Spring and Les Villes et Villages Fleuris

Spring is here. When I lived in San Diego, the arrival of spring meant days were now 72 degrees instead of 68; time to put away the scarfs and boots and break out the flip flops. Here in Colorado, spring means green blades of grass breaking through, blossoming trees, tulips, and then this:

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That’s my backyard two days ago. We got 17 inches of snow. We went sledding, built a snowman, had a snowball fight…. Spring along the Front Range means your what-to-wear dilemmas look like this:

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I’m done with the snow. I stored my snowboard mid-March, got a pedicure, and started wearing sandals. Visions of flowers and beaches and hot sun toasting my bare legs are dancing through my head.

Alas. I’ll fill my thoughts, instead, with Les Villes et Villages Fleuris de France.

This was a new discovery for me last summer. As we drove into a village in Bretagne, my husband pointed to a bright yellow sign and exclaimed, “Ah, un village fleuri !” and he went from mildly cranky/exasperated Frenchman-driving-car into happy, relaxed, joie de vivre Frenchman mode.

VILLES-FLEURIES

The Concours des villes et villages fleuris is an annual contest in France where communes are evaluated for their aesthetic beauty. When the label began in 1959, it focused mainly on the beauty of the green spaces and floral displays, but now communes are judged in three categories: “la qualité de l’accueil” (the quality of the welcome and ambiance to visitors and residents), “le respect de l’environnement” (looking at the respect shown to natural resources and preservation of green spaces, as well as events that celebrate nature), and “la preservation du lien social” (how do the green spaces and gardens promote social interaction and utilization of those spaces within the commune). In all, it is an attempt to look at the overall quality of life impact on those who live in and visit the commune.

No limits exist on the number of communes that can be awarded, so it isn’t a true competition. The label earned can be anywhere from 1 to 4 flowers, or the prestigious gold flower, given annually to 9 communes. According to Wikipedia, as of 2015, approximately 12,000 French cities, towns, and villages have received the award. Four flower status has been awarded to 226 of those.

To learn more, here is the link to the French site.

http://www.villes-et-villages-fleuris.com/accueil_1.html

And here are some of my favorite flower pictures from France:

August in France

The month of August in France: when the entire country goes on vacation. Shops in Paris close down, the Côte d’Azur fills with tourists. It’s hard not to love a country so intent on enjoying itself. In the U.S., the thought of closing a store or restaurant for a day, let alone a week or a month, merits close consideration of risks, costs, and benefits. Business owners just don’t do it. Yet I’ve seen boulangeries in Paris with handwritten signs in their windows declaring themselves closed, temporarily, with no explanation and often no details on when they plan to reopen. Weeks later, the doors open once more, the scent of fresh pastries drift onto the sidewalk, and the well-rested shop owners smile, nothing amiss. My business owner friends in the U.S. would never close their doors so they could take a vacation. American customers have expectations that our favorite haunts will be there for us, without fail, and if they aren’t, well, forget them. We’ll find somewhere else. And we do. I’ve seen French business owners in the U.S. try to operate their shops à la française… they never last. Often they are perplexed as to why they lost their “loyal” customers. The French in France and their lack of concern for the “consequences” of shutting their doors enjoy a freedom that’s hard to comprehend, yet hard not to admire.

My husband misses summers in France – as a child, August meant days filled with sailing on the Mediterranean, staying up late as the day never seemed to end, and enjoying time with his whole family; they were able to leave their jobs and go on vacation for most of the month.

So, instead, we have: Le Point. A major weekly news magazine in France. DSC02060

Le Point keeps my husband connected to the goings-on in his home country. But in August, the magazine fills up with articles on history and philosophy, many of them probably written long ago and pieced together to make a full magazine. As if even the politically-obsessed French, journalists and readers alike, can’t be bothered with current events and politics while on vacation. Instead, it’s filled with stories, like the issue above, featuring Rome’s fall. Still highly intellectual and analytical, along with a bit of purple prose, it’s a touch of downtime. A beach read, French style.

