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Making photographs in Barcelona on my birthday.

We were walking up Carrer de Verdi in the Gracia area of Barcelona heading to Parc Guell, on Carmel hill, where Gaudi, the Catalan architect, had designed curvy architectural forms mirroring the curvy hills and gardens. It was a ways up, so we rambled along back streets, taking our time, looking around, observing the loads of oranges on the trees lining the back streets, stopping for cafe con leche in Placa del Sol, trying to grab chairs in the sun, but they were all taken. We stayed to eat lunch, tapas, a lot of us ordered the potatoes bravas because we’d seen the tables next to us spearing the crispy brown chunks of potato piled high, covered in a spicy creamy tomato sauce. We were all happy we’d ordered our own.

It was my birthday and I was eating crispy potatoes with my family in sunny Spain. Of course, I needed photos to celebrate us wandering amongst the artful graffitied shuttered streets…

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The Purple and Gold Mountains of Connemara, Ireland.

Limerick, Shannon, Galway, County Mayo – We’d never been to Ireland, so decided for the kids’ Toussaint break October 15 – October 30, to spend a week in the land of leprechauns. Andrew suggested the western central part of the island, known as Connemara, and definitely, he said, we must stay on Inishbofin island, at least 2 days. So, I got flights into Shannon and rooms on the island and mainland in a fishing village with the solid name of Roundstone and rented a car, with some hesitation, dreading navigating the brain switch to the ‘other side of the road.’

Like in a Larry David sitcom, where obvious things happen, our flight into Shannon, included a blond priest in a long black robe sitting behind me, and the seats being so closely knit, I overheard the bloke next to him launch into a full on ‘confession.’ And yes, indeed, my first foray into a traffic circle on our way to Galway, I headed right into an oncoming car. Driving on the left means entering traffic circles clock-wise, not counter. So I was reminded by the beeping car and the police that just happened to be sitting in a truck nearby; when I rolled down the window, exasperated, I already had my own confession, “I’m sorry, I’m an American! I don’t know how to drive here!” They were nice and said, “Go slow, just go slow.”

When the sun began to rise around 8am, and we had driven some miles northwest of Galway, the landscape changed – we were heading into the wild and remote regions of Connemara, with the red of the brush, the yellow of the gorse, and jagged coasts full of blue inlets and uninhabited islands, while in the distance, seemingly impenetrable mountain ranges rose and fell as far as the eye could see. Along with this, the roads narrowed and became ever more twisty and were, more often than not, bordered by thick hedges, so that driving became a dare. I held my breath and hugged the edge and came to a crawl when there was another car on the road. Luckily, this part of the world is now thinly populated and it was early on a Sunday morning.

Long ago, there were monasteries on many of the islands; monks drawn to the remote, the quiet, the dramatic landscape. Now, when you hike, you might see the crumbling remains of a 14th century monastery. We spent our evenings in the only pub on the island, The Beaches Pub, and listened to conversations between local folks. I had a long conversation on the ferry to the island with a man who had grown up there and was going over to visit his 96 year old mother, which he did every Sunday, driving in from Galway. I had mistaken him for a ferry man, but he ended up telling stories of childhood on the Irish coast. He also recommended a book, “The Valley of the Squinting Windows” (1918) about a fictional village called Garradrimna, “where everyone is interested in everyone else’s business and wishes them to fail.” I laughed.

We spent the week hiking every day. On Inishbofin, we even hiked the Cloonamore trail twice through the tiny hamlet called “Knock.” In the town of Clifden, we shopped for groceries, at Ballynahinch castle, we walked through the forest around the lake and met a dapple gray, and we had lunch by the fire, homemade soup and brown soda bread. At Kylemore Abbey, we visiting the abbey, but more interestingly, we walked the 20 minute trail to the restored walled garden, built on a hillside. We lunched in the very good cafe and Andrew found a wool vest which suited his tastes, in fact, he got two. At Gurteen’s Bay and Dog’s Bay, we walked the long white sand beaches with no one else around except the sheep munching on the wild grasses of the sand dunes. And at night, it was back to O’Dowd’s again. Wonderful fare for tired lads and lasses.

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14th century monastery on Inishbofin.

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The Cloonamore again.

