I‘ve been thinking that there would be time to post an end of the year letter like the very nice ones I’ve been receiving in the mail – but no, the clock has almost run out.
We started 2014 in Paris, celebrating with our American friends Martha and Terry and French friend Pascale and her mother (German friend) Barbara. Later in January we were off to see Van Morrison in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and along the way learned about “the Troubles” between Catholics and Protestants, about the building of the Titanic and its fateful voyage, and got to see some of the rugged coastline.
In February we searched for a new apartment and then moved just a few blocks to a larger, quieter place in our same Latin Quarter neighborhood.
In March we received a surprise invitation from our Seattle friend Laurie Greig to come stay at her friend’s house in the small town of Saint-Cannat in Provence. We toured Mount Sainte Victoire where Cézanne did much of his painting, visited the market at Saint Rémy, and spent a day visiting the Roman ruins and amphitheater at Orange, as well as touring a bit of the côte du Rhone wine country nearby. We also celebrated our 25th Anniversary with dinner at a wonderful hotel in Saint-Cannat.
In April we made it through the difficult process of preparing to renew our residence permit for a second year in France, though the permit itself wasn’t ready until July. Later in April we saw Randi Strong Petersen, who came for a few days after visiting family in England.
In May our friend Don Merry arrived, and after a couple days in Paris we went to Barcelona, where we spent a lot of time getting to know the works of architect Antoni Gaudi as well as seeing many other sights. After that Brenda and Don headed off on a further great adventure, first to steamy Sevilla and then to fabulous Madrid. I went back to Paris hoping to catch up on a few things, but my mother passed away, so I made plans to go back to her home in Pekin, Illinois. Brenda and I flew to the US for her funeral shortly after Brenda returned from Spain.
In late May, just after our return from the US, Rob Gelder and Brian Johnson came to Paris for a few days of sight seeing, and then we went with them on the train to Bordeaux, and then by car into the Perigord region of central France, where we stayed in a 400 year old cottage in the small village of Berbigueres. This was a fabulous trip that we have yet to report on in our blog. The first day we saw the 17,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux, and afterwards spent each day on a new foray to see the various famous castles in the area, one example being the cliffside city at Rocamadour, a legendary Christian pilgrimage site built in the 1100s. Five liters of very good Bergerac (the town where Cyrano came from) wine in a box from the local coop cost 8 Euros, and most nights we cooked wonderful dinners at home (that would be Rob and Bryan and Brenda who did the cooking).
Brenda and I went out for Paris’s popular all night party, Fête de la Musique, on the June 21st. Later in June we made the first of two trips to Normandy with our French friends Cat and Jacques. We stayed at Deauville and visited other coastal towns along the Normandy beaches, namely Trouville, Cabourg, and Honfleur. Jacques and I went swimming in the chilly Atlantic – water temperatures were about 60 degrees F.
In July we saw Keb Mo at a great small venue concert in Paris – our seats about 20 feet from him on stage. Brenda got to shake hands with him as he headed off stage. One beautiful summer day we visited Monet’s garden at Giverny. Another summer night we had dinner with Pierre, the Fromager at our local food market. Afterwords we walked with him along the Seine and took in the activities at Paris Plages, the local summer festival where the highway along the river is turned into a beach for people to come and enjoy if they cannot leave town for the customary summer vacation. We also spent a day with Cat and Jacques at the medieval village of Provins, south of Paris, where we saw demonstrations of falconry and jousting, as well as a full scale play of the knights defeating the invaders in an exciting demonstration of horsemanship and fighting skills.
In August we were off to Normandy again for another weekend, this time staying at Étretat, a small village with high cliffs sheltering a small beach. It was a popular site for some of the Impressionist painters, as well as another place for Jacques and I to swim in the Atlantic, this time a few degrees warmer. Also we spent a day at the spectacular Vaux le Vicomte, the Château of Nicholas Fouquet, superintendent of finances for Louis XIV. When the King saw Fouquet’s Chateau at a party held in the King’s honor, Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life for alleged misappropriation of public finances. Louis XIV hired Fouquet’s team of architects and landscapers to create Versailles. Later in August Brenda headed to the US to see her mom in Spokane, Washington, for 11 days.
When she returned to Paris in September, we headed off again with Cat and Jacques on a new adventure, a two week vacation in the Dominican Republic. I never imagined that I would be going there. It was our first experience with an all inclusive resort vacation, and we had a great time. We also made an effort to go into the cities and experience the local flavor of the island.
In early October, my sister-in-law Jan Hiatt and nephew Alex Nelson visited us in Paris for a few days as part of Alex’s corporate sabbatical. They were the first of my family to make it to Paris. Later in the month my brother Peter spent a few days with us, and he was back again in early December, now that he has work that regularly brings him to England.
In November we renewed more easily our residence permit for another year in France. With the help of Mon Ami Andy, an agency that helps English speakers with real estate and residence issues, we now have the process fairly under control.
On the holidays of Valentines Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving, and during the Christmas season, we went to dinner cooking classes at La Cuisine, an excellent highly recommended cooking school located near us. We’ve continued throughout the year to take French lessons twice a week, and though it seems like we’ve learned a lot, there is still a wide gulf between what we know and what I would describe as fluency. It has been a humbling experience.
Through the year we’ve had numerous other visitors whom we’ve spent the day or perhaps met for dinner. We enjoyed every moment with them and hope you’ll get in touch with us if you are ever in Paris. We love sharing our experiences and local knowledge. I’ve failed to mention numerous art exhibits and galleries we’ve visited, and many many walks around town just to enjoy life here. Throw in going to the gym every other day, the local market three times a week, and keeping up with friends and obligations in the United States, and life is pretty busy.
For the second year in a row we celebrated Christmas with our friends Cat and Jacques and their family. We’ve seen them perhaps once or twice a week, often for a movie and usually for dinner, all year long, and without their help and interest our experience here might be entirely different, for they have provided a true window into what it’s like to be French. Many evenings we have played highly competitive games of scrabble in French, men against the women – and the women usually win.
After a second year in Paris we’ve made some decisions. We’re headed back to the US in February to fully retire (or maybe it’s “more fully retire”), sell the house, consolidate all of our stuff, simplify our finances and return to Paris in July for another year. This continues to be a great adventure.
It’s almost New Year’s Eve. We hope that you and your family have a healthy and happy 2015. Bonne Année!
Brenda and Hugh