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.

Posted in Dalmatian Coast, expat, expat life | Tagged , | 13 Comments

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. 

Posted in Nice, France | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

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.

Posted in expat, expat in France, expat life, France, Nice, France | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

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.

Posted in expat, expat in France, expat life, France, Normandy, Travel | 10 Comments

L’Ecosse

About two weeks ago we returned from visiting our daughter in the Scottish Borders, a big region comprising of a few dozen small towns and hamlets and lots of countryside between Edinburgh and England. It is possible there are more sheep than people there, as it is mostly made up of impressive hills and several rivers, the Tweed being the principal waterway. Just what you need in a pandemic.

Getting to Scotland under Covid restrictions was an expensive hassle — pre-purchasing two self-administered Covid tests each, staying in a cottage rental for ten days of mandatory quarantine, mailing in our Covid tests, filling out lots of paperwork, and of course taking the required Covid test before traveling. And that’s for fully vaccinated people. Unvaccinated, forget about it.

But that’s life now, so we got on with it. Once in Scotland, we ventured out for long walks, mostly uphill, and for a driving tour of villages, but little else. There was, and still is, a lot of the Delta variant among the population so it was best to avoid the general public. Sheep weren’t a problem, though.

Ram

One day, I hit a milestone of 18k+ steps, mostly uphill. Ah yes, one could become quite fit living among the shepherds and villagers of the Borders. That’s assuming you don’t develop a taste for the Border Tart, the Selkirk Bannock or the Bran Scone, like I did.

The Borders doesn’t have the dramatic, moody scenery of the Highlands, but it is a tranquil and green region, while being much warmer and sunnier. In fact, it got quite hot for a few days, up to 80F/26 C. That used to be unheard of, but now, of course, it’s common enough.

All day long the bleats of sheep make up the background noise, so much preferable to city sirens and horns. I honestly think the sound and proximity of sheep calms the heart. One big thrill for me was stopping my walk uphill to watch the Border Collies herding sheep in a pasture, then having a chat with the shepherd about his dogs (Scot and Jude). (For more on that, see this. Speaking of dogs, note the Border Terrier originated in these parts.) There are no shortage of walks, for as long as you’d like, all connected across all the entire region.

Scottish Borders

In Scottish summer, the days are very long. That permits walking in the evening when the the fading sun over the countryside is prettiest. It illuminates the stone fences, rocky paths and wild grasses in gold. The ripples of hills alternate being cast in light and shadow, and usually clouds diffuse the light. Night falls on contentment.

Scottish Borders
Posted in COVID-19, expat life, quarantine, Scotland, Scottish Borders, sheep | 7 Comments