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Bonne Année 2021 from Snowy Saint-Rémy

A very Happy New Year 2021 to you all!

A “sugar-coated” Petit Hotel.

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 Roman ruins of Les Antiques on the outskirts of town.
The war memorial on the Place de la République.

The sun was in hiding, but the pristine dusting showed off our small city in a new light, refreshing our perspective and lifting spirits.

Vines slumber under a coating of snow, at the base of the Alpilles.

Closing the door on a tumultuous year, we welcome 2021, a New Year filled with promise.

Today, sunbeams bounce off the hyacinths, a sign of spring and hope.

Stay safe, well, and hopeful.

Amitiés, Gayle

PS

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:)

Let There Be Lumière…in St. Rémy de Provence


The Hôtel de Ville is all dolled up for the holidays.

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.

This festive boutique glows with holiday cheer.

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.

Irresistible treats are aplenty at this famous cookie shop, Le Petit Duc.

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.

A huge Santa greets customers at St. Rémy’s smallest book shop.

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.

Shiny bulbs and fresh greenery adorn a pretty fountain on St. Remy’s circle road.

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.”

Decked out in snuggly après-ski attire, Santa looks ready to get cozy.

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!


Colorful, shining bulbs decorate the monumental sapin de Noël next to L’Église Saint-Martin.

Wishing you and your families a happy, healthy and hopeful holiday season and New Year 2021.

A neighborhood wreath shimmers in the Provençal morning sun.

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!

Sigh of Relief in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Les Baux from Domaine Ste. Berthe
The hilltop village of Les Baux overlooks the fall vines at Domaine Ste. Berthe.

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.

A farm we pass on our one-kilometer walk.

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.

A Camargue cowboy leads a pony trek through the marshes.

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.

Fabulous flamingos feast at a large pond near the beach.
Kite surfers fly high at Saintes-Maries-de-Mer.

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.

It may look like a water treatment unit, but to little egrets, it’s a buffet.

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.

Mr. Ed, who lives around the corner, licks his lips as I relate our Thanksgiving menu.

Happy “giving thanks” to all, wherever you are.

Stay safe, well and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle

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!

A vibrant berry bush with morning glories mixed in reminds us to be hopeful.

Heartfelt Condolences

Sunflower

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.

Stay safe, well and hopeful.

Wheelin’ ‘Round St. Rémy de Provence

The carousel is quiet but not so the snazzy choppers–one with a fringed footrest!

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.

A classy roadster on a lunch break before taking the curves in les Alpilles.

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.

Vintage Citroën delivery trucks on display.

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.)

A smiley face baby carriage cheers up passersby.

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. 

A quad barrels down a shady lane.
Spandex-clad cyclist buzzes around a corner.

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.

Covered wagon takes passengers deep into the Camargue where flamingos can be spotted. Bring your binoculars!

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.

Bises, Gayle

PS

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!

 

 

 

Refreshing Comfort Zones in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence…and nearby

Lac Peiroou
Tranquil Lac Peiroou, in Les Alpilles, invites thoughtful contemplation.

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.

Four Dolfins Fountain
The Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins is the centerpiece of inviting Place Plessier.

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.

Cafe de la Fontaine fountain
Café de la Fontaine patrons can enjoy this attractive circular fountain.

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.

Nostradamus Fountain
The Fontaine de Nostradamus pays tribute to St. Rémy’s most famous native son.

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.

La Ciotat
A magical sunset in La Ciotat.

Lagoon in the Camargue
A beautiful sunset over a calm Camargue lagoon in Saintes-Maries-de-Mer

Stay well and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle

PS The Birdwatcher’s Wife…in France has taken “a” shape, an important step. Stay tuned!

Mallards on Canal de la Crau
A Mallard family takes a swim on the Canal de la Crau, on the north side of St. Rémy.

Somber Summer in St. Rémy de Provence

Hot pink hydrangeas shout summer in St. Remy.
Hot pink hydrangeas bloom peacefully in St. Remy de Provence

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.

Stay safe, healthy and hopeful.

Bises (virtually!), Gayle

My St. Rémy: Almost Mine and Mine Alone

Red flowers
Cascading ruby blooms…

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.

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.

Lilacs
Lovely lilacs…

In the meantime, printemps bings joy through bursting blossoms and backyard birds—treasures to cherish.

Local strawberries
Local strawberries–what a treat!

Stay safe, well and hopeful!

Grosses bises, Gayle

Provençal Posey Promises

Provencal Posey Promises
Early April bloosoms in Provence

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.

Mural Clos Mozart 2
Pink blooms perk up the recycle bins in Saint-Remy-de-Provence

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.

Via Domitia rock
On our daily one-hour walk, we follow the ancient Roman road, Via Domitia.

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.

Horse on walk
Our new best friend greets us on our daily promenade.

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.

Mural Clos Mozart
This neighorhood mural reminds us of adventures to come.

Until then, dear readers, stay safe, well and positive!

Grosses bises, Gayle

PS

Mais oui, during the confinement I am making progress on The Birdwatcher’s Wife.

From Saint Rémy to all around the globe: BONNE ANNÉE 2020!

Hotel de Ville morning in Jan 2020
With a sharp blue sky overhead, Saint Rémy’s City Hall shines brightly on a crisp January morning.

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.

Bises, Gayle

Stes Maries de Mer dusk
As dusk falls, Ralph finishes his big year at his top birding destination, Saintes Maries de Mer, the capital of the Camargue.