A Musical Interlude in the Form of a Furry FL Hit and Run

I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled program for a little musical break. Crazy as it may seem to anyone reading this blog, less than a week after my amazing French vacation I found myself back at the airport, this time bound for Florida. When my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday I’m sure he had no idea that I would say a ticket to St. Petersburg! But he kindly obliged, so that’s how I found myself spending the weekend before the megastorm of the century in sunny, warm Florida.

And why would I fly to FL just 6 days after my vacation? To see my favorite band in what my friend D calls the hit and run. I’ll explain the hit and run in a second, but first a word on my musical obsession (which may help to explain why I’d hop a plane to FL while still jet-lagged):

I’ve always been a huge music fan and I started going to concerts as soon as I could. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to see so many great bands: The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and The Who, to name but a few. But my favorite artist growing up was David Bowie. I lived for the chance to see him, and in the meantime I wore out all my Bowie albums while making my sister share a room covered in David Bowie pics.  I had an obsession with all things British (especially the music), so when I first heard the Sex Pistols and the Clash I was enthralled. I loved the whole English “punk/new wave scene”, at least what I heard of it in my little Baltimore suburban world.

So, in 1982, when a friend asked me if I wanted to go hear this British band called the Psychedelic Furs, I was game.  I had never heard of them and it being the pre-internets days I couldn’t even google them, so I had no idea what to expect. But from the moment they stepped out on the stage, I was mesmerized. They played this punky new wave music, but with a sound that I’d never heard, and damn, there was a saxophone, and a cello! And the lyrics, sung by this young guy in a trench coat, were so, cool. God, he was so incredibly cool, and he smoked this cigarette on stage and made these crazy arm movements and sang with this raspy voice. I was hooked on the music and I had an instant mad crush on the singer.

I went out the very next day and bought their albums (yes, vinyl), thus beginning my 30 year love affair. The Furs – their music, and Richard Butler’s voice and lyrics, were, as that corny commercial says, the soundtrack of my life. I listened to them non-stop, over and over. I went to see them whenever I could, including making my ex husband drive all over New England while I was living in Boston. I even went to a show when I was very pregnant with Jordan, using my big belly to push my way to the front so I could see. When they broke up for good I was devastated (Richard and Tim Butler formed another band in the early 90’s called Love Spit Love, which I never got to see but which I of course listened to just as religiously)

Fast forward to 2000. I was separated by then, back in MD. Through the magic of the internets I found out that the Furs were touring again and were playing in DC. GET OUT! I had to go!! But who could I go with? None of my friends shared my passion. Thankfully, I found a Psychedelic Furs’ fan web site on the same blessed internets. The site was called BurnedDownDays, named after the lyrics in one of their songs. There was a message board, or forum or whatever you want to call it, with comments about the upcoming tour, etc. OMG, I had found my long-lost clan! Here were my PEOPLE! People who loved the Furs as much as me (well, I wasn’t sure that that was possible, but close). I quickly joined the group and made plans to meet some of my long lost relatives at the show in DC – and thus began my 12 year odyssey of BDD meet-ups and hang outs at shows in DC, Baltimore, Chicago and NY (one time I even went to NY to hang out before the show and came back before the show started because I had to work the next day). Friendship, and connection, through shared interests (in this case love of music), that is the good that the internet can bring.

Whew, all that to give background for my trip to FL. When my bestest BDD friend D suggested that we do a hit and run in FL (hit and run means flying into a city, seeing the show and flying out the next day), I said OK, after much back and forth over just how crazy it seemed.

But, I did it and I am SO happy that I did. I’d never been to St. Petersburg before so I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t see much of the city, but the part near the venue and the hotel was pretty funky, full of art galleries and restaurants and bars and hippe/hipsters hanging. It had some nice buildings too.

The weather was great, if a bit windy. We just hung out and walked around scoping out the hood, eating and drinking and talking and wandering and waiting for the show to start.

The club was packed! Interesting demographics, I was happy to see some young people in the crowd of middle-aged new wavers – um, like me.

