Fire! (and other F words) Part III


The FIRE in my apartment building in Montpellier happened on the evening of January 3, 2020. I had left for the U.S. on Jan. 2! It was such a lucky break for me that I wasn’t there. The building had to be evacuated. No one was hurt, thank goodness, and some folks had to be medically assessed. I still wonder about the 97 year old woman and her 70+ year old son who lived with her – “neighbors” across the courtyard, whom I had observed with curiosity through my 20 foot high windows. Their side of the building was where the fire started in a first floor apartment kitchen, and the flames reached our 3rd floor (French 2e) apartments. When a friend notified me of the fire in an email, it had happened already 3 days before. I anxiously wrote to my friends, the owners of the apartment, to get some information, and it was another day before I heard anything from them. When I did, they said that no one was allowed back into the building, it was locked and shuttered, and I would have to make an appointment with the clean up company to get all my things out as soon as I returned, and should probably look for another apartment, permanently! They told me that while their/my apartment wasn’t damaged by fire, there would be smoke damage to my clothing and other things I had left behind. I would not be able to leave them in the apartment as work on the building would begin as soon as access was allowed, and they would be using it as an office while the work was being done.

I think I stayed pretty calm at first, hoping I would hear more with maybe an offer of help to move or find a place to stay. As time went on with only links and phone numbers for their insurance people sent from the owners, who were also friends, I began to panic! I had a plane ticket back to France in one week and I had no place to go!!

Over the next days in the U.S., after many emails, contacting friends, working with my Renestance team who had helped me so much with my move to France, posting on a womens’ expat Facebook group I was part of from which I had dozens of helpful responses from women I had never even met, I found an Airbnb that was available for 2 weeks upon my return! Great! It was in the pedestrian part of town…so there was no way to transport everything from the old apartment to the new, except on foot, up and down the cobblestones streets, a distance of about 3/4 of a mile! 

My friends were wonderful! They came with boxes, a dolly, packing tape, and lots of brawn to help pack me up and move me out! It was SO much more than I had thought…how easy and fast it is to accumulate “stuff.” I had been careful not to, and just the extra clothing from the States, kitchen supplies, hangars, paperwork added a lot. Linda threw my plush “blankie” around her neck, Gary was pulling the dolly piled high, I had my pillows under my arm, and was pushing my two 4-wheeled suitcases with each arm! I had to laugh at the sight of us, like vagabonds on the move. Actually, I was very aware of the difference between my “misfortune” and that of people who were truly destitute carrying their lives on their backs or in a grocery cart…and in that moment, I actually felt blessed!

The long climb to the 3rd floor apartment, up winding, pie-shaped, shallow, stone stairs was challenging…55 of them in all. After my fall a few weeks ago, I was definitely in a bit of PTSD mode, and took it slowly. We made it. And for 3 septegenarians, that’s saying a lot!!


Two days later, a friend from the U.S. who had long ago made plans to visit me, arrived! Although I had had to tell her that my accommodations were in question, I assured her that we would work it out, come what may! It did add a bit of stress to my mounting sense of “WTF” (sorry…can’t think of a more appropriate expression!), and really, she helped me to stay grounded and present and not go “awful-izing”in my head too much. We had a nice time together, I was proud to show her my wonderful city, and she discovered places we could visit I might have never thought about. I believe, truly, that she kept me sane.

I am still here. At the end of this week, I have to pack up everything and store it away for the weekend, as this apartment was promised to another Airbnb rental before I came along. After they are gone, I can return for 10 more days during which time I must find another place to live! The pressure continues.

This morning I looked at an apartment that was just ok. Very small yet with a certain charm. After sitting with it for a little while, I decided it isn’t the one.  Later today, I heard about and saw pictures of a beautiful apartment, just what I want, and we will see if I get it. I’m moving forward gradually, hoping that I will reach the finish line before my 10 days are up!

POSTSCRIPT: I have learned that I can get a bit panicky in some situations, especially with great unknowns. And I know that, as I look back over my lifetime, everything, even the times which didn’t feel so good, has worked out. I believe that all things work for good, that it just takes perspective and wisdom and faith. Surprisingly, I have learned that I am very adaptable, so temporary inconveniences, situations that are different than I’ve been in before, new places, new living arrangements, can all be just fine once I get into the rhythm. And most of all, I have learned to trust the process and listen to my heart ❤️  – it never leads me astray.

FIRE 🔥 (and other F words) Part II

Part I ended with gratitude that I escaped a possibly horrific outcome from my fall down the stairs a few days before Christmas. I went on to have an enjoyable holiday in Montpellier with friends, watching the city come alive with twinkling white lights, a sound and light show that illuminated 20 or more of the most beautiful monuments in the Centre Ville for 3 days, little live Christmas trees along the “petites rues” and outside of many shop doors, and, of course, les marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) that lined the grand Esplanade just off the Comédie (central square). The Christmas spirit which, for me, had been fading the last few years back in the States because of the commercialism and early October appearance of ubiquitous Christmas music and decorations, returned, and I was reliving my childhood Christmases once again. No snow, and not even very cold here, yet the feeling of the holiday was everywhere. It was truly a whole city celebration with smiles on all the faces.

