“She is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were an only child.” ~ Barbara Alpert
I have two great sisters; Joanne and Maria. I wish they both could have come to visit, but Maria was in the middle of planning for the upcoming wedding of her first daughter. Taking time to come out wasn’t an option at the time. Joanne’s husband couldn’t take time off the business so she was flying to France with her girlfriend from high school, Kathy. It was the first time in France for both of them.
The day before they were due to fly in I was getting a little nervous about leaving Ian to go to Montpellier Airport to pick them up. The only time I left him all summer was to go to the grocery store. He was usually ok when I got home, but sometimes he’d be in distress. I was also anxious because he wasn't feeling well and started feeling nauseous and vomiting most of the day. I was hoping that if there was a crisis, we’d get him to the hospital the day before I had to pick Jo up at the airport because I couldn't leave him alone like that. He insisted he’d be all right. He was a little better by the evening. I went to bed that night hoping for the best. He had been sleeping on the sofa-bed. I woke up in the early morning to sounds of him babbling in the salon. I got up and went in to see how he was. He was talking nonsense. His speech was like baby talk and he was talking to no one there. He didn't seem to be able to respond to any questions, even by gesture so I don’t believe he understood or knew what was being said or able to communicate what was happening or what he was feeling. I was afraid he was having a stroke so I called emergency and got him to the hospital as soon as I could.
The sun was sporting a beautiful azure-blue Mediterranean sky to welcome Joanne and Kathy to the south of France. I pulled in to Montpellier airport and drove past the front doors… there was Joanne and Kathy. I honked and waved. They looked so relieved to see me. I motioned I'd go park… I couldn't find an entrance to pull up where they were standing so I parked in the lot. Soon we were hugging and packing their luggage into the cracks and crevasses of the trunk and back seat of the car. Already my morale had lifted a thousand percent. I was so happy to see a kindred spirit! We drove back to Nîmes hospital to see Ian. It was amusing to watch their first reactions to France… and their first encounters with “roundabouts.”
We arrived at the hospital just when they were wheeling Ian into a room in the neuro ward. He seemed slightly better… at least he recognized me, but he was still a little incoherent and looked so frail and fragile. My sister gave me a look as if to say “wow, you are dealing with a lot more than I thought” and I felt relieved that at last someone sees! I followed him into the room to spend some time with him and after a while brought Joanne in from the hallway to say hello. I know he wanted me to stay longer but we needed to get Joanne and Kathy checked in to le Lys d’Ors (hotel) and stop by Carrefour (supermarket) so we’d have something to eat since I didn't know where we could go for dinner that would be open. I explained to Ian that we would see him tomorrow, but probably not until the afternoon. I think he understood.
After we were all settled, had a dinner of local wines and cheeses, and called home to assure safe landings we talked about what we could do tomorrow and visit Ian as well. We decided to have lunch in Nîmes near the Nîmes Arena and then shoot over to the hospital.
|Jo and me at Nimes Arena|
NîmesNav-Sat Emily easily got us to the Arena … parking was another story. Had to do a “European park” (see photo beow) … my sister, Jo – knowing my driving history – was amazed… and hysterical… they’ll never believe this back home… thus the photo!
Nîmes has a rich history, dating back to the Roman Empire but even further back than that were findings of a Neolithic site showing evidence of semi-nomadic cultivators in the period 4000 to 3500 BC. There were also traces of a village of huts and branches from the Bronze age. Nîmes became a Roman colony sometime before 28 BC. The Arenas of Nîmes is a Roman amphitheatre built around 70 AD, it was remodeled in 1863 to serve as a bullring.
|my European car park ... |
anywhere it fit in Nimes
The Arenas of Nîmes is the site of two annual bullfights, and it is also used for other public events. (British rock band Dire Straits recorded some of the live video and album, On the Night, in May 1992; American Heavy Metal band Metallica recorded their DVD, Français Pour Une Nuit, on July 7, 2009 and French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut filmed part of his first film, "Les Mistons", in 1957.)
We had a really nice lunch near the Arena, did a little window shopping and headed back to visit Ian at the hospital. He seemed a little better and even recognized that Joanne was my sister and in from New York. He joked around a little. I spoke with the nurses and he did have a mini-stroke (a second one). They were giving him medications and they suspected epilepsy and would give him meds for that as well. I felt better about his condition, especially seeing some improvement. His mood was fair… he hadn’t eaten and was a little cranky with the staff… but all in all, better. I asked them to bring him something to eat and they said they would. I know that he is used to me being there all day long with him, but I hoped he realized that wasn’t possible with out of town guests. I was just so grateful that he was safe and in a place where they will be taking care of him. I couldn’t imagine doing these day-trips and leaving him alone at home so if he couldn’t be home and healthy and riding around with us giving guided tours (which he would have done so much better than me,) this was probably the best place he could be.
|Kathy and Jo at the cafe|
downstairs from our apartment
La Grande-Motte is a popular Mediterranean seaside resort and port. The only thing I know that characterizes La Grande-Motte is its architecture; buildings in the shape of a pyramid. But the main goal for me was moules-frites … and … mission accomplished. It was a wonderful lunch by the marina even though it was a cloudy day. We had a great girl’s day. I drank it in like a fine wine, savoring every drop!
|my sister Jo at La Grande Motte|
It wasn't too long before we found ourselves in the Pyrenees Mountains oooo'ing and ahhhh'ing at what we were seeing. We stopped there for lunch and gas. We were pretty amazed at the quality of food you get at a rest stop. Nothing like the greasy, processed fare you find along the tollways in the States. We really enjoyed the lunch. That was the only stop we needed to make on the trip because it’s really only about a 2-1/2 hour drive from Vauvert. Emily took us straight to the Dali Museum and parked easily (for once). We were a little disappointed there was no border stop – we wanted our passports stamped… oh well.