The concert was awesome, they all sounded great and RB (Richard Butler) danced and sang right back into my heart, along with the new guitar player RG (Rich Good), who is indeed very good and also very cute.

I loved the set list and even though it was hot and crowded and loud I had an amazing time and was so satisfied. It was one of the better shows I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them (20 times, 30? I lost count)

All that would have been enough, more than enough, really.  But I had the added privilege of meeting and chatting for a few minutes with all Furs after the show. I had met some of them before, but never RB, so I can’t tell you what an extra special treat it was that I also got to meet the man that night. He was very nice and very gracious and we all chatted briefly about FL and the show and music and art and he hugged me, twice (not that I was counting).  I was so, so happy. Oh my oh my oh my. I tried to act all cool and nonchalant, but inside I was shaking like a schoolgirl.

Afterwards, I wondered what he would have thought had I told him just how much his words and his music had meant to me in my life? Sigh, I hope he could tell. I didn’t ask for a picture or autograph because I didn’t want to seem like the middle-aged groupie that I obviously am (but still). I floated on back to my room, happy. Feeling incredibly lucky at where I am in my life, and feeling blessed to have met the mad crush/musical guru from the time of my youth, and that he wasn’t some pompous ignorant ass. Yessssss. Life is good.

So the next day I wandered St. Petersburg, alone, still feeling happy and blessed that I was there in that moment, looking at the sunshine and feeling the sea breeze.

And reflecting, as I often do, on how happy I am and how far I’ve come, from the days when I’d lock myself in my bedroom and cry, and listen to the Furs and yearn for another life. They got me through a lot. A lifetime of music, come full circle. Merci and amen

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Why I Love France Part 3: Fruit of the Vine

Oh I know that it comes as a great surprise to my friends that another reason I love France is the wine. And, after this past trip, I can say that Burgundy DOES produce some of the finest wine on the planet. And I should know, because I tasted a LOT of it.  For research purposes only, mind you.

Now, I thought I knew all about French wine before this trip. Well, not all about them, but enough to get by.  I understood that in France, the wine is named for where the grapes are grown, not the type of grape, like here in the states (although the French are starting to use the name of the grape for the wines that they export, boo hoo). Anyway, before our trip we decided to brush up on our Burgundies, both by reading about them and by tasting them (bien sur, how else are you going to learn, my people?) So I understood that Burgundies, unlike Bordeaux wines, are named for the villages where the grapes are grown, not for the domaine or chateau. So, a Meusault is made from grapes from vineyards in Meursault, etc. OK, that’s easy. And I knew that Burgundy wines were made from just 2 kind of grapes, Chardonnay for the whites and Pinot Noir for the reds. But the rest of it never really gelled before seeing the vineyards. So here’s my amateur explanation for anyone who is interested (everyone else can skip this section :)):

When you see a Burgundy wine label that just says “Bourgogne”, or “Bourgogne Pinot Noir”, the wine is made from the grapes on the flat part of the land, say on the side of the highway. Literally, the grapes grow along the side of the road, and in people’s back yards! Not that the wine is bad and I’ve had some that are tasty – it’s just that the vineyards aren’t considered the best of the best of the region by, well, people who know about these things.  Maybe kind of like the supermarket brands?  Only better.  A step up from that are the Villages. These are your Volnays, and Meusaults, and Chassagne Montrachets and Puligny-Montrachets etc etc. These vineyards are on the other side of the tracks, so to speak – they have a better position in terms of sunlight and drainage, etc. A step up from the Villages are the Premier Crus. They not only have the name of the village on the label, but usually they also the name of the particular plot of land, or vineyard where the grapes are grown. (well, some Villages have that and Premier Crus that come from multiple vineyards don’t, but I am trying to keep things simple). So, a label that says Savigny-Les-Beaune, Premier Cru, Les Serpentierers,  tells you  that the grapes were grown in Savigny-Les-Beaune in what’s considered a Premier Cru vineyard, and that vineyard is named Les Serpentierers.