For Christmas Eve dinner I was invited, along with another single friend, to the home of some new friends, for homemade fish stew. It was a delightful evening exchanging our back stories together. Our hosts had been living in France for over 15 years, Sunshine from New England, Hugo from the UK, and Susan and I were both from the east coast U.S. On Christmas Day, I had been invited to have  noontime dinner at an elegant Brasserie by the Opéra – the first time I had dressed up since coming to France…I bought a fancy, very French, black skirt for the occasion, and red suede French boots. Champagne and wine flowed, and the oysters slid down like silk! My friend, Juliette, is Vietnamese and French, and her husband, Ian, is a Brit. 





After my fill of delicious holiday food had passed, and I was hungry again, I trotted off to my favorite market and bought some pork patties with cheese and bacon to cook for myself at home. I had had them before and they were delicious. In less than an hour after eating them, I began to feel awful…my stomach was churning, gurgling and the signs of intestinal upset were hard to ignore. After trying to convince myself that I had just eaten too much, I went upstairs to bed. Well that was all she wrote, and I will spare the details of my night. It was FOOD POISONING. I think this is the worst case I’d ever experienced, and for the next two weeks I could barely eat as my tummy just didn’t want anything in there at all…it needed time to recover!

This was the second big F word in this series. 

The expression “Never Two Without Three” had always seemed a bit ominous to me, although I have used it many times in my life. I can’t seem to recall a time, however, when the third had actually, and so obviously, come to pass. 

On Jan. 2, I made my first trip back to the U.S. in 5 months. It was wonderful to spend 5 whole days with my daughter, Katharine, and her husband, Mike, while she was still off from work for the holidays. We “hung out”; did errands together; saw the newest edition of the film, “Little Women;” and visited our 99 year old cousin at her retirement home. We also had lunch at a favorite country inn with my good friend and Katharine’s godmother and her husband; then visited the beautiful country cemetery of St. Thomas Church where my parents, Katharine’s beloved grandparents, are buried. 

My visit with Katharine and Mike was punctuated, however, with a very large exclamation point and a shocked-faced emoji on the 4th day with a horrific piece of news. A friend of mine back in France, who lived in another part of my neighborhood, sent me the following email: “….Not to alarm you, but have you heard from your landlords about the FIRE in your building?” I had not, and thus began the third incident, and the worst of them all !!!

To be continued in Part III coming soon!

FIRE 🔥(and other F words!) Part I


It has been way too long since my last post. December was Full of adventures of the challenging sort and threatened to shake my Foundation and confidence. I’m still hanging on and moving Forward, and so far I’m still in a bit of a Frenzy.


Briefly, a few days before Christmas, I took a FALL down a flight of stairs! I was with a friend visiting a sweet little beach town on the Mediterranean coast, just on the outskirts of Montpellier, and we had stopped at her condo there for a moment. As we were leaving, the sun was setting and the light on the stairway had not yet come on. We headed for the stairs and I stepped out onto the first one…except it wasn’t there! I panicked a bit as I tried to find my footing…and then I took off! Head over heels over head, hitting each of the 12 concrete steps with various parts of my body (I could tell this later by where the bruises were). I said to myself, “You’ve got to stop…this could be very bad..”, and then I did, a few steps from the bottom. My second thought was for my poor friend at the top of the stairs who I knew must be traumatized by the sight of me falling, so I called out to her, “I’m okay!” And I wasn’t entirely sure I was. However, I did break my arm falling down some stairs 20 years before, and knew what that felt like, so I was pretty sure that, miraculously, I had not broken anything!

My left hip was hurting a lot, and I couldn’t straighten my left elbow without quite a bit of pain, but somehow I knew they were just badly bruised. My funny bone was in shock and saying, “This is NOT funny.” Finally, I stood up and walked the last couple of steps to the bottom as I felt the need to go outside for some fresh air. At the bottom, I began to feel dizzy and nauseous. My friend was beside me by this time, and very worried. She helped me outside where I sat down again on another step and put my head down between my knees. The nausea and dizziness passed after several minutes and the fresh, sea air filled my lungs and gave me a bit of a feeling of ecstasy!! My body had not failed me! My 70 year old bones were intact! I was alive! 

My friend and I had been on our way to a sound and light show projected on a lighthouse on the sea which was being celebrated for its 140 years. We had a bit of a walk to go to get there, and I assured my friend that I was game.  She and I just kept looking at each other and saying, “How is this possible?” She kept apologizing over and over, and I kept assuring her that I was fine and I was thankful she was there. Along the way to the show, we stopped at a seaside pharmacy and told them what had happened. They rushed to my aid, bringing Arnica in oral and gel form, and I went into the back office to apply it to my throbbing hip and elbow. My friend and I enjoyed a delightful show standing on a pier looking at the lighthouse in all its bedazzled glory, and my heart was full with gratitude for my friend’s help, my incredibly lucky “break”, and that I would still be able to enjoy Christmas at home and not in a hospital!!! I remembered that during the fall I had an image of myself as a tumbleweed, falling lightly end over end, borne by the air and carried over the ground by the wind. Many have said they think that image is what saved me! It probably did.

Just as a postscript, I did develop some pretty awful bruising on various parts of my body, and I did become rather stiff for a few days. At several friends’ suggestions, I did call the emergency number to see if they thought I needed to come in for a head check in case I had suffered any internal head injury (like a subdural hematoma), and after some phone triage, the doctor assured me that I was fine as 4 days had already passed. 

The image of the tumbleweed will be meaningful for me forever.