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Take a Seat in St. Rémy de Provence

The sun’s shining on Chez Lucien on the ring road.

Printemps has arrived and so have boatloads of tourists. Masks are off, the cafes are open, and when the soleil is shining, the terraces will fill up fast.

These stylish black and white classic bistro chairs won’t be vacant for long.

It’s the perfect time to take a seat and watch the world go by. People watching is always a fun pastime here in St. Rémy, but now with the warm weather and so many coming out of their cocoons–from far and wide–the town is a veritable beehive of activity.

So why not take a pause, pull up a chair and enjoy the show? Of course, there’s the dilemma of which seat suits you best–a woven classic, a stone fountain bench or a colorful Bentwood? With dozens of possibilities to chose from, the choice seems endless.

Before I bid you adieu until next time, I’d like to pause for a moment to consider those struggling to survive in Ukraine. There are so many ways to support them, but many experts suggest donating may be the best. A lot of information is available about trusted institutions to donate to, but the International Committee of the Red Cross typically ranks highly.

As our hearts go out to Ukraine, we count our blessings for the peace we are so fortunate to enjoy.

Peaceful Place Favier

Stay safe and well.

Bises, Gayle

PS 

Update on The Birdwatcher’s Wife. Last month, I gave a talk on the book at the lovely Manoir de L’Étang in enticing Mougins and next week I’ll do another at Book in Bar, the independent, international bookstore in Aix-en-Provence. Here’s the page from their newsletter. If you’re in the neighborhood, pop in and say hello!

https://www.bookinbar.com/agenda.php

Hiding in Plain Sight Around Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: Delightful Design Elements

Picturesque Baisse de Raillon, encircled by a wide trail, is a haven for birds and walkers alike. Surprisingly, it’s situated next to a massive logistics center, fifteen minutes from St. Rémy, near St. Martin de Crau.

Birds, birds, birds. We’re always keeping an eye out for them on our forays in and around Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, binoculars at the ready. But, more often than not, those winged creatures are too far away or don’t pose long enough to get their picture taken. And that’s when I happen to notice the spaces near the spots that our feathered friends have just commandeered as a runway.

As if for the first time, I’m struck by the delightful variety of some architectural and landscaping design elements hiding in plain sight.

Knock-knock, who’s there? Who needs a harsh buzzer when you can tap-tap-tap melodiously to announce your arrival?

You’ve Got Mail! An iron box, a splintered wood container, or a slot carved in stone–these boîte aux lettres are here to deliver news to you.

Fence Me In. Colorful and creative, these enticing enclosures are everywhere. Just look!

Push me Pull Me. Elaborate or plain, polished and gleaming or tarnished and dull, these door pulls will get you in.

Happy Spring to all!

Stay well and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle

PS

Passion for Provence and The Birdwatcher’s Wife were featured in the March edition of the UK magazine, French Property News. You can read it here!

A Bicycle Balade in Saint-Rémy-de Provence

A sign announcing the new bicycle path.

Smooth and wide, Saint-Rémy’s brand-spanking-new bicycle path is a winner!

The new path is smooth, wide, and protected…

On a whim, Ralph and I recently tested out the section that runs east from Saint-Rémy between a canal and the D99 highway, dipping inland here and there to the cut-off to the sweet village of Mollégès, a little over ten kilometers.

This portion of the piste cyclable called Le Méditerranée en vélo, The Meditarranean by Bike, is completely flat with a few sweeping turns, so it was easy to go mindless and take in the scenery. Surprisingly, on a sunny day without a whiff of breeze, we had it mostly to ourselves. We sailed along at a good clip, stopping along the way to investigate new perspectives. At first we came to a pen of very shaggy brown cows, which, I imagine, are going to be the stars of many an Instagram post, once the spring cyclists arrive. At a gardening center, we saw sturdy century-old olive trees on offer and, on a side trail, we found snails for sale. Signs to some prestigious wineries like Domaine Romanin and Terres Blances tempted us. Maybe next time, we’ll pop in for a tasting!   

