Die Geisterstunde / l’heure bleue / The Witching Hour

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Welcome to your last edition from Provence. Yes, the time has come, my bags are packed and I’m ready to jet off. My summer in Provence has come to a conclusion with one spectacular thunderstorm, and a twilight run through the forest.

I guess that even baby-R has picked up on my excitement about returning home, and so the little fella’ has been giving me an extra tough time around bedtime. Murphy’s law: when it’s your very last chance to go for a run in Provence, the little Monsieur would refuse to go to sleep. Desperate to get my trainers on before darkness completely set in I threaten the baby with the bottle of Saline Nasal Spray: Take your dummy and sleep, or else… 

Desperate times call for desperate measures?

No success until finally!, a bit after sunset, he closes his eyes. Die Geisterstunde has arrived. l’heure bleue. The Witching Hour between sunset and darkness, when the spirits come out to walk the earth… But I’m desperate to go for a final run along the wooded paths, passing the grassy fields of Route de Grimaldi, catching glimpses of ancient chapels en route, pounding on cobbled stone streets, and up that last steep hill to get back home. Before complete darkness.

Where are the days when I could still take a run after baby’s bedtime, plus a long swim in the pool until darkness set in around 10pm? Never mind, I’m off!

Was it because of the threat of approaching darkness that I find myself only focused on my breathing and the next spot to place my foot along the gravelly roads? Maybe the rustling in the bushes reminding me of the native wolves, foxes and sanglier? Perhaps the sight of the savage Medieval Troupe camping on the Soccer fields keeping me from dilly-dallying? Or perhaps it was just the delicious pasta dish we had for lunch that keeps my heart pumping rhytmically, and my breathing regular and calm.

Before I know it I’m home in record time. Feeling satisfied and content after my last run, knowing that I had stuck to my resolution of keeping up my fitness routine for the whole summer. Actually a good description of my feeling about completing this trip. Satisfied and content, and in expectation of good times ahead.

And so I am signing off from Provence with a bonus feature, my favourite story of the summer. A French fable, translated especially for you (with the help of Google Translate).

The mirror

Long ago, in a country where nobody had ever seen a mirror, a man out for a stroll came accross a market.


Suddenly, he stops in front of the display of a merchant from afar. He leans over a mirror, sees his reflection and says: This is amazing, it looks like my father! Delighted, he buys the strange object. He goes home and carefully puts it safely in the attic.

The following days he regularly contemplates the image of his father in the mirror. The woman of the house is astonished: What is my husband doing going to the attic so often? 

One morning, she follows him and sees him open the chest. He looks inside for a long time and then closes the chest. Then she waits until he leaves and visits the trunk herself. She finds the mirror and bends over to look into it. What she discovers is a woman, a very beautiful woman.

In the evening, when her husband returns she grabs him violently by the shirt: 

- Since when do you have a mistress? 

- What did you say?, responds the husband. I do not understand what you are saying. 

The woman pulls him by the arm and leads him to the chest. She shows him the mirror. The man shrugs:

 - You can not see clearly, this is a man who looks like my father! 

Upset, the woman grabs the mirror and looks again at her own reflection: 

- Liar! This is a beautiful woman. You’re a coward, you do not even dare to tell the truth. 

The husband cries out louder and they end up arguing all night long.

In the morning, they go to the judge to find a solution to this matter. The Judge listens to each complainant and asks to see the strange object. He examines the mirror and becomes pale:

Misfortune upon misfortune, a man dressed as a judge. This is probably my replacement! I will quit my job. 

He goes off without making a judgment and leaves the plaintiffs with the mirror. The husband goes home, still disgruntled.

The next day, the woman gets a visit from her old mother. 

- This is terrible, she says, my husband has a mistress. What do you advise me to do?
- Show me the woman, answers mother, and I will tell you what to do.  

The woman is taken to the attic:

 - Here it is just! Open the trunk and you will see it.  

The mother opens the trunk and leans over the mirror. She broke out laughing: - Do not worry, it’s a toothless old woman, she’s ugly as a louse.

This story is finished, it is the pure truth. And if you ever doubt it you can go there to find out for yourself…

Little Foxes

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My European Summer is drawing to a close and on my evening runs through the forest I notice the sun, a glowing coal, lazing ever lower over the horizon. Early grape harvest has begun and the lavender has turned from purple to grey. Nontheless the most intense summer heat has just arrived to change the landscape from brightly coloured with blossoms and butterflies, to arid and dry. A breath of air is heavy with the incence of laurel bushes baking in the sun and the divine fresh smell of ripening figs. Fire planes are crisscrossing the sky. Prepared for the worse. The newspapers call it a heatwave. Even the UK has recently experienced a summer’s day!

The heat has kept us confined mostly to the haven of the swimming pool, where you’ll find us draped across our pool noodles. Our diet now mostly consists of fresh salads (tomato-mozarella my fave). And our activities are mostly laid-back and low-key. At the same time we’ve grabbed hold of the opportunity the heatwave brings and have started practicing Bikram Yoga when baby is asleep.

Bikram Yoga, as I have learned, is the new craze in Yoga which includes a special routine of Asanas as well as training in a forty degree Celsius room. Forty Degrees Celsius, CHECK! Baby-R has even caught on with the Yoga and is now copying us in our yoga poses. His favourite: Downwards Dog.

