Mauritius…C’est Merveilleux

I haven’t written in my blog in a YEAR! It was a memorable one…I got married.

Dawn and Doug's wedding-61

I went to Paris twice, once for my wedding shower which was totally surreal,

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(Me and my Muriels in the Luxembourg Gardens…awww!!)

again in October which was short but sweet.

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I went back to Hawai`i, kind of a working honeymoon, which included a return to the awesome Ha`ena as well as a visit to a live volcano on the Big Island.

volcano

(whew we are HOT!)

I feel remiss in my blogging. So I am making up for it (hopefully, for anyone who cares to read my silly little ramblings) by trying to recount my recent girls’ trip to paradise aka Mauritius, hon.

Backstory, my PPBFF Candace left me and Baltimore behind in August of 2016 to follow her college-age dream of joining the Peace Corps. She’s in Botswana, and although I feared that I wouldn’t see her for two and a half years, I have actually had the privilege to spend some quality time…first in PARIS where she surprised me by coming to my awesome shower, combat boots and backpack in tow. 🙂 And then again in Baltimore.

But I wanted to spend some time with her in her part of the world.  Hmmm, where to go with just a week off?  I thought about Capetown, then Durban…Mozambique…but when Candace mentioned that she knew of some PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers) who had gone to Mauritius and had loved it,  Mr. Google convinced me that THIS was the place I wanted to see. So despite never having been to Africa,  Mauritius won my travel roulette, especially when I discovered how cheap it was to stay there. (And for those of you wondering where in the hell is Mauritius, that’s ok, I really wasn’t sure either. It’s an island located about 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean, past Madagascar. In other words, very far from the US!)

I found our lovely apartment on HomeAway, what a bargain!!

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A whopping $39 per night for  two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and a beautiful porch

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where we spent many contented hours drinking coffee and wine, having dinner and chatting away. The landlord was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and his beautiful wife cooked for us 3 nights! Fish and chicken curry (which was THE best food we had the entire time) and Nargisi Kofta, or meatballs stuffed with eggs. And fresh mangoes couertsy of our German neighbors…heavenly.

But of course the star of the show in Trou Aux Biches is the BEACH. We packed our beach bag every morning and walked the lazy five minutes  through town

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to the public beach,

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We spent many many many hours floating in the turquoise water. People the Indian ocean rocks! So peaceful and relaxing.

We used our privilege to snag some deluxe beach chairs courtesy of the Trou Aux Biches resort (that cost almost 10 times more than our sweet abode), until we got kicked off by some Germans. Oh Well….

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We walked the powdery sand in search of street food like mines frites from Pierre’s Noodles, $2.00 of deliciousness

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And Jus de Friuts Frais (sic)

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We also splurged on a lunch in Grand Baie, fresh seafood and margaritas for margarita day! All served with a killer view

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We had steaks and wine from South Africa too, and fresh shrimp curry and Mauritian rum…mmm

We did alter our beach food drink routine to venture into Port Louis for a day, We went to the covered market hoping to find some handcrafted Mauritian art but instead found lots of cheap goods from China. But we made up for it with some really delicious biryani and soup.

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Port Louis was hot and a bit crowded

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So we were happy to have ventured out but so glad to return to our slice of paradise

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We were blessed to have had the opportunity to experience a Hindu festival while we were there. Maha Shivaratri, the festival of Shiva, where thousands of pilgrims walk from all corners of  Mauritius to a sacred lake at Grand Bassin. We walked to the local temple and were allowed to watch some of the preparation ceremonies.

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While I’m sure there are some conflicts and issues amongst the population, from what I could see and what I read all of us could take some lessons on embracing multiculturalism and religious harmony from the Mauritians.  There are no indigenous peoples on Mauritius, just descendants of the slaves who were brought to work the sugar plantations and the people who brought them. (UGH colonialism!) Mauritius was a French colony then the Brits took over, but I read that the French stipulated that French had to remain the official language. Of course I couldn’t understand very much, except when I eavesdropped on some French tourist. Anyway, all that to say that I found the people to be very welcoming and kind, and was happy to see the temples and mosques and churches side by side in the sun.

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We learned some island insider facts from a dear friend of a dear friend of mine who has lived on Mauritius for many years! We met when my friend introduced us in college. It was nice to reconnect and visit her in her lovely home, I neglected to take pictures but merci Lee!!

Sigh. The trip was WAY too short. I miss the warm ocean breezes, the lazy days spent chatting about everything under the sun, the people, the food, and oh my, the sunsets…

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And I especially miss my dear Candace…bisous ma cherie, merci for hanging out with me in paradise. On to our next adventure!!  xoxoxo

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Le BĂ©arn et Le Pays Basque…Better Late than Never (J’Espère!)

I am very late in writing this post. Computer issues (blank screen on my new laptop = 4 weeks working from a borrowed laptop, argh!). Work, lots of work…whew, I hope that all this work pays off in donations to CEPR. Family visits, summer, anyway, no time til now to write and reflect on our June vacation to the Basque country. Which is maybe a good thing, as things have settled down and shifted and the most important moments, the stand out highlights, have had time to float to the top of my memory.

So here they are, my random reflections in no particular order…it’s long (lots of pictures though!) I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have had reliving it:

We flew into Bilbao, Spain and spent the first night in San Sebastian. San Sebastian was a nice surprise. A revelation, I like some place that is NOT in France :).  We found San Sebastian to be a lovely town, big enough to be interesting and full of good restaurants and bars and beautiful, and small enough to take it all in.

san sebastian street

harbor

plaza

beach

evening in San Se

old town street

The only downside was the language, I am spoiled by Jim’s fluent and my not-so-fluent-yet-somewhat-passing French.  We know the polite Spanish basics but found our lack of fluency frustrating when trying to navigate the tapas scene…because what a scene it is. We finally figured out how to belly up to the Tapas bars. So delicious, and cheap compared to pricier France. 

jambon !!!

