It has been too long since my last post. The lockdown prevented exciting excursions to new places which I like to discover and write about. But, all is looking much brighter. Restaurant dining is back – outdoors and indoors at 50% capacity. All stores, cinemas, gyms etc. are back in operation. Our curfew has been bumped up to 11 pm. It will vanish on June 30.
During many months of “confinement,” we were only permitted to explore and wander within 10 kilometers of our residence. We did. I took photos. Recently we were given liberty to travel within France, as well as nearby Italy with our vaccination certificate. And, soon we will be able to travel within the European Union. Eureka!
Basilica of Saint Michael Archangel in Menton
Following are random photos, mostly of our surroundings. The beauty around helped ease the pain of the lockdown.
Le Jardin Exotique (exotic garden) in Eze.
Market in Bordighera, Italy –our first visit to Italy after lockdown lifted.
More Eze Jardin Exotique, above and below.
First meal post lockdown in Italy: fabulous tuna
A wee bit of travel on the horizon: a week at a spa (terme) in Abano, Italy. This promises an interesting tale for sure. Don’t miss it. If not a Tales and Travel follower, sign up. Your address is kept private –not shared
Who am I? Leah Larkin. Carol Larkin. Leah Koester. Leah Kulton Koester. Leah Carol Koester. Carol Koester.
I have been all. It’s a crazy, complicated tale. Read on.
If not interested in my name saga, scroll down for photos of my neighborhood in southern France.
Ever since my first marriage to Dennis Larkin, ions ago, I have been Leah Larkin. No more – at least not in France where I am now a citizen and Leah Koester. I am, however, still an American citizen, and still Leah Larkin for US purposes.
At the time I married Dennis, I was embarking on my career as a journalist. My first job as a reporter was at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Up until then, I had gone by my middle name, Carol. Carol Koester (my maiden name) became Carol Larkin. My boss at the newspaper was Carol. There was another “Carol” reporter. And, I now had a sister-in-law, also called Carol Larkin. Too many Carols.
Carol Sutton, my boss at the C-J declared, “You will be Leah Larkin.” Not a bad byline. I liked it.
Once during a telephone interview, after introducing myself as “Leah Larkin,” my interview subject responded: “Give me a break, lady. Why not tell me you are Lois Lane.”
At the time of my divorce from Dennis, I asked for nothing, just his name. He was happy to oblige. When I married Bob Kulton, I did not become Leah Kulton. I remained Leah Larkin. It is the official name on my US passport, with Social Security, on all credit cards, membership cards etc.
We moved from Germany to France 14 years ago. No name problems in Germany since all documents were through the US military. I was Leah Larkin at the newspaper Stars and Stripes where I worked, and Leah Larkin on the initial French documents – residency permit, health insurance card etc. But then, I decided to apply for citizenship. Little did I know what lies ahead.
Lots of paperwork and patience required. I persisted, and after several years, it worked. I got a letter – you are French. However, more time and paperwork before I could get the official documents, a French passport and ID card. That is when the Merde hit the fan.
My name is Leah Larkin. I assumed I could continue to be Leah Larkin. Wrong. In France a woman is legally known by her maiden name all her life. She can have a second name, “nom d’usage,” (user name), but it cannot be any name. It must be the name of her current spouse. It is illegal to use the name of a previous spouse. Now I had a French passport and French ID card with the name “Leah Koester,” and “nom d’usage, Kulton.”
How will anyone know that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are the same person? I was worried. This looks suspicious. I could be a spy, a terrorist.
If I go to use a credit card, or carry out a transaction at the French bank where I am still Leah Larkin, and then I show a French ID card with the name Leah Koester, problems could arise. I envisioned other scenarios where this could be a catastrophe.
Why couldn’t I get a legal document certifying that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same, that I am not a spy, nor a terrorist? I checked with a lawyer. No way.
The only path to legally be Leah Larkin in France requires hiring a lawyer and going to court. My identity fate would be up to a judge. I envision hefty legal fees, lots and lots more paperwork, and then perhaps the judge would not rule in my favor. And, if he did, yet again more paperwork to apply for a new passport and ID card.