The little boy…. Aaaah. Back home he will not be recognized on his return! Tall and lanky, bubbling with new words and tricks, and sweet and cuddly as ever. Highlights on baby-R:

His vocabulary now includes gems like Apfel, Zet (that’s me), Milch, Ca (Kaffee), Help! and Trauben. He definitely shows an affinity for the German SCH sound: Tasche, Schuh, Fisch.

  • Favourite party tricks: walking backwards, dancing on the spot, twirling in circles (also in the pool), climbing ladders…
  • Latest crush: his first baby doll. They say that you can see your own ‘parenting’ style reflected in how your kids play with their dolls. So far we’re only getting good reports. Well, if you dismiss the times the Munchkin ‘lovingly’ stands on dolly or nibbles her fingers off…
  • Baby’s first major disillusionment: seeing his favourite animal (a fish), go from fresh and shiny to brown and crispy in the pan. Aaah bless! He was so excited when we brought home a whole fresh trout for him to study close up… just for his expression to turn to horror and shock as he watched the Fisch bubble away in a buttery pan. Daddy-M assured him that he was welcome to become fully vegetarian if he so chooses. Rothko considered this option seriously, but his first bite of the delicious meal changed his mind and he gobbled up a plate full of juicy, tender, fish flesh.

My latest ‘first animal encounter’ for the summer is the laughing fox. A week ago we awoke in the morning to the previously immaculate lawn destroyed in several areas. Chunks of lawn dug up and tossed about such as we’ve never seen in the area. What could it be? The whole property is surrounded by a Sanglier Fence (electric fence to keep out wild hogs), which completely shuts off the property at night. What kind of creature can do that much damage in one night? What is it digging for anyway? Or is it a Russian invasion…!?!

Our research tells us that it can only be a sly fox, digging for grub. And so we got to work to try and capture said creature. A trap was constructed from an old dog cage, converted with a simple bait and weight pulley system. The idea was simple: as soon as the fox nibbles off the bait suspended within the cage, the door would slam shut. What would we do with said captured fox? No idea.

Turns out that this what-would-we-do-with-captured-fox? would not be an issue, much, since Monsieur Fox is much too smart for our trap. And so we wake up on most mornings to find the bait untouched (always untouched!), and the lawn even worse for wear. I have to admit that I’ve started taking the whole matter a bit too personal. I’m convinced: the fox is laughing at us.

I guess I’m going to have to live with that since my time in Provence is up. In less than a week I am hopping on a plane to the UK, to visit my oldest cousin before crossing another continent to meet my youngest nephew far down South.

My thoughts on the matter: Day-o, Day-o! Daylight come and me wanna go home…

Fighting the Punishment Fairy with Birthday Glee

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Right, so the tables have been turned on me. After making all my friends back home jealous with my travel pictures and stories about my European summer high life, the Punishment Fairy decided to strike. The first snowfall in my hometown since since before my birth, and it happens while I’m getting a tan on the beach. Oh yeah, my childhood fantasy to see snow falling at ‘home’… how that ship has sailed!

And as my facebook friends have noticed, for the last couple of weeks my most used comment on their pictures and status updates:

I. AM. SO. JEALOUS.

So let me come clean, I’m missing all my friends in the Southern hemisphere and feel incredibly left out to read their stories about suffering to stay warm by the fire with a glass of vin rouge.

Obviously I’ve been trying to soothe my homesick soul by grabbing every opportunity for distraction, and so have enjoyed doing yoga with daddy-M (a professional yoga instructor), swimming in Lac de Ste-Croix, good movies and great dining experiences.

And then there was my birthday, on Sunday, which turned out to be more fun than I could have expected. First of all I was made to feel incredibly special by all the friends and family who sent message and made phone calls. The best birthday message from home: little niece Kara singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me over the phone… My heart still melts at the memory!

The two dads? Well, they did more than their bit to make my third summers birthday special for me. Already waking up I could hear them scrambling around, and I knew something was up! Entered the kitchen and a camera was shoved into my face… to capture my reaction to the sight of a whole table packed with gifts, flowers and a berry-tart. My response: “Who else has their birthday today? Surely these gifts cannot ALL be for me!?!”

They were. And then there was singing. There were candles to be blown out. There were gifts to open; each with a note card to explain the significance of the gift.

No, I am not kidding you.

And since I am sure that no description can do justice to the effort and thoughtfulness with which the gifts were chosen, I won’t even try.

Birthday morning in the village. View of the valley.

Next on the day’s agenda was coffee and pastries on the place with local and visiting friends, and as if I hadn’t been spoiled enough already I got even more birthday wishes and gifts! Yup, I am totally and completely and utterly overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness on my birthday. But as if all that wasn’t good enough already, we headed to a Michelin Star restaurant for lunch. Chez Bruno’s Truffle restaurant outside of Lorgues.

Bruno completely wowed me with his degustation menu, which consisted of about seven courses of the finest French cuisine. And apart from the dessert courses, everything was loaded with summer truffles! Absolutely divine.

Our long lunch came to an end and we arrived home just in time for a quick swim in the pool before the thunder storm arrived to end the day with the grandeur of thunder, lightning and summer rain. Aaaaah!

Perfect 29th birthday. And now I get to count down two weeks until I embark on my trip home.

Le birthday bash at le Club 55…

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Oi vey!, party week is over and I’m one hundred percent pooped.

