Pandemic lockdown #14: on (not) reading and writing

Lo, these many days and weeks of pandemic quarantine, I have promised myself to write about it all. But living through what we are living through AND writing about it has seemed overwhelming.

I thought I would turn to reading, but I have been too distracted until recently.

I did quickly finish the marvelous The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by one of my favorites, Erik Larson.

Written in energetic short scenes, this book is as close to a thriller as you can get. Highly recommended.

The title is taken from the diaries of the famous father of a friend here. John Colville was Churchill’s private secretary and you can read his version of events in his diary The Fringes of Power.

More on reading to come.

I leave you with 2 lockdown recipes that we have greatly enjoyed. I used to love Shake Shack when I lived in New York. Thanks to Deb Perelman, I now know how to make a good copycat recipe. Alas, hamburger buns in France are stale and awful. Cousin Judy Dier McLellan put me on to this great and easy recipe. Takes some time but the results were amazing. Go forth and make them both!

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Pandemic lockdown #13: Holy Saturday

Worked in the yard/garden today. Trying to think of a future with flowers and vegetables and herbs–eventually!

Scenes from recent walks.

The rapeseed fields are about to burst into bright yellow bloom. Those are the Jura mountains in the background.

I have always loved these houses in Ferney, mainly because of the wisteria.

And today, Mt Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, was in beautiful view. Almost no planes in the air, virtually no pollution, just gorgeous. I took this photo my very own self, with my iPhone. #nofilter #noleftistpropagandamediatryingtoconvinceyouthatskiesareclearwhentheyarenot

I “walked” with Poppy, so Jane and Alice (and Mila and Ivy) were way, way, way ahead.

Fields of rapeseed and mountains.

And, finally, a glimpse of pandemic panic-buying. #gotabitmixedupontheAmazonorder

Well, at least there is a TRUCKLOAD of chocolate for the weekend!

Happy Easter to all! THE LORD IS RISEN!

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Pandemic lockdown #12: a quick walk with the girls

Still lots of work to do, today and tomorrow, but getting out for a short walk is becoming imperative. We went out into the fields and took in the splendor. This pandemic is completely unreal.

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Pandemic lockdown #11: in which we visit many more dead people

I have been doing some serious writing for work and am tired by the middle of the day and in need of a break in the outside air. The weather is still unbelievably beautiful here. Poppy and Ivy and I walked into Ferney and visited the local cemetery, next to Voltaire’s house.

Voltaire is not buried there, as there was a wee problem with taxes he owed and his body being stolen and similar. More on this later.

Everything is starting to burst into bloom, which makes our current situation slightly more bearable, but also so astonishingly odd.

The French are always celebrated for their sense of style and elegance, but I am here to tell you, their cemeteries are full of kitsch.

The cemetery is divided up into families, children, those killed in the wars, and other groups.

We paid homage to those who died for France, especially those in the Resistance.

My girls enjoyed the outing. I enjoyed being with them and those who went before us.


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Pandemic lockdown #10: photos along the route

No time to write today, as swamped with work. Managed to squeeze in a very short walk. Here were some scenes along the way.

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Pandemic lockdown #9: in which we visit some famous dead people

We went for a short walk in the freezing cold today. We passed by the former home of the co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It’s a beautiful house, with loads of daffodils and tulips in bloom.

Home of Gustave Moynier, co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Just a little farther up the road is the recently restored Chateau de Voltaire. I haven’t been in it since it was restored, so I am looking forward to seeing it AFTER THE PANDEMIC.

Voltaire’s house, Ferney-Voltaire, France.

Tomorrow’s walk may even take us into the cemetery!

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Pandemic lockdown #8: A poem for the morning

I just heard this on the BBC and had to share it with you.

John O'Donohue

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

― John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

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Pandemic lockdown #7: minor news on a number of fronts

I’m happy to report that God’s little beady-eyed creature that made itself at home on Alice’s bed the other night went to meet his Maker yesterday. He had the grace to die out in the open, praise be, and not in some inaccessible place. RIP, Ratty.

Today is Ivy’s 6th birthday! She is loving lockdown, because she gets to go for walks with Alice, with me, with Poppy, with Jane’s dog Mila, and she is sleeping like a rock at night.

Thank goodness someone in this household is sleeping. Alice is wired on steroids and ringing up everyone she knows all around the world in the middle of the night, whereas I myself am reading the newspapers, subscribing to every video service on the planet, and generally staying up all night. We also went onto European Summer Time last night, so springing forward was even worse than usual.

We are facing many more weeks of lockdown, so suddenly creative pursuits are bursting forth here at rue de la Gendarmerie (Police Station Street, which is rather amusing). Alice has broken out her super-duper-fancy-schmancy new Bernina sewing machine, and I don’t know what she and Jane are plotting at the table, but it sounds mighty complicated from my perch on the chaise.

I have been doing so many boring things, like ironing pillowcases. Even watched a YouTube video on how to fold a fitted sheet, which did not change my life by one iota.

I’ve also been cooking up a storm, not to mention eating the results. Today I wanted to clean some stuff out of the freezer, so I used up a big bag of frozen broccoli to make this broccoli walnut blue cheese pesto. We will have it over pasta this week, or possibly on a pizza crust, as I have dough in the fridge that needs to be used up.

We ran out of bread today and I didn’t want to spend the time required to make a yeast bread. I remembered various kinds of Southern quick breads, so I whipped up a loaf of buttermilk bread. Used this recipe, but with only 1 tablespoon of sugar. Hot out of the oven, with some wonderful French salted butter, it was mighty fine indeed.

From the blog Spicy Southern Kitchen (

The weather is meant to turn cold and grey this week, but we will be walking no matter what, as it’s a lifeline to sanity. Here was the view today.

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Pandemic lockdown #6: In which we have a visitation

I awoke early this morning (question for later discussion: will I ever sleep again? is anybody sleeping?) to find all the lights blazing in the living room and Alice looking a bit bleary and reclined upon the sofa.

What on earth is going on? I asked.

She then recounted her evening in a quavery yet still poetic little voice:

That feeling of clean sheets, a shower at the end of a sweaty day, the authenticity of a physical moment. The bed, the shower, the book. Calm.

Shredded in one instant by the beady little eyes of one of God’s creatures that had just joined me in bed.

I am not prone to fuss. Or shouting. Or screaming. Even after cancer, a rat in bed does not warrant any unseemly stamping or carrying on.

I said, “bugger off”! and decamped to the living room, away from those quick clawed feet on the floor, the paper rustling, the undeniable fact that I was not alone.

And thus the day began.

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Pandemic lockdown #5

I ran across this quote the other day, which seems peculiarly suited to the current moment:

“One must live every day as if it were one’s last, and as if one would live forever, both at the same time.”

–Alexander the Great

This, according to Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly. I cannot verify it independently, alas. But if he didn’t say it, surely someone should have?

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