On the Road Again – to Japan!

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On the Road Again, this time in the Land of the Rising Sun, on a Japanese culinary tour organized by my chef friends Mei Ibach and John Ash. There are nine of us from Healdsburg and Santa Rosa and we arrived last night for a 13-day adventure in Osaka and Kyoto.

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Awakened in Osaka to a bright, sunny day and Wendy and I took our traditional morning walk, albeit not on the Healdsburg Ridge. We set out at 6:45 am in search of coffee and what was our surprise to discover absolutely no coffee that early and very few other people out, yet a sake shop with three eager patrons.

Never too early for sake!

Never too early for sake!

Our day as a group began at the Osaka Municipal Central Wholesale Markets, where we experienced global food in all its glory. We were surrounded by boxes upon boxes of fruit and a sea of local fresh, gorgeous fish. Auctions were taking place throughout the market where commercial buyers were setting their prices for quantities of food for their retail shops and restaurants. This market, which was established when Osaka Castle was built (and I’ll tell you when that was tomorrow, after our visit to the Castle), and provides Osaka consumers produce from various producers throughout the world, in a venue where fair prices are set and stable distribution is a given. We sampled food through the market and our first taste of sashimi melted in our mouths… IMG_4385IMG_4391IMG_4412

By 10:30 am we were more than ready for brunch, which turned out to be by far the best sushi I’ve ever tasted. I promise to take better notes about the specifics of what we eat, especially since Mei and John are experts. For our first day, let it suffice to say that eating sushi while walking it off as we strolled through a park filled with the fragrance and beauty of cherry blossoms in full regalia couldn’t have been more perfect. This park is the only place in Osaka where the trees are still in full bloom as a result of being covered each night, at the government’s expense, to extend the weeks of blossoming. IMG_4420IMG_4415IMG_4448IMG_4457

Meet my First Grandson – Bodhi Carson!

Months after returning home, I’m entering my last blog post. I suppose it’s like lingering over the final pages of a cherished book. Finishing means letting go of the pleasure and daily-ness of living this dream. Knowing that I had one more experience to post has kept me connected to the transformative months of my journey. I left the beginning of September with the intention of clearing my life and letting go of too much responsibility and daily activities. I return full of grace, remembering what it feels like to be a child: To awaken each morning with a sense of wonder and excitement; To follow one’s momentary desires; To laugh; explore while riding a bike; enter caves and hike miles underground; taste food in it’s most simple, delicious state; study the wines of foreign lands; and engage with people who respect wisdom that comes with age. I return revitalized and indeed ready to do the most meaningful work of my life. And, most importantly, to welcome my first grandchild — Bodhi Carson Gervreau, who has in three short weeks captured my heart.

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The Last City of My European Journey – Paris

I open wide the French windows on this glorious last day in Paris and see a woman riding her bike down the narrow Rue de Poitou, presumably on her way to work with seemingly not a care in the world. I hear the click, click, click of a woman’s shoes, the sound of a car every so often and look at the billowing clouds above the rooftops, as I practice my yoga for the last time for a while in Europe. It will not be 33 years before I return to Paris, where it is impossible not to fall in love. My heart is overflowing.

I think of what the day will bring, and smile at the thought of visiting Palais Garnier tonight for a modern ballet, followed by a long walk home to appreciate Paris by night. There is nothing I would rather do on my last night in Paris. Every moment of every day throughout these past two months in Europe has been like today. Fortuitous, perfect, living in the moment and allowing time to unfold, as it will, naturally.

From the moment I arrived in Shetland, and was greeted by Susie and Angus and escorted the five moments it took to drive from the small airport to a sunset walk on the beach, this journey has been seamless. May I hold close these cherished memories and always remember the richness that comes from living fully in each and every moment?

In closing, I will let the magnificence of Paris speak for itself through these photos. I must however add that today on my last day of this journey I will spend the day doing what my mother-in-law did so many years ago. I will search the city for the most precious pure cotton, soft baby clothes fit for a little prince or princess, and I will return to my children, tomorrow, gifts in hand with stories to tell.