However, despite being wiped out and also sick in bed for a day after all the guests had left, I have to admit that the fun and adventures of the weekend of the 29th of July made it totally worth it. 

The first birthday gift daddy-M received on Sunday started the day with giggles and laughter. Lilly, Romy and Silke sent over the following video from Germany to wish him a Joyeax Anniversaire. Enjoy!

Daddy-M birthday video 

(subtitles are a VERY loose paraphrase of the German audio)

After opening gifts (and thank goodness the French postman delivered my gift to daddy-M in time!) we grabbed our beach bags and headed off to Club 55 in St Tropez for the birthday bash with all the  family friends. After choosing the long windy road down to the coast in order to avoid weekend traffic, stopping for a wine tasting along the way, we arrived at the Med coast on a perfect summer’s day.

Both the beach and restaurant areas were still quiet when we settled down on the sand, with only a few yachts visible on the horizon. But it wasn’t long or the place was racing with luxury yachts, celebrities and their entourages. Soon we spotted Paris Hilton hiding underneath a wide brimmed hat and rumour was going around that one of the other guests had tried to take a sneak picture of her, making her go livid with rage. A bit later David Furnace showed up with his and Elton John’s son.

And then of course there were all the wannabe types. Unknowns who are pumped up with silicon and steroids beyond what is humanly possibly or remotely attractive… YUCK! Usha and I sniggered at all the plastic people and she quoted Dolly Parton: You wouldn’t BELIEVE how expensive it is to look so cheap…

We sat down at the biggest table in the joint for our lunch. The table laid with giant platters of fresh veg, cru, dipping sauces, boiled eggs, toasted bread. For a starter everyone filled up on the crunchy raw vegetables, and then we dug into freshly roasted fish. 

Returning to the beach for an afternoon swim and my jaw dropped to see the bay in rush-hour yacht traffic. Insane! It looked like the bay was filled with floating high-rises, packed closely together. The water was super calm compared with the waters back home, but the Europeans gave the mellow rolling of the swell one look and complained that the water was rather choppy today. For me and the Australian Tamsin it was perfect for a deep sea swim and we headed off. 

And so when sunset came nearer the two Southern hemisphere girls were still floating away in the Azure waters. Was it dehydration? Was it a hallucination? What did we see approaching us in the water?

A floating car, complete with water slide on top, paddled by two spiky haired boys. The UK constituency of the group informed us that we were looking at Jedward, an Irish pop band (phrase used lightly) consisting out of twin brothers, who desperately tried to make it onto the UK pop scene by competing in The X-factor and Eurovision. They weren’t very successful. Club 55 had apparently hired the duo thinking that they would receive some media attention for the stunt, but their idea bombed out and the UK guests hurled threats and insults Jedward’s way. And it was right then that Jedward’s floating car got stuck in the buoy cables.

Tamsin and I swam closer and saved the boys from their dilemma, unknotting the cables from their rudder. Legendary! Two girls saving the ‘celebrities’ from the deep sea. Girl power!

The evening was moving in, and baby-R’s bedtime was drawing near. After an exciting day of watching fish and boats, and then his first swim in the ocean (that one took some coaxing!), he was wiped out just like the rest of us. Baby was fed and put in the car with his bottle to fall asleep, while the nanny… the nanny had to perform the task of designated driver for certain other guests… 

It took quite some time for the guests just to remember where they had parked their car, just to realize that we had to take a ferry ride across the bay to get to Ste Maxime (where the car supposedly was parked), and then a long drive up North. My first driving experience in Europe, and nerve-wracking to drive on the right side of the road on the narrowest of Provencal roads, but we finally made it home safely. Just before midnight.

I checked in on the sleeping baby, who stirred at that moment, and I caught him mumbling in his sleep: Fish… fish…

Baby’s first crush

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Baby-R has fallen love. His first crush: his two gorgeous and spunky German cousins. 

For the last week daddy-M’s sister in law and her two daughters have been staying with us in Tourtour while their dad is on a business trip in Peru. 

The three Mädels gladly traded the disappointing summer weather in Cologne for the pool weather here. And the three of us, we had simply thebest time enjoying the company of the süße Tante Silke, cousin-Romy (9) and cousin-Lilli(14).

Baby-R… well, let’s just say that he’s old and smart enough these days to realize that he has two gorgeous and sophisticated young cousins, which provides the ideal opportunity for him to work on fine-tuning his natural charm with the ladies. Lucky for him his cousins are just as infatuated with him and loved spending time with him.

I have to admit that it was a bit of an adjustment at first to have a full-house of energetic ladies, and also a bit of a shock to have to share baby-R’s hugs, kisses and cuddles with three other women. At the same time the three Mädels proved their worth in gold by giving the nanny a bit of a break every now and then. And since we got to spend a whole week together this time round, we all became fast friends. 

A helping hand never more appreciated than on Saturday when my own cousin, who lives in Oxford, came by for a visit and joined us in soaking up the sun. I remember seeing he as one of my idols when I was just a little girl, and also how me and my sister tailed her around on visits to my aunt. Now it’s baby-R’s turn to look up to his cousins, admire and idolize them until they are all old enough to be adult friends.

