Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Separate Reality – PART III

La Rochelle is a seaport on the Bay of Biscay (part of the Atlantic Ocean) and the capital of the Charante-Maritime department. A beautiful and historically rich city, La Rochelle is a major tourist spot. The “Vieux Port” (Old Harbor) is at the heart of the city and lined with seafood restaurants. It was only ten minutes from the hospital Ian was at. I thought it would be best to stay in a hotel-apartment in the tourist area because I would be able to just park the car and maybe walk to a café or along the harbor to see the sights when I wasn’t at the hospital. Sounded like a good idea at the time. I had no idea how long Ian would be in hospital so I booked the apartment for a week. I thought even if he got out in a few days, he would need a few days rest before he would be able to make the long trip home to Vauvert. I took the apartment so that we could have meals without having to leave the room in case he needed to rest in bed for a while.


I left the comfort and security of Liz and Will at the chateau and Wendy and Chris nearby and headed off to deal with Ian’s current medical crisis alone. My first stop was to visit Ian at the hospital. He was doing better but we really had no answers except that the neuro tests were basically non-conclusive. Because of the defibrillator he couldn’t have the scans they really needed to determine what was going on, so they did the best they could. After my visit I made my way to the apartment. I became weary of Emily and hearing “recalculating” at almost every turn… but I managed to find my way to the apartment-hotel. Ok, so the 10-minute drive took almost an hour… but I got there.

It wasn't exactly what I expected. The room did have a small kitchen, but I thought there would be more of a “living-room/salon” area and a balcony… it was basically an entry hallway… on the left was a very small but functional kitchen on the right the bathroom/shower. Straight ahead was a bedroom with a small table and chairs in the corner. There was a window, but it didn’t open, except for a small section on the top right. Luckily it cooled down enough at night for that to be enough. It had a weird smell. I thought someone died in there.. urrrr… but decided it was probably a pet-friendly apartment and stunk like dog-rug. I had just packed the car up this morning from the chateau, and now had to drag everything I thought I’d need for our extended stay in La Rochelle up to our room. Of course it was not convenient as I had to lug everything from the car to the elevator and then from the elevator on the second floor through 3 intersecting hallways (and the pool area… which I never had a chance to use) to our apartment. It was also very hot during the day and the room was not air conditioned.

The "Apartment" Hotel
By the time I got everything into the room I was exhausted, hot and hungry. The hotel restaurant was only open for breakfast. I asked where the nearest restaurants were in walking distance and followed the vague directions. Although I used to be an avid walker I was, at this stage of life, totally out of shape. Being already exhausted I didn’t have to walk far on the empty streets around the apartment before I decided to call it quits and head back. I wasn’t sure how many more blocks and in which direction I needed to go before I got to the cafes and restaurants. At that point I felt the weight of the day heavy on my shoulders. Packing the car to leave the chateau, the 2 hour drive to the hospital to visit Ian who was disappointed I didn’t stay with him all day the way the other guy’s wife did, finding a gas station, finding my way to the hotel which had me going in circles, checking in, finding the room, going back to the car to drag our belongings back to the room, and trying to find a place to eat in walking distance from the hotel was enough for one day. I went back to the room, ate mints, watched French tv and put the clothes into the closets and drawers. I figured we’d be there for a while and tomorrow I had things to do before I got to the hospital. All I really wanted to do was sleep.

The "Elusive Bridge"
Emily was no help whatsoever during my whole stay in La Rochelle. To get out of the area I was in I needed to get to the other side of the harbor. Emily INSISTED on taking me over a bridge which was CLEARLY marked for one way traffic… the OTHER way. I could see why it was like that as it was only one car wide. Apparently it did, at one time, allow traffic both ways, but not any longer. No matter which way I twisted and turned my way around the streets of La Rochelle, Emily always directed me back to that damned bridge. I was trying to find the Postale. I needed to get money out of the bank. Ian was afraid he wouldn’t make it and wanted me to get as much money as I could to make sure I’d be ok. Our credit card was in the process of being replaced and wasn’t working at the time. I left the hotel in plenty of time to have breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel-apartment, stop at the Postale and get to the hospital before noon. Here it was already noon and I still hadn’t gotten to the Postale. In my constant re-routing trying to find a way over the harbor I found myself back at the apartment. I parked, went inside and tried to explain my plight to the concierge. Luckily, he was just leaving for lunch and in the direction I needed to go. He was kind enough to have me follow him to the Postale. He expertly wound his way around the Harbour entrance and I saw where all the cafés and restaurants were. I tried to remember the streets he went down; all of which I passed, but made wrong turns on. I gratefully thanked him, parked and got my cash from the Postale ATM (yes it HAD to be a “Postale” ATM.) I was very relieved to find that from there, Emily easily got me to the hospital within the famous "10 minutes from the hospital" that seemed to elude me. Ian seemed better. The vertigo seemed to be under control which in turn eased the constant nausea. He seemed in much better spirits and we were hoping he’d come home within a day or so.

I found my way to a Carrefour and shopped for food and sundries we’d need. By the time I got home and brought everything upstairs it was dark, but I was very happy to be able to cook my first real meal in days. The next day I’d cleverly figured out that Emily would guide me to the McDonald’s in the village center without having to cross the harbor and from there to hospital without having to deal with the “bridge” issue. It was kind of a ridiculous way to navigate, but it saved time and frustration. I once again successfully achieved the “10 minute” hospital drive. I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

Expecting Ian to tell me he’d be coming home the next day, I was quite surprised when he told me they were going to FLY him back to Nimes hospital as they could not find an answer to his crippling vertigo. Since he was also cardiac they thought it best he went to his “home” hospital and he’d probably be leaving the next day. With all the stress and worries and running around like a pack mule this whole “holiday” now I’d have to drive home ALONE through the mountains back to the south of France. Panic was seeping through the cracks of my frustration and weariness. I did NOT want to do this, yet it was probably the best thing for Ian because I couldn't see him making the long drive home in the fragile state he was still in.

