Today, I had a long talk with our Wollemi

Today was a perfect summer day in Brittany. Such a perfect summer day that we decided not to feel sorry about the threatening drought (already obvious in our garden though).

We put up part of the garden furniture... since Summer is here to stay.
Excuse me? What did you say? Summer is still one month away? Oh really?

Then we got visitors. Friends of friends who wanted to have a look at our garden... because they had heard about it. Our wild and poetic and romantic garden we love so much.

And then we were asked: “Where is your... your...?”

Our... our “Wollemi Pine”, that’s what they wanted to see more than anything, I guess.

We took them to the very secluded spot where “Wollemi” is growing. They looked at it. And they did look doubtful. Not knowing what to say.

And then one of them cried out: “Oh look at this perfect rosebush!” And off they went to admire our beautiful rosebushes...

After they left, I went back to have a few words with “Wollemi”.

I do believe it is very important to talk to plants and trees. I am not a plant whisperer though. I just talk to them. I touch them. I take pictures. Well, I love them, all of them. Some more than others but I try not to make a difference.

“Wollemi” is a very special tree though. Its real name is Wollemia nobilis and it is not a pine tree.

More fascinating even, it is dating back from prehistoric times. It was thought extinct until 1994 when an Austalian forest ranger found a few of them in a canyon.

I am sure you’ll want to read the whole story in Wikipedia or go to the official site.

To make the story short, Australia decided to find dedicated botanical gardens which would be ready to “adopt” a Wollemia in order to help the species to survive.

At the time not much was known about those trees but Northern Brittany looked good enough to get three Wollemia “baby” specimens (clones, they said at the time).

We were the only non-botanical garden to get one because Yves, our garden dreamer/green activist/friend, managed to get one for us. I should say... for me.

At the time, I was barely surviving from a very bad cancer and a very strong chemo... Yves thought it would be keep me going if he could get one of those survivors for me...

I fell in love with “Wollemi” when it arrived to Les Tertres in 2006. December 26th.

Directly from Australia.

Swee’ Pea was there, of course. How could he miss such an important arrival in our life?

Not much was known about Wollemia trees at the time and we felt a little bit lost.

Yves was so enthusiastic about the whole experience that we decided everything would be fine and that our “Wollemi” would outlive us... and Swee’ Pea’s children-to-be and his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren... which is the reason why people plant trees, isn’t it?

Five years later, “Wollemi” is doing fine. It seems to thrive even when winters are really cold and snowy and summers very hot and dry.

It is growing amazingly fast. We love to watch its growth from season to season.

The way it protects the end of its leaves with tiny resinous “gloves” when it starts getting cold...

The way its tender leaves sprout... when it gets warmer. Sometimes several times in a few months.

The way it started growing three trunks and not branches...

The way it looks so fragile... and it is so strong with a thick knobby bark.

The way it looks so adolescent... a forceful tree in the making though!

The way it looks so strange. Not quite a tree. Not quite a fern. Not quite like any tree we’ve seen so far.
It was about 15 inches when it arrived to Les Tertres. Less than 5 years later, it is almost 5 ft 5... I know it still has a long way to grow. Its Australian parents are well over 130 feet high.

People come to see it because they have heard about it... They know we have one growing in our garden. So they come. And they leave, looking very disappointed.

We will never understand what they expect from a Wollemia.

We have lived so close to this tree that beyond its strange look, we see the hope it holds. Because a Wollemia is all about survival and life.

Our friend was so right the day he called me to tell me with such a joyful voice: “I have finally found your Wollemia. You are going to love it.”

To those of you who will have noticed the wire fence around “Wollemi”... We are not keeping it in jail. We are protecting it from the wild rabbits and hares that live in our garden. Every six months, the wire fence is enlarged so that “Wollemi” gets as much space as it needs to grow freely.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*



When my dear Yvonne died over one year ago, I felt so lost without her.

Little did I know that today I’d be shedding bitter tears over Henri, her husband.

I said in my tribute to Yvonne that they were «lovebirds» and lovebirds they truly were.

Henri couldn’t survive her very long. He refused to actually.

Don’t take me wrong. He did not end his life willfully. He just wasted away without her and he died this afternoon.

