Friday, November 29, 2013


My heart has swelled like a balloon with humbleness. That may sound like an oxymoron but it is how I feel. For I wish to extend my sincere thanks for all of the extremely kind compliments, encouragements and support both in recent emails as well as in comments here. There is still a tiny bit of room left on the table for talk of gratitude, isn't there? I appreciate it more than you know. 

I have said it many times before but it is not a straight line to walk in this expat life. It zigs, it zags, it disappears entirely out from under your tapping feet from time to time. Good then to have others, even in the shadows, hovering with a piece of chalk in hand to sketch a few possible forthcoming steps. One, two, cha-cha-cha.

I thought that this article by Pamela Druckerman in the New York Times did a fine job of capturing the con-man charming conflict that can rise up within even the most well-intentioned of folks living over-seas and while it is written specifically from "an American abroad at Thanksgiving" point of view, I have a notion that it might apply to all of we "lost and found" types. You can find it by clicking here. 

I was also quite moved today while listening to the exceptional Krista Tippett's On Being podcast. This particular interview is with Eve Ensler, a playwright and social activist who is most widely known for "The Vagina Monologues," a piece that has helped bring awareness about violence to women and girls globally. However, the subject of this podcast is "A second wind in life: Eve Ensler on inhabiting the body after cancer" and it is just as ground-breaking in its perspective towards what is also considered a taboo topic in many societies. For anyone struggling with cancer (or their friends and family members), I cannot recommend it highly enough. But they touch on other ideas that make it worth a listen for the rest of us, such as how our past experiences can take up residence in our body and a gorgeous section on the Nature of Love. You can find the podcast by clicking here.

Which brings me back to where I started. For love is all around, n'est ce pas? In all sorts of different forms and sizes so much that we can miss the forest for the trees because we are too busy searching for  a Redwood. 

"I believe in you." It is as simple as that and one of my favorite sentiments. I'll try to remember, then let that balloon go and watch it rise and rise...


Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Skipping towards Christmas in the snow

I know that many of you are in the midst of preparing for Thanksgiving in the States right now but this morning I awoke with an entirely different holiday in mind. 

When I opened the shutters, I cried out with a childlike delight "It's snowing!"--one that for me is whisperingly linked with the spirit of Christmas.

Yes, a surprise gift had been left overnight on my doorstep. So, I bundled up in my finest, leashed up the puppers and headed out to explore.

It is the first time that I have walked Kipling in the snow and I was curious to see what his reaction would be.

He loved every minute of it, eating the snow and daring Ben to rounds of mad zoomies that I couldn't photograph as I was gripping his leash with both hands!

But there was also stillness curled up within the movement.

I would look up to find Ben quietly watching the flakes fall. As intelligent as he is (and he truly is), he never knows what to make of snow.

Nor do I really. I never take it for granted in Provence...

...its comings and goings...

...the ephemeral draped over the historical so casually... time's open palm, hesitating before pushing open the front door...

...of what feels like Home.

And since I am not with my extended family for tomorrow's feast, I will be grateful for my own little one.

Because every day is worth that. Everyday has exceptional in it.

So, for those of you to whom it applies, please try not to worry about the turkey any more than necessary nor the fanciness of this years particular blend of cranberry sauce. It isn't really what matters. Just enjoy the act of giving thanks. And for the rest of us, well, why not too? Simply for breathing in and out or the quiet thought that while we may be far from certain ones, we most certainly are not alone. 

Put that thought under your tree and skip towards Christmas with me...

And oh! I just realized that today is the beginning of Hanukkah so my very Best all who are celebrating that as well. My goodness, it is Holiday Central here at Lost in Arles, isn't it? Well, we are a festive bunch.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The abandoned cemetery, eternal regrets

Love lasts long.

I held that in my heart as I walked amongst the graves of the abandoned cemetery. Even if those that had commissioned these tokens of farewell had also passed many years since, their thoughts remain behind, declaring their "eternal regrets" over the loss of their loved ones.

It is a form of regret that expands reaching forward, never fading away.

It is something I will take away from that hour of being so humbled.

Love lasts long.

How important then, to give it now and freely.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The abandoned cemetery

"Do you think it is ok?" I turned to Remi, hesitating. "I don't know, it is Toussaint..." "Oh, don't worry," he responded reassuringly. "By the looks of things, they will be happy to have a visitor or two."

Toussaint, or All Saint's Day is a serious affair in France. There is nothing of little ghouls begging for candy, no. Instead, families come together to remember and respect. We were on our way to a tiny village outside of Chablis to take flowers to the graves of some of Remi's family when he glimpsed something surprising through the rain and pulled the car over swiftly to a stop.

