Miromesnil We’re Moving In!

 

DSC04362We’re moving in! Actually, it started a year ago. I helped a friend, judy, with her garage sale when she was selling her house. She gave me a book called Gardens of  France. I wrote down ones I’d like to visit and Miromesnil Chateau was close to our route. As we were leaving the town of Rouen, we headed for the coast and the region of Normandy. It was almost 5 PM when we drove into the Chateau, known for its potager’ garden. I assumed it would be way too expensive but we asked anyway and decided to stay.

David and I instantly liked the owner. He groaned when I said he must work terribly hard to maintain this place. It’s Downton Abbey (but his name isn’t Robert). He told us part of the history of the castle as we walked up the three creaking flights of stairs to our room. this house has been in his wife’s family for three generations. Her grandparents bought it in 1938 when Europe and Hitler were looking iffy. They had 9 children and wanted to find a place that might be safe for them. Spent 18 months rejuvenating the house, and then it was requisitioned by the French army as a training base. Then the Germans seized it . At the end of the war, the Americans used it to finish their work . The house and their family survived all that until a young GI tried to make a fire with green wood in the kitchen and decided to pour a little gasoline on it. Only one half of house went up in flames.

The potager garden (kitchen garden) is surrounded in red brick walls. This keeps out critters, wind, and makes a lovely back drop. They’ve won several awards in France and are conscious about planning for changing weather patterns that are already beginning.

DSC04372I walked out to the family chapel in the midst of the surrounding forest. It all smelled musty and mushroomy. Sunlight filtered through the beech trees as they began to turn yellow. Dedicated to Saint Anthony the Hermit, the small stone chapel built in the 11th Century was once a pilgrimage site. People from the nearby villages would walk here to bathe their legs in the pond (which no longer exists) to cure their varicose veins and other problems.

our room is round and the bath has a big claw foot tub. There are little doors in the halls that lead to little spaces—weird. At night the wooden shutters flap in the wind. I think they whisper “Heathcliff!” Oops! Wrong story wrong country.

DSC04375David and I have been cruising thru villages and getting lost on all the little back roads of Normandy. The countryside and the architecture of many village chateaus and farms is mesmerizing. The soil is a cafe latte color, huge John Deere tractors tilling it up all day long and rolling gentle hills of green.

It has been an incredible blessing to meet the owners and stay in this beautiful old house.  PS Can’t figure out how to turn the picture.

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Afternoon in Giverny

2015-10-06 06.59.02Bleary eyed, the world is glossed over—I’m having a genuine Impressionist moment. Blues dissolve into yellows and greens reign. The truth is, tears blur my vision. I can’t believe I’m here. Giverny, a short drive north of Paris. Well, truth be told told, it took David and I four hours of frustration, and more anger than I care to admit to get here. The English speaking manager at the McDonald’s outside of Paris finally saved us.

Giverny (pronounced gee vehr nee) is/was the home of Claude Monet in his later years. He designed, built, and planted this garden so that he could paint flowers and see them from every window. This is the ultimate pilgrimage—the Compostela of Gardeners. I want to cry because I can feel all my gardening buddies walking with me—Judy, Kristin, Jana, Pat, Renate, Annie. Carolyn, you are so here next to me I can almost hear your words.

This man genius painter understood on a deep level how light continuously transforms the world around us—for his garden . His vague outlines and discontinuous brush strokes bleed altogether as if he were seeing through tears. 2015-10-06 03.43.31I don’t know if Monet was a religious man or not, but he knew. He grokked. He sensed what the great yogis of India wrote about for thousands of years. The world is nothing more than condensed light and flowers whisper to us of something greater than our I, me, mines. In a broader sense, one could say he was self realized.

Sell the second car! Rent the house! Save your miles, but come to Giverny before you die. Every window is a photo, every doorway a scented enigma. There’s a stunning white garden in front of the Monet Museum with Japanese anemone, cactus and dinner plate dahlias, alyssum, Nicotiana and lots of burgundy foliage/ivy in the fall. There are hedges in the museum garden that divide into rooms of colors—pink and lavendars, yellow and oranges.

