Monday, January 30, 2012

a Quaint Little Village in the South of France

Vauvert taken from above the village
It was after midnight when we finally drove into the little village that would be my home.  I was already confused with all the round-a-bouts and signs going in all directions... so I'm kind of amazed we even got to the village.  All I kept saying was the streets are so small, the place is so OLD.  I could practically hear the legions of Roman soldiers' sandals slapping the cobblestone as they marched through the country expanding the empire bringing through armies and trade goods. 

We parked the car and walked through the square arm in arm. My first walk through the village. There was a woman leaning out her window on her elbows smoking a cigarette watching us drag the luggage behind us; wheels cackling and crackling on the cobblestone streets.  Her eyes followed us up our little street but she had to lean forward slightly to see which door we entered just off the square.  I can imagine the talk … “hey ya know that old marquis, he just brought a woman home… what up with that??”  ok, I don’t know French yenta-speak yet…

We finally walked into our door (and up 3 flights of steps) and collapsed on the couch.  Ian made some aperitifs and a really nice, light dinner for us.  I had seen the apartment many times on the internet and in photos and videos, so I kind of felt like I was walking into a very familiar place.  I felt very comfortable both in the flat and with Ian.  We picked up right where we left off.  It felt as natural as that.  We were so happy to finally be together and as comfortable as we had always felt. I knew this was the right thing.  After talking and eating and laughing, we were both exhausted and went to bed.  We slept soundly in each other's arms.  It was a peaceful and long sleep.  

The next morning we didn't have a lot of time to lounge around as we had to go the market in the village (Saturdays and Wednesdays). We had a lot to get because Ian's godson was coming over for Pentecost Sunday and it was the first time I'd be meeting him. Ian was preparing a gourmet meal for the occasion.  I'm a late sleeper but Ian jumps out of bed in the morning like popped toast.. ready to bring on the day. I, more or less, need to be dragged out of bed with a promise of coffee and a nice breakfast. Ok, well, it still it takes me until I hear the percolator working before my feet hit the floor.   I do have to say... a coffee snob I always was, and Starbucks/Seattle's Best were the only 2 American coffees I'd drink... but I gotta admit, I have NOT had a bad cup of Joe since I've hit the continent... Europeans know their coffee!

I walked in to the kitchen for my first European breakfast... really not too different from the breakfasts I knew as a child... bread and butter and coffee mostly. What really struck me was what I saw out of the kitchen window. It was a December morning and I saw terracotta tiles across roofs as far as you can see. I saw white, whispy clouds hanging under a sky of such a color blue, you just knew Crayola didn't have the right crayon for it; and a light that cast such a hue that you're not sure if it's real or a dream... I immediately could see why all these painters had to come here to paint.  It's the light.

Local wines are
often bought
in quantity
using plastic jugs
a Landing Smack in the Middle of Wine Country.... how convenient.
Winery in Vauvert
The Languedoc is the central region in the south of France that stretches from the Rhone Valley in the east to the Spanish border in the southwest. We live in one of the Mediterranean coastal departments called the Gard.  Wine grows easily here.  It’s been said that grapevines have existed in the south of France since the Pliocene period… that would be before homo sapiens.  The local wines here in Vauvert have not disappointed.  It is some of my favorite wines… and if you knew how cheap we get it for… you’d drool!

The winery here in Vauvert was having a tasting for the holiday season.  Ian and I walked down there to taste some of the wines and cheese and charcuterie.  It was very festive.  They had all kinds of wines in various stages of wine “growth” some were at the beginning which were paler and gave the same wine a completely different taste.  I know NOTHING about wines… I didn’t drink before I got to France… funny, now I drink wines and aperitif’s all day long… The local wine is so cheap here people come and get it for a couple of Euros in big plastic gallon jugs…yes, the exact same wines we pay $20 bucks a bottle for back in the States.

a Saturday Market in Vauvert during Christmas Season
There isn't a Saturday or Wedsnesday that goes by without the Vauvert Market.  Here you can buy things from shoes and clothes to house gadgets and jewelry... but mostly, mostly you can buy the freshest most beautiful fruits and vegetables you could imagine.  Not only that, but you can also find pastries, cookies, charcuterie (cold cuts) all kinds of olives and wierd things I never saw before.  I love the market.  

