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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Too long. Too hot. It’s almost September (28 August), but the temperature on our balcony in the shade is 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees F). There have been far too many days with this sweltering heat, even reaching 38/100 a few times. We have learned to live like the locals, shutting all windows and shutters early in the morning. It is like living in a cave, but it does keep things a bit cooler.
I long for the coolness of the mountains…. Soon we will be off, not to the mountains, but north to Germany where far more pleasant temperatures await, alas some rain too. That’s Germany! We need that rain in Provence. No precipitation for weeks. The garden plants are sad, drooping, very thirsty. I am so sick of watering, but I must prevent my precious roses from perishing. My geraniums and petunias have given up – no more blossoms. Grass — what grass? Nothing but a rock hard brown surface covered with the parched remains of what long ago was lush and green. It’s strange. We are suffering from excessive heat and drought in Provence. In Houston they have Harvey and devastating floods. Climate change is real.
Following are some photos of summer chez nous. We kept cool, sort of, at a mechoui (lamb roasted on a spit) picnic in nearby Cereste. That lamb was tasty. We had visitors, friends Regis and Britta from Germany with their friends Tobie and Allan from Tucson. Tobie scoured the antiques shops, finding many treasures which Allan had to squeeze into the rental car trunk. We are not sure how all that loot made it back to Tucson.Our only trip of the summer was to Paris to see our fabulous American dentist, Dr. Jane. We made time for a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, an architectural wonder.
We had a cute, tiny Airbnb apartment in the Marais which offered this view (below) from the mini balcony. This time we did not get locked in (see previous post, “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment,” 2016/11/13)I took a cooking course, The Art of Cooking like Chef, at the renowned Cordon Bleu. I failed to master carre de l’agneau and ended up massacring a beautiful hunk of meat. More on this sorry tale to appear soon in an article on http://www.travelsquire.com
We were happy to lighten our load at a flea market in Reillanne, our town. It is therapeutic, and we need to part with much more.
More visitors, Tom and Lisa from our Stuttgart days came with daughter Remy who is named after that town in Provence. They now live in Middleburg, Va.
More Paris. Dinner with Leonard and Claudine at an Israeli restaurant where the Shakshuka is excellent (see Shakshuka recipe under Recipes, Meat and Mains, column at right).
Bob bids farewell to Paris, quenching his thirst with a beer at Le Train Bleu while we wait to board our TGV back to Provence.
We had a celebration a few days ago to mark the end of this scorcher of a summer, but no end in sight. We had fun nonetheless, and delicious food thanks to chefs Victor and Ishmael.
Today’s Taste is a different and tangy take on summer squash and/or zucchini. Click on squash photo , upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.
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Yes, in deep and desperately needing escape. I/we cannot get out from under the ominous, all-encompassing black cloud which has bombarded us with one disaster after another. What did we do to deserve this merde? Did someone put a hex on us, cast a black magic spell of evil?
The current calamity ranks as the worst, yet those preceding were far more than minor mishaps. (see previous posts: “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment” and “China II: The Fall”).
More merde followed those catastrophes but let’s start with the present which began the afternoon of April 10.
I was typing away at my computer when a frantic husband ran in screaming. “I need some ice. I need some ice quick.” Too hot? He needs a cool drink? No such luck. He related that he had fallen from a ladder while trimming a tall bush.
I was not terribly sympathetic. At his age, he has no business on ladders. Last summer he fell out of a tree when trying to trim. He has fallen off the wall in front of our property when cutting shrubbery. He relishes climbing a wobbly ladder into our attic. Climbing must have been one of his favorite boyhood exploits. But, he is a boy no more.
He had an enormous lump on his calf. We iced it down. He was in pain, but he could walk/move with no problem. Nonetheless that evening we went to the emergency room at the Manosque hospital, about a half hour away.
And, there we spent 3 ½ hours. Leg was x-rayed. Nothing broken. We were told to wait and see the doctor again. We waited and waited. Many of those who arrived after us had seen doctors and left. My patience and nerves were shattered. I had a killer migraine. Bob was getting antsy. We learned our doctor was on the telephone dealing with a very urgent case. Bob’s leg injury was obviously not urgent. Who knows how much longer the wait would be? We left.
