Friday, February 27, 2015

The possibilities of Provence

There are two houses in this village that fascinate me in their state of disuse.

One, my favorite, is definitely abandoned and I find it baffling as it exudes a distinctly happy air.

I can clearly see the laundry being put out to dry on the window's line, I can smell something sweet baking in the oven...even if they are just phantom memories, not my own.

And the other? Well, I am not so certain. While the many scales of paint date to a more recent era, it somehow seems far less lively than its counterpart. I have never heard the front door slam nor seen a light left burning to brighten up the night. But perhaps it is inhabited, only very quietly so. The oldest resident in the village is 105 years old and his home also seems quite subdued despite the thin trail of smoke rising from the chimney. Regardless, I always want to sling my arm around the proverbial shoulders of these houses if only I could.

For I find them quite beautiful, ragged tooth gaps and all. 

I can feel the stares on my back from my fellow villagers as I lean in close to put their details into my lens. Their confusion as to why I would choose such forlorn ministers to study amidst other proud ambassadors is practically noisy. "Why isn't she photographing 'Le Chateau'?" I lean in closer and keep coming back.


The sun is setting and I have just brought the dogs back in from their walk. But I head back out towards the closest house, the abandoned one, to try and answer that question. A window on the top floor is open to all seasons and the iron horseshoe above the door is hanging the wrong way down. And yet...there are possibilities within this house and the other as well. I think that is as good of an answer as I can define. For me, there is more of the essence of this heart-achingly beautiful region amidst their histories than what any self-conscious mansion could provide. With its rough-shod and yet enduring charm, how I love the possibilities of Provence.


And we all need possibilities, yes? I have mentioned the amazing Ellie from Have Some Decorum before and it delights me that so many of you now read her regularly. Ellie has ALS and recently asked if we would be willing to sign a petition asking the FDA in the States to approve a new treatment for the disease on an accelerated basis. If you would care to sign the petition, you may do so: here.

Have a wonderful weekend...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Modern mix in Montpellier

Politicians tend to run with the money when they have it, to make the most of an already good thing. So it was in Arles (or Arelate as it was then known) when it became the first Roman colony in Gaul - up went the Antique Theatre, the Forum, the Arena, the Circus lickety-split to make use of new found money from Rome so that the town would be as attractive as possible to those considering moving westwards past a new frontier.

One could also say that when Georges Frêche was elected as mayor of Montpellier in 1977, he saw a similar opportunity for his rapidly expanding city. 

During his 27 year term, he pushed Montpellier into ever-extending growth, one that would move the city from the 25th largest in France to the 8th in less than 30 years.

And while he certainly is still considered a controversial figure in the region, even after his death in 2010, he undeniably solidified Montpellier's status as both a center for universities and the telecommunications industry (IBM has had an office here since 1965). 

Entire neighborhoods have been created from scratch, radiating out from the historic center in concentric circles. To skip the infamous snarls of the city's traffic, we always park on the Lez River and walk through the Antigone neighborhood, which was designed in the neoclassical manner (one of Montpellier's slogans was "the Rome of Tomorrow") by Barcelona architect Ricardo Bofill in 1979.

But our ambling nearly always takes us to the Place de la Comédie, whether it is our destination or not. This gorgeous square was called L'Ouef or the Egg due to its shape in the 18th century and is now framed with gorgeous 19th century cream-puff Haussmanian style buildings as well as a miniature version of the Garnier Opera House in Paris. The Place is the heart of this vibrant city.

At least The Three Graces think so and they have been swanning in their glory on top of this fountain since 1796.

Cafés line the Place and even on a mid-February day, every table is taken. The people-watching, as you might imagine, is fantastic. 

After having spent so much of my adult life in big cities, I loved seeing the cosmopolitan mix of the population out enjoying the day...

...and the architecture isn't too shabby either...

On such a glorious all made my heart take flight...

...most certainly while watching the children run around me in circles (literally) on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. 