And then there are the Grand Crus. They come from the bestest of the best vineyards, planted on the south-facing slopes, where they get the best sun and have the best position for drainage, etc.  We toted back several Grand Crus from Aloxe Corton. I need to make sure I don’t pop that baby by mistake on a Monday night…

Now, back to the trip. This all seemed a bit confusing to me before I was actually there. You can get a map of the vineyards and go to see where all of the grapes are grown, and being there helped me to understand a bit better. But tasting the wine, and getting a little history lesson from someone who grows the grapes and makes the wine, that was priceless. So here, finally, is my tale:

You can go to tasting rooms in Beaune or to wine shops to taste, but the best experiences are out in the villages themselves. This is what we did one day in Volnay. We were stuffed from another of our delicious epoisses lunch (with wine) so we took a hike in the vineyards, then decided it was time to try some more wine!

This is how it works.

You walk up to what is obviously someone’s house, ring a bell, and if the proprietor decides to answer and decides to let you taste, you’re given a few wines to try.

Our first door was opened by a wizened and we think rather tipsy old man, who let us taste some of his Volnay Villages. They were only 10e a bottle and pretty good so we bought some for his trouble and moved on. Our second attempt proved to be a much more enjoyable experience. A man answered our ring and seemed a bit grumpy – it’s busy season here because they are in the process of barreling the wine so, even though he had a sign that said “ouvert”, we were lucky that he answered the door. He too appeared to have tasted some of his own wares at lunch and seemed not all that thrilled that we kept him from his nap, but he soon warmed up, especially since we were speaking French and were from the US (he loves CA), We spent almost an hour learning all about Burgundy wines from someone whose family has been making wine for centuries. At least four in his case, he said…

It was pretty amazing to hear about how much they depend on the weather to produce a good crop, and just how much can go wrong. As he said, if you make a wine that is made from a variety of grapes, you can adjust your blend if one of the grape varieties gets the blight, or whatever. But in Burgundy, you have one grape. And it’s amazing to me how different the wines taste given that it is the same grape grown in basically the same geographic region. Terroir, as he said, is king.

His wine was superb and we bought 4 bottles (he gave us an extra), and he took my card so he could send us an email invite to a wine dinner in the spring that he throws every few years, featuring 10, 20, 40-year-old wines from his cellar.  Awesome!!  What a score! A serendipitous day…

We were both looking forward to our next day: our 8 wine! lunch at Table de Comte Senard. We walked around Beaune to work up an appetite before heading to Aloxe Corton.  The wine lunch was recommended by someone on Chowhound and I’m glad I took the advice, as it was a wonderful experience. We had our own personal “guide” for our 3 ½ hour lunch extravaganza. Our guide took us on a tour of the Domaine’s vineyards and the cave, and then explained each of the 8 wines we tasted throughout our meal of jambon persielle, poulet avec une sauce epoisses et trois fromages.

We chose to have him deliver the news in French, which to me is the best way to hear all about French wine, n’est ce pas? It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal, with it’s own serendipitous moment as we learned that a woman at the next table was from Maryland and she turned out to be the sister of a family friend (who is half French and has the envious job of leading tours in France several times per year). We bought a case of wine and had it shipped to me at work…shhhh.

We also tasted wine in the Chateau de Meursault, and while it was pretty cool to walk around the Chateau and the massive cave, the experience was a let down after our previous experiences, plus it cost 12e each! (Even though we got a souvenir wine glass).

Nah, I prefer the doorbell route. You never know what’s going to happen when you step inside, like the second hour long lecture we received from the Domaine owned by our Beaune apartment landlord’s family in Pommard. They were super busy barreling the wine when we buzzed, but when they found out we were staying in the Beaune apartment of their relative, they took the time to give us an up-close lesson in wine making. We watched as they took the freshly pressed (With their FEET, people, I am not kidding! They really do it all the old-fashioned way) wine from the vat and put it into barrels (they did use hoses).

