France: Virus Update

The Mediterranean

“The computer does not know we have no more vaccine.”

Huh? This was the response I received when I showed up for my vaccination appointment last week. I received not one, but two emails reminding me of the appointment. Granted, several days prior I received a phone call advising me that my appointment had been canceled because they ran out of vaccine. Since I later received the emails, I wrongly assumed that a new vaccine shipment had arrived. 

That response was baffling. They could not delete those emails? Send ones notifying of cancelation?

Menton on a wintry day

I am no longer enamored of France, at least not on vaccine roll outs. It’s a mess. Prior to my fiasco, Bob’s appointment was canceled by phone, but he received no emails. Since I received the two emails, I figured all was back on track. No way. What lies ahead? Who knows? France, at least in our area, has no more vaccine. Apparently the shortages are prevalent throughout the EU which screwed up on ordering. France, however, lags behind other European countries.

It is aggravating, especially since I have good news from family and friends in the US and the UK – most have been vaccinated. 

BREAKING NEWS: We got lucky and received the first vaccination a few days ago. My apologies to France. It is tough everywhere.

So, we wait. Life goes on with fear of the dreaded virus. France is not under lockdown, although a 6 p.m. curfew has been enforced for weeks. If the UK variant now circulating in the country surges out of control, another lockdown, number three, is likely.

Restaurants and bars, as well as theaters, have been closed since the end of October – with no opening in sight. It’s been a good year for snow in the Alps, but French ski resorts remain closed. 

Seaside socializing and eating

Masks are de rigueur. Social distancing – yes and no. It was impossible on a recent sunny Sunday in nearby Menton. Crowds of happy folk enjoyed good food and socializing seaside. It seemed like a celebration. “It’s wonderful to see all these people. It’s like being let out of prison,” remarked a friend. 

Noses and mouths were covered with masks when not eating – but eating is what this is all about.

Restos sur le pouce” (restaurants on the go) is sponsored by the city of Menton which offers restaurants the opportunity to serve take-out food at stands set up along the shore. The stands are Christmas market type chalets. Participating restaurants, fifteen serving a variety of cuisines, pay a small fee to use the chalets. Proceeds benefit restaurants in the nearby Roya Valley which were devastated by Storm Alex, an extratropical cyclone, last October. Extensive flooding destroyed homes and swept away roads, leaving at least 12 dead.

It was a festive ambience that sunny Sunday, especially relished since nothing like it had happened in too many months. We met our friend Thomas and sat along a wall adjacent to the Mediterranean savoring our food, sun and camaraderie. We all had tasty Indian specials.

Restos sur le pouce is scheduled to continue throughout February. If real restaurants are still closed, we hope it will be extended.

Although we have not had much sun recently, it is not that cold. Daytime temperatures are usually in the mid teens (Celsius), mid 50s (Fahrenheit). Bob and I have been back to the delightful Restos many times during the week. No crowds, but delicious food. We have tried oysters on the half shell, moules frites, galettes, burgers, eggplant parmigiana. We will return. There are more goodies to try: Russian, Moroccan, Armenian. Last time Bob befriended a hungry seagull. The bird was a master at catching french fries in mid air.

Bob and Thomas

Impeachment: The house managers were outstanding. I was so impressed with, and proud of, their diligent work and masterful presentations. They proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump incited the insurrection and did nothing to stop it. Even House minority leader Mitch McConnell agreed, ending the trial with a powerful condemnation of the former president in a politically calculated speech. Sadly only seven Republicans showed courage. It’s all about politics. Trump still controls the GOP. Forty-three senators fear his wrath, losing their jobs – to them more important than the country. It’s disgraceful, tragic. What does this say to the rest of the world about the United States, long considered the beacon of democracy? How can the majority of Republican leaders continue to support this corrupt and immoral leader who tried to stamp out democracy?

January 6 was a black day for the nation. This cannot be America. This cannot happen again.

Bagan, Myanmar

Myanmar: Bob and I visited this fascinating country in 2014.  After almost 50 years under a repressive and abusive military regime, it was at last on the path to democracy. In 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi was elected, sharing power as state councilor (prime minister) with the military. Sadly she failed to stand up to their brutal treatment of the country’s Muslim minority, the Rohingya, which has been labeled genocide. Although she won a decisive victory in the November 2020 election, just weeks ago the military staged a coup.  She is under house arrest. Massive pro democracy demonstrations are underway throughout the country, but the military is cracking down even harder. It is tragic and very sad. I think about all the kind and loving people we met, people who were working hard to make a life in the country’s budding tourist industry.  Can they overcome? 

