Flowers and Fauna of Provence

Flowers of Provence
Welcome to my first Blog, the aim of which is to entertain,  brighten, and  perhaps pause for thought. I am writing from Provence in France  where I have spent the past month. Nature here is in its glory;  flowers and fauna are breaking out everywhere: marguerites (daisies)  coquelicots (wild poppies) and iris maritimes (seaside irises). Flowers make me feel so happy and the scent from the hedgerows, so full of white blossoms, lingers long after sunset and into the night. This is when there is a true scent of Provence.  One of my favourite things to do  is to discover the French name for flowers and then try and remember them.  I bought a little book called “Fleurs Du Littoral Mediterraneen” and this has been a treasure trove of information. 
Currently I am editing a memoir ‘From Dublin to Brazil’ that explores the life of Joseph Dillon, who became a Divine Word Missionary priest in 1972 and headed to Brazil. As a Liberation Theologist, he helped to empower communities in the remotest areas of the Amazon River to have access to better health and educational opportunities. In the favelas of Sao Paulo, he witnessed senseless murders and merciless crimes, and yet he set up health clinics in parishes, bringing floral and herbal remedies to the thousands of people who lived in these lawless communities who longed for a peaceful life.  His expertise in flower remedies and their ability to soothe and appease ailments has been remarkable. For decades many pharmaceutical companies have rejected their effectiveness, but now that my attention has been drawn to these, I notice that in French pharmacies floral and herbal remedies are big business.  A huge selection is displayed in magnificent floral packaging promising purchasers a good night’s sleep, nourishment for the digestive system and a calming treatment for skin irritations.  I bought some cream that advertised double strength burdock, borage and comfrey and it worked a treat.   I have still to try the poppy remedy for insomnia and the marguerite drops for coughs and other bronchial symptoms. 

Meanwhile, there are plenty of good causes to participate in now that the sun has returned to Provence and the pandemic seems to be under control.  At a recent antique market (brocante) in the inland town of Le Beausset, in a walled garden set off the main square, a group of young people were holding a barbeque in aid of Ukraine. Their yellow and blue t-shirts did the advertising, and a ticket bought at the entrance paid for a hot-dog and a cold drink, or a coffee and a slice of Tarte Tropezienne.  (The most delicious creamy brioche sponge that is a speciality here in the south).  We sat on the benches and enjoyed the delightful air of decay as the garden slowly reawakened from its winter slumber.  At the far corner I noticed an ancient arched grotto where stocks were kept. Above the arch was inscribed ‘Veritas Caritas 1904-1929’. It was still going strong in 2022.
Down towards the Mediterranean Sea, in the local Bandol church, Église Saint Francois de Sales,  a 40 male voice choir “Le Choeur D’Hommes Cantadis”  was raising funds for Ukraine.  Their voices came in waves and were as curved and as undulating as a Gaudi building in Barcelona. They sang a selection that included Orthodox Liturgy, Ave Maria and Handel’s Salve Regina. It was magnificent.  They were dressed in black shirts and wore various coloured scarves in a sophisticated style as only French and Italian men can carry off. They passed a plate around at the interval for donations and 50 euro notes came flying out of wallets. A group of Ukrainian women appeared at the altar, the elder of the group  took the mic in hand, and thanked us all from the bottom of her heart. She spoke entirely in Ukrainian, and we understood every word. There was mighty applause. A young mum at her side, with hair as golden as a Ukrainian sunflower, stood sadly reflecting on what she had left behind.  Her twelve-year-old daughter made strong eye contact with the audience. She was thanking us with her body language, saying:  ‘We will survive! Don’t worry!’  In the Mediterranean town of Bandol, five apartments have been allocated to refugee families from Ukraine.  It’s not much, but multiply this by every town in France, it’s making a huge difference.  