Whenever we would go and spend some time with him, whenever we were at Les Tertres that is, we’d find him more desperate and lost. Oh, he’d try to be nice and cheerful but she no longer was there and he was becoming like a shadow, month after month.

He was literally fading away.

In April, we went to Les Tertres. I tried to go and visit him as much as I could. He had lost a lot of weight and looked awfully tired and sort of disembodied.

He was experiencing a lot of back pain no doctor could relieve. Apparently everything was fine. Except his back. They started talking about an acute onset of osteoarthritis. They probably never even thought he simply was heartbroken.

His family decided to have him spend a few days in the hospital so that further medical exams could be done.

He left his home on May 2nd. I talked to him on the phone several times. He sounded cheerful, a little bit as if being somewhere else was very helpful.

Then about two weeks ago, he quit answering his phone. I was told that he was very, very tired. Depressed. Not much hope left actually.

I was expecting a phone call from one of his grandchildren, the one I relate to so well.The one who was the apple of their eyes, so sweet and dear JM.

No phone call. I started hoping again. Then I started feeling really worried.

And the phone call came this afternoon. Very tearful.

"Papy died this afternoon."

Henri is dead.

They had been trying to convince him it was time for him to go back home.

His heart gave up at the very minute he was discharged from the hospital.

I imagine that home no longer was home for him. Too much emptiness. Too much silence. Too many memories. Too much heartache. Even if his family and friends tried to be there all the time for him.

I’m crying my heart out because the two of them were so close to me, to us. I loved them so much. And they loved us so much.

It is almost unbearable to think of going home without them being there. While he was there, she was still there, in a way.

I hope that in a few days, I’ll be able to understand that they were meant to be «Yvonne-and-Henri» forever and that he’s at peace now.

It probably will take longer than a few days. Because there will be the funeral in a few days.

But you see, lovebirds are definitely not meant to live apart.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


"I am a PERSON, not a CANCER"


Sometimes, you get hit in the face and it hurts.

This afternoon, I went shopping in Paris. Shopping for food.

On my way to the store, I couldn’t help but notice that a new campaign had been launched. On every available billboard.

A man or a woman. Seen from behind: «We could ----- (invite, talk to, etc.) CANCER but he (she) would refuse because -------(he (she)’s too tired, doesn’t want to be bothered, etc.)...»

Then facing you. The same man (woman) claiming: «I am a PERSON not a CANCER.»

Great campaign. Every 50 m or so. Another picture and a story. Different but still the same message in the end.

I hated it. It made me so mad.


Because this is a such a fraud.

To start with, people on the billboards look healthy. When you get cancer and chemo, you do not look healthy.

I can spot someone with «active» cancer and chemo anywhere, anytime.  Of course, I’ve got more «experience» in this field than most.

I’ve been through this during so many long years. I took a lot of self-portraits («working» on a project to keep alive and sane since I am a photographer) so I know and remember the way I looked then and there. And I am a fighter which means that I probably didn’t look as defeated as some people do when you are in the oncology department.

Will healthy people relate to this campaign? Will it help people to understand the distress and the moral isolation of someone who fights cancer?

I doubt it.

Cancer is frightening. It takes a lot of guts to face it when someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer. It takes a lot of love.

Cancer is so weird.
Some people live with cancer for a long time while still looking healthy.

Twelve years elapsed before they discovered the tumour that would almost kill me... even though I went through biannual check-ups, supposedly very thorough. I was feeling very tired from time to time but otherwise I looked and acted healthy.

Some people overreacted when they heard my bad news. Some really kicked me out of their lives. Just like that. As if cancer was contagious. As if I was already dead.

Some people need to protect themselves from the bad side of life. Lucky them.

But the worst was to come when I started chemo and all my hair fell off. First chemo, I tried to wear a wig. It started in September and ended in  April. Wintery months. Quite all right. But never at home.

Second chemo was worse, of course since cancer had spread out everywhere it could. The oncologist wa so intent on killing those nasty cells that felt so at ease in my body that he almost «killed» me in the process.

By then, I was in such a raging temper that I said no to a wig and started wearing scarves and sometimes nothing at all since chemo started in April and lasted until August. So hot.