For details of our experiences in Myanmar, do a search on “Myanmar” column upper right.

Following are some random photos taken on walks in the area and from our balcony.

In early January, snow covered the tops of the Maritime Alps seen from our balcony.
Massive cliffs above Menton on the border with Italy,
Belated Valentines greetings. Bob is recovering from an injured shoulder, hence the sling.

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Happy New Year

Last full moon of 2020

It’s over. Gone. 2020 – the terrible, horrible year we need to forget. 

However, we were very lucky and had a pleasant last day of that dreadful year. Glorious sunshine. Bob and I went down to the seaside on Dec. 31 for our coastal walk, even saw picnickers on the beach. We had our picnic with take-out sandwiches, sat on a bench enjoying our lunch, sharing some of it with seagulls and pigeons. The sea is my therapy.

Picnic by the Mediterranean

The food greatly improved later in the day: A gourmet New Year’s Eve dinner delivered from a nearby restaurant, L’Hippocampe (the sea horse). Due to Covid, restaurants in France have been closed since late October. Our dinner was exquisite, and no slaving in the kitchen involved.

Venison for New Year’s Eve

Cerf (venison) Facon Civet et sa Polenta was the main course. Cerf is a large European deer. Hunting is tightly regulated and popular in France, however most venison comes from farm raised deer. The meat has a lower fat and cholesterol content than beef. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and full of flavor. Polenta stars and mini vegetable puree concoctions were perfect accompaniments, all in a rich sauce. Deer is expensive, considered a delicacy, and usually only found during the holidays – unless you happen to know a hunter. 

Dinner with a view

The meal began with an assortment of canapes. We chose two different entrees so we could share and taste each:  Terrine de Langouste aux Corail d’Oursin (crayfish terrine with coral of sea urchin) and Foie Gras de Canard mi cuit aux Figues (half cooked duck foie gras with figs). You can never go wrong with foie gras, a holiday must in France. It took first place, but the terrine was good.

Earlier in the week I found fresh cranberries at the supermarket – rare here. I snatched up two boxes and made cranberry chutney which was good with the deer, and the cheese course which preceded the dessert, a treat labeled Gourmandise. We are not sure what it was, but it was creamy and yummy.

Lots of candles for New Year’s Eve. Bob and two of three xats..

Wine – no rare, pricey vintages for us.  We are easily pleased and began with a white, a Touraine Sauvignon, followed by a Burgundy, Hautes Cotes de Nuit.  The finale, a regional speciality, Limoncello.  All in all – a delicious and delightful way to bid farewell to a wretched year. 

Lemon Brown Sugar Blueberry Pancakes for a tasty start of the New Year.

We awoke to rain and clouds on New Year’s Day. We were happy to stay indoors and watch the New Year’s concert from Vienna, my New Year’s ritual which always brings back fond memories of visits to this fabulous city.  Brunch followed, featuring Lemon Brown Sugar Blueberry Pancakes. Bob is a pancake man. I much prefer egg concoctions. He also adores blueberries. I was happy to make a New Year’s treat for him. I liked it too thanks to Ligonberry syrup which we brought back from our cruise trip in Norway.  I need to find some more of that delicacy a bit closer to home.

Beach picnic on 31 Dec., 2020

May 2021 be filled with happiness, good health, fun times and fabulous food. May Covid disappear.


See Today’s Taste for the blueberry pancake recipe.

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Merry Christmas

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room” — Nora Roberts

Christmas cat Simba and our tree.

With or without a Christmas tree, may your holiday season be filled with joy, love, laughter – and delicious food.

Scroll down for a few festive photos.

My balcony garden
Our view of nearby Menton and its blue Christmas lights.
A Russian Santa on skis, one of my holiday treasures. Note the blackbird on his head.
After the pre-Christmas rain.
Filippo, one of my three Christmas cats. Fortunately they have not tried to climb my precious tree.

Happy 2021. It will be better. We have hope. We have vaccines. We will not have Trump — at least not as president. Rejoice. We can be very, very happy.

More to come soon — including a report on my recent back surgery — it’s good.

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France: Lockdown #2

Happy Black Friday. Sadly it is blacker than ever in the U.S. as recent newspaper headlines testify:

“As Americans gather for Thanksgiving, the world watches with dread and disbelief.”