Anyone who knows me, knows how I hate driving. I didn't have to deal with it while I lived in NYC because I happily used public transportation. On the other hand, when I lived in Chicago (just outside the city) a car was necessary. My driving was limited to the train station (when I worked downtown), or a job in the local suburbs, or the supermarkets and stores in my local area. I lived in a bustling town so I was lucky that just about anything I needed was right there. I hated “merging” so if I needed to go anywhere that included the expressways… I either got a ride or didn't go. I also hated to drive in bad weather. Living in Chicago… crazy arctic weather was 8 months a year. When I realized I had to drive through the Pyrenees mountains on an overnight journey back home, alone, I was pretty nervous and not looking forward to it. I was comforted by having “Emily” guide me home… so I guess I didn't feel totally alone. Except for veering off to find my hotel, most of my journey would be on the A-62. Ian wanted me to drive directly home the next day, but I wasn't ready for that. Besides, I had a fridge full of perishables as well as having to arrange an overnight stay at a hotel, load up trusty Emily with nav-sat info, unpack all the clothes from the closets and repack them into the bags again along with the electronics (laptop, chargers, Ian’s difib monitor, etc).

I spent the next day “discovering” the charms of La Rochelle. I wish I were able to stay a little longer because I saw that across the bay there were little boat tours and I really would have enjoyed being on the water. I’m an ocean girl… being on and around water is relaxing and replenishing … both of which I was in dire need of. Back at the apartment I re-packed everything and tried to cook and eat as much perishable food as I could. The rest had to be dumped and I packed up what would keep in the car for 2 days. The following day I checked out early. Unfortunately, my reservation was non-refundable and I couldn’t get reimbursed for the days I had left or the internet I paid for through my original check out time. More money, out the window.

Once I got out of La Rochelle and onto the highway, driving was easy. It was a beautiful day so I didn’t have to freak about driving in a downpour. After about 4 hours of driving I exited the highway for a winding drive through the beautiful mountains of the Pyrenees. The landscape was awesome and at every turn there was more wonder and breath taking views. I don’t know how many tiny villages I drove through, but at last Emily got me to the little hotel snuggled into a tiny mountain village in Saint-Pierre-Lafeuille. It was easier to find than I thought it would be.

I checked in before dark, had wonderful dinner in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed the sunset mountain view from the patio of my little room. Pictures just don’t do it justice. It was very beautiful. I slept easily. The next morning I got up early, had breakfast and checked out for the last leg of my journey. I spoke to Ian the night before and he was already home and in the apartment. He was waiting for me to get home… which I was, in about another 4 hours… God bless Emily. The holiday from hell was over. Ian was home from the hospital. A friend was due to come in from the states within a week and all we wanted was a healthy Ian and correctly balanced meds so that his horrible vertigo stays at bay. A little normalcy was all we wanted.

a la prochaine mes amis
Please feel free to visit my page "A Marzocca's Europe" on Facebook

Apologies regarding the space of time between part II and Part III of a Separate Reality... I'm trying to catch up to start next year blogging in a more "real time-ish" manner... ha, we'll see.  If you want to start from the beginning, go to the BLOG ARCHIVES in the right hand column, click on January of 2012 and click on the first one.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a ... good night xx

Friday, July 13, 2012

a Separate Reality ~ Part II

The entrance to Le Manoir Souhait is quite grand. After our long and arduous journey, we were quite impressed and pleased when we got to the gates of 7 Rue du Chateau D’ eau (which “nav-sat Emily” pronounces unintelligibly). Will and Liz Weeks (proprietors) greeted us warmly. We drove onto the beautiful grounds of the villa and parked our car. Ian was not feeling well at all, but managed to do a small tour of the upstairs and downstairs. Liz offered us one of several rooms upstairs or the smaller one downstairs.

We chose the downstairs bedroom so Ian didn’t have to trek up and down the staircase (impressive as it was). Turned out to be a good choice. The small room was very comfortable and looked onto a lovely garden. We had an ensuite bathroom with a shower so I was in heaven. Ian went straight to bed as his vertigo was getting worse. Liz was kind enough to serve us an omelet for lunch and brought it to our room. By dinner, Ian was no better so we had dinner in our room as well.

While Ian slept I checked out the grounds. It was such a beautiful place. I hoped that we would get to take advantage of it. The pool was so inviting, but the weather was not cooperating. It was cool and rainy. I lugged our stuff into the room (glad I didn’t have to lug it up those stairs). Took a shower and snuggled in beside Ian. Maybe tomorrow would be better. Chris and Wendy were coming out to the villa for dinner. We were hoping to spend some time with them over the weekend and see some of the local sights. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

The next day Ian was actually a little worse. He was starting to get nauseous from the vertigo. He looked very frail and pale. Liz, who happened to have worked in cardiac and was a great help to us, suggested we call the local doctor. He spoke English (as he was Dutch). Turned out he wasn’t there, but his assistant came. She didn’t speak English, but Ian speaks fluent French so there was no problem in communicating his symptoms. She was concerned about the meds he was on as they seemed excessive even for a heart patient. She took some blood samples and ordered some meds for me to pick up at the local pharmacy. Thank God for “Emily” because even though the Pharmacy was 5 minutes in a small village near the villa, finding my way through the vineyards and intersecting country roads would have been impossible. I got to the village, found the pharmacy and got back to the villa, all in one piece.

Of course, it was still raining on and off and kind of cool. Didn’t need ANY of the lovely summer clothes I had sent from New York in time for our holiday. By the time Wendy and Chris came for dinner, Ian was in no shape to join us.

Cheese Course
So, our first meeting with our dear Facebook friends was joining poor Ian at his sickbed, while we had our aperos. It was so good to finally meet them in person. Wendy has been our “angel” during many of Ian’s health emergencies. If it weren’t for Facebook, he would not be alive today. During one of our webcam sessions (while I was still in New York and he was in Vauvert) he collapsed straight to the floor. I sent out an SOS on Facebook and Wendy came to the rescue calling emergency from where she lives (near Cognac) to get to Ian down in the south of France. I was unable to do anything from New York because of the language barrier and not knowing where to call for help. They came immediately, broke down the door and got Ian out and to the hospital. We (me, my mom and my niece Kristen) watched the whole thing unfold on the webcam. The EMTs that came, saw that we were on the webcam and one of them spoke enough English to assure us that he was not dead, and that they had him stable enough to get him to the hospital. They were so great, I was very impressed. Wendy is also responsible for Ian and me connecting with each other… also on Facebook. So not only was she our angel, but also our cupid. We have a lot to be thankful for in our friends Wendy and Chris.

