The Secrets of Pistoulet

An enchanting fable of food, magic and love…

“Far away in the remote, untraveled southwestern French countryside, en route from the enchanting old city with an ancient cathedral to the mystical Pyrenees which appear like a mirage at the most unanticipated moments, there is a small village which contains two homes, an eleventh-century church, and a very special farm known as Pistoulet.

Hidden from most everything, Pistoulet is an unknown paradise with magical powers. There are unusual creatures inside and out. Everyone who passes through Pistoulet has a story which unfolds during their visit to the farm. All who spend time at Pistoulet leave with their hearts transformed.”

… and so begins a magical tale of transformation.

Not a children’s book, but rather an exploration into a children’s way of seeing the world. It is delightfully full of hope and healing through fiction and food, beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, letters, mysterious maps and diary entries.

The recipes are on little pull-out cards with titles like ‘Potage of Spirit’, and  ‘Potage of Strength’.

Because we all need a little extra courage sometimes, and Borage flowers are plentiful at least in this area of the world right now, here is a recipe for you:


For those shy souls who are afraid of their own potential

When the summer sun rises high in the sky and the star-shaped borage flowers turn from pink to blue remove the flowers and the youngest leaves. Acquire water from the clearest spring which has traveled many miles from the tallest mountains. Bring the mountain water to a boil and place the borage flowers and leaves in the bubbling water. Cover and let steep until the magical power of the flower has infused with the spirit and strength of the water.

CAUTION: Serve only to those who are truly in need. This infusion has been known to turn the meekest souls into BRAVE HEARTS. Be prepared for a complete transformation of personality.

This a stop off in France on my journey ‘Around the world in 80 Books’. Published way back in 1996, this book must have been a real joy to create for Jana Kolpen and Mary Tiegreen. It is a feast for the imagination, and I defy anyone not to feel at least a little bit better about the world after reading it.

Dubliners ~ James Joyce

My ‘Around the world in 80 books’ is taking its leisurely course. This stop is in the city of Dublin, Ireland. A place I’ve long wanted to visit, and the setting for one of my course texts, James Joyce’s Dubliners.

The fifteen short stories close in on the ordinary lives of Irish people in varying stages of their lives in an early twentieth-century city that is being both pulled back by its past and forward by the future. The people are all stuck in some way, held back by their individual and collective histories, their environments and their own personal limitations.

This is my first encounter with Joyce, and having heard that much of his other works are not easy reads, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these short stories. Even though there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout the collection, there is also this sense that things could change at any moment.

Favourite stories include – Eveline, Araby and A Little Cloud. The latter about a man ‘Little Chandler’ who dreams of becoming a poet:

‘The glow of a late autumn sunset covered the grass plots and walks. It cast a shower of kindly golden dust on the untidy nurses and decrepit old men who drowsed on the benches; it flickered upon all the moving figures — on the children who ran screaming along the gravel paths and on everyone who passed through the gardens. He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him.

He remembered the books of poetry upon his shelves at home. He had bought them in his bachelor days and many an evening, as he sat in the little room off the hall, he had been tempted to take one down from the bookshelf and read out something to his wife. But shyness had always held him back; and so the books had remained on their shelves. At times he repeated lines to himself and this consoled him.’

The familiar stereotype of the Irish, who love to drink and to laugh, is here too, but this is portrayed as an escape valve from the claustrophobia of their everyday lives. Chandler goes to a public house to meet an old friend who has long since moved away from Dublin. As he walks to meet his old friend Chandler is filled with the hope and possibility of escape:

‘Every step brought him nearer to London, farther from his own inartistic life. A light began to tremble on the horizon of his mind. He was not so old – thirty-two. His temperament might be said to be just at the point of maturity. There were so many different moods and impressions that he wished to express in verse. He felt them within him. He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet’s soul. Melancholy was the dominant note of his temperament, he thought, but it was a melancholy tempered by recurrences of faith and resignation and simple joy.’

Sadly, the stories do not end on a positive note. Joyce himself found his creative freedom, not in his beloved university city of Dublin, but instead once he had moved away from Ireland. Yet it seems Dublin held a special place in his heart as all his work is set in and around this city. He says:

‘For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal’.