We then tasted the 2010 wines that they had just bottled (they age their wines for 2 years; most places we visited age in the barrels anywhere from 1-2 years), and saw the bottling equipment. Everyone was running around and we felt privileged to have seen the process. So of course we bough several bottles of their Pommard Premier Crus (Les Grands Epenots and Les Poutures, in case you were wondering :))

So, there you go. This is why we come back from France with our suitcases full. 2 cases, 8 bottles for this haul. Not bad!

Nest up: the Paris Chronicles (after a brief musical interlude in St Petersburg   umm FL)

Why I Love France, Part 2: The FOOD

OK my dear vegan friends, this post is not for you.  I love you and respect you, but please don’t read.

Where to begin to talk about the food in France? Ahhhhhh

Pictures speak louder than words.

But before I get started in on our Burgundian foodie delights, an aside. And a personal note.  As many of my friends know, I used to be a vegetarian. For, oh, 20 years. I stopped eating beef in the early 80’s (why, yes, when I was a mere child :)), and soon after stopped pork and chicken, and by the late 80’s I stopped eating fish as well. Not for moral reasons (although I remain morally opposed to factory farming). I can’t remember why I started down the road, but after I did, I kept going. It felt right at the time.

Of course, what many of my current friends don’t know (but some longtime friends most likely suspect), I was also traveling down Anorexia Street at about the same time, although at the time I was in deep denial. Controlling the amount and kind of food I put in my mouth was, in retrospect, a way to gain control over my unhappy life. Textbook, I was. When I got down to under 100 lbs at 5ft 6in, even I (subconsciously) knew that I was in trouble. Somehow, I stopped myself from really harming myself, or killing myself. I was never formally treated for the Anorexia, but through other therapy I gradually gave up the outward behaviors of the Anorexic: Eating rituals. Measuring out calories. Over exercise. Constant worry about and focus on food. Bulimia and I never got along, Thank the Lord. But in all other respects I was a Classic Anorexic. Eventually I kind of started to enjoy food – as long as it wasn’t too fatty or high in calories.  I struggled with the Anorexic tendencies for years after. It stayed with me for a long time, popping up every once and a while. But somehow, through hard work in other areas of my life, I finally conquered it. I got my life under control. It took some work. But I’m finally there.

I mention that to celebrate my evolution, from Anorexic to Foodie/Happy Chef. Because I also never liked to cook then (who wants to cook when you don’t want to eat?). A big huge reason for that evolution (revolution) is thanks to my husband Jim. He taught me how to, and then helped me to, open my senses, all of them: to taste and smell and sight and feeling. And from him I learned to appreciate and love food, all food. And wine, and chocolate! Gradually, living with my beloved carnivorous boys, I started eating fish again, and I remembered how much I loved me a steamed crab. And beer. And then I wanted chicken, and after that French ham, and finally I decided that I craved a nice grass-fed hormone free steak. I eat it all now, everything, and give thanks.  I do buy organic vegetables, and meat that is organic and grass fed and free range and processed as minimally as possible.  But I feel like it’s what my body needs for now.

So, as you can see, I’ve traveled far to get where I am, both literally and figuratively, and that brings me right back to the title of my post. Why I love France: Why, the food!

Because in France, they respect the seasons, and the land. Food is most definitely NOT some mass-produced slop, meant to be consumed from plastic, on the run. Yes, of course you can find that kind of food there. But there is, thankfully, still a powerful cultural respect for farm to table in the true sense of the word. Terroir rules. All you need to see to know that is the markets. The vendors are proud of their products, and rightly so!

So, in Burgundy, we ate snails, which you could find here, in the local supermarket

And here, in the most fabulous soup (at Aupres du Clocher in Pommard)

and then there was the wonderful Bresse chicken in epoisses sauce. Oh my, that epoisses. It was unlike any cheese I’ve ever tasted. Smelly but creamy and delicious, We had it after most meals, and in my favorite presentation, as a “grilled cheese and side of mousse”.

Every time I tasted it I made what Jim called my cheese face. Too funny. I ate so much cheese! Don’t let me near that cart again!

One look around the market in Beaune tells you what’s in season. It’s fall, so that means mushrooms. I had so many different kind of mushrooms, in sauces and soup.