Liz cooked up a wonderful duck dish for our main course. We had a delicious salmon starter. After our main course was an assortment of wonderful cheeses and a delightful fruit tart for dessert (and of course, in typical French style, the wine was flowing all night). While we ate in the magnificent dining room, I brought Ian small trays of each course into our room. It was a lovely evening, but Ian’s absence at the table was felt.
Dining Room
The next day, Ian was no better. We were waiting for the results from the doctor’s blood tests. Ian wanted me to go to la Poste to draw out some money because we were running out of cash and the cards we had with us only worked at a Poste Bank. Had to get it from the wall (cash machine), because they are in Ian’s name and he can’t get out of bed. So me and my best bud “Emily” found a Poste in one of the larger villages. I go inside… damn… no cash machine. So, I leave to head back to Le Manoir Souhait… I get into my car. My car is DEAD. The battery just clicked. CRAP! Of course I left my phone at the villa because I left in such a hurry. So, I went back into the Poste and in my best “crappy” French asked to use the phone because my car died and I don’t have a phone. I got my message across and they were kind enough to let me call Liz at the villa. H E L P !! -- Will immediately came to my rescue to jump my car. Of course, it couldn’t go as smooth as all that, my friends… we need a little hiccup here… ok, here it is… my car was parked with an open spot next to it. I thought that would be ideal for him to be able to jump me. But when he pulled in, he saw that his battery was on the OTHER side. There was no spot next to me on the other side… so Will and I had to PUSH my car out of that spot and into the open spot so that he could pull his car in where the cables would reach the battery… luckily… it wasn’t pouring down rain at that moment.

The car started easily with the jump. I drove the car directly back to the villa and let it run for a while before I shut the motor off. Then I tried to start it again… dead as a doornail. Hmmmm. Will said we’d take it to his mechanic in the morning to have him replace the battery. I went to our room to find Ian in a state. The nausea was much worse and he was in the “wretching” stage… which is terrible because it can trigger his defibrillator to go off. Liz called the doctor and he was on his way. The doctor got there pretty quickly, took one look at Ian and knew he needed to get to a hospital. The nearest one was about 15 minutes away, but because of his cardiac history we needed to get him to a cardiac hospital which was 2 hours away in La Rochelle. The ambulance got there but I couldn’t go with him in the ambulance because he was in such a state that they may need to attend to him and I would be in the way. Also, they were wary of situation on the long trip. In that case they’d have to veer off to the nearest hospital emergency room. So… here is me, without my car and my husband on his way to a strange hospital in a strange city 2 hours from where we were on holiday. Will and Liz immediately offered the use of their car so that I could be with Ian. I was grateful for their kindness, generosity and all the help they were giving us. We must have been the “guests from hell” … I think they were just amazed at our incredibly bad luck during our holiday in the Charante. They are amazing people and could not have been more supportive in our time of need.

Nav-sat “Emily” and I were beginning to become very close friends. No matter how many wrong turns I took, she never got frustrated with me… she just calmly announced RECALCULATING at every wrong turn and got me back on track. The 2 hour drive in unfamiliar territory was made more difficult by the intermittent rain. Bad enough trying to find my way in the sunshine, but the rain was freaking me out. I managed to find my way to the hospital. They only had one parking lot which was payable… so you had to park your car… (which, of course, was at the back of the lot) and walk all the way to the front of the lot to pay and get a ticket to put in your car window. They had other ticket machines throughout the parking lot, but none worked… why would it..? I AM in France. So then I had to walk BACK to the car to put the ticket in the window and then back to the front to exit the lot. Then I had to find emergency. It was in a different building a few blocks from where I parked. I once again spurted out my fake French at the front desk and was able to get them to take me to Ian who was in an emergency room. He was not doing well. He was not coherent and his speech was inaudible. It looked like he was stroking. I called a doctor in and a bunch of them came into the room. They let me stay the whole time they were administering to him. Ian managed to ask them if he was having a stroke. They said no… but it turned out he did have a ministroke. They brought him into another room where he needed to wait for the results of his blood tests before they could sort out a room for him. Whatever meds they gave him, he was back to speaking intelligibly and almost at a normal state, except the vertigo was still present. They let me stay with him there as well, but when another patient came in I had to leave for a while until they got him settled. They were very nice in that hospital. The staff was very friendly and accommodating which was a refreshing change from the Nimes hospital staff (well not ALL of them at Nimes were bad, but we didn’t have great experiences with some of the staff).

I needed to leave the hospital to get back to le Manoir Souhait before dark… it was hard enough to find in the light. By the time I left Ian he was about to be taken to the neurological ward so that they could take tests the next day. He was doing a lot better and I was relieved that he was in a place where they could immediately help him if he got into any trouble. I wasn’t coming in the next day because I needed to get our car’s battery replaced and he’d be in and out of the room anyway due to the string of tests they set up. I got home with hardly a blip … well, I needed to get gas and even with Emily, got totally lost getting to a gas station that was just a few minutes from the hospital. I was soon to learn that no matter WHERE I go in La Rochelle, I will get TOTALLY and COMPLETLEY and HELPLESSLY lost! I’m not so crazy about La Rochelle, though it was a beautiful small city that sat on the Atlantic. It had a harbor and beaches and was a tourist spot. But all I knew was, I couldn’t find my way around in it!

“Rain, rain go away… come again some other day…” Next day it poured. I was at least grateful I didn’t have to drive 2 hours in the downpours back to La Rochelle hospital. I was also looking forward to getting my battery changed so that I could be self-sufficient. After one of Liz’s fabulous breakfast spreads (coffee, yogurts, cereals, cheeses, meats, croissants, breads, pastries, fresh fruits, fresh squeezed orange juice) Will and I headed out to jump my car and drive out to the mechanic. It was a Saturday morning. In my experience… not too much happens in France on weekends, unless it’s the market. But Will said they were open so off we went. … And they were open… just “impossible” to do that day. Will made an appointment for me for Monday at 3 pm (that was the earliest we could get). So, I returned to the villa, depositing my crippled car back into it’s nesting place on the gravel drive. Will and Liz once again offered the use of their car so that I could visit Ian. I was grateful for their generosity as I don’t think I would have gotten so much assistance and support from just “any” proprietor. They certainly were something special as was Le Manoir Souhait.

It was still pouring down rain. Liz attempted to help me contact Ian (with her French) at the hospital but they weren’t sure exactly where he was. Once again, Wendy expertly navigated the hospital system and found him. I was able to talk to him. Now I had the number to neuro and his room number, so I was able to contact him on my own now. Wendy and Chris invited me out to their place for lunch. They were only about 5 minutes away and Chris came to pick me up. I was happy to be able to just hang and not worry about everything that was going on, even if it was just for an afternoon.

