On Monday, June 11th, our little family woke up at the usual time. We ate breakfast and finished putting toothbrushes, stuffed animals, medications, snacks, and all manner of necessary things in our suitcases and backpacks. A lovely friend who is staying in our house while we are gone, came to get keys, information about garbage and mail, and where to get coffee and all manner of Tangletown things (that is the name of our neighborhood). And then, before we could really wrap our brains around it, we were off the airport for the long day and night of travel to France.
I realize that loving food and loving France is kind of cliche. There are a lot of Francophiles in the world. But France has been an important part of my life for much of my life, so I’d like to talk about France and what it has meant to me in my almost 42 years. I went for the first time when I was just under a year old. My parents tell the story of packing a full suitcase full of Pampers, because they were unavailable in Europe in 1971, and also of me making lots of noise in museums and eating tons of French fries. They went on to take me to numerous other countries over the course of a 3 week trip when you really could do Europe on $10/day, and I remember none of it.
The next time I went, I was 16 years old, on a bike with a group from my high school, three months riding along country roads, sleeping in tents, eating more bread and chocolate than I ever thought possible, and really truly, learning the language and also learning to love the French. We rode through the castles in the Loire Valley; the apple orchards of Normandy; startled goats off treacherous roads in Corsica (and had two solid weeks of sunshine); had snow-capped mountains as our constant companions through the Alps,; and tried to remember why it was that we chose the region of Auvergne, in the Massif Central mountains, until we came upon the Gorge du Tarn – a place so wild and beautiful that we frequently had to get off our bikes to just stare.
My next visit was when I was a junior in college and spent a semester in Paris. I decided that, in order to make the most of my 5 months and to learn the most Franch possible, I should live with a French person. My college teamed me up with a woman doctor who, for reasons unknown to me, was so depressed that she never left the apartment, had a dog named Ginger who would shit in the hallways, and who would give one sole dinner party the whole time I was there, telling me I had to stay in my room while the guests were there, and then would leave every single dish and platter in the kitchen for weeks so that, when I came in from class, I would have to cover my face with my shirt so the stench of rotting food wouldn’t make me sick. It is a true testament to the wonders of Paris, its beauty and the amazing food, that I left after that semester vowing to someday return.
Somehow, it took another 12 years for the next visit to France. Randy and I did a quick two nights in Paris on the tail end of our honeymoon in Spain. I was coming off some terrible bug that made me grateful that you can buy antibiotics over the counter in Europe. We made our way to a horrible hotel in the Latin quarter and ate the foil pouch of peanuts available in our room for dinner. That was about all my stomach could handle. But the next day, while Randy went to a business meeting, I walked the streets and eventually found myself in a brasserie, trying out my once quite-good but now-rusty French, and ordering a sandwich that had thin slices of hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, tomato, and lettuce, on the perfect half of a baguette. I could not believe how good it tasted.
Soon after we were married, Randy and I moved to London for a year, and I went to France no fewer than 4 times that year. The last time was as we were getting ready to move back to the States. We flew to Paris, rented a car, and took our time driving down to Provence, with stops in the Loire Valley, Lyon, and my beloved and still-as-magnificent-as-I-remembered Gorge du Tarn, before meeting up with friends at a villa on a hillside covered with lavender. I was 22 weeks pregnant with Graham. I had felt his first kick sitting and waiting for our luggage in the Charles de Gaul airport. I brought a maternity bathing suit which I used daily at the pool onsite, and one cookbook, Patricia Wells’ The Provence Cookbook, and from that lovely book, I made dinners for a group of 8 every night. We all took the train back to Paris after our magical week and the group watched Llance Armstrong win his 6th Tour de France at the Arc de Triomphe on, or maybe the day before, my birthday. Randy went with me to an art gallery on the Ile St. Louis where my mom and I had seen some amazing paintings on a trip to Paris earlier than spring and, without me knowing about it, he bought me a painting and had it shipped home. It is my favorite painting in our house, to date.
