Who am I?

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.


The press interviewing the press, Leah Koester, at my recent naturalization ceremony.

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.

Leah Larkin, Courier-Journal reporter.

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.

Married Bob Kulton, but remained Leah Larkin

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.

Stars and Stripes reporter Leah Larkin interviewing Vidal Sasson – long. long ago..

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?

Leah Carol Koester singing in the rain.

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.

Carol Koester, second from left, at Northwestern University with fellow members of our dorm French corridor where we were all supposed to speak French at all times. Whoever thought I would become French?

 

 

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.

Beach at Roquebrune Cap Martin — before the tourist season.
Back in the Luberon, I photographed lavender. Here it is bougainvillea. Both are exquisite.
Bust of Le Corbusier along the seaside trail named for the architect.
Mt. view from our apartment.

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The World Weeps

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Words fail to convey the horror and sadness.  Thinking of your recent trip to Paris, I wonder if you might have more photos to share.”

I received this email today from my friend Bev in Chicago. I had not planned on posting these photos. They are not great. But, they do convey a bit of the beauty, the grandeur and majesty of this gothic treasure. Like so many around the world, I watched in disbelief as this precious edifice was engulfed in flames. It was frightening to see how fast and furiously the fire wreaked destruction on Paris’ iconic monument.

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Bob and I were fortunate to visit Notre Dame just a few weeks ago. To me, Notre Dame is Paris: old, beautiful, elegant with a rich historic past. Way back to my student days in France and my first visit to Paris, it was this cathedral which mesmerized me. I was awestruck by the astonishing gothic architecture, the mystifying ambience inside the church.

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I have been to Paris many times over the years. I always make it a point to at least walk by and around Notre Dame. When lines are not too long, I go inside where I am always overwhelmed, inspired, soothed.

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A French TV commentator said, “Notre Dame will never be the same.” Perhaps not, but fortunately the structure has survived. It will be saved. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Millions in donations are pouring in for the costly restoration.

Vive la France. Vive Notre Dame

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Celebrate Easter and Notre Dame’s survival (a miracle so much survived)   with this delicious lamb recipe (above right).  Happy Easter.

Paris Visit: Random thoughts

 

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We visited my very favorite city last week. It was basically a business trip to see an American/French lawyer on wills – very important.

The trip got off to a rocky start. I lost my iPhone. I realized the loss while still in the airport, before boarding our RER train to Paris. Panic of course. On the train I had the bright idea to call the phone. I was shocked. Someone answered – lost and found at terminal 2D. They had my phone. It would have been too time consuming and complicated to reverse course and go back to the airport. I would have to wait to recover it two days later en route back home.

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Day 1: no sun

We would have to do Paris without an iPhone, without GPS, without the phone camera. But, at least the phone lived, and I had my Olympus.

From the airport, the RER took us directly to Châtelet, very near where I had booked an airbnb apartment. Châtelet is a major transportation hub in the city. For me, it’s the dreaded metro stop where you too often need to change lines and walk for kilometers underground. Since our visit was short, just 2 ½ days, I was determined not to spend half the time in those depressing underground passages: A Paris visit without the metro. I almost succeeded. We did take the metro once to see a movie, “The Green Book,” which we loved.

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Pompidou Center

We walked and walked, the very best way to experience Paris. The first day of our visit was gray and grim, but the sun came out on day 2. At popular attractions, such as Louvre and at the Pompidou Center, there were long lines. However, there were no lines at Notre Dame, which I had not entered in years, nor at La Chapelle. Notre Dame was dark and intriguing. I tired capturing the mystical ambience with the Olympus, but I fear my limited skills were not up to the task.

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Interior Notre Dame

On the short walk to our apartment, we passed a frequent shopping stop from bygone days: E. Dehillerin. In my younger days, inspired by Julia Child, I was heavy into gourmet cooking. Over the years I spent big bucks on shiny copper pots purchased there. They graced the kitchen walls in our house, but had to go when we moved. I was very pleased that their new owner, the professional chef who purchased our house, will put them to good use.

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Some folks go to Paris to buy chic clothes.  I spent my money here on pots and pans.

The old world interior of the 19thcentury store with wooden plank floors and tall, tall open shelves filled to the brim with all manner of kitchen paraphernalia is still the same. The neighborhood, which used to be on the rundown side, is now upmarket spiffy.