Wendy is the creator and owner of a wonderful business called Facilitutors. The easiest way to describe her business is to directly quote from her website –
“If you’re looking for a learning vacation or local classes in France for you or for your children, you’ve come to the right place. From holiday courses in the beauty of the French countryside to intensive one to one tuition in your own home; from millinery to music, arts and crafts, it’s all here…”
She is your liaison and guide to a perfect match to a dream learning vacation. She knows just about everyone and everything going on in France and can hook you up to whatever you might be looking for. (She hooked us up with Liz and Will Weeks at le Manoir Souhait… thank God for that!). So whether you are looking for something special in France, or have something special to offer… I would definitely take a look at her website. -- just sayin!

Chris arrived at the villa gate in the pouring rain which is my ingrained impression of “sunny Charante” … He has the cutest little Fiat 500, my sister Jo would love it. I should have taken a photo. Anyway in a few minutes we were at their home in Fontaine Chalendray, a gated old stone home with a couple of out buildings and a yard with a wonderful garden and view to the beautiful French countryside. It looked like, on a clear day, you could see the mountains. I assume they would be the Pyrenees. I don’t know how old the house is, but you could tell it was OLD even by French standards. They obviously did a lot of work on it without losing it’s wonderful “French-ness” … I really loved their home. I was obsessed with what they did to their bathrooms… I must have been.. I have a million photos of them. I would love to take either one of them home with me… very zen and relaxing… yet FRENCH!

One of Wendy's Bathrooms
Chris' Soup
So nice to relax on a comfortable couch with a great cup of fresh ground coffee made in a French Press and chat “en anglais” with friends. For our aperitif they turned me on to Pineau des Charentes; a unique sweet fortified local wine produced from grapes used to make both grape juice and Cognac. It was tres delish. We went into the eating area which was an addition they recently put on. I loved that it had a wall of windows so that you could see the great view of the garden and beyond. Chris made a wonderful soup, perfect for the cool rainy day, and I had my first “French pizza” with a salad. It was a perfect lunch. We ended it with some incredible French cheese and then back to the comfy couch for some brainless reality tv with our feet up. It was a lovely afternoon and just what I needed. Although we had planned to see some local events and hang out more, Ian’s health and the weather just wouldn’t cooperate with the best laid plans.

Wendy and Chris' Garden
The next day was Sunday. Liz kindly lent me her car once more and I headed out on the 2 hour trek to La Rochelle with my faithful Emily at my side. I got to spend the day with Ian. They took lots of tests including inner ear and he was waiting for the results. We weren’t sure how long he’d be in there, but our time would be up at Le Manoir Souhait on Tuesday. I had the option of taking another room (as ours was let out) or finding something close to the hospital. Ian and I discussed it, and as much as I would have liked to have stayed at the beautiful, peaceful villa surrounded by the support of Liz and Will as well having Wendy and Chris close by… we thought it would be wisest to get something near the hospital. The 4 hour a day commute was a lot, especially in bad weather. I found an apartment-hotel 10 minutes from the hospital. It was also supposed to be right near the old port of La Rochelle, so I thought it would be alive with tourists and cafes I could explore, by foot, on my own. I booked it for a week because although we didn’t know when they would release Ian, we figured he would need a few days to recuperate before the long trek home. We took an apartment so that we could just shop and cook our own meals and stay in until he got his strength back. So the plan was, get the battery on the car fixed on Monday and try to enjoy the rest of the day at the villa, on Tuesday pack up the car, check out and head to the hospital for a short visit, then go check into the hotel.

The return trip from the hospital to the villa on Sunday night was, once again, a rainy one. Thankfully, it wasn’t the blinding pouring down rain. I arrived at the villa at dusk… almost 10 pm. In the driveway (parked behind my crippled little Megane Renault, was one of those sporty European cars.. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was exactly the kind men purchase during a “mid-life crisis” … tres cher, tres chic. Ah, at last, another guest. I had been the only one there all week. I walked in as Will, Liz and the guest (who’s name I forget) were finishing up their meal. They invited me in to join them for a glass of wine before I turned in. The guest was an older gentleman, Briish and a return customer. He was only staying overnight on his way back to England from a visit with his children in France. He was very interesting and the conversation was easy and light. He left early the next morning.

Ah Monday… new battery day. I spent the rainy morning outside under a covered portion of the building writing a long overdue email to my dear friend Michelle in Virginia. I spilled out all my woes and perils of our holiday from hell. Shades of all the long letters (pre email days) I used to write venting all my woes and perils of my new move to Chicago from New York City… that used to be done over cups of coffee at the Duncan Donuts, this one in a villa in the French countryside… things change but remain the same… Michelle, always there to lay down my troubles upon. She has wonderful shoulders. That afternoon I finally got my battery changed. I followed Will to the mechanic’s. Since it was raining (big surprise) I had my headlights on. He noticed one of them was out. But of course! I’m glad he noticed it though. I had the guy change the headlight as well as top up the oil and check any fluids necessary for a long trip back to the south of France. I was good to go.

About 4 pm the sun came out! It was a strange yellow orb hanging from a sky of blue… amazing thing. Liz suggested I go by the pool, which I happily did. It was still too cold to actually go for a swim, but I sat in the sun, gloriously sunning myself and listening to my favorite playlist on my laptop. Aahhh heaven. How nice it would have been if Ian was healthy and the sun shone all week. But I was thankful for my couple of hours in the sun by a pool, looking out on the beautiful le Manoir Souhait.

While I sat in my little piece of heaven, more guests arrived. They were from Britain as well. I came in from sunning myself, changed for dinner and joined them in the salon for an aperitif. They were very nice people... two older woman (sisters) and the adult son of one of them. Once again I have forgotten their names. I really should start taking notes. Liz must have told them my “Holiday Tale” as they were so sympathetic and eager to hear my “story.” We had a nice conversation over dinner about how I met Ian on Facebook and how they come to the villa every year. They were originally from England (one still lives in London) but one sister and her son live in Scotland. The son was doing a lot of ancestry tracing and was very proud of his newly found heritage. He wore his tartan tie to dinner and explained how he was in direct lineage to the Stewarts. I found them very amusing because they were SO old style English in manner and attitude. Very proper, spoke like “pip pip cheerio” would come out of their mouth at any given moment and the son was always dressed in posh schoolboy jacket, ties and trousers and called his mother “mummy.” But I also found them exceptionally personable, interesting, sympathetic and kind.