Popeye and Swee’ Pea had no problems with my «premature» baldness. Because they knew what I was fighting and this chemo look was so trivial. (Besides, we knew from experience that hair grows back!)

But some friends made sure they’d call me before visiting me... wishing I’d be a good girl and hide my beautiful bald head. (Baldness does become me! No kidding!) Which I did but I felt kind of cast out. It did hurt mainly because they did not grasp how much I was fighting. Loss of hair was so not important.

At the hospital, every time they started a new course of chemo (every three weeks), they had to check my heart. Because chemo liked my heart to distraction, so much that it was eating it up! The great thing was to learn that I had a valiant heart too which managed to mend after a few years!

End of digression. Back to the campaign and my anger.

When it was chemo time, I’d go and spend 2 days and 1 night in the hospital. Upon arrival, I went to my bedroom and waited for the usual check up. Once the main check up was over, I had to go downstairs and get my heart checked in the cardiology department (a very simple echography).

The nurses wanted to call an attendant to get down there in a wheelchair. You’ve got to be kidding! So I’d go downstairs on my own and spend a few minutes in a waiting room.

I’ll never forget that very hot day (even in the hospital). The nurse in charge of me told me not to bother with a scarf.

«We are in a hospital, for goodness sake,» she said.

So «we» went down to the cardiology department, me, my dreary patsy whitish coloring and my bald head.

«We» sat down. The waiting room was empty. «We» were enjoying a few minutes of rest. A couple came in. They were talking and took a seat very close to «us».

Then they took one look at «us», jumped out of their seats and left the waiting room to stand in the passage, turning their backs on poor me (and «us»).

At first, I felt hurt and lost. Then I got really, really upset. So raging mad that when I was asked to go in for my echography, I stopped by them, turned around, looked at them and said: «Don’t worry. You won’t catch it from me. Maybe you are already infected.»

Which is a mean thing to say, I know but the cardiologist and the nurses and the oncologist were very proud of me when I told them the story, quite tearfully, I admit.

I really think this very official (and probably very costly) campaign won’t help.

The people who will be moved by it are those who already are aware of the distress of a cancer patient either because they have suffered from cancer and recovered or because someone close to them has had cancer.

By the way, this campaign is supposedly concerned about people who have been sick  but have recovered and have problems getting back to normal life.

What about the people who are sick and won’t recover? People who need so much understanding and some kind of recognition and acceptance not to mention enduring affection and love.

I’ve met so many cancer patients who hide from others (even close relations) because they feel so lost and bewildered while facing cancer and a fight that seems already so wasted. And no one ever tries to break through with open arms. This is so sad and depressing. They waste away and die almost or totally alone.

I was so lucky to be surrounded by a few people who fought along with me, not calling me «Cancer» but still looking at me as a person, a very sick person, this is very true, but a person nevertheless.

I was so happy when Swee’ Pea’s friends gave me a nickname. Some of them called me: «Little Buddha.»

I know that  the «Little» thing meant «we love you»...

I’ll never forget the day it got so hot in Paris... and you could not find one single fan there. Sold out. I felt I was going to die. So unbelievably hot in the apartment.

Swee’ Pea and his doctoral friends had already bought a few fans since their offices were stifling even when it wasn’t so hot outside.

Swee’ Pea happened to mention my problem to his friends. He did not have to ask. They all came at once to the apartment, bringing me not one fan but three. Enough to help me feel better... And they went back to their horribly stifling and fanless offices.

The fans helped me tremendously but the gift was immeasurable.

The other reason why this campaign makes me so mad is that once you have won the battle against cancer (except that cancer is the Sword of Damocles, always hanging there...), there is no way you can resume a totally normal life.


Because you cannot get a good new job if you want to. No one will ever hire a «former» cancer patient. No one except Popeye, of course. He knows.

Because you can no longer buy anything on credit. No car. No house. Whatever. The reason - No insurance company will insure you and your credit. If it does, the rates are usurious.

Now those are «rules» the government could easily fight. But it’s much easier to launch a very hypocritical campaign... Please love and respect «cured» cancer patients... you, the man/woman in the street.

Now tell me.

