Fun in the sun–that’s the big draw for this desert oasis, particularly in late fall. As the year winds down, here in Palm Springs, the party-o-meter revs up. Snowbirds flock in from northern climes to soak up the rays while pursuing their special joie de vivre. They whack dimpled white balls around emerald courses and smack fuzzy yellow ones across concrete courts. They hike the hills and bike the flats. They lounge by the pool and marvel at the windmills. They wave at parading floats and sip margaritas on toasty terraces. Birders, of course, bird pretty much everywhere. And these sun-seekers do all this—under azure skies, that rarely host a dark cloud.
During our stay, Ralph and I have followed the same routine. Though we did duck into the fabulous Palm Springs Art Museum once, most of the time, we made the most of the great outdoors. Come, follow in our footsteps—you won’t even need sunscreen!
We’re heading home to Saint-Rémy in a few days, so the December post will shine the spotlight back on la belle in France. For sure, we’ll need to bundle up to handle the dipping temperatures. But winter in Provence also means snuggling in front of a blazing fire. Perhaps with a vin chaud in hand?
Stay safe and well.
PS The Birdwatcher’s Wife is out in paperback and Kindle through Amazon and book stores. The perfect prezzie for a Francophile friend, a birder–expert or budding–or a bucket list quest enthusiast, perhaps? If you get a chance to take a peek, I hope you enjoy it—thoroughly!
What’s new in Palm Springs, California, the dazzling oasis of sunshine, Palm trees, and oceans of sand? Just 113 miles from Hollywood, it’s long been a getaway for celebrities hoping to escape the paparazzi. And for snow birds who flock in from Canada and chilly eastern US climes, the vibrant town offers a respite from harsh winters. But for me–PS, as the locals call it–is simply my hometown.
Though I’m a native Washingtonian, we moved to the desert town when I was in high school, and during my undergrad and grad school years at UCLA, I was often in the desert city. Visits continued for decades since my mother lived here for over 40 years.
And right now, Ralph and I are once again in my old stomping grounds. It’s a do-over trip of sorts. We were last here in March 2020, but we’d barely touched down when we boarded a direct flight back to France when the ferocity of the pandemic became known. Since then a lot has happened.
For one thing, Marilyn is back! Love her or loath her, the 26-foot statue of Marilyn Monroe, known as “Forever Marilyn,” was formally installed near the Palm Springs Art Museum last June. The sculpture of the star, who was “discovered” in PS, was created by John Seward Johnson II. It reflects the iconic pose of her holding down her billowing skirt from the 1955 movie, The Seven Year Itch. The town’s promoters wanted Marilyn in the public eye once again—she’d been in storage after a two-year stint from 2012 to 2014—because the statue had been a boon for tourism. Tourists flocked to have their photos taken with her.
Other discoveries include condominium complexes that are sprouting everywhere. Huge lots that have been vacant forever are now construction sites. And, sadly, the See’s Candies store at La Plaza in the center of town—has closed. Not that I’m a chocolate buff, but it was a historic landmark, an island of stability in a sea of change.
On the bright side, for the first time, we saw masses of folks working out together in Ruth Hardy Park and pop up art. A work called Popsicles, by John Cerney, is temporarily on display near the antiques district on the south side of town.
But some things remain and are thriving. Old world Sherman’s Deli is going strong—there’s always a wait at this go-to place for kosher classics. And Welwood Murray Memorial Library, which opened in 1940, is still open to the public, offering WiFi and computer access. Though now a visitor center and research library for the Palm Springs Historical Society, it prevails, thankfully. Over the years, my mom carried many a petition to save the building–designed by architect John Porter Clark–from developers.
And on the natural side of things, you can still count on roadrunners scurrying around, stunning Vermillion Flycatchers (try Ruth Hardy Park), and zipping hummingbirds. And, of course, there’s the big, perpetually blue Palm Springs sky.
That’s the latest from PS. More news from France upon our return.
Wherever you are, stay safe and well.
The Birdwarcher’s Wife is now out in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Shortly, it will be available to order through book stores.
It is with great pleasure—and huge relief—to announce the release of the The Birdwatcher’s Wife!
After a year of birdwatching with Ralph across France in 2019, followed by a year and a half of writing (aka editing!), my “baby” is now out in the world—in paperback on Amazon. The e-reader will come along shortly, as will the version that bookstores can order from industry catalogues.
To bring you up to speed on the story, here’s the blurb on the back jacket:
“Living la belle vie in Provence is a dream come true for American expats Gayle and Ralph. But their mellow world is disrupted when passionate birdwatcher Ralph suggests a year-long quest to find 200 bird species in France. They’ll crisscross the country, from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, the Pyrenees to the Alps.
Though the eat-preen-love lifecycle of birds does not fascinate Gayle, an off-the-beaten-track adventure does. New hilltop villages, vibrant outdoor markets, and gastronomical delicacies await! Aware the mission is powered by passion and protective of their relationship, she insists that Ralph go slow and savor the experience. He agrees … but is it a promise he can keep?