The next morning was Tuesday and I was checking out of Le Manoir Souhait. I packed the car up, checked out, said my goodbyes to Liz and Will and thanked them for going above and beyond for Ian and me. Then I said goodbye to the English family and headed toward the next phase of this trip… La Rochelle and the Apartment Hotel. Without Ian there and with no other support system in place I drove out of the safety of the villa into the unknown; feeling alone, apprehensive and weary. I couldn’t help notice the sun was shining… a beautiful pool day at last… just my luck.

desole mes amis ... need to break it down even further
Next Part is the trip to LaRochelle and home to Vauvert... promise, this will only be a trilogy

a la prochane... 

** anyone planning to visit the Poitou-Charentes region of France... I highly recommend le Manoir Souhait. Here is their website:

Will and Liz Weeks are amazing and the accommodations, service and meals are exquisite. I was so lucky to find myself in a beautiful place like that with such wonderful support during a difficult time.

------------- ALSO

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

a Separate Reality ~ PART I

Be careful what you wish for… seems like life likes to twist your little dream into its own separate reality. We thought we were going on a wonderful holiday to Marseille and to the Charante to visit friends… but God says “ha.”

click for larger view
click for larger view
Marseille is a wonderful, colorful, ancient city filled with noise and smells and a rhythm that borders on chaos. Until you recognize there is a syncopated beat and accept that Marseille is a variety of rhythms that hit you in unexpected ways, you might feel overwhelmed. Old Marseille is a city dripping in a history you can feel holding dark stories probably better left in the shadows. Ian and I had a wonderful stay there. We were between the beautiful steps of the Gare de Marseille St. Charles and the Vieux Port. Because we only had a day and a half in Marseille we didn’t get to do a lot of exploring. Although the Vieux Port was only about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, it was very hot and the return walk would have been straight uphill. Ian was exhausted from the drive and trying to get through the maze of streets thick with the traffic of cars honking horns, scooters, shouts, sirens and confusing directions. We found a WONDERFUL café with excellent food. Although we tried to find others for variety… we always came back to the same one. The food was well priced and delicious and the street life was very entertaining as it was a direct route to the Vieux Port (the old port). The next day was “Italian Passport” day. We took no chances and took a taxi. Good thing we did as it was a long way from the hotel and not easy to find. The passport would have gone without a hitch except for two things… the computer they were using was old and didn’t have enough memory to download what he needed to print my passport, so it took more than an hour for him to figure out how to get it to access the information he needed AND the photos I had taken in France weren’t the same size the Italian Embassy needed for the passport. So while he tried to figure out the technical problems we had to trek up to a main street for proper passport photos. In the end, I walked out of there a documented Italian citizen and member of the European Union. It was a happy day.

That afternoon we were on our way out of the city and headed up north and west towards the Charante region of France.
The Charante is a department in southwestern France, in the Poitou-Charentes region, named after the Charente River, the most important river in the department, and also the river beside which the department's two largest towns, Angoulême and Cognac, are sited. (Wikipedia).
We were happily on our way to visit some dear Facebook friends (Wendy and Chris Wise). We arranged to stay for a week in a beautiful villa, bed and breakfast style. We were finally on a real holiday and couldn’t wait to enjoy it (I was REALLY looking forward to sunning by a pool – at last).

In the Cevennes
We were happy to be out of the crazy traffic in the city and into the beautiful French country-side. Rolling hills littered with cows, horses sheep and tiny stone villages (just like in the movies). The fields were bursting with the bounty of foods grown in the areas, mostly vineyards and lots of wind farms with rows of white wind turbines. We stopped at a tiny café off the country road for an espresso, a toilet break and a change of drivers (Ian’s turn). Ian walked into the small café and immediately got dizzy. That started a rapid decline. We drove a little more and found a small hotel off the main road. We planned to celebrate the Italian Passport at dinner. But Ian could barely make it to the bed. We just hoped he’d be better the next day. Luckily the hotel had an Aldi’s behind it, so I at least could get some sandwiches and things for a bed picnic. Next morning we went down for petit déjeuner (breakfast). He still wasn’t feeling well enough to drive. I had to drive through the mountains… meeeeeee… the one who hates driving, never drives, doesn’t drive in bad weather, doesn’t drive far, just doesn’t drive… meeeeee… I had to drive through the Cevennes in crazy downpours of rain… you couldn’t even see and I had to go around hairpin turns on 2 lane roads that twisted around mountain cliffs with the King of Backseat Drivers… well, at least it kept his mind off his vertigo and nausea… a little.

I was more than relieved and finally relaxed behind the wheel once we cleared the Cevennes and got on the autoroute. I would have gotten great shots had I been in the passenger seat and Ian was in no shape to snap photos. I’m sure it was beautiful but… all I could see was the road and the next curve. The huge lorries on the autoroute were pas de probleme compared to those mountain roads. Of course the rain stopped and started intermittently as we drove and there were times we needed to pull over because you couldn’t see anything on the road… but it was still better than the mountains. When we got back onto the country road Emily guided us to the Bed and Breakfast. Emily is the name of the British voice on my sat map. She can’t pronounce names of French streets very well… in fact, unrecognizably… and I HATE when I make a turn I think is the right one and I hear those dreaded words… RECALCULATING… but she managed to find the little hamlet of Gourvillette in the middle of vineyards and the criss-crossing of unmarked dirt roads.

We came around the bend in the road to see the Manoir Souhait… our bed and breakfast destination… it was a beautiful sight indeed… at last. A good sleep and Ian should be better in the morning and we could start our holiday…. You’d think… but the forces of destiny were brewing up dark clouds… and not just in the sky.


I'd love to know what you think... Please feel free to make a comment. To make a comment, click on "no comments" or "# comments" written in blue below... it should open up a comment box... THANKS xx
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Monday, June 4, 2012

a French Adventure

Next week we are off on an adventure. We first head to Marseille to the Italian Embassy to pick up my “elusive” Italian passport --FINALLY! We will only be spending a day in Marseille as we have many more miles to travel after we get the passport. But we hope to get in a few of the sights of Marseille. Marseille is located on the southeast coast of France. It is where the Parisian’s go to holiday. It is nestled between the hills and the Mediterranean Sea and is the oldest city in France (2600 years old). Marseille is a city that has its own unique culture and is proud of its differences from the rest of France. We don’t live very far from this city, so although we only have time to spend one day here, we can always come back to revisit when we have the time. Our hotel is very close to the old port so we do plan to walk down there and (if it’s not too expensive) have a taste of the local dish; bouillabaisse.

Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from Marseille. What makes a bouillabaisse different from other fish soups is not the fish, because all fish stews and soups have fish. It is the mixture of Provençal herbs and spices in the broth, the unique flavoring derived from saffron, fennel seeds, and orange zest that make the distinguishing characteristics of a Marseille bouillabaisse. Along with the herbs and spices the other difference is the use of bony local Mediterranean fish; the way the fish are added one at a time, in a certain order, and brought to a boil; and the method of serving. In Marseille, the broth is served first in a bowl containing the bread and rouille, with the seafood and vegetables served separately in another bowl or on a platter. I hope we get to taste it. But, it seems that in Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse. So, we’ll see. It is said that Venus served bouillabaisse to her husband Vulcan in order to lull him to sleep while she consorted with Mars. Maybe Ian will think I’m up to something and suggest a nice safe dish of Coquilles Saint-Jacques.

After our short stay in Marseille we’ll be off to the north and west exploring (and in some cases, for Ian, re-visiting) the French country-side…our adventure holiday. We plan an extended stay in Cognac where we’ll get a chance to visit (and finally meet) our good friends Wendy and Chris Wise. We’ll be sure to take plenty of photos and video and keep you all updated via Facebook. For those of you not on Facebook, I’ll blog the trip as soon as I can.

On another note, I had planned to blog about my first experience seeing the running of the bulls here in my village. Since I went on and on about the trip we’re taking, I’ll blog about that at another time. It seems that it’s a regular event here in my village. In the meantime, please check out my Running of the Bulls video on Youtube (under TC Marzocca or click this link). The video is also posted at the top right side of my page. It’s only about 4 minutes long. I hope you enjoy it.

a la prochaine mes amis !! 

Friday, April 27, 2012

a Reflection on my Vauvert

Bell tower on Rue du Posquieres in Vauvert

The bells ring every hour and for special occasions. There are birds that live in our alcove window... raising a family and inviting friends for tea... one of their eggs are in our planter on the sill. The alcove is made of tin and you can hear them flustering about and talking to each other. From below are sounds of people talking, laughing, yelling or just greeting each other on the streets. The sounds of scooters twisting through narrow streets echo upward. These are the sounds in my little world... Vauvert.

Vauvert is never more alive than on market day. Market days are on Saturdays and Wednesdays. This is when the villagers all come out to socialize as well as shop for fresh local vegetables, fish, meat, cheese as well as browse the stalls for jewelry and art from local artists, kitchen goods, (very cool) clothes, flowers and plants. People love to gather at the many outdoor cafes. It’s a time to come out to meet friends and neighbors with 3-cheek kisses, handshakes and the latest gossip as well as fill your baskets with the abundance of what Provence has to offer.

Market day is a colorful, engaging event that should not be missed in southern France.  Every village has their own although the days may be different.  Just look around... if you can't drive or find parking in the middle of a village and see women carrying straw baskets or pull carts already filled with produce and fresh bread... and masses of people shopping and chatting with street vendors... You found it!  Jeeze, ya can't miss it!  Definitely stop and check it out.

market day in Vauvert
One of the nicer things about a small village like this is that everyone seems to know each other.  OR, it may be that it's just the personality of the French. They love to talk and engage you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried in my very best French to explain to them, I don’t really understand all they are saying and to please speak more slowly… but they just take it in… chuckle at my “American-ness” and proceed to continue the conversation in rapid-fire French, BUT exaggerating their hand gestures. I’m assuming that was so that I could “better” understand the conversation. I’m becoming very proficient at “fake-French” and most of the time am able to get through a conversation cleverly throwing in a “mais-oui” or “j’sais” at strategic points.  I laugh and smile with the confidence of one who is in PERFECT command of the language.

I feel a combination of awe and gratefulness at the kindness and generous spirit of the French. They are always eager to help where they can and encourage with joy and great humor as well as correct you (for your own edification in the language and the ways of the French people... bien sur). I can tell you for certain that the American view of the “rude French” is just “crazy-talk” by people who probably only visited Paris. If you only visited Paris, you haven’t seen France and you don’t know the French people.

photo from Google images

copyrights apply
Although I’m coming up on my first summer here in Vauvert, the only tourists I have seen are these strange backpackers on a Pilgrimage. It seems that Vauvert is on the route of the Camino de Santiago. It is the way of St. James (the apostle) who, I assume is buried in Spain in Santiago de Compostela. There are many routes to Santiago springing out of Italy, through southern France and into Spain. Vauvert happens to be on the route out of Arles (which I guess is a big checkpoint). I always feel sorry for them, carrying around that backpack in the heat and walking everywhere… but I guess it’s what they want. People from all over the world come to do this pilgrimage so it seems it’s also a social connection with different cultures and kind of camaraderie that occurs when people are doing the same thing in a difficult situation. They probably all need to support and encourage each other because I know I’d be whining by day 2 and ready to hop a bus, take a shower and go home. I think I’ll try to talk to one of these people when I have the next opportunity. It would be interesting.

Well, if you happened to have read my post on Facebook, you’d know that this is not the blog I posted earlier today. The one I posted earlier today got lost. I was updating the formatting and POOF… the whole blog disappeared and I could not, for the life of me, get it back. Needless to say I was NOT happy. I tried to re-write it, but that was too frustrating. I don’t remember everything I said. So, this is basically a new blog. Since it’s 1:30 am and I still need to post this (no trust in the google blog thing… I have it in Word and I’ll just copy and paste it. This way if I lose it again… I’m covered). So, with that (and the ringing of the bell signifying the half after the hour) I’ll say bonne nuit to you all.

I know that at my last post I left you all hanging at a pretty precarious point with Ian’s health. I didn’t go into it any further because the whole situation with the hospital in Nimes was pretty traumatic, for both Ian and me. Neither one of us want to re-live it in the blog. Sufficed to say… with the help of Ian’s excellent General Practitioner and us being advocates of our own health/situation and information gathering we think we may be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Ian and I had many plans and still do. But his health and well-being comes first and foremost and once we have that under control we plan to get on with our lives and enjoy it like we planned. We thank you all for your prayers and support. From the bottom of our hearts… we find ourselves grateful for the kindness of friends as well as strangers ready to jump in to help.
 Thank You!

 a la prochaine mes amis!