Oops, the end of the line…

Much to our dismay, the path stopped abruptly about two hundred meters before the round-about, where we planned to take a left and ride the two kilometers on the road to Mollégès. We tried to continue on the bumpy undeveloped terrain, but we soon lost interest with the bobble-head action. So we ducked onto the busy D99 and peddled like mad because there is little room for cars to pass. Luckily, no auto, or worse yet, a transport truck, tried to overtake us before we reached our turn-off—whew!

Conveniently, there is a boulangerie right there, so we picked up a tasty sandwich de poulet made from a baguette de graines for our déjeuner before continuing on. But not before popping into one of my very favorite consignment shops across the street.

A terrific consignment store–always fun to browse.

No treasures did I find, but was fun to browse for a few minutes. (I could have returned in the car for pick-up!) And I was happy to learn from one of the owners that the path would, indeed, be continued—yay!

Then it was back in the saddle to continue the two kilometers to Mollégès. In a small park by the post office, we sat on a stone wall and munched our lunch, watching Redstarts flit between the grass and trees. Then we cycled through the charming village and onward to Saint-Rémy via some back roads through the fields. Guessing where to make a left to return to the cycle path, we moseyed along until eventually we got it in our sights. We cruised into our driveway two and a half hours after we began our spontaneous mini adventure–a mere warm-up ride for serious cyclists–thoroughly delighted with our discoveries so close to home. Mille fois merci, Départment Bouches de Rhône!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day or Saint-Valentin in these parts!

PS

If you should take a peek at The Birdwatcher’s Wife–available from booksellers, including Amazon–I’d love to hear your comments or read them on Amazon or Goodreads!

You can get it here: The Birdwatchers Wife on Amazon

Bonne Année 2022 from Frosty Saint-Rémy!

For 2021-22, the Carrieres de Lumieres presents “Cezanne, the Master of Provence.”

I hope you all enjoyed some lovely holiday moments, despite restrictions. And that all is humming along as smoothly as it possibly can in this brand new year, which we hope will prove to be a healthier, happier, and more peaceful one across the globe.

This sweet boutique in the historic center keeps the holiday spirit going into January.

Here in Saint-Rémy, the temps have dropped, often dipping to freezing overnight, leaving the field next door frosted with a coat of silvery fairy dust. L’hiver has definitely arrived!

Place Favier, bustling in summer, slumbers peacefully in winter.

By late morning, though, often the sun is shining, making for some pleasant walks—with binoculars, of course. Within a few minutes, we can reach several paths through the Alpilles, always on the look out for a blue streak of a Jay whizzing by. And not far off, there are some nifty chemins near Les Baux, Lac de Barreau, by the village of Eyragues, or over the hill to Fontvieille.

Remote-controlled sailboats cruise a pond near Aix. Can you spot Mt. Sainte-Victoire in the distance?
A wide path circles Lac de Barreau, near Saint-Remy.

Aside from nature forays, there’s a special cultural event we look forward to in winter–the stunning quarry-turned-art venue, called Carrières de Lumières. (It’s open year-round, but we save it for winter when we have it practically to ourselves.) Photos are projected onto the monumental walls of the multi-chambered interior, accompanied by rousing musical scores from classic symphonies to pop tunes. Themes change yearly and just recently we finally witnessed the current show, “Cezanne, Master of Provence,” which began early 2021 and just closed.  (The program also included some abstract works by the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky.)  

After a day out and about, we return to the homestead to stoke a soothing fire and toss around travel ideas–to be realized when venturing further afield is possible.

Stunning sunsets like this one are such a treat.

But before we settle in to warm our toes by the fire, we take a peek at what’s happening outside. Sometimes we are wowed by a fabulous sunset, splashing magenta and blue or mauve and hot orange across the winter sky.