“Coronavirus deaths reach levels unseen since early in the pandemic”

“Coronavirus cases skyrocketing again in cities.”

Millions have thrown caution to the wind, ignored the CDC guidelines, and traveled to celebrate with friends and family. These gatherings are termed “super spreader events.” The prediction is grim. “Celebrate at Thanksgiving. Christmas in the ICU.” Fortunately many are behaving sensibly, not traveling, foregoing large gatherings.

As an American in France where restrictions are respected and followed for the most part, and the numbers seem to be going down, I have to wonder about Americans. How can they be so stupid? Of course, in part it’s due to the politicization of the pandemic which is inexcusable. Trump has made light of the crisis. It’s not macho to wear a mask. Instead of leading, he plays golf and thousands die each day. From the beginning, there has been no national plan to combat the spread of the disease. It is scandalous, shameful, tragic, and too many have been sacrificed due to this neglect and ineptitude. This from the most powerful, richest country on the globe. — all beyond belief.

Bob and Thomas play checkers — at home entertainment during lockdown.

Life under Lockdown is no picnic in France, but I’d rather be here where the situation is slowly improving than in US where it is out of control, where hospitals are running out of beds and exhausted health care workers complain of shortages of essential equipment.

In France, we have been under partial lockdown since October 30. This has not been as strict as lockdown #1 last winter and spring. Schools, for example, have stayed open. Nonetheless, life has been far from normal. Tuesday evening President Emanuel Macron announced that France has passed the peak of the second wave. A three phase loosening of restrictions begins this weekend. After the last lockdown abruptly ended, all returned to normal too quickly, it appears. The virus slowly returned with a vengeance. Thus, this time, a long and progressive relaxation of restrictions will be put in place.

Wear a mask, warns the sign along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

Until now, only food stores, pharmacies and a few other businesses considered “essential” have been open. Just in time for Christmas shopping, other stores will open Saturday as part of phase 1 and be permitted to stay open until 9 p.m. and on Sundays, both unheard of in France where most all stores are closed on Sunday and shut down by 6 or 7 p.m. Just as in lockdown #1, outdoor exercise, walks, have been limited to one hour per day and within a one kilometer distance from your residence. However now we will have freedom to venture up to 20 kilometers from home and be out for up to three hours – but not after the 9 p.m. curfew.

Wine stores have remained open. After all, in France wine is essential.

Just as during lockdown #1, we must fill out the “attestation” whenever we leave home – a document with name, address, birthdate, time of departure and a check next to one of the permitted activities/reasons for the departure (food shopping, doctor visits, exercise, plus a few others). If you are caught without the authorization or disobeying the rules, you can be fined 135 euros. 

Excercise on the beach –this time it is permitted.

We were diligently obedient during the previous lockdown and stayed very close to our apartment when out. This time we have taken liberties. The parks and beaches, which were closed last time, have stayed open. I love the beach, although it is a bit farther away than one kilometer. I still swim, my therapy. Yes, it’s cold and getting colder, but it is exhilarating. Bob often walks while I swim. 

Very few swimmers brave the chilly waters.

If all is well and the numbers continue to go down, Phase 2 begins on Dec. 15. Travel throughout France will be permitted. Cinemas, theaters and museums will reopen. The 9 p.m curfew will still be enforced, with the exception of Dec. 24 and 31. Ski resorts will not reopen for the holidays.

Restaurants and bars will have to wait until Jan. 20 to reopen – Phase 3. This is devastating for the struggling industry. 

Outdoor markets have stayed open…my joy.

Take-outs have never been popular in France, with the exception of pizza. That has changed. To survive, many restaurants now offer carry-out meals. We recently stopped by a tiny, nearby Moroccan restaurant. A sign outside listed the menu of the day available to take home. Our favorite fish, dorade (sea bream) , was featured. We rang the bell. We would need to wait 15 – 20 minutes, the owner/chef told us. It was cold. He invited us in, pulled the drapes to hide us (restaurants are not permitted to have customers inside). He let us order wine, even brought a dish of tasty olives, to enjoy as we waited. “It’s been so long,” he lamented.

It was such a treat – a glass of wine in a restaurant. The fish with potatoes and veggies was delicious. We will do this again and try a Moroccan special, but he urged us to call ahead and order. He can’t risk hiding us inside again.

Hidden inside the tiny restaurant, we enjoyed an apero, wine and olives — . fabulous.
Take- out food stands are popular.

