Flowing with Change

A message from a fellow traveler who is following my blog, asked:

“How are you holding up emotionally? I wonder how long we can be away from all that is familiar with friends/family/familiar spots, etc., before a sense of longing may [over]come?…”

After typing a rather long response for a Messenger message, I realized I had just written my next Blog post, so here, essentially, are my thoughts about that.

Before I left the U.S., I said to everyone, “I know there may come a time when I ‘hit the wall’, when I am suddenly feeling sad and missing « home » and « family » and « friends » and wonder, ‘what have I done?’” Some have told me this happens around the 6 month mark. So, although I’ve only been here 4 months, I have to say I haven’t had the tiniest speck of such sadness or concern. Maybe it’s because I have spent my whole life (or 50 years of it) wanting this; maybe it’s because I’m pretty fluent in French; maybe it’s because I had connections here already; maybe it’s because I’m living in a beautiful, luxurious apartment the likes of which I probably won’t have again; and maybe there’s still time for me to hit the wall. But I don’t think so. I think I am truly happier here than I’ve ever been anywhere, and feel the most at home I’ve ever felt. My heart feels finally where it belongs (« home is where the heart is »), and so far, no pangs of regret.

Now, I must say that I do miss my daughters. They have been for me the reason I want to live as long as possible. I want to see them grow and flourish and have good lives, and how that will manifest. My great sadness is for my eldest, who, although she is doing well, has an incurable disease that could shorten her life by many years…Cystic Fibrosis. Since she was diagnosed at 16, I have lived much of my life never wanting to be too far from her for fear of missing out on precious time. However, she is doing well, great strides are being made all the time, and I truly feel she will be around for a long time to come (she is 35…way older than many who have CF live to be). With FaceTime, I “see” her more often than I did when I was home, and we have enjoyed more real time closeness since I’ve been here!! I still miss her terribly, and will know if the time is ever right for me to return to be closer to her. My younger daughter and I are connected in our hearts, and I can still see her feisty little scrunched up face the minute she was born which said, “Watch out world, and Mom, I’m going to challenge you every step of the way!”….and she has, and we have weathered every storm, which, hard as they have been, have taught me much and strengthened my love and determination for us to find our way through them. She is strong and creative and has a soft interior that is full of love to give and promises to fulfill. We have not lived in the same city for many years, so me being in France is not putting more physical distance between us. I am hoping for visits from her while I am here.

As for friends, I love them all in special and unique ways, and some have been like sisters to me. They will always be in my life and heart, and sometimes we need to acknowledge shifts in the landscape of our life and move into new phases of those friendships. For some, that will be sad, and for me, it is how I have always handled people moving away, or being out of touch, or our lives changing in ways that create big differences between us. Like the old song I used to sing in Brownies goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold!” I know that when I see them again, we’ll pick right up where we left off. And for family members, it is the same. Family bonds are always there. Family is the undergirding of our lives, and while we may find ourselves separated from them for various reasons, they are unique and unlike any other connections – the expression “blood is thicker than water” resonates for me that way. My sister and I have lived in different parts of the east coast for most of the last 40 years! We see each other only about twice a year at Christmas and in the summer, and the rest of the time, we burn up the phone lines, and since being here, use FaceTime often. She will be coming in the spring to visit and get a taste of life in France as she’s never been here. Our relationship is not one of physical presence, AND it is one of “Presence” for sure.

I love how questions from people I don’t even know very well can provoke a stream of consciousness that floats to the surface and flows onto the page. Thank you dear reader for yours, and if you read this, I hope it was helpful. I hope, for all you readers, that something I write illuminates a dark corner of your mind and becomes of service.

BREAD – the Boulangerie is Alive and Well Here!

It has been on my mind to write a post about bread for awhile now, and a news story from The New York Times today, entitled “French Baguettes From a Vending Machine? What a Tragedy” finally prompted me to do so! Yes, indeed, it would be a tragedy if vending machines for baguettes became a necessity. No question. Bread in France is a way of life…some would argue that it IS life itself. Before coming here, and even on brief visits over my lifetime, I never realized the importance and iconic status of bread in France.

People back home, when I told them I was coming to live here would quip, “Oh, watch out for the bread!” Funny thing about that, I’ve learned…the bread in France, while it does contain gluten, the types of flour used and the process of making it, especially if done in an artisanal shop, eliminates the problems people have with gluten. I don’t think people with Celiac can eat it, but I’ve heard that most gluten sensitivities are not experienced here in France! Wow! How freeing that has been. So, you folks with gluten sensitivities come on over!

So this is a big subject, and I just have to write something about it as it is truly part of my everyday life. The “traditional baguette” is ubiquitous, and what we all imagine when we think of the French, is someone walking down a quaint little street, baguette in their hand, sometimes without even a bag, going home to enjoy breakfast, lunch or even dinner with a fresh baked baguette. One thing I have discovered since coming here over the last 10+ years is that there is far more to bread than baguettes. I have many times walked into a boulangerie and just stood there, looking at all the shapes, sizes and configurations of bread, upright in their nesting places against the wall behind the counter. What do I ask for? Everyone was getting probably what they usually buy, and I had no idea what to say! It took many visits before I began to try each one…baguette tradition, à l’ancienne or de compagne; baguette complet, aux céréales, aux olives, aux raisins et noix; boule d’épautre, boules des châtaigne (chestnuts), pain noir, pain aux olives, pain sègle, etc.

