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.
Big and brash, these gorgeous springtime blooms brighten our day, lifting our spirits, here in St. Rémy de Provence.
Colorful signs of printemps are popping up all over, which helps us stay positive, a priority—following waking up fever-free!–in these days of the corona virus.
In mid-March when President Macron instituted severe movement restrictions for all of France, Ralph and I were in a holiday rental in Palm Springs, California. We weren’t planning to return home until early April, after a much anticipated trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit a close friend. As the news of the virus intensified, we quickly realized we needed to take action. Should we stay in the US or return home? Key to the decision was knowing how long the pandemic would last. Impossible to predict. What we did know was that we no longer owned a roof in America, and international flights were soon to be curtailed. We booked a direct flight from Los Angeles to Paris and on to Marseille, landing on 23 March.
Since then restrictions have tightened. Outside our home, we must carry official identification, and a special form indicating one of the few allowable reasons for the outing (food, pharmacy, etc.), which must include the time and be signed and dated. (Today, 6 April, an electronic form has become available, so from now on we can use our phones.) Promenades are acceptable once a day for no more than one kilometer from your residence. You can take longer and go farther for market runs but only one person to a car. The fine for non-compliance begins at 135 euros. Also, pooches can be walked, so Fido and friends are in the best shape ever.
Hopefully these precautions will help flatten the curve, and sooner rather than later, the virus will run out of steam, allowing the world to begin recovery.
Until then, dear readers, stay safe, well and positive!
Grosses bises, Gayle
Mais oui, during the confinement I am making progress on The Birdwatcher’s WifeJ
Before turning my attention to the wonders that await us here in France this new year, some important words of appreciation to you, dear readers. From the bottom of my heart, a thousand thank yous–mille fois merci!–for your continued support of Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. Since its publication, it’s been incredibly gratifying to hear from readers who have connected with the book–which brought this blog to life. It means the world to me. Thank you so much.
And now it’s time to write a follow-on book, The Birdwatcher’s Wife. It’s based on Ralph’s big birding year. Between 1 January 2019 and 1 January 2020, he worked on his goal of spotting 200 species of birds en France. To that end, we spent the year crisscrossing the country from the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea to the Brittany Coast to St. Jean de Luz in the Basque region, not to mention a couple of forays to the Alps and one to the Jura.
All those treks go a long way to explain the limited blogs I posted last year and the writing of the new book will help explain the undoubtedly few that will pop up this year. But, hopefully, an entertaining and informative book, featuring lots of oixeaux flying through France, will emerge.
I’ll check in from time to time! For now…
Wishing you all the very best for a happy, healthy and hopeful New Year.
Nothing says Happy Holidays like lots of twinkly lights. Here in the south of France, though December decorations may be more subdued than in the U.S., they brighten up dim days and lift hearts with their magical glow. La Rotonde, the famous fountain at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, decked out in a stunning, sparkly cape, is a splendid example.
Wherever you are, here’s wishing you a joyful holiday season and a New Year 2020, that’s full of hope, health and happiness.
Seeing the light in St. Jean de Luz is mesmerizing any time of day. But early morning and dusk were our favorites. From our holiday apartment looking west towards the Bay of Biscay, we were captivated by the sun sliding across the surf, illuminating the curling waves, as they crashed against the sand, all the way down the beach. As the sun set, we loved watching the blazing orange ball sink below the horizon, casting an eerily spectacular glow across the sea until it faded into soft moonlight. As if in a hypnotic state, we’d watch the light coming and going, day and night, for a week. For us, the light is the shining star of the St. Jean de Luz show.
But between sun up and sun down, there are many more delights in and around this enchanting enclave, snug against the Spanish border. Not far from St. Jean, there’s charming St. Jean Pied de Port, a major stop for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela and attractive Cambo les Bains, with its annual Basque cake festival, LaFête de Gâteau, featuring Basque dance performances. Within St. Jean de Luz proper, there are tons of outdoor activities like jogging/walking/strolling the elevated beach walkway or the beach itself. Surfing is a popular sport here, as well as paddle boarding, and aquatic walking—charging waist-deep through the surf. Or you can burn calories by hoofing it around the compact town, filled with specialty shops and lively cafes. I favored the tiny French beret boutique, Maison Laulhère and the Basque textile producers, Jean-Vier and Lartigue 1910, with their signature striped designs. Boutiqes selling espadrilles are ubiquitous, so it won’t come as a surprise that I finally gave in and went in—but I only came out with a single pair! There’s a beautiful indoor market, a cinema (often showing film versions in English) and an active train station. (On a previous visit, we made a day train trip to Biarritz.
North of St. Jean, Ralph found a great nature reserve called Marais d’Orx, where he spotted a couple of cool birds—a snipe and a booted eagle. A dozen griffin vultures made an appearance on top of La Rhune, a mountain on the Spanish border. We reached the nearly 1000-meter high peak by a cute cog train, right out of Disneyland—but it was only as scary as the twirling teacups ride. Before hiking down the daunting rocky path back to the parking lot at the Sare train station, we took in the magnificent views, stretching to the sea and snapped photos of the roaming pottok ponies. Another day, I hopped a bus to Bilbao, Spain, to experience the extraordinary Guggenheim Museum, designed by the Canadian-American architect, Frank Gehry.
St. Jean’s fishing port is busy-busy-busy, so finding fresh fish is easy peasy. We enjoyed the chipirones à la plancha (pan-fried baby squid with beaucoup garlic and parsley) at Le Suisse, but they were astounding at Le Bar Basque, a rustic place overlooking the water in nearby Guéthary. Also, we had a phenomenal fish lunch at Le TTiki (yes, the name begins with a double T) in Hendaye. Highly recommend—as we do St. Jean de Luz, and the whole of the Pays Basque, in fact. Next fall will be our third visit. Unless, we can’t wait that long…
Mexico City was home during my university junior year abroad. When I wasn’t at class in the Museo National de Antropología, I was traipsing around the archeological sites of Mitla and Monte Albán or playing on the pristine playas of Alcapulco. But I haven’t set foot on la tierra mexicana in decades. Yet in mid-August, I found myself in the land of Aztecs. Sombreros to the left of me, piñatas to the right, I was smack in the middle of La Fête Mexicaine in the charming village of Barcelonnette—in the southern French Alps.
The remarkable history of the annual event begins in the early 19th century when some adventurous Ubaye Valley residents left France to seek their fortunes in Mexico. Monumental fortunes were, in fact, racked up—mostly in the textile industry. Between 1880 and 1930, about ten percent of the fifty to sixty thousand folks who’d left for Mexico returned to Barcelonnette, where they built elegant mansions—les maisons mexicaines. Now, to honor the strong Franco-Mexican heritage, every summer the town welcomes Mexican folkloric dance troupes, mariachi bands, and Mexican chefs for ten days of celebration, Mexican style. By day, professional dancers and musicians in authentic costumes roam the streets, entertaining crowds; by night tout le monde parties to lively salsa groups on the main square. Next August, come on down—or rather, come on up to Barcelonnette—and shake your maracas. Ay, chihauhua!
Aztec dancers pose during a break.
Aztec dancers take to the streets.
Folkoric dancers kick up their heels.
Folkoric dancers charm the crowd.
The salsa band brings the crowd to the dance floor.