Just getting this far has required ample time and energy. I am burned out. I am happy to have dual citizenship. I will live with dual identity. Maybe it could be an advantage. Am I too old to become a spy? How about heading to Russia to get the real dirt on you know who?
Name confusion and change started in my childhood. My mother insisted I be called “Leah Carol.” Double names were the thing back then. In the 8thgrade, a boy said I had queer name. He made fun of it. That was a different era – what boys thought was important. I went home, crying to my mother. We can fix that, she said. You can be “Carol.” Throughout high school and university and Peace Corps, I was Carol Koester. Some folks who knew me back then still call me Carol, including one of my three brothers.
Confused? Me too.
For the record, Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same. Leah Koester is proud and honored to be French. Leah Larkin would be even prouder.
Scroll down to see photos of Leah Larkin’s — no, Leah Koester’s –new neighborhood on the Riviera.
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Mimosa – not a cocktail with champagne and orange juice, at least not in southern France. Here it is “a tropical shrub or tree of the leguminous genus Mimosa, having ball-like clusters of yellow or pink flowers and compound leaves that are often sensitive to light or touch.”
High in the hills above the French Riviera, and along the coast, those blossoms are bright yellow, bursting forth in February, heralding the beginning of spring. The glorious show of nature calls for celebration.
La Fête de Mimosa in Tanneron, a tiny town at the pinnacle of the Route d’ Or (golden route), honors the colorful spectacle every year. Garlands of yellow decorate buildings, cars, posters. Stands sell local products. Bands play. Shots are fired. Folks come from afar to enjoy – and photograph — the splendor.
The narrow, twisty road leading to the town, the Route d’Or, offers magnificent photo opps of the blazing trees against a background of gorgeous scenery. But, to get that perfect shot, you may need to risk your life. There are no places to pull off, and traffic when the blossoms are at their peak is heavy.
We joined friends of the American Club of the Riviera at the festival, then continued on to Menton, our favorite coastal city on the border with Italy. We have decided the time has come to downsize, sell our house, and move closer to civilization. We love the tranquility and beauty of our surroundings in the Luberon countryside, especially the ever-changing view of the hills from our porch/balcony. But, it is probably not the best place for old folks (us).
I love the Med … and Menton. It is almost like being in Italy. Lots of Italian is spoken. Answering machine messages are in two languages, French and Italian. I have been studying Italian on and off for years and relish the opportunity to speak. Italian restaurants abound. You can walk across the border to Italy.
Perfect. We’ll move to Menton … that is, we’d be happy to move to Menton. Our mini trip was a reconnaissance mission, basically to check with real estate agencies on the availability of large, vacant apartments to rent on a long term basis. We no longer want to be property owners.
We rented an Airbnb studio in the Vieille Village, the city’s ancient town with narrow alleys and steps, lots of steps. It is pedestrian only, no shops, no restaurants. Those are below in the centre ville, town center, down many more steps. The old town is not the best place for my decaying knees, nonetheless fascinating, charming, and, had the weather been better, super photo opps.
Our Menton dream came to a depressing crash with reality: the type of apartment we seek is almost non-existent.
This is the Mediterranean coast, vacation/tourist territory. Apartments to rent are furnished, rented for the season, and mainly small. Nonetheless, we left our contact details with numerous agencies just in case something with our criteria becomes available. We expanded the search to nearby Roquebrune. There a few realtors did offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
We did visit one apartment, 100 sq meters, considered large. It seemed small to us: no storage space, tiny kitchen, just one bathroom, two very small bedrooms. The living room, however, was spacious with large windows and lovely views.
This will not be easy on many fronts. We came home and surveyed our big house and all the contents, many treasures collected over the years.. No way will we be able to move all this stuff to an apartment, even a big apartment.
Bob would prefer to rent a house, which may make more sense for us. That may be even harder to find. But, we can and must begin the process: eliminate, sell, trash lots. We will put the house up for sale this summer when roses are in bloom, pool in operation, and it is at its best.