While this promenade was first constructed after the siege of 1622 when the city's fortified walls were beaten down by Louis XIII, it became a favorite spot for strolling in the 18th century when plantain trees were planted all along its length to give shade during this Mediterranean towns stifling summer days. 

I don't know Montpellier as well as I do say, Aix-en-Provence or Avignon so happily there are still many hidden paths to explore...

...but each time that I visit, I can't help but admire its myriad textures...

and various perspectives...

...which, while often striking on the monumental...

...are finally geared towards making city life here livable and enjoyable. As we walked we came across so many open areas that were filled with families and adolescents laughing and at ease as there was space enough for everyone...

...Eh oui, except for the les étudiants, who were packed like sardines into the main library. Yes, even on a Sunday. You see, the first school of medicine here was formed in 1220 and certain traditions demand respect...

...well, except from the young lovers who were sprawled out on the lawn in an embrace. They had other priorities and were right to make the most of a tempting pre-spring day, one so bright that I couldn't quite capture its blue blending against the golden stones (both new and old) correctly. But I had to try even if the exposure on my camera wasn't set properly! And so when these particular two, full of joy and bravado, caught me focusing my lens in their direction, they yelled out "Coucou" or "Hi there!" with a wave and then fell onto each other laughing. I gave a little curtsy of Merci and walked away smiling, zinging with the vibrant energy from the old and new cocktail that is and hopefully will continue to be the wonderful city of Montpellier. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Leaning into the season

The web of my dreams held me pinned to the bed. With eyes blinking in the dim light sliding beneath the closed shutters, I replayed them, films fluttering. What is it that my mind has been trying to work out? Each night my dreams have been especially long and detailed and I find a thread through of a dose of glamour in them and know that I must be missing that in my vie quotidienne. A bit of something bigger than my daily life. And so I am late in rising and cursing myself for it when the bell rings repeatedly and urgently at the front gate. I throw on some rain boots along with a jacket over my shoulders and open it to meet an agriculteur who is going from house to house selling en gros or stock portions of homegrown potatoes, apples and carrots still covered in mud. He keeps repeating that the potatoes will last until June and that the apples are delicious. I ask him to wait and run back into the house to grab a ten Euro bill. When I return to his truck, demanding eagerly what can I get for that amount as it is all that I have in the house, he replies, "Rien" and turns his back on me abruptly to start knocking loudly on the next door. 

Luckily, the dogs understand that for once the morning walk will be for me. I stride fast and long to release the anger bubbling after that snub until I reach the area that I call the Pines. They whisper to me, "Shhh, shhh." I stand still until I hear it. On the way back, I am cheered by the sight of Mr. Heron, who has earned his title as he is by far the largest and proudest of the birds in the neighborhood. Upon seeing Kipling, the barking rascal, he takes flight with throaty dinosaur clicks but I take it as a sign of good luck as I always do, a coin to put in my pocket.

But it is upon climbing back up to the first floor to finally make the bed that I am given the gift, one that stops me in my tracks. For there on the landing, on the branches of the small Japanese maple that we had brought inside too late and feared for dead...are several pale pink leaves...that have sprung up overnight. "They really weren't there yesterday," I keep reassuring myself but yet here they are. Here they are. I call out to Remi, "Do you want to see something amazing?" He walks towards me with a blink of surprise as to what that word could describe but when he sees, he smiles. 

I have been thinking about the importance of the seasons as of late, especially after having finished reading the very fine "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. It is a non-fiction book in which she describes the choice that her family makes to eat only locally for one year and largely from the produce and poultry that they harvest themselves. It is an effort both harder and easier than what we might imagine, especially as, similar to the art of waiting, many of us have simply forgotten what it is like to do so, not to mention how dearly it costs the planet - economically, geopolitically and culturally - to buy those out of season foods that have to be flown in from so far away. Remi and I have been making a greater effort to buy locally for some time now but it is interesting to think about eating seasonally as well for our bodies know what we need when, instinctively, if we only listen.