2015-10-06 03.40.43And I haven’t even been to Monet’s actual garden and home yet. I’ve only walked thru the village. The city has worked hard to maintain its integrity and not turn it into a Disneyland.

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Paris Paris

Paris Paris

Where to begin?

At the metro. We started the day heading for Notre Dame. Parisiennes are like gophers. They tunnel thru the underground on the their way to work and play on the very efficient Metro—layers of more and more trains that take you just blocks from anywhere in the city. It’s fairly clean, and even at midnight feels safe. Any time of day Parisiennes are rushing up the stairs or down the escalator to catch their next ride. It was quite impressive, and encouraging that cities can create mass transit that works.

Our first morning in Paris, we stopped at a spot called the Place de Vosges. A plaza filled with history and surrounded by what used to be a grand palace and now has been broken up into very exclusive apartments. Then a brisk (everyone walks quickly) walk to Notre Dame. We lingered outside for awhile in the garden – incredible, inspiring but the lines to go inside were so long that we decided to hop a bicycle taxi for a region called La Mufetarde and a good lunch. Winding streets near the Sorbonne filled with interesting shops and students eating fast food—crepes.

My salad, like the women of France, was perfectly dressed—light but not heavy on vinaigrette with lots of varieties of textures, pine nuts and a goat cheese that was fried maybe coated with something like Panko. Chicken and vegetable ragout like dish in a light blue cheese sauce was OK. I love  how they eat—slowly, lingering chatting and enjoying. . And of course, Mr. david engaged two handsome older men with his map quest. They actually spent 20 minutes trying to help him find what he was looking for.

Another brisk walk (David was still walking briskly. I was beginning to drag) took us along busy thoroughfares in to Luxembourg Gardens—60 acres of terraced woods and broad avenues for strolling. sunny flower borders were filled with red ruby chard interspersed with red dahlias, light orange geraniums, burgundy basils, red and orange and yellow zinnias. Another mound of lavendar and purple petunias blended beautifully with peachy pink geraniums . All surrounded by fluorescent green grass which you DO NOT walk on. The broad boulevards leading to the Luxembourg Palace are lined with benches where people sit under the canopy of horse chestnut trees. What I especially liked was the statues — not military men or great politicians but artists, poets, and demigods that almost seem like guardian spirits.

It wasn’t the landscaping that was so delightful. IT WAS the people. relaxing in the ate afternoon warmth several pools with beautiful fountains are surrounded with hundreds of green metal chairs that people , sit or lounge or laugh together. More than many having a smoke!

This was people watching at its finest. Business men and taxi drivers come here to unknot their ties. Young fathers snap photos of their twirling toddlers while the bells of a nearby church toll. Properly starched matrons sit with a friend and puff elegantly on their cigarettes. Beaming young mothers stroll with their prams or strollers. And everywhere young people, in secluded spots, intimately entwined with each other.

French people enjoying the art of relaxation and connecting with each other—something I don’t experience much in our own culture. And their government spends money to maintain these lovely surroundings for people. Of course, sales tax everywhere is more than 10% but what a great investment .

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As We Leave the Ground

September 29, 2015

San Francisco, CA

The seat belt clicks and I stash my book into the magazine pouch in front of me. The luggage compartment squeaks and rattles as travelers jostle their baggage to make room overhead. Newspapers crackle, and I can hear the soft whisper of passengers. The man next to me is already putting his eye mask on to sleep without even a friendly hello-nice aftershave though.

From across the aisle David, my husband, adjusts his headphones. He glances in my direction and smiles, but is already absorbed in his music– no one to disturb him. The pace of the last 48 hours, no, the last two months are all but forgotten to him. We chose to sit separately to have some space alone, listen to music, and read. He lives in the moment more than anyone I know which is both admirable and at times frustrating.

Surrounded by strangers, I suddenly feel isolated and a little scared, but also, at last, I am finally excited. It sinks in that we are really leaving. My first visit to France and another journey into the mysteries of India.