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Andrew, at the ferry prow.

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Kylemore Abbey.

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This way!

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Beach where we ran around with a local dog, named Milly.

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Ruins of a castle on Inishbofin.

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Climbing Diamond Hill. img_0792

Diamond Hill toward the top.

 

 

 

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A Costume Ball.

A few days after we renewed our membership to the Musee d’Orsay, I got an email advertising a Second Empire Ball in the Salon des Fetes at the museum. The accompanying picture showed dancers twirling around a big gilded hall. Lessons in dancing the quadrille were optional, but seemed a wise idea if one were to attend.

That same week, I’d just finished another historical novel, this one set in England about Henry VIII and his ministers, Wolsey & Cromwell, who, judging from most accounts, were not out for the common good, but were only interested in stuffing their own pockets and egos, as the saying goes.

Re-creation can be fun, especially if you live in a city oozing history on every corner, so why not go to a costume ball! Plus, the Second Empire was cool! So, I signed us all up and was determined that we’d have fun! Even if a few of us don’t dance…

Paris became the city that it is today under the Second Empire. In an astonishingly short time, Paris was completely re-ordered. It was central planning at its niftiest. Train stations were built. City parks were created. Beginning in 1853, over the course of 17 years – Napoleon III and Georges-Eugene Haussmann completely rebuilt the city.

New boulevards, now famous parks, museums, opera houses, art galleries, on and on. Tens of thousands of workers were employed to bring water, air and light to the city center, widening the streets and making it the most beautiful city in Europe!

Much of it was practical too. They rebuilt the sewers of Paris so they no longer emptied into the Seine, and built a new aqueduct and reservoir to bring in more fresh water. And zoning and regulations allowed Haussmann to impose architectural standards for the buildings along the new boulevards – they had to be the same height, follow similar design, and be faced with the same cream-hued stone – thus stiff regulations gave flower to beautiful symmetry.

So, on a sunny Sunday in October, we dress in our merchant costumes, and stroll over to the cab stand and hitch a ride to the ball in a Toyota Prius.

At the entrance where they take your tickets, we can hear the ball music. We take the escalator up one level. The girls are embarrassed to be in costume. But when we walk into the room and are surrounded by everyone costume, they smile. The golden lights, the warmth of the room, the music is loud and energising and there is the magical movement of dancers keeping time.

The dances are of the time – the quadrille, the polka. The caller leads the crowd along with help from professionals. Whirls twirls take the men and women in large gowns great distances in a few steps. Taffeta, ribbons swish by. Faces light with exertion and fun. The room becomes hot, but the ladies have fans. We are in 19th century Paris, lo and behold.

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Heeyyy!

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When you’re walking around, these are the little places you might pass.

Hug hug, kiss, kiss! How’ve you beeeennn…  darling little pumpkins… sweet sugar pies… ! It’s been fo r e v e r…. like last spring when we were at that parade jazz thing in St. Germain, we ate mint ice cream and the lady in the dress made of all those ribbons walked by, remember… we were talking about how much we loved the 20 somethings, how they’re changing things around, making things with their hands, like that ribbon dress… surely…

So. Let’s tell you what we’ve been up to, then it’s your turn…ok?

Alright. I’ll be swift. Mostly, I’m gonna show some pix. We’ve been good.

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Fox Hunter’s Paradise – on a clear day you can see Pilot Mountain from here.

June was a bunch of end of the year gatherings. Then July 4th we’re sitting on Main Street in Virginia watching the Fourth of July parade with some oldest and dearest friends and family. Everyone’s on a picnic blanket. We’d already had a cookout earlier on the river with some other folks. If I’d had any sense I would have taken photos, because I hadn’t seen some of those people in years. But I didn’t. I was enjoying the time and forgot.

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Just driving around. Purtty, huh?

Anyway, summer was the green grass of home and the blue skies above. We roamed around the mountains, volunteered in a community theatre, spent time at the lake with Bunny and Mom, had lunch at Draper Mercantile, yum, got up early and stayed at Floyd Fest all day and heard Elephant Revival standing under a big maple tree with a big crowd, what a great band to see live. Biked the trail. Drove the dog around some beautiful back roads. Got tomatoes at Horton’s, went to berry day at the Independence farmer’s market, sat on the front porch out at Matthew’s farm and watched the chicken hawks fly over the fields.

