Roma

January post-holidays is the perfect month to visit Italy. This means after Epifania, or January 6th. It’s not just that the big retail sales launch after this date, which in this era of global chain store hegemony does not interest me, or that you can get a four-star hotel for the price of a three-star, but super importantly that the selfie-obsessed mobs are absent. There are tourists year-round in Italy, but in January the phenomenon is at a tolerable level. Especially if, like me, you enjoy your museum or monument visit early in the day.

Rome, the Eternal City, did not disappoint. Yes, it is dirty, and thick with pickpockets, but the glorious monuments never cease to inspire awe. There are so many, everywhere you look. I hastened to one of my favorite spots, the Capitoline, from which you gaze over a vast tract of ancient columns comprising the Roman Forum, stony roads marked by triumphal arches and the path to the massive Colosseum. You can’t get much more ancient history than that.

Roman Forum from the Capitoline

I love how you could be on a dark, narrow street, where the sun is perpetually blocked by the angle, to suddenly emerge onto a sunny piazza dominated by the Pantheon, or a minor temple, or a Baroque fountain. The vistas are splendid at 360 degrees. Looking out from a park or terrace, the domes and spires of churches spanning a few centuries dot the skyline, and invite reveries of the distant past.

All that classical splendor happens before you enter the museums, or the churches harboring masterpieces by Bernini, Caravaggio and Raphael. You can never get to it all, and there’s always something newly excavated that becomes a must-see for a subsequent visit.

Bernini, The Abduction of Persephone,
at the Galleria Borghese

And there will be one. What I have described I had seen many times, and I thought I would never see Rome again. But a first cousin and I re-connected after many years, and I made a trip to see him and meet his family. I lingered, and visited the neighborhood I had lived in as a child, found the park with the view where my siblings and I would be taken for constitutional outings, walked through the Borghese gardens the family would visit on a Sunday afternoon.

The Borghese Gardens

Rome is drenched in history. In my case, a personal and ancestral one as well. But its eternality, the desire to return, is for everyone.

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L’escale

This summer I went swimming. I went swimming in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas, and in the Rivière d’Auray in Brittany.

For the first time in more than two decades, I also did a week of yoga. There were meridians shiatsu sessions involved too, as part of the retreat package. The latter was a little woo-woo but I just went with it. You know what? There’s something to it.

The best thing about the retreat was that it took place in a quiet spot on an island in Croatia, on the Dalmatian Coast. For nine days, from our lodging in a stone house at the end of a tiny peninsula, our group participated in a morning yoga session and an afternoon shiatsu session, and in-between we all swam in refreshingly cold, cristalline water or lounged in a comfy chair under the shady pines with a good book (bouquiner).

Prizba bay from our lodging

The wifi network was super spotty, there were no shops other than a teeny grocerette with mostly junk food, and only one decent restaurant so we had zero distractions in the environment. I would just sit and stare at the gorgeous scene for ages. As it turns out, it was the best thing ever. Remember daydreaming?

I experienced it as a pleasant and unexpected stopover in my journey through mourning. The old life will always co-exist with the new. But I will pick up my camera again. There will be happy times again.

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La Veuve

For the first time in my life in Nice, I am swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. A student of the human brain told me that entirely new experiences are restorative to a psychological upset. Perhaps she is right. In any case, what an excellent start to any summer day. 

8am, June, Nice, France

Most days I wake early and I am treading water by 7:00am. For 30 or 40 minutes, I float on the gentle swells and gaze on the horizon, at the faint, hazy outlines of yachts and ferries. At this time of day, there are only a few other people in the water, and a smattering are setting up chairs and umbrellas on the beach for the morning. The mind has space to roam.

When I return home, where I now live alone, I enact my strategy to stay cool. Shades come down, windows are shut, fans begin circulating air, salads are prepared to avoid the heat of the stove. Often that’s it for the day. I don’t venture out again. 

Most of my summer travel plans have been aborted for one reason or another, and I can’t be bothered to make more. Have you heard of the airport chaos this summer? So the morning swim is likely to be the highlight of the season.

Sometimes I look at my iPhone videos of David, and peruse our family photo albums, but that never lasts long. Mostly I watch the TV series du jour, chat over Zoom and WhatsApp with friends and attend to my list of things to do around home. 