During the Christmas season, the market is even more interesting...  Santas and elves played checkers with kids on huge boards and carousels and horse drawn Santas threw candies out to the kiddies.  Gotta love the colorful clowns with balloons.  Yes, Vauvert is a very festive place... It was really nice to see.  Of course, it still has it's excellent foods, which we dutifully picked up or ordered for Christmas.  I was surprised to see that the turkey is very popular as a Christmas dinner here... and even more surprised to see that in the market, they give you the turkey with the head on and decorated in all it's finest plumage.  Not sure if I found that morbid or respectful.  Obviously, it was traditional. 

This is where I usually
buy a baguette...
pas trop cuit sil vous plait!
Oh by the way... you know, the bread here is like no other.  Plus you get it straight from the Boulangerie HOT and FRESH... you can't imagine how hard it is not to break into it before it even gets to the door of our house.   I like to go buy it cause I know what to say, it's cheap and the girl knows me.  

The boulangerie (above) is not usually this crowded, but I think this was just before Christmas so everyone was stocking up.  They have lots of other delicious looking things I'd love to try, but Ian isn't a "sweet" eater... so I'm just "biding my time" for a pastry attack.  Then watch out... if you're in there... I warn you... step AWAY from the pastries!

One of the nice things about a hard day at the market... is that you can always stop at the cafe on the square for a little espresso and people-watching.  Plus, when you're done, there isn't that far to go since the cafe is about 10 footsteps away from our front door... how's THAT for convenience???  Well, ok, so there's still the 41 steps straight up once you get in the door... but that's another story!

All in all, life here in Vauvert is quite pleasant.  The village itself has it's own gentle rhythm and everything you need is within walking distance.  The people are very friendly, and everyone is super polite!  It's amazing... everyone says bon jour, calls you madame, shakes your hand, says sil vous plait and merci and bon journee and eager to help even if they can't communicate well with you.  When you greet someone you know, it's always a 3-cheek kiss (not 2) and people who know who you are, go out of the way to say hello even if they're across the square.  

I'm really liking my new home :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

a New Old World

My poor, sainted mother's
living room!
A long flight from New York but I am finally landing at Schiphol in Amsterdam.  It's now December 1, 2011.  This will be my first time on the European continent.  I hate flying and I'm glad the longest leg of the journey is over with. The plane was packed and the two guys next to me (a German guy and a Dutch guy) were having a significant bro-mance and gushing over each one's accomplishments. They finally went up by the flight attendants galley to hit on the beautiful stewardess which left me the entire row for the last couple of hours of the flight.  I was happy to stretch my legs and ponder this future I had created for myself... on becoming European... just because it was my roots... was I too American to assimilate into my father's culture?  How long would it take before I felt comfortable in this land with it's vague familiarity and vast cultural differences. Funny... I spent most of my youth fighting for my Americanization in an immigrant family and now in my golden years... I'm jumping back to my European roots... into a new relationship, a new home, a different culture, a strange language and no discernible income. Suddenly I felt like David Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth... suddenly I was the alien.  I couldn't help wondering what category of "crazy" I actually fit into. 

It was a rainy, gray landing into the airport at Amsterdam.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of some of the landscape but the clouds were thick and low.  As we slowly filed out of the plane I realized we never did that thing where you fill out a form and declare what you have before landing in a foreign country.  Could that have been done away with since the last time I was in London?  Do I pick up my luggage and go through customs here or in Paris?... or at my final destination in Montpellier?  Could I change my seat on the flight to Paris?  I figured out I have a middle seat... I really don't want a middle seat.  Well I have a four hour layover to figure it out.  I remember looking up as I walked out of the jetbridge.  There before me lay a very large airport with unfamiliar signs and confusing directions.  I must have looked sadly pathetic because one of the crew came up to me and (in perfect English) explained where I needed to go next... Passport check... more security. I was very grateful for the help.  After I went through Passport Check I found myself once more in a myriad of walkways with crazy colored arrows pointing in different directions. I also saw some booths people stuck their tickets in and were able to figure out what gate their connecting flight was at and where they sat. I tried one.  Nope, not working for me.  No sooner did I look around for some help when wham... right in front of me was another flight attendant smiling broadly and eager to help... wow, I'm impressed!  She not only helped me with the machine but helped me change my seat on the plane to Paris. I think I love this city. Everywhere I went in that airport, people were smiling and helpful... hey... this is not so bad. I like Amsterdam. I'm coming back for a real visit.

