Thursday, April 29, 2010

Aw, crap.

I was talking to my brother on the phone yesterday and I asked him if he'd stopped by my blog, kind of expecting an attempt to explain before a stuttering admission of 'No.'  What he told me was that he HAD been reading every day, but when I went out of town and there was no daily to read, it broke his habit.  I have to say how happy I was to learn he'd even stopped by, as he's not a reader at all.  He said even if I don't have a lot to say, putting up some quick blurb every day would at least give someone who reads the blog something to see when they check, and keep them checking back.  He'd simply stopped checking because he knew I was gone, and life being hectic and especially stressful lately, he wasn't sure how much time had really passed since I left town and he stopped checking in, until we talked.  After that chat I sat at my laptop a while, then decided I was tired and not feeling especially inspired, and turned it off without another thought.

Today, I see that I'm doing exactly what I was doing before, and what I was afraid I'd do if I started a blog.  Not write.  Make excuses.  Allow myself to be lazy when I really have no right to be.  Today, right now I realize my attitude yesterday and earlier today is exactly the reason I committed to the daily blog to begin with.

And I though I'd learned something.

So it turns out that, although I missed it while I was away, taking a break from the blog not only broke my brother Gary's habit, it also broke mine.  So here I go again.  I released myself much too soon from the commitment I made, believing myself to be a faster learner than I am.  This time I'll throw in an actual goal, and once I meet that, we'll see.  Stop, re-evaluate, regroup.  30 days.  No skipping.  

On a more proud-of-me note, I've never been good at sticking to plans I so carefully calculate, but I've said before that this is a different time in my life, and it's time to grow.

So here I grow :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Provence: Day Seven - Our Last Day

Friday, April 16

The morning was hazy, which was disappointing because we were really hoping for some sunshine so we could rent a boat and spend a little time on the lake.  

When we got to town we discovered that Friday is market day in this town, and it was cured meat, cheese, and produce galore.  We picked up some scrumptious bakery goods for breakfast and walked the cobblestone streets, eying the merchandise and enjoying the whole scene.

Taking a turn up a steep street, we climbed up to the Chateau of Annecy for a look.  Unfortunately they were closing up for lunchtime so we couldn't enter the premises, but we got a nice look of the outside.

Being as it was our last day, we went for gluttony.  For lunch we decided to try the evilly delicious local treat, tartiflette, at another restaurant, and ended up following that with some good old chocolate fondue with fruit for dessert.  In the middle of the day, yes.  By the time we rolled out the sun was tying desperately to break through the clouds and haze, and there was hope for a boat outing.  

In the end, it came down to the wind and the fact that when the sun did hide for a few minutes behind clouds, it was really cold.  We opted to take an hour cruise around the lake on a bigger boat rather than renting a small, private one.  (We're hoping to visit again this summer when it's warmer and we're more likely to want to jump into the lake.)  The ride was nice and we circled the majority of Lac Annecy, seeing a couple castles and a peek of the Alps here and there from behind closer mountains.  The wind got a little harsh toward the end, but the sunshine kept it civil.

Having decided the lunch restaurant didn't do tartiflette quite like the first place we visited, we returned for a sure thing on our last night.  Potatoes and butter and onions and bacon and cheese!  That's also where we learned about the volcanic eruption in Iceland from a fellow traveling couple from the UK.  They were a lovely older couple and we chatted about Annecy, other parts of France, and of course, the food :)

It was a walk-around day, clocking in 18,495 steps.  

Though I missed Heidi, our bed, my Writer's Group meeting and a wedding, it was a fabulous trip we won't soon be over.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Provence: Day Six

Thursday, April 15

We got to sleep in till 8:30 this morning!!!  Then we packed up and headed out for Annecy a little further north.  Our roughly three and a half hour drive went smoothly, broken up by a quick rest stop to make some delicious sandwiches out of our market buys.  When we arrived we checked into another charming hotel up a steep hill and across the street from Lake Annecy, and being up so high offered a pretty nice view.  The lounge was stocked with leather sofas and boardgames, and seemed to have been made from a previously outdoor area, complete with rock wall.  Our room was small but cute, with a sloped top-floor ceiling and all wood furniture.

The walk down to the historic downtown (apparently, there's more than one downtown) took us along the lake's edge.  It was hazy across the lake, the mountains lost in some kind of dream, but it was lovely, and made me think about the Smoky Mountains where my parents now live.  We explored the town, up and down the central canal and back and forth along the streets.  It is a town of many shops and lots of travelers.

