Remembering France

Église Saint-Eustache – Paris – After-dinner stroll with my hosts Jean-Étienne and Luis – July

France and my friends there are never far from my thoughts. I’m terrible at writing to them –Je suis vraiment désolée Pascale et Jacky ! I need to remember they probably don’t care if I make mistakes. I have resumed my French lessons with Natacha via Skype once a week–J’adore !

**Pascale, Jacky, on peut se parler de temps en temps sur Skype, peut-être?

Monet’s Kitchen at Giverny

The other day during my lesson, since Thanksgiving is upon us, I was trying to explain a recipe, the broccoli casserole we have at nearly every holiday meal, and a few minutes in, we were both laughing so hard we could barely speak. I lacked the vocabulary and Natacha lacked the experience with a recipe that involves broccoli and a bit of minced onion, baked in a casserole dish with Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup, mayonnaise, sharp cheddar cheese, topped with Pepperidge Farm Stuffing. She could not imagine the result would even be edible, let alone a long-time family favorite. It had mayonnaise but was hot? It had soup but wasn’t soup? Soup out of a can for a favorite recipe? It had stuffing that wasn’t stuffing, but wasn’t exactly croutons either?  All we could do was laugh. My French has definite limits. Still, so much fun.

Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny
A bit of Monet’s Japanese Garden at Giverny
Monet’s Garden – Giverny – 1 July 2019

In October, I drove down to the Monet exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, hence the photos of my visit to Giverny this past July. I’m afraid I don’t have a great shot of the famous arched green footbridge. The day I was there, it was always groaning under mobs of people, not at all looking serene like in the paintings. Oh well, the waterlilies were in bloom and the gardens were stunning. Don’t even know what this flower is, but isn’t it gorgeous? No wonder Monet couldn’t stop painting!

For the past few months I’ve been taking a few poetry classes. Here’s my poem about living in France:

La Vie en France

I’m a different person in France, in La Rochelle.

It takes a few days to acclimate, to slow down, to breathe,

to allow myself to see, rather than photograph,

to be, more than do.

 

Of course, these days I know

not to make eye contact in the street,

to never let my hands drop below the table during a meal,

to count thumb first, palm in, to bag my own groceries.

 

I know to greet my friends pressing cheek to cheek,

right, then left, with a warm smile and a firm grip of hands—

or upper arms, if one is very moved—

rarely a hug,

 

but I have to remember, when I’m out and about,

to save smiles for a moment shared,

instead of launching them abroad like a blast

from a confetti cannon on the unsuspecting crowd.

 

I have to resist touching the produce,

displayed like art at the marché,

I have to remember to know exactly when I will eat it and with what

and to trust the expertise of the vendeur.

 

It takes a few days to stop bellowing wide Anglo-Saxon vowels

and instead to shape my mouth like a kiss

to greet clerks and servers and bus drivers with a soft bonjour,

to whisper the faint V of voilà that is almost not there at all,

to feel the grounding of the slight gargle of the Rs in au revoir, merci,

to hear and think and feel and dream in French. But once I do

 

I stand taller. I walk further. I stride with purpose like a local,

though no one thinks I’m a local—I’m too blond—

maybe English, possibly German, but I am in some ways Rochelaise.

 

En France I taste my food. I notice it. I sip my wine.

I take my meals in courses, even alone at home.

I do not read as I eat. I do not hurry.

There are no snacks—maybe an espresso and

a morsel of chocolate at exactly four o’clock.

Dinner’s at eight, as is breakfast, lunch by one,

mealtimes and customs regular as the tide,

 

which soothes me somehow, like the shush of sea on sand,

the drift of clouds over the wide blue ocean that calls to me—

Reviens—Come back—                                                                  from both shores.

(Written in loving memory of David, who made it possible.)

Wishing you wonderful times with family and friends and delicious food to eat, even if you can’t quite explain the appeal of your favorites!

Grilled Eels — Oui !

Yeah, the bottom one. YOU try pronouncing it!

