March 2011 Archives

The Last Leg...



The funny thing about the last three weeks of this five year pregnancy is that there is nothing to slow me down. Apart, that is, from the potager.

We have had a glorious week here at the foot of the Mont Ventoux. Eighteen degrees, wild garlic springing up on the banks (very nice with a bit of spring lamb from the local Bedoin organic butcher), the joy of Carpentras' infamous strawberries (the very floral ciflorette and garriguette varieties) every morning with our muesli, and seven days of lunch outside on the terrace!

In the painter's potager I am still digging. The plot that has been covered with horse poo and black plastic for two years STILL has couch grass in it. I don't know what it is about our new arrival but I want to get it ready for him. A sort of offering of the earth? Who knows.

Our flights are booked for April 14th to pick up our son in Bamako. Without spending a penny we have a second hand Mclaren three wheel all terrain buggy, a cool cot, two technicolour dreamcoats knitted by a friend, a suitcase of clothes, the baby sling and a Swedish polar bear in whose bottom our cat Babu is extremely interested. In the medical report it says Louis Joseph smiles a lot and his basic emotion is joy. My biggest fantasy is of my tending to the potager with him and the swedish polar bear dozing in the sun....Dream on!

Meanwhile, we aged future parents are just a tad nervous about our age and energy level and above all our C�tes du Rhone habit.

"Has he still got the Botticelli hair and the muscles?" asked a friend on the phone last night, quoting the chapter in my book (coming soon) about Julian and my first meeting.

"Tell her "said Julian "I've now got the Botticelli body and no hair" .

(Not true, of course, but we had a much needed laugh)


Asparagus, strawberries and a New Arrival...



‘There will be more frost’ the shepherd said as we watched his flock graze only a few days ago by the side of the potager du peintre. Huh, I thought. The new season’s rays were beating on my almost bare arms, my spade was deep in the freshly warmed earth of my new plot finally uncovered after two years, my heart was singing…

Well, the shepherd was right. After one glorious week of spring sunshine and daffodils, having planted seeds (at the fruiting time of the bio-dynamic calender of course) of vieilles variet�s - noir de crim�e, sungold and miel de mexique tomatoes, aubergines, chili peppers and our very last much loved Sicilian courgette, having thought I’d get the whole the whole lot sorted before we leave for our (big life changing) trip, the whole lot has been swept away by a crazy stormy vicious and relentless wind.

Battening down the hatches then and we are forced to spend a few days indoors. Snuggling up with cats next to wood burners, creating the cover for my book, struggling with InDesign trying to make a table of contents from master page items, cooking up a fishy feast for our favourite chef friends, and launching Friends of Postcard from Provence.

Meanwhile, in our seasonal barometer - the March�s de Provence - spring is, despite appearances, most definitely here with all its gifts. Fraises de Carpentras (I can’t believe I didn’t eat strawberries here until a couple of years ago - some crazy notion about cream and Wimbledon and Union jacks…) are out - Pajaro, Garriguette, and the unbearably floral Ciflorette. And the tender new asparagus. A season of asparagus risotto here we come! I am just remembering to save the tips and saut� them very briefly before placing them, along with a drizzle of grassyMourchon olive oil and a dob of cr�me fra�che, on top of the risotto when I hear that the news is now official. Spring has brought us another, even-greater-than-asparagus gift. Our son, Louis Joseph Alassane Merrow-Smith was born in Bamako on the 12th October 2010 and we are going to bring him back, finally, to Provence in April, to a season of pur�ed broad beans and peas!

Bon Appetit!

Passing Traffic

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The sound of bells and bleating is a delicious accompaniment to our first al fresco coffee of the season!

The transhumance passes outside my window almost every day at this time of year, the flock looking for fresh pastures before it makes its way up the mountain for the spring. Mostly the sheep seem interested in the field we are about to buy and they are doing an excellent job of keeping the weeds down while we wait for the process to complete.

We are expecting to sign the compromis de vente next week and had a wine maker friend over for dinner last night to discuss what we might do. We started talking about how we might go about making a small quantity of boutique C�tes du Ventoux on the freshly chewed plot and then wondered if that was not a contradiction in terms. C�tes du Ventoux is, apparently, so hier...

Meanwhile I have uncovered the second batch of soil in the painter's potager. After two years of it sweating under black plastic and Renault loads of horse poo, I was disappointed to see that the couch grass is still present and the no dig method which I had hoped to employ will have to wait. Let's hope the skies stay crisp and bright and the sheep music continues to keep my spade and I company in the coming days.




