Friday, April 24, 2015

the second last stage - Montpellier to Paris

It's Saturday morning - I'm in Montpellier about to haul the enormous suitcase to the train station - the second last stage, the trip to Paris, one night there, and then tomorrow - HOME. Can't wait.

I wrote this to begin a catch-up a few days ago:

Thursday. A moment yesterday – standing in a grocery store in a small skiing town in the French Alps, talking on my cell to my daughter who was giving me details about her pregnancy and latest doctor’s appointment. I could not have felt further from home, the craggy snow-tipped mountains looming all around outside, a shelf of fine wine and Champagne in front of me – at a small ski resort grocery store! - and my daughter in Toronto talking in my ear.

And soon, soon, I will see her face.

But first, my Tuesday morning in Nice, where by noon it was full-on summer and the beaches were filling up. Sadly, as I’ve said, I could not visit Matisse or Chagall, as all the museums were closed – I had to stroll along the Promenade to the old town, visit the flower market, and buy piles of lavender as a gift. Found a hardware store that had been open for more than a hundred years, and from the clerk – who’d been working there 50 years – I attempted to buy a classy French chef’s knife for my son. But he advised me that it’s not done to buy knives as gifts, so I bought Sam something else, and something for Anna, and found other gifts. A good time. Sat on the beach in the hot sun to eat lunch of the bun I’d made from what was offered at breakfast. Back to the hotel to get my suitcase and to the train station, for a painless journey, again along the Cote d’Azur and then up into Provence. Well, almost painless. First I got on the wrong train and had to rush off, and then when getting off my own train I almost forgot my backpack. But otherwise painless.

Late Tuesday afternoon, friends Lynn and Denis picked me up in Avignon and we drove to the famous mountain village of Gordes, where they raised their five children in a huge stone house I’ve visited many times. We had dinner – as usual, Lynn can whip together something delicious and healthy in no time, with much wine and cheese and talk.

Wednesday morning we packed up and drove through the glories of Provence in spring, gold stone villages full of budding green trees, pink and white blossoms and spring flowers, to the town of Embrun in the Alps, where we had lunch with an old friend, Isabelle, and her husband Bernard. A magnificent view of the mountains that ring their town, which Bernard told us is very near where the German co-pilot drove the plane into a wall of rock. He said people living nearby didn’t hear a thing.

And then on through the growing mountains to the alpine town Vallouise, the reason for this trip. Those who’ve read my memoir know that in 1964, shortly after my family arrived in France for a year, my father arranged for me to leave Paris on the day of my 14th birthday with a troupe of Belgian girl guides for a camping trip in the French Alps – in Vallouise. I hated every minute – didn’t speak French, loathed camping, didn’t know anyone. When Denis read my memoir, he wrote to say his family chalet was very near Vallouise, he should take me back some day.

So he did. as we strolled around the small town, I remembered being small, frightened, bewildered and lost, and was happy I’m now none of those things. Something new registered – the fact that the mountains there are not magnificent and snowy, just big, brown and rocky. I didn’t know France, and I also didn’t know mountains. They must have terrified me. They almost did yesterday.

On to Villeneuve, where Denis’s parents built a ski chalet in the 50’s, to which he and his siblings have continued to come with their children and now grandchildren. A simple house with no internet (AAAGH!) and no TV, just mountains and air. We ate and talked – and talked and talked, because this is France, and that night, lungs full of mountain air, I slept more soundly than I have for weeks.

This morning we went for a more than two hour walk along an alpine path, miles of jagged snowy mountain and fields on all sides, tiny flowers poking through, animals to be seen by the sharp-eyed – a few mountain goats in the far distance, an eagle, a puddle full of tadpoles, a family of marmots keeping an eye on us. What an array of experiences I've had this trip!

Home to read and rest – I MISS THE INTERNET – and then out tonight to eat fondue. Because – another part of the story – on the second last night in Vallouise with the Guides, we marched to a nearby village for a special treat, fondue. Only this 14-year old Nova Scotian hated the strong cheese and only ate the bread. I’ve always wanted to fix that loss, so tonight, Denis drove us to Briancon, an ancient mountain town, and we ate fondue – three kinds of cheese mixed with wine, heated in the centre of the table as we dunked the bread in the thick melted cheese and swirled it around our sticks. The giant pot vanished in no time. So so good. I have remedied a forgivable mistake made in 1964. A great feeling.

And mostly what’s a great feeling is that these are people I’ve known most of my life – Lynn, a best friend since 1967, and Denis, since Lynn introduced me to her fiancé in 1971. What Lynn is famous for is her laugh, and laugh, and laugh, we do. Today – trying to remember the profound lyrics to “My baby does the hanky panky.” Twisting in the kitchen. Remembering absurdities of our youth. Singing and dancing and laughing, these two grandmothers – though I only of one and a half grandchildren and she of seven and a half.

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