And that also goes for our inner world, including the need for extra sleep and dreams. I don't often mention my depression here as it is something that I have lived with and manage since a very long time but it is always at this exact time of year that it slides with the precision of a clock into something a level deeper. That too is to be heard, acknowledged and even respected. There is a time for everything, we all have our seasons within us and yet we often live so mindlessly globally in our current society that we glide somewhere up in the skies of 'all the time and everywhere'. I say that even while nodding knowingly towards my friends in the Southern Hemisphere who are gearing up for the end of summer. My posts have become more verbal and less visual than usual (not to everyone's tastes, I know) as I prepare for the action that is coming soon. For here we are in mid-February and already, we have a bit of spring reaching towards us tenderly through the bare bones of winters remains. And that strikes me as quite honest, somehow. May those baby branches continue to grow...

Friday, February 13, 2015

To wait

"Bon-jooour..." It is the trilly sing-song I let out whenever I enter a boutique, up an octave from how I normally speak and nearly a parody of a hello. It is a learned habit, this greeting and so that is what I do. Upon entering my doctor's office for a routine check-up, I lower my voice to a near whisper but still, I trill, in recognition of my fellow patients as it would be a sign of poor manners not to. This morning, the minuscule waiting room is surprisingly packed with only one seat available. I slide into it and that too is done nearly as a pantomime, a little bent over bow that implies, "Of course I will get up if anyone needs this chair more that I do." It won't turn out to be the case.

My eyes flit quickly around the room and then, as the good former Manhattanite that I am, I take out my phone to busy myself. Shield up. I don't know anyone here so there is little risk in being caught up in a knit of Provençal gossip that doesn't interest me. But still, my thumb slides and my pinky taps until I realize that no, there really isn't any internet connection amidst the thick stone walls of my doctor's 17th century hôtel particulier. I slide my phone back into my purse and try not to mentally redecorate the clash of the yellow and blue flowery wallpaper above the gray and red floor tiles, as I am always want to do.

Across from me to the left, a businessman shifts his weight uncomfortably as he tries to balance a laptop on his knees. He coughs repeatedly into his fist and it sounds like the crumble of dry chalk. Across from me to the right, a Mother tilts her head towards her son, thirteen-ish, who is perched next to her with his fingers interlaced between his knees. At her touch, surprisingly, he doesn't jerk away in adolescent discomfort but leans into her and they begin a conversation at a near rapid fire pace. While unable to discern their words, I can tell that the Mother is British (it flits through my mind to present myself as Anglophones are rare in Arles but I don't want to interrupt) and that the two are life-saver close. The boy looks slightly embarrassed each time that the same chalky cough escapes unwillingly from his lips.

To my immediate left is another boy, slightly younger than the other, sitting across the room from someone he treats too disrespectfully to be his Mother (this is France after all). Feet swaying, he fidgets in his "adult" chair, pulling at his lower lip constantly, snapping it like a rubber-band. After the other boy has been swooped into the doctor's office, he starts to hum loudly, tentatively laying his claim as King of the Waiting Room and then burps out something like a rap, a reprise of a song to which he has never understood the words, one that is punctuated from time to time with the cough. Giving up, he grabs a pocket video game and starts punching at the screen with fixed intention, his face skewed tight. His "aunt" (let's call her that) straightens the newspaper that covers her face with a thwack.

And where am I in the midst of this staccato symphony? Of course my hand immediately reaches out to the well-worn pile of Figaro Madame and Paris-Match magazines next to me even though I know they don't interest me; fingers flipping, flipping only to pause at one spectacular photograph of a pair of ballet dancers on the roof of the Opera Garnier in Paris, the woman lifted in an arabesque and seeming to soar over Paris. But even that, the beautiful impossibility of it, guides my hand to discard the magazine in one direction as my head turns away to the other with something between a sniff and sigh.