Dinner became the goal of the evening, and finding something to make up for the disappointing meal two days prior in Avignon.  (It was really awful.)  Where we ended up was as unassuming as any local dive, though it was nicer than one.  It was laid back and the guys working were friendly, smiling broadly at my attempts at French.  We decided to try something loved and something new, so I ordered up some more escargot and Chris had the onion soup.  We both ordered something called tartiflette, the local dish, and soon realized how evil and delicious French food can really be.

Holy greasy food heaven...this meal was the kind of meal you'd dream of after a night of drinking, but better.  To the instrumental music of Metallica, we dined.  The escargot was cooked Burgundy style, which apparently means floating in hot butter instead of resting in shells.  But the tartiflette...that was something of a different, wonderful kind.  In a small, personal stoneware baking dish waited layers of sliced potatoes mixed with sliced onions and small strips of bacon meat, appropriately called lard in French, then topped with slices of the local reblochen cheese, which of course melted down into the beautiful mess below.  Although not listed on the menu, we presume that butter was also a main ingredient, if not the first listed if this happy heart attack came prepackaged.  By the end, we were sweating butter.  And as if we hadn't indulged beyond reason, we ordered chocolate fondant.  But we're not animals; we split it, of course.  Is your chest hurting yet?

Even though we didn't even begin the day in Annecy until 3pm, we still managed to get in 15,056 steps.  Go us!

Palais de l'Isle jail

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Provence: Day Five

Wednesday, April 14

We woke up in Apt and hit the road early to make it to Saint-Remy in time to enjoy the Wednesday market we read about.  (As I jotted down broken lines of notes on the trip, Chris asked what I was writing about, and in play, asked if it was about him.  When I smiled and said, Of course, I'm not sure he knew how to respond.  I kind of enjoy it when he gets worried about what I may include here.  Does that make me bad?)  As it was too early to check into our hotel, we found a place to park a few blocks from the center of Saint-Remy and, armed with an empty basket, set off to shop.

Though the town was typically beautiful, the day was perfect, and the streets loosely packed with marketeers, we found ourselves a little disappointed.  It turns out that markets are markets, the landscape closely mirroring that of others.  We did do a little shopping, though more in shops instead of market stalls.  I must say, though, how delighted we were to find the very same cheese vendor from whom we'd purchased some pretty fantastic product in Apt.  We'd since finished the chunk of heaven we'd bought our first day, we took the opportunity to not only buy more of the same, but actually learn what it was. Comte.  Eighteen-month aged Comte cheese.  Our market buys ended up being nearly identical to the first market day we'd spent, though this time we bought a little more - 2 kinds of cheese, a kind of sampler of salamis, and I found a scarf I really needed to have.  It's like a strip of striped jersey material and it so fits my jeans-and-T-shirt style.  

We found ourselves moseying about, trying really hard to find something new to be excited about.  Once the market vendors packed it up around lunchtime, it was just us and the town.  We began following the sound of music and singing down one narrow street, but before we could actually reach the festive spot, my attention was abruptly snagged by a photograph of a man in a window.  You couldn't see his face, for it was cast down, his arms hanging in a way that allowed his clasped hands to cover his manhood, while his angel wings hung half-spread from his back.  It's difficult to describe the type of beauty I saw in this sad and dark photo, but there was no way we were walking past this small gallery.

Kamil Vojnar is from the Czech Republic, once lived in New York for a stretch of 12 years, and now lives in Saint-Remy, Provence, France.  When I asked what brought him to this small village, he simply replied that he'd fallen in love with a French woman.  

He began his career in a more commercial fashion, using his incredible gift for photography to create and sell artwork for book and record album covers.  I was surprised to see a book I own on his shelf, Lorrie Moore's newest novel, A Gate at the Stairs, given to me by my good friend, Katie.  He likes to keep copies of books and albums that feature his work, and it was fun to look through it all.    His images are hauntingly beautiful, shot through homemade filters to create an aged feel.  Many play with Christian imagery, and so aren't always as popular as others, but as he explained to us, his goal is to create more questions than answers with his work.  He likes to invite thought, and I was mesmerized by his technique, his eye, and his world of art.  Kamil talked about why he prefers photography to painting, explaining that you can paint anything, but you can only photograph something that was really there in some form.  Sure, he plays with perspective in some of his photographs, but it's all real, in some aspect.  Kamil now has galleries in Prague, Paris, NewYork, Seattle and Santa Fe, displaying images that include a young winged girl dressed in white in a bathtub, sometimes standing, sometimes seated.  In some she is underwater and staring out, her wings over the sides of the tub.  In another series he's captured a beautiful young girl laying in the grass, white flowers dropped all over her hair, spread across the ground.  One of my favorite images features again, a young girl sitting balled up at one end of a red couch, over which hangs a picture of a grand cruise ship, and under which hides a toy ship in the shadow.  A string of lights stretch across the top, and this photograph is entitled, "Journey."