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Some cow.

And then it’s September. And we meet again. Here’s September in photos.

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Skye is good at grabbing baguettes.

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The bonbon stand across from the Odeon Movie Theatres. Andrew and I went to a movie last wknd.

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Crowds before the movie.

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Crossing thru the Place des Vosges, I had to catch the red ball.

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We’re always walking through the Luxembourg gardens. We used to jog there, but now we go to the Bois.

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I was going over the Pont Alexander to meet someone.The girl’s got her shell.

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She’s got her fork.

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Andrew and I went to see an exhibition at Van Cleefs and Arpels. While we were waiting in line, I photographed the refurbished Place Vendome.

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Sunday morning walking up to get buns at Cafe Bechu, the best buns. We ran into a demonstration.

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Luxembourg with purple autumn clouds.

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Andrew’s coffee at the Finnish Institute.

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A walk along the Seine with friends. I keep stopping to photograph. On the left you can see 2 nuns sitting on the bench, a red bag beside them.

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Looking over to Isle Saint Louis.

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N = Napoleon III.

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All for now! See you next week!

 

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Bearded Dudes and the Quest for Coffee.

On a wet Thursday, when you needed big galoshes or a boat to wade through the streets of Paris, I set out for a spirit-boosting cup of coffee after the morning chores. Big rain you could call it, so I decided to duck into the Metro and not bother with say, trying to ride a bike or stroll the boulevard in the thrashing torrents. I pulled up the collar of my black raincoat and hid under the umbrella like the other sodden figures. On the metro car, people emerged from dripping hoods, dangled umbrellas by their seats, and tried to smooth down frizzed hair. We looked like a pack of wet dogs. And smelled like it too. At the next stop, the doors clicked open onto posters of sunny Corsica. Oh, the cruel smiting  beasts of irony.

Paris has cafes, but I was aiming for off-the-grid. Willing to go deep into the hinterland to pursue the golden bean. Looking for the joyfully-shaded, happily-traded, ethically-crafted elixir infused with the love of the valued villagers, roasted by contented employees with 6 weeks of paid vacation, then ground, pressed, steamed, poured into mugs made by Yann, the next-door potter, and topped with heart-shaped swirls, because they care about you that much. That’s what I was seeking. In other words, a total transformation from a little cuppa lovin’ java.

Where do you go for that, you might wonder? Well, I’d asked around, and after getting various answers, went with the coolest name: Folks and Sparrows, 14 rue Saint-Sebastien, 75011. How did I know I had struck the Holy Grail? Why, the crowd of bearded dudes, of course. For you shall know that where the bearded men go, does pour forth the purest of the black waters. For they have returned from the 40 days, and 40 nights, (hence the beards) and are parched for the divine elixir of a tall and steamy latte.

In 2016, it’s become a basic principle: Follow the bearded dude in the plaid shirt – for the Indie, Local, Crafted & Curated.

Other Hip & Cool Coffee Outlets in Paris:

The Boot, 19 rue du Pont aux Choux, 75003

Fondation Cafe, 16 rue Dupetit-Thouars, 75003

La Cafeotheque, 52 rue de l’Hotel de Ville, 75004

KBCafe, 53 ave Trudaine, 75009

Ten Belles, 10 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010

Cafe Loustic, 40 rue Chapon, 75003

Coutume, 47 rue de Babylone, 75007

May your day be warm and your coffee well-crafted.

 

 

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Sunny Jones Style.

Sunny Jones is sitting in the sun on the terrace of Le Babylone legs crossed, one foot flipping the toe of a tan suede loafer, so that when we cross the street, my first thought is –  I want those shoes. Yeah, shallow, but let’s not get preachy. It’s spring. Pastel sweaters, flowy embroidered shirts, make us feel alive again. We all get a sudden interest in suede loafers, salsa, Liberty prints, whatever it is. Spring fever. Truth is, when May rolls around, I generally start coveting shoes. Oh, there was this one pair, worn by a guy (but who cares) – a pair of grass green suede loafers with small brass buckles on the side. Beautiful. On that Wednesday morning I sat worshiping his shoes for 7 metro stops.