So glad I switched my seat for the Amsterdam-Paris flight.  It was only supposed to be an hour and a half but ended up being almost another hour because the flights into Paris were all backed up... so we were in a holding pattern. Too bad it was still rainy and cloudy because at the very least, a nice view of Paris ... the city of lights ... would have been worth it... but Paris was not cooperative.

Walking out of the jetbridge in Paris compared to Amsterdam... well, apples and oranges.... Where Amsterdam was filled with light and bustling with shiny, happy people... Paris/DeGaulle Airport was dark and almost empty, except for those of us deplaning.  No helpful crew or airport personnel... no signs, no instruction (as we obviously missed our connecting flight).  My first impression of Paris... dark, brooding, dismissive... as I followed the crowd (hoping to hook into those who missed their flights as well) I could sense an inaudible sneer coming from every dark corner of the airport... "you think we care... you stu-peed leetle foreigner... I speet on your neediness... pteww... voila!"

I followed the crowd to baggage claim.  I saw nothing before that... no little booth you could go to for information, no KLM or Air France check ins... just the cattle drive to baggage claim.  I had no idea if my baggage would even be on there since I assume it's going on to Montpellier... or if it is, should I even pick it up... am I going through customs here or in Montpellier? Only one door led out of baggage and that brought me outside the security zone meaning, my only way back in again will mean yet another security check.  I was dying of thirst.... I didn't bring my bottled water from Amsterdam because I didn't think I could get through security with the liquid... bad move.  No place to buy water... just expensive chocolates, watches, and perfume... most people were finding taxis or buses or being picked up by someone.  I tried asking someone where to go to find flight information... just annoyed looks and shrugs ... ok, I finally find my way to Air France check in, but I couldn't get in without a boarding pass... which of course I didn't have cause I didn't have my connecting flight.  Oh my... I asked some passing flight crew to direct me to where I could find help... (I know the captain of a plane can speak English... isn't that like international air language or something)... "klaatu barada nikto" ... ok, I didn't REALLY say that... but I may as well have.  I got a look of utter disdain and a dismissive wave... Thanks for the help ya friggin moron... ok, now I'm pissed!

I finally found an Air France check in.  After waiting FOREVER (and I think amazingly patiently) for them get off their cell phones and give me some service... they tell me there is no more room on the outbound flight to Montpellier... ok, you don't want to go there with me... (yes, I gave them "the look"... ask my sister... it's frightening)... I got a flight out.. now I just had to wait.

"Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home.
Home! And I'm not gonna leave here
ever, ever again, because I love you ..."

The flight to Montpellier was short but wonderful.  It was late so there was hardly anyone on the plane.  I had the whole row to myself.  Now I'm thinking of poor Ian waiting at the airport all this time for me.  I couldn't get in touch with him so I hoped he'd find out from the airport.  Ok, now I'm starting to get nervous.  What will he think after this year and a half of phone calls, google chats and webcams ... what if we suddenly find ourselves not being able to talk or not attracted to each other or  one of us thinking "oh my God, what did I get into?"

I got off the plane and found myself in another empty airport.  Great.  I MUST have to go through customs here!  At least there were signs... EU Passports here... All Other here... ok, I'm all other... I walk through the "all other" door... to a belt with the baggage going through... and to my utter surprise.. there was my Ian... beaming and glowing with a huge bouquet of beautiful flowers... and all I could think of is... how did you get in here!!!