We spent a lot of time in Kamil's gallery, I asking questions and openly gushing over his beautiful work, secretly wanting this insanely talented artist to want to be my friend so we could talk shop all the time.  There is something in his work to which I related immediately.  I cannot paint to save my life, but photography and writing are two mediums I've wanted to mix for a long time.  Kamil paints over the top of his work, creating a more reflective, textured quality.  His mix of mediums absorbed me completely.  Sadly, as he is an amazing artist with galleries in many important places for art, we really couldn't pay what his work was clearly worth, so I was content to look through his small stash of trial-run prints, the ones that didn't quite make it, or haven't yet.  These were just prints, with nothing fancy done to them, like some of his other work boasts, but it's the images I love.  We bought two, and I love them.  I felt extremely lucky to have happened upon this little gallery in this little village, because I got to meet this artist who is not only accomplished and successful, but brilliant and whose work speaks to me directly.  Saint-Remy just got a whole lot cooler.

Oh, I forgot.  Saint-Remy is also the birthplace of Nostradamus, so his birth house is marked and his bust decorates a corner near Kamil's gallery.  Van Gogh also spent some time here when he committed himself to a mental hospital.  He painted his famous "Starry Night" in Saint-Remy.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Provence: Day Four - Part 2

Tuesday afternoon and night, April 13

Having eaten SO many pastries (seriously, do the French not know how good they are?), we skipped lunch whilst circling the walled center of the town of Avignon an hour or so away from Rousillon.  But before that, I have to share how excited I was to see an Office Depot in Avignon on our way to the center.  We also had our first sighting of French gypsies begging in traffic, and man dressed as a large donkey advertising for Dominoe's Pizza along the street.

Once parked, our first significant discovery was an actual Irish Pub, and not just any, a genuine O'Neill's.  We like our Irish Pubs and always seek them out when traveling.  We' had no luck thus far on this trip, until Avignon.  So thrilled were we, that we went ahead and stopped for an afternoon beer before we got to the looking around part.  I love cider so very much.

Avignon was the biggest town on the trip so far, and  kind of reminded me of Lucca, Italy - walled, charming, lots of shopping and cafes, lots of younger people roaming around.  We visited the Palace of the Popes there, a large, beautiful church complete with gardens and street accordion player.  We enjoyed the view from the gardens set high on the hill, along with cotton candy because we're cool.  In the garden was an ice cream establishment by a pond of ducks, a place where children could ride these cute little horse and buggy bicycles, and lots of space for daydreaming and enjoying the weather between the statues.  

We walked, we window-shopped, we took some pictures.  Then it was time to do a little people watching.

To the left, a view from the garden looking back toward the plaza in front of the church.

Below right, view from the garden of the bridge over the river.

Below, view from the plaza.

Fountain statue in the pond by the ice cream place in the garden.

The accordion player.

To better equip ourselves for such people watching, we found one of the many plazas of Avignon where people meet up to hang out, and grabbed a table outside a bar before dinner.  As we talked over our drinks, we noticed how the crowd of people around us had separated into observably different groups.  It kind of reminded us of high school.

Directly beside us sat a rowdy group playing UNO over beer and cigarettes, laughing and kissing hellos to various people passing by, either on their way across to another table or into the bar for a refill or toilet stop.  A narrow strip of road separated our sidewalk tables from the central square packed with tables, packed with people, and everyone enjoyed a guy practicing jumps and tricks on his bike for a while.  Back and forth he rode, turning on a wheel and hopping curbs to small bursts of applause.  A child approached and the performer leaned down to hear the child's voice, then smiled and signed a napkin.  His autograph.  It was obvious he was no street performer, but a local who felt perfectly comfortable inviting one of the guys sitting near us to show off his skills, as well.  The lesser skilled guy rode the bicycle back and forth a couple of times, barely lifting the tires from the asphalt, but bowing to applause, all the same.  It was like everyone around us knew each other.