What is the difference between a cancer patient and someone who drives up in the car he just bought on credit and dies in an accident a few streets away from home or wherever?

There is one. The cancer patient may have a longer life span with all the new therapies.

One last thing. This cancer thing really bothers me. I feel concerned because cancer makes you part of a family... not one you would have chosen of course...

But what really, really bothers me is that I have friends with AIDS and MS and other horrendous illnesses. Nobody talks about them. Nobody cares about what they are facing, which legally and socially are exactly the same problems a cancer patient has to face.

I’ll let you think on your own about their problems concerning human relations.

The sobering (and very scary) thought is that you never know if or when you’ll get sick. I do hope all of you will be safe from this kind of hardship.

My heart goes to my friends, known and unknown, who are experiencing what I just wrote about. We are family. Let’s hope that our family will expand and include millions of healthy people who will remain healthy.

Because we need their help and suppport and love and understanding. We need your help and support and love and understanding.

Thank you.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - Spain - Begging in Madrid

We first met almost two years ago in Madrid.

I’m used to beggars in Paris.

Some beg thrusting their open hand to you. Some are women with children, sitting down in the subway passages. Some get into the subway cars and start begging, using the same sentences they all have learnt by heart. Others stand at the lights, waiting for cars to stop by.

It was quite a shock when I came upon these two men, very close to my hotel.

Hard to understand what they were representing. But they were there on the sidewalk. Petrified below a very hot sun in a very thick reddish rubber covering.

People were attracted to them but it took me quite a while to understand that actually there was only one man «alive» there. Because from time to time he’d close his eyes while the other one never did.

It was a very unusual, fascinating and artsy way of begging. «They» got a lot of attention and I’d say, a lot of money too. Which was totally right because it did take guts to do something like this on a burning sidewalk in Madrid.

We were very busy and while I kept bumping into «them» every time we’d leave the hotel on our way to the museums, I kind of put him in a tiny spot in my brain where he got lost for quite a long time.

Last month, I went back to Madrid.

Right after checking in the hotel, guess where we went. To El Prado of course. One year and a half without Las Meninas or El Greco and Goya... You’ve got to be kidding!

At the very same corner, we bumped into... the «couple», sitting right there on the same spot... as if they had been waiting for us.

The setting had been completely changed. They claimed to be «twins» from Pompei and the begging bowl was as exquisite as a begging bowl can be. Because there was a «Gracias» (Thank you) written on it.

The «couple» drew crowds. People crying out in admiration but very interested after a few minutes. Were both twins alive? Who was real? The one with closed eyes? Or the other one?

Easy to find out. You only had to drop a coin in his begging bowl and the «real one» would very briefly open his eyes. He definitely could not smile so he opened briefly his eyes and looked straight to the donor. And then back to closed eyes.

I was flabbergasted once again. Incredible man.

I walked to him and told him how great this was. (Yes, I manage to speak enough Spanish to convey my admiration. And yes, I may have used a few signs to communicate better.)

Well, it worked. (Of course, I also gave him money because he was so gracefully saying «Gracias».)

And I took pictures. And he knew very well I was taking pictures...

After a couple of days, it became a game. I’d turn up and he’d flash a smile at me as soon as he’d notice me among the crowd surrounding him.

A smile?

Yes, a smile. At least, it was as close to a smile it could be considering how «petrified» he had to be for the admiring crowds around him.

And I’d smile back: «Muchas gracias, señor.»

He disappeared from the street corner two days before I left Madrid. I missed him!

I’ve tried the trick in El Prado with sculptures. It did not work at all. Probably because it is forbidden to take pictures in the museum.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


And the show must go on...

Sunday was the first day of May. «Le premier mai». This is a very important time of the year in France and other (few) countries.

It is May Day. Yes, May Day and not «Mayday» (the distress message which is French by the way. From «Venez m’aider.» Cock-a-doodle-do).

May Day was on Sunday. The International Workers’ Day. A great day, at least in France when it allows people to get an extra long week-end. In 2011, bad day. No extra long week-end. A real day of rest on Sunday.