But, so is much of Paris – far different than the way I remember the city on my very first visit, long, long ago as a student. That’s another story…

A more recent change: E-scooters everywhere. There are rental depots throughout the city. We felt safer on foot.

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The phone…Fortunately we allowed extra time for the rescue task on the way home. There was no lost and found in terminal 2D. We were directed to Easy Jet customer service in terminal 2D – not easy to find. They had had the phone, but since it was not claimed within 24 hours it had been sent to terminal 2A. I think we walked more in Charles de Gaulle airport than all of Paris. Once we finally reached 2A, we had to find the right place. Another challenge. But, we conquered. The iPhone is home with me.

It is good to have, of course.  But, you can survive without the phone, without GPS. Remember maps?  I used mine in Paris.

Although I was not lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young woman, I did visit. It has stayed with me.  Yes, it is a “moveable feast.”

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Lunch in Paris with former Stars and Stripes colleague Leonard Hill, right, and Claudine (not in photo, sorry Claudine)is a Paris must and always fun.

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Au Revoir Reillanne

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fullsizeoutput_9cdWe will miss you. We already miss the silence, the tranquility of our former abode, the captivating view of Luberon hills from our balcony, the sometimes mysterious, ever-fascinating sky, friends and friendly village folk … Life on the Mediterranean coast, where we now live,  is so different, but it has many pluses. More about those in a future post.

We were attracted to Reillanne because it is a genuine, old  Provencal perched village. It has not been gussied up like those Luberon villages Peter Mayle made famous: —  Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Menerbes. Reillanne can be rough around the edges, ruts in some streets, lanes, — especially the Impasse where we lived. Many places could definitely use a fresh coat of paint,  No classy boutiques. No fancy restaurants. No locals nor visitors in designer attire. Jeans and tattoos and plenty of funky, folksy charm.

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Reillanne is ancient, with origins dating back to the 6thcentury.  In its early years it was a fortified village with a hilltop chateau and ramparts. The chateau is long gone, but vestiges of an 11thcentury chapel remain. And, a new (1859) church, St. Denis , which is the town landmark and a favorite photo subject. I must have hundreds of St. Denis shots. Parts of houses in the vieux village (old village), a maze of skinny, serpentine alleys, date to the 11th century.IMG_0071

During the ’60s Reillanne was a hippy enclave. Joan Baez is said to have had a home in Reillanne – or at least vacationed there. Some residents of that era remain, geezers easily recognized by their hairstyles. Some of today’s younger residents are seeking the same alternative lifestyle that attracted their predecessors. They are joined by artists – painters, photographers, ceramicists – who have settled in Reillanne.

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Reynard Bouchard’s ‘s veggies and fruit are the best: “Products of Provence that are grown with lots of love.”
Reillanne’s Sunday morning market is a star attraction, and not just for locals. We went faithfully every week to buy from our favorite vendors, to meet friends and share a coffee or glass of wine after shopping.

We can’t look back. But, I can share these photos of some of my Reillanne favorite things.

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A Reillanne favorite with great burgers.

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Moroccan Sadki Lahcen offers more than tea.  We love his tangines and couscous, perfect take-home, ready-to-eat meals.

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Our former house and pool — lots of wonderful memories.

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Fisherman Maurice Garcia comes to Reillanne from Marseille every Friday with delectable treats from the Med. This was our favorite, loup sauvage ( wild sea wolf).

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Thanks to proprietor Antoine, Cafe du Cours brings a variety of music to Reillanne.

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Colorful evening clouds seen from our balcony

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My roses. I will not miss all the work and watering but will miss those blossoms.

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My guardian angel, my savior, my confidant — neighbor Nicole. She gave advice, cared for the cats and plants and more when we traveled, was there when I needed her. She is a rare treasure, a true friend who will be dearly missed, as well as her adorable and feisty companion, Iros.

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Friends and extraordinary food — the outstanding cuisine of chef Maarten who recently moved his restaurant, La Pastorale, to Reillanne

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This was the Reillanne moon’s farewell to us — shot from the balcony a few nights before our departure.

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Welcome to the Chahinian family who will soon reside in our former home.
The quick sale of the house, finding a new home, then emptying  a big house loaded with furniture and far too much stuff for a move to a partly furnished apartment, plus packing for the move,  engulfed my life .  No time nor energy for talesandtravel.com   Life is returning to normal.  I am happy to post again and hope to do so more regularly.  Stay tuned. If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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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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