Chris and I started paying closer attention to the varying groups clustered together and tried to identify them with our best, clique terminology.  This is what we saw:

The wanderers, who travel with dirty duffel bags and dogs, third, fourth, and fifth-hand clothes and a hardness about them, and who you tend to see doing a little asking and a little street performing for enough money to get by and move on.

The pierced, tattooed, loud folks (next to us), sporting the one straight-laced looking blonde with pearl earrings, who obviously comes attached to one of the guys in the circle.  The bad boy boyfriend, maybe.

The skinheads.  Seriously, with the word, "oi" tattooed on the side of one guy's neck.

The posh girls with over sized sunglasses and designer handbags.  (Who exchanged sneers with our neighbors as they entered the bar.)

The pseudo-bad-ass with the manly motorcycle (scooter), hanging outside the slightly rougher-looking bar next door, glowing with cockiness near the skinheads.

And then, of course, there were the bohemians with their dreadlocks, the hipsters with their thick-rimmed glasses and trendy hats, and the older dudes.  They're the ones who attend highschool parties in their 30s in an attempt to keep that young, fresh feeling by hanging out and trying to hook up, making everyone else feel uncomfortable.  And we can't forget the small band of children racing about between and hovering over neighboring tables to get a glimpse of some homemade artwork.

We must've overlook the artsy group with fluffy scarves and fabric flowers tied in their hair.

The geeky couple in a sea of people.

Hip-hoppers with backwards hats, pants hanging off their rears and lots of bling.

Girls who look like they're vacationing from Connecticut.

And then the regular people who don't subscribe to cliquish labels, and I would imagine, have friends in all the groups and float between them.

And how could I forget the street musicians winding their way through the maze of tables to entertain for a nominal token of appreciation.  Check, please.

Dinner, sadly, was a disappointment this particular evening, although we did finally get to try foi gras.  Ducky.

Being the day of the most pavement-pounding activity, I clocked in 19,363 steps.  Good day.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Provence: Day Four - Part 1

Rousillon, the town of the Ocres
Tuesday morning, April 13

We'd put off our visit to the village of Rousillon due to the awful weather and hoped for sunshine.  We got it.  It was a gorgeous, blue sky, sunny day as we returned to this quaint spot to look at the dirt.  That's really why were there, to marvel at the naturally occurring pigment in the dirt there, and probably try to get away with a little.

But first, there is always breakfast.  We found a tiny bistro and took a seat on its even tinier balcony, where there was just enough room for two 4-seat tables.  I liked the man who clearly ran things, and likely owned the place, straight away because when he came to retrieve our order and I asked him in my best French if he spoke English, in HIS best French he replied, "No, but I speak very good French."  We ordered cafe and asked if there were pastries available, as the menu made no mention, and the old man smiled and went back inside.  Along with our steamy coffees, he brought with him a plate with 2 croissants and 2 other kinds of pastries, one with a little chocolate and the other, a kind of heavenly custard.  Of course we cleared the plate, and it was delicious as we gazed from our seats down into a deep, green cut in the land below us.  A lovely way to start the day.

When we went inside to pay, I didn't at first understand what our friend was asking us, but then it became clear that he was asking how many of the pastries we had eaten (so he could ring them up, I presume).  When I when I threw my hands up and said, "All of it!" he laughed, we laughed, and off we went.

The trail was short, less than an hour, and wound us through a protected park area where the crazy colors are all around.  We ended up buying some pure ocre from a shop in town - you mix it with whatever you need to and you get gorgeous paint.  It's a nature-loving artist's dream.

Hey, what's that 
sneaky shadow hand doing?  Perv.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Although this blog is merely in what I imagine to be in its toddler stage, I already feel that I've learned quite a bit from committing to it. Obligating myself to write daily was a big challenge, and I wasn't sure I'd do very well with it.  Twelve days in a row was huge for me, but then I found that I enjoyed it more than I expected.  The anxiety and rewards of writing this way were wonderfully balanced and I already have more confidence in myself as a writer.  An entire week away was, to be honest, a little hard.  I felt the tug to sit and write at the end of each day, and when I couldn't, I felt a little lonely.  Makes no sense, right?  I was in southern France with my amazing partner in crime (and life), but for just a moment each evening, I felt a twinge of yearning for writing.  I missed the daily commitment that had quite quickly become ritual, natural, and I looked forward to the part of returning home that meant I'd be back to my laptop at the dining room table.  The end of a trip means getting back to your own bed, a return to normalcy, and the end of this particular sweet breeze of a vacation meant getting back to you, my blog.  The words and the release.

