel will begin to show itself. This is where I’ll get into Stella/Star’s world. And, with luck. this is where the story will grow.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Only In France

Stella, sometimes called Star, the most important person in my new story, is psychic. She sees dead people walking; she sometimes sees through time; she knows when she is in a very old place.

I have to admit that in some of these things Star is like me. In particular I also know when I am on an old pathway and sometimes I see travellers there from another time.

The Languedocian house where I am staying is very old, in a coastal town that existed before Christianity. From antiquity until the eighteenth century, Agde was the largest port in the Mediterranean. The house is an artfully contemporary cobbling together of fragments of pre-medieval, medieval and post-medieval buildings that were part of the domain of the medieval Counts of Agde. Part of it was once the Counts’ stables.

In the centre of the house is this large oven from a later date, when the space accommodated a boulangerie, making bread for the people living in the tiny winding streets in this old part of town. The oven door is massive, made of volcanic stone. The blackened stone on the wall above it, and the wall above that, were was once part of the city walls. Some of the house walls are wide as your arm is long and have arrow slits. The house is a place of stopped doors and half-arches that lead nowhere.

Agde house 024There is a space between the kitchen and the staircase where a modern joiner-made stairs supplement the medieval stone steps. In this space, where the stone oven sits and a medieval arch disappears into a built wall, I can see the shades of people walking, carrying packs. Agde house 023 They are not in the boulangerie - they wouldn’t walk straight through it – but on a street. They are walking on a narrow alleyway between what is now the kitchen - where licked spoon is making divine chicken risotto, I am drinking pastis, and writing junkie is drinking wine - and the wall with the stone oven.

Agde house 025The air here today is filled with complex cooking smells, and wafting incense. The talk is of food – the making and writing of it - about living and cooking an authentic life, of politicians who let you down, about ways of saying things in French.

This latter because writing junkie and I have now met the man in the stationery shop. We were in the there buying notebooks – one needs so many – and found ourselves standing behind a smart elderly lady who was taking a long time over her purchases. She deviated into enquiring whether or not we were Dutch, then told us that her husband had been a professor of German, that her daughter was a professor of English working in Canada and her granddaughter worked in a prison. My ears perked up at this and I reflected again on the small world we live in.

The stationery man discovered we were English and were staying here for two months and announced that when we came back to his shop we should speak in French and he would speak in English and that was the way we would all learn. A fair challenge.

And now Star/Stella’s story is evolving by the minute. Coming here to come to terms with her madness was always her mission, but just how this will happen is a matter of my day to day perceptions and understandings.

Later - I am sitting on the roof, writing and looking across to the hills of the High Languedoc. On the table is a fragment of a Roman Aphorae, the storage jars in which the Romans transported just about everything. I can put my fingers in the ridges made by the fingers of the man who threw the pot thousands of years ago. Hundreds of these fragments have been harvested from the mouth of the River Herault, a few hundred yards away - part of the detritus of the thousands of years of trading before modern times.

I am almost breathless with inspiration…


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