For me, this goes not only for the city itself, but for the people in it, whose lives I became particularly attached to the more I read Joyce’s beautiful prose.

Candide ~ Voltaire


This is a set book for my studies this year and also a book for my Around the world in 80 books challenge. Written in the Eighteenth Century by the French writer Francois-Marie Aroet, known as Voltaire. (Spoilers follow)

Candide, is a breezy, drag you along by the hair kind of read, full to the brim of energetic life. It is darkly humorous, sharply witty, absurd, as well as horrifying in places. Clever without a doubt, but not really the kind of thing I would generally read out of choice.

As a young man, Candide departs on his travels from the German town of Westphalia having previously been indoctrinated with the philosophy of optimism – that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. Yet, as he soon finds out on his travels, the author has created a world in which there is all manner of suffering.

While the subject matter is often shocking, Voltaire’s simple flowing prose style is a joy to read. I have to admire a book that dares to try to influence us in this way, to shake us roughly by the shoulders and say ‘wake up’, despite the exhausting ordeal a reader has to go through.

At the end of his journey it is ‘labour’ that is the saving grace for Candide and his friends. Each of the characters find their own particular role to play on their small farm using their particular talents such as pastry-chef, embroiderer, launderer, carpenter. Through his disillusionment and maturing, Candide discovers that through honest work a person can avoid the evils of boredom, vice and poverty. His final words that we ‘must cultivate our garden’ is free to interpretation. We might do well to pay attention to our own business, to do what needs to be done in our own little corner of the world, and/or to literally get out there and ‘cultivate our garden’ – maybe not to reject optimism outright, but that a more practical approach to living may be our best option.

Candide - Voltaire Penguin Classics Edition

The Bookseller of Kabul


Afghanistan would probably not be high on my list of places to visit should I get the chance, but it was a fascinating visit via this non-fiction book by Asne Seierstad.

The author is a Norwegian journalist who has reported on war zones such as Syria , Iraq and Chechnya. This book is an account of her stay with a large Afghan family after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

I did find the journalistic writing a bit jarring after a while – I found myself wanting a more personal point of view – but it was worth reading for the detail into lives that are very different, unimaginably different, to my own.

The book brought up a lot of conflicting feelings – sympathy for the bookseller and members of his family for the suffering they had to endure under the Taliban regime, but also frustration and fierce anger over the treatment and lives of the women.

I felt especially for poor Leila, a nineteen year old girl and lowest in the pecking order of the house. She does all the cooking, cleaning, and caring for the extended family, working from dawn to midnight every day and never has time alone.

“Leila never walks alone. It is not good for a young girl to walk about without company. Who knows where she might be going? Maybe to meet a man, maybe to commit a sin. Leila does not even walk alone to the greengrocer a few minutes away from the apartment. She usually takes a neighbour’s boy along with her, or asks him to run errands for her. Alone is an unknown idea for Leila. She has never, ever, anywhere, at any time, been alone. She has never been alone in the apartment, never gone anywhere alone, and never remained anywhere alone, never slept alone. Every night she sleeps on the mat beside her mother. She quite simply does not know what it is to be alone, nor does she miss it. The only thing she wishes for is a bit more peace and not so much to do.”

Leila is treated worse than a servant and dreams of a different life where she might have gone to university or been a teacher.

The Afghani people as portrayed here, are stuck in a kind of no man’s land – half wanting to be pulled into the modern world, but also resisting that and clinging to the staunch traditions of Islam with which they’ve been brought up.

It was the dusty, overcrowded, claustrophobic atmosphere of the house where they all lived that lingers with me the most. The women of this family may have willingly, gladly even, thrown off the Burka, but there is still so much of the oppressive system deeply ingrained into their behaviour that it is clear it will take generations to shrug that off.