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

a Blog I Don't Want to Write

This was the blog I didn’t want to write.  This was the blog I should have put out on Sunday, and it’s Wednesday and I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t want to re-live Christmas in Vauvert.  I almost lost Ian.  He had several episodes of “sudden cardiac death.”  You’ll have to google it for more information, but basically it’s like “little death” or something.  At one point he was watching himself in the bed from the ceiling but the defibrillator brought him back.  Thank God.  At this time I used the internet and mostly Facebook to get help to find out how he was doing.  We managed to get the ambulance here to get him to the hospital, but then I couldn’t get any information and I speak French so badly that all I got was passed to another ringing phone and people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say.  During this time Wendy from Facilitutors was my angel.  She immediately answered my plea for help and started phoning hospitals and non-English speaking friends of Ian.  Then throughout the holiday, kept phoning to find out more information for me and communicated with Ian’s Godson, Philippe, who immediately came to my aid and brought me to see Ian in hospital.   Basically, that was my first Christmas in Vauvert… but I didn’t really care about the Christmas part as long I knew that Ian was all right and coming home to me.  I was really ok with being alone, in a foreign city, where I can’t even communicate simple basic needs to anyone in my immediate range.  Ian was coming home and all was right with the world.

Today I sit here, trembling, nauseous, in the middle of an asthma attack bordering on my own panic attack.  I’m wearing Ian’s socks and jacket as well as my own 2 sweatshirts, scarf wrapped around my neck and a wool beret my friend Bill gave me as a “moving to France” gift… came in very handy… and very glad it’s wool.   It’s freezing cold here in the south of France.  The Mistral winds are blowing cold air in from the Alps.  The 2 tiny heaters we have in the apartment are not enough in this kind of weather so Ian usually has the kerosene heater going as well and that keeps us pretty comfortable.  At the moment it’s out of kerosene.  I know there is some kerosene somewhere, but I don’t have the slightest idea how to siphon it out of the canister it’s in, into the canister it needs to go, and I can’t lift it to attempt to pour it.  Any heat that was in the house is now long gone because my Ian got rushed to the hospital today.  All doors were wide open to the cold for a long time with EMTs rushing in and out and then trying to get him down 3 flights of stairs. 

Early this morning Ian woke up not feeling well.  He’s been suffering from panic attacks for weeks.  I don’t think they have the medication quite right for him yet and he seems to depend on the pills to make him feel better.  Really all he’s been doing is sleeping and waiting to be able to take the next pill.  Sometimes he has good days.  Yesterday was pretty good.  But when he doesn’t feel right he pops a pill and goes to bed in fear that the attacks he was having at Christmas time might return.  I don’t blame him.  I know about panic attacks.  I’ve been dealing with my own for more than a year.  He goes to bed.  Sleeps a few hours and feels better when he wakes up.  So this morning when he wasn’t feeling well he went to take his pills and jump back into bed.  He usually puts the kerosene heater on in the morning so it’s warm enough for me when I get up and into the kitchen.  He always thinks about me.  He thinks about me more than I think about me.  But this morning, he just took his pill and jumped back into bed.  I fell back into sleep because I couldn’t get to sleep last night (insomniac) until almost 4 am.  He started breathing a little more quickly than normal.  I woke up and he seemed to be having a panic  attack so I went through some breathing exercises with him trying to get his breathing slowed down and so that he wouldn’t hyperventilate.   So we breathed together.  Then he said he was getting dizzy from the breathing thing, so I said… ok just breathe normally but try to stay calm.  I don’t remember how long it was after that he had the first of his seizures.  It was a small one.  I grabbed his arm when he was shaking and kept saying, it’s all right, you’re all right, you’re all right.  No sooner did he come out of that than he got a shock from the defibrillator.  As soon as that was over we both stared at the defibrillator monitor in the room.  It’s supposed to do something when he has a big shock, but the lights all looked normal.  “I love you.”  He said.  “I love you too.” I said.  We held each other tight.  I know he was scared.  I was scared too.  “What should I do?” he kept asking me.  “Why did that happen?”  I said we’ll call the doctor and see what he thinks we should do.  The last time we called emergency, they didn’t take him in because he was having a panic attack and they were able to give him the same meds he would have gotten there.  So, we weren’t really sure if we should get emergency here again.  We just held each other tight for as long as we possibly could because we both knew as soon as we pried ourselves apart, we had to deal with the situation.  Then he got nauseous.  I went into the bathroom to grab a bucket and the phone to call the doctor.  One of the advantages of small village doctors is that they make house calls.  He said he’d be at the house around noon…. Good, that was only an hour away.  I got dressed and put together his bag for the hospital trying to remember to throw in everything he might need.  I heard a shout from the bedroom.  I ran in … I’m here, I’m here… he was having another seizure. This one a little longer.  This one scared me…. Breathe baby, breathe, you’re ok, it’s ok, breathe… No sooner did he come out of that horror than the horror of another difib shock began, a little stronger and longer than the last time…. After that one he bolted to the other side of the bed to vomit.  I ran over to get the bucket to him (visions of cleaning puke from the bed, guiltily, popped through my brain).  My poor Ian suffered two more seizures before the doctor finally got there.  All I could do was watch in horror and helplessness.  I couldn’t make it better.  I couldn’t make it go away.   I could only make sure he knew I was there and that I loved him and to hang on and be strong.  After the doctor came, he had a couple more seizures and by the time the EMTs got there, gave him oxygen and got him wrapped up on to the stretcher (and moved around most of our furniture) and got him down the three flights of stairs… my Ian was just hanging on by a thread.  They put him in the ambulance and even though I had no coat and the Mistrals were blowing through the town in a rage… I stood there looking into the black plated glass knowing that my Ian was lying there and they were attending to him.  The doctor was in there and something was going on and he better not be leaving me… The doctor better not come out with the “I hate to have to tell you this” face.  I was out the door of the building on the street sobbing and totally aware people from the village were passing but I didn’t care if they heard me sob, I didn’t care what they thought.  I just prayed and prayed that he could hang on and come back to me.  Please don’t leave me … I just found you!  The doctor finally came out of the ambulance.  To my great relief he didn’t have the “I hate to have to tell you this” face, so I was relaxed a little immediately.   I said, the seizures… they were his heart?  He said yes.  I asked, will he need surgery?  He said no.  They will probably need to adjust his defibrillator.  He’s going to pull through this right? I asked him… tears in my eyes… knowing full well he most certainly isn’t going to say… no, I doubt it, looks bad…. But I didn’t care.  I’d settle for a lie.  Just tell me he’s going to be ok… and he did.  He also said he’d call and let me know how he is doing.  That made me feel a little better.  I knew from experience, with my limited French, I can never get anything out of emergency rooms and you can’t usually talk to the patient until he gets a room.

