Sunday, January 23, 2022

Update

The problem with not blogging for so long, is that there is way too much to blog about so then it's discouraging and I'll never be able to catch up! 
But, after Sillygirl asked in the comments a few times, I realized that there are some loyal readers who might worry what has happened to me, so I thought I could at least share some pictures with you.
First, we are safely back in France having dodged Covid around the world, well at least in the U.S., Ireland and France, so far. 
We returned a week ago and our friends have been so welcoming and supportive, like they missed us. I know we missed them. 
My first hike back in France, this horse posed with the sunrise between the mountains. 

Our trip to the States, three months long, was too much, but we enjoyed every minute we got to spend with our sons and my parents, plus time with our siblings and nieces and nephews. Then Covid got crazy and we just hunkered down over the holidays, only seeing Tucker, who had Covid the week before we got there, and Spencer and his girlfriend. Earl's sister and her kids and grandkids all had Covid over the holidays, canceling our plans to gather. We ended up skipping out on our flight from Columbus to Florida and renting a car instead to avoid Omicron, which seemed to infect everyone, even those of us triple vaxxed. We couldn't risk taking Covid back to my parents as Dad was preparing to have his pacemaker replaced (all went well). Also, we knew if we tested positive, we wouldn't be able to board the plane back home. After three months  of staying with other people, we were ready to get home. 
But, as always, there's the terrible pull in the pit of my stomach as I say goodbye to my sons or to my parents. Leaving our sons and my parents behind is the hardest part of living in France. When I say that, I hear the scene from Love Actually when Colin Forth tells his Portuguese housekeeper and love interest that dropping her off is the worst part of his day. I find myself reminiscing about the boys' childhoods, the quick patter of their feet on the wooden floors before diving onto our bed in the morning. I see their beautiful chubby cheeks and innocent eyes. 
They're both planning trips to visit us this year with significant others, so fingers crossed that it actually happens. 

Mom and Dad both had birthdays while we visited. They're doing great and staying healthy while avoiding Covid. It's tricky these days. Luckily, their favorite thing, golf, is outdoors. 

We left Florida on a Sunday. Our flights were scheduled Tampa, New York then Dublin. We were spending a few days with Grace and Jack since they hadn't gotten home for Christmas. Jack is still waiting on his visa from the Irish government and doesn't want to leave the country in case there's difficulty returning. Grace is working on her PhD in Archeology, focusing on cultural heritage, especially our area of France. How convenient!
Our Tampa to New York flight got delayed, which meant we wouldn't make our New York to Dublin flight. My knee-jerk reaction was to get to the airport as quickly as possible so we could take an alternative flight. I stayed online with Delta the entire hour and a half drive to the airport and we only got our new flights resolved as we were leaving our rental car. At the airport by 1:30, our flight wouldn't leave til 8:30. Now we were flying Tampa, Atlanta, Paris, Dublin. I know! I couldn't believe I couldn't leave any of our five suitcases in France while we were there. 
But we made it to Dublin the next day and quickly embraced Grace. We enjoyed four nights with her and Jack, making up for our missed Christmas together. 

Daughter/dad hugs. Of course we went for a walk on the beach in Dublin.
We're so lucky to get sun when we're there. 
The countryside is stunning in Ireland, even in January. 


This climb in Bray was a good workout and had beautiful views. 
On Friday we flew back to France and our friend Derrick met us at the airport in Toulouse. It's two hours from home, but flights to the closer airport had been cancelled. 
We arrived home just in time to make it to our visa appointment. 
Since we moved to France in 2018, we have had to renew our visa every year. This is our 5th year, which means next year, we can apply for a 10-year visa or carte de séjour as they're called in France. 
After receiving our visa, we celebrated by walking about La Cité in Carcassonne. As stunning as ever.
The sky and the outer walls of the chateau
And so we're back. We've been enjoying time with friends, drinking inexpensive wine and stocking up on scrumptious pastries, along with walks and runs in the countryside. It's not a bad life.



Saturday, January 08, 2022

Book Review The Vanished Collection

As I read The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon, I couldn't help comparing the differences between a book written for a French audience versus a book written for an American audience. In France, the subtleties count. In the U.S., we want the mystery laid out and the answer hinted at throughout so we can feel that sense of accomplishment at the end. 