Speaking of worship and stuff… Andrew and I went to a concert last night to see Father John Misty, kinda folk, psychedelic rock. You might know him. Andrew discovered the guy, intrigued (definitely!) by his name. As Andrew told some friends, “He brings to the stage the intensity of an ex-evangelical.” And he’s got this long hair. You should have seen how they lit him. From behind, so as he approached the stage, there was this aura, like the approach of a celestial being. What techies might call angelic or ‘Jesus lighting.’ His band is rocking. Plus, Father John’s got piercing eyes and a pensive way. And he wore his black shirt unbuttoned half-way down.

You get the picture. What I was eager to tell Sunny and Dawson cause I was still jazzed up, you know, on the after-show vibe/energy of great music. I swear I even woke up looking all glow-y. Like her name, Sunny is all glow-y. She is also 80 years old, so I’ve got to get on with this story, as she needs to go home in the afternoon for a nap. Sunny, (Sandra back in California) wears a lot of thick gold jewelry, moved to Paris after her husband, a doctor in Carmel, died and left her a small fortune and is making a new life for herself here. She is teaching me how to speak my mind. I’m no amateur. But she’s a pro. Being around her, I feel the hogwash rinse away, and the snappy lines blossom forth.

I’d brought Dawson along too. Dawson is into holistic healing and Sunny has some joint issues, so I thought they could talk thru that. Introductions. Kiss, kiss. Dawson and I smoosh into chairs around the small round table, bumping, like usual, into 4 others as we get shifted and comfy. Sunny is telling Dawson that “Thank god that couple at the next table finally left, both smoking like chimneys. The French haven’t gotten the message about lung cancer, have they?” She eyes two girls smoking up a storm, but a few tables down. Everyone else have their faces raised up to the sky. Just a little warmth, please.

“By the way, Sunny,” I say, “you’re gorgeous in those loafers.” She waves her hand, dismissing me, her gold bracelets jangle. At 80, she knows what’s what. After we’ve caught up for a minute and Dawson has suggested some herbs and soaks and some guru masseuse in the Marais, I tell them about the concert. “Last night we saw Father John Misty at the Alhambra and he’s amazing.” I pause for effect.  Sunny is right with me, “Darling, you never told me you were Catholic.” She looks a bit put out. “No, no,” I laugh, “not that kind of Father, he’s this singer. But he’s got this presence…” I paint the picture. Sunny smiles. Father John’s sounding right up her alley. “Next time,” she says, “call me.”

He’s in Berlin tomorrow night, I tell them. I’d gotten kinda carried away scoping out his tour schedule, listening to his albums all day. “I mean, we could grab a train.” I let the idea float and for a free-floating minute, I do believe that Sunny considers it.

 

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Find a Bridge.

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You know how you sometimes picture a thing in your head, but when you get there, it’s entirely different. When the long weekend rolled around, Andrew was still swamped with work and couldn’t come out to the country with us, the Saturday morning train out was packed with people, we had to sit on our suitcases. In Vernon, where we got off the train, there were no taxis. While we waited for a taxi in the cafe adjacent the station, a waiter served us hot chocolate, his long yellow fingernails tapping disconcertingly against the white porcelain cups. It felt a bit like one of those persnickety British children’s films when things start off wrong and there’s an unruly cast of characters.

Once we had our rental car and a map, (no gps available) I turned right. An hour later, wishing I’d turned left, we found ourselves on a peninsula, marshland, deer, but no landmarks in sight. Finally, we arrived at a resort, and there were golfers in sight. I jumped out of the car with my large map but as they gazed at it, they shook their heads. It was a tricky area to navigate and they admitted they only knew how to get home from where we were. All they could tell us was, “Where you want to be is across the river. Get across the river and you’ll be fine. There’ll be signs once you’re there.”

Sure enough, it appeared we had been on the wrong side of the river, where things were topsy-turvy. Once we found the bridge, and got to the other side, things and events straightened up.