What if...I wonder...what if I just...waited? Like we used to do. Do I even remember how? I fold my legs, one over the other in a slightly posed posture and try to settle in. Patience, patience...has never been one of my strong qualities. I want to blame my redheadedness but that isn't quite honest either. So I try to be quiet and soon I can feel my bones drop down a little, soon I can hear my breathing. Eventually, my gaze softens and I feel almost invisible. How ironic that just waiting, this rarity that we try to avoid at all costs, could become something like meditation. That certainly hadn't been my goal. And yet "Nowhere to be, nothing to do" used to be a precious reward...or at least one that our parents, no, our grandparents thought worthy.

It is forty minutes later when my kind Doctor's arm swoop stops at me. I gaze at her and rise to follow as if awaking from a short sleep. "I see you have du monde today," I offer up with a tilt of sympathy as we step into her office. "Ah yes, there is an épidémie de grippe, " she explains while closing the door behind us, while outside the muffled symphony plays on.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

House to Home - thoughts on decorating from France

To my professional interior design and decorating friends...please feel free to step away from the screen now. No hard feelings! Bisous! 

For you see, today, I am going to talk a little bit about my thoughts on decorating for this month's "By Invitation Only" post. Now, you may be thinking, "Wait, Heather, who do you think you are?" And you would be right. It is why I almost didn't write this but yet I kept finding myself musing on the subject over the past two weeks as it is one I adore. I am admittedly not even close to being an expert and will try to keep dictums like "Overhead lighting is not your friend (unless it is a chandelier, in which case it better be candlelight or on a dimmer" to a bare minimum despite being tempted to do so. hehe No, just a few thoughts, actually quite a few, so grab your beverage of choice we go.

My Mom took me to the Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Chicago Art Institute when I was about ten or so. You could practically hear the hinges of a big door opening in my head and heart. Since then, I have seen design as an important form of creativity and self-expression (at 15, I made something of an installation out of artfully crumpled moving paper in my bedroom). Perhaps it is because I moved around so much as a child but as an adult I have always attached a big importance into making each space where I have lived into a home (this has gone so far as to include decorating the insides of tents during expeditions). In Remi, I have found a perfect partner in crime. Thankfully, we have pretty much exactly the same taste and rarely, if ever, argue. We both are good at certain things (me: floor plans and color schemes, Remi: brilliant details and thinking outside the box) and enjoy, immensely, taking care of and refining the many places that we have lived together.

And while we are both still learning, there are a few ideas that have been our through line for how to make a home...from a layman's point of view.

Think about how you want to live

This is the most important lesson that I have learned since living in France. Remi and I demand a lot from our home because, as we both live and work here, each space is important and nothing can be wasted. We both have strong personalities (a-hem) and so it is great if we each have our own places to "be." Not only do we need a considerable space that can work as a real atelier/office for Remi, I have to be able to carve out a corner for me as well. So while my initial instinct in our current house was to have our bedroom in the massive room with a mezzanine because it would be "oh so dramatic" that was ridiculous, it was meant for Remi. We are actually now in the smallest bedroom in the house which feels meant to be. As this move was all about a search for peace, we have kept that room as monacale as possible. And we have never slept so well...just sayin' to all of you "tv in the cabinet at the foot of the bed" people... ;)

Our social life has shifted too, especially since moving to the country. Yes, we cook everyday so we want a kitchen that is functional (even when it was the size of a closet). But we aren't as interested in the big dinners that we used to throw, if anything we love to have friends over for a bbq whenever possible - certainly now that we have such a beautiful courtyard, it is just where everyone naturally wants to be. So, why have a formal dining room, even if there is a room that was clearly meant to be that? Especially as it has the only working fireplace? In winter, we like to watch a movie nearly every night, so the dining room became le petit salon and we love it. And there is still the bigger living area for when we have company. I have to give Remi credit for that one and he was right. On the flip side of this idea, if you have a large family and are distraught that no one eats together anymore, then don't install a huge and ubiquitous island in the kitchen (rare in France) that is all too perfect for "perch, snack, then run." A good table can also bring people together. It just depends on what works for you.