A perfect place to stay in Le Marais

A perfect place to stay in Le Marais

Civilized city living

Civilized city living

La Seine —flowing through Paris and into the English Channel creating the boundaries of Rive Droite and Rive Gauche

La Seine —flowing through Paris and into the English Channel creating the boundaries of Rive Droite and Rive Gauche

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I ask you, is there any city more beautiful than Paris?

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My favorite museum in the world - Musée Rodin

My favorite museum in the world – Musée Rodin

Le Penseur —Rodin's most monumental sculpture

Le Penseur —Rodin’s most monumental sculpture

03. Champignions03. Fruits

Champignons — The main reason to visit France in November!

Second best reason...

Second best reason…

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Love is all around!

Love is all around!

Ahhh Paris!

Ahhh Paris!

Shops of gay Paris — The French translation of Artisan

Shops of gay Paris — The French translation of Artisan

Centre Georges Pompidou — National Museum of Modern Art

Centre Georges Pompidou — National Museum of Modern Art

Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier

What was my delight upon looking up to see  a ceiling painting by Marc Chagall?

What was my delight upon looking up to see a ceiling painting by Marc Chagall?

La Bambouseraie in Anduze

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Les Terrasses du Gardon – During our farewell luncheon on a lovely terrace overlooking the village of Anduze and Le Gardon river, Remi and I enjoyed the Menu du jour followed by a trip to La Bambouseraie. This bamboo park designed in the late 19th century, draws tourists from near and far. There are more than 60 different types of bamboos from throughout the world, diverse oak trees and, believe or not, even Sequoias which originated in Oregon. Giant Magnolia trees were among my favorite as were the multitude of Japanese Maples all in full color this time of year. The visit was exquisite and again, many thanks to my gracious host Rémi for making sure that I saw so many interesting sites.

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Michele Belair’s Art Restorations

In the town of Ales, we met with the art historian who was restoring paintings that have been in Rémi’s family for generations. Michele 1

It was fascinating to see the progression of Michele Belair’s artistry with these 17th to 19th century works of art.Michele 2

While there, he also showed us other restorations including one that he almost refused as he felt it was not an important piece, only to discover a very valuable painting underneath. Michele digitally walked us through the before, middle and almost finished process.

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According to the professionals at the Louvre, Michele Belair is considered one of the best restorative artists in Europe. What a treat to meet this charming and talented gentleman who was most generous in educating us about the subtleties of art restoration.

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Rémi’s Pot-au-feu

This trip would not have been complete without a traditional Pot-au-feu. When Rémi lived in Sonoma County, all of our friends were introduced to his pot-au-feu as a rite of passage into our Franco-American marriage and lives. A trip to the Anduze Farmers’ Market was, of course, where he began his day of cooking.

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Cirque de Navacelles

The sun came out and we departed for our next grand adventure. Two hours into the drive back to Anduze, Remi surprised me with a stop at Cirque de Navacelles  — check it out on the internet, as my photos can’t do justice to this natural wonder of the world. Cirque 1Cirque 2

It is a classified UNESCO Humanity Patrimony (which means it’s considered one of the most extraordinary sites in the world). I was in awe that within two short weeks I was privileged to see two wonders of the world — the first being the Caves of Antiparos, and the second this deep, deep canyon created from a tiny river that occurred somewhere between 140-160 million years ago. Talk about the trip of a lifetime. I’m ever so grateful to Rémi for making this detour to show me this extraordinary place. My first view was from the top of the canyon. Cirque 3Rémi then drove the 10 km to the bottom where a village had been established hundreds of years ago. The switchbacks were reminiscent of a “E” ride at Disneylandand if the sight hadn’t been so inspiring I wouldn’t have been able to watch. We toured the small village and enjoyed the cascade and natural ponds. We then ascended going the opposite direction and upon reaching the top hiked to Belvédère de la Doline.Cirque 4Cirque 5

 

Anduze, St. Roman, Rodez – France

Each morning I took walks through the ancient village of St. Roman, which dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

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On the way to Rodez to visit Rémi’s friends Jean-Pierre and Genevieve Charissou, we stopped for lunch in Plateau du Larzac at Le Gare Oaux Anes and ordered the Menu du Jour….Salade de Chevre Chaud & Boeuf Bourguignon — it was pouring down rain and the warm lunch offered a welcome reprieve from the onset of winter.

