Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Where in the World is Monique?

27 November 2006

I am sure this edition will find you all wondering what the hell happened to the Monique AKA the Lady who Lunches in the French countryside. You were all (I hope) enjoying stories about rooftop soirees and sunbathing topless. Well, that lazy bird no longer exists. In late October 2006 I took a very high profile job as a Traveling Personal Secretary to a VERY demanding high society celebrity after my position in the French business owners ended.

A month later I find myself living in the city that never sleeps, never sleeping and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Making reservations at Bungalow 8, taking dictation to former presidents, and phoning "Gates' " people to confirm meetings keeps me busy all day long (all names and locations have been changed to protect the privileged). I am working 14-hour days and barely having time on the weekends to do my laundry, there is NO glamour here. The two things that keep me going are the view from my penthouse closet studio and the travel schedule. I have always wanted to live in New York and now I have the chance to live in a neighborhood most Manhattanites dream of.

Late December I leave for the Caribbean, then Central America for three months, and then back to New York for a month before I am off again to the Mediterranean. I can't share more than those small details, but I will be taking lots of pictures and writing as much I can to share as much of the experience as I can with all of you.

I began this journey attempting to fulfill my dream of living in foreign lands and figuring out who I am. Thankfully, I have come closer to discovering who Monique is, however, as with all of us there hundreds of layers to unearth. Excitement is mounting as the countdown to sea travel approaches. There is a lot more of our beautiful green planet to see and I continue to embrace this wild ride called life. The most wonderful blessing of all was discovering the true happiness that lies in the fulfillment of one’s dreams, it is the most beautiful experience one can have in this life.

More to come, soon...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Monique & the City

17 October 2006

Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it - New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York

I wanna wake up in a city, that doesn't sleep
And find I'm QUEEN of the hill - top of the heap

These little VILLAGE blues, are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it - in old New York
If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere
Its up to you - New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city, that never sleeps
And find I'm a number one top of the list, QUEEN of the hill
A number one

These little VILLAGE blues, are melting away
I'm gonna make a brand new start of it - in old new york
And if I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere

It up to you - New York, New York....

Saturday, October 14, 2006

My Journey: to be continued...

13 October 2006

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On the Road Again?