There was no customs, just pick up your bags and go.  I flew into Ian's arms and we kissed and hugged like a couple of teenagers in front of all the business passengers ready to pick up their luggage from a very long day in Paris... and we gabbed and laughed and gabbed and waited for the luggage and then walked out to the car park and then couldn't find the car... but not in one instance did I feel anything but "I'm home... I'm where I'm supposed to be and in the arms of the man I'll spend the rest of my life with..."  I was home and I was in love and I was ready to face this new old world hand in hand with my husband... ok world... bring it on... I'M HOME!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, January 9, 2012

a Facebook Romance

"You come to love by not finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly" ~ Sam Keen

I began 2010 planning for a big change in 2011.  I wasn't certain how or what it would actually end up being... but a big change in my life had to be made and I didn't know how else to do it but to make a plan and chip away at the mountain.  I took in as much freelance work as I could get my hands on and started a "Euro Fund" ... I actually had a soup tureen called my "Euro Pot" and any spare dollars or savings made from doing without something went into the "Euro Pot." After quite a bit of researching I found out that I was eligible for dual citizenship with Italy through my father.  As a citizen in the European Union I would be able to stay as long as I wanted under my Italian citizenship. It was a long and complicated process so I began the document search.  Luckily mom had a lot of things, even though I needed to get them updated.  I also started the name change process... really cheap on Legal Zoom

I still wondered about being resourceful enough to bring in some kind of income while I traveled.  For this I thought maybe blogging or submitting articles to travel websites or something over the internet so that I can work and travel at the same time.  A friend of mine, Wendy Wise is a British ex-pat living in France.  She owns a business called Facilitutors (BTW... a fabulous way to go if you have in mind an education destination... or a just a fun weekend thing that's different... a one-stop shop if you're looking for a course or a venue in France). Wendy (unknowingly playing Cupid) hooked me up with several people who blogged for a living and through one of them (thank you Keith) I connected with my "happily ever after."

Ian Watson Mitchell is a very interesting man with a very interesting past.  He has been a professional soldier with the British Army, a civil servant in London, a civil servant Army, attached to Germany, a ski instructor, and a chef... trained and worked all over Europe.  He was married for 25 years to his best friend Kate who was a nurse.  They both traveled all over the world.  Kate died in the 90's of cancer.  

I won't go into the whole romance as that is a very long story in itself. Anyway, I'm really trying to catch up to the "present" so I can start telling you about my Europe... I just wanted to give you some background. Suffice it to say, Facebook had to be invented in order for us to meet... and the webcam had to be invented in order to interact at the next best level when you can't actually BE THERE. It's a very techy romance to say the least. The years 2010/11 were our's to fall in love and work on how we could live the rest of our lives together... and we did.  Together, every step of the way.It wasn't easy... especially all the paperwork and the people who  shook their heads... so positive this was not a good thing.   But we knew better. And we knew we'd find a way. Call it coincidence, call it destiny, call it the power of thought and prayer... but here I am sitting in the south of France, just finished dinner and about to watch The Godfather (in French) with my husband (and some ice cream).

My sister Joanne came out to help me move from Chicago to New York...
Part I of the 2-part move to France.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

a Fine Plan

Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in 2004.  Love it or hate it, if you live on this planet you know what it is... if you're really old and/or not quite computer-saavy you may call it "spacebook"... but you know what it is.

I started on Facebook after I lost my job back in 2009.  I used it like most people did, connecting with family flung far and wide as well as reconnecting with people from my past ... even deep past.  I had fun with it.  After my "I must learn French" epiphany, I used it to connect with people in France so that I could use it as a learning tool as well as meeting new people.  The people I met on Facebook were instrumental in the direction my life took and though I have not yet met a lot of them, I consider them very dear and treasured friends.

Some promo pieces I did
for Atelier Cent Trieze
in Pertuis, France
I first met the people at Atelier Cent Treize (a sculpture and drawing workshop in Pertuis, France) due in part to my interest in a past passion for clay and sculpture. It was through them I was extended an invitation to visit and use of an apartment at the back of the workshop. I think that's what first got me seriously considering visiting Europe. I figured... why not? I was thinking of leaving Chicago (really... the winters just wear you out) so I devised "Plan B" (Plan A being find a job that doesn't take 4 hours of commuting a day, pays a living wage AND offers affordable health insurance. As you can see, both plans appear to be equally unattainable). So I went for the more pleasurable one.

