October 23, 2016

Île de Porquerolles

It is school vacation in France: les Vacances de Toussaint (All Saint's). Good opportunity for us to explore with all three girls together. We headed about 1.5 hours south along the Mediterranean and took a ferry from Hyères to l'Île de Porquerolles (~20 min). The island is well known among the French, but I was unfamiliar with it. It turns out to be a slice of the Côte d'Azur in untarnished form, without all of the things that cloud that region of France (overbuilt concrete, tourism, trash, carnivals). The shoreline and the famous azure water, the cliffs are all in perfect focus here. The island is wild. The French government bought 80% of the land to turn it into a natural preserve. That means the only way to get to its beaches and cliffs are by bike - an excellent scenario.

Colette inquires: "Are we in France?" Then she insists: "Tell me when we see a volcano dormant!"

We are spending the time wild and free too. With no worries about cars - the girls run around the tiny village untethered. Marguerite is madame cartwheel.

We set out each morning to explore a different trail and beach. We stop at the boulangerie for bread and macarons. The little grocery store for cheese, butter and ham. Baby tomatoes, carrots and apples. The girls are strapped into the carrier and on the bike seat. Marguerite is raring to go on her own bike - long legs ready for the work. We set off. Xavier serenades them with Elvis along the way. The paths are strenuous at times - rising and falling. Sometimes we walk up the steep hills. We usually manage to find a beach where there are very few people - or no one at all. October is an excellent time to come to the island; we find just our shadows for company on many parts of the journey.

Plage Notre Dame

Plage de l'Argent

At the beach Colette and Marguerite construct a village. Bridges, tunnels, a post office. All decorated finely with pebbles. Romy inevitably destroys. Stomps on everything when the builders are rinsing their hands in the water. I say let’s build all together. They protest - she doesn’t have the focus to create with us! Maybe not. But she is just 2. Hilarious 2.

The weather is soft. With the sun out we even dip in the water - still warmed over from summer days.

A short hike up to the Fort Sainte Agathe: sweeping views

Late in the afternoon we venture back to the village and get ice cream and play at the village square. Lots of other kids here. Sun tilting just right.

One night at dinner Colette turns to Marguerite very seriously: "So Marguerite, what is it like in your village?" We all crack up.

Then we do it again. It is a good school vacation.

Presqu'ile du Langoustier

Upset on the beach after a long afternoon /sand in her hair and eyes, Romy sits wrapped in a big towel. "I want to go on vacation!" Not realizing this is what I had been talking about.

How to go:
From La Tour Fondue, Hyères take the ferry to Porquerolles (TLV-TVM)

How to get around:
Rent a bike - multiple bike vendors are on the main village street as you leave the dock from the ferry

Plage Notre Dame
Plage de l'Argent
Presqu'ile du Langoustier

Unique hotel and restaurant:
Mas du Langoustier (high-end, a trek from the village - typically Provençale cuisine and spectacular setting

October 18, 2016

La Sainte-Victoire.

This week my dad and my former boss in New York both pointed me to a great piece in T Magazine on Simone de Beauvoir's early days in the south of France and her passion for the alps and hiking in this region. The article was written after the author had found a copy of de Beauvoir's The Prime of Life (La force de l'âge) in which de Beauvoir chronicled her solo treks. There is a great quote out of the book: in thinking of nothing but "the pleasurable sensation of possessing legs and lungs and a stomach." I love de Beauvoir's abandon - admire it immensely. The article cites her response when cautioned against hiking alone: "I had no intention of making my life a bore with precautions of this sort." I hope my girls will live life with a similar sense deep in their bellies.

There is nothing that brings me back to my childhood more than hiking. Coming from a family where my dad crafted itineraries for every vacation around a group of mountains (and where we famously had to try out to go on the vacation), the rhythm of breathing up a trail makes me downright homesick.

Aix-en-Provence's icon - muse for Cézanne and other artists who loved this region: La Sainte-Victoire. Since we arrived in July, I have wanted to climb this mountain. It sits there, hovering in the distance, calling. This past week I finally did, with a good friend Karine. There are many ways up the mountain - trails from all sides, long and winding or more technical with climbing routes. We started at Lac du Bimont - an emerald colored reservoir near Aix. It was about 2 hours to the top. The first part of the trail is a simple stroll toward the mountain, engulfed in typically mediterranean vegetation. Wild rosemary and thyme fill your nostrils as you hike. Fantastic. The path is limestone, rubbed smooth and slick at times. The last 1/3 of the hike is a pretty good scramble up - a lot of fun. This mountain is a pilgrimage. We hit it in October, during the week, which meant very few people; I am sure in summer months it is packed. I wanted my dad on that hike with me.

October 13, 2016


I shot this series of these two together outside - their expressions real and evocative of who they are nowadays. When we walked outside, Colette was head back, eyes closed, listening to the wind blowing through the leaves. Very seriously: "It smells leafy."

This move to France has made them friends, an idea in which we lacked confidence for most of their lives so far. They role play a lot: mama and baby. They switch characters. When Colette is mama, she always takes on a British accent. When Romy is mama, she always strokes Colette's head and says, "Be quiet my little one."

Colette has a somber side - she is still thinking a lot about death. Real life worries: when near the pool recently, I asked Romy to move away from the pool until I was ready to swim with her. Colette emphasized, "Yeah - you can fall in and you will die and then the robot will slurp you up." (Robot = pool cleaning contraption).

When going to bed, Colette gets pretty anxious about the subject. "When will papa die?" she asked one night recently. "Before or after the cats? Promise me you'll bury me, not burn me when I die?" (she talks about this a lot - her last sentence before I leave the room is often, "Remember bury me, mama!" Apparently, big sis Marguerite informed Colette that when she dies those are the two options...). I told her to try to think of a good thought and it would take the place of the worry. "OK, I will think of Grandma Rosie and Grandpa Brad." I told her I thought that was a great idea. A pause, but then, "when will Grandma Rosie die?"

Romy isn't yet worried about life’s exit, but she does have some big ambitions. Waking up from her nap yesterday she sat up in her bed - inspired - and announced, "I want to go in a big truck. When I grow up I want to be a big man!"

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