6 September 2006

I have been struck dumb. About three hours ago Monsieur put an end to my suspicion that all was not well in paradise. The parents are divorcing and I am being thrown out on the street. Only kidding, I have at the most four weeks to find other employment before they throw me out onto the street. I’ve been enjoying a lovely time in the peaceful countryside, but life inside the villa has been far from it. I have omitted this horrible fact from my writing not wanting share the personal details of my employers’ lives with a general audience. But now I find it most necessary to share the facts of my home life.
For the last two weeks I have gone to bed with yelling. My bedroom is directly above the master suite and every night the sound of Madame’s high-pitched voice has penetrated into my tranquil mausoleum causing many long and sleepless nights. Madame has made it very clear on many accounts that I do not please her. I’ve been instructed in the one thousand and one ways on how to properly load the dishwasher. Being a little over a year shy of an MBA, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and remaining on the Dean’s List every semester in undergrad did not prepare me for the very strict science of properly folding underpants, properly tying a rubbish bin sack, or properly tearing salad lettuce. Every day I am greeted by Madame not with “bonjour” but with the million ways I caused her great agony by failing the household. Working for such a precise woman made life miserable many days, thank God for Nature. Can you imagine what it is like having to end your days with an angry soundtrack playing surround sound? For weeks I brushed it off thinking that it was a cultural adjustment. The French are Latin and hot blooded like my ancestors. To me yelling is another form of communicating ones ideas strongly and at a fraction of a pitch higher than Anglo-Saxons are comfortable with. After every visit to my parents’ I experience a popping of the ears, so I decided this was nothing more. How wrong I was! I felt dreadful for Monsieur as he recounted the intimate details of his ending marriage. He is such a kind man and wonderful father, but my own personal life has taught me that somethings are not meant to be and cannot be forced. Monsieur and Madame decided to end their marriage after coming home exactly one week ago. It was the night I cracked my skull on my living room floor. The story begins like this…
Wednesday of last week was the first night I put the children to bed. Washed and fed at 8pm I tucked the girls in. The oldest was still on vacation and was due home that weekend. I had the eight year old and the four-year-old girls for an entire agonizing two days. I was extremely exhausted after taking them to the petting zoo and the amusement park. The entire day they ignored me and made faces. I sympathized with them and remained calm while their rudeness blared in my face. This was the first time that they spent an entire day with anyone besides their parents or teachers. But at 8pm I had enough. I retired to my room with a nice glass of red wine and decided to read until my bosses got home from the creperie. The grandfather clock struck ten, then eleven; finally at midnight I decided to turn in. I figured that their parents went to bed after they did so I could too. At half pass twelve I was brutally awoken by the mother yelling and the girls crying. My first thought was that there was a burglar in the house. I jump from my bed and ran through my bedroom and living room into the hallway. Madame was in the middle child’s room screaming. She turns to me and yells in French that the girls were found in the kitchen crying. I thought, “what kind of incompetent asshole am I? I can't manage to do anything right!” As that lovely thought breezed out of my head I started seeing black. The blood rushed out of my head from rising so suddenly. Ten seconds later I am unconsciousness. The only thing I remember is hearing a loud crack as my skull met the marble tiles on my living room floor. Next thing I know Monsieur, for the second time I’ve known him, is carrying me back to my chambre. My head pounds violently as Madame yells at me once again. I can’t for the life of me remember what she said. Monsieur rushes her out of the room and I ease carefully into the bathroom in a desperate search for painkillers. As I drift back to sleep a terrible thought hits me. What if I have a concussion? Well there is no way I am being driven anywhere except to the airport so I keep my mouth shut and dial my mother just in case. I wish that whack on the head had killed me because facing Madame the following morning was much more painful. Let’s just say Monsieur was the only person that saw the light. It was not my fault that the girls got out of bed. In Monsieur’s words, “you are not supposed to be on duty at midnight.” THANK YOU!! Little did I know that my sleepiness was the final straw in their marriage? You would have gone to bed too; desperate for a few hours quite. In my heart I feel no guilt.
So there you have it. I’ve been quitely living in a more dysfunctional home than in my own childhood. This entire six weeks has been a series of dishwasher loading instruction and harsh rebukes. All along I could see the strain in Monsieur’s eyes and the unhappiness in Madame’s. In the last three weeks I have spent more time with Monsieur and the children than I have with the family as a whole. We had a grand old time. I’ve been boating and fishing, we’ve played tennis and cards. Madame can’t stand being around us, but I’ve done the best anyone in my position could have done. Monsieur closed our chat by saying, “it’s good that you were here because it showed me that her unhappiness was not my fault. Even she realizes that you are brilliant and that the problem lies within her.”
I feel terrible for them all. In all her drama Madame is actually a nice person, just sad. But onto more personally pressing matters. I have no job, no home, no car, and no money!!! I am far from being ready to return to the States! So, what the hell am I going to do? I have resolved against being employed in another family. I have had my fill of dysfunctional homes, much too serious a surrounding. The next adventure lies on the deep blue sea. I hope to write you soon of the exciting and exotic places I visit aboard a private yacht. There are thousands of yachts docked along the French Rivera. Finding the inside track is my next hurdle. If anyone has any leads please do not hesitate to write or call. Wish me luck and cross your fingers for me!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Frolicking in the Forest