In France, we have another tradition, not as yummy as the Easter bells. But it’s nice. We give away lilies of the valley (muguet) to our neighbors and friends. It is supposed to bring them luck. (And please do not eat «muguet». It’s highly toxic.)

Since the «premier Mai» was on Sunday, I postponed my giving away the lucky charms till Monday.

Sunday tends to be a family day in Brittany and you don’t want to intrude on people, looking very stupid with only one sprig for the head of the family (usually the woman but only on this particular day).

You end up facing a lot of people you know and you don’t feel like giving  them lilies of the valley anyway.

So I waited until Monday.

In the afternoon, since most of my friends and neighbors are retired and would be home, I filled a sack with lilies of the valley, all of them ready to be planted out. (My contribution to ecology. And I walked around. I did not use my car. Thank you.)

I know that one should never infringe traditions. May Day was on Sunday. Not on Monday.

Stormy weather outside when I started on my social whirl.

Everything went well at first. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Talk, talk, talk. See you. Bye bye.

I had decided to end my good luck charm dispatching day at Henri’s and then at my last and closest neighbors, J. and T.

Henri. Do you remember Henri? He was married to my dear Yvonne who passed away almost one year and a half ago. Well, Henri has not been feeling well lately. Very bad backaches all the time. Not eating properly. Feeling really depressed.  (I told you they were lovebirds.)

On entering the garden, I noticed that JM, one of his grandsons was there. (At least, his scooter was there.) The door was open and the tv blaring.

Knock, knock. JM tells me to come in. Henri was nowhere to be seen and JM was fixing some shelves, looking teary.

Bad day. Henri had been rushed to the «big» town hospital at noon. As a precautionary measure. Henri looked very, very bad a few days ago. I felt shivers down my spine. I handed the lily of the valley to JM and we shared a few tears because Henri is such a loving person and we are very  worried about him.

Hopefully, it will be a scare and he’ll get back on his feet again. Hopefully. Hopefully. Hopefully.

Then I left JM to give away my last lily of the valley to J. and T.

We never became real friends even though they moved in their house more than 10 years ago. But they were good neighbors. We do make a point to invite them over whenever we organize one of our «friends and neighbors» nights... (That’s what you do when you have no real neighbors at all. You tend to socialize with the people closest to you even if they live more than a mile away!)

So I rung their bell. I saw right away something was very wrong. I had not seen them for quite a long time.

He had lost at least 40 pounds and he looked haggard and worn out. His wife looked exhausted and worried.

What could I do besides handing her my gift? I sat down with them in their kitchen and I learnt that his prostate cancer had metastatized in his liver. Oh bad, very, very bad.

I hate cancer.

J.’s main problem though was that he’s supposed to start chemo next week. And I found out that chemo scares the hell out of him. Not cancer. No. Chemo. Chemo and its side effects.

I guess it wasn’t much fun to have lived around a neighbor who had gone through so many courses of chemo.

After all, they saw me distraught and exhausted and sick. And hairless since they use to come to our place without even knocking... the Brittany neighborly way (whenever we forget to lock the door which happens very often).

Well, anyway, there I was, sitting in their kitchen, trying to find all the good points of chemo. And telling them my «tricks of the trade» to fight the side effects. I am a pro after all.

Oh, I was brilliant. Maybe not very efficient. Maybe not efficient at all... because all I was thinking about was: «Not another chemo. Please. Not another chemo.» Besides the fact that he had the hardest time understanding that the main point of chemo is to fight cancer (and hopefully defeat it).

Is chemo a punishment? Yesterday, in their kitchen, it sounded like it really was a punishment. Maybe this was the reason why I hated my chemos so much, after all.

But there I was sitting in their kitchen and staring at my very sorry lily of the valley.

Traditions, traditions. I should learn to outgrow them before they outgrow me, shouldn’t I.

*Well, while I was writing this post, I decided to take a few minutes off and I called Henri at the hospital. He sounded very happy and was feeling much better. They obviously gave him efficient painkillers. He has already started to walk around his bedroom without help.
Great day!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Rejoicing and crying - From Bin Laden to Marrakesh

We’ve been told that Bin Laden is dead... He has met his end one week ago.

Hitler is dead... ever since 1945. (He died on the very day we were officially told Bin Laden was dead.) Mere coincidence.

