Saturday, January 28, 2017

The delightful market of Dolceacqua - Italy

I think that we could all use a little comfort food right about now. Not enough to lull us to sleep, no, but just to a pleasant hum.

That was certainly what my hosts' intention was for my stay in Menton over Christmas, to soothe and delight. So when Madame J, who has trained at the Cordon Bleu (that is the tip of her culinary iceberg) and has won many a competition when it comes to marmalades or pickled veggies, said that she really wanted me to discover the market at Dolceacqua, my horse ears pricked and my inner radar pinged. 

Up and over the coast, the frontier passed then quickly forgotten and into Liguria, we parked and walked along the flowing Nervia River. The town's "sweet waters" namesake. The sun skipped, we bubbled along the banks, content to be on adventure on a winning morning.

J was already suspicious that the streets were so quiet and her pipping instincts were confirmed as we arrived to the market square. Many vendors had decided to stay home with their families on Boxing Day rather than be out selling their wares. And yet, as I know all too well after ten years of jogging through the Arles market, bigger is not always better. Everything was accessible, there were no lines or bumping baskets and what I could see...delighted me.

For instead of mountains of out of season (save in Morocco) melons, there were tables laid with homemade goods and delicacies. So many of them! Most were presided over by a no nonsense nonna who had made the tarts or the jam or pizza herself. An elderly gentleman seemed non-plussed that he had only a few pieces of wobbly mystery fruit and drapey stalks of leeks to sell. Nearly everything on offer was organic, with many sellers proudly displaying handmade signs of information detailing the wheres and hows (the why was evidently superfluous). 

This, to me, is what shopping at a market should be.

Although the border was still nearly in eyesight, we had passed into another world of Italian friendliness. I could and did talk to nearly everyone despite language barriers, something that took years of courage-gathering to do in Arles, in order to bypass the raised eyebrows or blatant "I don't see you, American person" glares of the market dwellers. And so I ended up buying an heirloom blueberry jelly, grown at high altitude, because a young man with astonishing green eyes convinced me (I think I would have bought anything from him, actually) that it was more interesting than the chartreuse pear medley I had been eyeing. 

But my favorite experience by far was with the wonderful woman, who constantly bit the smile between her lips, as she decided to give us a tasting of all the cheeses that she had on offer that tempted us. That would be ten. Ten different cheeses and my friends wisely bought six of them, each so different from the last even if the only due to few months date. I dream of those cheeses, still (yes, dietary guidelines were blurred for a day in Italy). And I am shuffling apologetic to keep making the comparison, but in ten years of shopping not only the Arles markets but many throughout la belle Provence, I have never, ever had anyone extend such generosity my way, let alone as a matter of course.

All was done with a light-heartedness that charmed me thoroughly. As the noon day bells rung, various producers would abandon their stands temporarily to buy a steaming plate of polenta ladled with ragù that was being sold for 4 Euros. Change was demanded between booths and a sense of camaraderie was as calmingly present as the Nervia flowing below. 

Purchases made and photographs angled, we traversed the winding cobbled streets to those that mysteriously dive below ground. Back up to the light, we passed under the protective stones of the 12th century fortress, across the medieval bridge to settle into our outdoor seats at a café. My face turned towards the sun, I sipped the amaro that my host had chosen for me, ice clinking against my teeth with a smile also bitten to not be overly obvious about a willing adoption of this wonderful life, Dolceacqua style.

To learn more about this gem of a town, please click here.

And if you are in need of a bit of beautiful music instead, then by all means, please click here. 

Thank you everyone for all of the heartfelt comments after my previous post. 

Ok, big breath. And have a wonderful rest of your weekend,

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Out to sea

*** Just a head's up that the following is politically and social activism oriented. If that is not your cup of tea, I hope that you will enjoy the photography and return next week. - H ***

Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to simply hit "publish" and let the title of this post speak for itself. I am glad that I didn't.

For while I woke up today with that feeling of being lost again, my eyes aching from last nights tears of disappointment, I remembered another series of mornings, not long ago. When I was staying with my friends in Menton, I would start each day by pulling back the curtains and standing before an open window to face the sea. My gaze would soften as I tried to focus on what was beyond fixation, out to the line and beyond, into unkowing. And how strong that felt to me then, the possibility present, thumping, alive.