Another questionable adventure was to join Pascale, Jacky, and friends for a grilled-eel BBQ out in a field east of La Rochelle. Pascale said she was hesitant to ask me, since it was a bit la France profonde, which basically means in the middle of the countryside where tourists rarely venture, with regular, village people who might have an accent or way of speaking that I would have trouble understanding. I was undaunted. Well, maybe a bit daunted about the eels. I didn’t take photos, since that felt like it would have been rude and intrusive during their annual multi-village gathering, but I had a great time. The hardest part was pronouncing the name of the village!

Most of Pascale and Jacky’s regular crew of friends were there–one couple, Jean-Marie and Jocelyne, had grown up in neighboring villages that were participating in the BBQ, which is how we were invited in the first place. It was row after row of picnic tables under a big tent. Benches were planks on iron supports, not always ideally positioned. At one point a man got up from one end of his bench, which threatened to unseat the elderly woman just behind me. Fortunately I was able to grab the bench before she toppled. It was all over in less than a minute, but Pascale and friends teased me that I’d be the next headline of the local newpaper, “Une Américaine a sauvé Madame”  (roughly, American Woman Saves Madame).

Of course it was a huge, traditional French multi-course meal. First the guys disappeared over to the bar tent for pastis or some other scary-strong apéro. Then as they drifted back the actual apéritif  course was served (little crunchy nibbles with champagne, I think — it all blends together a bit). Then halves of the small round melons like cantaloupe, filled with Pineau des Charentes as a first course (a revelation–WHY do we not eat it this way in the states?). Then the grilled eels, which are scarier to look at than to eat. They just taste like fish, since that’s basically what they are. More wine. And bread, of course. Then cheese,  more bread, salad. Then dessert and a bit more wine! (By the way, penalties in France for drunk driving are VERY severe. There is always someone who drastically limits their wine or does not drink at all.)

We capped the day with a detour to play a bit of pétanque.

We had three couples, plus me, obviously extraneous, but they insisted I play anyway. I redeemed myself with my last throw, a completely random lucky shot that hit the little cochonnet and launched it away from the boules the men had so skillfully thrown and over among the boules the women had thrown, resulting in a win for the women. “Jamais encore !” Antoine vowed. (“Never again!”)

So plenty of smiles and laughter, the best kind of day.

Sunny and Beckett

I’ll save my other reluctant  (but excellent) adventure in France for another post.  Even writing about these happy memories has cheered me up, and of course snuggles with baby Beckett, time with friends, and making plans for future events help too.

I guess I’d better just keep saying, “Oui !”

Just say, “Oui!” — Part One

I’m having a hard time lately–really sad and missing David like crazy–but I did promise more about France, so maybe this will redirect my thoughts for a while. It’s all day-to-day and learn-as-you-go, this grief thing. The 29th of August was the three-year anniversary of the day we learned David’s diagnosis was terminal. Certainly all the anniversaries have their own sting, but that’s one of the worst.  And unfortunately, you can’t count on the sorrow  magically shutting off when the calendar changes to the next day.

So . . . (deep breath) . . . in an effort to focus on the positive, I’ll tell you about a couple of adventures in France I was not at first sure I would enjoy.

I shouldn’t have doubted. Pascale ALWAYS plans excellent adventures, but when she suggested driving down to Royan to see a 1950’s concrete cathedral, I was skeptical. Fortunately I know better than to turn down anything proposed by Pascale and Jacky, so the morning of June 9th, we were on the road again.

Eglise Notre-Dame de Royan

The church is an impressive feat of engineering, so huge I never really got a decent photo, but here’s the best I’ve got.  It’s a moving story of building something great after senseless tragedy. On January 5th, 1945, Allied forces launched a heavy bombardment, believing it was a final stronghold of the Germans. Sources differ on the exact numbers, but all agree the bombing raids killed many more civilians than German soldiers and 95% of the town was destroyed, basically for nothing.

But Royan rose again. It’s very different from La Rochelle and most of the other French cities I’ve seen, so well worth the trip. I loved the wide flat beaches that made me think of long walks with David on Folly Beach . . .