We will bug those real estate agencies. We are going back to Menton at the end of the month during the town’s renowned lemon festival for a luncheon sponsored by the British Association of Menton. Maybe some of those folks could be helpful.
We won’t give up: Menton or bust!
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Fruity floats, gigantic citrus creations, fabulous flowers. The annual Menton Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) is an explosion of color, scents, and scenes in honor of the city’s prized small yellow fruit.
We were enthralled with it all during a visit many years ago, and returned a few weeks ago to survey the scene of dazzling orange and yellow sculptures once again.
This Riviera city, the lemon capital of France on the border with Italy, has been celebrating the lemon with festivities every year since 1929. The festival attracts some 230,000 visitors who come to admire 145 tons of citrus fruits which make up the creations and exhibitions.
This year’s theme, the lemon in China, featured a mammoth dragon, a pagoda, a temple, animals and more all made of lemons and oranges.
The exhibits are set up along the Jardin Biovès, a long promenade lined with the colossal fruit constructions. An elevated ramp in the middle is especially popular with the camera crowd who line the steps for overall shots of the scene. Stands selling the fruit, citrus liqueurs, soaps, jams and postcards do a brisk business.
Menton’s microclimate with more than 300 sunny, temperate days per year is ideal for growing the tangy fruit. There are some 80 varieties of lemons, but it’s the Menton lemon that is prized by chefs for its perfume, distinctly flavored zest and pulp, and high sugar content. While the lemon gets top billing, oranges play a leading role in the gigantic creations.
We had previously visited Menton, my favorite coastal city, in January. See post, “French Riviera: Magnifico Menton.” The city, which was originally part of Italy, became the property of Charles Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco, in 1346. In 1848 it broke away from Monaco, becoming a free city, and in 1860 it became part of France. By the late 19th century it was on the map as a popular tourist spot on the French Riviera.
This time instead of staying in Menton, we crossed the border and spent three nights in Sanremo on the Italian Riviera. It’s just a 45 minute drive from Menton, and a lovely town on a coastal bike path. That was our plan – get back on the bikes.
Husband, formerly known as Bicycle Bob (BB), was an avid cyclist. He seems to have lost interest in pedaling, even though he invested in a snazzy, expensive bicycle a few years ago. His passion has become wine, so I call him VR (Vino Roberto). I miss biking and the great rides we have taken over the years — in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland and France.
Let’s not give in to old age. Let’s get moving again. He agreed and we had a wonderful, easy ride on the bike route from Sanremo to San Lorenzo al Mare, about 18 kilometers, then back to Sanremo and another 4 kilometers in the other direction to Ospedaletti.
Old railroad tracks were converted into the wide coastal trail, used by walkers and roller bladers as well as bicyclists. It meanders through Sanremo then down the coast. No hills. No need to downshift. There are plenty of spots along the route complete with benches where you can rest and enjoy the scenery. And villages (Bussana, Arma di Taggia, Santo Stefano al Mare) for a refreshment stopover.
We had a fantastic and bargain lunch at Café Emy by the beach in San Lorenzo al Mare. The insalata frutti di mare (seafood salad) was huge – a meal in itself. My spaghetti frutti di mare was the best I have ever eaten (see photo).
A unique aspect to this bike route is tunnels – several. The most famous and longest is the Capo Nero tunnel along the section Sanremo-Ospedaletti, 1.75 kilometers long. It has been converted into a memorial of sorts to Sanremo’s most famous sporting event, the cycling classic Milan-Sanremo. For more than 100 years, the race has been the first important contest of the cycling season. It will take place on March 22 this year.
Every bay of the tunnel is dedicated to a specific year in the history of the race, with some basic facts about that year’s event written on one side, with tidbits and anecdotes on the other, in both Italian and English. I was too busy pedaling to read it all, but did try to catch some phrases to break up the monotony of the dismal tunnel trek.
Total ride: 45 kilometers. It was a success. And, so was the hotel where we stayed. Fabulous. With just four rooms, the Villa Rita can’t really be called a hotel. The house sits just above the beach within walking distance of the town center. Our room had a large terrace and lovely views. I was in heaven, lying in bed, enjoying the sea view from the window while listening to the restful sounds of waves slapping the shore — and contemplating future bike rides.