The engines roar and this gargantuan machine taxis down the runway lifting all these people into a cerulean sky. Airplanes have been doing this for seventy five years, but as it speeds up and finally lifts off the ground it’s still a miracle to me. The houses below grow smaller. The urgency of the leaves that need raking, the dripping faucets that need fixing shrink in importance. Miniature cars zip along freeways going somewhere, who knows where.

It seems impossible to eat breakfast in San Francisco today and in Paris tomorrow. We soar higher and higher into the blue stillness. The details that were so important are either handled or no longer important.

The beauty of any flight is leaving behind the complications of our stress-filled modern lives and that clear definition of who I think I am—all the I, me, mines. Everyday existence fades as if in a dream. I am a no one in a big world, and all I have to do is observe and accept all I see.

I can smell the coffee brewing in the galley, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. A glimpse of freedom. The adventure begins.

I’m a soul in wonder on the road unseen,” Van Morrison

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Palapa on the Beach

Palapa on the Beach

Outside San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico

January, 2015

Palapa on the Beach” the ad read on the Airbnb website. “Off the beaten track, just a short drive outside the city.” My fantasies were off and running. I was hooked. Just the place for David and I and our friend, Jan, to spend our last few days in Baja, Mexico. The reviews all said that Elena, one of the owners, was a fantastic cook. In my imagination, she would fix the three of us delicious dinners after our days of exploring endless miles of undeveloped beaches. The short statement at the end of the ad, “water in short supply” didn’t really catch my attention.

We started driving from San Jose Del Cabo, the village where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific at the southern tip of Baja. The Periclu Indians lived here for centuries lavishing in its fresh water and abundant marine life. Spanish galleons and many pirates sailed here and were jubilant to find an estuary covering several thousand acres filled with fresh, drinkable water. Today, this historic old town is still a thriving arts community. Its neighbor, Cabo San Lucas, has become a tourist mecca filled with condos and timeshares, restaurants and gift shops swarming with wealthy Westerners or Northerners as the case may be.

We drove out of town carefully reading the directions that owners, Le’on and Elena sent. In a very short time the paved road disappeared into a sandy washboard that our small rental car barely managed at 10 miles per hour. “Past the cement factory, left on the Coast Highway” the directions read. We laughed at the left turn–not the Coast Highway we were familiar with. It was barely two lanes- more sand, more ruts. When a water truck paused on a steep hill, David rolled down his window, “Donde este palapa de Le’on y Elena?” The driver pointed in the direction we were going, so on we went.

Saguaro cactus dot the jagged mountains in the distance and the sand dunes around us. In some places half the road washed out from the recent hurricane and signs blown over with arrows pointing to the sky. “One hour from town” quickly turned into two. Breakfast jostled in my stomach as if I’d pushed the button on a blender. The only thing certain was that this was the most untouched coastline we could have ever imagined—California a hundred years ago.

We had started to lose sight of the humorous aspect of our journey when Jan asked, “Do you suppose they might have exaggerated their advertisement a bit?” Finally, we spotted a palapa sitting atop a hill overlooking the sea and decided this must be the place. We turned up what looked like their driveway past abandoned trailers and run down shacks, pulling into a parking lot filled with rusted and retired vehicles.

Disappointment was beginning to take hold. David commented, “Perhaps we’ve been misled?” We wanted off the beaten track, but this was beginning to feel like lost in translation.

Walking into the compound of palapas was a little like reading a page out of Hemingway’s, “The Old Hippie and the Sea.” Le’on, who I later learned was 80 years old, called out a friendly hello. He balanced on the overhead beams of his workshop pointing and explaining a new roof system that would trap rain water. The smell of urethane stained boards was everywhere. His bushy white hair escaped the cap on his head. Muscular, but cadaverously thin, his weathered skin made him seem like someone you’d known before—perhaps from the Tolkien Trilogy?

Elena greeted us wearing a 1970’s sand colored velour jump suit with no bra. Silver hair surrounded her shoulders and sea blue eyes. She was thin with a sinewy strength, not at all delicate. Like many women who have lived their lives in the dry air of a desert, her face was deeply lined like the ruts in the road we had come from.