Soon, Paris streets will once again fill with people dressed in their dark clothes, doing the métro-boulot-dodo. One weekend left – for the French, and for us, here – before school begins. The mornings in Colorado are already crisp, the sun rising later and setting earlier; fall is in the air.

One more weekend to celebrate summer, have a BBQ, and read Le Point.

Enjoy!

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part II)

Continuing on with my photos from Nice:

Bassin du Commerce

Bassin du Commerce

Reflections of Nice

Reflections of Nice

Nice

Nice from the Colline du Chateau

Rooftops of Old Nice

Rooftops of Old Nice

Accordionist on the Fete de la musique

Accordionist on the Fete de la Musique

Lining up to register for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com'on, France!

Lining up to check in for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com’on, France!

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

129 Nice

Hotel Negresco. Olga the angel lived just up the street from here.

Hotel Negresco

Musée Massena

Musée Massena

More of those lovely windows

More of those lovely windows

 

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part I)

Flashback Friday! And cheers to warm summer days and nights.

My introduction to France was in Nice, before the internet made research and reservations a breeze and when we still had to change currency and check passports each time we entered a new country. Backpacking through Europe with my cousin, we arrived in Nice by evening train and learned at the information stand that all the youth hostels were full. We couldn’t afford a hotel room, and while we worried that we might have to spend the night on the beach, made even more unappealing by the fact that I had a miserable chest cold, a fellow backpacker pointed out a white-haired woman carrying a red notebook. “She seems really sweet; she has a room to rent.” Thus we met Olga the Angel.

Olga was a spry woman with bright blue eyes and plenty of Je-ne-sais-quoi. Her red notebook was her guestbook, and entry after entry described a fabulous stay in Nice with Olga. She nursed me back to health with whiskey-laced hot chocolate, pointed us to her favorite restaurants and instructed us to say, “C’est bon!” no matter what, and strictly forbid us to take showers lasting longer than 5 minutes. We loved her and ended up staying with her twice as long as we’d originally planned. For me, France and Nice are forever colored by Olga’s bright smile and energy. My pictures from that time aren’t digital, but here are a few photos from a more recent trip to Nice:

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Espace Massena

Espace Massena

Marche des fleurs

Marche des fleurs

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice

We were there for the Fete de la Musique, a magical day in June where all the musicians come out on the streets to sing and play. This woman had an incredible voice:

074 Fete de la Musique

I love these Provencal windows

I love these Provencal windows

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old Nice

Old Nice

Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi

Old Nice

Old Nice

 

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 2)

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting people. I approached the summer we spent in Antibes thinking I would probably be at least a decade older than most of the students in the immersion program, and therefore likely to spend a lot of time alone. I brought my laptop and blank notebooks, thinking I’d spend most of the time I wasn’t in school working on my fiction and studying French. Instead, I met some of the most fabulous women (many my age on language vacations) I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. As it goes with traveling, sharing a common experience, we bonded quickly and became fast friends. I have to admit I have many reservations about things like Facebook, and even blogging (it’s so public! I’m so exposed!), but these things have enabled me to stay in touch with these lovely ladies.

Here are some photos from a walk/hike I took around the Cap d’Antibes with one of those dear friends.

Cap d'Antibes

Cap d’Antibes

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Looking across the Baie de la garoupe

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Walking along the Sentier touristique de tirepoil (tourist path around the cape)

Locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes!

Daring locals use some of these spots to practice diving. Yikes! The water is powerful and the rocks precarious. I just took photos.

551 Cap d'Antibes

554 Cap d'Antibes

Photo Day: Antibes (Part 1)

Here’s the conversation I had with the guy at the bike shop yesterday:

Him: “Are you ready for the snow on Sunday?”

Me: Jaw hits the floor. “Wh- the- snow? Are you kidding me?”