5 September 2006

Life in the French countryside continues to be a sequence of new experiences. I now know what it means to encounter silence that is deafening and almost painful to the ear. Being brought up in urban cities my entire life, twenty years of which were spent in LA County, I have never heard nothing. I mean nothing, not crickets, not nature, nothing. My suite in the villa is like a mausoleum, it entombs every night. But every morning I step outside, ready for my hike and nature turns up full blast. There are no airplanes or helicopters flying, no street noise, just the rustling of trees and blowing of the wind that gets louder the closer I get to the forest.
The woodland path behind the villa is a patchwork of burnt red, bright peach, and slate gray; colors of earth I have never seen before. I don’t know how old the road is; it seems to be almost ancient. At the opening of the thicket there is a worn down bridge built centuries ago to support a stream that no longer exists. The wood is thick and dark in parts. When I take this path to the market I feel like “Little Red Ridinghood” walking through the forest, literally. I am a city girl at heart and this is the first time I have been exposed to real nature. Even as a child I did not enjoy playing outside for fear of getting my clothes dirty. Dirt, trees, bugs; this is not the kind of setting I imagined when dreaming about a life in France, but it is just what I needed. This daily walk has become the very cornerstone my new life in France is build upon for reasons that I will explain to you. I warn you, this is not a story about jet setting or glamorous cocktail parties or even meeting exciting people. This is a story with only one individual, me, alone in the forest.
The road into the forest is picturesque and lined with linen white, slate grey, and burnt red rock. Everyday I discover something new about my new world. Today I find out that the villas on my chemin (country block) are all built from rock mined from this wood. Construction workers at the house are laying the driveway and they actually go next door to the vacant lot and use it as a mini quarry to excavate pebble for the gravel. They do not bring it on trucks from a mill; natural resources are completely implemented here. I am beginning to feel more and more as though I’ve stepped into a different dimension or time warp, “Little House on the Prairie” circa 1896. But the rock at the mouth of the forest I was recounting. It is so remarkable. It gives the road a myriad of shades; peach in some places, burnt red in others. The trail in some places is wide enough to fit a Suburban, of which there are none in France, in denser parts of the wood it is only a foot wide. This is a scene I’ve only experienced before vicariously through films, paintings, or television. Seeing a forest first hand I am struck dumb with childlike curiosity. I had never taken the time to look at a tree, let alone notice the sinewy veins in a leaf or the snowflake-like originality of its flower petal formations. Although I do recall from slight glances taken around my urban surroundings in the States to know that these French trees and plant life are ones I have never seen before. In this moment, in the forest I feel calm hit me in waves. Peace never hit me in waves before. There was always too much noise. The noise of the city and the noise of my life eclipsed any hope of cultivating tranquility. The wood is a symphony of birds chirping, insects buzzing, and the billowing wind. The sky above is piercing blue sprinkled with wisps of brilliant white clouds. It is a different sky, much more brilliant than the one that hung over me in my former twenty years. There is no gray smog hanging overhead like a wet blanket, here there is nothing but blue sky. Sky and forest stretch for miles barely allowing the beach and villas to peak out in some areas. Yet I am the alone in my part of the wood. Through the silence I have learned to detect the different sounds the wood makes. At times one can hear a family setting the table for dinner miles away or the crackle of gravel as someone pulls into their driveway. The beauty of the countryside has taught me to take time, and no not smell the roses, but take time to know myself, know who I am when I am alone when no one is watching.
While no one was watching I became a nature-loving gal. No, I am not saying that I am going spelunking tomorrow, but suffice to say that I definitely enjoy being in nature. I was never able to really appreciate Thoreau and Muir, now I have a deep understanding of their prose. It is refreshing to be able to experience the kind of world Thoreau wrote about. This Old World values the experiences of the moment. Every day I make it a point to take this walk. I yearn to be in the natural world. There is so much about nature that has healed me: mentally, spiritually and physically. I have found deep serenity, a serenity that would have gone undiscovered for decades.
I laugh out loud at the realization that I have become somewhat of a nature buff. Something I would NOT have associated with myself in the past. I hated camping and still do now. I remember my first day here as my boss and I were making dinner and she asked me to set the table on the terrace. I shuttered at the thought of eating al fresco. The little one laughed all through dinner at the sight of me jumping and swatting every bug that buzzed in my general vicinity. Entertaining for her, but terrifying for me. I have never been stung and the thought of it scares me to this day. Thankfully I am more comfortable in nature. Last week I added binoculars to my backpack to look for birds.
It tickles me to think of my transformation. My entire life I had found pleasure in the discovery of say a vintage Halston suit, circa 1981. Here in the country I have learned to find aesthetic beauty in organic nature fore there are no vintage shops in the countryside. I now experience joy in observing the softness of a flower petal and no longer in the softness of fine aged silks. Nature is a world I have never experienced before. It’s beauty and majesty inspires me every day. It has been almost maddening trying to slow down and retrain myself from being hard core productive. Life in the country is almost like being retired. Having just turned 28 I am nowhere near retirement, but this time has taught me to slow down and enjoy the deep bitterness of dark chocolate or the smoothness of vin rose as it refreshingly rolls down your throat on a hot day or the lingering smell of sunshine in my laundry. I have learned to slow down.
The most beautiful aspect is that nature’s silent beauty has helped me discover the world within me that I never knew. By not allowing life to consume me I have been able to discover external as well as internal beauty. This road is heaven and I wish I could take each of you with me down the path, whether it be the wide and majestic or the narrow and silently peaceful trail. For now Angelenos and Portlanders try to slow down and yes smelling that occasional rose fore it holds inconceivable and uncultivated beauty. I long for all of you discover the silent beauty in your lives today.
For full photos please see: http://moniquelyons.shutterfly.com/