My niece wrote a very thoughtful post upon learning Bin Laden’s fate. She said (among other things): «I just feel that dancing on anyone's grave, so to speak, is disrespectful, no matter how horrible they were in this life.» She was talking about the jubilant crowds in the United States.

I agree with her from the deepest place in my heart. More strongly even... ever since I heard about the heinous attack on the Portland, Maine (USA) mosque today.

Evil never dies. Some of its disciples will eventually die. But evil is a creeping beast.

Have you heard about the Hydra (the Lernaean Hydra)? It is a very scary Greek myth.

The Hydra was a serpent-like water monster with many heads. If cut, they would grow back instantly. One of them was immortal. The Hydra’s breath was poisonous and deadly.

Heracles (Hercules in Rome) fought against the Hydra to destroy her.

After a long battle and with the help of his brother, he managed to annihilate the beast.

Not quite true though because once in while (and quite often) it still raises its ugly heads.

They have new names but they still belong to the (Lernaean) Hydra with its poisonous breath: anti-Semitism, racism, hatred, bigotry, fundamentalism. The list is endless.

Terrorism is Hydra of course. Bin Laden and al-Qa'ida were one of its heads.

Maybe America should not rejoice so openly about his death even though Mark Twain as quoted by my niece, said very rightly: "I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

«Rejoicing»? Is it right to rejoice? Didn’t we feel overly happy when we learnt Hitler was dead? (We, meaning whoever was still alive at the time.)

But what happened after Hitler was dead? New «Hitlers». (This name could be a trademark.) Everywhere, ever since 1945, some small, some real’ big like Bin Laden.

Now Bin Laden has been dead for over a week, seems like.

Why don’t we keep cool instead of rejoicing madly because the good team has finally won one battle over the evil team?

Why? Because Hydra is raising its ugly head again.

By the way, tonight I am not the Storyteller. I feel more like the Pythia of ancient lore. Alas, alas, alas. I am not drunk on vapors but I feel hurt and lost.

Let’s cry, people. Let’s cry over Marrakesh.


A few days ago, people died there. People were maimed there. Moroccans and tourists alike. Muslims and Christians and whatever.

Why? Because «al-Qa’ida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb» decided to start a new axis of terror from Morocco, hitting one of the most beautiful and friendly city there.

I love Marrakesh.

I spent one week in Marrakesh, several years ago when my life seemed to take a very wrong turn. Another one.

We had been told that I was bound to become blind, due to a very uncommon genetic disease. (Some specialists were talking about a mere couple of months.)

Not good for a photographer.

I needed to get a grip on myself not to panic. I needed to go away to a strange place. I needed to fill my head and ears and mind with something else than sights and images - I needed new scents, new noises... a place where I could learn to see without my eyes.

Someone suggested Marrakesh. Popeye and I, we flew to Marrakesh.


This is where Popeye discovered that he was Jewish and Arab.

This is also the place where we discovered and loved a completely new way of life. The Oriental way of life.

We were lucky enough to live in a riad which belonged to a friend’s friend, right in the Medina (the medina quarter - the historic center).

We had been provided with a tour guide and interpreter. I had asked to go into the medina as much as possible, where people lived. Real people, I mean. Not tourists.

And off we went. We made sure we were abiding by the dress code - (long and modest dresses for me). No shorts nor undershirts for Popeye, the way most tourists like to dress when it’s terribly hot outside and they are in a foreign country.

We loved the medina. We loved the people we met. Everybody was friendly and helpful. We did bond with Marrakesh.

I managed to take pictures which boosted my will to fight. 

Of course, we went to Djema el Fna and to the Café Argana to drink a mint tea, the only time we felt like being touristy.

The same Café Argana that was destroyed by a bomb on Friday.

3.000 people did not die in Marrakesh. But the people there were killed by the same Hydra which rose again from its nauseous quagmire.

(I did not become blind... only partially and I still take pictures... with my left eye.
None of my new work will be as precious to my heart than the pictures I took in Marrakesh.)

I feel too old and hopeless to really believe that our world will be a better world because Heracles destroyed one of Hydra’s heads.

Please, please, prove me wrong.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*