Monday, September 20, 2010

There's no Place Like Home

In August, Greg and I made our first sojourn back to Canada after moving to Paris. We were so excited to see friends, family and our beloved cottage again!

Our first stop was Ottawa, where we launched our visits with a party with Greg's family "the Moore's". It was delight to see them all again, and share our 'surprise!' baby news, but jetlag caught up with us both; we went to bed and the party continued without us! We fared better the next evening when we went to a BBQ with our Brookfield family (former neighbors) who were also ecstatic about Baby Lamarre.....note to self for next visit, book no evening events until jetlag wears off!

After catching up with our parents, and doing some much needed retail therapy at 'my' mall (Billings Bridge) we headed up to our cottage in Henry Ford, our aging pickup that we have bequeathed to friends. I'd held the cottage in my minds eye so many times since leaving it that I wondered if reality would dissapoint....but it did not. The pine tree still frames the view of the cottage as it hugs the lake, and the grass and garden were in pristine condition thanks to our wonderful caretakers. However our cottage life has changed already with the loss of both our lovely neighbors to cancer; both cottages had been sold, but our new neighbors seem to be 'kindred spirits' and we look forward to getting to know them better when we return.

My brother Mark and his wife Judy arrived shortly thereafter bringing our new nephew Kyle to meet us. Kyle is 3 now, and cute as a bug. He immediately took to his Uncle "Gwaic" who took him kayaking and played cars with him for hours; Auntie Meg was merely the carrier of "Gwaic's baby"...chopped liver indeed! Mark and Judy had little holiday from caring for Kyle and working on Mark's budding business (he's a marriage and family therapist) but we managed to catch up on naps, make a few trips into Westport and play speed scrabble!

Greg needed to head back to Europe to attend a wedding in Russia, and get back to work. I took full advantage of being a lady of leisure and stayed another week at the cottage (spending time with Tracey, Jen and Avery and Ethel) before flying out to Victoria to visit my family.

It is always wonderful to go back to the sea: the salty-sweet winds tickle my nostrils on landing and let me know immediately that I am near the ocean once again. My Dad and stepmum took me under their wings as soon as I arrived, but I was getting overtired....and ended up in ER as a result with lots of abdominal pressure. Baby turned out to be fine, but it was a warning to slow down....which I was immediately forced to do by coming down with a nasty cold. This delayed my drive up to Powell River to see Grandma, but the R&R was needed.

Once recovered I hopped in my little rental car and hit the road; was it ever fun to drive again! I hit all my favorite up Island haunts and views, and even a few kids consignment stores. I love the ferry ride to PR: the blues of the water blur into the deeper blues of the mountains, and the smoke stack from the paper mill rises up like a salutation. In Powell River, Grandma and I swam in the ocean (cold!) got a pedicure and made the required trip to Cranberry Pottery. I also visited with my oldest friend (we've known each other since kindergarten).

I had a few more days, and more visits, in both Victoria and Ottawa (so many dear people) but I was begining to tire of visiting and wanted my own routine again. I had been warned by friends in Paris that I would probably not feel that I belonged at home anymore (and yet you didn't belong in Paris either, leaving you feeling a bit driftless); but I slipped right back into my old life like I had never left. It was such an exquisite relief to be able to communicate easily once again, to know where to shop for things, to regain my autonomy and direction, rather than feeling hesitant and strange. And yet my husband, my apartment, and my baby's birth were all awaiting me in Paris. While I was not longing to go back, I realized that I wasn't dreading it either. Visiting all my homes-Ottawa, Victoria and Powell River-made me realize that leaving each of them in turn had been hard, and it had taken me time to adjust to the new place (clearly I do not transplant well!). And yet, I had adjusted. Each place, over time, had become important, had become home. And while Paris is not home now, maybe one day it will be, or at least not feel quite so strange.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nice IS nice!

In late July, Greg and I were invited to join Canadian friends on their holiday in Nice. Jonathan served in the military with Greg, and our families have known each other since Victoria.

We took the train down to Nice -a quick 4 hours by TGV- and as we travelled the terrain became more tropical, and the air more humid: true Med weather! Christina, Jonathan and their 2 sons met us at the train station and escorted us to their rented abode nearby. They were aplogetic about the tight quarters, but we found it charming; we are already accustomed to the tiny scale of living in Europe!

We walked around town for a 'recon' (with military friends comes military lingo) and admired the ornate architecture, palm trees and relaxed pace of life along the Med. Our impression was one of faded elegance, of a moneyed place that had seen better days. And yet the air was balmy and moist, and smelled of the sea...we could see the appeal for those who return again and again (spending the month of August on the Mediterranean is the traditional summer vacation for most Parisians). This favorable impression only deepened when we took our first dip in the ocean: pure bliss! It was like returning to the warm, salty waters of the womb. We would comfortably float and be cradled by the waves for hours at a time.

We noted Nice came alive at night as we wandered the narrow streets of Old Nice looking for a good dinner place. Eating with Jonathan is a delight: among other talents, he is a prodigious gourmet, always seeking new recipes and delighting in local flavours. He had diligently researched good places to eat before we arrived, but the final decision was always one of instinct: we stood before several establishments, noses quivering, observing the place's atmosphere and style before settling on a charming Italian restaraunt. We finished the night with a stroll and managed to fit a delicious local ice cream into our bulging bellies before heading home.

The next day we took a bus to nearby Monaco. The bus was an experience in itself: we arrived in plenty of time to find the quai already stacked with sunseekers. Queuing in France is a frustrating experience for anyone of the Anglo Saxon persuasion: there are no orderly lines, only a chaotic melee that presses forward with little regard for small children, pregnant bellies, or even the need to breathe! In this press, Jonathan reached for his wallet to pay the fare only to find it gone! We immediately backed away from the crowd, scanning for anyone suspicious. Jonathan approached two men loitering around the crowd (you have to ask yourself why) who denied seeing anything, but cannily suggested we check the garbages, and around the benches 'in case it got dropped'. Sure enough, Christina spotted the wallet wedged under a bench; coincidence? We thought not, but were only happy that calamity had been averted.

And so, on to Monaco. The city lies like a beautiful woman between two natural harbours. Surveying the scenery from the top of the Rock of Monaco (where the palace is located), we could smell the money. None of us had seen a cleaner or prettier city. We visited St. Nicholas Cathedral, where Princess Grace was married and buried, and then on to the Aquarium housed on a stunning fin de siecle building perched on a cliff looking out to sea. We all agreed it was the most stupendous location for a museum we'd ever seen (and the kids liked the fish!). Greg was keen to see Casino Monte Carlo, and so we walked around the huge harbour (stopping to let the kids enjoy a few rides at the pint sized fair), hauled our weary carcasses up the hill only to find....we weren't allowed in wearing shorts! I did manage to get in (wearing a sundress) to use the washroom, which was very elegant, but not the full experience we had in mind (let's face it, we probably couldn't afford to gamble there anyhow!!). As a finale to the day, we missed the last bus, but were able to get home by train, and put our satiated selves to bed.

On our last day, I was keen to see the Musee Matisse. I am not really a fan of his style, but I always find it edifying to reconsider an artist in context; I always come away with a greater appreciation ,if not a true passion, for the art. The Musee Matisse met my expectations in this way, and I enjoyed learning more about Matisse's relationship with his muse and model Lydia (but he never slept with her...ya, right!). The visit was enlivened when Jonathan and Christina's 3 year old son set off an alarm while playing around an art peice-whoops! We finished the day exploring the lovely Jardin Botanique de la Ville de Nice, and smelling the roses. Isn't that what les vacances is all about?