At the beginning, the conflict was unclear. The author's cousin had hinted that perhaps her great grandfather's painting had been confiscated by the Nazis. Confiscated seems too tame a word. Stolen, taken, ripped from his grasp. But the family thought he had sold his collection. They thought her great grandfather and grandmother voluntarily moved from their Paris apartment. They didn't even think about the Jewish roots of their family and the dangers the ancestors faced living in occupied Paris. Slowly, the author reveals the research she did and how she discovered her great grandfather's life during World War II. 

Having researched the topic of stolen art during World War II for my novel The Summer of France


I was already enthralled by the idea of looking back at undiscovered thefts by the Nazis and the effort it takes to try to redeem the crimes committed in the 1940s. This book was set within the past five years. I enjoyed The Vanished Collection and the peek into the French mind, where no one wanted to discuss the atrocities of the Nazis during the war, preferring not to remember that neighbor turned against neighbor. But the author needed to knock on each door and dredge up each memory to search for the truth of her great grandfather's life. 

You can find this book on Amazon in kindle or paperback

Friday, September 17, 2021

Living Under a Vaccine Passport

Tuesday morning, Earl and I drove to the city of Castelnaudary. 

Beautiful flowers fly above the streets

We parked in the lot across from the hospital, and I went in for my first French mammogram. But before I could enter the hospital, I needed to show my pass sanitaire. The pass sanitaire is a vaccine passport. If you haven't been vaccinated in France, forget visiting the hospital for yearly exams like mammograms or colonoscopies.  

Here in France, we are required to show a Pass Sanitaire. That is a QR code that proves we have been vaccinated if we want to eat in a restaurant, have coffee in a café, or enter the square to listen to live music. 

Cappuccino is available with the pass sanitaire

The rules began on August 9th and since then, surprisingly, cafes and restaurants have been busy with patrons who willingly pull out their phones and show their passes. France currently has a loophole that people can get tested every three days and show their negative tests. The Covid tests are free for French residents now, but in October, residents will have to start paying for them, 50 euros per test. That is in hopes of convincing people to get the vaccination instead of getting regularly tested. 

There are many French people who are upset about the requirement. There are even some restaurants and bars resisting. They don't ask to see the pass or they don't scan them. 

A music fete this summer where our pass sanitaire was screened before we could enter the square.

One cafe owner said "We hate to ask our friends for their pass." Then she hesitated and said, "But a coffee, that's not really a necessity, is it?" And that's the point. You don't have to go out for a coffee. You want to go out for a coffee or for a drink with friends. 

Here in France, we know what it is like to forego those pleasures. From October 30, 2020 through June 9, 2021, restaurants and bars were closed for dine in, whether outside or in. We didn't sit and drink with our friends. No music played in the town squares. We were lucky to wander through markets with our masks firmly in place to buy the necessities -- food only. Clothing and trinkets were not included in the markets. 

Now, it's our turn, the vaccinated, to go out on the town. To raise a glass and celebrate that we have survived the initial phase of a pandemic. 

A kir perhaps

In Esperaza, a town know for its free spirits, the Gendarmes patrol the market, reminding people to keep their masks up firmly over their mouth and nose. 

This picture truly captures Esperaza

Earl and I sat for a coffee one Sunday, listening to music nearby as two guys played the didgeridoos. The waiter came out to take an order of a nearby table. The woman sat smoking a cigarette. The waiter asked for her pass sanitaire. She said she didn't have it. He said he couldn't serve her. She protested, waving her cigarette in the air. No, he insisted and she reluctantly left the outdoor café. Her empty table was quickly snapped up by someone who was vaccinated. 

I heard a French official explain that for a year and a half, he and his daughters had been isolating to avoid the virus and to avoid spreading the virus. Now they have their vaccines. It is their turn to go out to restaurants and movies and music festivals. Those who aren't vaccinated can isolate, staying home to avoid getting Covid. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Yay, For My Legs!