I feel like I've made some meaningful changes in my life these past months, concerning both my physical and writing self.  It's not as if I haven't tried before to be a more devoted writer, or to eat better and be more active, but this time doesn't feel like a "this time."  Right now, in this moment in my life, I do not feel anxious or worried about whether or not it'll stick this time, if I'll be strong enough to change my life for the better. In this moment, I feel calm.  I feel smooth and deeply content because somewhere inside of me there is a sense of knowledge that it was my time to grow again.  I don't actually know this; I mean, I don't know what my immediate future holds or what may change, but I sense that I do.  Does that make any sense at all?  It's like subconscious knowledge, or at least the comfortable belief in something I no longer question.  I am healthier today than a few months ago, and I'm writing every day.  I'm learning new ways to enjoy and appreciate more aspects of life, something on which I plan to elaborate soon.  Even on vacation, though I couldn't blog, as I wanted to include pictures with the writing, I wrote the details of the days in a small notebook, and even that felt good and right.  

I'll be continuing on with Provence tomorrow, and I've got a couple things I'd like to write about after that kind of waiting in the wings, but for tonight it felt right to sort out some thoughts in this space.  I no longer doubt my ability to produce words strung together in a more frequent manner, and I'm no longer afraid that skipping a day will totally revert me back to my old ways of hardly writing at all.  So this is where my commitment will change slightly, but I see this change as wholly positive, because I'm comfortable with and trusting enough of myself to do it.  I don't think I will necessarily continue to blog daily, but allow myself a day off here and there when the days are unbalanced or my mind is exhausted by other things.  I might've been scared of this leeway before, uncertain of my own ability to remain loyal given some wiggle room, but not tonight.  Because we're back together, Writing and me, and it's been a lovely reunion that I do not see ending any time soon.    


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Birthday Wish

Happy Birthday to my baby for the last fifteen years!!!


Heidi was born April 20, 1995, as your math skills will tell you, in Alabama which they won't.  It was the summer before I was to begin high school, and the dog I had called mine had moved away.  Sasha moved to Albuquerque, NM to live with her mother and lifetime companion, Ginger, and as Ginger was my sister's dog, Ginger moved with Tracy when she married and moved away.  I had never been without a dog, and this would be the first time it would be up to ME which furry new soul would join our family.  She would be all mine.

After some research and negotiating with my parents, we decided on getting what I now refer to as a Heidi, that being a miniature American Eskimo,but had trouble finding breeders where we lived in St. Pete.  So it happened that while visiting my grandparents in Alabama we checked the paper and found an ad looking for good homes for these very puppies.  As random as it sounds, I met my baby in the parking lot of a McDonald's near Birmingham, AL, as this was the best half-way point for both my parents and I, and the dog breeders.  

She could fit in the cup of my hands, and her tail was like a tiny hairless worm, which sounds a little gross, but was adorable.  I carried her to the strip of grass by the railroad tracks across the parking lot and carefully set her down.  Every time I took a step to allow her space to sniff around, she clumsily made her way back to the shaded spot between my feet.  When people ask me why I named her Heidi, this is the very non-exciting story they get:  When she kept following me, I chose to take it deeply personally, feeling she'd chosen me, too, and laughed at how she kept seeking protection with me.  She was hiding.  I know, it's hardly original, but when I said that last thought out loud to myself and looked down at her, looking up at me, Heidi was her name.

Heidi peed on my lap on the way to see my Aunt Marie and cousin Kelly outside Atlanta, GA, a nice stopover on our way back to Florida.  She slept in a cardboard box beside my pallet on the floor, my hand dangling over the side to comfort her.  She cried if I took it out; my arm was killing me by morning.  For the first few weeks (maybe longer) she slept in a kennel, as she wasn't potty trained, and I kid you not, she woke up every 2 hours whimpering and crying.  Id' roll over, stick my fingers through the door and sing to her until she quieted down, then we both went back to sleep.  

I learned very early on about Heidi's preference for the male persuasion.  She's always been a hussy.  Her first human boyfriend's name was Steve, and he and I "dated" over the summer between 8th and 9th grade.  She went crazy for him, and he loved it.  Her first canine boyfriend's name was Max, and he was a huge black lab who lived behind us.  Heidi and Max chased each other up and down the fence that separated them until they laid exhausted against it.  When they first met, I was hesitant, not knowing this new dog very well - his family had only recently moved into this house across our back yard.  I set Heidi down by the fence to let her sniff at him, and before I knew it, she'd popped her tiny head through an opening in the chain-link fence and then, it was gone - swallowed by what I would soon, to my extreme relief, realize were only Max's cheeks.  He'd licked her.  After that, they were in love.

