Portugal, cancelled

So I cancelled my Portugal trip and instantly regretted it. I was due to return to Porto mid-August. (I cancelled because of the high Covid numbers here, there and everywhere. Safer to stay at home, I reckon.) But I’m disappointed. I was so looking forward to doing exactly what I did last August when I spent eleven marvellous days there: walking, exploring, taking photos, talking to people, exploring some more, eating and drinking tasty new foods and beverages, soaking up the atmosphere and wondering if I could live there in the future; taking the train to a beach town called Praia da Barra. It was hot, but a cool and constant breeze blew in off the ocean; it was like having permanent air conditioning.

The apartment I rented was in a district called Bonfim. I’ll stay in that area again. One day I walked and walked and ended up at the gates of a huge cemetery called Cemitério Prado do Repouso. I happen to like visiting cemeteries, and was curious to visit a Portuguese one.

You can tell a lot about a culture and society by their cemeteries. This one was spick and span clean.

For a final resting place it was a hive of activity: municipal workers sweeping and swabbing. Visitors bearing fresh flowers and paying respect to their loved ones. What touched me the most were the widows. Armed with buckets and brooms, they refreshed the flowers and swept and cleaned the gravesites of their husbands. Not wishing to intrude on their privacy, I kept my distance and watched them. I used a telephoto lens.

Family is tight in Portugal. Parents are revered and respected by their children even past adulthood. I like to read the inscriptions and imagine the lives of the deceased. Here below and at the age of 74, Maria died a mere month after her husband.

Church, family and tradition is apparent in Portugal. Also cleanliness, friendly and helpful people, and a super-difficult language (no, it’s not like Spanish at all.) Lucky for me, I came across retired people on a few occasions who spoke fluent French because they had lived and worked in France for decades. The Portuguese in France make up one of the country’s longest-established communities. The biggest influx was during the 30-year boom that followed World War II. By 1975, the number of Portuguese in France had soared to 750,000.

To see more photos of my trip last year to Porto and the nearby beach town (plus Lisbon a few years earlier), click on PORTUGAL up top.

the disappearance of Jeanne Moreau

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Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni 

In the French language, when a person dies they say that she or he disappeared. Elle a disparu (She disappeared.) The first time I heard that expression, I thought it meant that the person had gone missing.

La disparition de Jeanne Moreau headlined all the newspapers on the day she disappeared. Une flamme s’éteint is another poetic French expression for the passing of someone: a flame is extinguished. And yet another, elle a rendu l’âme: she gave up her soul.

This blog post is an homage to Moreau’s passing on July 31, 2017.

Jeanne Moreau - La Notte (1961) car

Tributes, accolades and homages poured in all day in France. The cultural TV channel, ARTE, showed two Moreau films back-to-back, the first one Le journal d’une femme de chambre, 1964, with Moreau and the great Michel Piccoli. I saw both actors, on separate occasions, during my ramblings around Paris. Jeanne Moreau in a restaurant in the 14th arrondissement; and Michel Piccoli who burst into a métro car one afternoon, clearly inebriated, before staggering in my direction to sit lopsidedly on the seat beside me. His leg touched mine. I squealed silently with delight.

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Moreau brought to the screen a singular, inimitable verve, a petulance, and a shameless gaze. Her range was extraordinary and she illuminated such classics as Jules and Jim, The Lovers, Diary of a Chambermaid, and The Bride Wore Black.

My personal favorite is La Notte (The Night), a 1961 Italian drama in which she played alongside the impossibly gorgeous Marcello Mastroianni. There’s something dissolute, complex, sauve and sophisticated about that film.

In closing, watch this clip of Jeanne walking down the Champs-Elysées at night in Louis Malle’s 1958 film Les Amants with the Miles Davis soundtrack playing in the background. Pure French, pure Moreau, pure Davis. She was 30 years old.

Berthillon ice cream on the Ile Saint Louis

Yesterday was hot. I took the day off work, not because it was hot but because everyone takes time off during July and August. I headed down to the river and to Berthillon glacier (ice creams and sorbets). It’s located on the small island of Ile Saint-Louis in the middle of the river Seine.