Heart-pounding alpine roads, mosquito-ridden marshes, and Mother Nature’s furious forces stand in the way. But France’s natural beauty, captivating culture, and astounding birdlife lead the way … to discoveries that surprise them both.”
I won’t tell you here about the surprising discoveries we made, but I will tell you that people can evolve—even in ways they never thought possible. And joie de vivre plays a big role—after all, it is la belle France!
As I wrote in the Acknowledgments section of the book, heaps of heartfelt thanks go out to a myriad of seasoned professionals, treasured amis, and loved ones who helped me shape this story. I never, ever, could have finished the book without them. But most of all, I am enormously grateful to Ralph and his fascination with birds.
It’s August in Provence, so the high temps are no surprise. When the heat’s on high, all bets are off.
So for our daily workout on an especially toasty day last week, instead of a long-distance bike ride, hike, or tennis game, Ralph and I opted to lie low and take it easy. We did hop on our vélos, but our approach was to expend less energy than strolling. We didn’t go far or fast or cruise off the flat piste. We meandered leisurely, stopping periodically to snap a photo of a serene scene or to forage.
Blackberries, called mûres, are everywhere, including the bushes lining the bike path. So into a baggie they went! I love adding a few to fruit smoothies. Wow, along with a vibrant flavor, what a color blast they bring! (Tip: Wear a dark shirt while slurping one down!) Ripe figues are also plentiful in these parts. I never have been a big fig fan, but maybe because our local crop is so fresh, I’ve taken to them. They’re great grilled as a complement to a main dinner course or fresh on breakfast yogurt.
The kick-back season is coming to a close with September around the corner. More mellow weather will soon arrive, along with walnuts and a webinar! On Tuesday, 14 September, journalist Diana Bishop (CBC, CTV and NBC News), will interview me. The topic is: HOW TO RETIRE IN PROVENCE. I’ll share lessons learned about how Ralph and I retired to the South of France, the basis for my book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. Diana will offer a couple of giveaways of my book, but she does charge an admin fee (22.50 CAD/$18 USD ) to register. No revenue comes my way, but I do get to talk about my book and life in Provence, some of my very favorite topics!
WHAT: Webinar on How to Retire in Provence with author Gayle Smith Padgett and Canadian journalist Diana Bishop
WHEN: Tuesday September 14th, 2021 12:30 EST/9:30 am Pacific/6:30 pm Paris/5:30 London
In the meantime, wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well, above all. And also enjoying summer and its beautiful and yummy bounty.
Stay safe, cool, and hydrated!
The Birdwatcher’s Wife has crossed a huge hurdle. The book is complete, and the next step is to review a proof copy. The finish line is coming into view! On a related note, a happy surprise: In response to my letter about his marvelous documentary, A Life on Our Planet, and my new book about our 2019 quest for birds, Sir David Attenborough sent me a lovely hand-written note. What a treasure! It’s framed and on the wall over my desk.
Thick sweaters and summer in Provence? Mais oui, a surprising combo! Yet, the beginning of June, colorful knits appeared all around Saint-Rémy—on trees! Called “tricotags,” these bright works of yarn art are part of a program called G-Graines. The first edition of this state-funded, biennial project to support artistic and cultural activities promotes the theme, “trees in the city.”
Inventive and striking, the cheerful coverings bring grins to all. But they also shine a spotlight on the important role trees play in modern day Saint-Rémy, as well as history. During past centuries, a variety of species were planted. Today, imposing plane trees and gnarly olive trees are synonymous with the area. Some of les arbres were famously featured in the masterpieces created by a former Saint-Rémy resident, Vincent Van Gogh, who lived for a while at the monastery, Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. I like to believe the Dutch artistic genius would have applauded the spirit and ingenuity of the tree “sweaters.”
No warm wraps were visible, however, during another hot summer event, the Fête Nationale. On 14 July, a band, crooners, and a scantily-dressed dance troupe came to town to celebrate the nation’s big day.
Crowds gathered early for the festive event, eager to be out and about after an extended, difficult period. Kids danced in front of the bandstand, and waiters hustled to keep up with the demands of thirsty customers, creating a most welcome carefree, happy ambience.
Happy Summer and stay cool!
The Birdwatcher’s Wife is approaching completion! The manuscript is with the editor right now–for the final proofread. And the cover is nearly done. It features an original watercolor of a pair of avocets. I hope you’ll love it like I do.
Peter Mayle’s most famous book, A Year in Provence, hit the bookstores in 1989. Subsequently, it became an international bestseller, with sales topping six million, in forty languages.
This book and my first encounter with Mr. Mayle made such lasting impressions on me, I wrote about them in the introduction of my book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. It goes like this:
“I read the memoir over twenty-five years ago while sitting on a Mediterranean beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. It was magical to be in luscious Provence on my honeymoon, but enjoying A Year in Provence while in Provence made the special event even more memorable.
In the years that followed, I eagerly awaited each of Mr. Mayle’s delightful publications. In fact, he signed one of them for me at my local bookstore in Virginia. I was charmed by his warmth and wit, as well as his scarlet socks. While I was writing this book, a recollection of those spirited chausettes prompted me to send him a long-overdue fan letter. As his birthday was imminent, I tucked my note inside a fanciful birthday card. To my delight, he wrote back. Not only was his response a gracious thank-you for a thank-you, but it included sage publishing advice. I framed the letter—it inspires me every day.”