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At the Farmers’ Market in Rodez –’tis the season for champignons. As we were in Roquefort country where the choices were overwhelming, cheese was also on the menu. Thankfully, Rémi knew just which one to choose, the Vieux Berger, that can be found only in this region of Aveyron. Then lunch at Jean-Pierre and Genevieve’s using the butternut squash, champignons, fish, pain and fromage fresh from the farmers’ market, felt like being back in Healdsburg.

Anduze, France

Rémi lives in Anduze, a small medieval village with a castle from the 12th century. Le Gardon is the river, which runs through it, and originates from the seven mountains as it meanders down to Le Rhone. Anduze is named La Port de Cevennes because it’s the first access to the seven mountains coming from the Mediterranean Sea. The main industry in this southern village of France is, you guessed it, winegrowing. Languedoc-Roussillon is an emerging winegrowing region that has gained tremendous respect and notoriety in the past two decades. This area is one of the sunniest regions in France with the cultivation of fruit and vegetables as the second largest industry after wine. (Sounds a lot like Sonoma County, doesn’t it?).

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As for the wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the winery closest to where I am living at Rémi’s, and whose vineyards I walk each morning, is called Vignerons de Tornac. Some of their wines are labeled “AB” which denotes Agriculture Biologique (organically farmed and made, which means no sulfites). The 2012 Merlot and 2012 Sauvignon Blanc are definite bargains. For 3.78 Euros each these wines are delicious. In fact, we purchased other local wines for around 11 euros each which couldn’t compare in quality.

Marseille, France — The 2013 European Capital of Culture

In honor of welcoming our first grandchild into the world in January, my ex-husband Rémi met me at the Marseille airport. We toured the city by car and by foot, prior to having lunch on the Vieux Port in the centre of town that had recently undergone apparently a much needed renovation.

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Rémi in Marseille.

The sprucing up of Marseille celebrates the honor that was bestowed on the city this year in being named the European Capital of Culture. With a port full to the brim with boats, and locals and tourists strolling the dock listening to mistrals and perusing the many things for sale at the open-air crafts market, I sensed Marseille as a big village with a slow, charming, multi-cultural population, surrounded by the sea, lots of sunshine, beautiful architecture and cobble-stoned streets. It was easy to imagine why, at the turn of the 20th century, Marseille had become Europe’s second busiest port, after Barcelona, on the Mediterranean Sea, and a refuge for immigrants from throughout Europe and the world.

We celebrated our first night in Anduze with dinner at Rémi’s favorite restaurant Le Cabanon

Last Night in Greece with a Full Moon lighting the Acropolis

On a brilliant blue-sky day in Greece, after awakening early to say goodbye to Paros, return my bike, and take the last walk along the port and through the old settlement village, Luciano walked me to the ferry. I settled into my seat on the top tier outside with the wind against my face and bid a fond farewell to an island that captured a huge part of my heart. With hundreds of people on the Saturday afternoon boat, what was my surprise to literally bump into a woman who had been in my yoga class? We enjoyed each other’s company for the five-hour boat ride discussing lives lived thousands of miles apart, bound by the threads of womanhood, using fragmented sentences, facial expressions and highly active hands.

Paros to Athens was similar to the earlier transition of Edinburgh to Istanbul. So much activity, bustling, rapid movements, looking left to right to ensure safety of one’s life while crossing streets, and lots and lots of people everywhere — until I reached the sanctuary of Joe’s home in the neighborhood of Mets. After welcoming the evening with a delicious Greek Rosé on his patio, not far from the Acropolis, we enjoyed dinner at MAHNMAHN, an upscale restaurant, which specializes in modern Greek Cuisine. The food was simply delicious.

The story I wish to tell, however, is the walk after dinner beginning at midnight. The full moon was bright enough to allow us to safely stroll along cobbled streets to the top of a hill where we had an exquisite view of the Acropolis. But it was the getting there that took my breath away. With each step we saw different perspectives of the Acropolis surrounded by old parts of the city where the architecture and history came alive as Joe, a Greek architect, described to me in great detail the history of what we were seeing. We came across a small, very old church, which had centuries ago been elegantly landscaped and designed with a minimalist’s eye, and I breathed in the history of this ancient city.Postcards from Paros 19Postcards from Paros 20Postcards from Paros 21Postcards from Paros 22