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Case of the Birthday Stones

August 22, 2006

Birthday stones…not a girl’s best friend! For my first birthday in France, my body was kind enough to celebrate the day by giving me kidney stones. However, I had quite a different idea concerning birthday revelry. Many of you know that my medical history is a trail of doctor and hospital visits and treatments that stretch to moon and back. Well that trail found me in the quaint village of Valbonne. Most of you won’t be surprised by the story I am about to tell you of how I celebrated my first French birthday.
August 22nd, 2006 was a beautiful morning in the Cote d’Azur! The sun softly glistened from the skylight in my chamber, warming my face causing me to stir and awaken. I was all packed and ready to hit the road for an exhilarating mini-break in Barcelona. After living in France for over a month, I was extremely excited about being in a country where I actually spoke the language. I got a tremendous deal on one of those ultra modern hotels one kilometer away from El Mar. I bathed with happy thoughts of discovering the country of my ancestors’ forefathers. I could just smell the paella and hear the deep and sensual rhythm of the tango. As I shampooed a clear vision entered my mind of bronzing in the sun and sipping sangria poolside. Just one glass of sangria and my tongue would remember to lazily roll my “rs” instead of gargle them harshly at the back of the throat.
Then, panic! Pangs of searing pain shot down my right side. But, I brushed it off thinking I was still recovering from a kidney infection that had me bedridden for seven days the week before. Nothing was going to stop me from celebrating my birthday speaking a language I didn’t have to think first to speak. I carefully finished getting dressed and limped down the stairs. And when I say limp, I mean LIMP! It took me five minutes to make it to “le cuisine” to join my bosses for breakfast. We were chatting lightly about my impending excursion and then suddenly shots of burning pain in my left side so intense that that I knocked the breadbasket off the table and into Monsieur causing him to wear his breakfast. I would have normally been humiliated, but I didn’t give a damn about anything but my aching gut. After an agonizing ten-minute debate about the source of the pain, I reassured both Madame and Monsieur that I was fine and that I was just experiencing a relapse. Humiliation, however, did strike as Monsieur carried me up a flight of stairs to my suite. Half an hour later I found myself in bed damp with fever and sadly canceling my three-night reservation with Hotel Vincci Condal Mar. Hour after insufferable hour my body raged with fever, then the chills, and the fever again. I could no longer endure the pain; I had to call Madame. I agonizingly climbed back downstairs to fetch the number of the restaurant.
Monsieur was kind enough to return home to cart me around to the doctor’s office. After a ten-minute symptom synopsis with Docteur DuBois, he then pressed areas of my stomach and sent me for tests to support his kidney stone theory. And I didn’t have to take my clothes off at any point of the examination! Yeah me, kidney stones attacked for the third time in my short life. To celebrate my birthday I dressed in a few items from my vintage collection. I sipped Perrier instead of sangria while dining on quiche and French birthday cake on the veranda. Yum!
I can’t tell you much about the subsequent week because the hours blended into days as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, with only the daylight peaking in from the skylight to mark the time. I read Monsieur’s entire collection of English books, most of which I was too delirious to remember, and took lots and lots of antibiotics and painkillers. You may think I was jolly, doped up on Viccodin relaxing in bed. But interestingly enough French painkillers are not laced with opiates and yet are just as affective. French drugs do not intend to kill the pain, but dull it to a livable level. That isn’t the only difference between the French and American medical field. Having made hundreds of doctors and hospital expeditions gives me an expert opinion. It took ONE visit to the doctor and four hours of lab work to discover I had kidney stones. Of the myriad of illnesses that I have suffered from many have gone misdiagnosed and undetected after at the most five doctor or hospital visits, some still remain unsolved mysteries. The French are amazing apothecaries. They don’t mask pain with pill after pill. Or play Russian roulette with antibiotics hoping one of the hundreds they prescribe with cure you before death finds you. French doctors use the pain and symptoms to find the illness, then treat it. The French climate and lifestyle have just about cured me of most of my ailments. I am not as sickly as I thought, but living cooped up inside a studio apartment and working in a stuffy office gave me little advantage to allow nature to cure me. Sun, trees, breathable air, and edible food are all a body needs to heal itself.
Lesson learned: when ill in a foreign country, pray that you are in France! Lesson two: having kidney stones actually turned out to be a rather productive way to spend the remaining two days of my stone passing. I had quite a lot of time to unpack the two boxes of belongings I got in the daily post, making my room a bit homier.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Monaco--Soiree Blanc