Plan B: (pure genius) I could fly to Paris, travel by train visiting various Facebook friends in France and end up in southern Italy visiting family.  With luck, this would take me from autumn to spring.  Depending on where destiny may lead while in Europe, I'd come home to New York and settle somewhere on the east end of Long Island (totally bypassing winter as I knew it).  This would please friends and family who have been after me to return to the homeland since I left Manhattan for Chicago... and I wouldn't feel so bad about settling back east if I at least had a little European adventure.

OK, so there are a few flaws to this plan.  The biggest one was funding it... even though I could afford it at the time, could I afford it by the time all the preparations were done?  OK, that was a big problem... let's just leave that to destiny... if I were going to "create something that still does not exist" through pure faith... well, that should work itself out, right?  I'll just put one foot in front of the other and plan as if this was actually going to happen.  OK, so next flaw... I can only stay on an American visa for 3 months. How can I stay longer? This glitch is followed by the fact that my birth certificate says Concetta and I have been using Tina since I was born, including all legal documents and taxes.  I would need a legal name change before I could apply for a passport.  Oh yea, and I need to be able to earn some kind of income while I was traveling. Something I could do on the internet probably.

I had no idea how any of these things would work itself out. I just believed that it would and acted as if this was NOT the plan of a crazy woman. Most people had problems wrapping their brain around my plan.  Kind of like an "I Love Lucy" episode... maybe I'd make money stomping grapes in Italy. 

The "tsk, tsks" screamed almost audibly from people's shaking heads when I told them my plan. They mostly just smiled politely...but I could hear their brains rattling in disbelief. I didn't care. I believed. I believed I could create my own reality. I believed enough to draw into existence one Monsieur le Marquis du Galipot. He rode in with the dawn on a white horse, chain mail gleaming in the sun over his kilt; sword at the ready to battle my demons.  My knight, my highlander, my archangel, my protector.  Yikes.... maybe it's true... I have bats in my belfry... I've gone berserk, bonkers, cracked, crazy, delerious, demented ... she's mad as a friggin hatter!  Oh... get real... I just fell in love.  Madly, deeply, truly.

Monday, January 2, 2012

a New Beginning

Sometimes you just have to take the present by the neck and drag it into the future. Like so many of us, I got stuck on that hamster-wheel.  I was peddling as fast as I could, but life kept overtaking any headway I could make. How did I get here? This wasn't in the plan. It was all I could do to keep up... and that was to get up, go to work and hope the car didn't break down so that the delicate ratio of cash in/cash out didn't set off another tailspin. And then; it happened…
Due to the current blip in the economy we’re
forced to cut staff… by like 60%.
Great, took a year just to learn this job.  A job I actually liked and made decent money at AND was close to home.  I knew it was too good to be true.  So I join the ranks of the unemployable… old enough to be too expensive to insure; too young to retire (hah, like that’s an option).   Oh yea, and there are no jobs out there.  Now I’m living on my savings, my future retirement and some freelance work.  Yea, life is good.

All my options were miserable... I hated all of them.  I needed a diversion... I discovered the joys of social networking... Facebook!  I don't care what anyone says, Facebook saved my life several times over... and you'll see why down the line. For now, it gave me a free distraction from my own reality.  I also read a lot of books, did some serious ancestry researching, began character development for a fantasy novel, and woke up one morning with a burning desire to learn French.  Not sure why, but I HAD to learn French, so I slowly started learning via the Internet and listening to France Inter radio.  It became an obsession.

"By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it." ~ Franz Kafka
In my incessant, relentless researching I came across this quote. It became my mantra. I threw all my faith into that quote. If this is true then I can make something out of nothing... and nothing was what I had at the moment. What did I want? I wanted everything I thought I could never have so late in my life... the love of a good man and... an adventure.  Funny how life works... I got both.