My day-to-day life in Les Adrets has found a rhythm. (Of course there is some humour in the fact that the rhythm is going to be disrupted throughout much of December with friends and family visiting, but it will be a happy disruption.)
My alarm chirps (crickets!) at 7:10am. I get out of bed by 7:30 or 8am: hemmed in by a cat on either side, I often reach for my iPhone and check my email while still half-asleep. Once the cats know I’m awake, it’s all over: Gaston, who is 19 years old and pretty deaf, yowls (LOUDLY) for his breakfast. Felix is a tiny cat with a very small, sweet, kittenish mew which hides a bit of a devil inside. He’s a hunter and can bite, but he’s overwhelmingly sweet when he wants attention. There is no choice but to allow him to sit directly on your chest, stomach or lap (depending on whether you’re sitting or lying down) and he will settle onto you with the most immediate and ungraceful snores.
Sunset, Thursday 1 December.
The first thing I do is open the house. I love this ritual. All of the houses here have wooden shutters, for doors and windows, which are very effective in keeping out the nighttime cold, and are also tres jolie. Verity’s shutters are a pretty blue-green colour against the pinky-peach of the stucco house. Every morning I open all of the shutters and let the light in.
I’m a big fan of rooibos tea and have brought some with me (need to re-stock soon, though) and I’ll have a cup of tea (with milk – English style!) two pieces of toasted michette with sunflower-spread and local lavender honey, and a glass of fruit juice. I check emails, do admin, and then settle down to write.
I’ve had the pleasure of an invitation from my friend, the illustrator/writer Badaude, to collaborate on a piece for Cambridge-based literary journal The Junket. It’s quite a time-bound (and exciting!) project: I’ll say more about it once it’s up. But I’ve been working on that in the mornings.
The big project I brought with me is the anatomical waxworks-inspired verse play. And, as I’d hoped, I’m writing. A lot. As much as I adore London, I do allow myself to get distracted by all of the fabulous opportunities going on there. While this hasn’t been bad for my experience and exposure in the writing world, I feel like hiding away right now and writing a full piece is exactly what I need. The novel I’ve been working on for the past few years needs a breather and this retreat has meant I’ve been writing four or five poems on a productive day, two or three if I’m otherwise engaged. I haven’t been this productive with poetry since 2006-7, my final year of uni, when I wrote the manuscript of Shadows in Chalk, which went on to become Darwin’s Microscope.
In the morning, I write, maintaining a mild buzz and level of intense focus with a great deal of green tea.
I’ll break for lunch and watch the BBC World News. In the afternoon, I may wander to the village for a little walk and a visit to the boulangerie (which almost certainly negates any positive affects of the walk). I tend to buy ‘une michette’ which will last me for two or three days: toast in the mornings and fresh bread with dinner. I’ll buy treats once in awhile, but I’m trying to save those for when I have guests and I know we will all have treats. That said, this afternoon I bought a brownie each for myself and Ilona. We’d just gone for a lovely walk and the brownies just looked irresistible – and Ilona had brought me some lovely homemade mini-croissonts stuffed with figs.
Sunset, Thursday 1 December.
After lunch, if it’s a Wednesday, I’ve been going on little hikes around Mont Viniagre with Gabrielle, Jean, and their friends. Yesterday I went with Francoise, her husband Jean, and their friends (the husband in that couple is Jean-Pierre – seriously, all of the men are named Jean or some variant thereof).
On Fridays, in the morning (10-12-ish) I’ve been going to the swimming pool in Frejus with Gabrielle and some other friends of theirs (including another Jean). (Alas, Gabrielle just phoned me to say she has a little cold and won’t be making it to the swimming pool this Friday (now today,) which is a shame.)
On Sundays, I go to church from 10-11.
Ilona and I seem to have struck up a date for a walk once a week. We went this afternoon and it was just lovely, even though the poor girl is recovering from a cold. We also seem fantastically bad at actually setting a precise time for the walk, but it’s worked out twice and I’m sure we’ll manage again. Last week we went on Friday, and this week we went on Thursday.
The rest of the time, I’m reading, writing, blogging, and sending emails – mostly planning our next event for the Whipple Museum. It’s simple, peaceful, and exactly what I intended to do. I’m reading Ulysses and will be quite pleased if I can finish it before I have to leave. I’m loving it but I can’t imagine being required to read it in school – I would never have managed it at the age of 16 or even 20, and I was always a top lit student.
This afternoon, after I said bon soir to Ilona and walked back to the house, I got to enjoy a spectacular sunset. By 5:15pm it was over, only a silvery-grey light remaining in the darkening sky. I shut the house, closing the shutters, and poured myself an aperitif of lemoncello.
This is as lovely as it sounds, but if you’re envious, then I’d like to add the grounding reality of dealing with these two cats (anyone who has pets will appreciate this, though if you have a weak stomach, stop reading here).
In the past two days I have cleaned up:
One’I-missed-the-litterbox’ poo (Gaston is 19 so you really can’t blame him).
Two very big, wet-hairball-pukes.
Three ‘I-didn’t-miss-the-litterbox’ poos.
And the crowning event:
Felix can get in and out of the house via the garage (there’s some kind of crawlspace). He tends to go out through the front door after dinner and then he’ll come back in via the garage a few hours later. Last night, I was in bed reading, with Gaston curled up beside me. My bedroom door was cracked open because I knew Felix would come in eventually. I heard some crashing (he’s not the most graceful cat,) and then an urgent mewling. It wasn’t his usual ‘hello, give me attention,’ mew, and he didn’t come into the room. I thought, oh no, that’s the ‘I’ve caught something / I’ve brought you a present’ mew – when they sound like their mouth is full, because it is full. I put on my sandals and peeked out into the hallway. Nothing. Felix was there, looking innocent. (Ha. Right.) I went back to bed. A few minutes later I heard garbled crunching sounds. Bracing myself, I put my sandals on again (not interested in stepping in whatever it was,) and found Felix, in the bathroom. With a mouse. He’d eaten the head off. There was blood smeared all over the bathroom tiles. This morning I found more blood spattered up the side of the bath. I picked him up, saying, ‘go on, grab it!’ (Most cat’s won’t let go of their prey when they’re in the middle of eating it.) He didn’t pick it up but mewed in protest. All the while I was thinking THIS IS SO GROSS. So I grabbed some loo roll and plucked up the decapitated mouse by it’s tail, scooped Felix up in my other hand, and deposited them both outside. He happily followed the mouse. I scrubbed the bathroom floor with Ajax (and the bathtub, this morning). I’m so glad the house is tiled.