The next day found us finishing lunch under the trees in the garden of the Hotel Baudy with friends who’d driven from Paris out to Giverny where we were staying in an old monastery. After lunch, we’d gotten directions to a path for a walk along the hills above the village. We all needed to stretch our legs. Someone said let’s race, the younger kids sprinted up with ease, their feet like wings, breezing thru daisies and buttercups.  At the crest, we looked out over the view. We were lucky with the day. Blue sky. White puffy clouds. There were red poppies dotting the high grasses, like in the painting, “Poppy Field” at the Musee d’Orsay. We’d even once bought the fridge magnet.

The path kept to the top of the grassy hill, thick thorny bushes creating low arbors on each side, then clearings looking down onto the valley and the Seine river below. Here and there people sat on stools, easels set up, sketching on canvases. In the middle of a high meadow, a large group formed a circle. Talking about art, yoga, who knew these days, maybe internet detox. We passed them un-regarded and eventually headed back down to the crowds milling through the village. We’d already been to the gardens that morning, filed along for a turn to make pictures on the footbridge in the Japanese area. We had sat for a moment facing the pond, the weeping willows, reflections of the clouds in the water.

Monet painted about 250 oil paintings of this pond and water lilies. The paintings are in collections around the world. It is said he “didn’t like organized or constrained gardens. He planted flowers according to their colors, and left them to grow freely.” Maybe it is this unrestrained quality that attracts people to his work. A sense of the wild natural world as it is, moving in color and light that with a blink of the eye disappears. The crowds are growing so we get up to leave, but my thoughts trail to the famous painter sitting and looking at this same pond years ago, toiling in a paint smock day after day to recreate what he saw. I would probably look at his paintings differently when next I saw them. I wondered if the girls would feel the same. A slight connection.

After we got back down to the village with our friends, we decided to head out to Roche-Guyon, which was only a few minutes away, have some dessert there and tour the castle. We were walking back to our car and going down a side street when we ran into a crowd of people barring our way. “Why are you waiting?” people were asking and shuffling to try to get past. “Is this a line waiting to leave?” I ask incredulously. Someone answered that it was. A huge crowd waiting to leave didn’t really make sense. “Are you on a bus?” This might explain it. Yes. On a bus. Yes. That must be it. I grabbed the kids hands and followed a man and a lady who were working their way through the crowd, despite complaints. “Hey, who do you think you are?” thundered a man who had to be George from Seinfeld’s Uncle. Definitely from somewhere near New Jersey. We ignored him. He kept up a loud call, “What’s the big idea. Where do you think you’re going. Where are those people going?”

Sure enough, the bus crowd had been blocking the lane. We got through and out to the end of the lane, laughing and imitating Mr. New Jersey.  Obviously, the bus crowd hadn’t realized their mistake.

Zoe said, “It’s just an acronym for the human condition.” I think you mean analogy, I said. Oh, yeah, right. “It’s just an analogy of the human condition. Everyone is afraid to question until that one person breaks the conformity of the crowd and realizes they can.”  On the ride back through the fields by the river, we laughed again at the situation. See girls, I said. That was a perfect example. Just because someone says it is so, doesn’t mean it is so. Check for yourselves. Look at the situation. Take your own assessment. Approach most things with a healthy dose of skepticism. You know how people are. We all nodded our heads and looked out at the scenery.

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Confess the Dress.

A few weeks ago, in early April, my new 25 year-old friend Rachel and I back and forth-ed a bunch of girly talk texts. We’d met at a soiree one night at some Americans’ house in the stately 16th arrondissement, around Victor Hugo, where that modern-ish fountain spurts water up to the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, if you’re standing at a certain spot, or aiming for the cafes around the leafy circle. But, as I was saying, we’d met at this party. I don’t’ remember how. There were a bunch of us there in those big rooms with the thick carpets and drapes, dining tables full of food and drinks.

Maybe I’d heard her laugh, or heard her telling a story the way she does, scoffing rifts delivered with a straight face. Maybe she’d seen me gesticulating with my hands like I do when I talk, and thought, “Now, there’s someone different.” Or was it simply that we were all making the rounds. Asking those same first questions you ask at parties in Paris, “Why are you here?” “How long are you here for?” It’s like there is a script that everyone follows. But really, it’s just that the city is such a presence in itself. We all want to know what our relation to it is.