Elena gave us the tour which only increased our disappointment. We paid a good price to stay here, and I had assumed certain conveniences. The pit toilet seemed tolerable, but the lack of a shower was hard to take. The biggest annoyance was that our palapa was not a private space, but in the midst of their lives. The main dining room palapa was less than 50 feet from our space. But from the open walls you could see ships on the horizon and cumulous clouds rolling over the sea.

DSC03278_edited-1That afternoon Leon came into the kitchen swearing. His saw was not functioning, and more boards were rotten. “Paradise ain’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he declared with a wry humor that we later came to appreciate. Another resident, Behrto, who I might guess was about 65 years old, walked in and calmly offered afternoon coffee. He had taught English in China for many years and was helping out here since the last hurricane. He had just caught dinner off his kayak and was on his way to cleaning and filleting it.

Seven of us sat around a poured concrete table that night. The fish was served Veracruz style with a creamy tomato pepper sauce and a hint of heat. Grated red cabbage, carrots and jicama marinated in lime juice with rice and black beans—simple but delicious. Homemade beer made for great conversation but was barely drinkable.

As remote as these people lived, they were well connected with Internet. Each had fascinating stories to tell and was extremely well read. Le’on used a small black amplifier to pull music in from all over the world. Conversations drifted between obscure Russian composers to philosophy to driving in China to the corruption of governments and hopeful signs in the world. Elena, who had been fairly quiet, told an incredible story of riding out a hurricane alone in the palapa. By the end of the evening our original disappointment at the rustic nature of the place was fading. What it lacked in modern amenities it was definitely making up for with character and stunning natural beauty.

Palapa on Beach

Palapa on Beach

Sleep came quickly and deep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the wind whistling outside the palapa. The early morning quiet was broken by the chirping of our resident gecko. Two eager puppies appeared to nuzzle and lick my face as if to say, “Don’t sleep through the incredible sunrise.” I grabbed my camera and shoes. As the sky slipped out of its dark veil, the radiance of morning changed moment by moment.

Behrto was already awake when we walked into the kitchen. He handed me his binoculars. A school of whales were playing in the waters not far off the shore.

Le’on shouted over the wall as we finished eating. “The sun’s out and winds are calm. If anyone wants to swim, this is the time.” We watched this 80 year old scramble down the cliffs and slide down the sand dunes with a surfboard under his arm. David, Jan, and I looked at each other and smiled. “I think I could live like this,” David said as we grabbed our sandals and hats and headed toward the beach.

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Snug in my Sleeping Bag

 

2 AM  Playa de Coyote’

Bahai de Concepcion

Mulege, Mexico

DSC03587Snug in my sleeping bag, I lie here resisting the thought of getting out of the tent and walking to a place to pee. It takes a herculean effort of will to project myself out of this safe little tent though I suppose it is irrational to think of a tent as a safe space. There is that fear of being by myself in the dark, but waking David wouldn’t be fair. Finally I can’t ignore it any longer. I skooch across the airbed and unzip the tent stepping into the  night.

We are camping on Bahia Concepcion about an hour south of Mulege, Mexico, and two hours north of Loreto in Baja.

DSC03582Once I resolve my problem, I grab my sweat shirt and beach chair to savor the moment. A full moon overhead casts a pearl like glow to the beach. The sound of sand on sand is mesmerizing as the water gently laps against the shore. Occasionally some silly fish jumps , and I can see his silhouette. It’s peaceful but definitely not soundless.  Huge semis along Baja’s Continental Highway cruise along the side of the mountain, gears grinding as they attempt the next hill. Their headlights send mini searchlights across the bay. Judging by his screech and white underbelly reflected in the moonlight, I think a night heron flew over my head.  In my beach chair, toes snuggled into cool sand, I feel like a witness to a great mystery.

Travelling is a little like reading my writing out loud. I can hear the imperfections in the cadences, phrases that work and those that beg to be shortened.