Next day he saw his local doctor. The lump was a gigantic hematoma, now red, purple, pink and horrific. His foot had also ballooned – too fat for his shoes. The doctor ordered a Doppler ultrasound to check for blood clots, and he arranged for the test with a nearby doctor that evening. All clear – no clots.
There had been a half-dollar sized blister on the surface of the hematoma. At some point it burst and a large scab formed. But, the swelling was increasing. The grotesque colors on his leg now engulfed the fat foot, too.
We decided this required another look by a medical professional. His doctor was off that day, so we trekked back to emergency where this time we only to had to wait a few minutes. A doctor checked it out, said it was infected, gave us a prescription for antibiotics and another one for daily at-home nurse visits to change the bandage (a wonderful plus of French medical care). He turned us over to a nurse who we assume followed his instructions and cut delicately around the scab which immediately began oozing thick, black blood (the hematoma contents). She covered it with a large bandage and sent us on our way.
Back home the next day nurse Aurelie I appeared, removed the bandage and was horrified. “They did this at Manosque?” She began pressing the hematoma, again and again and again, draining it of the ancient blood. I watched, incredulous. Would it ever stop? It did, but left a gargantuan cavity in his leg. It is this cavity which the nurses came to clean out and stuff with treated gauze every day. In the beginning it took a meter-length piece of gauze to fill the cavity. The mountainous lump was/is still there, but getting smaller.
Several days passed and a new nurse arrived, Aurelie II. She was shocked. “This does not look good….How long has it been like this?” She urged us to go the emergency department at the hospital in Aix en Provence. We learned from her, and others, that the Manosque hospital does not have a good reputation.
Afternoon plans were canceled and we set off to Aix, about an hour and 15 minutes away. A two-and a one half hour wait merited an examination by a very patient and thorough doctor. He carefully cleaned the “hole,” stuffed it, patched it, wrapped it and sent us on our way with a prescription for a different antibiotic and a new at-home nurse prescription. He also sent a swab of the cavity to the lab. The results later indicated the infection was resistant to the first antibiotic, but the second, the one he had prescribed, was on target.
Meanwhile, our lives have been in turmoil since the fall. My Easter dinner party canceled. A hotel overnight in Aix canceled. A weekend in Italy canceled. My doctor’s appointment canceled. No time for my activities: photo club and French writing group. The real tragedy, the month-long trip to Germany, out the window. We had planned to see some friends, but the trip was primarily a research trip for me. I write for the magazine German Life and planned to gather material for future articles. It was a time-consuming, complicated trip to arrange – reservations, appointments, calculating driving distances and times. All for naught. Merde!
Nurses continued to come daily for the cleaning-stuffing wound ritual, warning us that full recovery would be long. Aurelie I suggested we see a “specialist des pansements” (bandage specialist) at the Manosque hospital, a woman (Hungarian) whom she had great regard for. I made an appointment, but we had to wait 2 weeks to see her.
When the bandage specialist saw the dreadful wound and learned that we had been to the hospital emergency room way back at the beginning of the sorry saga, five weeks prior, she was angry. “Why didn’t they call me? They know this is my specialty?” She said if she had started treatment initially, by now Bob would be recovered.
She advised Bob be hospitalized for a week to start treatment with a machine which would suction all the bad stuff lodged in the cavity. The process would take about a month, as opposed to three to four months if he continued with the nurses at-home
treatments. He would need to spend about a week in the hospital, and then go home with machine.
The machine can hang from his shoulder, like a purse, and can operate on batteries, so he can be mobile. He was given permission to go home for the weekend. We were elated.
On Sunday we were about to depart for lunch at the home of friends in a nearby town.
Telephone rang. Hospital. They had taken a blood sample during his stay. Results indicated “a very dangerous infection.” Get back to the hospital immediately so treatment can be started, they urged. That ended lunch with friends. More merde!
I did some research on the bacteria he had contracted – both common hospital infections, multi-antibiotic resistant. Of course, the hospital insists he did not get the infections from contamination there, even though he had been infection free when entering the hospital.
So, now in addition to the machine, he was/is on a drip of a very strong antibiotic for 10 days. This was the last straw, too much. We were both at rock bottom, very nervous about the gravity of these infections, sick of the hospital, depressed, despondent.
