Arrived: Cordes-sur-Ciel

Who would have guessed that the line to rent a car at the Bordeaux airport would take 2 1/2 hours? Or that not one of the three agents would adjust their customary style to – at the very least – shorten the conversations they usually enjoy with each customer? Imagine how exciting the story of our journey from California would have been. Arnaud at Avis was particularly skilled at drawing out his clients’ stories, but I kept looking over my shoulder at the dozens of families with small children behind us: a sea of impatient grimaces, hungry whines, and tapping feet. I’m not sure it made any difference.

It took us close to three hours to get onto the road.

Outside, it was 38C, record-breaking heat, but the thoughtful GPS took us along the back roads, so we enjoyed the ride –

– even the muddy track through the cornfields that saved us a good two minutes over the more conventional route.

Eventually we arrived at the office of M. duMartin, the notaire (real estate lawyer), in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where the couple from whom we bought the house and our real estate agent were waiting.

I will be eternally grateful that Tom is fluent in French! M. duMartin, jowls and chins indistinguishable, thick steel-colored hair brushed back and plastered to his head, melted into his ornate chair behind the expanse of his ancient desk, and read aloud document after document after document. Do we understand that there can be no changes to the outside of the house, not even to the paint on the blue voleurs (shutters)? And here, this is very important, you see where the back of the house goes under the one on the street above? The well is in your house, but a shaft goes up into the house above…

Periodically a young assistant in short shorts, long legs, and assorted tattoos brought more documents, or copies for us all the sign. M. DuMartin’s wife, gray hair in braids circling her head, appeared behind him from time to time, ghostlike.

It was stiflingly hot in the room. I struggled to follow, using all the skills I’ve acquired from years of hearing loss: catching enough words to get the gist, applying what I know from similar situations, and watching everyone else’s responses very carefully. Still. French legalese!

We signed the papers at last and went to the house with the agent and the sellers for a few lessons in house’s quirks.

And now we are here!

We woke to a gentle breeze coming through the wide open window.

Such a view! Come see us!

Farewell Tour – Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York


After lovely lunch in Albany with old friends, Heather and Norm Mendel, we stopped for coffee in Stockbridge, MA. The former Alice’s Restaurant was closed, but we had the best coffee of our trip at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea.

You can get anything you want…

We spent the night at Kathleen Becker’s beautiful studio in Northampton. What a meal we had at Coco in Easthampton!

Dinner and the next night were spent with Tom’s Neuhaus cousins in New Canaan, CT.

After dropping our trusty rental car in Stamford we took the train into New York City, where we stayed three nights with Elise in Park Slope.

On James’s birthday we took the ferry to Rockaway, and then back to the UN where he gave us an after hours tour.

On Wednesday we met Lenya for breakfast and then went out to Queens to see Mary Kuzma and Tomas Tisch at her studio.

And today it’s packing and organizing for our midnight flight to Bordeaux.

We’re off!

Farewell Tour – the Finger Lakes

We moved through the Finger Lakes from north to south, staying with dear friends all along the way. Echoing my own years of living there, we first stayed in Ovid, NY, about a mile from the beautiful Victorian house my first husband and I bought in 1976 for $22,000, and soon filled with our growing family plus a stream of housemates and guests, including Ganesh Baba and his followers: psychedelic seekers, scientists from Cornell, and hoards of hapless hippies -as he called us- from all over the world.

The Women’s Peace Encampment at Seneca Army Depot was born in that house in 1980 when the young neighbor who babysat for us mentioned that her father dismantled outdated nuclear weapons for a living. As proof she brought over the safety manual given to employees at the local army depot. We were already active in the anti-nuke movement so, through connections with the Syracuse Peace Movement, our friend Fred Wilcox brought a reporter from New York Times to see the manual. The cat was out of the bag.

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Our stay in the area this time was less momentous but considerably more heartwarming. From Roxanne Gupta’s beautiful house in Sheldrake, and Durga Bor’s in Trumansburg, and Kip Wilcox’s in Ithaca, it included a week’s worth of wonderful meals with dear old friends, tasting cider at the Finger Lakes Cider House and cheese at the Muranda Cheese Company, a visit to the Ithaca Farmers Market, a picnic on Cayuga Lake, wine on a friend’s dock, and more at a blueberry farm, a morning at PRI’s Museum of the Earth, and lots of glorious rain. It was especially good to spend time with our old friends’ grown children and their children.

Of course, we went to see Taughannock Falls, site of Tom’s and my first date, and many, many hikes over the years, as often as we could fit it in.

It was hard to leave. So many memories, so many good times, so many dear, dear friends.

Thank you.

Farewell Tour – Oregon to South Dakota

On Monday morning July 9. we said goodbye to Keith and Shelley, and drove along the Columbia River to Hood River, where we had breakfast at a delightful Swedish place, Broder Øst.

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Then, there was a long drive across Oregon and half of Idaho.

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After a good night at an Airbnb an Twin Falls, ID, we ate breakfast in a diner by the depot.