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What’s funny is that the original Berthillon ice cream parlor is closed during July and August!  Luckily, the Ile Saint-Louis is served with a half-dozen outlets.

You either line up and purchase your ice cream as take-out or you sit inside and have it served to you. It was so hot I had to sit down inside. I ordered a chilled apple juice and perused the list of a dozen or so flavors ranging from fig to litchee to mandarin orange. Sorbet, or sherbet in English, has 30% less calories. I ordered a duo of mango and cherry sorbets.

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Eating Berthillon is an event because the flavor is so intense and the taste so startling, you swear you’re eating a real mango and real cherries. Once the fruit sorbet eaten, I ordered a single scoop of réglisse. Never having tasted licorice ice cream before, I was curious. (I thought it would be black – photo below).  Again, the flavor bursts in your mouth. One scoop is 3 euros 50, two scoops 6 euros 50. For take-out, one scoop is 2 euros 50, two scoops 4 euros.  

I like that the word “flavor” in French is parfum. I like that metal and not plastic spoons are used. I like the edible wafer cup that the sorbet is served in, called a coupelle en gaufre, and I like that they offer a pitcher of water.

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Afterwards I strolled the streets of the Ile Saint Louis then made my way down to the river.  A hot wind was blowing.

why I cannot wear my mother’s crucifix to work

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Last weekend, while rummaging through a drawer in search of one of my three passports, I came across a padded jewelry box. Opening it, I gazed upon one of my mother’s necklaces nestled inside. I pulled it out and held it up to the light. And in a flash I saw it dangling from my mother’s neck during the dinner parties she threw and loved so much. I remembered how it sparkled in the candlelight.

“This will look great against a black dress,” I said to myself. “I’ll wear it to work on Monday.”

Just to be clear and in the interest of avoiding a Kardashian-style copycat heist in Paris, this is costume jewelry. The stones are synthetic and the chain is metal, not silver.

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And then a startling thought occurred to me. Can I wear this necklace wherever I want? I had a vague notion that I couldn’t. On the heels of a recent ruling of the European Union’s highest court that now allows companies (if they so choose) to prohibit staff from wearing visible religious symbols, I paused to reflect. Then I fired up the internet to get more information. 

Enshrined in a landmark 1905 law that prohibits the state from recognizing, funding or favoring any religion, secularism is taken seriously in France. State schools are strictly non-faith and all public bodies must be free of religious influence.

In March 2004 and under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, French legislators felt the need to refresh and reinforce this 1905 law. And so they dusted it off and passed a new law banning the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in state (public) schools. These symbols include Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, Muslim headscarves and large Christian crosses. As a secular country, we were told, the ban was designed to maintain France’s tradition of strictly separating state and religion; it was also an attempt to enforce “religious neutrality” or “a neutral space.”

OK.

My initial reaction to this ban, I remember, was negative. Born and brought up in Canada (True North, strong and free), I believed it a violation of religious freedom and civil liberties. I didn’t like the idea of a government telling me what I could or could not wear.

Outside of schools, the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols is also banned in public buildings in France (courts and police stations, public hospitals and all government buildings).

Enter President Nicolas Sarkozy and yet another ban, this time prohibiting the concealment of the face in a public space. The law was passed in September 2010. Even though the face-covering ban includes all headgear: masks, helmets and balaclavas, the garments in question were the Islamic niqab and burka. A year earlier, Sarkozy defended France’s “secularism” to attack full Islamic veils in a speech. 

Never before had we heard the words ‘secular’ (laïque), ‘secularism’ (laïcité) and ‘secularization’ (la laïcisation) mentioned so often.

“Secularism is the new religion in France,” someone funny said.

“I want to solemnly say that the burka is not welcome in France,” said Sarkozy. “In our country, we cannot accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.”

“We must not be ashamed of our values,” he added. “We must not be afraid of defending them.”

So where does my mother’s necklace fit into this story? I was considering wearing it to work. At the office there is one hijabi, a French-Moroccan woman who wears the hijab (headscarf). Well, if she can wear the hijab, surely I can wear my mother’s necklace.