Our sanity was saved, again by the fabulous visiting nurses. After four days back in the hospital, “hospitalisation a domicile” (home hospitalization) was arranged. A nurse comes three times per day, at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., to hook him up to the drip which lasts about 1/2 hour each time. The 10 days will end tomorrow, but he will still have the machine, however it only requires a nurse’s attention every three days.
Nurses may call it a miracle machine, praising its medical prowess, but we call it Farting Freddy. It is noisy, emitting sounds identical to farts all too often. We are ready for a return to the world, a meal in a restaurant, but dare we?
On top of this tragedy, and the others previously mentioned, my China fall still haunts me. The broken collar bone did not heal correctly, the bones did not realign (non-union). It is still painful at times. I am (was) a devoted lap swimmer, but the crawl, my stroke, is difficult. Double merde!
Another complication: somehow nerves in my upper arm, below the damaged collar bone, became compressed. My left hand movement is limited, namely the two little fingers which are basically frozen. At first I was told recovery could take a year. Now they say two years. I have learned to type with one good hand, and one finger of the left hand. Many kitchen/cooking tasks remain challenging.
And yet another whopper: basal cell skin cancer. I had a tiny bump on my nose, cancer caused by the sun and not usually dangerous. Removing the mini lump would be a piece of cake, so I thought. Not quite – underneath the skin the lump was not so tiny. Removal left me with 26 stitches on the side of my nose and face. Fortunately I had a skilled plastic surgeon. The scar is easily hidden with makeup. But, after all that, he did not get all the cancer. One cell remains. More merde!
Perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel of merde. Since Freddy attacked the wound, it is slowly shrinking. While these troubles have been – and still are – annoying, I realize it all could have been far worse. But, we need a break from bad luck. If anyone can offer a hex of happiness and good health, a magic spell of good fortune to chase away the merde, please send our way.
In between all of the merde, we did have a lovely trip to Sri Lanka. See previous post, “Wonders of Sri Lanka.” More on that coming soon. Don’t miss it. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared.
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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.
With its gorgeous landscapes and numerous attractions, Provence is a Mecca for tourists. French. British. Dutch. Belgians. Asians. Russians, and many more.
Friends and relatives who come to visit us in the Luberon hills also enjoy the allure of Provence. Carol and Noel, friends from Germany who have retired to northern Italy, arrived in early October. Soon after came John and Mickey, VR’s (husband Vino Roberto’s) brother and sister-in-law from northern Ohio.
We kept on the move and had fun showing off our Provence favorites. A hit with all was Carrières de Lumières in Les-Baux-de-Provence. Words fail to describe this amazing place –vast caverns, formerly quarries, where a unique multimedia presentation enthralls all. The show changes every winter.
“Klimt and Vienna” is this year’s show, ending Jan. 4, which features the works of turn-of-the-century artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, plus Fritz Hundertwasser, projected on the walls and floors. Wander through the immense space, engulfed by the gigantique tableaux. Enjoy the mesmerizing musical background.
“Klimt is now one of my favorites. The show is awesome. I could have just sat there all day looking at the images,” said Carol. We, too, are overwhelmed with the production and return every year to see the new show.
The ancient town, Les-Baux-de-Provence, with its medieval château, spectacular views and boutique lined cobblestone streets, is also captivating. ”I’ve been to a million of those cutesy towns that have become little more than amusement parks. Les Baux seemed, to me, to have retained some of its soul,” commented Noel.
Mickey was especially intrigued with the site where the ruins of an 11th century citadel dominate a plateau perched on a rocky spur. She listened to the explanations on an audio headset at each numbered stop throughout the historic site. “I love castles,” she said.
Carol and Noel were also impressed with Roussillon, a touristy town whose attraction is its Sentier des ocres (ochre footpath). A trail descends into a gorge of orange/yellow walls, then winds through the woods bordered by these exotic, colorful cliffs. The area was also formerly a working quarry.
Noel had made a special request . He remembers a scene in the movie, “In Like Flint” with James Coburn, during which Coburn savors Bouillabaisse, Marseilles’ signature dish. He had to eat this legendary fish soup in Marseille. I did some
restaurant research to find a place serving authentic Bouillabaisse. Many restaurants have a version for tourists. My find, Le Ruhl, has a perfect setting on a hillside just adjacent to the Mediterranean. Great views – but the food? OK, but not great. Next time I’ll try another restaurant for Bouillabaisse
Before lunch we had hoped to take a boat ride of the calanques (dramatic fjord like inlets in the limestone cliffs between Marseille and Cassis), but due to the fierce Mistral which blows too frequently in these parts, the boats were not running. We braved the winds and took a long walk through the Vieux Port, then on to the J4 Esplanade, Marseille’s swanky new addition for 2013 when the city was the European Capital of Culture. I never tire of admiring the dazzling architecture of the new Villa Méditerranée and MuCem ( museum of Mediterranean and European culture).
