Founex, ROW80, and The Creatures of Number 37

Founex is a wee village (hamlet?) that's only ten minutes from Geneva but miles away in terms of quiet, open countryside, and fresh air.

It's been mostly grey and chilly these past few weeks, but I think spring is coming this weekend, with sunshine and temperatures rising to 15 degrees. Daffodils and crocuses are already blooming (and look! I know what a crocus is! I didn't, until we moved here. More on this following the photo stream).

Here are a few final shots of Founex in autumn and winter:

At the crossroads

Chateau Bossey

Chateau Bossey on another day

Crossroads at the Chateau


Highland cow

I'm still learning the names of all peaks visible across the lake. I've only memorised two so far, Dent d'Oche (Teeth of the Pasture) and Mole. About 30 to go!,

Very low clouds over the lake

Bonfire night! In the week of Epiphany, all the villages hold Christmas tree bonfires. No one hangs on to their decorations until March around here...

The date above the door of this byre is 1816!

A spring robin! This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago.

I've recently read a dreamy little book called The Creatures of Number 37, by John Watts.

It's one of those stories that's a perfect blend of sad and sweet and gentle, that never forgets the wild world and the dangers beyond. In the tradition of (as reviewers say), the Wind in the Willows and Watership Down, and the Green Knowe stories, with even a drop of the Last Homely House from The Hobbit.

If you're looking for a book to give as a gift at Easter, choose this one!

It makes me think of the contrast between wanderers or rolling stones, and stay-at-homes. As the hobbit Merry says, "the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace, but for them."

It's good to get out into the world, and have adventures and climb the high mountains. And the other side is also good; burrowing in to one corner of the land, and learning its ways and feeling a part of its seasonal rhythms. Comparing it to a different sort of story, it's like the difference between Poirot and Marple. Poirot roams, and Marple stays in St Mary Mead, yet both have perception and a storehouse of knowledge. (I wonder what would happen if they each, unkown to the other, were working on the same mystery?)

Coming back to Founex, one thing I've gained since moving to Switzerland is nature that's much closer. We're only ten minutes from a city (not the hour or so you'd need to travel to get out of Montreal), and right on the land. I'm slowly learning the names of more birds, and trees, and flowers. And yet, being in Europe, we're also travelling to more places -- it only takes an hour or two's flight to reach Amsterdam, London, Berlin... It's an exciting balance between staying put and travelling further afield.

Putting on my writing hat for a moment, I note in passing that readers sometimes don't realise how difficult it can be to write one of these pastoral books. The tone has to be just right, not losing focus, not dripping sap. Every story should be pulled up tight, of course, and every word have its purpose in setting the scene and building the characters (and not only in dialogue!). Yet sometimes, when gardens and fields and rivers are the setting, and children run in and out of the tale, some writers meander too far; the narrator gets mixed up with the kids, the animals lose their individual voices and fantastical elements wander in and out with no rhyme or reason for their presence or actions -- even such classic authors as Kingsley, in his The Water Babies, seems to lose sight of whatever ideas he wanted to express when he first started out. I find William Morris wanders quite a bit, too. One of the reasons I enjoy The Lord of the Rings is for the care that went into each scene, each poem, each name, in ensuring that it was one of a whole, and connected to the created landscape and language. I still love Terry Pratchett's line: "Most modern fantasy just rearranges the furniture in Tolkien's attic."

ROW80 is nearing its end. I've been trying to read all the books we own that I haven't read yet, in order to feel less guilty during future book purchases! Also because I really do want to read them; I picked up lots of Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene at the last library book sales, and also a few Bill Brysons, Agatha Christies, and more. Plus there's poetry, a couple of Alistair MacLean thrillers, a Dorothy Dunnett, and more, and they all call to me. I need a week off! But then, I've always been saying that. At least, my Tolkien rereads are nearing the end, and that'll free up more reading time on the commute (and some knitting time, too!).

Do you feel the differences between city and village and country?
Could you live in each of them or do you have a preference?

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