When Passion for Provence was published in November 2017, I immediately sent Peter and Jennie Mayle a copy. In early December, it was Jennie Mayle who wrote me to let me my book had arrived, explaining Peter was not well. He passed away in January 2018, just a few months short of his seventy-ninth birthday.
In the spring, his last book, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now, was released. The Boston Globe wrote: “Whether he’s smacking his lips in gustatory contentment or mock exasperation, Mayle’s affection runneth over.” Yes, indeed, Mayle’s genuine, heartfelt affection for France draws you in, instantly transporting you to the Hexagon, and eventually, to a lunch table—set with bottle of rosé.
You can experience this belle vie, written in Mayle’s irresistible, charming style, in all his books on France, to include A Good Year (made into a movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard), Chasing Cezanne, and Hotel Pastis. And then there’s his caper series: The Diamond Caper, The Corsican Caper,The Marseille Caper, and The Vintage Caper.
What better way to pay tribute to the inimitable author—in honor of what would have been his eighty-second birthday on 14 June—than to pick up one of his classics for a delectable taste of la belle vie according to Mayle? Enjoy!
Stay safe, well, and hopeful.
The Birdwatcher’s Wife is shaping up. Slower than an escargot, the book appears to be inching toward the finish line. All optimistic thoughts welcome!
Historically, the transhumance is a grand event in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. On Pentecoste Monday—which falls in either in May or June—herders in traditional garb guide thousands of sheep and goats around the ring road—twice. Tourists go nuts snapping close-ups and trying to pet the animals as they trot by.
Sadly, due to Covid-19, the festive event was cancelled in 2020, and with health issues still a concern, it did not happen this year either. So we look fondly back to 2019. This year was especially memorable because a TV film crew from France3-PACA was on hand to capture the event for a segment on St. Rémy for the travel show Chronique Méditerranéenne with host, Nathalie Simon, a former wind-surfing champ. In fact, I actually participated in part of it.
During the transhumance of 2019, after the animals trotted down from an elevated plain on the north side of town called the Petit Crau, they ran their course around the village, and then marched back up to their grazing area. (Later, they would be transported to cooler pastures for the summer.) There, a couple of hundred locals gathered for a BBQ—lamb of course! My job was to sit next to Nathalie at a picnic table and join in the toast with our plastic cups of rosé and then pretend to eat while the lovely host sang the praises of St. Rémy. I didn’t have any real lines that day, but I did the next.
My participation in the show had come out of the blue. In the spring, a producer for the network had found my book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie, and asked me to be on the program as the expat author. My part was filmed on the beautifully leafed-out Place Favier in front of the cute crêperie Lou Planet and was aired on 22 September 2019, Journée de la Patrimoine, France’s Heritage Day. The day I spoke some French on French TV was certainly a piece of my own history I won’t forget!
Though no sheepies or goaties came to town this year, tourists have returned—café terrace dining opened on 19 May. And there is plenty of countryside for them and resident townies to explore, too. Just a short walk from centre ville, near Chateau les Alpilles, sheep often can be seen munching grass tranquilly. And at Lac de Peiroou, peace and serenity reign.
And there you can even catch lunch!
Stay safe, well, and hopeful.
PPS The Birdwatcher’s Wife is proving to be a book that doesn’t want to be done. But–in filming terms–this author is ready to call it a wrap. Please stay tuned!
Here we are in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, heading into the fourth (and last!) week of the third major lockdown in France’s battle to conquer Covid. As of 3 May, the ten-kilometer limit on travel will be lifted. Time will tell when restaurants and cafes will be able to open, but indicators suggest that may happen around mid-May.
In the meantime, Mother Nature waits for no official announcement. She’s marching full on into le printemps. Trees are leafing out, and blossoms are blooming–in the fields and in town, lifting spirits with their splashes of color.
Plants aren’t the only color delivery system at work. Striking birds like the fabulous hoopoe (above) with its stunning topknot have arrived—we saw one in the Alpilles a week ago. (It was too fast for a photo —this one is from Wikimedia.) Swifts, too, are here, wheeling around high up, squeaking as they go. Rollers and bee-eaters have been reported in the area too, but we haven’t seen them yet. We’re prepared, though, with our eyes peeled and binoculars at the ready. To see their swooshes of vibrant blue and cinnamon will be a joy.
And so will returning to some sort of normalcy. And that includes going to the movies and enjoying cultural events. Along those lines, the marquee of our neighborhood cinema, the Ciné Palace, reflects these optimistic sentiments: “Looking forward to seeing you again! See you soon in our hall! So that culture lives!”
Stay safe, well, and hopeful.
Completing The Birdwatcher’s Wife is proving more difficult than anticipated. But I’m making progress–I think!–and hopeful the changes I’ve made in the last month are meaningful. Some days, it feels like two steps forward and one and three-quarters back, but the search for the finish line continues. Watch this space!
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!