Something else to consider: where do you live and how is that relevant to the ways that you inhabit your interior and exterior spaces? How we like to live now is the polar opposite of how we did in goodbye (most of the) Art Deco and hello dog-friendly linen covered sofas!

Listen to your house...and to your heart

I have been really, really fortunate in that I have grown up living pretty much exclusively in old houses (and there will be more about one of them soon) - something that was quite unusual in the States at the time. Thank you, Mom! Because, certainly in France where the majority of the homes have some serious history (one of the foundation stones in our first house in Arles was from the Roman period), if you just listen to the house, it will pretty much tell you what to do. Respect its character and know that you are just one of many people who will be its caretaker. :) We were lucky to have about a month before we moved in to this house. We spent a lot of time listening and quietly observing how the light moved through each room. And what I heard was that, while the house missed the energy of the two little girls who lived here previously, it was ready to go back to its more elegant former self - it is la maison du médecin or the house of the village doctor after all! So we gleefully took away the murky browns and greens by painting nearly every room - we left the gorgeous patina in the stairwell - in neutrals from off-white to bring in the light on the ground floor (and  how grateful we are we did this winter!) to a greige that we use in every house as it brings us so much peace.

"But I live in modern white box without any history!" you say? Well, then listen to your heart and...

Make your home for you and your family, not anyone else

One of the biggest issues that I have with a lot of contemporary design (especially in the States) is that it often seems to be more about impressing others than creating a welcoming home. And certainly it is why I listen to my friend Brooke Giannetti and her Husband Steve's aesthetic choices both in the creation of their home, Patina Farm and for those of their fortunate clients. And despite that Brooke's office graces the cover of Veranda magazine (a very upscale American design magazine) for the January/February issue, I am sure that they would agree with me that "it's not about the money, money, money..." And conversely, some of the grandest houses that I have been to in France have been the most comfortable...see what I mean? So, if you are a curious beginner then there are plenty of ways to learn the basics and find inspiration but then it is up to you to make it personal. It isn't "what does my home say about me?" (a phrase which gives me the chills) but "how can I enjoy my home to the utmost?" Kind of like the cooking together of thoughts #1 and 2. :)

Collect and select meaningfully

Life gave us such an enormous gift when Remi and I met and fell in love. That goes without saying. We both started over entirely from scratch to make our lives together and that was a gift too! From NYC, I brought an Icart print and far too many shoes, from the 6th arrondissement, Remi brought an Indian coffee table (where we ate all of our meals for the first three years) and his Buddha. And that was pretty much it. We honestly couldn't afford anything more than a couch and a stereo and thank goodness! Especially as we soon discovered that we both had a mutual love for shopping the brocantes and one of the very best in Paris, Les Puces de Vanves, was in our neighborhood! We went every weekend and often on both days as it was an incredible education. When we could finally afford to bring in pieces, one at a time, they all had a specific story that we still remember. Certainly, that feeling was multiplied ten-fold when we began to travel. Yes, we were very, very fortunate to have had such amazing experiences and they are still alive for us everyday in the pieces that we brought home from those adventures.

"But I don't have the means to go to the ends of the earth! " you whine. I hear ya. We don't either anymore! In which case...

Take your time

Do your best but try not to buy something "for the mean time" because then you will just be stuck with it forever. It took us two years of looking to find our monastery table and it was worth it because it is now "our table." But this doesn't mean I am a snob! Hey, I "dumpster dived" for a lot of great things while living in NYC. Ikea is great for certain basics - we have had one of their Ektorp sofas for nearly seven years now, not to mention the bookcases that hold the thousands of Remi's slides. Again, aim for quality, go slowly and be open to the many amazing resources that we have now (I found our beloved iron chandelier for 80 Euros on ebay). I know that once you get started it is so tempting to just get caught up in the excitement of making a home and just roar on through. Right? Oh dear, no. While, due to the funky nature of our move, I had to have the basic floor plans in place so that the furniture could be delivered on the spot, our house is still evolving seven months later and we have so much left to do! That Goeblin tapestry in "my room"? It just went up this weekend. Definitely, the big challenge for us was to not put up any art for at least a month but I am so glad that we did. It helped us keep it simple and each piece had to really earn their place. But we are still adding and subtracting - that is part of the fun! I have heard an Arab proverb a few times since moving to Provence that goes along the lines of: "Once a house is 'finished' it is no longer alive." I prefer to be in a living house, don't you? ;)