And it’s game season, so we ate quail, and pigeon

and wild duck, in a sauce made from the wine that’s made from the grapes that were picked from the vineyards all around us. We had rabbit.

And of course, we also had Beef (cheeks) Bourguignon. And dessert of frozen Marc de Bourgogne soufflé.

We also had some delightful seafood dishes. Jim had a raie with capers dish at Ma Cuisine in Beaune that knocked his socks off. And one night, burned out from all that rich Burgundian cuisine, we had one of the best pizzas ever at this little Italian place called La Tavola Calda. (the wine was from Burgundy though, of course).

More on that part in the next installment. The WINE! Thanks for reading and indulging, Especially my Vegan peeps…

Why I Love France, Part 1: Burgundy is Beautiful

My plans for blogging every day were dashed, first by the lack of internet connection in our 16th Century apartment in Beaune, and then in Paris, where I was thwarted by my non-working PC and an old Mac with a French keyboard. But I now think it was a sign from mon Dieu: Step away from the computer sister.  And I did and was blessed. I needed to breathe some. And to enjoy this:

And so, instead of a play by play record of our trip, my posts will be more reflections of my visit to my favorite place on the planet. Not that I’ve been everywhere on the planet.  But so far France and Paris have captured my heart and my soul. I breathe deeper when I’m there. And I sigh. A lot. Hopefully I can capture those feelings here, and hold onto them so that I remember the smells and sounds and tastes and feelings.

So here are my jet-lagged reflections, two weeks removed.

We arrived at CDG pretty early and set out for Burgundy in our spiffy little green-friendly Euro car.

Rut Row! We’re in France!
Our first stop was in Auxerre, a town in the Yonne, northern Burgundy. Very medieval.

Jim already happy at the thought that it’s not THAT Goddard…

We walked around the town and made our way to this imposing cathedral that was built between the 11th and 12th Centuries. Incredible to me. How did they do it?

After lunch, we got back in our car and made our way to Beaune, When I think of Burgundy, I think of quiet, and beautiful landscapes covered in vines (I also think of wine, but that will be a post all by itself). And lovely Beaune, where we spent the week in a building built before the Europeans invaded and conquered the good people of our land. It’s also full of medieval buildings and churches and windy little streets, like this one where we stayed:

But what really stays in my mind are the towns and villages surrounding Beaune. Where they grow the grapes that make the wine. Towns like Meursault.

And Volnay

And Pommard

And Savigny-les-Beaune

And my favorite Pernand-Vergelesses.

We walked in the vineyards at least once a day, sometimes twice (before and after lunch). It was SO quiet in those gentle hills. No noise. Just quiet. Breathe.

One day the sun actually came out (it rained quite a bit on our vacation, but never on our parade), and we decided to rent bikes and ride rather than walk through the vines. Such a wonderful day, riding the Route des Grand Crus.

All that activity made us hungry. And thirsty. But I will save the wine and food report for another day.

So much wine, so little time…

Having had a Bite of the Big Apple, I am Now Leaving on a Jet Plane

Bags are packed and I’m ready to go. Had a fabulous whirlwind trip to New York with my women yesterday. The timing of the trip wasn’t ideal, but I wouldn’t have missed seeing my girls in a NY state of mind for nothing.

I want to talk about my girls for a minute. The first, my awesome daughter Jordan, is the light of my life. She is charmingly upbeat: I can’t add a thing to her autobiographical facebook profile: “I love to sing and act. I want to hopefully become a published writer one day. i love giving advice to people, I’m one of the happiest, upbeat and spastic people you will ever meet. ^_^…” Jordan has been through so much and I could write a book on how she has overcome health issues and other struggles (which I may do someday). But for now, she was delighted with her birthday treat: second row tix to see the show “Avenue Q”, a totally inappropriate take on Sesame Street. Whew, it was really good if a bit risque, but since she’s over 20 I figured what the hell.. although…I couldn’t help but think that it seems like yesterday that we sat huddled together watching the G version of Sesame Street, her in her blond trademark pigtails. sniff sniff.