The next time I went to France, I was the mother of two, and getting ready to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was a seven year dream to go to Paris and buy copper pots and while I did buy a most beautiful copper double boiler (which I have only used a handful of times because it is so beautiful), I also got to go to Cannes on the Cote d’Azur – a region, in all my time spent in France, that I had never visited.
(Our beautiful street for 3 weeks.)
And here I am again. 3 weeks in Cagnes-sur-Mer. A small town between Cannes and Nice. Small enough that it is easy to find our way around, large enough that almost everything we need is here in our town. Including a beach. We have been here a little over a week and have already done day trips to Nice and Antibes, the hill towns of Vence and Grasse, as well as a day at the water park known as Aqualand, in addition to plenty of time spent at our town’s somewhat rocky but still totally acceptable, beach. We visited the small chapel that Matisse was commissioned to create the murals and stained glass for – a chapel I remember studying for my term paper on Matisee in senior year art history, and when my little family and I walked inside, I immediately started to cry. Seeing such works of beauty in person, when you never thought you would actually see them, can be very overwhelming.
The Cote d’Azur is warm. Hot even. Our little place is sweet and, um, little. We are almost at the top of a hill of such epic proportions that we usually opt into taking the free shuttle (the Navette) to it each day. I have been cooking dinner almost every night. It’s not so much that I am inspired by the produce, which – truly – I am not, but that it is relaxing for us to be at home and not trying to figure out whether the boys should eat pizza or pasta for the umpteenth time. At home, we vegetarians can make sure we are getting nourished. It’s not that bad for me – I am happy with salads, but my kids, especially Spencer, are having a harder time. My little kitchen has two burners and I am putting them to work, mostly making simple, but delicious, things. Polenta with cream and Comte cheese stirred into it and topped with homemade ratatouille, omelettes with sautéed mushrooms and radicchio, lots of salad, curried couscous with Le Puy lentils and chickpeas, tagliatelle with goat cheese, oil cured olives, and basil. Nothing fancy but all delicious, made even more so by the fact that we are depleted by the sun and by all the beauty we are seeing each day.
We still hope to see St. Tropez and Monaco. We need to check out the chateau at the top of our extremely steep hill because the town’s Renoir exhibit is temporarily housed there. We might get on a train for a day trip. We might not. We might go to a relatively nearby town in Italy for the Saturday market. We might not. We are going to eat a lot more pizza and a LOT more bread. Spencer has decided that he likes goat cheese and pizza with olives on it and that is more than I could have hoped for him. Graham ate most of a cheese crepe without being too sure about it and I am proud of him for that. They have already been on a 100 year old carousel and, if you asked them, them are hoping for more beach time, more carousels, and more ice cream.
Randy and I have had time to process all that awaits us when we return home. I have already freaked out a couple of times. Being far from home can sometimes make me crave home – stability and things that are known instead of unknown. We will return to Seattle and a brief lull of calm before jumping into a full blown move and throwing our comfortable worlds into chaos. There has been some second guessing, some tears, and finally, the very real thought that this move is the best thing for us at this time. How do you reconcile feelings of caution? When do you say ok, I am just feeling anxious about this big change and when do you say, this is too much for me? That question is what kept me awake for the first 5 nights we were here. Ultimately, I am choosing to move beyond the doubt and celebrate the positive. A friend asked us, as we were trying to make the decision about whether or not to move to San Francisco, if we would regret it someday if we did NOT move. I have come back to that question time and time again. When we were trying to decide whether or not to move to London, I was having a hard time with that decision. Now, looking back 9 years later, there has never been a moment when I have thought, “Wow, we should never have moved to London.” I get it – this is different, kids and schools and jobs and buying and selling homes and 3+ years vs. 1 year makes it all different. But I can’t help but think that if we don’t go, we will both regret it.
We have another week and a half in Cagnes-sur-Mer and then we head to the Nice airport and fly to Paris. We will have six nights there. I hope to do another Cote d’Azur post before we leave. I am having a heck of a time uploading photos so I’m sorry there aren’t more in this post. If you are on Instagram, I am @danatreat and I post photos each day. A bientot!