My Mother and my Sister are attending their local version of the Women's March in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My American friend C is training up to Paris from this tiny village to participate. How proud I am and what hope this instills.

For while there is leisure lulling on the beaches (a constant echo back to other times, memories that seem all the richer for their distance), out on the waves, we can make our voices heard. After having lived in France for fifteen years, where the people are not afraid of contestation, I know the power that we yield, still.

There are many facets to Peace.

We can resist, we can write our future in action and response. To find and be found, again and again; awake, as a sea of possibility. With a societal shift that I am quite certain reaches beyond politics, this is our tide now.

I don't feel at all qualified to be writing this post; I feel awkward and am not sure of what I am doing. The "Who do you think you are?"'s are rolling through my throat, wishing to stifle thoughts, even half-formed but well-intentioned, into silence...but of course not. We are all qualified just by the nature of our being human and our innate connection with each let's wade into the waters, even if we are just learning to swim.

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." - Seneca

Are any of you joining the Women's March? If you are curious about taking part in this international movement, you can find more information about it here and a listing of locations in the United States and around the globe, here.

So far, it is estimated that there are over two million marches that will occur, including one that is happening in the Vieux Port of Marseille as I type.

This has always been a very respectful community and I don't wish to make anyone ill at ease but I would love to hear how you are feeling in response to yesterday's inauguration in the comments below, no matter where you are reading from on our beautiful planet. This concerns us all, as you are already well aware. 

Thank you for being here,
With Love and Gratitude,

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Beyond the pale - Menton

Let's not be fooled by a calendar date or the "onslaught" of a season into forgetting. That there is a light within us, at the very center, beyond personalities and temporary concerns, that pumps our life, in and out, through the valves of our heart to the extremities of our ears, our toes. We breathe it. That light. 

And yet, at this time of year - a beginning, no less! - so many of us focus away, towards what they want to change, what they promise will happen within them this year as if there was something that was, fundamentally, wrong. There isn't. 

No promises then, nor resolutions. Not for me. More likely I feel and certainly did under the kind glow of last nights motherly moon, that it is time to remember. I have light - call it love if your prefer - and I want to live it. It is time to move beyond the pale and appreciate all the good that resides within, even when it lies unbeckoned from sallying forth.

And so a celebration is in order, the likes of which are buoyantly sprayed across Menton's walls, because its residents chose to paint it so. Let's do the same.

So maybe you can sing again even though you were once told that you do so too loudly (or off-key), maybe you can dare to trust in connecting with another, even if you were called needy or strange. Our so-called weaknesses are our strengths, I am sure of it, and only in disguise because we think that they ought to be. 

I want to be me, now. Turning in, I want to turn up the lights.

These photos were taken on a truly happy day...and I gleefully surrendered to it! 

I hope that they bring you a bit of that feeling too. My friends, you have overwhelmed me once again with your unbelievable kindness in regards to my previous post. I was so moved - my family and friends have remarked upon how amazing you all are - and was unable to keep up in responding, as I usually like to do. For that I apologize, but I most certainly took it in and will return to your good wishes and faith when needed. Thank you, yet once again, from my sensitive yet strongly beating heart.

With much Love and Gratitude as we dive into the big blue of 2017 together,

PS. You can see my previous posts on Menton here and here. They are quite different aren't they? Eh oui, that is the power of light. ;) I shot like a madwoman this trip so hopefully there is more to come...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Facing the horizon

I am trying to unlearn being superstitious. As if the Powers that Be would really want to punish you for being so foolhardy as to walk underneath a ladder or so unlucky that a black cat would cross your path. I don't think so, no, that the world could turn like that. But when I looked back at my post from January 1st last year, I had chills run up through my hands. For I had asked the winds of change to blow over me and how they did. Or as a friend aptly put it, a tornado came through and wiped my life as I had known it to the ground.

