Here on the French Riviera, the scorching summer is just around the corner. It's gotten too hot to venture into the greenhouse after eight in the morning.
Our farm work is done before breakfast, which we do in the shade of our Magnolia Grandiflora. This massive tree is now in bloom, exuding one of the most intoxicating perfumes in the world.
Another year August would be hectic. Barbecue in the garden; Lunch in cabanas on the beach. Our houseguests, laden with towels, goggles, and fins, would disappear on the coast while I sauntered around my computer in the cool of my library.
Once a week we drove 25 minutes across the border into Italy to the fabulous food market in Ventimiglia to buy fresh vegetables, salty fish caught overnight in Mediterranean waters and brick-sized pieces of crumbly parmesan cheese.
Carol Drinkwater, who lives on an olive farm on the French Riviera with her husband Michel (pictured), shared how they spent the lockdown
After shopping, we turned along the Italian Corniche to the beautiful town of Bordighera, nicknamed the "Queen of Palms", where we sat down at a seaside table to enjoy an al fresco spaghetti and a chilled mare glass of Prosecco. Maybe tried ice cream from a coupe. Who can resist an Italian ice cream?
Unfortunately not this year. This year my husband Michel, a documentary filmmaker, and I are alone. It wasn't the usual fuss of changing sheets and ventilating rooms before an insane rush to the airport to gather family members or cherished friends flying in to spend their summer vacation with us.
It's been a challenging year in many ways for so many of us, and we haven't strayed far from our olive farm since mid-March.
Our detention – ban – came into effect on March 17th. The world fell silent overnight. I had watched growing concern about Italy, our neighbors being hit by Covid for six in February, March to April.
The statistics that died from this unexpected virus were terrifying. The Italians were put on hold a week before President Emmanuel Macron called for France to be imprisoned.
As Italians, of course, they were seldom silent. We saw them singing and playing instruments on porches on YouTube. They uncorked bottles of Prosecco on their balconies and roasted neighbors, who in turn roasted them. They celebrated life while the world kept its eyes on their escalating death toll all the time. Here on the continent, that Italian experience was both sobering and uplifting.
Could we face the tragedy with such courage and verve?
In the early days of the lockdown, Michel set up a vantage point for us behind the house halfway up our hill, offering a sweeping view of the sea. It has become our evening vantage point from which we watch the sunset. At ten to eight, with a bottle of wine on hand, we sat down and listened. The daily applause for the health workers echoed across the valleys.
Carol said nature seemed to send a message of hope as they gazed at the pine trees and sky during the lockdown (file image)
After a few days, the yachts in the old port of Cannes joined in and raised their horns, just like with annual fireworks. Reminds of happier times.
And then one evening a lonely saxophonist was playing melancholy melodies from somewhere out of sight. Every evening after that, its haunting melodies resounded.
As the sun went down, we marveled at how the trunks of the pines turned rusty red and reflected a white-hot sky. Nature was with us. A virus was raging all over the planet – but it seemed to me that nature was sending out a message of hope. A purer world.
With few cars, no planes, and no tankers crossing the horizon, pollution dropped dramatically. The air changed and the flora and fauna seemed to react. Butterflies, colors everywhere. A look into a different way of life?
We set out to clear terraces for planting almond trees. The almond grows very happily next to olives. I discovered that once planted, both trees in Israel require very little water. The almond, the first fruit to bloom in the Mediterranean, heralds the arrival of spring. It is also an early nectar for the honey bees. In the countries of the southern Mediterranean, it blooms as early as the end of January. On our side of the dark sea, the light pink flowers appear in early to mid-February.
Pink was my mother's favorite color. Since her death four years ago, I have imagined an almond grove with thick pink tufts to celebrate her life and as a gentle reminder of the darkest winter days that childhood is ahead.
Carol discovered a kindergarten on the Riviera because she couldn't attend her favorite kindergarten in Italy (picture)
And seldom had there been a darker time than these weeks. Time to plant, to heal.
Our land was ready, but where could you buy the trees? During normal times, we would have gone to a favorite kindergarten in Italy. But the border was closed; the garden centers too.
An internet search revealed that a kindergarten on the Riviera was delivering under the most stringent conditions. They had abundant stocks of cherries, almonds, oranges, limes and lemons. I placed an order paid for over the phone and the saplings magically appeared right in our gate, which we left open after our early morning watering sessions.
The planting began. Now our closed days had a new purpose, even as the world changed.