Her next love was Chris, a close friend in high school, and she went equally as crazy over him.  He played rough with her and she loved it.  In fact, I've got a great picture of Chris smiling with his hands out to grab her, and Heidi in mid-jump toward him, a nasty, gnarly snarl on her face.  It's adorable.  He loved her, and I believe a little jealous when a new Chris entered her life in the fall of 1999.  She's still in love with him; we both are, so it works.

Over the years Heidi has been the rubber sole to my running shoe; she's kept me grounded.  I lived in a dorm my first two semesters of college, so she stayed at home with Mom and Dad then.  But as soon as I was out on my own, she was with me.  I couldn't just pick up and take off somewhere without warning because I had Heidi, and that was okay.  I couldn't stay out all night somewhere, wandering back home sometime the next afternoon because Heidi was home and would need to go out.  She kept me responsible and she kept me company.  The first time Chris came over to hang out (the Chris to whom I'm now married), Heidi was instantly infatuated and our relationship started off very domestic, because sometimes it seemed Chris would stop by just to play with her.  It was like they were already family.  His roommates all loved her for her energy and non-yappiness, so she was always welcome at their place, too.  

Heidi's first real roommate was a cat named Mia.  Once a stray kitten in Gainesville, FL, and now a fat cat living near Orlando, Mia found a home with my roommate and best friend, Kelly.  I wonder how these old ladies might react of they were reunited today, as it's been a while since college.  When Mia first came to live with us, she was not happy with the big (to her) white, fluffy thing sniffing at her.  It took a couple weeks for Mia to stop that evil growling cats do when they're really pissed off every time Heidi was in sight, and then they were chasing each other around the apartment like old friends.  Mia and Heidi even napped together on my bed, though never touching; Heidi's never been big on cuddling, to my severe disappointment.  

Heidi's next roommate was a miniature poodle named Honey, with whom she battled over the territory of the apartment.  The first time Heidi ever made a mess in the house since puppyhood took the form of a strategically placed line of poop, marking off the entrance to my bedroom.  Honey had been peeing outside my room daily for a week, and Heidi was sick of it.  When I got home from class and found it, Heidi tucked her tail, flattened her ears, and hung her head in shame.  I cleaned it up and gave her a treat because, frankly,  I was proud of her for standing up for herself when she knew how bad it was to do it.  It didn't happen again.

Heidi also went through an experimental stage in our college years, and had a short affair with a female Yorkie named Spooky.  Heidi and Spooky were often dog-sat together if I was out with Spooky's woman, Christina, and they got along famously.  We've even got a picture of them under the tiny Christmas tree together.  Adorable.

By my last semester at UF it was just the two of us again, and she only had neighbors to worry about when it was time to declare marking territory outside.  Something for which I will always feel a little guilty over was the year I lived away from her.  While I moved to Newport News, VA to escape some things and find others with Chris, Heidi went back home and lived with Mom and Dad, as the apartment I went into didn't allow pets.  I missed her, and was convinced she hated me for abandoning her.  

When Chris and I got married and moved to Pisa, Italy, there was absolutely no leaving the baby behind.  Thank goodness for good friends willing to bring first-time-flying dogs over the Atlantic for other good friends who couldn't bring said dog when they came.  Paperwork and timing don't always cooperate with one another.  The first year in Italy, as crazy as it sounds, was tough on me, and Heidi - again - kept me company and kept me grounded.  I was a newlywed living across an ocean from not only my entire family, but everything I'd ever known, and having her to talk to on what were often long and lonely days was emotional sanity-saving.  As you may or may not have read in earlier blog entries, the first several months I was without friends and without employment, so Heidi was it most of most days.  

Although Heidi has never traveled well (car rides not so nice on her stomach) she's had her share of adventures.  Her first happened while I was visiting in the States on my own.  The front gate of our postage stamp-sized front yard was left unlatched just long enough for our curious explorer to disappear into the night.  Chris looked for her until 2am, posting 'Lost' signs in both English and Italian all over our beach side neighborhood.  It should be said that Heidi is a smart dog, but like me, it's all book-smarts and none of the street variety.  In fact, I've always thought her rather street-stupid.  (Seriously, there's a car coming, but it doesn't seem to occur to her to maybe move out of the way before I've dragged her by her leash.)  The next morning Chris received a phone call from the woman who found her, and fifteen minutes later, the woman arrived by bicycle to our apartment with Heidi trotting alongside like a regular Italian pooch.  The woman refused reward and we never saw her again.  Luckily for my husband, I didn't learn of any of this until after Heidi was home safe.