Thankfully, there’s always something that needs my attention. My shabby chic apartment is beautiful but run down and things regularly fall apart. Then, for a while, I was buried under paperwork dealing with estate and succession. My foreign status often needs attention. Last week, I spent one long afternoon preparing my annual application for my visitor visa renewal, checkmarking my new marital status, “Veuve.”

So, the next few months will entail making plans, such as fate, Putin and health will allow, for many changes of scene in 2023. 

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Bonne Nouvelle Année

It’s been a slow crawl to the end of 2021 and the start of 2022. We entered a medical crisis, and that took all our energy, time and focus. Once again, we are thankful for the high quality of French health care, in which the Carte Vitale pays for everything.

Thanks to Omicron (pronounced “O-micron” which means small O in Greek, as I have recently discovered, as opposed to “O-mega” which means large O), our holidays were spent without family visitors but with a good number of friends. The festivities were low key, and fewer, but still meaningful.

Nice was decked out as usual and made one list of best cities in Europe to see Christmas lights. For the most part, I skipped them and the risky (Omicron) crowds this year. I put up one decoration at home.

Vintage angel decoration

Earlier, in November, a fellow photographer friend and I gave ourselves a gallery show, one of the events of the year for us. We each sold two prints. As we sat in the gallery day after day for two weeks, we were able to enter into good conversations about art, culture, photography and more with visitors. I was happy to see that many people didn’t realize my seascapes were taken in Nice. Perhaps I did succeed in capturing a different — my — view of the sea and city.

From the gallery show

We are likely to stay put in Nice for most of the new year, as travel is out of the picture for now. I still find it a good place to live. The glorious weather in December was one reminder, and the rollout of impressive “grands projets” to make the city ever more appealing was another. So here we stay, unless we decide chateau living is more our style.

I wish you all a splendid 2021.

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La Normandie

Our final attempt to ditch the hot and sticky summer 2021 weather in Nice led us to breezy and cool Normandy for two weeks. We’d never been, and I was excited to finally — since freshman year in high school — see the Bayeux Tapestry. We planned to visit the D-Day landing beaches and cemeteries too, and to roam the countryside as usual to find pastoral serenity and charming villages.

The Tapestry was indeed a marvel to see. It is 70 meters long, like piece of film reel, that pictorially tells the story of the 11th century Norman Conquest. Poor Harold of England. He gets an arrow in the eye.

The landing beaches and the contemplation of the bravery of those WWII soldiers make for a sobering experience. In Arromanches, remnants of the breakwaters and artificial harbor miraculously placed in position by the British remain. German bunkers and bomb craters dot the coastline. The silence contrasts with the sounds of war blasting in our imaginations.

At the American cemetery, where 10,000 tombs face in the direction of the US, we heard Taps as we were leaving, then the Star-Spangled banner as we approached the parking lot, and the roar of a fighter jet overhead as we got into our car. As it turned out, the liberation was being celebrated that week. This part of France is one of the few where Americans can experience an open welcome, to this day.

I thought I liked colorful Honfleur a lot, but then I saw Barfleur. In terms of mood, it was more my liking. It’s gray, like the Norman sea and sky, with the largest lighthouse in France, and a stretch of lonely beach to make my heart sing.

Barfleur, Phare de la Gatteville

If you stay out of the big (although not unpleasant) cities of Caen and Rouen, and avoid the boring, slightly trashy upscale beach resorts like Deauville, there are few people. There are almost as many cows.

Normandy

This is French dairyland! Vegans be warned, every dish comes smothered in cream and butter. It is a very traditional culinary region, so there are plenty of hearty meat dishes to choose from too. Luckily for me, there are markets galore with plenty of alternatives available. I admit I overdid it with the slabs of wood fired sourdough bread and fresh market butter, but I’m recovering well.

Our explorations were mostly restricted to the Calvados region of Normandy, known for apple ciders and brandies. Stopping at a creperie on our way to Beuvron en Auge, I did a double-sip of the glass of cider served. We were on the Route de Cidre as it turned out. It was the only thing about Normandy that topped Brittany in my experience.

Ah, yes. Normandy did not disappoint. But, Brittany. There’s next summer for that.

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