Royan, France

. . . and these carrelets . . .

Carrelets, Royan, France

 . . . that reminded me of Jacky’s 70th birthday “cake.”

Talmont-sur-Gironde

Then we headed down the road to charming little Talmont-sur-Gironde, one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, where there are beautiful little details like this . . . .

Their church is pretty much the opposite of 1950’s concrete, ancient and barely hanging on to the edge of the cliff. The access to take the cool scary photo from below is now so dangerous we weren’t allowed down there.

Eglise Sainte-Radegonde, Talmont-sur-Gironde, France

Definitely a lovely, interesting day, but the best part was simply spending time with my friends, who with unflagging generosity, share the beauty of la belle France every time I see them.

So glad I said, “Oui, merci !” Even writing about it is making me smile.  Thanks again, Pascale and Jacky!

Next up: Grilled eels — Stay tuned!

Welcome, Beckett!

Beckett David Johnson, about 12 hours old

Beckett David Johnson arrived at 12:56 a.m. this morning about thirty seconds before Chelsea was to be rushed in for an emergency C-section. He emerged on the last-chance push with the help of forceps, so well done Chelsea, coach/dad Brian, the entire medical team and of course Beckett for finally agreeing to move out of the cozy womb.

He’s 8 lbs. 2 oz. and 19.5 inches long, so we’re not sure what he was waiting for, but he’s here at last. The last few hours were tough on both Chelsea and Beckett (so, of course, worried husband/dad Brian, too), and all Beckett wants to do today is sleep. We all know that feeling, but please pray that he will begin to wake up enough to nurse, which is necessary for many reasons, but at the moment to keep his blood sugar up to healthy levels.

Proud Mama Chelsea and Beckett

Just wanted to share this good news!

*I promise to pass along any well-wishes you leave in the comments.

 

Counting Up and Counting Down

My travels are over for the moment, but what a summer it has been! If you’ve read this blog much or know me at all, you know gratitude is one of my favorite things. It anchors me in the peace of God when worries and sorrows try to knock me down, and a few are trying at the moment, I’ll be honest.

Serenity is seeing a sunset and knowing who to thank.  ∼  Unknown (some say Amish Proverb)

Count your blessings, we’re told. So here’s a visual list of some of the blessings I’m counting.

Tiny moments of peaceful beauty:

Lake Sunapee Dawn — August 2019
Monet’s Japanese Garden, Giverny, France — July 2019
Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France — July 2019
Giverny, France — July 2019
Le Patio, La Rochelle, France — June 2019

Long afternoons and longer evenings of joy with dear ones:

Chelsea, Brian, Courtney, Brittany on the Megalodon — Felicity seeing them off — July 2019
Pascale and Jacky — on our way to Cap Ferret, France — June 2019
Left to right: Felicity, Amy, Ellie (in foreground), Bailey, Catie — 4th of July Weekend 2019
David – August 2011

And always, forever, my beloved David . . . . I’ll never stop being grateful for him!

*******

While I’m counting  up my blessings, we’re also counting down the days until Chelsea’s baby, Beckett David Johnson, is born. He’ll be my first grandson, and the first grandchild who will live nearby.  Any day now!

Baby Beckett, of course, will be one of the best blessings of all. Please keep him and Chelsea and Brian in your thoughts and prayers.

My sun sets to rise again.  ∼ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wishing you peace and beauty and dear ones to share them with!

Serenity and Celebration

I’m temporarily back in Colorado, but certainly have more photos to share of beautiful France, I promise you!

Whether home in Colorado or here . . .

Dawn, Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

. . .  I am officially back in the states after spending six and a half very busy weeks in France. I loved it, but I love being here, too.

The first morning at Sunapee, I woke very early. I don’t see many sunrises, since I’m more of a night-owl, but 6 a.m. in New Hampshire is noon in France, so for several days after my return, I was able to catch a bit of this beautiful serenity . . .

Lake Sunapee Sunrise

, , , before the more active lake life begins. This place, like La Rochelle, is a home away from home for me, which is fortunate since I’m headed back soon for yet another wedding in the family.

