Winter’s subdued veil is lifting to reveal a kaleidoscope of color in every direction. A crimson camellia here, a purple iris there, and almond trees bursting with delicate pink blossoms seemingly everywhere. Ah, spring is on its way, bringing with it reminders of resilience and hope.
With all the little buds popping open, one sunny day I felt compelled to take a spin around St. Rémy with a close eye on nature’s progress, as well as the town’s. My jumelles–the term for binoculars in French—came along, too, in case a friendly robin or jay should pop by to deliver a chirpy hello. Come walk with me. And, by the way, the binoculars are tucked into six photos. Can you spot them?
Hopefully, mes amis, these snapshots of life marching on in Saint-Rémy will boost your spirits.
Stay safe, well, and hopeful!
PS: The Birdwatcher’s Wife has been through two editors–one an experienced birdwatcher! When I’m finished tweaking the last bits, off it goes for review by a publishing veteran. Deep breath!
Les roses are always a fabulous idea, the month of Saint Valentine or not. But oh là là, vibrant tulips like these can’t but melt hearts too. In Provence, les tulipes are an especially welcome spirit booster in February when gloom and gray can reign for days, with the temperature sometimes dipping below freezing at night, creating an ice sheet on the piscine. But then, there are days when the sky opens up blue and the sun shines.
On one of these joyful, sunny occasions, Ralph and I popped down to the Camargue. On the eastern side, there was hardly a soul—just a couple of sanderlings skittering around the hard-packed sand. We ate our picnic leaning against a solitary log on the beach, mesmerized by the azure sky and succession of low waves rushing to shore.
Until the vaccine is widely available, allowing us to safely venture farther afield, we’re especially grateful for the variety of outdoor spaces within reach of Saint-Rémy. And sometimes, snooping around our “neighborhood” reveals something new. Well, the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Frigolet isn’t exactly new—it was founded in 960.
Reachable in twenty minutes from Saint-Rémy, the abbey is nestled into a pine forest on top of a small mountain range called the Montagnette. We’ve passed by many times but never stopped to wander around until the other day. We walked the trails winding through the fôret de pins, took in the vast views from the highest peak, and visited the elaborate church. It was lunchtime and no one was around—even the boutique was closed. So there was no chance of a dégustation of the monks’ legendary Frigolet liqueur.
When we got home, I checked the abbey’s website. The monastery is known for a special beer and offering accommodation (in non-pandemic times) to pilgrims seeking a peaceful place of contemplation. I also discovered that over the years the abbey housed various religious orders and in the nineteenth century, it became a boarding school. The famous Provençal poet, Frédéric Mistral stayed there for a time.
And this part I already knew–Mistral went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904. His most important work was his lengthy poem, Mireille, the basis for the opera (of the same name) by his friend Charles Gounod. And, mes amis, guess where this opera was written in 1863? Yep, Saint-Rémy, in a modest inn that now is a posh hotel named after its famous guest.
So, despite these troubled times, a little historical discovery close to home makes our world a little richer. And the tulips–not to mention the brilliant mimosa–make our world a little more beautiful.
Stay safe, well, and hopeful!
Grosses bises, Gayle
The Birdwatcher’s Wife is now with the second editor for another go-round—progress!
Snowflakes fell on St. Rémy the first week of the year—an unusual event for this patch of Provence. So we were compelled to don our ski attire and head out for a stomp about town to see what we could see.
The sun was in hiding, but the pristine dusting showed off our small city in a new light, refreshing our perspective and lifting spirits.
Closing the door on a tumultuous year, we welcome 2021, a New Year filled with promise.
Stay safe, well, and hopeful.
Update on The Birdwatcher’s Wife: I’m working on the edits from the first editor. It’s long process, but I’m making progress, word by word—stay tuned! And don’t forget to feed our feathered friends flitting about your jardin or windowsill this winter:)
Holiday lights are ablaze in St. Rémy de Provence. These spirit-boosting salutes to the festive season are most welcome, especially during this very different December in Provence.
Celebrating traditions is a special challenge now in the time of covid. Most public events have been cancelled, including one of our favorites, the convivial Fête de Lumière, which typically takes place the first Saturday in December. Shopkeepers stay open late and offer a tempting array of beverages from vin chaud to bubbly. There are also yummy treats like tangy olive tapenade on tiny toast rounds and mini quiches Lorraine. It’s a popular community affair, so throngs fill the town center, despite the weather. Usually, our only concerns are how to best beat the crowds and how many layers to put on to withstand the chilly temps.