Him: Big shrug and amused smile. “It’s only May. Welcome to Colorado!”

I don’t want snow. I want flip flops. Sunburns. I want the Riviera. I’ll have to live vicariously through my own pictures and memories. Maybe I’ll crank up the heater, don a tank top, close my eyes, and drink a glass of rosé.

Here’s Antibes:

A few years ago, we spent part of our summer in Antibes, France. For me, I got to attend a French immersion program and explore the south of France with the friends I met there. Fabulous. For my hubby, he was working. Hard. Sophia Antipolis, located in the south not far from Antibes, is a mini-Silicon Valley, home to a growing number of software companies. Stef’s job had a site there, so we thought: great! Summer in the south of France! It’ll be like an extended vacation! For him, not so much. Poor guy put in some serious hours and left our “vacation” exhausted. I made sure to take one for the team and did extra exploring and extra rosé drinking. I’m a good wife like that. Here are some photos from that adventure:

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Looking over Antibes from the cape

Centre International d'Antibes - my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I'm working on!)

Centre International d’Antibes – my school (and inspiration for a YA novel I’m working on!)

Healthy petunias partout

Healthy petunias partout

Cap d'Antibes - the oldest part of the village

Cap d’Antibes – the oldest part of the village

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Swedish students celebrating the summer solstice

Funny story, this photo (above). Apparently, a group of Swedes comes to Antibes each year to welcome the summer solstice. We were eating at a pizzeria across the street and the owner was watching them, arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head. Inevitably, a couple of girls needed to use the facilities and made for his restaurant. Their blond locks decorated with leaves and flowers and their innocent young faces alight with mother earth goddess energy, they asked him if they could use the toilet. Reality crashed upon them. He chased them off with harsh, “Non!”s and “Only for customers! Buy my pizza if you want to use my toilet!” Crushed and desperate, they begged, but elicited no sympathy. They finally gave up and left, and he turned to us and complained about the crazy Swedes who do this dance every year and line up for his toilet. I was almost scared to ask where it was, because I actually needed to use it too, but he told me, “You, I don’t mind. You ate my pizza.”

Street in old Antibes

Street in old Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Plage du ponteil in Antibes

Spices in the Marche Provencal

Spices in the Marche Provencal

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

This is what happens to cars parked on the narrow streets of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Yummy pizza abounds in the South of France

Photo Day: La Camargue

One thing my husband and I have discovered in our many travels together is how differently we can perceive the exact same thing. Such is the spice of life! La Camargue was one of those places for us. Located where the Med meets the Rhone River Delta, this marshy region is hardly the France advertised to the American tourist. When I think of France, I picture the grand streets of Paris, the dramatic Cote d’Azur, castles and gothic churches, old stone farmhouses set in vineyards. For my husband, the grand streets of Paris are… meh. He grew up seeing them, so they don’t awe him the way they do me. And while he appreciates the beauty of the things I’ve listed, they aren’t foreign nor dramatic to him. La Camargue, by contrast, fascinates him. On our visit, he energetically spouted out all he had learned about this region and kept pointing and saying things like, “Wow! Isn’t that amazing?” Much the way I do in Paris. For me, it was a bit… meh. His enthusiasm did rub off on me after a while, at least enough so that I will post these photos. For him. And for those who appreciate things differently than I do.

513 Le Camargue

515 Le Camargue

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A home with a large fishing net along the Petit Rhone

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

A Guardienne (French Cowgirl) and her herd. This was pretty cool.

528 Le Camargue segulls

Egret

Egret

Egret

Egret

536 le Camargue

537 le Camargue

Couldn’t resist this one: Our view during dinner in Carry-Le-Rouet, on our way back to Antibes.

Gotta love 'em, those Frenchies in their speedos

Gotta love ’em, those Frenchies in their speedos

By the way, this region produces some amazing salt. It’s a staple in my kitchen:

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