Today we had a take out lunch, kebab, from a stand across from the beach. Noisy, hungry seagulls joined us as we sat on a seaside bench with our treats. Blissful.

Seaside sandwich with the seagulls.

The French are not happy with life under lockdown. As everywhere, the economic consequences are dire. They complain, but for the most part, they comply. Almost all wear masks and social distance as much as possible. They take the health threat seriously and do not consider it a hoax nor a conspiracy. 

Black Friday, a retail extravaganza, has become popular around the world. French retailers were very upset as the original lockdown restrictions do not end until tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 28, so they could not open for this great opportunity to make up for lost revenue. Saved by the government. In France, Black Friday has been officially postponed until next Friday, Dec. 4.

You won’t find me standing in line for bargains.  I’d rather chill at the beach.

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Cat’s Meow in Monaco

They were not impressed, excited, nor interested. Stretched out in their large cages, they did what cats do best: Sleep. The 145 cats entered in the first international cat show of Monaco were quite content to catnap through their two days of glory. That’s how cats spend some 15 hours per day, even as many as 20 hours – snoozing. No need to let a cat show interrupt your beauty slumber.

When it was their turn to be in the spotlight, on the stage to be examined from tail to ears, they were tolerant, seemingly bored. No doubt many of these champions and would-be champions had been down this road before.

Such is the life of fancy cats. I love cats. I have three, but mine are your basic alley-cat variety – all rescues. Nonetheless when I learned of the cat show in nearby Monaco, I convinced hubby (not as enamored of felines as I am) to join me to check out the cats.

Enormous cats. Hairless cats. Long-haired cats. Cats of all colors. Thirty-nine different breeds to admire. I had no idea there were so many kinds of kitties, but I learned that The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes 71 standardized breeds.

The favorite, most popular breed is the Maine Coon. These cats are big – huge. I was smitten with Pegase de Nikko Coon, a big boy who weighs in at 10 kilos (22 pounds). His proud owner, Christiane Phily, touted that he was still growing. His grandfather weighed 14 kilos (30 pounds), she told me. She has 20 of these giant felines known for their pleasant personality. “They are very impressive. They look wild, but they have an adorable character,” she said. Her starting price for a Maine Coon, about 1,000 euros ($1,170).

Pegase de Nikko Coon, a 22 pound, Black Silver Blackened Tabby Maine Coon.

Years ago, when seeking a replacement for my beloved Buddy, a large and affectionate black cat, I decided after all my years of owning rescue cats, I was entitled to upgrade to a genuine pedigreed pet. I wanted a Maine Coon. Husband Bob, who is more than indulgent of my passion for cats, agreed to drive to a breeder some 3 hours away. I had wanted a male, but there was only one young male for sale. He was pretty, but he cowered in the back of the cage, not exhibiting the extrovert personality of the breed. Price tag was 600 euros.

I thought long and hard. I pictured all those pitiful, homeless cats in shelters. I could rescue one for a small donation. Did I really want to spend 600 euros on a cat? This one did not convince me. We drove home catless. The next day I went to the local shelter and came home with not one, but two tiny kittens – my girls Simba and Oprah. Sisters (twins), they almost look like mini Maine Coons.

No pedigree, but adorable and cute: Kittens Simba and Oprah.

In addition to cats coming from all over France for a chance at fame, the cat show included exhibits of haute gamme cat food, “adapted to the carnivorous diet of cats” (I came home with some free samples), cat toys, trees, beds. One exhibitor offered information on animal communication by telepathy. She claims to communicate with pets and transmit their messages to owners. She also offers courses in “animal communication and magnetism.” If you wanted a portrait of your cat, another offered animal aquarelles.

A flyer for a new breed. Pictured is a female now in heat who was not at the show, but should be having kittens next year. I want one..

I had hoped to take some quality cat photos, but this was beyond my skills. The viewing wall of the cat cages was a sheet of reflective vinyl. The lighting was tricky. The backgrounds were dreadful. When not sleeping (boring photos), the cats were in motion.

It was easy to see the cats behind the vinyl wall of the cage, but not ideal for photos.

I tried. Below are some classy cats, plus my not-so-classy cats.

Pharron of Chanel’s Land, a Scottish Straight.
Simba, one of mine
My boy Filippo
Oprah, sister of Simba.
Bob more than indulges my passion for cats.

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See Today’s Taste for a winning pasta recipe featuring egpplant, one of my favorites.

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