Gathering roses and banishing moths in the pays basque

Gather ye roses

Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :

Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

(Heed me – wait not for tomorrow, live now:

Gather this very day the roses of life.)

Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578

Today’s blog gets passionate about savouring the moment.  

Nine years ago, when I started blogging, one of my first pieces was entitled Biarritz . It began:

‘Setting off with their buckets and spades, French families talk about going to ‘la mer’, the Mediterranean Sea, or ‘l océan’, the Atlantic.’

The previous year I had published Biarritz Passion, the first volume of what was to become a series, the #French Summer Novels, set in le pays basque. France is full of wonderful ‘pays’, regions of outstanding beauty with a rich local culture, but Basque country, Euskal Herria, is perhaps the most intriguing:

Beach of kings, king of beaches

‘This beautiful part of Europe is home to some of the most mysterious people in the world. Where did the Basques come from? What were the origins of their language, Euskera? Nobody knows. But they were well-established when the Romans arrived in Gaul, and there is evidence to suggest they date back to pre-historic times. And one thing is sure, they are still there today, their culture intact…Of the many spectacular beaches in the region the one that is most special for me is la grande plage of Biarritz…

After finishing the last book of the series, Biarritz-Villa Julia, in 2019, I succumbed to that well-known writers’ complaint – ‘author fatigue’.

Author fatigue

Could I really be bothered to pick up my pen again? Searching for something short, simple and non-fatiguing, I hit on the idea of a ‘garden memoir’, the story of how two horticultural innocents who should have known better moved to rural France and took on the challenge of transforming a wilderness into a Mediterranean paradise. (And we now have the hips and knees to prove it.) After all, as well as hundreds of photos, I had my diary with dates, descriptions, and notes about when to divide irises and how to treat leaf spot, mildew and aphids. All I needed to do was copy, paste, and voilà!

The best laid plans… Regular visitors to this blog will be aware how, over the last four years, this easy-peasy memoir turned into Sisyphus’ boulder, rolling back down the hill every time I’d shoved it to the top. One of the problems was the way my linear copy-and-paste ‘writing plan’ had been subverted:

‘… my subconscious had another plan, a non-linear ramble more like a drunken weave that wandered off down all sorts of paths, historical, geographical, cultural, linguistic, literary – in short, a Rebel that blew raspberries at my neat timeline…’

One of these rambles took me down a path labelled ‘Books’ to a scholarly work written in 1973 by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm  in which he introduces the term ‘biophilia’ to describe an innate emotional attachment to life and living things, to growth and development. The term was taken up in 1984 by biologist Edward O. Wilson  who went further, describing it as a species trait ,  ‘a powerfully enriching bond’ between man and nature.

Another interesting path to ramble down

What a fascinating and comforting idea! Do we humans come into the world programmed to love trees, gasp at sunsets, thrill at the song of a nightingale? As I was pondering this happy notion, I spotted an adjacent path, labelled ‘the beautiful French language’ and three perfect expressions celebrating such life-affirming impulses: le temps de vivre, la joie de vivre, and l’art de vivre.

Finally, the rambles came to an end. After one last, drastic prune, the garden memoir went off to Author Help, editor for anxious authors, who turned it into a beautifully-designed book. There remained one more thing to do before launching it into the perilous ocean of the four million books published every year. That was to link the narrative to those hundreds of photos by creating a Photo Gallery on my blog.

Breathtaking views across the Atlantic

But first the Assistant Gardener and myself needed a break. We felt decidedly ‘moth-etten’ (moth-eaten) as my Yorkshire forebears would say, like two mouldy old jumpers in need of an airing. What better means to blow away the moths than the bracing ocean breezes of le pays basque? What better place to relax, to savour le temps de vivre and la joie de vivre than beautiful Biarritz, the place where this blog had begun?

Toasting the sunset

Our 6th-floor room in Le Grand Large had breath-taking views across the Atlantic and was perfect for the sunset aperitif, much appreciated after our five-kilometre afternoon walks and scrambles up and down the steep cliff paths.





It was also a  mere five-minute walk to that  hub of gastronomic joie de vivre ‘Les Halles’, the market.

The happy gourmet

Here we joined the locals, perched on stools at the bar of Paul & Louis, sipping a glass of Irouleguy while admiring the prowess of the chef working wonders with one large frying pan and two small burners.

Tears came to the eyes of the MDM when a steaming plate of tête de veau sauce gribiche (calf’s head with caper and tarragon sauce) was placed before him, transporting him to the brasseries of his Parisian youth, famous (look away vegetarians ) for concocting a host of such delicacies using the lesser-known body parts of different animals. (Fans of Inspector Maigret can find a whole list of them – kidneys, tripe, liver brains– by taking a wander on this charming blog)

Tête de veau sauce gribiche

Our post-prandial strolls took us along the coast from the stunning Côte des Basques, mecca for surfers, to the beautiful curve of La Grande Plage – beach of kings and king of beaches. The weather gods were with us, balmy temperatures and dazzling sun. Plus a perfect moth-banishing breeze.

Le temps de vivre, la joie de vivre, l’art de vivre… gather life’s roses, savour the moment.

A very Happy Easter and Joyeuses Pâques to all readers !🌼🌷🌹

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Marie-Hélène O’Donoghue, who left us on March 17th, 2024.