Everyone has a different story, even if the stories sometimes mesh together so that when you run into those same people later shopping in rue Passy, you can’t remember if they’re the Dutch diplomats, the women whose husband died suddenly so she packed it up for Paris with 4 kids!, or the people who hold a patent on some salt extraction process. Stories that sound unbelievable anywhere else, start to sound reasonable here. It’s crazy.

Whatever it was, Rachel and I must have decided we liked each others shtick. After the Weinstein’s party, we started to hang out here and there. She knew Andrew. She met the kids, had some pizza with us one night, startled the girls with her madcap silliness playing charades. I kept tabs on her love life. She kept tabs on our family holidays. And in the spring we both decided we’d go to one of the big galas in town. Get all fancy. Andrew agreed to go. (He looks fab gussied up) She was going alone. On Tuesday, she buzzed.

Rach:  I have nothing gala-ish to wear.

Me:  Me either.

Rach:  Ok. Let’s wear sweatpants.

Me:  Haha. I don’t need convincing. But off to walk the dog. Text later.

This Paris life had turned out to not be so bad. We’d been sheltered from the worst of it, so far. We were constantly meeting people of all ages, from everywhere. But we’d settled into some real friendships too. And then there was the grandeur of the city as a backdrop that never lifted, only our focus shifted as the daily ups and downs played out. It could be beautifully bleak, it could feel like the grandest most coldest-hearted place in the world on a day when you’d been shoved on the metro, or cold stared by scary international spy types, but the point was, even then, it was terribly beautiful. I mean, we all got tired of the rush of the city, but we were infatuated, at least I was. Terribly infatuated. And I knew I could be obnoxious about it.

By the time, we’d started to go to these parties, we had begun to feel at home. We’d resigned ourselves, more or less, to the highs and lows of the lifestyle. It had been good to meet younger and older friends. For so long, we’d seen mostly our own age. Our own league. It was fun to have 20 year-old friends, 80 year-old friends, friends who played jazz on bridges for tips, friends who were famous and rich, all the in-betweens. Andrew and I both got a kick out of Rachel and we looked forward to the Gala, looked forward to hearing the drama of her twenty something life. I texted her later.

Me:  I have dresses but I think they’re too short now.

Rach:  Why’s that?

Me:  They look too short. Maybe they don’t fit.

Rach: You look good in everything. Everything I own is covered in cat hair.

Me: That’s a style. Dog hair covered stuff, with rips – you pay top dollar for that. Plus, you’re young. You don’t even have to try.

We were both despairing. As the date drew near, the weather had not improved. A few times while out I’d wandered into a few boutiques, but it was cold and raining, so I’d never tried anything on. Besides, I’d decided it was better not to spend the money on a dress, as we were leaving for another holiday soon. I’d considered vintage, but hadn’t bothered to find a shop. Andrew had been working around the clock, the girls were being grouchy after school. A fancy dress just wasn’t the mood, but I didn’t want to be embarrassing in something dowdy.

Me:  Took a look thru closet. Discovered serious lack of dresses.

Rach:  I’m going naked.

Me:  Naked a good idea plus benefit of being inexpensive.

Rach:  What if it’s raining.

Me:  We live in Paris. It’s always raining.

Of course, we had a great time. It was a party, after all. There was good food. A really nice dinner, as much champagne as you wanted. Across the Seine, the Eiffel tower twinkling outside the windows. Over my dark dress, I wore a long black coat I had bought at Agnes B. last winter. I piled my hair on top of my head, and had at it.

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Straight off.

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Arriving into St. Pancreas station in London, we immediately commented on how clean things seemed, not the seedy steamy Gare du Nord we’d left over the channel. This was bright, there were snazzy shops; and to top it all, we spied a WHSmith, the bookstore chain, ga ga’d over the selection, queued to pay, and gorged on English magazines that didn’t cost a fortune in euros. Clipped English voices, we gorged on those too. French has a certain exactness, but English is musical, and when it’s your mother tongue, it’s as musical as can be.