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The road the next day was long and filled with trucks, but we reached Boulder in time for dinner and a visit with Catherine and Steve at his elegant and comfortable home.

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I wish we’d planned a longer stay in Boulder.

Morning found us saying goodbye to the Flatirons:

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and spending the first half of the day on the interstate. By then we had our routine for long days on the road down: a simple breakfast followed by a morning ride listening to recorded books (it’s Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth at the moment, because it’s set in the region we’re moving to), lunch in the downtown of some small town, coffee in the middle of the afternoon, and dinner in another small town.

Coffee in North Platte, Nebraska:

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The GPS took us onto the back roads after that, a fine decision. Nebraska is a beautiful, pastoral state. We ate dinner at the Sandstone Grill in Burwell, Nebraska.

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Late last night, car covered in dead insects, we arrived at Tom’s mother’s home in Vermillion, SD.  Breakfast this morning in the family room:

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Tom’s mother, Dorothy, is a force of nature. At 94, she still lives alone at home and runs her own shop, Ot ‘n’ Dots Art, Antiques, and Collectibles.

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Tom and I are so pleased that our son, James, flew out from New York to join us here.

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Why is David clothed in that picture, you might ask? It’s because we’re in South Dakota.

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Farewell Tour – California and Oregon

A week on the road and I thought surely I’d have something profound to share, but this series of pictures and a simple record of the events will have to do.

Above, always stunning, Mount Shasta as we passed it on our way from Berkeley to Ashland.

We spent our first night in Santa Rosa, where we left our sweet Olive with our friends, Monica and Mark. Olive moved right in.

On Sunday we spent a delightful day with Denise, and an equally delightful evening with Linnea, her fiancé Justin, and his family at Justin’s place in Pleasanton.IMG_2733

Monday was a day of rest at Elisa and Martin’s place in Berkeley, including a walk down to Shattuck Ave. for lunch at Saul’s and coffee at the original Peet’s. It’s heartwarming to see so many of our things at the homes of our children.

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On Tuesday we retrieved the things we left in Santa Rosa by mistake. The cat had no need for my laptop or Tom’s shaver though she probably liked the bag of dirty laundry. Certainly we’re carrying too many things with us, but those weren’t the right things to leave behind. We continued on to Sebastopol where Susan and Steve made a beautiful and delicious lunch for us.

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That evening we enjoyed a Chinese meal with Martin’s mother and aunt, and Linnea and Justin. Great conversation and food!

The following day we took to the road, arriving at Steve and Melinda’s in Ashland, Oregon, in time for a light dinner and a relaxing evening in their beautiful home and garden, followed by a day of great conversation and a little travel to a winery in Jacksonville and a walk sadly shortened by the heat of the day.

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By Friday afternoon we were in Portland at Shelley and Keith’s.  The next day we went to the farmers market and appreciated the green of the campus of Lewis and Clark College.

The hardest thing about giving up our home in California is leaving friends and family. The best thing about our farewell tour is seeing friends and family.

Especially in their own settings.

Bodhisattva

Bobbe Scott

July 14, 1937 – June 2, 2018

 

The Bodhisattvas, they walk among us,

and sometimes we lend ourselves and they become us.

The hand of spirit is the hand you raise

when you weave the strands of your nights and days.

Charlo Vogt, Weave your Reality

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Bobbe Scott was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.

She was radiant, she was impossibly energetic, she faced life with endless grace. Her laugh was contagious, her smile delightful, and she was always beautifully dressed, right down to the rings on her arthritis-gnarled, stubby fingers. Bobbe’s eulogies should overflow with admiration for the many ways she dealt with that arthritis.

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Bobbe was wise and funny, as all the best Buddhists are. She loved life and the arts, Los Angeles and New York. She was perpetually of service to others, and graciously asked for and received the care of others when necessary. When I sat in a room in meditation with Bobbe, I would be drawn to a level of serenity that I rarely reach on my own.

Bobbe was a dear, dear friend and mentor to me, precious beyond words. She made me feel deeply known and profoundly loved. Our relationship was intimate and authentic.

And I am one of many people who feel this way. Bobbe loved us all.

In my notes from one of the One Year to Live classes Bobbe taught at SLO hospice, I found this page. It’s from the session on end-of-life paperwork, during which we discussed assisted dying.

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“If I can’t enjoy a good meal, if I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, if I can’t get to the Palm Theatre, put me out.”

The next year, she put it more simply, “If I’m more disabled than I am now, that’ll be it.”

That happened.

And she chose to leave as gracefully as she lived.

 

 

 

 

Two Suitcases and One Pallet

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The current state of the pallet.

We’re experimenting with what to take and what to leave behind, and piling up various configurations of it on the driveway. Pretty soon we’ll have a good enough idea of how and what will fit and the pile will move indoors.

Since my project is called Two Suitcases, I took the idea of moving to France with two suitcases pretty seriously. Well, with two suitcases apiece. Eventually it came to me that, though it would offer me to opportunity to partially replicate my parents’ arrival in the same part of the world in 1940, it was a thoroughly romantic – and therefore impractical – notion. We shifted our thinking to shipping one pallet of boxes.

