Sunday, July 11, 2021

Love like this - a visit with my Mom

I have a favour to ask of you.
This is a really simple post. And long, so please feel free to get whatever sounds wonderful to accompany it...
I just hope for one thing...

Will you share my joy? 
I believe you will see why that is important to me...

My Mom turned 75 on June 2nd. 
Her fabulous husband, Leonard, my Buddy, gave us both the finest of gifts in the form of a plane ticket.
On faith, my Mom went ahead and bought it, even though it wasn't yet clear when Americans would be let it. It was divine timing and what they could afford. 

I don't know what took over me when I saw her through the other side of the glass doors after two long and tumultuous years. For I started jumping up and down with my arms up-stretched in the air, a V for victory to be united again. "Mom! Mom!" I yelled. As she came through, I ran into her arms and held her so tightly, crying hard with relief to see her again. My beautiful, amazing, elegant yet hysterically funny Mom. 

We ushered her off to a sea-side café as she had requested a glass of rosé and a tangy lemon crêpe. The terrasse was incredibly loud, the casual cigarette smoke burnt our nostrils and yet it seemed so appropriate. She was finally here. Her version of the exaggerated Frenchy face came out quickly. And so we laughed. When she got stuck getting out of the car when we arrived in Avignon, we did so too. 

And yet she never wants to waste time with jet-lag. It simply does not bite her like the rest of us.

And so I should have know better. That she would pick up again even that first night.
But it still surprised me that she wanted to ride on the massive Ferris Wheel, 50 yards high, that has been installed for the summer a few steps from my apartment. 

Many of us have inexplicable phobias. Since childhood, mine has been precisely to be in such unsecured heights. And yet I can her refuse her nothing. I breathed through it and remembered what it was like, at nearly 52, to lean on my Mom's shoulder for assurance and comfort. It worked.

And so it would continue to be.

My Mom knows Provence well from having visited over the years. Often she would be dragged to and fro to see lovely sights but this time was far different. All she / I wanted to do, especially amidst the strange and still present spectre of COVID, was just to enjoy. To connect.

And so we gathered our days around what we felt like eating. We would talk until 2am and sleep late. Again, my Mom has always been a wonderful traveller and yet something that touched me so much this time was how willing she was to adjust. While I was obsessing over her every word ("Fries, Mom? You said fries? I will find you the best fries in Provence!"), she was content to just roll with what was on hand and to accept, graciously what was offered.

I will write another post about one very special meal that we experienced to celebrate her birthday but my Mom and I are the same in that the most elegant does not necessarily bring the most joy. This is, after all, the woman who has the best food radar that I have ever seen...who will sweetly lead me down a snaky alley in New Orleans for no other reason than if she feels there is a wonderful snack to be had. 

So happiness is as happiness does and one of our most perfect meals was at the invitation of my dear friend, Sandro. 

I know that not all of you are on Instagram but I write about him a lot there. He is like family to me, along with his beautiful companion Valentina and his business partner Pasquale. As the feeling is mutual, Sandro took it as rather a matter of pride, I think, to invite my Mom and I to lunch. He saved one of his two tables outside and spoiled us with organic Prosecco and the best pizza in the South of France. All with so much laughter and joking on a gorgeous little mini piazza, it was delightful. He and my Mom have that exact same super fast sense of humour that I am so jealous now she is a part of Sandro's family too. Such an incredible sense of quiet but deeply felt joy. 

(Mom, if Leonard is upset about this photo, I can testify! )

And then we went to Arles.

It was surprising to be back there. My heart yelped a bit. But it was the only place that my Mom had specifically asked to see and so we went. Oh my, to be "home" again.

Of course, I had prepared many foodie suggestions...but after a surprising shun at the Hotel Voltaire (by someone I know on top of it), we were mounting the side of the Arênes when we saw a gorgeous plate pass by at a café that I had always given up to be a poor touristy compromise. We both took notice and looked at each other, food radars blaring. And this is how we discovered Saveurs et Terroirs. 

It's an interesting but a long story. The main idea is this: that the owner got tired of pandering to tourists and started to cook again. I would have never have gone there previously (think blue slushy machines) and yet we did and the experience was so charming, in no little debt to Jamel, our server. He took me aside as I was paying and said, "It does my heart good to see a Mom and a daughter so close. It is not everyone, you know." I know, Jamel, I do.

I ran into many old acquaintances and marvelled over recent additions, such as the spectacular Museon Arlatan, which has been closed for an eleven year long renovation (and it is definitely a must-see).
While we were eating the lavender honey ice cream at Arelatis, my Mom plopped a fluffy feather on my head, as one does, and more silliness ensued. Afterwards, I called Taco et Co, a long-standing tuk-tuk institution in Arles to take us out for a swoop around the new star, the Fondation LUMA. long-term readers (who are about 90% of you!) will remember this project, one that I have been following since 2007. With my ex, we opened our gallery in anticipation of its arrival. Alas, way too soo. I will do another post on the LUMA because there is much, much to share (even if my Mom and I arrived the DAY before opening!) but the Frank Gehry designed tower did not disappoint.