It takes being outside my own culture to get an overview of where I come from.  I feel a certain sadness at our utter slavery to consumer driven lifestyles. Why is it that we never sit outside under the stars anymore? Our busy modern lives are crammed with obligations and constant distractions that block us from the time and presence of mind to enjoy the simplicity of nature. So rarely do I (or anyone I know) sit quietly and savor the beauty of the natural world.

Around the world, it is assumed that we in the U.S.  are blessed to be so materially well off. In many ways we are lucky, but we don’t see how it strangles our deeper selves.

 

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The Year of Traveling Dangerously

 

DSC03566_edited-1I’ve been thinking that fear is like the crust on a bowl of French Onion Soup. If you don’t break through, you can’t enjoy the yummy center.

When we told friends and family that we intended to drive south through Baja, Mexico; responses were unanimous. Like the whistle of a tea kettle, they warned us of the dangers.  So much hype in our media distorts our understanding of the world more than informs us. Not necessarily misinformation because there have been dangerous situations and definitely corruption in Mexico. BUT it’s more like minimal information blown into way too dramatic conclusions. Our media supports the all too human tendency to cling to the negative. It makes a better story.

Travel can also have a higher purpose as well as good food and a relaxing get away from our stress filled lives. To me, one of the values of travel is to dispel those gross assumptions we make about the peoples of other cultures. It’s not something one learns through the news media or sitting on the deck of a cruise ship.

I feel that David and I, in some ways, are of service when we travel by being good ambassadors.  Dispelling the myth of the rich, spoiled Americans; and bringing fresh, unjaded eyes to the new cultures we encounter. Travel creates bridges. More exchanges of cultures, I believe, can help eliminate wars.

DSC03481_edited-1Still steeped in tradition, Mexico has embraced modernity with vigor. It is no longer our poverty stricken, undeveloped neighbor to the south. Mexico has moved through its adolescence into better infrastructure, more environmental awareness, more kids in new clothes on good bikes, young people with cool jobs, less garbage strewn along the roads. In fact, I see more garbage along our own freeways than I did in Mexico.  The tables are turning.

 

 

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On the Road Again

DSC01540_edited-1Travel writer, Pico Iyer, is one of my heroes and teachers. He wrote:

“I feel successful when I come back from a trip somehow not myself. I remain awake nights unsettled by what I’ve seen. The postcards, receipts, and the stories they tell convey only a small bit of what I encountered both in the world and within myself. They can’t express those moments that haunt, that lie somewhere beyond what I can’t put into words and what I don’t quite understand.”

 

Travel today is largely to escape one’s life— to rest from the mad pace of our 21st Century lifestyles. Tourism has become an industry that offers predictability, safety, and most importantly comfort. Luxury is marketed to us (Westerners) as if it is the ultimate goal of a satisfied life. Around the world; bus, train stations, and airports are full of “backpackers” usually in their mid to late 20’s. These young people are out exploring the world they inhabit. But once we are older, Americans tend to avail themselves of the cruise industry and guided travel packages that offer entertainment, eating opportunities, and sites to see. These are often, but not always, at exorbitant prices. Traveling to learn about and explore the cultures and peoples along the way is not, for the most part, a main focus.

But there are deeper, richer lessons to be learned on the road. Some of us yearn to travel to find ourselves or lose ourselves as the case may be. There is a different relationship to time on the road, a freedom of thought I don’t usually have at home or don’t allow myself to have where I am encumbered with responsibilities and relationships. It is actually liberating to break away from stultifying habits and the addiction to comfort that strangles us and stops us from truly seeing the world around us.

100_1643The Muslim call to prayer echoing from mosque to mosque above the clamor of traffic and commerce. The ancient jacaranda tree I could see  from my hotel balcony. The old gardener whose eyes met mine as we watched the fragrant white flowers of the Frangipani tree land silently on the stone walkway. The children splashing and bathing on the ghats of the Ganges filling me with a sudden unanswerable awareness that I knew this place before. These are transforming moments that tattooed a permanent impression in my awareness.

I offer you these stories, adventures and dining delights. They are not in any chronological order. I hope you will find, as I have, there is something sacred waiting to be discovered in every journey.

 

 

 

 

 

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