On Monday I discussed the matter with my Franco-Lebanese friend and colleague who is of Christian faith.

“The wearing of a Christian crucifix will be interpreted as a provocation,” she said. “Personally, I wouldn’t wear it in the office. I wouldn’t even wear it walking around outside.”

A provocation? A Christian crucifix? My mother’s party necklace was taking on ominous, no, biblical proportions.

“But we weren’t religious,” I bleated, “The necklace was worn purely as a fashion accessory.”

“Well, we don’t know that.” said my colleague.

Oh, for heck’s sake.

When I was growing up in Canada, religion was not an issue. Now it’s a huge one. Why is that?

Sighing, I put the necklace back in its box and placed the box back in my drawer. If my mother had known, way back in the 1980s and 90s, that her necklace would end up in Paris and become such an object of controversy in 2021, she would have been very surprised indeed.

Portofino on the Italian Riviera

The perfect summer vacation spot … if only it wasn’t so crowded and expensive. Just south of Genoa, Portofino is a famous resort village located along the Mediterranean Sea in the region of Liguria. The town is clustered around a small harbour, and is known for its colorfully painted buildings that line the shore.

I’ve been there twice: when I was 12, and decades later with my Californian cousins. Behind me you can see the colorfully painted buildings that line the shore.

When I was 12, my family stayed in nearby Santa Margharita Ligure which is within walking distance of Portofino. Or you can take a small boat across the bay. Just now, as I wrote that sentence, a line from Truman Capote’s “Ischia” sprang to mind, a travel sketch found in his collection of work entitled “A Capote Reader”:

It was a classic day, a little cold for southern Italy in March, but crisp and lofty as a kite, and the Princepessa spanked across the bay like a sassy dolphin.

Why am I blogging about Portofino? Because I was watching Kylie’s latest film on YouTube and like all her short films – some made by drone camera! – it’s beautiful. I wanted to share it with you. Who’s Kylie? An extremely talented, effervescent young Australian woman who went to live in Italy. And she just got married! Here she is on her honeymoon in Portofino (link below.)

Honestly, you’d think you were watching an Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant movie; a lost world of glamour, elegance and enchantment. Well, Kylie brings it all back, and I applaud her for it.

Brava, Kylie! Felicitazioni.

(443) PORTOFINO, ITALY: A CINEMATIC VINTAGE LOVE STORY – YouTube

 

 

the shame of Canada

Half a century ago, Barry Kennedy was taken from his family and forced into an abusive system that sought to obliterate his Indigenous heritage. Now, after the discovery of more than 1,000 bodies in unmarked graves at schools including his own, he reflects on the traditions that were erased, the friends he lost – and Canada’s new reckoning with that history.

I am Canadian. And I feel shame, not specifically toward Canadians, but toward my fellow human beings the world over for the evil they are capable of committing. Listen to this podcast in The Guardian –

The Indigenous children who died at Canada’s residential schools – podcast | News | The Guardian

Europe braces for 4th Covid wave. And a quality of life index.

For those of you considering Europe this summer, you might want to rethink your vacation plans. Things are getting complicated.

The infection rates are rising again, especially the Delta variant.

“The fourth wave of infections is already underway,” said the Belgian Health Minister. “Hopefully it will not get out of hand.”

Portugal is being hit hard by the Delta variant, and travellers are advised not to go there if they are not fully vaccinated, and to be extra careful if they are. I’ll be awfully disappointed if I have to cancel. I booked my trip to Porto way back in April!

France could see a new spike in COVID cases by the end of July due to the spread of the Delta variant, said Gabriel Attal, the government spokesman.

Changing the subject, I received this Quality of Life Index the other day in my In box.

Notice something missing? Where the heck is France?!? It didn’t even make the top 25! I was surprised to see Canada and the U.K. so low down on the list. And where’s Italy??