Other times having the german family around meant that Daddy-M and I could get away for grocery shopping or to our favourite meditation spot, Abbaye du Thoronet. This time around, sending baby off to the market with his cousins and aunt, the two of us could leisurely walk around the Abby with a guide book in hand. We read up about the use of each of the areas of this Cistercian Abby, the monks and lay-brothers who lived there centuries ago, and the renovations that’s been done over the years. And when we had our fill of the quiet spaces created by the ancient architecture we popped over to the winery of Chateau le Thoronet to scout for some good local Rosé.

Not only did we find a crisp and very pale Rosé, but we also scored a tour of the cave when the owner of the vineyard found out that daddy-M owns a vineyard in South Africa. Wine cellar tours for the public is not something that is really done here in France, so we counted ourselves lucky to be allowed into the deep abyss of a french wine cellar. Truth be told, it looked like a messy factory in there compared to the wine cellars I’ve seen at home which are mostly neat as a pin and exclusively used for the wine making process. In this cave even the bottling, labelling and packaging is done and a quick glance around will reveal used wine glasses standing around as well as someone’s lost cigarettes.

We were also introduced to the harvesting machine when daddy-M explained that all harvesting in his vineyard is done by hand. Now, I have heard the stories of how easily small animals (small deer), bugs and foliage can get caught up in these machines along with the grapes, and from a look at the giant toothy piece of machinery I could very well believe the rumours. 

The joke going around in other winemaking countries about french wine is that ‘if the bottle says that the wine has a taste of freshly-cut grass, it is because there literally is freshly-cut grass in the wine.’ Not that I dared to ask our tour guide about the truth of this rumour, but he offered us the assuring information that the harvest machine has a function that separates lighter objects, such as leaves and grass, from the grapes. Let us not complicate the matter. If we are served french wine, we’ll gladly drink french wine.

And now party season is starting for us. Daddy-M’s birthday is coming up over the weekend, and since his annual birthday party at le Club 55 is a important calendar event for all his friends, people are starting to arrive here from all over the world. Last night we had a fabulous soirée with some of the locals plus the first guests to arrive. Conversation around the table was going on in French, English and German, with lots of laughter as we enjoyed litres of local wine with a mouthwatering summer meal of home-made gazpacho, fresh salmon and legume, finished off with booze drenched ice-cream. Now there’s a menu that could win you the Master chef title!

This morning we were sad to have to say goodbye to Silke, Lilli and Romy who are on their way back to Cologne for a few days before jetting of to New York, New York. Their room has been taken over by baby’s godparents and so the energy in the house will surely stay high. But our hearts… our hearts will be missing the two ballerina girls and their sweet mama. We’ll miss the tomfoolery around the pool, drinks in the village, and family yoga-hour around the olive tree.

Provence to Bavaria in a one hour flight (part 2)

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On Tuesday we headed off to Munich to spend some time around the city, and to catch up with some of daddy-M’s longtime friends. Once again we listen to one of the popular local radio stations, and this time the DJ informs us that it is Auntie Angie’s birthday, as well as David Hasselhoff’s. God bless Angie, but I’ve never quite understood The Hoff‘s musical popularity in Germany. The DJ wants us to vote for one of The Hoff‘s songs to be played in honour of his birthday:

Option A: blah-blah

Option B: blah-di-blah

Option C: blah-blah-blah

Option D: I’d prefer to hear none of David Hasselhoff’s songs.

D! D! We vote for D!

Hallelujah!, there is still some sanity out there!

Arrived in the city and check in at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel. Daddy-M is skittish when he receives the keys to his room: room 666. LOL! Quickly dropped our luggage in the rooms and walked off into the city just in time to hear the Rathaus’ clock chime noon. We run around the block just in time for… the famous glockenspiel performing its little play. Complete with jousting knights (the Bavarian knight wins as usual), and a reenactment of the 1517 plague in Munich. 

We moved on and caught up with Daddy-M’s friend Ruth for lunch at Vitualienmarkt (shout-out to Michelle!)and then started shopping around to find a pair of Lederhosen in baby’s size. Ruth took us around the city explaining something of Munich’s trend competitive and brand-crazy fashion culture. For dinner we would join her at the Italian restaurant across the street from our hotel where all the Bavarian football players hang-out at their friend H’ugo’s restaurant. The place-to-be-seen. Sporting your brand outfit of course 

The whole city was filled with big-sis Lieneke’s spirit, and everything I saw reminded me of her stories of the year she spend in Munich. Thirteen years ago exactly. If we had known then what we know now…

 

Late afternoon and we headed back to our hotel for a swim in the magnificent pool in the Blue spa on the top floor. I was astounded to see our 360 degree view from the pool: the Rathaus, Frauenkirche… everyone below hustling around the city, while we splashed in the pool. Baby flirting with the other guests. 

Back in the room, getting ready for dinner, baby and I turned on the TV to the Deluxe music channel to get our groove on. And it was right there, EUREKA!, that I made my big discovery. The Millenium Bug, I’ve found it:

All the music, every single song, that I’ve heard on German radio stations and music channels, dates back to pre-2000. (Not exactly the A-grade music from the period either) 

So here’s my theory: the Millenium Bug got a hold of German music taste. No, sorry, I don’t know the mechanics behind the situation. But just don’t get me started on Kuschelrock! It was cute back in the 90′s, but can we move on already!?!

(I don’t need to add a disclaimer blatantly telling you that all these sweeping statements are merely in jest, do I?)