Stay safe and well—and hopeful!

Bises, Gayle

PS

The Birdwatercher’s Wife is out in the world! Here below, displayed at Book in Bar, the terrific international book store/cafe in Aix.

JOYEUSES FÊTES to all from Saint-Rémy

A drummer soaking up warm December rays in Saintes Maries de Mer (Camargue).

Season’s Greetings from our maison to yours.

Wishing You a Joyful Holiday Time

and a

New Year Filled with Good Health, Happiness & Hope.

Mille fois merci for your wonderful support over the year as I was trying to bring closure to The Birdwatcher’s Wife. Your kind words always gave me a much needed boost!

Golden light illuminates St. Martin Church, across from the Marché de Noël, which boosts a petting zoo.

As we march into 2022, above all, stay safe and well,

Bises, Gayle & Ralph

PS

I’m pretty sure you know the book is available on Amazon–print and Kindle–but don’t forget, it also can be ordered through any book store. Happy reading, and if you’re noticing birds more, that would be wonderful!

Postcards from Palm Springs, California

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!

Andreas Indian Canyon’s unusual rock formation.
A photo with Marilyn is a must-have for many tourists.
Beware: Mountain lion and bear make tracks in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve!

Fireworks finale concludes the Veterans’ Day parade 2021.

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.

Bises, Gayle

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!

Quoi de neuf in Palm Springs?

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.

Tourists gather round the Forever Marilyn statue during the weekly Thursday street fair.

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.

New Cody Place condos are listed “from $890,753.”

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.

Sadly, Sees Candies, on La Plaza in the center of town, has closed.

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.

Energetic folks workout in Ruth Hardy Park.
Temporary pop-up artwork, Popsicles, by John Cerney

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.

Sherman’s Deli is always a must-do.
The library in downtown PS opened in 1940.

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.

A roadrunner takes a morning constitutional.

That’s the latest from PS. More news from France upon our return.

Wherever you are, stay safe and well.

Bises, Gayle

PS

The Birdwarcher’s Wife is now out in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Shortly, it will be available to order through book stores.

The Birdwatcher’s Wife Arrives!

The cover design is by David Regan, using the original watercolor of avocets by Deborah K. Ahern.

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.”

Ralph’s tools of the trade: binoculars, Collins Bird Guide, and bird list.

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.  

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=The+Birdwatcher%27s+Wife&i=stripbooks-intl-ship&ref=nb_sb_noss.

And if you do get a chance to read the story of our French birding adventure, I so hope you find it engaging … and perhaps inspiring too. Maybe in ways that surprise you.

Happy reading!

Bises, Gayle

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Over the moon the book has finally reached the light of day! My new photo is by Ashley Tinker (@curiousprovence.com)

Lazy Summer Days: Grazing and Foraging in Saint-Rémy

Foraged summer bounty–from the bike trail and garden.

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.

A refreshing blackberry-raspberry-peach-yogurt smoothie.

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.

Delicious homemade fig chutney a lovely friend whips up…and shares!
Me and my trusty steed.

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!

To recap:

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 

HOW TO REGISTER:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_yuzCjjmBTrGuXPAsj9xqXw,  www.womanofacertainageinparis.com

OR

https://womanofacertainageinparis.com/travel-stories/how-to-retire-to-provence/

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!

Bises,

Gayle

PS

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.

It’s Heatin’ Up in Saint-Rémy

A summer “sweater” sporting a little birdie (on the left) adorns the ancient plane tree by the carousel.

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.”

A whimsical caterpillar is featured on this wrap–on the right side.

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.”

On the giant panel announcing the G-Graines project, each square, forming the foliage of the tree, shows a tree drawn by a local student.

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.

Hot pink outfits for a hot summer’s night.

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.

Dancers strut their stuff during the 14 July concert.

Happy Summer and stay cool!

Bises, Gayle

PS

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.