The second girl is my niece Zoe, vising from Germany. Zoe is too a light in my life. She is the bravest 13 (almost 14) year old I know. She’s been through so much turmoil and strife and has come out the other side, a sweet girl on the cusp of becoming a lovely young woman. The highlight of the trip was seeing Zoe’s face when we stepped into Mood, the infamous fabric store featured on Project Runway. Zoe is a budding designer, and she is learning to sew,  and I know we are going to see her designs walking down the runway one day. We had such fun running through the aisles looking at the massive amounts of bolts of fabric (how DO those designers on PR do it?!), We selected some fabric for Zoe to turn onto a top and a skirt, and in her shy, understated way she charmed one of the sales clerks (who is also a designer) and he gave her his email address…making connections already! That girl will go far. Thank you Mood!

Then there is my other niece Kristina. She just moved here from Florida with my brother and his family, where she’s lived for all 12 (almost 13) of her years. We’ve hardly spent any time together so I am just getting to know her and her personality. She’s incredibly beautiful and a bit shy, but she’s warming up in a good way. She wants to be an Interior Designer so we bought some pillow fabric for her, She’s a sweetheart too and I hope we can grow closer

My mom and sister-in-law Kathy rounded out the NY girl crew. All the women in my family except for my sister Julie who is translating away in Hamburg. She’ll be here for Christmas this year, a blessing in and of itself considering the past, which is complicated and involves bad German judges and the unfair invoking of the Hague Treaty against the wrong party. But, karma won out in the end. Damn straight! If anyone needs a lesson in the powers of karma, let me know. This story will restore your faith. Namaste…

We made a toast to ourselves and my present-in-our-hearts-sister as we ate our fabulous NY pizza. We then saw our shows (theirs Mama Mia) and shopped til it was time to get-back-on-the-bus for the long ride back down 95.

So now my bags are packed and I’m getting ready to hop on 95 again, this time going south towards VA, to board a plane for Paris, then a car bound for Beaune. When we were at lunch yesterday we were talking about Zoe’s trip to Mood, and about what the girls want to do when they grow up. I asked each of them “What is your dream”? Zoe of course said to be a Fashion Designer. Jordan explained that she USED to want to be a Broadway STAR, but now she wants to be a published author. And Kristina didn’t hesitate before saying Interior Designer. I told them that my dream was to live in France some day. I told them that it’s never too late in life to have a dream. As obnoxiously corny and cliched as that sounds (as does my corny 60’s song title references), I believe it. I’m living proof that you can go after your dreams. Here I am, heading off to Paris for the what, 12th, 13th time? Get OUT!  THIS is why I feel happy and blessed. And excited, and looking forward to being with my husband with no obligations standing in our way,

So bring it Burgundy, I am really to taste your offerings and sing your praises. See you on the other side mes amis. Go O’s!..Dream on…

Reflections on Paris Octobers

To me, one of the most beautiful things about travel is the anticipation of the trip – the endless hours planning, making reservations, thinking about what to pack (yes, I even like that too.) And since I’ve been to France a few times :), I have the added pleasure of reminiscing about previous trips.

*Quick aside: people are always asking me how I can afford to go to Paris at least once every year. Believe me, we are not part of the 1% – I’ve never seen a non-profit worker or government employee on the Forbes 500. So we’re not rich – what we are is blessed to have solid decent paying jobs and I thank the goddess every day for my good fortune. That definitely helps. But in addition (as those of you who have been to Green Acres can attest) we also put all of our spare change in the travel jar, NOT into our house. We drive old cars that are totally paid for. I never buy anything that’s not on sale, and everything I buy I pay for with my airline credit card, earning me lots of frequent flier miles (we are also lucky that my husband gets miles through is job, which is how we’re going this time). We stay in apartments that are cheaper than hotels and which are equipped with kitchens and coffee makers. I’m happy to share our living large on a budget travel tips later, but that’s a start, and hopefully will inspire others who think that Paris is out of reach,

OK, back to my memories. The first time we went to Paris in October was 2008. Hmmm, what was going on then?