My day at Bali Botanica Spa starts with sweet ginger tea while Ayu, my therapist, prepares the room. During the short wait I am shown a selection of four ceramic bowls filled with Farrow and Ball colored powders. Chalky green, string, brick and taupe. I am invited to sniff and asked if, when it comes time for the exfoliation, I want the milk, the herb, or the rice, sandalwood and turmeric scrub - each of which are followed by a yoghurt moisturizer - or the coffee exfoliant which is finished off with fresh papaya.

Always a sucker for green anything I decide on the herbal scrub and walk toward the treatment room. Creamy yellow flower arrangements are placed on every surface. The air is scented with frangipani. Candles burn. A soft flute plays as if from the bamboo trees outside and the respectful padding of small bare feet on clean white tile makes sure I knew my ritual has started.

The front wall of the treatment room looks out on to a stream bordered with banana leaves and coconut palms, and it is like entering a hut in the jungle. An arrangement of hibiscus and alamanda flowers reclines against a rolled towel. Petals float in pale green dishes everywhere. I even spy them through the head hole in the massage table. I lie there listening to birdsong and the running of the stream.

The first treatment is the two and a half hour Ayurvedic Chakra Dhara massage. Ayu has magic listening hands. Every movement is sure, concentrated, focused, every stroke a response to what information she receives through her skin about my needs. I am not having a job done to me. I am not meat being battered for the barbie. I am a Goddess, and it is only a matter of seconds before I feel utterly held and celebrated.

During the course of my day in Ayu's hands, I try to figure out why her massage, whether it is facial or foot, whether done with fingertips, forearm or an elbow, is so exquisite, and in the end I decide that it comes down to rhythm. It is as if I am an instrument she is playing. She sets something in motion and stays in a rhythm with it so I can join her through my breathing and in my awareness. She makes it possible, it seems to me, for me to meet her half way. A litre of warm oil is dripped over the chakras to balance my mind body and spirit. As I lie with the copper vessel drizzling its oil on to my third eye for twenty minutes my whole being feels warmed, unified. I am then invited to move on to a stool and rest my feet in a bowl of rose petals while my head is massaged to finish up the morning's treatment. I don't know why I start to cry.

First up in the afternoon is the full body scrub and moisturizer and I am glad, as I lie on my stomach once more, that I resisted pigging out at lunch. In fact, I could have abstained completely. There is a glass of exotic juice waiting for me by the side of the bath tub and the aroma of the yoghurt mixed with the herbal powder is heady enough to compensate for any hunger.

The bath is beneath the wall-width window looking out on to the jungle, and indeed on to some interested 'fishermen' there. Having had my scrub, I lower my yoghurt clad body in to the tub brimming with rose petals and it is while I soak that I remember.

I was pregnant once for a very short time. During those few weeks I was overwhelmed with wonder at and gratitude towards my body. I took time every day to practice some gentle yoga and to meditate on becoming present with our baby. At various intervals in the day I traced the curve of him with listening fingers. Everything slowed down, became sensual. I shopped for clothes made from fabric that would hang sublimely from and flutter in the breeze around his dome-like house. Above all, however, I remember feeling connected in a new way with the women in my life, joined in the age-old non-verbal ritual of pregnancy.

There were complications and I never did give birth. However, ten years afterwards - years of mourning, needles and hormones, and finally acceptance - I have been told that I am at long last going to be a mother. A phone call from Bamako informed me that a little boy of three months is waiting for us to bring him home. Today, through the ritual of cleansing and purifying, through a woman's hands tracing my form and bringing it, with that unique woman-to-woman understanding, to life, through petals and oils and unguents, I feel something opening in me. A remember a verse of a song…

Cette petite �me blanche.
Elle sera n�e deux fois.
La premi�re entre vos hanches,
La seconde entre nos bras
(This little while soul will be born twice. The first time between your hips and the second in our arms - Francis Cabrel, Mademoiselle l'Aventure)

I shower and prepare for the facial. I am warmed by creams, cooled by toners, and my impurities are removed by a mask. The chilled avocado hair treatment makes my scalp zing and all the while Ayu's fingers keep the blood flowing in my neck, arms and shoulders, breaking down tensions, cellulite, blockages and creating flow. I feel increasingly moved by her constant attention and want to communicate to her that today is not just my birthday but, in a way, the day I also gave birth. That today she has been a sort of mid-wife to me. Her English is not good. We get as far as a baby in Africa and there is a Grandmother somewhere in there (probably me, she thinks, or the Grandmother I have left my child with back home in Africa while I hang out in Bali), but it doesn't matter. I know she knows that I am receiving her gift of touch deep in to not only my skin and bones, but also my heart, and that in some way Louis Joseph Merrow-Smith is receiving it too.