Embrace both the masculine and feminine

You are not an island and another pet-peeve of mine are houses where it is clear that only one part of the couple (or a very self-centered designer) has had all the say. This drives me bananas. Do I need to say it? A guy shouldn't have to hide out in a "man cave"...unless he wants to, of course! And trust me, even if you are living alone, your house will look all the better if you...


In France, a lot of people inherit furniture from their family "to get them started." Now, this can either be crazily lovely or look terribly old-fartish. Yowza. A little modern to pick up the anitques (or some antiquity to soften all modern) just lets a house (and you) breathe easier. As another talented friend, Virginia Blue, wrote (and I am paraphrasing, sorry V!), "each will bring out the best in the other." Honestly? If we could afford to go further in this direction right now, we would, certainly as I have been wack inspired by this apartment. But we can't, so that is fine too. We have very specific items and mini-projects that we will hopefully be able to tackle over time (see the end of #3!).


...will actually help keep you sane. So don't forget to think of the big picture too.

And finally...

Downsizing can be your friend

Eh, oui. Just as we started from zero, twice in our lives together Remi and I have been forced to downsize (mercifully not to zero but still). Which, while emotionally challenging it can be...yes, I will use the cliché phrase...freeing. We were forced to only keep what we really, really love. And so that is what we have. And that, along with plenty of happiness and good times, is what truly makes a House into a Home.

A few links to past and present homes from recent years:

As mentioned today's post was all about design and was chosen by Brooke's mentor, the wonderful Penelope Bianchi. There are quite a few other professionals in the design field that are a part of this group, so if you want to hear what the big kids have to say ;) click here.

As always, thank you so much for being here...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Red sky at night

The Mistral winds were predicted to reach up to 130 kilometers per hour today. "We have never had 130!" I exclaimed to Remi with just a tiiiny bit of anxiety rising in my voice. "Yes, we have," he responded without missing a beat, "on the night when we first arrived." 

It was 1am. Remi had driven the 20 meters-cubed truck - packed to the gills with all of our belongings - down from Paris in 8 hours. We both were so exhausted from the day that we were nearly stuck after having taken a wrong way turn on a one way street in Arles. Our nerves were beyond shot and then we realized that there was no way that he was going to be able to back the truck into the tiny street in front of our house. I didn't know if I wanted to scream or to cry. As a saving gift from the gods, there was one parking space available left in the nearby lot. We took it, grabbed our Buddha, locked the truck and prayed for the best. 

At the first step we were blasted backwards. I started to lose my footing until Remi grabbed my arm. A patrolling police car passed at that moment and we flagged them down, first to ask if they thought that the truck would be all right ("Not for long" was the reply) then to enquire if the force of the wind was normal. I remember that the police man shrugged and said, "Welcome to Arles" but that might be my memory playing games. We found that the hood of the truck had been ripped off from the roof the next morning. No one in Paris believed us when we told them it had been done by the wind.

Tonight, I can hear the Mistral breathing. At the equivalent of 81 miles per hour, it is roaring well past the minimum wind speed of a hurricane. There have been warnings at niveau orange through several regions in the South on the national news. Remi kindly took the dogs out this evening and the house is closed up tight.  Red sky at night? It may be a sailor's delight but this landlubber will admire it from afar. Safe and sound, yes but I am also respectful of nature, always.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The comfort of a long lunch à la française - Nimes

We are most certainly in the heart of winter here in Provence. 

Today, it even snowed! Well, actually, five flakes drifted down languorously and evaporated before touching ground but it made me giddy with delight.