Her next excursion took place in a neighborhood totally foreign to her while we were traveling in Spain one spring.  Again, once she was home safe and sound, I learned the story of her overnight disappearance.  Apparently wandering off twice already wasn't enough to give this particular sitter the hint that she wasn't to be trusted, and Heidi went on a walk on a Saturday afternoon while groceries were being carried in.  Somehow, by the grace of all that is good and miraculous, Heidi found her way to the back door of a house she did not know well Sunday morning, exhausted and totally black.  After being fed, bathed, and allowed to sleep a while, I got her back.  We didn't call that sitter again.

These days Heidi spends her time inspecting and reinspecting the boundaries of our yard, napping, keeping the floors crumb-free, and occasionally accepting cuddles from us.  Aside from a partially worn-out liver and slightly weak kidneys, she's in good health, especially for a dog of her years.  She's wary of large dogs and young children, but she's kind enough to avoid rather than snarl, and we appreciate that as all of our friends here have small children.  

I'm aware that not all people love dogs, and perhaps don't get how other people can become to attached, finding it ridiculous, if not insulting, to call them their babies.  But I've been coexisting with this little punk for 15 years now, and that's a significant chunk of time for any loving relationship.  I think we often wait too long to pay tribute to significant things in our lives, be they experiences, people, or pets, and I'd rather celebrate her while she's still around.  I'd like to think I've given her a nice life so far, and will continue to be worthy of her unconditional, albeit a little unaffectionate, love for the rest of her time.  

My birthday wish for her is this - to enjoy the sunshine and savor the shade; find the juiciest crumbs we didn't even know we dropped and get away with it; and to feel safe and loved in our home.  If I can give her that much, then I think I've done okay by her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Ash

We learned about the volcanic eruption in Iceland the day after it occurred from a British couple while in Annecy (later in the trip I'm currently blogging about a week after).  We were having dinner on the last night of our French Spring Break when conversation kind of just began with a lovely pair of travelers, and they asked if we'd be affected by the ash, being obvious vacationers.

The ash?  I had no idea what they were talking about.

And that's when they told us about the enormous plume of ash rising from this still erupting volcano, and the airspace that had become compromised by its presence.  Flights were being canceled, airplanes grounded and people stranded, in the UK and creeping across northern Europe.

Today was everyone's first day back to school after Spring Break where I work, and 22 teachers in the elementary school were out.  Eighteen high school teachers were also out, as well as a host of students.  Where was everyone?  Stranded.  Everywhere from the States to Ireland, Turkey to China, people are waiting for the okay that it's safe to fly back home.  Some people were closed enough to finagle their ways onto ferries and trains to make it back home, but even those are overbooked and chaotic.  It's crazy, and no one can say for sure when the volcano will calm and the ash, settle.  I'm just hoping they don't risk it and fly too soon anywhere.  I'm also hoping this clears up soon so we can start planning summer trips.

So if you're living in Europe and you're home, be thankful you're not stranded somewhere.  And if you're stranded, be glad you were asked to wait instead of riding on a plane with engines clogged with rock and glass ash.  This too shall pass...let's just hope it does so quickly.  

Provence: Day Three - Rainy Day

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to Rousillon to Apt
Monday, April 12

We hit the road Monday morning with the intention of spending the first half of the day in the little town of Rousillon about 2 hours away.  The pigment in the soil in this area of France is insanely rich in color, ranging from the deep reds to the burning yellows, and they call this soil the ocres.  The plan was to walk the small streets of the town, do a short hike through a natural park showcasing the ocres, and have a little lunch.  Nasty weather made it difficult to enjoy the first two, so we decided to put it off till the next day and hope for better weather.  Eating, however, is doable indoors, so eat we did, some delicious aioli. Aioli is a garlic concoction of wonderful lovingly made to add flavor to the vegetables that have historically held center-plate in this region of France.  It is to die for if you love garlic, and we do.

From there it was back to Apt to spend the next couple of nights between day trips elsewhere in that delightful dorm room atmosphere.  With the rain pouring down outside we felt justified in having a little downtime with some BBC.  Sadly, this was when we learned about the plane crash the previous Saturday that killed 96 people in Russia, including Poland's president and his wife.