An abandoned cemetery. The gate was unlocked. A path of grass had been cut back for the occasion but the tombs...the graves...I had never seen anything like it. Nor had Remi. "And we never will again," he added.

Waves of emotion rolled over me as I carefully threaded my way through this forgotten world. My hands trembled. But Remi had been right. I did feel welcomed and not haunted at all but rather deeply moved.

So many lives, so many stories.

There will be one more post in this series. I realize that they are not everyone's cup of tea, that this is a complex subject. And yet it felt important for me to share...especially today when mourning is on many of our minds. By all means, feel free to come back later next week...
With my Best from Arles, Heather

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An almost in Arles, the attic renovation project

Kids, it is official as delivered by un huissier de justice this morning, we are getting kicked out.

Now, we have known that there was a "situation" at hand for some months. The owners, who had inherited the building from their Great-Aunt, had decided to put it up for sale. 

When we first moved in, two and a half years ago, the apartment was in dreadful shape. Truly. But we believed in its potential from the get go and so decided to put some work into renovating it, despite it only being a rental. For many of you, this is a new story so if you would like to see or rediscover the "transformation" please take a look here:

And while the final product really suits us, there are several aspects of life in this building that truly do not, namely the ever present street noise and the lack of an exterior space (for honestly, what is the point in living in Provence if you don't have the sun?). For those reasons, we had no interest in making an offer on this apartment. However, the grenier or attic, now that is another story entirely...

What an incredible opportunity. Yes, even though the space hadn't been inhabited since the last World War. Would you like to explore it? We spent many hours in the planning. Très bien, on y va...

The attic occupies the final floor of this 17th century hôtel particulier. The entry for the apartment would start on the landing above what is now our apartment. The stairway is filled with light and gorgeous ironwork.

At the top of the stairs are several options. To the left, if we enter the doorway, we come into what could be a very large open kitchen and living room area.

Ah, I warned you that it hadn't been inhabited for quite some time now, didn't I? So the important news is that the roof has already been redone and done well. Now, take down the pigeon-poop-covered partition and open up the window upper left, that leaves four windows for this half of the space. A fireplace would be inserted in the middle of the far wall.

Looking back from that far wall, there is another partition to be taken down on the left, where the kitchen counters, including a sink below the additional window, would be. Note the gorgeous stone that just needs to be sanded down and treated to a lime wash--it can be found throughout the attic. The beams would be painted an off-white. There are two rooms leading off of this main room.

To the left is my chou-chou or favorite. A small room that would be our petite salon for reading and watching movies. There is a window to be opened up on the far wall and my desk would have been under the window on the left with a gorgeous view over the roofs of Arles. And yes, those are original 17th century tiles and they could be outstandingly beautiful with proper cleaning and treatment.

The other room would be Remi's office. Note the fake ceiling in both of these rooms. All of that would be taken down to reveal as high of a ceiling line as in the living room. The tiles are perhaps slightly later maybe 18th century and would also be restored.

This is looking back from the office. I couldn't resist to include it because of the patina.

Back out in the hall, the entrance to the bathroom (not seen) is to the right through an original door that is amazing and there are also ancient tiles too. Directly in front is the entry to the bedroom. And yes, that is our old club and we know that it needs restoring!

Now, can you see the foot high pile of bird poop? I never said that this was an easy project! That partition would also come down and a dressing area would be installed on the wall lining the staircase that leads up to...

...the terrace! Ta-da! 

It is a huge space for the center of Arles with nearly 360° views over the city, including the Rhone (you might be able to make out a swath of blue in the upper left corner below)... well the towers of the town hall and the St. Trophime Cathedrale. 

Remi and I snuck up here for many a sunset with glasses of rosé that reflected the sky in hand. Despite being in the heart of town, it is amazingly peaceful.

So what happened?

We found an excellent mason who understood exactly what we wanted to do and came up with an estimate that fell within our budget. The crazy DJ/hair-salon owner was eager to buy his space on the ground floor, the owners of the Cuisine de Comptoir were ready to buy the first floor (with amazing gilded plasterwork) and we knew that they would easily be able to find a buyer for our rental once we promised to leave it. Prices were discussed, everything seemed to be in order and then...

...the heretofore silent Brother of the owners in London decided that he wanted the building after all and bought his Sister's out. 
*insert sound of air leaking out of a deflating ballon here*

So much for that particular dream. One that was months in the making.

But we have until the end of June 2014 before our lease runs out and there are some things that we need to wait to hear on before we can make any solid decision. So we most likely won't be going anywhere soon. And having moved twice in the past five years, we really want to take our time to find what is right for us where we are now. The country perhaps? 

A new adventure lies ahead...

Many thanks to my honey for all of the photos save for the first, taken by me, rather wistfully, earlier today.