Dressed for the town we made our appearance at H’ugo’s Italian restaurant. On Ruth’s recommendation I ordered the truffle pizza, and let me say: not bad. The restaurant owner Hugo assumed that Daddy-M was one of the famous football players that frequents his restaurant, and paid extra special  attention to our comfort even asking about his wellbeing and his son as if he knew exactly who he was… How funny! Just shows you, it’s really all about the look.

Our last day in Munich started with a walk to the English Garden, with a stop over at the play park. Baby-R had a whale of a time in the giant sand pit while daddy-M and I came up with a little game: how-many-labels-can-you-spot-on-one-family. Come on!, play along: 

Yup, not sure whether a trip to the park is about the children’s need for playtime, or about the parent’s need to show off their labels… 

We then headed over to the famous Maximilian Strasse. Think: Madison Avenue, Manhattan. Indeed, that’s where you take your Minnillo bag for a shopping trip. Although we enjoyed a leisurely Kaffeeklatsch with Ruth, we soon took to the back streets to find the ONE hipster fashion store in Munich. A welcome relief from all the international brands, we scavenged around for more alternative and less commercial fashion. 

Lunch of Bockwurst and Kartoffelsalat washed down with a Weissbier at the Hofbrauhaus, and it was off back to the airport for our flight back to Nice. Me a tiny bit nervous about the 200g tube of mustard that I wanted to sneak onto the plane… 

Mustard. Would that even be considered a fluid?, I ponder optimistically.

But alas, despite trying to sneak it through the scanners in the baby-bag with the milk and tea bottles, security confiscates the Bavarian mustard. 200g, over the size limit.

Fortunately the Thomy mittelscharf 100g makes it safely to France. 

An hour in the sky and we were back in Paradise. Stepped out of the plane looking for the baby’s pram and were greeted by the rude and miserable french service delivery system. Cannot complain about the service in France, because THERE IS NONE! Horrible drivers on the road around Cannes (They’re all on chemicals!), horrible architecture of the new wine sales centre in Draguignan, more bad drivers  further north (Them foreigners!)…

All the same I cannot help but giggle at all the ensuing complaining in the car for the next hour. We have become just like the Provençaux: we live in paradise but SIMPLY LOVE TO COMPLAIN!  

Quotes of the week:

Sitting at a coffee shop on Maximilian strasse, watching the shoppers:

“Everyone has that Hermes bag”

“Yes, and it’s only 10 000 Euro, and you have to order it 10 years in advance.”

Shopping for Lederhosen in Loden frey:

Me: “Geez, you could feed a family in Africa for the price of this children’s shirt… for a month!”

Daddy-M: “You could feed a family IN EUROPE for a month on that!”

 

 

 

Provence to Bavaria in an hour’s flight

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Ahoy there Mateys!

Over here in Provence we’ve been Bastille Day crazy and so I haven’t had much time to write. In fact we made a weekend out of the memorial event. The evening of the thirteenth started off with our village’s tradition Lantern procession, Firework show, and village party. Fun-fun-fun!

On Friday around sunset a crowd, appearing from who knows where, joined on the Place for drinks as the kids anxiously awaited receiving their own brightly coloured paper lantern. Candles were lit and the group of kids (plus parents) followed the Pied Piper, the Mayor Pierre, through the village streets. Who knew that playing the flute was on a french Mayor’s job description!

The atmosphere was magical as Pierre led us up the hill to the church from where we would watch the firework show. The fireworks were splendid, and I’m reconsidering all my previous statements about ‘nothing can make you happy but yourself’. For fireworks friendies, fireworks MAKE ME HAPPY! Yes, this one lasted only for 10 minutes. But for 10 minutes I believed in magic again, fairy-tales, and happy endings. 

The younger children watching the show did not share my sentiment. And so many parents were disappointed at having to leave early with screaming kids in arms. Baby-R? Oh bless, the little boy just clung to his daddy, whimpering in his neck. The last firework’s echo faded away and the party started.

On the village place the stage was set up, and the same band that performed french rock ballads at last year’s aïoli, was getting the groove on with international rock. Since baby had just fallen asleep in his pram, exhausted from the evening’s excitement, daddy-M and I hung around for the party.

And same as last year I was amazed to notice the social culture here which is so different from the reserved culture I experience at most gatherings back home. For here in Provence no one is shy about shaking their bootie, and young and old join on the dance floor, grooving it like no-one’s watching. I’m hoping the relaxed confidence will rub off on me…

The clock chimed midnight as we walked home under the stars, the party still in full swing. Time to prepare for our oncoming trip. 

And so on Sunday we headed over to Cote d’Azur airport in Nice, for our flight to Frans Josef Strauss airport, Munich. Cote d’Azur is an experience you just have to grin and bare. Vanity fair, oh vanity fair! Each person thinks themselves more important than the next. Smiles are a rare accompaniment with the giant sunglasses which is sported even inside terminal buildings. And baby-R cannot figure out why his regular charm is not met with the regular fawning and faffing.

Arrived late evening in Munich, duly impressed by our Audi rental with only 600km on the clock. An hour’s drive to Dietenheim where we are met with a warm welcome and cosy bed by Oma and Opa. 