The next news story was about the big fashion show in Instanbul, highlighting the newest trends to hit a mostly Muslim part of the world when it comes to swim wear.  Apparently modesty meets glamor is on the rise, and the demand for bathing clothes that cover the woman's body while fitting closely enough to show her curves isn't far behind.  With 1.5 billion Muslims at hand, this could mean some serious shopping and some serious bucks for these designers.

As rainy days go, we lazed about until dinner time, when indulged in more fabulous escargot, delightful roasted eggplant with goat cheese, yummy duck and my absolute have-so-much-trouble-finding favorite, scallops!  The service, also amazing.

Oh, it was an indulgent day, it was.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Provence: Day Two - The Hike

Verdon Gorge
Sunday, April 11

This morning we woke up in our charming little hotel at the base of the hill in which Moustiers-Sainte-Marie rests ready for our first real hike together.

Staying at Le Colombier was kind of like visiting your grandparents' house.  The hallways were covered in fabric, the wooden stairs creaked their age so Grandma would know what hour you finally got in, and there was a cozy salon where we took our cafe before we left for Verdon Gorge a few kilometers up the road.  It was quaint, the owners were super friendly and helpful, and we felt at home there.  We also did a lot of pantomiming.

I did a little hiking on family trips as a kid, but nothing notable in years, so for the sake of both our bodies and ability to enjoy the rest of the trip, we went with a hike of medium difficulty that would last only around 3 hours.  The Fisherman Trail, le Sentier des pecheurs, would take us down to Verdon River, and back up and out again.

Here we go!

Having read about the gorge and the various hikes marked throughout, Chris printed out one guy's description of this trail, complete with pictures of what he saw along the way, to make sure we were on the right track.  Here, Chris is pointing to the picture of what you see behind him - so far, so good!  Later, when we would get a little confused with disappearing markers near one rocky edge of trail, we'd realize a map of the trails also would have been a good idea.  But alas, we were newbies, complete with running shoes (not great for traction on rocks, nor for ankle support when climbing), printed out trail tips, and eager spirits.

Here is the Verdon River, turquoise serenity flowing through a pebble river bed.  We stopped here to soak it in and have a picnic lunch on the flattish rock you see here.  I also had my first opportunity to use Mother Nature's bathroom for the first time in years.  Go Hiking!

Another gross tidbit to add a little flavor to this story - I began this trip congested and Hiking Day brought no relief.  Do you think I thought to bring along tissues to keep things under control?  Of course not, and so asking Chris to look away, I was forced to blow a handful of snot rockets that would have made my Papa and brother proud.  (My Papa was the first person I ever saw do such a thing, and I loved him desperately.  And being a little tomboy who wanted to be just like my big brother growing up, I received coaching on how to rid myself of various forms of mucus just like he did.)

But back to prettier things.  We came across a gorgeous waterfall plunging down through the forest to the river below and had it been hotter, we would have been wetter.
This is also where we got a little turned around.  This particular trail is marked by yellow dashes and arrows on trees and rocks, and after hitting the waterfall, the badly translated trail tips and lack of yellow markings made for a little waiting around for more hikers to come our way.  We tried out a couple of unmarked paths, but both narrowed and stopped, either by way of a green wall of forest or a rather abrupt drop down to the rocks below.  Eventually a Swiss couple found the waterfall, too, and while we stood aside and let them have their waterfall-picture-time fun, a group of French hikers joined the pack.  Soon, everyone was equally as confused as we were, but luckily the French had that handy trail map I mentioned earlier and between the ten of us, we found the right path to take us on our way.  It turns out part of the waterfall's eager water had cut another small stream down the center of our intended trail, AND the yellow marker to grab the hiker's attention was mostly worn away.  
Thank goodness for the French! 

Almost we came to a small grassy clearing halfway between the river below and the winding mountain roads above.  The view, gorgeous,     though a little chilly when the clouds moved in.
When we reached the lot where we'd left the car, we waved thankful goodbyes to the helpful French hikers who saved the day and drove down to the lake where Verdon River ends, Lac de Sainte-Croix.  Surprisingly, the pedometer only clocked in 12,119 steps, but WE knew we worked hard.    

A lovely way to end the hike - sitting by the lake.

Once back at the hotel, we indulged in a mid-day nap in grandma's hotel room on the hard as a board brass bed, before cleaning up and walking up into town for another fabulous meal a Cote Jardin.  This was a true vacation :) and it had only just begun.