Newsletter, Autumn 2010

Hello friends, Its been a long time since I wrote a newsletter - usual excuses! but nothing much seemed to happen in the early part of the year apart from Beryl going off to spend her two weeks with her sister Pam in Florida. As usual, she enjoyed the warmth and more particularly, the shopping. While she was away, I continued with digging out and installing a drain to try and ensure that we could not suffer a repeat of the flooding of the basement. This was hard work and I am not used to it - its one of those jobs where I realize very quickly that I'm not so young as I once was! Anyway, I finished my part and then got a local mason to do the concreting where we have to drive over the drain at the entrance. While this was going on, the contractor who was putting in a main sewer to serve our street got to us so we had a huge hole in front of our driveway for a couple of days.

We have realized for some time that we could not continue with our vineyard as we could not find anyone to look after it. As it result it deteriorated quickly and the harvest in 2009 was the smallest ever, so we decided to pull up the vines and use the land for something else. In March, we got a local contractor to come round and pull them all out (240 ceps) and pile them up in a corner for cutting up for firewood (they burn very well!). We decided to replace the vines with an olive grove so searched around for young olive trees at a good price and finally bought 22 from an Italian-owned nursery, which our contractor planted for us (each one involves digging a hole 1 metre square and 1 metre deep and then filling it in around the root ball), then adding a stout post to tie them to to support them when the mistral blows. I then added a drip watering system to all of them so we could water them through the first spring and summer (50 litres each a week). We planted 10 in two rows of 5, and 12 in three rows of 4, giving our neighbour, who looks out on the field, a choice of how to place them.

We had a planned visit by former colleagues, Paul Pulsifer and Shawn Charland, but the famous Icelandic volcano started erupting about the time they should have come and the resulting confusion of flights led them to cancel for the time being. Not long after, in May, we enjoyed the company of Beryl's sister Pam and husband Bill for their annual visit, and they were joined by the third sister Kay and her husband Mike. So for the first time in years, the three sisters were re-united. They were followed in June by my old school friend Ken and his sister-in-law, Jacque.

In the middle of June we had a repeat of the heavy rain which resulted in our basement flooding last September. This time, in two days we had 242 mm of rain and came close to another flood even though I had my drains in operation. The worst of the wet weather affected Draguignan and Les Arcs and the plain of the river Argens and 15 people lost their lives. Here there was little damage and no loss of life, despite the great amount of rain. The cleanup since September had paid off!

We also started planning for our trip to Canada, to see how Caroline and family were getting on. This would be our first visit back since we left for France twelve years ago. I was not looking forward at all to the flight, having heard all the stories about airports and having to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight was not attractive when you know the flight lasts 9 hours. As it turned out, the whole business was not as bad as I had feared, the flight was good except for rather crowded seating, and everything happened on schedule. Caroline was at Dorval airport (Montreal) to meet us, having found her way through the maze of highways to a car park right next to the arrival terminal, and a quiet drive back to Kanata and it was all over. It was lovely to see the family after a year of being apart, especially Anna and Julia who had not only grown, but changed into young women. And, of course, their house and the surroundings, which we knew generally but not in the sort of detail you get from strolling around. We were amazed by how much Kanata had expanded. We went around and saw some of the shopping areas, but much of the time was spent seeing old friends. On our way home, Francesco drove us to Montreal to cousin Lorna's place where it was nice to see Moufid, William and Peter and Anne-Marie again and partake of a super lunch, overlooking the lake. Grateful thanks to those who invited us round to lunch and dinner, and who arranged dinners for us to meet several of our old friends. It was great to see you all again! But, a bit to our surprise, we did not feel a strong desire to come back; somehow we have confirmed our feeling when we came to France that we had more European in us than we had thought.

When we got home again, summer was in full swing, Plan de la Tour was full of tourists and the coast road was choked most of the time. We had no visitors scheduled for the next few months, so we could do what we liked. A lot of time was spent pottering around the garden, improving things here and there. When the new sewer was completed, we had to be connected to it, which meant that we no longer required our septic tank (HOORAY!). This all involved a lot of work but it is now looking good and will look better when things that have been planted grow up. We had our mason back to build a low wall in front of the house to prevent water from overflowing where it is not wanted - based on the experiences in June, this was still a possibility. This has allowed Beryl to create a rose garden in the front. As mentioned above, the 240 vines in the vineyard were pulled up in March and piled up for firewood, but to be useful they had to be cut up into shorter pieces. I bought a chainsaw and set to work, doing only about an hour at a time, all I could manage without overheating! The olive grove planted in the old vineyard has done well and most of the trees had some olives on them, which we weren't expecting so soon after planting. We persuaded the sewer contractor to dig us a ditch across the olive field to carry water away from the house, and have another contractor coming in next week to dig another alongside the road, to catch water coming off that, and to level off and clean up around the olive trees.

At the end of September we decided to have a trip to Italy. We started off by driving to Camogli, a favourite seaside resort of ours only about 3 1/2 hours driving away. We have a routine for when we go there: check in to the hotel, walk down to the port and look around, go into a bar which overlooks the harbour, order a bottle of Prosecco, and drink it while watching the harbour traffic. When it is empty, we walk back to the hotel, choosing the restaurant for our evening meal on the way, and have a little rest until it is time to go out. Then we can walk down to the restaurant and eat our seafood dinner while watching the sun set over the sea. The next day we set off to drive across Italy to the Santerno valley (near Imola) where we had booked to say in a village called Castel del Rio, which Caroline and family used to go to in the summer when they lived in Ferrara. The journey, which involved crossing the Appenines, was awful, up in the mountains it was heavy driving rain with very poor visibility which made even motorway driving pretty hairy. We spent two nights in Castel, where the little locanda (hotel) we were booked in made us very welcome. The next day we went to the supermarket and stocked up with Prosecco, and then went along to the Montroncello winery that Caroline and family had found on their visits, and bought 100 bottles of wine to bring back. It was great to see the proprietor (Leo Prantoni) again and he welcomed us like long lost family, which was nice. Sadly his mother, who we knew from previous visits, had died last year at the age of 94. Next day it was back to Camogli, again through the mountains, but this time as it was sunny we took the old, pre-motorway route which was delightful and almost deserted. The next day we investigated Rapallo, Santa Margharita, and Portofino, going by train from Camogli to Rapallo and then taking the ferries. A lovely day, spoilt by my having my wallet pick pocketed in Rapallo station on the way back. The following day we returned home, to find Puss-puss waiting on the terrace.

Since then, it has been business as usual for this time of year. We have been to and given several dinner parties with friends, including those down here for a week or so in their holiday homes, and the odd aperitif. We were delighted to host Christine Marwood, from Perth Australia, who spent a few days with us in late September, on her way to visit Gordon in Ottawa. We took her to Cavalaire for lunch and to the market in Ste Maxime. Later on, we took a run along the coast and lunched in Cavalaire on the harbour on a delightful mild October day. In between it has been question of doing the various fall jobs, mainly rearranging beds and plants, pruning shrubs and trees, and so on. That just about brings us up to date, so it just remains to wish all our friends a very happy and merry holiday season. We will be thinking of you all.

Love - Alan and Beryl

16 nov 2010