August 12th, 2006

I would have never imagined that a day trip to the local village of Mougin last Sunday would have proved so worthwhile. I spent Saturday evening at the penthouse apartment of a billionaire I met on my writing excursion. It was his annual "White Party Under the Stars" thrown for his closest friends and colleagues, all seventy of them. Having just met him and his lovely Australian companion once, receiving such an invitation two days later was a bit mystifying. Needless to say three shopping trips to Cannes and Nice produced the only suitable white dress. A French designed classic dress; the tight bodice with a scoop neck down to the end of my ribcage, and full circle skirt reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's role in Sabrina. At 40 Euros, the designer dress was a hit and quite a buy after the four-inch white Valentino sandals I charged to complete the look. The invitation said to dress conservatively so I paired the ensemble with a very sweet Agnes B black bolero/cardigan I found in Nice and a black vintage cocktail hat I found on Melrose (think Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina's movie poster).
Having the costume ready gave me little solace. I still had no idea what to expect, was I to be surrounded by the Rivera's most rich residents? YES! So, what was a poor black/Latina girl to do? For one thing, start getting ready at 3pm! Monaco is at most an hour's drive from my doorstep, so I left just in time to sit in traffic for two hours. I stopped en route to change, not wanting to wrinkle my dress or expire from suffocation due to its very tight bodice. Every Bentley, Rolls, Benz, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari were on the road. I was lucky enough to get parking right in front of the very swank residence. This residence is one of the most plush apartment buildings in Monte Carlo. Just seeing it's golden façade was enough to make me nervous. It is not that I think myself unworthy to be in such a setting, money isn't everything, I reminded myself that things like character, courage, and family were more important. It just that European wealth is much different. Beverly Hills, the Trump Towers, Park Avenue is nothing like preparing for an evening on a Monte Carlo rooftop with a glass of Dom Perignon in one's hand.
I took comfort at the ease it was to spot my fellow partygoers. A Bentley full of 40 to 50-somethings decked out in their finest designer and in once case couture white summer suits and frocks pulled up in front of me. The passengers were kind enough to escort me to the front door. Being the only American and the only person to arrive alone I found solace in their chivalry. I clutched the arm of a lovely fifty-something-vineyard-heir as we stepped from the gilded elevator onto the penthouse floor. A sign posted on the elegant double door in three languages asked all guests to please enter and join the soiree on the third floor balcony. In comparison, the downstairs lobby was modest to say the least. Stepping into the reception area of the penthouse I felt a rush of adrenaline from the sheer richness of the home. Antiques (most likely purchased at Christies) were delicately paired with a careful blend of Southern French and Parisian décor, it all made my face flush. It was the kind of apartment that one sees guided by Robin Leach on "The Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous". Not that I write to tell you of how easily I am impressed by wealth, I just have never been privy to such a world and seeing it first hand was quite a strange feeling. I stood face to face with a privately owned Renoir. It was sobering knowing that all my worldly possessions and those of all of my family would never equate to its' financial value. I do not believe that this original painting or any other pricey or priceless item makes anyone more important than anyone else. In fact, seeing the way the "other half lives" debunked my last attachment to the dazzle of wealth.
However, I was telling you about the party. I was climbing the three flights to the balcony in my brand new four-inch Valentinos, grateful for the steadying elbow of my very sweet British escort. The lovely host greeted each of us at the door with a flute of champagne in one hand and an welcoming empty outstretched hand. Knowing only one other person at the party, I asked quickly where she could be found and headed over to that corner of the balcony gardens. Out of nerves I quickly sipped the champagne, which was magically refilled once before I reached the host's lovely friend. After an hour of light conversation, picture taking, and deep breaths I finally got accustom to my lush surroundings. I decided to take a good look at the vista, thinking that it may be the last time I get to see one so beautiful in person. It was magic, as was the following four hours. I actually don't know how much time passed, or how many flutes of champagne I consumed because it had slipped my memory that I had taken some prescription pain medicine during my afternoon toilette. At about nine o'clock I excused myself and retired to one of the guest bathrooms for ten minutes to get my bearings. At the precise moment I was reapplying my lipstick I remembered taking a Vicodin at 3:30pm. The painkillers in my bloodstream mixed quickly with the Dom Perignon. I carefully headed back to the balcony for some fresh air. To my left stood two handsome Italian men in a heated discussion in their native tongue.
The host kindly introduced me as "the American", I vaguely remember that the gorgeous tall gentleman paid me a compliment, saying that "I looked very much like Sophia Lauren", thus my earlier comment about the silhouette of the dress. Blushing, tried desperately to conceal my intoxication and asked if the three of us could move our conversation to one of the garden benches. They obliged quite gentlemanly. The champagne really began to kick in at that point and all I remember is one of the gentlemen inviting me to join them for dinner. I couldn't tell you the length of time I chatted with the Italians, but based on the French and Italian meal schedule I believe it was a span of an hour. I believe that at this point one of my new friends could tell the extent of my intoxication because he offered to accompany me to the lower living room to get my bearings. Being the only American at the party I did not want to embarrassed my country. We began to descend to the floor below when I nearly tripped and almost smashed headfirst into the wall. If it hadn't been for my companion holding my elbow I would have surely gone flying down two flights. I supposed it wouldn't have been so painful because I was anesthetized almost completely, only kidding. But I digress; I was fortunate enough to reach the chaise under the Renoir safely. It was then that the lovely Italian man realized how truly drunk I was becoming. Although I had halted my champagne consumption an hour before the painkillers drove the alcohol straight to my head. I clearly remember sitting in the living room terrified at the fact that I was so badly inebriated, in a strange city (and country mind you), with no possible way of getting home.
To this I thank the guest list. Every single person invited to the party was at one time either in business with or a very close acquaintance of the host; I was the only unfamiliar face. I would have normally never done something as stupid as to accept an invitation to stay in a stranger's flat. The host's earlier introduction of the gentleman as a friend and business partner of seven years gave me some comfort. But Monaco being one of the richest cities in the world, I had little choice. There are no Holiday Inns or Best Westerns in the Cote d'Zur. So, I allowed myself to be driven to the very first destination in my drive to Italy two weeks before, Bordighera, where I slept peacefully in a suite of my own for six hours, long enough to cure my intoxication and make it back to Cannes. Lesson learned, remember what medicines you take before consuming large quantities of expensive champagne. Lesson two, when traveling, travel in style, whenever possible mix with those of a higher financial station than you because when there is an emergency the weight of responsibility is shared and an exciting solution is quickly found. And most importantly, when merriment is in full swing meet as many rich men as possible!