Despite some of the new arrival hullabaloo - as sadly experienced over snobby and poor service at the Hotel Arlatan (some of you will remember that my old house lines their pool) - Arles is always Arles and honestly my spirit really did leap at the return. I understand why I have been avoiding it because of past pain but the future is pushing forth and through.

Could I live there again? Could I find a job to welcome me at my age despite this ancient cit's newfound hipster status?

We talked about all of this. Where am I going. Over delicious plates in gorgeous environments. 
"I understand why you are here, Heather," she said. "Other people don't but I do."

It stopped me cold. I love her so. I wonder if what I am doing is for the best for me or not.

It is love like this that makes you appreciate simply being alive. 
I haven't always, in this past year, or at times have struggled mightily with the idea. 
But with my Mom, my family, my heart rings true.

She has changed, you know. 
Always a great beauty, she is less worried about her looks and it only makes her more beautiful. 
She is more relaxed and it puts everyone around her at ease. 
A woman good in her skin, as they say here in France. 

Her joy could I not laugh? How could I not try to make her laugh in return?
This rare moment of just us two, a mere five and a half days together, was monumental in its perspective shifting in my heart. 

Yes, she kept being so wonderfully funny despite the rats at our hotel the last night in Marseille. Yes, rats! I stomped after them on the terrace even while the waiters were shamelessly trying to pick me up. France through and through. From beginning to end.

Just look at her here. That last morning at the airport and still delighting over one final (very good) croissant. 

My Mom was the first to show me how to overcome very difficult times after my Dad's passing and she still is such an incredible inspiration today. 75 never looked so good, it's true...but such a truly fine heart is ageless.

I love you so much, Mom.


And so my friends, the favour that I asked of you. To just share the joy. 
Did you feel it? 
How I hope that we have had this together.
And will continue to do so...

Thank you for being here,

Sunday, May 16, 2021

One of the most beautiful apartments in Provence, home to two of the most lovely people...

"We want to throw a feast, just for you." 

My wonderful friends, John and Camy Cooney, proposed me this. The know very well how I have been struggling with my day job and that it has been breaking my spirit down. Also, that I am literally exhausted. And so they invited me to their sanctuary in Apt, overnight, to breathe, let my hair down and laugh with this couple who I love so much.

And yet it was my first time to visit. Well, these past few years have been complicated because of COVID and my friends have been rightfully precautious. Like me, they are private people who are not out "looking for the likes" (aka Instagram) but have a genuine appreciation for our Provence. When we first met in 2019 over lunch at my beloved Le Violette, I knew as soon as I sat down at the table that these were people with whom I hoped to be in contact with for a very long time. 

I wish that you could have seen my face as John pushed open the heavy, ancient doors to their apartment. I stepped into the light, literally and was beaming. I know my décor here well in Provence, the codes and traces whisper or shout. We, too, are old friends. I could not believe the creak of the wooden floors, in patterns only built for royalty in the South, where such adherence shown through architecture is most rare. Certainly as in the former entry to the oldest part of the building, which has been transformed to one of the most romantic bedrooms that I have seen anywhere, so much so that my hands shook in taking the photos of their incredible ciel lit polonaise.

Admittedly, my hands also were a bit weak as we sat down to lunch at 3pm (after a problem with a bus that did not arrive, this too is Provence, also handled with such grace by my hosts). I had to cup my coupe with both hands as I am a redhead who needs to eat! But oh, how it was worth the "effort" to sip a fabulous Moët et Chandon, the first in many years. Equally, it has been quite a moment since I have braved oysters after a troubling incident. These along with the meaty shrimps bordering along gambas, were divine. 

As the bubbles rised before the food fully hit my belly, I made a declaration: "You two should be complete and utter assholes." Please forgive my language but I know our expat community well. Take a peek down at the photo of them below. They are beautiful, if not rich (as they insist) then wise investors, both with amazing careers, so deeply funny and real. And they have this apartment too. Just look at it. And feel the good, great vibe. 

After a twilight sieste, we finished off our dinner of lamb in pesto with "crack" potatoes (I dream of it all still). I laughed so hard and forgot my hard job. At one moment Camy and I were lying on her bed and we giggled over things never to be shared elsewhere. I crossed the garden to my very own room and slept for once, the sleep of kings. Or queens. 

A feast so well done in such a welcoming home...or kingdom.

As long as we know each other - and I hope that it is for the rest of our lives - I will never forget this.
Love you both. 

Me, the eternal insomniac...I literally had not slept so well in years.

They spoiled me until the very last moment...taking me to the bus.
We waited for its arrival without so many words as many had been said.

I forget why I am here. You reminded me, my friends.

With Love from Provence,