Despite the turmoil of the Gilets Jaunes protests that have rocked France, the city is lovely, full of markets, churches, lovely shops, great food. Walking these streets is such a gift:
I love that our gym in Florence allows kids to come in and hang out or play foosball while their parents work out. Another thing I love about our gym is that there is a big snack bar with cozy tables, selling cappuccino, chocolate raspberry tarts, and cornetti, right inside the entrance. Or the exit. Or both. What an inspiring way to start and end a workout!
Florence is exquisite. We are living in a city full of art! Not that life on the road is always easy. I miss the little conveniences, like washing machines, dishwashers, green grass in parks that you can actually walk on.
I have stopped running away when people speak to me in Italian. Sometimes I even answer them. So I guess that’s progress. But what comes out of my mouth is not Italian. It contains a bit of English, un soupçon of French, and a lot of mystery…but no Italian to speak of.
I was struck by this small chapel on the way to the medieval castle Le Belvoir. In English, it reads: "You who pass, see if there is any suffering as great as mine." But none of us, in any faith or from any land, has a monopoly on suffering...The other photo is taken just below the castle, looking out at the valley below.
We’ve landed here in the Franche-Comté region of France, right on the border with Switzerland. It will be hard to leave this place. The days are bright and cold; the wind never stops. I thought I would miss autumn entirely this year, but we drove across three countries and caught up with it. Clothes whip dry on the line in two hours. Cows in the pasture that abuts our backyard come over to investigate. Wherever we are, we hear the chime of cowbells in the wind.
We walk a few kilometers through a path that crosses woods and pastures to the top of a hill, where we find the Belvoir castle, a twelfth-century castle of grey stone. A solid older woman with a gracious smile takes our money and gives us tickets; a teenage boy guides us on a tour. The boy tells us that the portrait in the hall is of the woman who sold us our tickets, painted when she was sixteen. In the painting, she has linen wrapped around her head like a Bougereau peasant. How time transforms us all. There are few visitors, almost no tourists, but the locals never pass us without a “bonjour.” Few visitors come to this part of France.
It is a perfect day. The children and the dog careen ahead on the path. The grass shimmers. We fill our pockets with apples from wild trees that are so laden they spill their fruit everywhere. The air smells of cider. We pick windfall walnuts, wild mint. The horses watch us curiously as we pass.
Yesterday we took a nine-hour boat ride, in and out of harbors, past the archipelago of poets, to the UNESCO heritage site of Scandola Nature reserve, followed by the Isles Sanguinaires. We sailed through turquoise waters with turquoise fish swimming in them, past red cliffs hundreds of feet high that descend straight into the sea. It was breathtaking. Our little dog was scared at first on the boat, but as the hours passed, she settled in on our laps. She was polite to everyone who came to meet her, even the old ladies who greeted her by poking her on the nose.
We could see how outlaws chose to disappear in Corsica—the terrain is so rough and unforgiving that unless you know it, you don’t stand much of a chance. The photo of the kayakers gives a sense of the scale of the cliffs.We also learned that Corsica resisted fiercely during WWII, and were the first Department in France to liberate themselves (without outside help) from the German-Italian occupation. If you have the chance to visit Scandola, go—and go by boat if you are able.
We had lunch in Girolata, a small seaside village with no cars, only boats (fifteen inhabitants during winter months) accessible only by boat, where we were met by cows on the beach.
Thrilled to be one of the contributing poets for this stunning installation by artist Sarah E. Brook: Check it out this month in #NYC at Riverside Park South on the west side of #Manhattan at 68th street. Photo credits Sarah E. Brook, www.sarahebrook.com
(I wish we could attend!)
August 31, 2018
We have begun our big family trip! We’re here in Ajaccio, Corsica, swimming, wandering, eating olives and tomatoes and Tuscan melon, enjoying an entirely different pace of life. I’m working on a new book—fiction this time, and of course the stories are changed by being here, by all that’s not like home. Having the unstructured time with my family is such a gift. And we have also learned that our little dog is a surprisingly good traveler, and loves being able to come to cafes and markets with us. She's curious about the tortoises in the garden, but not enough to get too close.
Here are a few photos so far. And credit to the restaurant that quotes Brillat-Savarin, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai qui tu es," and then offers Octopussy burger for lunch.
Delighted to introduce my Cross-Border Conversations Interview Series. Astute observations on inspiration, community and the vocation of writing from Ayelet Tsabari, Valerie Trueblood, and Yael Neeman in Maisonneuve Magazine: https://maisonneuve.org/post/2018/07/29/cross-border-conversations-yael-neeman-valerie-tru/
Photo Credit: Benjamin Fieschi-Rose