This has been a year of letting go. Mainly of a fifteen year relationship with a man that I loved dearly and who I thought that I would spend the rest of my life with; so secure in what we had built together as to block my ears to the whispers that maybe the structure was echoing towards empty. Or at least not supported by the fullness of what love can be. While I did not choose this ending, I see now that it is for the best for both of us and I wish my former partner nothing but pure happiness as he starts his life again and for all that lies ahead. I am very grateful to be able to genuinely feel that too.

But I have been letting go - or trying to - of much else as well; such as those pesky monsters sleeping inside - thoughts burned into seeming truths, tricked up beliefs about my self that date back as far as I can remember and veils that cloud my vision that is still so hungry to see. I question, I poke holes, and I beg, sometimes nicely, sometimes ferociously, for answers that either do or do not appear.

For my life should not have drifted into smoke at the loss of a love, save that I had given myself over entirely to it. I know that there is a term for that now, it is called codependency, as blunt as it is to type it. But I can learn and live for me, once again. There are solutions, resources and different modes of being. That feels wonderful, if frightening at times. A foal on shaky legs, I wobble and totter towards my future, away from the comfort of the mother mare.

For now it is time to build. And I have everything to construct, or nearly.

But I feel fortified. For, just when I had felt burned back to bones and getting tired, I was given a true gift, of the once in a lifetime kind. Friends, real friends, decided to take me under their rather gilded but grounded wings for Christmas and then let me fly on their backs to remember what it could feel like. No expenses were spared and no opportunity to make me laugh left unexplored. We roamed through Menton, Monaco and into Italy. How I can't wait to share my adventures with you here. Not only did I remember little things, such as that I really do like to dress up every once in a while, but felt wide-eyed present and most importantly, felt open to a bigger breath of possibilities than I had in many a moon past.

There are no words for the gratitude that I feel towards this beautiful couple...nor, looking back over these past twelve months...towards the sense of community that linked my arms when I wanted to believe the lies of aloneness (that would be you)...let alone towards my family, who held me up so tirelessly and with such grace, when I had forgotten what love - for myself and others - felt like, when I was not capable of standing on my own.

This morning, I took the last walk of 2016, a motion that, even when forced, has continually brought sparks into what at times was enduring twilight, the steps feeling forward for me. And as always, natural beauty, which has been my most constant companion of this year, buoyed me up and out. With my steps, I eventually heard my voice and realized that I was not only speaking out loud but apparently praying, to who was listening, the Powers that Be. Earlier, I had wrapped my scarf around my head to protect my ears from the cold and I could feel that the material was wet with tears. And yet I felt lighter. Still letting go, then, and still asking for guidance. It seems smart to do so. One step. The next step. The next.

As I have written, I understand now that there are no clear lines in the sand, just millions of grains appearing to form them...and similarly, that, even when one takes a sabbatical from the practicalities of daily life for a year as I have, one is not given golden rules of wisdom that are fixed in slanted calligraphy either, no matter how much time one has dedicated to seeking them. We gain and we lose within each moment, with each breath, and what beauty that brings to our existence if we let it.

I will be alone tonight for New Year's Eve and that feels appropriate. So maybe I will get really quiet, or maybe I will sing loudly, or maybe a bit of both. With the turn of the clock, I will face the horizon. Actually, I am already. Amazingly, I feel ready to date again once my life is more in place, I am looking forward to what new friends I will meet. I need a job. Badly, so that is first up. All in all, it is time to pop out of the self-blown bubble that this year has been. I am here. What will the future hold?

As I turned back on the path today, I was startled by the waving white transparent wings of my favorite heron taking flight, so impressive in his size that I call him Mister Heron. I have not seen him in so long but there he was. And although I am trying to unlearn superstition, I have always taken his presence as a good omen in the past. That beautiful flutter of hope, rising again and again and again. With a hand over my eyes to shield the sun, I followed his course and I chose to believe it.

With all of my heart, I wish each of you the Happiest of New Years. 
May 2017 be filled with discovery, fine health, splashes of joy and a return to the celebrating your unique self. 
With much Love and Gratitude, always,


With much thanks to the very talented Jennifer Barnaby for my portrait. To discover her work, you can find her on Instagram at @gustiafood

Monday, December 19, 2016

The year without a Santa Claus?

"What a difference a day makes...24 little hours..."