When in France Sunbathe Topless

August 9, 2006

So, the children are finally gone. They left with Madame this morning. She is driving them to Brittany to stay with relatives for two weeks. Thus my summer holiday begins. The master of the house slept in while I took my daily hike in the woods behind the house and swam laps in the villa pool. Monsieur commented over lunch that I am becoming quite the French woman. I have conquered French traffic, I have become a lover of fine wine, and you will be happy to know that I finally tried the stinky cheese. It was what I expected, very, very strong. No wonder the French eat stinky cheese with wine, it dulls your senses and makes you jolly no matter what you consume, but I digress.
While Monsieur was taking his daily after lunch nap (something as French as sunbathing topless). I decided to take another dip in the pool. Yes, I know, tough job, but someone has to do it. :) After a few laps I decided to even out my farmer’s tan, so I slathered on some suntan oil, plugged in my iPod and grabbed a glass of vin rose. Ten minutes later my boss was off and so was my bikini top. Now let me say this. The villa is secured on all sides by seven feet tall hedges, so there was no danger of peeping toms. In fact I found it rather comfortable being free to do whatever, whenever I wanted without fear of neighbors peaking through their curtains.
iPod blaring Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and the sun gently warming my skin lulled me into a light nap. Next thing I know there is a strange man standing over me asking in French where the owners of the house were. I don't know how long this gentleman stood over me, but he was kind enough to cover me up before waking me. I can hear my mother giving me a good old-fashioned "I told you so" and "what would your grandmother think" but I wasn’t that embarrassed and neither was the plumber. After he fixed the sink he bid me "bonsoir" and I resumed my topless sunbathing.
If you don’t know me well enough, I am a very private person. I don’t change my clothes in front of girlfriends, share dressing rooms, or feel comfortable in revealing clothing. I have sisters that would have whipped off their tops their first day in France, but I blush if someone sees too deep down my shirt. I can only imagine what my mother is thinking as she reads this, but going topless while sunning oneself is one's god given right in France. Just the other day when I took the kids to the beach most women were basking in the sun without tops in full sight of people of all ages. In France little girls swim in only bikini bottoms until they are 6, then I guess they resume this dress in their adult years as they see fit. So in actuality for me to have sunbathed topless in the total privacy of the villa's sun deck makes me a bit of a prude against French standards. French women of all sizes are proud of every inch of their bodies, no matter the shape. A bit of that is beginning to rub off on me because feeling comfortable in my own skin to sunbathe topless gives me a sense of pride. I didn’t have to wait until I was a size 4 again to feel at ease in my own skin. So, no I am not pervert, but rather becoming more and more a French woman every day. However, next time I will be sure to lock the main gate before whipping off my top. ;)