Daddy-M heads off early the morning for his appointment in Munich, while baby and I spend the day with his grandparents. For us the morning starts with a traditional Bavarian breakfast of Bretzel. The carb-maniac boy does not complain, but when I try to separate him from his second giant Bretzel it ends in an altercation… I get attacked by a Bretzel… and an hour later I still find chunks of bread down my shirt. 

After peace is made we head to the supermarket which entails a walk through the grain fields ripening under the Bavarian summer sun. We stop at the post office for my stamps and postcards, and look at that!, MUCH cheaper than in France.

At the supermarket Oma buys her fresh produce while I scout for the best German mustard. But I am met with confused looks when I enquire from the sales assistants about which Senf would be considered the best of the lot. FRANCE has good mustard…, they reply. Right, eenie-meenie-miney-mo! A tube of Thomy and some traditional Bavarian mild version. Now to sneak the 200g of mustard into my onboard luggage and through sercurity…

On our late afternoon walk to the nearby lake Oma tells me about the Bieber family in the area. Do you have Biebers in your country?, she asks. I’m stunned. Just don’t know what to say. Biebers, she says. They live in the river and eat water-lilly leaves…

AHA! BEAVERS!?! So relieved that provincial Bavaria has not been taken over by familia-baby, baby, baby, ooooh.

To be continued.

 

 

Wear sunscreen

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After having my mobile phone shut off and put away for more than a month now, my Nokia is humming again and slept next to my pillow last night. 

Big sis is in hospital for the birth of her second baby. 

The nerve-wracking wait has begun.

Not only do I always find myself nervous at the idea of pregnancies and births in general because I know how much there is that can go tragically wrong, but today I find myself especially emotional for (hopefully) welcoming my first nephew into the world. And it’s not only the excitement of my gain, but also a sadness at the thought of the often cruel world that this innocent and fragile baby will be born into. Let me say no more.

I’m excited that the little guy might be born before the end of the day, and thus exactly a month before my own birthday, and yes, I did phone up this morning to suggest that they modify their choice of his names to derive from my own. That could only turn out creepy, never mind.

At the same time I find myself in tears every five minutes because I hate being on the other side of the world when I would have loved to be that annoying sister who is hovering in the hospital’s waiting room, nervously pacing around drinking too much coffee, demanding more information from the doctor than she could possibly have. Talking way too fast and too much to everyone else in the waiting room, believing that I’m calm and have the situation under control.

Would have loved to hold sis’ hand just for a bit, although I know that with her steady-as-the-sun husband by her side I will not be missed.

So instead I walked to the village, and up the hill to the medieval church that’s been standing its ground for a thousand years. 

A thousand years. 

Which is of course still only a dot on the timeline of earth.

Puts my 29 years on earth in perspective.

I would have loved to go inside the church building to light a candle today, but alas, I should’ve taken a hint about opening hours from the art galleries in the village: “11am-1pm. 3pm-7pm. With exceptions and under conditions”. I walked home hiding my emotions behind dark sunnies, hoping not to meet anyone I know along the way.

Today will be a Waterproof-mascara-day.

And on this emotional day, right at the end of my own third decade on earth, I feel like I have to pen a few words to my little-nephew-soon-to-be-born (the doctor says you’re a bit scrawny right now, we’ll have to work on that). And to your big sis. One day, if fate spares you, the two of you will be old enough to share these thoughts of mine.

My sweetest, dearest Kara and Hannu,

Starting with the most important thing, your auntie Liz loves you both so very much. This will never change. You’re the cat’s whiskers to me. And how I wish I could protect you from the harshness of life, as well as from your own mistakes! But as I’ve learned, suffering and mistakes are part and parcel of this life-thing. Maybe all I can do is to pass on to you some of the things I have learned during my first 29 years on earth.

Suffering

It is what it is. If you haven’t had much hard luck in your life up till now, it will come for you soon. Death and taxes my dears. The fact that suffering will somehow affect you says nothing about who you are, how you respond to the suffering will be your life story.

Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that you’ve made bad choices or tried the ‘easy out’. Until you have learned from your mistakes and have faced the issue at hand, the same situation will keep crossing your path.

Sometimes bad attitudes and behaviours accumulate unnoticed in your life, causing great suffering later on. “Children, beware of the Baobabs.” If your parents have been reading you The little Prince book that I gave Kara for her second Christmas, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Family

If you gain all the world but lose your relationship with your family, you will be poor indeed. This will take time to figure out and you will not get on with your family on many occasions, until and after then.

Family history is a bond that nothing can compete with. Each of your family members will have their own quirks, their own ways of hurting and annoying you. You’ll soon find that it is the same for every other person alive you become close to. We’re all human and fallible. Forgive quickly, abound in grace. 

But for now I command the two of you to fight over that last slice of cake, the best seat in the car, the whatever. Hopefully it will teach you that no victory is sweet when you had to fight your family for it.

Happiness

Nothing, and no-one but yourself can make you happy. And you in turn can not make anyone else happy. It is not your job. When you own this truth you may find that you already are happy. 

In my opinion happiness lies not in having the life you have always dreamed of, but in working at becoming the person you want to be.

Different views, different lifestyles

Pursue the cause of equal rights and practice respect and inclusivity of minority groups. In a world that practices hatred and exclusion none of us are safe

Do not fear people because they are different from you. Exposing yourself to different views and lifestyles enriches your own perspective of the world. 

Fear is the only darkness.