Silence was our new companion. The sky with no flights to and from Nice was bluer than I've ever seen. Deep hyacinth, shiny like enamel. The birds had been left out in their choir with hardly a passing car to compete with them.
The changes in the environment became more and more evident. The weather was lovely. We carried our new trees up the slope and dug them into the earth. It took longer than expected. Two weeks became three and the term was extended. Michel was fired from work. He began another dream: to sow a forest; Oak trees from acorns.
Carol, who canceled all work commitments for the year, said they now have all the time in the world to use their greenhouse (file image)
In the past two winters we have lost a lot of pine trees to unusual storms. Storms so strong that 22 of our mighty jaws fell in the wind. The roots of the maritime pine are flat. If these weather patterns are to persist, it is wiser to replace them with deep-rooted species. This is how Michel's oak project began.
A few years ago we built a huge greenhouse that we weren't really putting to good use. & # 39; Too busy & # 39 ;. & # 39; No time & # 39 ;. Our constant excuses.
Now we had time. All time of the world. Endless days of silence and no travel. All work commitments canceled for the year.
In the spring sunshine, while eagles rolled overhead in search of nesting sites, I rummaged among fragrant grasses, wild garlic, hunted for fallen acorns or, even better, mini oak shoots.
I carefully lifted them out of the ground. Small green rugby-like balls grew roots and shoots. Quite remarkable.
Michel potted my daily treasures in the greenhouse. Soon we had more than 100 baby oaks. Unfortunately, not all of them survived. Sometimes the roots are accidentally severed and do not recover.
Every morning after feeding the dog, watering begins. Small trees, small oaks. We grow orchards that we can no longer harvest. As with our young olives – it is unlikely that they will bear fruit until they are around 15 years old – we create fruit, a landscape for future generations. I am happy with this concept especially now that the earth feels damaged and needs help that we can offer.
Carol said she found another way to live during the lockdown and hopes to consider a new "normal" (file image).
To relax, we began voyages of discovery. Initially, short distances in accordance with the law. Always away from the crowds.
Our farm is a 15-minute walk from Pablo Picasso's last house. Next to it is the beautiful Notre-Dame-de-Vie chapel with its 13th century bell tower, which Pablo could see from his studio.
Three weeks ago there was no soul but us. Until a few weeks ago, the beaches along the coast had been closed to the community and tourists alike. Restaurants, museums and cinemas kept their doors tightly locked.
The national deconfinance, which began in mid-May, took place gradually. It took place step by step. The decision to unlock was made based on the region and the reported Covid cases. Due to the influx of holidaymakers from home and abroad, wearing masks is compulsory in public places, both indoors and outdoors. I agree it's uncomfortable in the escalating heat, but it's important.
Now the time has come when many locals slide down to their homes in the Mercantour National Park high in the Lower Alps (where my next novel is set). Converted shepherds' huts or village houses at high altitudes, where cool air and tranquility reign, next to thousands of perfumed wildflowers that are native to these dizzying slopes.
Hiking, wildlife watching. The rare bearded vulture, the graceful chamois, the stately ibex. This park is a natural wonderland with red rocks. Up here, where Covid-19 appears to be an invention of a science fiction writer's imagination, there are freshwater lakes, river basins, and prehistoric cave art. Little has changed over the millennia.
Last week, while hiking one of the high-altitude trails that meander into Italy, I took a break to enjoy the splendor of this ancient landscape. It was then that it occurred to me that nature survived. Even thrive. Mainly, I dare say, where people keep their distance.
Yes, the summer is now full: intoxicating perfumes, ripening fruits, our dogs rushed out in every shadow plate they can curl up into.
We lost one of our three during the lockdown. Homer was a German Shepherd who was born on this farm 15 years ago on New Year's Eve. He had a good life and like all of his canine friends, his resting place is in the apple orchard that was planted in memory of my father. After dawn I stroll over to show my respect.
The branches sink under the weight of hard, green apples. Our just completed apricot harvest is the most generous we have ever seen. Almost 500 kg.
Unfortunately, they last such a short time. I leave a couple of bags at the neighbors gates and serve them for breakfast. And we have dozens of pots of apricot jam in stock.
During these extraordinary blackout weeks, the sky is no longer as crystal clear as in spring. The planes are flying again. We catch the distant hum of traffic on the car route towards Italy. The tourists have arrived. Life is slowly returning to "normal".
Normal? I've spent my life rushing back and forth. Here and there. How much of that was really important?
I like to hope that I have seen a different way of life and that I can start thinking about a new “normal”.
Carol's Olive Farm books are available in paperback, W&N, £ 7.99.
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