Reading this gave me greater understanding into how ordinary people with essentially good hearts get trapped into oppressive cycles; an interesting, but definitely not easy read.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables Book

This is my first port of call, in the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. Canada is such a great place to start – somewhere I’ve always dreamed of visiting. And at the grand old age of 45, I finally got around to reading this Canadian classic. This book edition is one I picked up secondhand and would not have been my first choice for book covers – the girl from the series just doesn’t have Anne’s ‘titian’ red hair. There are some beautiful editions of this book. (See here for some examples and some lovely quotes too.)

This is the story of orphan girl Anne Shirley who comes to live with Marilla and Matthew at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. She is a vibrant young eleven year old, bursting with exuberance for life and with an overactive imagination that is both charming and gets her into no end of scrapes: from dying her hair green and accidentally getting her school friend drunk on currant wine to falling off her neighbour’s roof!

The descriptions of the natural world might be thought a little purple in places, but they were a favourite part of the book for me:

‘masses of sweet clover white with its delicate, fragrant, feathery sprays; scarlet lightning that shot its fiery lances over prim white musk flowers; a garden it was where sunshine lingered and bees hummed, and winds, beguiled into loitering, purred and rustled.’

It’s no wonder Anne falls in love with the landscape around her home:

 ‘the frogs were singing silvery-sweet in the marshes about the head of the Lake of Shining Waters, and the air was full of the savour of clover fields, and balsamic fir woods.’

Anne’s personality shines through on every page of the book – I think there is a little bit of Anne in us all. She is presented as a sometimes impulsive, sometimes thoughtful, and often complex young girl who surprises us with the depth of her reflection:

‘There’s such a lot of Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.’

It is a sweet tale, of a sweet girl from a different era, and a very different way of life to what we know today. A way of life I’m not even sure actually existed. But still, it was beautifully told. Although the ending is bittersweet, I know there are many more books in the series of Anne Shirley’s adventures, and I may very well continue my reading journey with L.M. Montgomery sequels at some point in the future.

Trawling Swindon’s Used Bookshops

Used Book Haul

It’s funny that once you have in mind a list of books you want, they then start to appear everywhere. This was the case for me when I had a tutorial in Swindon on Saturday. I had a couple of hours to spare before my class so took a wander around the town. Swindon, I’m sorry to say is one of my least favourite places in the world. If you’ve been there, you’ll know what I mean. Say no more. But it does have a couple of redeeming features – especially the few used bookshops.

I bought eight books that day. Not bad for a couple of hours eyeing dusty bookshelves and getting tilt-neck ache. I was thrilled to find a pristine unread copy of Moby Dick for £1.25, and a vintage penguin Rachel Carson for the same price. De Quincey’s Confessions is a book we are studying next year and I’m looking forward to reading The Tulip – the story of a flower. Goethe’s travel journal will be a welcome addition to my around the world in 80 books list and The End of Absence looks like an interesting topical read.

All in all not bad for a day’s book buying – now its time to get reading. I’ve almost finished Anne of Green Gables, so I’ll write a post about that soon. What are you reading right now?

Used Book Haul

Around the World in 80 Books

Around the world in 80 Books

As a single parent for many years, I have not had the opportunity to travel at all. While I hope this will change in the future, for now I will explore the world vicariously through the books in this challenge set up by Lucy and Sarah at one of my favourite book blogs – Hard Book Habit.

The idea is to read your way around the world sampling books from a range of countries along the way.

As you can imagine this affords great list-making opportunities, and I passed a happy few hours deciding on my choices. Thankfully, there is no time limit, which is good as it’ll take me forever to finish this lot!

I have many set books to read on my degree course over the next few years and many of those take place abroad so I have added those to my list, along with others I want to read, and several new ones discovered in my search. So…

My around the world in 80 Books List:

  1. IrelandDubliners, James Joyce
  2. America A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
  3. SwedenAstrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
  4. GermanyDiary of a Pilgrimage, Jerome K. Jerome
  5. ItalyVenice, Jan Morris
  6. PatagoniaIn Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
  7. AntarcticAlone on the Ice, David Roberts
  8. ThailandTouch the Dragon, Karen Connelly
  9. The CaribbeanAn Embarrassment of Mangoes, Ann Vanderhoof
  10. Sea TravelsThe Sea Inside, Philip Hoare
  11. TravelingThe Idle Traveller, Dan Kieran
  12. AmericaOn the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, Alice Goffman
  13. GreeceEurydice Street: A Place in Athens, Sofka Zinovieff
  14. VariousMagic Bus – On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India, Rory Maclean
  15. Andalucia/SpainDriving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart
  16. CambodiaFirst They Killed My Father, Loung Ung
  17. AfghanistanThe Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad
  18. EgyptLetters from Egypt, Florence Nightingale
  19. AustraliaThe Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes
  20. Ireland Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel
  21. FranceSketchbook from the South of France, Sara Midda
  22. Around BritainTiny Islands, Dixie Wills
  23. Germany Candide, Voltaire
  24. Iraq Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, Bee Rowlatt, May Witwit
  25. West Africa and SurinamOroonoko, Aphra Behn
  26. North KoreaEscape from Camp 14, Blaine Harden
  27. Pacific IslandsSouth Sea Tales, Robert Louis Stevenson
  28. ScotlandThe Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd
  29. Wales On Angel Mountain, Brian John
  30. Persia/IranThe Secret Rose Garden, Mahmud Ibn ‘Abd Al-Kar Shabistari
  31. Greece – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières
  32. America, India, Europe, ThailandUnaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
  33. PakistanThree Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson
  34. FranceThe Secrets of Pistoulet, Jana Kolpen
  35. ItalyLegend of the Villa della Luna, Jana Kolpen
  36. WalesUnder Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas
  37. IndiaThe God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  38. JapanHiroshima, John Hersey
  39. ChinaJourneys on the Silk Road, Joyce Morgan, Conrad Walters
  40. ColumbiaOne Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  41. ChileThe House of Spirits, Isabel Allende
  42. NorwaySophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
  43. Palestine Fast Times in Palestine, Pamela J. Olsen
  44. SudanSeason of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  45. FranceGood Morning, Midnight, Jean Rhys
  46. Canada Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery
  47. FranceThe Lost Domain, Alain-Fournier
  48. EgyptIndigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans, Jenny Balfour-Paul
  49. NorwayA Death in the Family, Karl Ove Knausgaard
  50. JapanThe Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura
  51. AlaskaIf you Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, Heather Lende
  52. Ethiopia, Sweden, AmericaYes, Chef, Marcus Samuelsson
  53. ScotlandThe Scottish Himalayan Expedition, W. H. Murray
  54. ItalyThe Land Where Lemons Grow, Helena Attlee
  55. EnglandMeadowland, John Lewis-Stempel
  56. FranceIn Search of Lost Time Vol 1: Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust
  57. RussiaThe Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  58. HollandThe Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas
  59. AmericaPilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  60. IndiaMidnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  61. SamoaComing of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead
  62. RussiaSpeak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov
  63. Various Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky
  64. America Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  65. New ZealandLand of the Long White Cloud, Lesley Gould
  66. Peru Turn right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams
  67. SiberiaTravels in Siberia, Ian Frazier
  68. NepalDon’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees, Thomas Hale
  69. Various Darwin’s Notebook, Jonathan Clement
  70. Various The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner
  71. SeasThe Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson
  72. TravelThe Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
  73. TravelCruising Attitude, Heather Poole
  74. ItalyDriving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart
  75. GreenlandAn African in Greenland, Kpomassie Tete-Michel
  76. IndiaOriginal Letters from India, Eliza Fay
  77. AustraliaTracks, Robyn Davidson
  78. VariousDestinations: Essays from Rolling Stone, Jan Morris
  79. Rwanda We wish to inform you…, Philip Gourevitch
  80. VariousA Writer’s World: Travels 1950-2000, Jan Morris

There are light reads along with heavier subject matter. I hope to stretch my reading horizons by reading books that I might not usually reach for straight away and learn about places in the world which I am not familiar with. This list is not set in stone, and I reserve the right to swap out a few along the way. I’ll post about each book as I read it, and link back here as well.

To find out more about the challenge do pop over to Hard Book Habit where I’m sure you’ll find some great ideas as well as at the other blogs taking part.

My suitcases are packed (with books) – off I go!