Right now the boxes making the cut contain: the library I’ve collected to use as background material for Two Suitcases, a few boxes of my papers and other books, some of Tom’s papers and books, framed photos of the family, art, kitchen things, winter clothes, and some items to make our new home feel like our old one. Carpets, my computer, Tom’s keyboard, and more art will be shipped separately.

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Most of my days are filled with sorting and packing. This box has our favorite mugs at the bottom, some delicate pieces of art and glass in the middle, and at the top, some of the birds that lived in our houseplants or flew around the ceilings in our home here.

At its center, packed very carefully, is the crystal bell my father bought my mother with his first paycheck in 1943, less than a year after they arrived in Philadelphia. He always said he bought it to remind her of what is important.

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A thoroughly romantic notion.

 

 

 

 

 

Cordes-sur-ciel

Our journey to Cordes-sur-Ciel began as an open-ended exploration about a year ago when I realized I could get dual Austrian-American citizenship, EU citizenship, opening the possibility of living anywhere in the European Union.

 

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The European Union

At first Tom and I imagined we would go to Luçon, the small city on the Atlantic coast of France, near to my guru family at  Centre Tripoura. We’ve been going to visit them since the 80’s. But when I heard the mayor of Luçon say that his main vision for the town was to keep it French, I began looking elsewhere.

 

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We considered Montauban next. My parents were there for a few months in 1940, after the exodus from Paris. Through the collaborative efforts the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the Philadelphia Quakers, and the French Resistance, they went into hiding nearby for two and a half years. Then, sponsored by the Quakers, they came to Philadelphia where I was born. I thought we would take a furnished apartment in Montauban for a few months, do some research on that very interesting collaboration, and then move on. We found a lovely apartment in Montauban right away, but it was only available for a full year, September to September, longer than we wanted to spend there. In the end, Montauban didn’t call us.


Over the next few days we visited four medieval villages. The third of them was Cordes.
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It was a crazy busy holiday that day, no parking anywhere in the lower village – except at Le Jardin des Paradis, where they probably want you gone after your tour of the gardens. Tom suggested we use one of the many empty 30-minute spaces and pay the fine. A good idea, I thought. When he deposited the euros in the machine, out popped a ticket telling us there were no fines that day. Free parking.
We ate, and climbed the cobblestone road up the hill to the old village. The first building we noticed at the top turned out to house a most unusual shrine to Anandamayi Ma, my guru Ganesh Baba’s teacher. It was a complete surprise – my friends in Vendée didn’t know it was there.
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I’ve had Anandamayi Ma picture on my altar for forty years.
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Then, also at the top of the hill, we discovered Yves Thuriés’ chocolate museum. One of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, Thuriés has been Tom’s favorite for the same forty years. He lives in Cordes.
We felt at home immediately.

The next day, I found the house on Leboncoin, the French Craigslist. We put in an offer late that afternoon.

IMG_2057.jpegAs luck would have it, we had one night with no place to sleep scheduled, so we stayed at Le Secret du Chat, on the same street as the house. The proprietors there were able to answer so many questions!

The following day, we discovered that Cordes is only twenty minutes from Verfeil-sur-Seye, where my parents were in hiding for two and a half years.
It’s the right place.

Om is Home

Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.

To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.

We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual,  and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.

It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!

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During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.

Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.

The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.

Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.

A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.

I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.

In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.

It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.

As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.

When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.

The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.

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I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.

These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.

 

Letting go

Our beautiful house is on the market at last. It took me well over a year to sort and organize before releasing it into the world to be enjoyed by new occupants. Almost eighteen years in a place is a long time.

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At first the house was filled with our growing family: three of our five kids, my mother, and, for a while, our oldest daughter, her husband and their new baby. Then we let rooms to new faculty, especially from the English department, grad students, and younger students, too, to mothers with young children, and many friends, older and younger.

IMG_4393For four years the house was full of Servas, Warm Showers, and Airbnb visitors from all over the world. I just took down the map because the hundreds of map pins were crowding each other put and falling onto the floor.

IMG_3686Because we had the space to do it, we hosted hundreds of community dinners, house concerts, book groups, women’s circles, poetry readings and book signings, political meetings, trunk shows, workshops, cooking classes, and celebrations of all kinds.

IMG_7504.jpg Just last year, we hosted a series of neighborhood potlucks that involved knocking on on 250 doors and hand-delivering invitations.

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Letting go, then, is more than selling the house. It’s a lifestyle change. We’re looking a houses a third the size of this one!

Nonetheless, I’ll still be me and Tom will still be Tom. Monday night dinners will continue, the first Friday salon will continue. I’ll have less cleaning to do, and more time for writing. We’ll take what we really need and love with us, and pass the the rest on.

Here’s what we’ll leave behind. May it serve its next owners as well as it has served us.

(If you’re interested in buying our place, it’s listed here.)