But this year, with the lethal coronavirus in our midst, the Saint-Rémois will not mingle as usual, shoulder to shoulder, in the historic center but stay safely home. This is not to say we’re skipping the season. Mais non! Creating our own holiday cheer chez nous is de rigueur with a pint-sized tree, twinkly lights, and homemade vin chaud.
While we think festive thoughts, we also reflect on this difficult year, saluting those who successfully fought the virus and paying tribute to those who were less fortunate, like our charismatic neighbor. We miss him every day and will always treasure his friendship.
Speaking of treasures, there’s my dear mom who saved quotes like this one, (possibly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt), which seems particularly relevant right now: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
And you, dear readers, are gifts to me. I thank you with all my heart for your support this year. Every message, whether about the blog or Passion for Provence, means so much. Mille fois merci!
Wishing you and your families a happy, healthy and hopeful holiday season and New Year 2021.
Grosses bises, Gayle
PS The Birdwatcher’s Wife is with the editor right now. There are more revisions on the horizon, but progress is in the works–pas à pas–step by step!
Grateful we are for President Macron’s message last night: Overall, it appears the number of new confirmed Covid cases is going down in France. This is encouraging news as it means this second lockdown we’re in—le confinement redeux—is working.
Restrictions will be eased in three stages. Beginning on Saturday, it will be possible to engage in physical activity up to 20 km from home and for 3 hours. (For the past month, the limit has been one km for one hour; the official form called an attestation will still be required.) Starting 15 December, folks will be able to navigate between regions for the holidays. (The 9 pm to 7 am curfew will remain in force except on 24 and 31 December.) If, by 20 January, the new infections are under 5,000 per day, restaurants and bars will be able to reopen. Masks are obligatory in town, and with very rare exceptions, everyone I’ve seen complies.
The day before the latest lockdown, which started on Friday, 30 October, we took advantage of our freedom and the sunny weather to go to the Camargue. To be at the Med and feel the fresh sea air was exhilarating. Not surprisingly, we weren’t alone. But in the vast open spaces around Saintes-Maires-de-Mer, there was plenty of space for plenty of folks who were taking pony rides, strolling, windsurfing, bike-riding, picnicking and birdwatching, of course.
Knowing that in a few days some important libertés will be increased, we’ll have one more thing to be thankful for tomorrow, Thanksgiving, for Americans. It’s not a holiday here, and turkeys aren’t readily available until closer to Christmas, but we’ll roast a fat chicken and pretend it’s a gobbler.
But we won’t need to fake gratitude for many things–most importantly our health and well-being. Holding tight to optimism, we look forward to a brighter future across the globe.
Happy “giving thanks” to all, wherever you are.
Stay safe, well and hopeful.
PS The Birdwatcher’s Wife is with the editor now. She’ll work her magic over the next month, and then it’s back to me. I’ll do the same for another month and then back to her. I don’t know when it will see the light of day, but it’s getting there!
This shimmering sunflower offers hope, and we need it.
Recently, some vicious crimes have rocked France. One was the brutal murder of a middle school teacher in Paris, and the others were worshipers at a church in Nice.
The tragic deaths of these citizens remind us of the destructive power of hate, bringing much grief and despair. Our hearts go out to the victim’s families, and also to France, and all who value freedom around the world.
At the same time, the corona virus infections have surged. Hospital beds are filling up. The French government has declared another severe, month-long lockdown. There are few allowable reasons to leave home and when we do, we must have an official document. For physical exercise, we are limited to one hour-long outing per day, one kilometer from home. (The fine for non-compliance is 135 euros.) Schools remain open, but restaurants, bars and cinemas are closed.
The virus and hate are both enemies of a healthy, thriving society. Let us do our best to conquer them, propelled by respect and understanding. We look to a brighter future where peace and harmony may flourish.
The curtains may be closed around the carousel for the season, but other things keep going round and round here in St. Rémy de Provence—as long as the sun shines.
Though the temperatures have dropped, there are many days when the wind is calm and the soleil is warm. This inviting weather brings out post-summer tourists for adventures on wheels, including electric bicycles, motorcycles, and vintage cars.
During July and August, the height of the summer season, Europeans couldn’t fly to sunny destinations, due to Covid restrictions. So instead of winging off to Spain and Greece, they drove–to the south of France—and we saw many of them here.
St. Rémy is a popular summer destination any year, so it’s typical to see cars from neighboring countries. But things were different during l’été 2020. On our daily walks around town and into les Alpilles, Ralph and I noticed car tags from an inordinate number of the 101 French departments, including a few from the overseas departments. (License plates list the individual department of car registration, but this will soon change, we understand.)