There was a sheen on the rooftops as I opened the shutters. A finger-snap click of cold on my cheeks from the air. Something had shifted towards Christmas, or as close as a Christmas postcard as we tend to find in Provence.

Out with the dogs, Kipling turned and dashed through the grasses, frozen overnight, with manic energy. The shadows tinged blue, broken underfoot. My laughter burst into wispy trails. I felt my lungs expand, bright, as the sun cut through the fog draped on the tops of the mountain on the other side of the Rhône, where I knew that it would be dipping down into the prehistoric graves dug deep into the rock of St. Roman. Old and new, light and darkness blending then, as it does, until the frost began to melt. So I doubled back to get my camera, as I do, exchanging the lenses to my 55 macro so that I could lean in closer.

Looking, I forget where I am. I know that doesn't really make literal sense and that is why I find it intoxicating. Just a little bit overwhelmed by beauty, that kindred swoon. What a gift it is when our heart beats so hard that the pulse dances in our wrists. For whatever reason.

This is my beribboned box, quite possibly the only that I will open.

It appears that this will be my Year Without a Santa Claus, a holiday as in discordance with the past as all of the 2016 that has come before it.

I know that I am not alone in bubbling up questions of why and how this season. What constitutes full and meaning. Maybe not the only one who is not listening to carols as they are a bit too memory laden this go 'round. Because it has been a confusing time for so many as the moon will tell you if you listen.

Pourtant, I am certain that we are all still somehow searching with childlike impatience, as there are so many presents to enjoy. It may not be typical. And there might not be a tree. But they are most certainly there.

I leaned in. The crystal shards and liquid diamonds reflected hope, dotted and strewn. I balance in the midst of them with crackling knees that are wet in the dew, in good health; being creative, the breath that continues to breathe me. More than a bit lost still, yes, admittedly, but determined. I will find my way. Purpose will come but how lucky that I love and am loved. And that is as good as any traditional mistletoe kiss. This is me, condensed.

Lifting my head, I had to squint from the switch of focus, a line extending from the dance of the minuscule outwards to the far distance. Two forms are engulfed in the last of the golden mist. They are so far on the horizon as to already be in 2017. The corner of my lips lifted slightly as I looked forward to the unknown, in and beyond what the next 24 hours might hold.

Merry Christmas to those that are celebrating and Happy Holidays to all.
With much Love and Gratitude to you for your kindness and continued support throughout 2016.

You are still here. Merci avec tout coeur,


Friday, December 2, 2016

Familiar and yet Unknown

Do you often revisit the same dream landscapes? To a point that you feel that they have become a real neighborhood in your life, not just one in your mind? I do. 

There are train stations, vaguely New Yorkish, where I have memorized that I need to go up a certain staircase if I hope to make my connection on time (make of that what you will) and mysterious houses, vaguely Victorian, that recall my childhood homes more than the actual structures ever could.

All this to say that I am not someone who is, at any given moment, one hundred percent certain if I am dreaming or awake. It isn't practical, but it is a part of who I am, certainly in the present circumstances.

For they are hazy and there is a lot that I can't quite share with you in order to respect the privacy of this particular transition. Parsimony is required. So I am not lying nor hiding, just doing what I can, when I can. It has been nearly an entire year of unfolding, waiting and seeing while clasping the reins of action nonetheless. 

I know where I am without knowing at all. The surroundings that I recognize so well and yet that are not mine for the taking confirm that, mirror a bit mocking if I take it so. At best, I observe and enjoy. And I am aiming for the best, no matter where that path will take me.

In an hour, I will leave for a real not dreamed train station for a trip of short distance. There will be a 45 minute wait in which I will watch the passerby and wonder if they ever feel the same about their lives or if they are tucked up tight in the swathes of certainty. 

The sun is bright. I feel it on the tops of my hands as I type in a way that reminds me that I am wide awake. Right in this very particular moment, I don't need to look to the past or ahead. Can I just hold it like an inbreath, this croisement between dreaming and reality? This sweet gift of now?

 Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
Thank you so much for reading along with me during what is admittedly a quiet time.
But there is still much beauty to be found...and revisited.
I am grateful for that, always.