Your own view, lifestyle

Question. Everything. You are free to change your view or lifestyle. You will still be loved by the people that matter. Be yourself, there is no-one alive who is youer than you. (Dr. Seuss)

Humour

Life is incredibly serious and often full of suffering. As far as I can tell we only have one life, and it could end any minute.

If you want to one-up the Grim Reaper, do not fear him. 

See the humour in every situation, no matter how painful or tragic. Find joy in every moment. Don’t miss the beauty of today’s sunset because you are yearning for a sunset yet to come.

Depression

Despite you being born from a gene pool of intelligent, creative, witty, and mostly healthy people, I’m going to be honest with you. You need to know and you probably already do by this time. There’s this one genetic illness that’s widely spread in our family, scientists suspect that the bad apple might be located on the 5-HTT gene: chronic depression.

What this means for you is that there is a higher probability that you might someday suffer from this disease than other people. You might not, but if you EVER do feel that life is overwhelming you; PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ask for help.

Perspective

I walked up to the church on the hill of a medieval French village today. The church building was built more than a thousand years ago. No matter how scary or sad today or tomorrow seems, there will always be a tomorrow which carries the hope of better days.

Ps

Oh!, and sunscreen! A suntan is overrated. Wear sunscreen.


12 July 2012, 16:30: The world welcomes a healthy, 2.48kg, Hannu to the world.”


The Philistines have invaded!

‘fess up, who left the oven open?

Not kidding friendies, while my family and friends in the Southern hemisphere are freezing your tuchas off in the southern winter, I am wilting like a flower in the Provençal summer. Day temperatures are mid 30′s (Celsius), and nights not much cooler. And this is only the start.

For most Europeans the summer vacation has official started. Schools are closed and families who can afford time off seem to be travelling around, mostly our way. England is experiencing flooding in the North, but down here on the Med coast the sun is always shining. And so it happens that suddenly one day, we walk to the village Place for our afternoon drinks, and find the place bustling with crowds of strangers.The Philistines have invaded.

The village’s ice-cream machines are over-worked (and since this is France, we’re expecting a strike to be on hand), every table at every restaurant is taken, and there’s absolutely NO PARKING. At the same time the sunflower and lavender fields are in full bloom, the most beautiful butterflies are floating around in swarms (what’s the collective noun for butterflies anyway?), and the summer sales are on.

The heat isn’t all bad when we’re spending the day at home, lazing around the pool, splashing in the water-sprayers, and walking around dressed only in our swimsuits the whole day long. Outings around villages, towns and cities on the other hand…. walking in the streets (fully dressed) with the humidity intensifying the sun’s heat, YOUCH!

We do not let that keep us from our village outings and have had great fun this week on another visit to Aix-en-Provence, lake side villages, and our own Village dans le ciel de Provence.  

And then there are evenings like this one where we decide, can’t beat the Philistines, join ‘em. And so when daddy-M and I both experienced a very rare Order-indecisiveness moment at the bar (a hot drink? a cold drink? ice-cream?) we opted for an Irish Coffee Glaçe. When the order arrived, a giant flower vase filled with whisky, coffee, enough ice-cream to restore the melting ice caps, topped with a herd of cows’ worth of whipped cream… we decided that our evening drink/snack would just be our supper. Best supper of the summer! Maybe the tourists are onto something…

Other blistering days have led us to take the road to Lac de St-Croix for a swim in its magical azure waters. This 2200 hectar lake was constructed in 1973 and now floods the Verdon valley, drowning the medieval village of Rooms-sur-Verdon. At least three other medieval villages survived by the skin of their teeth, and have now become lakeside villages ideal for summer visitors who enjoy a bit of sun and watersports, but want to avoid the overpriced bustle of St-Tropez et al. Our best times around the lake is to park at a remote spot on the coast, hike down to a hidden cove, and swim with the fishes on a private beach.

Baby-RG surely has one of the most exciting childhoods ever!

Speaking of which, the boy has recovered from his Full-moon syndrome. All right, it turned out that the root cause of baby’s three days of horror turned out to be: SUGAR. We totally didn’t see it happening, since the kid doesn’t even know what sweets are but then we made the mistake of ordering him some fruit juice a couple of times over the period. Yup, we learned the hard way.

The closest he gets to sugar now is the mulberries, apples and strawberries from the garden, and some other fresh fruit. And trust me, he has quite enough energy with his basic diet of fresh veg, fish, fruit, and whole wheat.

The nanny is working on forgiving baby for all the attacks she endured during his madness, and has returned to her mission of teaching him the value of Ahimsa, the Hindu and Buddhist doctrine of refraining from harming any living being. Instead baby is being just the smart-Aleck and working on his magic tricks. Slight-of-hand, it works like this: Hey nanny!, NOW you see the bug crawling around on the ground, NOW it’s in my mouth.

I try people, I do try.

In other news this week:

  • The Bluetit chicks have left the nest. All five of them. No thank you note. No forwarding address. They’re gone. You’re welcome birdies!

  • It is rumored that Wayne is sending us a Thank you card from back home. Question: does this imply snail-mail? Wayne who made fun of me for sending postcards is sending a Thank You card by snail-mail??? IJS.

  • Speculation about which sports baby-R might someday pursue has just been answered. Three words: Wimbledon. Men’s. Finals. The kid was quietly sitting in my lap, watching the game for at least 15 minutes! K, there is a slight chance that he just enjoyed his nanny’s commentary so much.