I love sharing times of celebration, but I also deeply appreciate serenity and the two don’t always go together.  Sometimes they do, though.  Soak in the tranquility of this view from the top of the Dune du Pilat, near Cap Ferret in southwestern France . . .

Atop the Dune du Pilat

Here’s what was actually going on when I took the shot . . . .

Dune du Pilat, near Cap Ferret, France (yes, that’s Pascale)

. . . lots of people celebrating this marvel, not to mention the fact they made it to the top!

And another shot from on high . . .

The view from Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire, USA

. . . which was more about celebration than serenity, since we were VERY high up on a chairlift, so not feeling completely serene as we headed down from Nellie and Stefani’s wedding to their reception, but look how beautiful it is!

After the festivities and a few more days enjoying the lake, people started heading back to their regular lives and peace took the place of parties. It was then that I had another wave of missing David so much the sadness threatened to overwhelm the serenity. And I suspect it will continue to do so sometimes. I know I’m “allowed” to miss him and to still feel sadness, but sometimes the sharpness of it catches me by surprise. When I tried to take a walk up the road, I remembered this . . .

David at Sunapee, July 2014, during of our grand year of adventure

. . . and I had a choice to make. I could be sad he wasn’t walking up the road to greet me–and I was, I have to admit–but I could also choose, even while feeling sad, to be grateful that he had introduced me to this beautiful place, and even more, that he had chosen to spend the bulk of his adult life loving me. What a gift.

So I’m finding that sadness, serenity and celebration continue to dance through my life, at times politely taking turns like newcomers at a church picnic, sometimes weaving in and out and joining together unexpectedly, forming intricate patterns more complex and beautiful than the contra dancing I enjoyed at the Folk School. But the music continues to play, and I guess all I can do is dance.

Île de Ré Blues

Only a few more days here, and I’m not even close to caught up, so you’ll probably be hearing about France for a while yet. Hope you don’t mind! This mini-adventure actually happened on June 6th.

I’ve always loved blues, the color in all its various hues and shades, and the music, whether haunting or funky. Not so much the emotion, but I suppose even that can have a certain tender poignancy sometimes.

Jacky, Pascale and I headed back to Île de Ré a few days after I  moved into Le Patio. Fortunately, this year was mostly about the color.

Shimmering, shifting blues and greens so stunning I could barely catch my breath. I had to remind myself to put down my camera occasionally and just soak it in.

We started with lunch in Saint-Martin-de-Ré in Le Belem, the same restaurant  where we lunched with David in 2017. Then on out to the western end of the island. where I took the picture that you sometimes see at the top of these posts (and most of those above). A lot more cairns now.

Ile de Ré Photo Redux — Low tide, so not quite the same view, but still stunning.

Pascale and I climbed the lighthouse this year, something we had not done on past visits.

Looking up — Le phare des baleines

Gorgeous views in every direction. . .

Above the birds!

The island that day was an absolute celebration of color. And not just blues and greens.  The coquelicots were carpeting the fields in bright orange-red.

Photo by Pascale

Then just as we were leaving, we caught a glimpse of the famous donkeys of Île de Ré that wear pants and give rides to children. Jacky obligingly stopped to let us jump out AGAIN for photos. None of them were wearing culottes, since they were off-duty, but this one was posing like a model. I couldn’t resist. The more traditional shaggy ones were all dozing in the sun, facing away from us. Not the ideal photo angle.

This post, with the uncooperative photo subjects and the blues and reds, is starting to remind me of an old post from our adventures in Key West 2015. Another memory that makes me smile.

There was certainly a moment the emotional kind of blues threatened, when we came upon the tree where David and Jacky sat for this photo in 2017. . .

Jacky and David, May 2017

I even took a photo of the empty branch with the beautiful sea behind it, but it’s too sad. I had to remind myself to be grateful we were even able to get back to this place he loved. I am.

It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy. David Steindl-Rast

Wishing you both gratitude and happiness!

Adventures in Wanderlust