Notice how high up The Netherlands (or Holland, as we mistakenly call it) is. That’s one reason I wanted to move there when I eventually retire. But after talking with many people and doing research, I think I’m leaning towards Spain. What’s not to like? Sunshine! Sangria! Beaches! Friendly people! Rich culture and history! Great food and wine! A huge expat community! Did I mention “affordable”? There must be a reason why Spain is the number one tourist and retirement destination. Well, I’m going to find out. First stop: Valencia!

Anyway, back to France. Turns out it’s number 26 on the list.

The Quality of Life Index is an estimation of overall quality of life by using an empirical formula which takes into account purchasing power index (higher is better), pollution index (lower is better), house price to income ratio (lower is better), cost of living index (lower is better), safety index (higher is better), health care index (higher is better), traffic commute time index (lower is better) and climate index (higher is better).

Here’s the link to the full list here –

Quality of Life Index by Country 2021 Mid-Year (numbeo.com)

favorite retirement destinations of the French

The list was published in Le Figaro newspaper just the other day: the new top seventeen favorite retirement destinations of the French. (The list changes every year). How is the list compiled? From statistics provided by La Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Vieillesse (The National Old Age Insurance Fund). It is they who send retirees their monthly pensions directly into their bank accounts all over the world. Here it is for 2020/2021, in order of preference:

  1. Spain
  2. Greece
  3. Morocco
  4. Mauritius
  5. Portugal
  6. Italy
  7. The Netherlands
  8. Switzerland
  9. Poland
  10. Belgium
  11. Germany
  12. Sweden
  13. Australia
  14. Canada
  15. United Kingdom
  16. Japan
  17. U.S.A.

This interests me because I wonder where I will eventually live during the next phase of my life. “What?” people say to me, “You won’t continue to live in France?”

No, I won’t. I’ve been here far too long. Had my life circumstances been different, I would’ve left France decades ago. It was never my intention to stay so long. Had my parents not passed away in the 1990s, I would’ve returned to Canada to be with them in their golden years. Had my sole sibling not been a terrible toxic person, I would’ve returned to Canada ages ago. The truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever return to my native country.

I had chosen Portugal and/or The Netherlands as a retirement destination. What I like about The Netherlands is that it’s progressive, pragmatic, liberal. It’s also perfectly situated in the middle of Western Europe with great train hubs. I can jump on a train and within an hour or two be in London, Paris, Lille, Germany, Denmark, etc. Mobility and easy transit is important to me, as is train travel. It also has great art, modern architecture and many picturesque towns with meandering canals. With Denmark, The Netherlands has the most advanced bicycle infrastructures in the world.

Portugal is also an attractive destination, but I’m not fully convinced yet. Now I’m looking at Spain, near Valencia, or further down the coast.

Wherever I end up, it sure is nice to have choices!

lunch, shopping, Saturday

One of my favorite places to rendezvous is at the fountain in the Jardin du Palais Royal. I’ve been enjoying the graceful splendor of this hidden garden for ages.

There are restaurants and elegant shops under the arcades. Or you can just sit on a bench or chair and enjoy the sound of birdsong and the splashing fountain.

The garden is a perfect starting point for shopping and lunch. My friend, Monique, and I rendezvoused at the fountain at noon. We headed north to the Galerie Vivienne, built in 1826. See this splendid mosaic tiled floor? It’s the original floor created by Giandomenico Facchina, an Italian mosaic artist who did much of his work in France.

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It was lunch hour, but we got waylaid by some linen clothes in a boutique called Manuelle Guibal. We chatted awhile with the woman who worked there. She gave me the address of their boutique in Lisbon where I can find the same clothes.

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We then headed towards the Place des Victoires where I wanted to visit the English boutique that I rave over in London, The Designers Guild. This one had just opened. It was a lot smaller and, I’m sorry to say, the customer service didn’t hold a candle to the service you’d get in London.

Directly across the road was this restaurant where we sat at an outdoor table. I ordered a tomato mozzarella salad and a tiny glass of wine, Monique ordered a grilled chicken niçoise salad.

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When you think that you can buy a decent bottle of French wine for 6 euros and you’re charged 6 euros for a tiny glass, it’s a little bit scandalous. But this is the price you pay for the privilege of eating in a chic Parisian neighborhood.