I walked back up the friggin three flights of stairs… sobbing more at each step.  By the time I got back up to the apartment I was definitely hyperventilating and I knew I had to try to put a rein on that cause then I’d go into a panic attack and I don’t have medical coverage here.

I was chilled to the bone by the time I got back upstairs.  I couldn’t put on the kerosene heater for reasons I’ve already explained.  I felt really alone so I opened my computer to get on the internet and connect with friends I knew could calm me down. 

My internet was down!  I was afraid to unplug it and reset it because the tv and phone are also attached and the most important thing was to be able to hear from the doctor.   I called the only person I knew would be up at this time.  Billy.  I knew he had to go to work and I didn’t want to keep him long, but I just wanted SOMEONE to know.  So I told him my story.  He prayed for Ian.   Then he had to go to work.  So I was sitting there, alone, scared, no internet, no language skills, no heat.  I made some soup.  This meant I had to shut off one of the small heaters first so I didn’t blow a fuse.  After I had some soup … “tears of asparagus” I realized I was sobbing and hyperventilating again.  I knew Ian’s panic pills were the same I took back in the states, so I popped one and climbed into our bed.   Fully, clothed, complete with hat and jacket and scarf I promptly scrunched myself into the fetal position and WAILED and WAILED and WAILED.  No internet, no heat, no Ian, and now.. NO TISSUES!  Damn I finished all the tissues…. I buried my head in Ian’s pillow that smelled like him.  Don’t you DARE leave me… we got a life to live damn it… we have time yet…. We have a lot of things we want to do…. YOU’RE NOT DONE YET!  You better not be going anywhere.  No one can love me like you love me.  No one can take care of me the way you want to protect me.  No one knows me the way you know me.  I’m selfish.  I want you here with me.  I want to be your baby girlie… only yours. I want to make you proud of me.  I want you to show me the things we spoke of and teach me the things we dreamed for each other.  You promised to show me your Europe.  Our Europe.  I slept with the phone in my hand.

I was no warmer when I woke up than when I fell asleep.  I went inside and made more instant soup.  It was hot and it was warm and I could dunk some bread in it.  Plus I ate some salami and olives.  I didn’t want any more than that.  The phone rang.  It was the optician.  Ian’s glasses were ready.  I know he still had a balance on them so I wasn’t sure how he wanted me to handle it.  I just said “a demain”   I’ll ask him tomorrow when I talk to him.  I was hoping the doctor would call. If I hadn’t heard from him by 8 pm I’d call him but Ian called me just a little while ago. Oh my god, I was so happy to hear his voice.  He sounded good. He said they still don’t know but he got terrible shocks 8 more times and they all but had to disable the defib.  He’s thinking it was the meds that didn’t interact well with the heart meds.  He said he has a long way to go.   But oh my god, the sound of his voice was exactly what I needed.  I packed his phone but forgot to pack the charger… I didn’t think of that.  So I guess he can only use it for a while before it dies.  Then I’ll have to wrangle my way in bad French to find a phone to him.  I could do that.   I’ve done it before.  I hate doing it, but I could do it.  But I had heard his voice.  He sounded good.  I was so relieved I felt a weight lifted off of me.  

Now I didn’t care how cold it was or that I had no internet.  I knew he was all right.  I could get through anything else I needed to.  First order of business???? GET PISSIN DRUNK!  Yes PISSIN FRIGGIN DRUNK ON MY FAVORITE APARATIFs… that started out as Dubonnet.  Dubonnet Rouge.  I knew the Ambassador was more expensive, so I went with Dubonnet.  Well hell, there was only about a third of a bottle left of it so I downed it pretty easily… with some shortbread cookies.  Then I graduated to the Ambassador which went down VERY easily , especially with salami, cheese,  bread and olives…. Mmmmmm.  Now I’m very very pissed.  And I don’t care.  Cause I’m going into a very lonely bed, and a very COLD COLD COLD one.  I’ll probably wake up really late cause I don’t like to get up and deal with reality, but once I do get up…. I’ll call my Ian and see what he needs and what I can do and down about 3 cups of very black and very strong coffee and pray I still have my ibuprofen left.

NOTE TO MY EX-PAT FRIENDS HERE IN FRANCE… I know that I could call you. And I just might before this all over. I just didn’t want to get everyone excited when really, all I needed was a ride to the hospital. Philippe was having back surgery today, so timing was not the best here. But yes, I may need help with getting a taxi to understand when to come to pick me up and what I need him to do. But at the moment, we’re playing it by ear. I know Wendy you would just jump right into action…. I owe you so much already. I know that you are there if I need it. Same with Rosalyn, Paul and Jillian and Keith. I have good friends here. I am very forturnate and thank ful for all of you. I also know that you, Christine, would also be at my side in a flash. But Pertuis is still a little far and I don’t want to have to put you out unless I’m so desperate that I have to ask such a large imposition on your life. But I thank you for your offer and your friendship, which I treasure more than you know.
With that… it’s midnight. I am sufficiently drunk to lie down and get some sleep without having to think about my poor Ian suffering all day. I know that he is in the best possible place getting the best possible care right now. If I can’t see him till he gets home. SO BE IT. As long as you GET HOME TO ME…… I don’t even care if you yell at me for drinking all your expensive liquor. I don’t even care if you yell at me cause I had one of your ciggies. I don’t even care if you yell at me cause I forgot to pack your phone charger or your good eyeglasses…. I’ll take my grumpy old man Ian…. I don’t care…just come home healthy and ready to roll! I love you Ian. I love you with all my heart and soul. Forever and ever and even after that. You are all I want and all I need. I can’t do this without you. Please come home to me.. my heart, my soul, my strength…

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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 :)