Sometimes, you’re starved for a small taste of your own culture, and we’d chosen to come over to the U.K. to immerse ourselves in the green landscape, no doubt, but we were also looking forward to shooting the breeze jawing the local jive talk. On the train from London west to Hereford, two blokes sat behind us, talking for 2 choice hours about families, funerals, stuff like that. They said things like, “She’s got some sense, but he’s a bit common.” “My brother is a knob, he doesn’t agree with anything and he won’t talk to Father Michael.” Meanwhile a large lady across from them in a bright red sweater with very blond hair carefully unwrapped her breakfast buns and placed them on a decorative plate. In Slough, a man with very wavy hair, round wire-rimmed glasses, beak nose, narrow chin, wearing a mustard tweed jacket, with a red kerchief he put to his running nose boarded the train and walked to the middle of the coach. He got off at Oxford, clearly, a 60 year old Harry P.

Hay on Wye, Wales, is a small village of 1,500 people and 26 bookstores. Yep! Books galore and people to talk about them with. It sits on the River Wye surrounded by green hills dotted with sheep. A guy named Richard Booth, who was born there, educated at Oxford, returned home, got an inheritance from an Uncle that allowed him to open a bookstore and to start this book ‘movement’ to support his rural economy. We explored the nooks and crannies of many of the bookstores, but Booths Books is special –  a good vibe there with the deep cushioned chairs, high windows that look out to hills in the distance, polished wood. And a cafe that offers a mean chai latte.

Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, wrote some of his best work around here, walking the Wye River Valley. Lines that I could quote in my 20’s, that spoke of nature as having no ‘slight or trivial influence on the best portion of a good man’s life’ essentially attributing to nature – the power to deeply restore and balance, to inspire and hold truth. Beautiful stuff well thought out. We were granted long chats with various local folks sharing stories of Wales, its land, the sheep, its economy. We ran into the same people again. We walked into a deep green glade of daffodils behind the Dingle church. A local told us about the footpath behind that we could follow up Cusop hill. The sheep hardly raised their heads from the meadow grass as we passed.

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Walks in Wales.

 

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The Grainery is full of people and because I’m tired having been up since 6am in Paris to catch the early Eurostar to London, then another train west, to Wales, I am not sure where we even are, but I pack us into the eatery scanning for available seats. We brush past a crowd standing in the doorway; they smile and apologize. But, we were the ones who …  hmmm. Everyone is so nice. Maybe it’s the bright blue sky, the warm sun, which is unexpected. Days before our departure, I’d gone out and bought wellies for us all, this area the wettest in the U.K. We flop down in seats and I look around. Bright white walls, black and white stenciled bicycle graphics, coolness-factor alert. Patrons still smiling, all pink-cheeked, glowy, like they’ve been out walking in morning meadows, afterwards tucking into scones and cream. I’m just happy we didn’t miss our trains and we seem to have managed to get here with all our bags.

For the Spring holiday, we’ve decided to go walking in Wales. And from what we’ve seen so far, we’ve apparently arrived into a land well-nourished. Our lunch arrives, big plates of quiche, salad, soup following up with chocolate bars. Our village sits in the Wye River Valley, surrounded by meadow-land where sheep graze as far as the eye can see. Really, we can’t get over how many sheep there are. Everywhere you look, bits of white fluff. (which of course, reminds us of the great white thing back in Paris. (Skye, our dog, a.k.a. Sheep!)) The meadows rise up toward hedge-rowed hills, so that from afar, the land looks like a soft undulating green quilted blanket. So cozy, it makes me yawn writing this. Oh yeah, and signs are in Welsh, which is an old language that has a lot of undulating vowels…

A variety of walks leave from the village square so we’ve got our choice. The first morning, the girls are up at an unusual hour, and to my surprise, wake me, asking for breakfast. I figure out the oven and toast the homemade sourdough we got before the store closed last night. Also, local butter, local jam. Since the path to the river is just outside our door, it’s our first choice to get familiar with the town and the lay of the ole land. It’s chilly out and the path is muddy in places. We run into people in wellies, sure enough, and wool sweaters over baggy pants, sodden dogs. We’re in our sneakers, but don’t want to go back and change, as it’s sunny after all. We follow signposts thru field after field, thru gates at the hedge-rows, until finally they complain that we turn around. We trail back to the river, down to a pebbled beach, where we’re all happy enough to skip some stones for a while. It’s a great mindless (or maybe mind-full?) kind of activity. Communing with nature by throwing stones in water. The girls are determined to get the hang of it. They do.

Check in next week for more sheep starring in Walks in Wales.

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