Everything has slowed down to a muffled shoestring shuffle. We are striding the polar opposite of those days when friends would pop over for a glass of rosé at 6pm and take their leave with the coucher de soleil at 10. But they will return, those moments in the sun.

And the friends are still around, although admittedly no one much wants to move beyond the earth of their well-stoked fires. So it was with not a little joy that we voyaged beyond our comfort zone to see our dear friends M and B in Nimes. 

They had invited us for brunch. Now, while M and B are always gracious hosts, it was an offer that I was sniffingly suspicious of as my experience of that preferred repas in France amounted to a dingly croissant, an egg and two slices of iffy ham, all for the price of a Michelin-starred meal. 

That is not exactly what this ex-New Yorker prefers. How I miss my brunches replete with spicy Bloody Mary's, eggs florentine and crunchy rosemary potatoes while the disco in the background would ramp up my spirits after a night when sleep had been at a minimum. Dancing on the table has been known to happen at such joints as The Vynl in Hell's Kitchen, yes, even on a Sunday morning.

And while our friends didn't exactly have that in mind, I certainly needn't have worried (or snobbified to be more accurate!). Remi and I were welcomed warmly into M & B's Haussmannian style apartment, where sunlight dappled across a white linen dressed table heaving with platters of charcuterie. A bit of Bach flowed in from the next room. M was in the kitchen pressing blood oranges into fresh juice and a samovar was lit on the table to keep the water warm for tea. I chose a thé beurre au caramel salé and sipped it as we settled in.

We were six at table and the conversation bubbled around me, happily, unselfconsciously. As I always seem to write about my time with them, I feel comfortable enough in their company that I can partake in the luxury of listening, having nothing to prove. And that kind of calm is not something to ever take for granted in an expat life.

B prepared ouefs cocotte in a timed steamer that she had inherited from her Grandmother. I love that gesture of tapping the eggshell with the knife and then lifting off its tiny roof as the warm perfume of the yoke rises. An earthy baguette aux céréales was perfect for dipping as well as being smeared with butter to accompany radishes dipped in hibiscus salt. Remi's quiche lorraine was warmed in the oven and slices quickly disappeared once it was brought to the table.

Up to now, it had been a brunch "détox" but I couldn't help but smile as M brought out a chilled Chardonnay (so different from our big oaky California whites as to make it hard to believe it is the same grape) for the cheese course. M is a definite oenophile and wines served at his home are never by accident. We toasted and then, I hesitated. While not self-conscious about some things, I am of others in France, even after all of these years. The plateau du fromages had been placed right in front of me as I was seated at the head of the table. All of those perfectly formed morsels just waiting and there certainly is an etiquette of how much to take and at what angle when starting the rounds. I gestured as casually as I could to J on my left who took up the knives and even eventually asked Remi to cut a piece of chèvre for me, as children do. Not even fear of foolishness will keep me from a good cheese.

Now, usually, this is where I start to say, "Non, merci" during a meal. My friends know that I do not have a sweet tooth and so never take offense. But the other guests had stopped by Maison Villaret, a bakery that was founded in 1775 (!) to buy a mille-feuille, a favorite of nearly all at the table. When it was lifted from its gilt-lettered box, I let out a quiet, "Oh my." Several of the "thousand layers" of flaky puff pastry are separated by a rich and unctuous custard with a crown of hardened sugar icing and this particular one was topped with two gold-dusted macarons. It was wonderful.

But afterwards, a stroll was most certainly in order. I love the Sunday ritual of the post-meal walk and we will often see entire families, several generations deep, meandering through country lanes. Our friends live in the historic center of Nimes and as always, there were many details to take in. I lifted my old iphone heavenwards from time to time as the conversation continued while we passed the Arena and on to the iconic Maison Carrée, one of the most complete remaining temples of the former Roman Empire. The light was gorgeous and as glowing as our bellies. But eventually, I had to dance on my toes to stay warm. Friendship or no, winter is with us still. With reluctance and gratitude, we gave les bises to M and B, content in the knowledge that we would see them again soon.