A Sunday in Mougin

August 6th, 2006

Enjoying the sunshine and old world charm on a quaint restaurant terrace in Mougin, one time home of cubist painter Pablo Picasso, is breathtaking. It’s no mystery Picasso became such a celebrated and important painter. A look around the old village fills anyone with artistic inspiration. The thing is I don't really know how I ended up here. I got in the car this morning with every intention to see the beautiful beaches of St. Tropez. But something drew me to the old village of Valbonne. Miraculously I found parking right in front of the bustling Sunday antique flea market. As I got out of the car a beautiful old wardrobe caught my eye. I sauntered over to the lovely old Frenchman standing guard over his prized antiques. I as I drew closer and saw the 1200 Euro price tag I turned sadly on my heels.
All the dealers, mostly older men with pelotta fetishes were enjoying a lovely five-course meal, with real silverware and wine glasses amid the bustling stalls. One case held the most beautiful jewelry I have ever laid eyes on. My eye first gazed upon this gorgeous antique ring. A marvelously delicate silver ring with 19 pinhead sized amethyst encrusted in its sinewy facade. The lovely dealer, Chantal, at once said that the ring was a hard sell due to it being "trop petite" too small. I asked her politely to allow me to try it on and wouldn't you know it, the ring slipped right onto my finger. I bought it right away for 30 Euros, a steal considering it is a sixty-year-old ring. Since anything under a century is not considered antique in France I got quite a buy!
But back to my Mougin lunch al fresco. How can I describe in words the stark contrast between a Sunday lunch in a quaint old French village and a Sunday brunch on Melrose Boulevard? There are really no words. The posh LA restaurants with polite, attentive service and uniform dishes are nothing like sipping vin rose out of a goblet the size of a giant apple on a cobblestone terrace amid provincial painters studying their masterpieces. The Angeleno waiters quick to stand attention in their black slacks and starched white shirts are nowhere to be seen in the South of France. The country male waiters serve in their casual slacks, hugging ever so European-like to their hips. White is the last color one sees here. The tablecloths and napkins are every color of the rainbow, delicately coordinated to the theme of each brasserie. The sounds of Melrose traffic and the hum of sidewalk shoppers would be out of place in this centuries old village. There is a buzz of French families discussing their day's excursions. The beautiful old courtyard fountain drowns out most of the chatter to a low hum. The restaurant sings with French intonations that make a girl say, "we aren't in Los Angeles anymore".
I never thought that I would long to hear the flat American accent chopping up the beautiful flow of the French language but after being here for three weeks I would love nothing more than to chat in my native tongue. Do my ears deceive me? Is that the droll of a southern American? Yes, it is! Brian is in France on business, but is lucky enough to have an old French college buddy to show him the quaint beauty of Mougin. The French diners sneer at the audacity we have to speak English out in the open. I take little notice of their superiority; my excitement to meet an American will not sway me into embarrassment. His companion Emerique quickly jumps into the conversation to tell me that his wife is American. They live in Mougin. He, very neighborly asks for my card in order to pass along to his wife and their group of American expatriates. I am suddenly comforted with the possibility of making American friends. Yes, that was no typo...I was excited about the possibility of making AMERICAN friends. :) As they leave he tells me to make sure to answer my phone because Danielle, his wife would love to show me around Mougin. Thank god for the friendliness of Americans! I adore the French but they are slow to make friends. I am so very lucky to be employed by a French couple that once was in my shoes. The family lived in America for eight years and have been a god-sent in helping me acclimate into the French culture.