Instead of counting birds, like he did last year, Ralph decided to count off the French departments by car tags. By summer’s end he’d found autos from 98 departments. Only Department 90, Belfort, plus Mayotte and French Guyana were outstanding. He also saw vehicles from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Belguim, UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Monaco, Romania, and Luxemburg. Our town was a place to see and be seen, albeit in a masque.
The coronavirus situation remains a challenge here. Folks must wear masks in downtown St. Rémy (except when seated at a table). Restaurants and bars in both Marseille and Aix-en-Provence are closed this week, and a second week of closures may follow, depending on how the government assesses the risk.
So life in St. Rémy is more quiet than usual as we move into autumn. But nature marches on. The grapevines have been picked, and the olive trees are heavy with fruit. Birds are busy, flying and chirping, and they brighten our day. Birdlife also cheers us up at night. Many evenings around 10 p.m., owls hoot from the ancient plane trees that line the field to the west. They’re like a sweet, soothing bedtime story.
Stay well, safe and hopeful.
In place of traveling, I’m using the time to focus on The Birdwatcher’s Wife. I’m now working on revisions based on the insightful perspectives of my wonderful first readers. Progress is in the works, but much remains to be done. On y va!
Calm spaces, peaceful moments, soul-nourishing vistas. All are more important now than ever as the world faces the viral pandemic and often other serious challenges too.
Finding solace in the chaos can be difficult. Ralph’s dad used to say that when times are tough, there are three things to do: Get busy, just start, and go outside.
Following Dad’s advice, each morning, we lace up our walking shoes and push ourselves out the door, out into the natural world. In the summer heat, with the temperature drifting from just below 90F to over 100F, I’ve been paying particular attention to cooling water features.
A Zen fountain trickles quietly on Place Josesph Hilaire.
This no-frills trough signals the newly opened Bistrot de St. Rémy.
From beautiful sculpted fountains to simple troughs, the Fontaine de Nostradamus to Lac Peiroou, the Canal des Alpines to the Camargue, this patch of Provence offers a variety of relaxing aquatic scenes. And each exhibits a special soothing something, be it a glisten, shimmer, or sparkle here, a ripple, trickle or flow there. If a backyard pool or a sea is handy, taking a dip—even just a toe—is always a revitalizing spirit-booster.
Stay well and hopeful.
PS The Birdwatcher’s Wife…in France has taken “a” shape, an important step. Stay tuned!
Steamy and sizzling by day, cool and calm night. This sums up St.Rémy de Provence the last week of June 2020.
But well-being and tranquility do not reign across the globe. On one hand, there’s the horrific health pandemic caused by the coronavirus that has tragically claimed so many lives, including our beloved neighbor who passed away near his Paris home. And on the other hand, social unrest due to inequality, racial and otherwise, also claiming precious lives.
As these dual crises give way to deep reflection, I strive to understand the major issues and their causes. With the virus, although there’s much we do not know, we do know some effective actions that we can take–wearing masks, for example.
In terms of discrimination, there are important questions. What biases do I have? How did I develop them? And most important, how can I dissolve them?
It’ll be a long, hard path to a future that is equal to all, but I intend to move in the right direction as best I can.
In the meantime, I hope for a better tomorrow—for everyone.
Spring in St. Rémy usually means hoards of tourists cramming the cafés, marchés, and boutiques, as well as festivals and flea markets. Since the lockdown in March due to the corona virus, the entire town sleeps, all shops shuttered except a few food and beverage outlets, the presse and pharmacies. Having this beautiful place pretty much to myself is not a gift I happily accept.
For the last several weeks, we’ve been allowed to go outside for exercise for an hour maximum, just one kilometer from home. Food shopping isn’t limited to an hour, but you make it snappy, wear a mask and when home, wash everything, and then your hands. And, for every outing, you must bring along an official form called an attestation—either paper or on a phone— with the time indicated.
A redbud in full bloom
But as of next Monday, 11 May, restrictions will be eased. When we go outside, we won’t have to bring the attestation and we’ll be able to go 100 kilometers from home. Elementary schools will welcome students and shops will be able to open, all with certain precautions. Cafés and restaurants may be able to greet customers in June. We’re cautiously optimistic that vibrant village life will return—albeit slowly—to slumbering St. Rémy.
In the meantime, printemps bings joy through bursting blossoms and backyard birds—treasures to cherish.