If you were ever to ask me, what part of your body would you want to change, I would, without hesitation, say my legs. My legs are short and I have strong calves and chunky thighs. I'm kind of used to them, it started happening around 5th grade as I hit puberty. I always envy those people with sculpted legs;when they put their legs together, there are three perfect triangles between their ankles and calves, calves and knees, and thighs. That's not and is never going to be me. But today, I'm feeling very thankful for the strength of my legs. So thank you legs, for not letting me down. 

Sunday morning, we took our friends' dogs for a walk and snapped a beautiful photo of the clouds in the mountains. Thanks, legs, for being strong. 

Then we rode our bike 12 miles to a market and had coffee and pastries with our friends Sue and Steve. Again, my legs came through, pedaling hard, even when we had to go up a steep bit to check on another friends' house.

Saturday, I ran 7 miles! It wasn't fast but I didn't stop to walk, just kept moving, my legs churning and churning, out 3.5 miles and back 3.5 miles. (That's 11.2 kilometers total). It's probably been over a year since I've had a string of good runs, so I have been determined to get back on track, following a training schedule. I can't tell you the last time I ran 7 miles, but I owe it all to those sturdy legs (well, the lungs and heart helped too). 

Legs still climbing
Just a few weeks ago we climbed Mount Bugarach, again I owe a huge thanks to my legs, partially my arms too on those very rocky parts. 

The next time you think to complain about how a body part looks or how you wish it looked a different way, just think about what an amazing job it does. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Beach Birthday Celebrations

 Last week, my friend Sue had her first French birthday. This fell right before her first French wedding anniversary and her official Franciversary, the day she moved to France. 

We all wanted to celebrate so we took a day at the beach. 

The beach reminded me of my days in Corsica.

Our friends have a puppy, so we had to look for a beach where dogs were allowed. We ended up going to La Franqui and walking to a part of the beach where there weren't any "No Dog" signs. 

But first, we had lunch along the waterfront. 

A lake, or etang, stretched inland between the sand and the sea

Although it looks beautiful and had lots of birds in it, it was a little stinky.

Sue and I toasting her birthday. I had sangria. 
Earl and Steve in matching blues
After lunch, we began the long walk out across the sand. But the sand was soft and not too hot. We took the dog off the leash and he ran like a crazy hound into the etang trying to scare off the seagulls. We kept walking farther and farther down the beach trying to avoid the "No dog" signs. Finally, I suggested we just play dumb if anyone approached us about the dog. There were other dogs, so we set up our beach blanket and the dog rolled on it immediately, sprinkling it with sand.

The pup in the foreground. Earl striding into the Mediterranean

This was a pretty perfect beach. The sand was soft. The entrance into the Med was not precipitously steep as it had been at some beaches. We could walk a long way out without it getting too deep, as a matter of fact, a sandbar allowed us to stand in knee-deep water and let the waves break around us. 
Paddling around in the sea when it's a gorgeous blue is glorious. 
Afterward, we tried to rest on the beach, but the dog had other plans. 
He immediately began digging, covering our blanket with sand. We tried shaking it out a few times but he went right back to digging. 
Earl spread a towel away from the blanket to see if the dog was after us specifically or just the blanket. At one point, the pup was just pummeling me with sand and I had to go back in the sea to rinse off all the sand. I still found a bunch caked around my ears in the shower that night. 
Sue and Steve thought it was hilarious, until the dog turned his digging super powers on them. 
Digging to Australia.
Ice cream on the boardwalk

After rinsing off, we headed back to the boardwalk for beers and ice cream. Mine was a Mama Mia with salted caramel ice cream and sauce. The addition of the Haribo candies did nothing for me. 

This was a terrific beach and we'll definitely visit again. As September stretches in front of us, we know our beach adventures are coming to an end soon. 





Monday, September 06, 2021

Reveling in Revel

 My new-found weekend freedom led us to Revel on Saturday.

The center of town has a covered market and a bell tower on top.

If we'd known, they give tours from atop the bell tower on Saturday mornings. Next time!

Revel is about an hour and half away from us and we got a late start so didn't arrive until 11 a.m. If you've been to French markets, you know that the market will soon be closing down around noon or shortly after. It is a Bastide town, which means it was originally fortified by walls against marauders. 

The Medieval buildings in the background, the arcades or covered passageways behind the vendors.

