Mimosa and Menton

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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.menton.5

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.

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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.

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Sorry about the garbage bin. Need to master photo shop

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.

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Menton’s Old Town

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.

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Menton’s Old Town

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.menton.6

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.

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No Mediterranean sunshine during our Menton visit.

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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2017: The long hot summer

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.  

summer4We 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

My rack of lamb looked nothing like this. I failed Cooking like a Chef, but I loved the course anyway.

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. 

Friends David and Mollie did very well, with many takers for their bargains.

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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In the Merde

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 photo.hexmishaps. (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. ladder - CopyClimbing 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.

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Nurse Vero cleans the hole.

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.merde.7

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.

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Supplies delivered from hospital for at-home care, all covered by national French health insurance.

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

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Bob and his talking purse.

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.the-last-straw

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.

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Nurse Aurelie I and the drip hook up.

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!

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My hand splint.

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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Celebrating Lemons and Bicycles

menton.9.aFruity 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.menton..13

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.menton.15a

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.menton.2a

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.17a

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.menton.16.a

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.menton.1a

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.SR.5

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.bobbike

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.SR.blog.7.ajpg

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.bike

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).spaghetti

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 SR.blog.9.ajpgand 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.

breakfastVilla Rita: www.villaritasanremo.it

Menton Lemon Festival: www.fete-du-citron.com/ The festival takes place the last two weeks of February.

Ristorante Bar Emy, Via Al Mare 1, San Lorenzo al Mare, Italy, ++ 39 0183-91314SR.1a

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Souvenirs of Summer 2014

fleurs.2It’s officially over. It makes me sad, even though summer 2014 was not a normal Provence summer. Thanks to climate change, we had thunderstorms and cool, cloudy days. Too much wind and rain. The latter had a plus. July and August days are usually hot and sunny with almost no rain. This year we saved both money and time on watering all our flowers and trees. Still, I would have preferred a real summer.

Gone are those long summer nights when we could dine on the balcony by daylight up until 10 p.m. Soon many restaurants will close or drastically shorten geraniumstheir opening times. I am still swimming, but that too will come to an end before long. Tomatoes — those tasty gems I buy from farmers at the markets, will soon disappear and we will left with those tasteless Dutch hothouse tomatoes at supermarkets. Fall and winter are for cosying up with the cats by the fireplace — not as exciting as summer, but not so bad.

In spite of the less-than-perfect weather, we enjoyed some fun times and outings during summer 2014. The following photos are souvenirs of those good times.

Again I tried for the perfect lavender shot. Now that I have had photo lessons from friend and fab photographer George, there’s hope for improvement next year.lavender.blog2

We joined fellow Americans for a Fourth of July party sponsored by Democrats Abroad in Avignon.4th.1

Then we joined the French for a Bastille Day fete in neighboring Vacheres. The July 14th sardinade (grilled sardines) is an annual event with plenty of wine, music and song – in addition to those petite fish.vachere.2

On the cultural side, we joined a group from our town for a bus excursion to an outdoor piano concert in La Roque d’Antheron, also an annual event — preceded by a picnic in the park.piano.1

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And, we went to Avignon for a day at the Festival d’Avignon which features almost 1,000 theatrical performances. The festivities in the streets are more than jolly.fb.1

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And north to Sisteron for an outdoor concert under the Citadele.fb.5

I longed for the mountains, so we drove to a winter ski town that draws hikers and mountain bikers in summer. We rode a chair lift to the heights for an easy trek. Alas, riding a chair lift in summer minus snow and skis is not easy. Getting off I did not  jump aside fast enough and was whacked in the back with the chair and knocked to the ground. Painful. We canceled the hike, but enjoyed beautiful scenery on the way home.mts.2

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Another community meal – paella in our town, Reillanne. We love these events, good food and socializing.sisteron.paella.lac 021

Again this summer we tried our luck at a Vide Grenier (Empty Attic). It’s a flea market, but our hopes of making money on our no-longer-used possessions were dashed. We could not even give things away. There were still treasures in the box labeled “Gratuit” (Free) after the last customers had gone home.

vg.2Cannes on the Riviera was our destination for an event sponsored by the American Club of the Riviera – mind-boggling fireworks shot from boats in the harbor. We spent the night in Cannes and enjoyed a visit to the off shore island, Sainte Marquerite, the following day. Gorgeous.  On the way home, a quick dip in the Med at Theoule-sur-Merisle.1

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Friends Mollie and David put summer to bed with a fabulous garden party.

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Summertime is also for enjoying our pool and yard and flowers — and the SPPS (State Park Picnic Shelter). See previous post “Pergola — Or State Park Picnic Shelter?”  Aug. 22, 2013.  It’s looking better,  thanks to the decorative elements painstakingly installed by Bob, and Ben’s suggestion that we we lighten the posts and beams.  That made a huge difference.  Thank you, Ben.  You saved it– and our marriage.pool.2

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Don’t miss the next post featuring our summer renters. We meet fun and interesting people who rent the guest apartment at Les Rosiers for vacation. And then… a post on Incredible Iceland.  If you are not a Tales and Travel follower, sign up now at top right so you don’t miss future tales. 

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Summer may be over, but grilling is not. One of my favorites which is always a hit with guests is grilled lamb. See column at top right for recipe.