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Speaking of chic, directly around the corner and located on the Place des Victoires is this gorgeous little boutique where I’ve been shopping for decades.

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Upon entering, we spied a bunch of gorgeous scarves. Italian made, some were silk, some were a blend of silk and modal. A type of rayon, modal is a bio-based textile made from the beechwood tree. Modal fabric feels silky-soft on the skin yet is hard-wearing and colorfast when dyed.

A woman can never have enough scarves, is my opinion. Again, we spent a long while talking to the friendly saleswoman and trying on scarves. 

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I ended up taking this (blurry) photo of myself in the mirror because no-one could figure out how to work my camera. Sigh. I always end up doing everything myself. The scarf I ended up buying – half silk, half modal – is a gorgeous swirl of mauves, greens, pinks and yellows. It’s lightweight, soft and warm and you can scrunch it up (great for travelling.)

Our last stop was Dehillerin, the kitchenware store located off the rue du Louvre. I was in search of a strainer, called une passoire in French. I have a cone-shaped chinois and a colander but, as you know, a strainer is a different animal entirely. I was also in search of a teeny-tiny strainer for my jasmine tea leaves. Not easy to find!

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The place is a sort of Aladdin’s Cave for people who like to cook. Before tourists discovered it, it was a sleepy dusty place. Now it’s super-popular and has a new lease on life.

a restorative weekend and the Moxy hotel

I never stay in a hotel when I go to Lille, I stay with my friends. But this time I decided, just for fun, to stay in a brand new hotel called the Moxy (it’s part of the Marriott chain). And boy, did I sleep like a log. The room was silent as a tomb and the bed firm and comfortable. At around 10 pm, I plumped my multiple pillows and turned on the television to watch an absorbing documentary on ARTE, the European culture TV channel.

The next day, Sunday, I took my 9-year old godson to a nice restaurant for lunch. Saturday, I sat on a park bench and watched him kick a soccer ball around.

“Look, Tata!” he said many times over. “Look!”

“Très bien!” I said encouragingly.

“Who’s your favorite soccer team – France or Portugal?”

“Errrrrr ….” I don’t watch sport. “France, I guess.”

Then his father joined us and we left the park to drive the 25 minutes to his small, secondary house on a small plot of land in the countryside. While his father puttered, I sat on a lawn chair and watched my godson jump up and down on a trampoline.

“Look, Tata!” he said many times over. “Look!”

“Très bien!” I said encouragingly.

The train ride back to Paris on Sunday evening – one hour – was very relaxing. As in any big city, it’s important to get away from time to time. The air and noise pollution in Paris is very stressful. What bothers me the most is street noise: the metallic whine of scooters. Cars and motorcycles. People talking loudly on their phones or playing loud music at 2 a.m. (My small flat overlooks the street.) There is intermittent birdsong, however, which is a joy. Right now as I sit here typing, I can hear a bird chirruping ardently. My dream is to live one day in a home not overlooking the street, and with a small garden.

So I’m all booked for Portugal in August. Until I spoke to a colleague today, I was unaware that the COVID situation, specifically around the Lisbon area, is particularly bad. I’ll be heading to Porto (north), but will have to keep an eye on the situation. For newcomers to this blog, I spent a perfect 11-day vacation in Porto last summer. Click on PORTUGAL up top to see my travelogue. It was so pleasant, I plan to return and do it all over again.

I’ll leave you with an excellent British travel website called SAWDAYS.

With a date for European travel swimming in and out of focus, it’s time for some armchair wandering through the places we’re missing so much, in the company of our overseas team.

They’ll take you shopping in the lesser-known French flea markets, trundling through Italy in a Fiat 500, basking at their favourite villas with pools, and on some socially-distanced sunny island hopping

If dreaming is all we can do, then let’s pour a glass of something perfectly chilled, get comfortable and drift off to Europe while we wait for the real thing to return. 

Six of the best European villas with pools – Sawday’s (sawdays.co.uk)