The insistent chatter of magpies building their nest outside my window in the platane tree tells me that I can trust the rhythms of nature. Spring is a fact I can count on. And this turbulent wind and rain are the necessary preparations for its ripening. This is what I remind myself as I try to ignore the météo, the weather forecast, which predicts two weeks more of grey rain. I remind myself to keep my eyes on the magpies, and on the hyacinth pushing up the earth in our courtyard garden, and on the rust-colored buds on the chestnut trees, and the giraffe. Each of these makes me smile.
a giraffe in Marseille
In the old port of Marseille, sculptures of a rhino, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the promenade, just for fun. And on the hill in the distance stands the Basilque-Notre -Dame-de-la-Garde whose exterior walls bear witness to the bullets of WWII which did not spare this sacred place. Built in 1850’s in the romano-byzantin style, the basillica affords a unique view of Marseille.
We’ve only just begun exploring Marseille, and soon I’m hoping to find some cafés or clubs where we can hear world music. The influence of the Maghreb permeates all of daily life in Marseille. We have only to go to meet it.
Ken in Marseille
There are many kinds of experiences that bring us closer to understanding daily life in France. SweetPea was a guide into little alleyways, forests and roadside fields. Through her I learned views of the cities and countryside from a meter off the ground, following where her nose would lead us. I miss her perspective, her courage and her perseverence.
Perhaps to make room for grieving, Ken was overtaken by the cold bug and I with the norovirus/grippe intestinale for two weeks in February. Both are epidemic now in France. We had to rest quietly at home, allow our thoughts and feelings to wander, reads lots of books, and gather new strength.
Now our horizons lift and we are searching out new territories to explore. Suddenly it seems we’ve turned a corner. We have reached the halfway mark of our séjour in France, and just like the rhythm of the seasons, our pace is quickening also. We’ve begun to plan our “must see” trips: the countries and cities we want to visit before our return to CA the beginning of September. So far we know we will be going to England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Switzerland. Under scrutiny is Norway, especially since we have new friends there, from Oslo and Tromso.
And, of course, there is so much more of France to see and roam. Recently I learned that my cousin Ann is living in Brittany (she had lived in Paris most of her adult life) and only a couple of weeks ago we had the wonderful experience of meeting her two grown sons, Alex and Greg, and their families, who live and work in Paris. What a warm and generous welcome we received from them, sharing dinner hosted by Alex and his wife Céline (and their two precious children), and receiving a guided tour of Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower area with Greg and his two children. We stayed in the “Hotel Windsor Opéra” where Greg is the manager of Reception. It’s a great little hotel on a quiet street where I slept like a baby for all three nights. I highly recommend it.
Unfortunately, I was having so much fun at dinner with Alex and the whole family that I forgot to take pictures. But with Greg and the children the next day I remembered to snap a few. Greg showed us a lovely long walk up the hill on Avenue Junot to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur, sharing a special sculpture and story of “the man who could walk through walls.”
the man who could walk through walls
Sacre Coeur with Greg, Leo & Juliette
The day was sunny and cold and we kept moving quickly. Tourists filled every site waiting at least two hours to get in the door – even at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Juliette’s dream of going up the Eiffel Tower has to wait a bit longer until late spring when we return to Paris to go with her. We will buy our tickets well in advance.
Street performers have to be one my favorite aspects of life in France. Often we will come upon a mime, all in white, standing on a little box on the street, still as a monument – until – you put a coin in his or her hat at his feet. Then he comes to life and blows you a kiss, shakes your hand, bows. It’s all magic. Soon he is back to still life. And then there’s the flower woman in Montmartre with her accordion. Even the most fashionable women of Paris cannot match her panache, her charm.
the accordion woman
Another highlight of our brief stay in Paris was attending the Ballet National d’Opera at the Palais Garnier for a magnificent performance of a Japanese contemporary ballet called “Kaguyahime.” Using all traditional Japanese instruments of drums, wind, chimes and cymbales, the theatre pulsed with sound against extravagant sets of flowing silk drapes. Oh, it was wonderful!
And to make the best even better was the Palais Garnier itself, opulent in gilt and frescoes, and the new ceiling (1986) in the main auditorium by Chagall. What could be more beautiful?
Chagall – Palais Garnier
With Colleen, who has just arrived from California, we will spend three days in Paris this weekend and find more treasures. We have new recommendations for restaurants to try, tickets for a concert at La Sainte -Chapelle, a yearning to see more works by Chagall at the Musée d’Orsay and Musée du Luxembourg, and so much more in a very short time. With any luck we’ll get a few sun breaks.
Ken is pining to snowshoe in the Alps, so that is where he will spend his weekend, weather permitting. He has been meeting some very lovely new friends through golfing with the men’s group at Set – a local club and he has games and tournament dates already set for the next several weeks.
We are both beginning to feel that we “belong” here – not just passing through. Not everything is as difficult as it was in the beginning. We know how to get the local bus, and the TGV station for the train to Paris, and where to meet our friends at the Marseille airport. People recognize us and wave to us on the streets of Aix, and we are welcomed with smiles and extra good service at our favorite restaurants. And now, with friends coming to visit, we can appreciate these familiar surroundings with the eyes of a newcomer, but without the stress of having to learn everything from scratch. Very fun!!
Thanks to all of you who have written us email notes. We love hearing your news and hellos. Bisous! Karen and Ken