Just for a little history, bread is so revered in France that is actually regulated by law as to ingredients, and in order to be called a boulangerie, the bread has to be made on the premises and have a designation on the window or door indicating it is “un artisan authentique,” or some such wording. Ingredients for the traditional baguette are what you might expect: wheat flour, water, yeast and salt, with some deviations regarding types of flour. They cannot be frozen, and use of preservatives is not allowed. As I discovered upon beginning my life here, bread only lasts 24 hours. And, as a single person, in the beginning I often was throwing 1/2 of it away! However, I’ve learned that most boulangeries will sell you a half baguette! One would think that with so few ingredients, all baguettes would taste about the same. NOT AT ALL. As a total neophyte in the beginning, I bought my baguettes anywhere I happened to pass by, and then I learned about some very special boulangeries surrounding where I live. Oh, my! The difference is very distinct. What you want to go for is a light and crispy outer crust that cracks and flakes onto your plate or lap when you bite it, and a soft center, almost with a tiny sweetness, which must be the salt. No butter needed! In the morning a little “confiture” on a fresh baguette is divine. The end, or heel, of the baguette is called the guignon and is considered the tastiest part of the baguette. I find it almost too hard to bite and (oh! blasphème) throw it away!

In recent weeks, I am finally comfortable walking into a boulangerie and either knowing what I’m there to buy, or asking for a description of the bread, and sometimes a taste! I have found that I buy traditional baguettes less often and usually get bread made with nuts, or whole grains (céréales), or sweeter varieties with raisins or bits of orange…of course those cost a little more. A traditional baguette typically is €1.20 (about $1.50) and other types of bread around €3.20 (or $3.50). It is a daily, or almost daily, pleasure to visit one of my three local favorite boulangeries. Sometimes, I stay and have “un crème” (espresso with milk) and a pastry. One boulangerie, Les Rêves et Du Pain (Dreams and Bread) is so well-loved, and well-known now, that there is often a line outside in the morning just to get in the door! No one seems to mind. We all just wait our turn, most smiling and chatting, until we have our chance.

So, I pray the NYT story is only a blip on the landscape of French life, and that we will hold tight to this precious facet of it for many years to come.

Vive la France! Vive le Pain!


Today marks 3 months since I arrived in France on my 70th birthday on a “long stay” visa. It began as a year’s adventure, and has evolved into an open-ended journey. It is the first time I have traveled to France with no end date and no sense of pressure to get everything done, to see everything I want to see because I’m not sure when I’ll be back. This makes for a whole different concept of time and experience where I can just relax and let each day unfold.

Another American I met yesterday asked me a good question, I thought, which was, “Has your experience so far of living in France been what you expected, or more or less than you expected!?” I answered that I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, exactly, and that I knew for sure I have not been disappointed; nor had any feelings of discomfort; nor nostalgia about my life in the U.S.; nor have I been sad or thought for one moment I had made the wrong decision! I guess that’s saying a lot. I can also go a step further and declare that this feels like home to me more than I have felt at home in a long, long time.

I have wanted to make my life here as normal and unstructured as possible. I am not only living in a new country, I am retired from my very rewarding work as an acupuncturist for 25 years, so everything is new to me. 

When I was here in April of this year, I met a few women who have become good friends. I have added a few friends, both women from the States and women from other countries, like Morocco, Vietnam, England, and France. I am part of a couple of groups who meet periodically, and have done some traveling within France so far, including Lyon back in September (see post “The Colors of Lyon”); Bordeaux, in October (and hope I can write about that wonderful experience at some point); and this past week, I traveled to Les Baux de Provence where the grand exposition of VanGogh and a Japanese artist’s images come alive in an immersive musical and light display inside Les Carrières des Lumières (www.carrieres-lumieres.com)which is a venue carved out of limestone rock. That trip will require a whole blog post to itself as getting there without a car and with the trains on strike and flooded out, was a real “trip.” 

France is a beautiful country. Every day, everywhere, I find something that takes my breath away. I have truly gotten in touch with AWE since I’ve been here. Speaking French every day and hearing myself improve in both my speaking and my understanding of fast-spoken French is one of the reasons I wanted to come. French is a beautiful language, and being able to speak it and have a real conversation with someone is such a feeling of accomplishment and joy. I love walking for miles every day and not having to get in a car to go everywhere. Having legs that carry me has become a daily acknowledgment and true blessing, especially when I think of friends and family who have knees and hips that need to be or have been replaced. Do we take these gifts for granted? I will not take mine for granted again! I recently met and am coming to know, a woman named Jeanette (Mai) born the same year as me, whose mother was born the same year as mine, and whose mother was Vietnamese and father French. She wrote a memoir which I read in two days! (Waltzing with the Dragons) It was such an eye opener for me to read about this woman’s life which was happening at the same time as mine, yet halfway around the world in a war torn country from which she had to flee, and whose mother was banished from the family for refusing to marry, at 13, the man her mother had chosen for her. Our lives to this point couldn’t have been more different, and yet here we are, living in the same town in France, and have discovered that we do have some things in common now. How very fascinating this is for me.

So, yes, I have traveled far in both my personal life development and in distance from my native country, and I am learning new ways of being, new ways of doing, new ways of thinking every day. And as far from my roots as I have come, I believe I am finally home.