We loved the tapas so much that we came back to spend another (nicer weather-wise) day.

La Cepa, yum

the best anchovies ever

beautiful tapas

Jim

We also went to Hondaribbia, a smaller town across the bay from Hendaye, France. (This is Hendaye):

market in Hendaye

We took the ferry, which took about 10-15 minutes, max.

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And then we were in Spain again:

Hondarribia

Spain/France/Spain/France…or as they say around these parts, Basque Country…

"Tourist Remember: You are neither in Spain nor in France.  You

Gora Euskadi Askatuta !

It was a great little fishing village with great little fish…

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lunch in Hondirribia

fresh!

The take away? Jim wants to come back to this part of the world, and he gonna start learnin some Español

After our first night in Spain we headed to Monein, a small town in the BĂ©arn region of France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees.

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We went there in search of Jurançon. What is a Jurançon, you ask? Well, just about some of the most delicious, unique white wine on the planet. And really hard to find here in the US.

me and the Jurancon

We spent our days driving through the vineyards,

vineyards and mountains

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lost in the fields

visiting little touristed but charming villages like Abos

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and Navarrenx

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bridge to navarranx

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and Orloron Sainte-Marie. It was chilly and damp, but it didn’t dampen our spirits one bit…

Orloron

a river runs through it

We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Monein called Entre Vignobles et Vergers  (between vineyards and orchards). The proprietor had had an unfortunate accident and was in the hospital, so he left one of his tenants in charge, the intrepid Daniele, who didn’t speak a word of English and who took a liking to us, the “nice” Americans as we came to be known thanks to Daniele, who was born in Marseille and still had a wicked accent. Daniele took very good care of us, making us a wonderful breakfast with homemade jam every day and greeting us at cocktail hour with a bottle of  Jurançon in hand. She reminded me of my Aunt Val (except that Aunt Val would have been drinking a natty bo)

Daniele et moi

And thanks to Daniele we know everything about all of the casinos in France, including one in Pau, the largest town in the region and a very nice one at that.

Pau casino!

Beautiful and friendly…and good food. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Les Papilles Insolites, where we had a fabulous lunch

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and were introduced to another great wine of the neighboring region, Madiran.

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Oh so much wine, so little time.

which way to the wine

So besides the wine…let me see, what else?  Oh yeah, we spent a memorable evening at the Fête de la Musique in the town of Jurançon, where we went looking for a village feast and found, well, bad food and a 6 euro (and not bad!) bottle of wine,

yum!

and a memorable evening listening to a quite good French rockabilly band…

good band

followed by a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band…

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well, you had to have been there to fully appreciate it.  Special!

We bid a fond farewell to Daniele and Jurançon (with a case in the car) and drove back into the Basque country. We stayed in a village called Ciboure, on the Atlantic coast, next to a somewhat bigger town called Saint Jean de Luz. And wouldn’t you know it, they too were having a fête, the Fête De La St Jean. Oh don’t you hate when that happens?

We spent a fun time partying Basque style.fete IMG_0666

band in basque

After all that FĂŞte-ing we took it easy. The weather finally turned and it was glorious. We walked and sat on the beach and walked along the coast into Ciboure and then to Saint Jean de Luz.

Soccoa

soccoa beach

Ciboure

St Jean de Luz

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We ate bounty from the sea.

yum

soupe de poissons

We drove into the Basque countryside, looking for another impossible to find wine, Irouléguy, wonderful inexpensive reds and whites.

I think we found it

We drove into Les Aldudes, heaven on earth.

so beautiful

We bought a bottle and some of the most heavenly cheese, a sheep’s cheese called Ossau-Iraty…oh my, in this part of the world they eat it with cherry confiture…more heaven.

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We feasted.

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Merci les moutons !!! xo

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One evening found ourselves in the middle of a small village called Hasparren, for the cours des vaches. Or, in English, a sort of crazy spectacle that involves drunk people being chased around a ring by cows with horns. An acquired taste, I think…

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On the other hand, we also spent an evening in a little more glitzy Biarritz,

Biarritz

dining on yet more bounty from the sea. This whole trip made me mourn the lack of fresh fish here, in BALTIMORE.,,in caps because we live by the sea and I don’t understand why we can’t have THIS:

fish!!

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And, now, I’m left with memories of yummy food and wine and nice friendly people, including a group of singers at a neighboring table in a restaurant in Ciboure, who spontaneously broke out into a lovely Basque folk song. After, I told them “Je veux ĂŞtre Basque !” And, it’s true.

I remember the beautiful scenery

sea scene

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and driving around and getting lost, and having a picnic with the wild horses

Jim and the wild horse

And driving through the mountains, listening to Manu Chao…

Merci, le Béarn et le pays Basque. Je t’aime, toujours.  On reviendra

Addendum: Forgot to mention that we got a bonus night in Brussels, courtesy of Brussels Air, who informed us when we arrived in Brussels from Bilboa that our scheduled flight to Dulles had already left…ok, when in Brussels you must drink beer, so we headed off to our favorite part of town

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

(an old picture from when we were there in 2010)

for some seafood and some Belgian brew…merci Brussels Air !

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

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…