Mickey and John did get to see the calanques. On a delightfully calm day we boarded the sightseeing boat in the enchanting port town, Cassis, for the excursion through parts of this dramatic coastline. It was market day in Cassis with vendors selling clothing, food, purses and all manner of souvenirs.
Markets are a major Provence attraction. Mickey accompanied me to Forcalquier, a town near our home known for its big Monday market. “I loved the shopping you did at the outdoor market,” she later said. “ I really liked that you were able to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, produce, eggs, fish and sausages direct from the farmers the same morning they were picked. I enjoyed listening to you get a better price for the shawl/cape you purchased, especially after the seller informed you this would be the last time he was going to be at the market with his items.” (It was a coat I could have done without. But when my bargaining was successful, I could not resist.)
VR and I recently joined the American Club of the Riviera. Their October agenda included an event during Mickey and John’s visit I knew we should not miss – a tour of the Henri Matisse Rosary chapel in hillside Vence above the Riviera. A documentary, basically an interview by American Barbara Freed with the late Sister Jacques Marie, the nun who played a major role in the realization of this unique structure, preceded the tour. Freed has translated the nun’s book about her relationship with Matisse into English and served as director of the documentary. She was on hand with more fascinating commentary. It’s an unbelievable story – the deep friendship between this renowned artist who was not religious and the Dominican nun, and how she influenced, inspired and encouraged him on the chapel project.
An overnight stop in Nice, my Riviera favorite, preceded our trek to Vence. We strolled along the seaside Promenade des Anglais and wandered through Old Nice.
Then back into the hills to Sospel, a town VR and I had visited many times. We had even considered moving there. We became friends with Marie Mayer who
runs a chambre d’hote (bread and breakfast), Domaine du Paraïs, where we always stayed. Her late father, Marcel Mayer, was a well known sculptor. She invited us for an aperitif in her living room filled with some of her father’s remarkable art works.
Noel and Carol are foodies like VR and I. ”Food, of course, is always high on our list,” Noel said. “The afternoon at the Dutch guy’s place was unforgettable… everything about that afternoon was wonderful – the intimate setting, the company and the food, which really was excellent.”
He was referring to Table du Bonheur, a special eatery in the hinterlands where we had an excellent lunch. (See previous post, Table of Happiness, Sept. 2, 2011)
Our food extravaganza with John and Mickey was an over-the-top meal in Italy – a lunch of multi courses at an agriturismo (farm inn), La Locanda degli Ulivi, hidden up a very long, very narrow, very windy road in the hills above Dolceacqua, a small, picturesque town just north of Ventimiglia. This was a first for me and VR. We will return, but VR said I can drive up that taxing hill next time. We must have had at least six different antipasti before two different types of pasta followed by the main course, rabbit, and the dessert. Not gourmet cuisine, but a fun experience in a livey, cozy – and very Italian — ambiance .
Throughout our drives, Mickey, who is very interested in vegetation, often asked me the names of different trees. I failed . All the lavender fields fascinated her. She’d like to come back to see them in bloom (usually July). Olive trees were another favorite. ”The olive orchards were amazing to see. It might be interesting to see the trees when in bloom or when the farmers are harvesting the olives. I noticed olives were served at all the meals.”
I asked her what was most memorable about her visit. “The view of the mountains was unbelievable, and the winding roads took our breath away. What a wonderful trip and fantastic weather! The sight reminded me of what heaven must be like. Not a lot of noise, heavy traffic, or trucks unloading but just a peaceful, restful vacation place.”
Not quite heaven, but Provence has its charms.
Like my blog? Tell your friends. If you are not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up with your email address at upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared. Please comment, Leave a Reply below. I love feedback. Coming next: Incredible Iceland Part II –horses, fish, food, adventure. And, for a taste of fall, try my recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin — above right.