It was time for the Choeur D’Hommes to reappear and this time they were wearing yellow and blue t-shirts so emblematic of the Ukrainian cause. They sang more from their repertoire of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner. As a reprise, the conductor asked if we would join in the ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’. The roof came off the église as word for word the audience sang, their voices soaring heavenwards towards the divine. 1800 euros were raised in that one concert that produced such unforgettable and moving emotions for the people of Ukraine.
There was yet another good cause to attend. It was a variety show by an amateur group who were fund raising for children in hospital. (Enfants Malades a L’hopital.)  It was uplifting, soft, lyrical with lovely ladies of a certain age in beautiful summer dresses and straw hats, laying out picnics, baskets of flowers strewn on the lawn/stage, bicycles garlanded and accompanied  by bronzed fifty-something  men in flowery shirts and white trousers, singing songs welcoming the sun: “Oh Soleil Soleil,” “Those Were the Days My Friend” “It’s Gonna Be a Bright Sunshiney Day” It was a ‘nuagey’ nostalgia trip.   Except that it almost slipped into a nightmare moments after the show had begun. As one of the singers charmingly began her solo, the local mayor jumped onto the stage, and for a moment it looked as though he was about to sing an impromptu duet with her.  However, instead, he asked that the music be stopped, the lights go on and that everyone in the theatre put on their masks. He was appalled that in such close proximity to each other, people were maskless even although there would be people in the theatre who had Covid but had no symptoms. A flurry of the audience rapidly searched their bags and pockets to appease the mayor, but a group at the back of the theatre began to shout: “Keep your politics out of here! Why stop the show now? Why didn’t you tell us this before the show started! Off with you! Off with You!” The mayor stood his ground and said if they didn’t put on a mask, he had the right to cancel the show and send everyone home. There was nearly a revolt as a frisson went right through the theatre. Suddenly the director of the theatre group, a woman with a ‘heart of gold’ look on her face, took the microphone and addressed the mayor and the audience. 
“Monsieur Le Mayor, I have put body and soul into this production. Please, please allow the show to continue. If not for ourselves, but for the sake of the sick children lying in hospital beds, who would give anything to be here with us at this moment.”  An ambience of calm took over, and after a deep sigh she pleaded once again, Monsieur Le Mayor, please let the show go on.” And on this note, he agreed, saying of course, wearing  a mask in public places was no longer ‘obligatoire’, but was recommended, and he was rightly worried of a Covid outbreak cluster in this small closely connected town. Then he left the stage, the lights went down and the show as it must, 'went on'.  It took the wonderful backdrop of flowers and the joyous singing of the actors to forget the fracas and it reminded me once again of the healing energy of flowers. Many of the audience, and indeed many of the cast had lost loved ones, little ones dying of cancer, of heart defects, or from viruses, but with the power of sunshine, flowers and chanson, they could lift their heads once again to the light, just like the marguerites and poppies of the fields.
Finally, a trip to the village of St Anne d’Evenos, in deep vineyard country convinced me of the value of floral therapy. The grass verges were filled with daisies and yellow mugwort and fennel  as we drove along the route. The vines in serried rows were severely cut back, but already green shiny leaves were piercing through the black branches.  We drove the steep road around the deep gorge until we came to the little village with a castle perched on the top. The views of Mont Caume, the surrounding calcified rocks and the Mediterranean Sea beyond were magnificent. A quaint little bistro with a plat du jour on the menu caught our attention.  We sat on the terrace overlooking the landscape and ate the exquisite vegetarian dishes of cannelloni in Mediterranean sauce aux tomates with courgettes farci. A glass of rosé wine, (domain St Anne bien-sur) and our visit was complete.  But as we left, it was once again the flowers and fauna that stopped me in my tracks: a huge horse-chestnut tree in full bloom, (in Provence this is a rare sight) an ancient olive tree and a deep purple iris as luxuriant and as worthy of any Van Gogh painting.  A bouquet of marguerites, smiling happily in the sunshine, waved us farewell and a few lemons dangling delicately from a miniature tree tinkled a cheerful cheerio.  The healing forces of nature, the calming qualities of flowers are surely a therapy for life. 

#Provence #Bandol #herbalremedies #memoir #scottishwriters #Alliancefrancaise  

7 responses to “Flowers and Fauna of Provence”

  1. oh Maura, this is brillant. I shall be proud to tell around that I have such a clever friend. Your description of the country is so real, a pleasure to read;

  2. Maura, I so enjoyed reading your descriptions and observations of life in El sud de Francia ( as they say in Espanol) You have managed to capture every day life here both poetically and Bon viveur!
    Brilliant – well done.
    Many comparisons with life here in Spain, and why now, this is home for me.
    Ros xxx

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