Yes, it was election time, So happy to be in France on the eve of the end of:

i

It was a hopeful time,  I continue to hope…

Way back in 2008 I was actually just tagging along with my husband, who had meetings with the European Space Agency in Toulouse. We figured we’d make it a joint vacation and stopped in Paris on the way.

I LOVE Paris in the fall. The markets are bursting with more varieties of mushrooms than you can count. The hordes of tourists have gone, leaving Parisians settling into the season. You can wear scarves and boots, yet it’s not too cold. And my husband can get his game on:

Me, I like this:

We stayed in Montmarte, on rue Lepic, a market street at the “bottom” of the hill.

It hasn’t changed much…

Of course we were also happy to visit our best Parisian friend Loic, who took us to the Buttes Chaumont (in the 19th, too far for most tourists. Go!) for the first time. What a beautiful place! And an amazing view.

My boys were on top of the world

We spent the rest of our days wandering through the parks, looking at art, and eating,  We took a cooking class at Cookin’ With Class, a great little cooking school in Montmarte. We took the market class, where we shopped for all of the ingredients together and went back to the kitchen and whipped up a starred meal. We also enjoyed some gamey delights at our favorite restaurant, Chez L’Ami Jean:

After a week of total indulgence, we hopped on a plane and flew (thanks NASA) to Toulouse. It was a nice town, some parts pretty.

But I really enjoyed getting out into the southern countryside. We went to this beautiful little town called Cordes-sur-Ciel. It’s a village on a hill, and it seems to float above the surrounding fields.

We also went to Albi. I loved Albi. there’s a great vibe there. And an abbey:

We spent 4 days in Toulouse and it was time to say goodbye to my husband, who had to put his rocket scientist hat back on. One of the perks of frequent flier mile flying: sometimes you can’t get the days you want. This trip it meant that I had to go back to Paris alone, for 3 days. You can see how that upset me.

Actually, this was a very big deal for me. I had never really traveled alone before, and certainly never to a country where I was struggling to learn the language. It felt indescribable. Here I was, a mother, a way grown woman – and I felt like a kid who rides a bike the first time without training wheels. I felt free and a little scared. It was a life-changing experience.

More on that in a bit, first I have to say hi to my French friend Anne, who invited me to her home in Lorraine (she has since moved back to her roots in beautiful Strasbourg). I felt so honored to be welcomed into her home (she was rightfully nervous that I would never find my way there since I took the train from Paris, but I managed ok :)). She prepared a wonderfully delicious lunch and I met 2 of her 3 beautiful children. I was a happy to have shared a bit of my culture while experiencing hers. I was grateful.

I was also determined to experience my alone time in Paris to the fullest. There is nothing like being in your favorite city with all of your senses open. One day, I bought a baguette with butter, ham and cheese. I wandered my way to the Tuilleries – my favorite garden – and sat and watched the people go by. There I was, sitting on my bench, enjoying my delicious sandwich, looking at the kids with their sailboats on one side, seeing the magnificent blue Paris sky and the Louvre on the other. And suddenly I burst into tears. I was overcome with so much emotion. It felt so powerful, that moment. I heard later that it’s a well-documented phenomena that some people cry when they are overwhelmed with a piece of art. I’m sure that was part of it – the scene before me was just so perfect, so beautiful, so representative of Paris. But I think, after having had some years to reflect, they were also tears  of joy, and of recognition of how far I had come. Of how much I had overcome to get to where I was, at that minute, looking at this little boy. Maybe a little sadness that it had taken me that long. But mostly, pure joy, and gratitude.

And that’s why I’ve gone back to Paris alone twice since then, and why I am so looking forward to going “home” again in a week. Paris gets under your skin. It feeds my soul like nowhere else I’ve ever been. When I get there, I know I’ll stand there on the sidewalk for just a moment, and close my eyes, and breathe.

Thanks for coming with me as I tripped down memory lane….. à la prochain, from Burgundy.