In the early 1960’s, Dali decided to construct his museum inside the ruins of the old Municipal Theatre of Figueres. The building was originally constructed between 1849 and 1850 but was destroyed by a fire at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. The only parts that remained intact were the vestibule and the foyer. His fascination with the ghostly ruins of the theatre captivated Dali and he chose it as the site of his future museum.
“Where, if not in my own town, should the most extravagant and solid of my work endure, where if not here? The Municipal Theatre, or what remained of it, struck me as very appropriate, and for three reasons: first, because I am an eminently theatrical painter; second, because the theatre stands right opposite the church where I was baptised; and third, because it was precisely in the hall of the vestibule of the theatre where I gave my first exhibition of painting.” ~ S. Dali
|Teatro Museo Dalí ~ Figueres, Spain|
Dali died in 1989. His crypt can be visited. It is located in the center of the museum and lies with an exhibit of a collection of gold jewelry designed by the artist.
The streets of Spain were lively and filled with tourists. Kathy bought a beautiful Spanish shawl. I wish I picked one up. The only memento I bought was a great Dali calendar for 2013 ... but in hindsight... the shawl would have lasted longer and when I think about how beautiful her shawl was I could kick myself for not getting one for myself. Perhaps on another visit to Spain. After the museum we had a great dinner and savored the ambiance of Catalonia. As always, all too soon we had to head home. By the time we left Spain it was dark - driving in the dark - well, that part wasn't so much fun.
|Jo in Cannes|
|Jo and me in Cannes|
Cannes is a commune of France located in the Alpes-Maritimes department. Everyone knows it from the famous Cannes Film Festival. If you don’t you must have been living on another planet. The city is also famous for its luxury shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Time was clipping by and though we had planned to stop in Nice as well, we decided to stay longer in Cannes. Maybe we’ll do Nice and Monaco on the way back. We needed to leave in time to get to Italy before dark, so we grudgingly made our way back to the car and left beautiful Cannes behind us.
The autostrada runs 158 kilometers (about 98 miles) from the French border to Genoa and has 136 tunnels and 143 bridges and viaducts. The legal speed limit on the autostrada is 130 km/h (81 mph) for cars but Italian legal limits allow drivers to zoom at 150 km/h (93 mph) if the road conditions are good. EVERYONE sped ahead of us… and I didn’t care. Speed on you crazy bastards … I’ll just chug on… over the massive viaducts soaring hundreds of feet above valleys (some almost 300 feet) and a if mountain got in the way we’d plunge straight through it (ok, we used the tunnel). Some of those tunnels were REALLY long but most of the time when you’d come out after a good 4 minutes in the dark… wham you’re hit with sunlight and some awesome view… either an alpine vista complete with snow summits and ever higher reaching peaks or a stretch of valley littered with brightly colored houses embraced by rock between sea and sky as the Mediterranean, never more than a few kilometers away at any given point, met the mighty Alps. Our favorite phrase of delight… “Beautiful!” (complete with hand wave) was uttered so consistently, it was almost a song (and a dance). I can’t find the words to express the beauty and grandeur of such a spot on this amazing planet. Pictures would never have captured it, words are just totally inadequate and only music (that I don’t have at the moment of this writing) could possibly convey the feeling of overwhelming astonishment and awe at what we were seeing. Sometimes you just feel like a pimple on the butt of humanity; small and insignificant compared to the indomitable and dynamic forces of nature that leave such beauty.
The next morning we had our breakfast on the beach. It was a beautiful, warm day. Joanne and Kathy decided to check out the town while I opted to sit on the beach and soak up the sun and read a book. Really wished I thought to bring my bathing suit but glad I at least brought shorts. People started dotting the beach with colorful umbrellas and blankets.
As much as I didn’t want to leave that beach, that scene, that relaxing atmosphere; my thoughts kept straying back to my Ian sitting in a hospital in Nimes. I knew he was being taken care of physically, but I knew that he was probably feeling abandoned. I tried to shake off the guilt and try to enjoy the moment as it was happening because I also knew that although Ian and I had planned to travel around Europe, what I was seeing on this trip with my sister is probably as far as I’d ever be able to travel. He was not in any shape to really go to all the places we talked about and the best we’d be able to explore is the area we live in. Not that there isn’t a lot to explore right where we live… but I had hoped to be able to see so much more of Europe. Maybe if things improve more and he is more confident about being away from home base we’ll be able to stretch out further, but whatever we do, we need to consider his health. Really, that comes first. Also, we don’t really have the money to do much more than that until I start bringing in some income or until I am able to collect my social security from the states. Then we’ll be in a better position anyway. But I knew, for a while anyway, this is as far as I would be able to stray… so I was trying really hard to soak in and enjoy what I could.
Too soon it was time for us to leave Italy. If I didn’t have to get back we surely would have stayed another day or so. There was so much we wanted to do and see and we were in such a beautiful, warm and peaceful place. Alas, real life beckoned so off we went… back through the Alps (at least we knew what to expect this time) down through Monaco, passing Nice without having time to stop since we stayed as long as we could in Italy… waved to Cannes as we passed and soon we were passing Marseille and gratefully flatter landscape to drive through. Before we knew it we were back in the Camargue and close to home. We unpacked and stopped in to Pizza Nico’s to order a pizza and went back to the apartment for more wine and cheese.
Thank you Ian, for giving me this time with my sister. It wasn't how we expected it to happen, and not how I wanted it to be... not without you there with us. But given all that was going on, it was just what I needed and the best gift anyone could have given me. I love you.