It is hard not to worship the vast pale-trunked planes that form an airy canopy over where I am sitting, on the broad terrace of a chateau in La Provence Verte. They soar up from the croquet lawn twenty feet below, their creamy boles pollarded long ago to divide into five or six great creamy curving limbs, time-stopped fountains of suspended leaves.
A curving double staircase, enclosing a cool splashing water-tank, leads down to the lawn. Olive and fig trees screen the vineyards on two sides; on the third the morning light is coloured brilliant apple green by a steep hillside of Aleppo pines.
Stone parapets, box hedges, a few vases of geraniums; those are all the ingredients of a perfect vision of Provence. Or at least of La Provence Verte.
What gives this high part of the Var its verdant name? Rolling hills for miles around are clad almost exclusively in the lightest, palest members of the pine tribe. The undergrowth is varied with juniper and prickly little oaks, wild olives and arbutus, rosemary and lavender and spurge. From where I sit I can make out the limestone cliff at the start of one of many limestone gorges – the Vallon Sourn, to give this long craggy cleft in the forest its gloomy name.
Or am I imagining the mood? I always hear the Caribbean ‘morne’ as ‘mourn’, when all it means is ‘hill’. ‘Sourn’ may just mean ‘deceptive’, as the dictionary says. But the sounds of words can colour our feelings, and the shadow of something dire just outside this green heaven seasons its pleasures.