Moments of the week:

  • Papa-G dishing out advice for my workout watching me do Pilates “You can bend back further THAN THAT”, while eating a bowl of potato crisps. Uhm…

  • Papa-G walking passed the Boucherie de Chevaline (horse meat butcher) making neighing and snorting noises.

    That’s all for now folks! Tune in again, some day soon.

Adios Amigo

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Salut!

Hope you are all safe and sane after the full-moon. Round here in Provence the air was just filled with the electricity of moody maniacs. Drivers on the road racing as if it’s F1, the locals kvetching in the village square about the emmerdeur at the next table who’s done them in, and the baby… baby acting all terrible-twos. Cuddly-huggy-kissy the one minute, happily shaking his booty to the MDNA album, and the next minute he’s possessed by the spirit of Voldemort. Scary. Very scary.

I’m starting to believe the theory that full moon can affect people’s mood. Nope, I have no scientific research results to confirm my feeling, but just to be safe I did avoid the big outdoors just a bit more than usual. Well, that was until 4th of July summer sales started!

Guilty, I cannot really say that I’ve kept my shopping urges totally under control until the summer sales. But seriously people, a mere grocery shopping trip to Carre Four (which is the Disney Land of Supermarkets in France) tears my emotions between glee over the cheap, high quality clothing on the grocery shelves (so much stuff I didn’t realize how much I NEEDED), and nausea over the children in Africa dying of hunger while another french family is picking up a 880g jar of Nutella to snack on. It sounds trite, and yet…

Anyhoo, somewhere a french family will also be picking up a steak from the Boucherie de Chevaline (horse meat butcher), and their donkey sausages from the market. They keep both horses and donkeys as pets. UGH!!!

So there!, you can always find a valid reason for reversing the pity and a reason to feel somehow superior to ‘the other’.

On the other hand, Paulo Coelho gives this valuable travel advice on his blog (Paulo Coelho’s 9 travel tips):

5. Don’t compare. Don’t compare anything – prices, standards of hygiene, quality of life, means of transport, nothing! You are not traveling in order to prove that you have a better life than other people – your aim is to find out how other people live, what they can teach you, how they deal with reality and with the extraordinary.

So, on with just being open to experiencing the French lifestyle, here are a few of our adventures from the last ten days:

One bright morning we all set off for Cotignac, a neighbouring village (car-sick tablets in the system), and daddy-M was pleasantly surprised by how well the village has been restored. And it was here in Cotignac that we had our first enjoyable restaurant experience in a long time. Wayne checked us in on facebook, as one does, at La Table des coquelicots (the table of the poppies) and we had a superb meal and was just as positively surprised by our professional and attentive servers. I also found the most original postcards I’ve seen so far, and picked up a stash. For which Wayne started making fun of me again… Snail-mail and e-mail shouldn’t have to compete, I say!

Papa-G arrived back in France on Friday, and so we planned a special trip to an art and architecture exhibition we’d read about in a magazine for the weekend. An exhibition with a difference: Chateau la Coste is this wine estate in the region of Aix-en-Provence, which was bought by this Irish dude, who hired some rock star architect and artist dudes to create installations all over the landscape.

Yes, we did have to drive through the sticks to get there… you know, those kinda villages where Wayne didn’t even want to check in on facebook… but it was well worth the 90 minute drive.
So there you are, following the pathways to a range of giant sculptures and structures created by big names such as Michael Stipe (R.E.M), Guggi, Frank O. Gehry (Guggenheim architect), Sean Scully…  Mostly deconstructive in style, and in my opinion just mind-blowing with creativity. Oh, how I wished that my architect and artist friends could see this!

I was most entranced by Michael Stipe’s “Foxes” which reminds me of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s  Little Prince, meeting ‘the fox’ under the apple tree.

Chateau la Coste website

And then it was off to Nice for the beginning of the summer sales before dropping off Wayne at the airport for his flight back to the southern hemisphere.

Got my first close up view of the Med, and couldn’t help but think of all the months little-sis spent on those waters working on cruise ships. Unbelievably hard work, but a very unique experience.

The low-down on Nice high street fashion during summer sales: entirely underwelming. Could it be that my fashion sense is just not sophisticated enough? Possibly-maybe. Nice summer atmosphere: almost not a french person in sight. The U.S. economy cannot possibly doing that badly judging by the number of Americans swamping the French Riviera in summer.

Then it was off to Cote d’Azur airport, to drop Wayne at the kiss and fly section. Trust the french to make the kissing obligatory.

Sad to see Wayne leave after having so much fun together in France. You know, theorizing about how it could be that manual labourers in France are often so incredibly young and handsome. Pointing out the hot gardeners, builders and truck-drivers to each other… I’m still saying that they must be PhD students taking a summer break from the books. Okay, I wish…

Now that Wayne’s gone, who will entertain me with wildly inappropriate jokes, ironic quips, and sarcastic compliments? I feel a bit lost.

Wayne, on a scale from zero-to-Adele, how depressed am I that you had to go back home? I’ll SEE you Adele, and I’ll RAISE you Bon Iver. There’s your answer.

All the same, I WILL NOT be sending you a postcard. As Proverbs says: those who diss snail-mail will receive none.

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