Revel is a charming town with Medieval roots, as is obvious from the timbered buildings, including some that are being shored up at the front so they can be rebuilt at the back. It reminds me of Mirepoix, but the square and the historical center are more substantial than Mirepoix. 

The facades will remain

If you're looking for bras, socks or summer dresses, this is not the market for you. It's hard core food and from the region. And even though this is the first weekend after the Rentrée, when everyone goes back to school or work, it was crowded. Every seat was taken at every café as we walked around the outer part of the market -- twice. We decided we'd skip coffee and just eat lunch in awhile, so we wound around the inner part of the market.  

The beams that hold up the 14th century roof over the marketplace
More beams and plenty of tomatoes

Then Earl glanced across the way, saw some empty chairs and made a beeline for a plastic table. We sat, waiting a bit for coffee, but the view was nice and the people watching was excellent. 

Delicious coffee and relaxing
I'm amazed by the Medieval architecture, but I'm really drawn more
to the metal railings on the building on the left. 
This building is obviously not Medieval, but it is pretty 

After leaving the market with bananas (not locally grown) two lavender plants and some tomatoes, we walked back toward the car. Ahead, we saw a food truck with crepes. We walked toward it, wondering where we could eat. We're American enough to eat in the car, but we've been in France long enough not to. Plus, it's illegal to eat or drink as you are driving in France. 

Across from the crepe stand was a Mexican street food truck. Mexican food is not often found in France. 

The back side of the truck

We stood in line and ordered, similar to a Chipotles kind of plan, burrito or salad. What meat? Chicken for me. What fixings -- salad (lettuce), corn, rice, black beans, creme fraiche (sour cream-ish), then what sauce? Chipotle for me. The French aren't big fans of spicy food, so I thought the medium sauce would be ok. It was, but a bit spicier than I had anticipated.
Definitely street food

 We found a bench under a tree and ate our burritos. I do miss Mexican food. 

But, back in the States, I would miss Medieval villages like Revel. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

The Dancing Fountains in Beziers

After a hectic summer, I have been playing catch up with work, trying to earn more money since I'm not able to teach university classes. Then recently, I learned that a new law in China would prevent teachers from outside China teaching students there. VIPKid is still offering classes to parents who bought packages, but the country suddenly called a moratorium to teaching for a week at the end of summer. I was free from my 12-3 teaching hours for nearly a week. I wasted no time in planning an outing, this time to Beziers. 

The lights and water were beautiful, like fireworks on the ground. 

Earl and I have traveled to Beziers before. Here's a link to a previous post when we considered moving there in 2015 as we visited towns and cities on our reconnaissance mission. But I was hesitant because the Catholic church and rioters killed 20,000 Cathars in Beziers during a crusade in 1209, known as the Albigensian Crusade. It just seemed like bad karma to move there. Bezier is beautiful though with a large swathe of park running through the middle of downtown and buildings in the Haussmann-style of Paris.

A Facebook post for people who live in Languedoc, the former name of our region of France, alerted me to a light and music show in Beziers. The musical fountain occurs at 10 p.m., so we needed to stay overnight. We convinced some friends to come along and traveled the two hours. First, a stop at the nearby beach Valras Plage. We had lunch in the square that faces the beach then spent some time in the cold Mediterranean (I don't think it ever warmed up this year) before dozing on the sand.   

The beach was not very crowded just two days before La Rentree, the day the French return to work and school 
The park in Bezier was decorated with all kinds of colorful creatures.
Us at the restaurant Pica-Pica
Strange lay out of the deviled eggs with caviar and lobster included

At 10 p.m., the music started. The fountains and lights had been going for a while. I think just the lights and water spurts were magical. 


I'm not sure if the music added anything to it. Some of the songs included YMCA, Laissez-moi Danser, and Formidable. 
Definitely worth watching.
Some of the illuminations in the park
The next morning, we had breakfast and wandered around the park, posing for a selfie in front of this Titan fountain. 
With Sue and Steve


This theater has topiary chess pieces in front of it. 

We stopped in Narbonne on the way home and had lunch at a restaurant along the Canal du Midi. 
The cathedral in Narbonne and an amazing sky. 

Lovely relaxing days without any teaching.

Update

The problem with not blogging for so long, is that there is way too much to blog about so then it's discouraging and I'll never be a...