It’s easy to understand why artists, film stars, royalty, politicians, Russian oligarchs – and plain old folks like us –are enamored of the French Riviera. The scenery, that seductive combination of mountains and sea, is the stuff of glamorous coffee table books. Add to that plenty of sunshine, good food and happy faces.
VR and I would like to join those happy faces someday, downsize and move closer to the sea. With that long range goal in mind, we set off to Menton last week. It is the last city in France on the coast before the Italian border. At times, you’d think you were in Italy. Lots of Italian spoken, restaurants featuring Italian specials, more joie de vivre. Even though that’s a French term, the Italians seem to have lots more of it than the too-often dour French – in my opinion.
Menton has a lovely stretch of beach (stones not sand) bordered by many turn of the century mansions, not unlike Nice, just smaller. Skinny streets in the Old Town, as well as long sets of pebbled steps, climb to an imposing Italian Baroque church, then onwards to a chapel and even higher to a cemetery. There’s a busy pedestrian shopping street, an old covered market hall, and a well known museum dedicated to the works of artist Jean Cocteau. The city is also known for its gardens which we will visit next time.
We found many restaurants closed for the season in January, but thanks to the advice of a woman at the tourist office, we had a wonderful fish dinner (Branzino sotto sale). Sea bass baked under a mound of salt which locks in all the moisture. Owners of the Coquille d’Or restaurant, the chef and his wife, are Italian. Our waiter was Italian. The fish – maybe it came from the Italian Med.
Ventimiglia, the town just across the border in Italy, has an enormous Friday market, a source of fashion bargains and more. Parking is always a nightmare, but our Menton hotel desk clerk suggested we take the train. Perfect and only 11.20 euros round trip for both of us. This time the market was a disappointment, perhaps because it’s too early for spring fashion, too late for winter?? I did find a few cheap treasures.
Then, a return to a waterfront restaurant we had found on a previous visit for another amazing meal. VR went for grilled fish. I chose spaghetti frutti di mare, chuck full of mussels, clams, a few shrimp and some unknown critters.
Before heading back to our abode in the hinterlands, we joined members of the American Club of the Riviera for an outing in Nice. A guided visit of the Musée Masséna preceded a gourmet lunch at the Hotel Negresco. The museum, a sumptuous Belle Époque villa on the Promenade des Anglais, was built between 1898 and 1901 by Victor Masséna, grandson of one of Napoleon’s marshals, and a collector of precious objets d’art.
More opulence next door at the Hotel Negresco, another Belle Époque gem (1912). According to a guidebook, it is “one of the great surviving European palace-hotels.” I was delighted to see a gigantic Niki de Saint Phalle Nana adding a whimsical touch under the Baccarat chandelier hanging from the dome in the Salon Royale which was built by Gustav Eiffel’s workshops.
By the time our excellent lunch (gazpacho, lamb and apple crumble) ended, clouds put an end to the sun’s rays. No chance for good photos of Nice’s new addition, the Promenade du Paillon, a strip of parkland between the city center and Vieux Nice (Old Town). We did saunter down the Promenade des Anglais, along the sea, then crossed over for a walk to the giant Ferris wheel at the end of the new reflecting pool.
We’ll be back in Menton at the end of February for its Lemon Festival (14 Feb.-4 March) www.fete-du-citron.com
American Club of the Riviera: americanclubriviera.com
Restaurant Coquille d’Or: xx 33 (0) 4 93 35 80 67
More on Nice www.nicetourisme.com Nice’s Carnaval celebration, lots of fabulous flowers on parade and more, takes place from 13 Feb. – 1 March. See my previous posts: “Nice Carnaval,” Feb. 23, 2009 and “Nice- Enchantment on the Riviera,” Jan. 12, 2012
Since I am in an Italian mood, and since a hearty soup is perfect for these cold winter days, Today’s Taste features one of my favorites, Minestrone. See Recipe column at top right.
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