Enjoy and more to come from France,

Daytrip to Italia

July 30, 2006

I am not bragging as I tell you that god has blessed me more than I deserve. Yesterday, Sunday, was my weekly day off. The family has given me full use of one of the cars...a Cabriolet convertible. For those of you that don’t know that is the car I wanted in the States before buying the Benz, but I digress. So, what would you do on your day off when you know that Italia is only an hour's drive away??? Take a day trip down there of course!
Ah, I cannot tell you that I have ever had a more beautiful drive. French music blaring, top down, cruising at 100km/hr with the Cote d’Azur on the right and a handsome Frenchman in the passengers seat, all made for a wonderful day. I began my trip at 11am with my non-English speaking guide in tow. The gentleman to speak of is employed in the family's restaurant. By 12:30pm we had hit the spectacular sight of Nice's plage, I have NEVER seen a bluer or more beautiful ocean. Nice tops Cannes in a second! The winding road hugs the French Rivera all the way to Italia. Monaco was the first stop. Let me say this, Grace Kelly was the smartest woman alive. The Palais de Monaco is breathtaking. It is built on the remnants of the medieval castle that once stood hundreds of years ago. There is a jardin with ponds and flowers so abundant that the air about the palace is thick with perfume. It gives the tourist the impression that the air was scented for your traveling pleasure. The cathedral where Princess Grace was married held a mass in session. The vista overlooks the French coast and one can see all the way to Italy. Monte Carlo is nothing like the casino in Vegas. It is much more plush and sophisticated. Being a California girl for twenty years this month makes me an expert on the following statement. Beverly Hills and Bel Aire have nothing on the riches spewed forth in Monaco and Monte Carlo. The only people visible on a lazy Sunday afternoon was the wait staff on board the yachts docked in Monaco’s marina. After a walk through the deserted town we were off once again.
Next stop Bordighera, Italia. Weeks later the world cup festivities were still in full swing, can the Italians party or what? There were hundreds of beautiful Italians waving flags and running on the beach. Some bathing in the nude! An American would never dare and I didn’t. They stopped traffic at one point to play in several of the centuries old fountains in the plaza. Traffic being backed up we decided to take a dip in the Italian Rivera's crystal blue ocean. I found myself a charming bluff to lookout into the sea. It was a view only seen in the movies or a travel special. The coast wound around for miles. The only objects detectable were the brilliantly white villas nestled into the overlooking cliffs. One can see clear past San Remo, our final stop.
I have heard about the quaint and charming Italian boarder town of San Remo from Film Noir film settings and references. We stopped for my first real Italian meal. To your disappointment I have yet to really enjoyed the potency of French cheese or rich French cuisine. My unsophisticated American veggie pallet is not refined enough to enjoy more than fresh fruit, just out of the oven fresh bread, and fresh veggies in France so you can imagine my hunger. Tucking in, as my fellow British tourists say, to an Italian meal is an experience I have never had. The spaghetti with clams, Chianti, gellato, and cappuccino are decadent beyond America’s ability to reproduce. In contrast to French wait staff the Italians create a warm and welcoming environment to enjoy ones Sunday dinner. I enjoyed so much of the Italian wine and the aperitif of sangria that only a brisk walk on the Italian coast at night could cure my haze.
I have refrained from leaving out, until now, my French companion because dinner was the first time we could actually make conversation. If one can consider searching for verbs in a language dictionary and employing universal hand gestures actual conversation. You really take language for granted until you don’t have one in common. This has been one of the most uncomfortable aspects of my stay here. I am anxious to begin school tomorrow! Anyhow, a bottle of Chianti can relax anyone into sign language and pointing in a dictionary. Needless to say my French got better after miming the stark contrast between French and American culture. Poor Jerome was a good sport and at 11pm we made our way back to France.
Driving top down at 130km/hr was the perfect ending to such a long and exciting day. The highway, windy and twisty made for fun sport! I have never taken such a fast and exhilarating drive. The Europeans really know how to build roads. one can go 130km/hr on curves more severe than PCH. Needless to say, four tolls later we made it back to Cannes in 90 minutes. midnight greeted me as I pulled into the villas gate, ending one of the most beautiful and exciting days of my life. It isn’t every day that a California girl like me can enjoy two European countries in one day. Take my word for it...the French/Italian Rivera is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
I still can’t believe how a poor black/Latina girl like me ended up in such a lush surrounding. I wish all of you could see how beautiful the vista from the villa is. As I write this I stop every few minutes to thank god for such an opportunity. What I have learned so far? Take as many risks in life as possible, work hard and above all remain true to your heart and your path will always converge on the desires of your heart. Is living here wonderful? YES! But it is also the most challenging thing I have ever experienced. Those of you out there that really know me realize the magnitude of that statement...illness, socio-economic struggle...all the fighting and struggle has paid off. How many 28 year olds can say that? Not many, all I can say is that God is good and generous. I just want to thank you all again. I would not be sitting in such blessing if it were not for every single person reading this. I hope that my sharing these experiences are not in a boastful tone, but in the awe and gratitude I have been blessed with. these blessings did not begin 10 days ago, but weeks, years, and in some cases decades ago. My blessings began with sharing a special moment with every one of you. It is my hope that these diaries serve as a beacon of hope for you that says, in all things be kind and love others because if you changed a life such as mine so powerfully, then God has blessed you with a powerful ability to reach others. Thank you again, I wish there was a way I could repay you. I hope to live a life that honors all of you.
Love from France,

I bid you my first, true French "Bonjour"

July 25th, 2006

Sunday will mark my one-week anniversary in the south. Not a day goes by that I do not think of all of you and miss you dearly. Life here continues to amaze me. I drove today for the first time in ten days. It was quite interesting. I know the French are known for being crazy drivers, but they are actually quite safe and alert. Not having a cell phone or iPod to distract them helps. The country roads here twist and turn every couple of kilometers, which makes for frequent heart attacks and near misses. I made it home in one piece, just barely. Yesterday I went for my first walk in the French countryside. I took the trail behind the villa. I followed the sound of a guitar and mandolin duo deep into the woods. It was raining as I drew closer to the old villa where the playing originated, charmingly aged for at least one century. I could have stayed on the path forever, but it began to thunder and I didn't want to be caught near a tree in a storm.
Cannes is beautiful, more breath taking than the photos or TV. I could almost see Cary Grant and Grace Kelly lounging on the floating platform with the other swimmers. If you haven't seen “To Catch a Thief” you must. So, how hard is it to live in a country where you can’t understand a thing anyone says? So terribly hard, thank god I start French class Tuesday. The little one continues to complain to her Maman that she can’t do what I ask because she doesn't know what I am saying. It is oh so cute, but oh so frustrating. This is the only way to learn a language, under penalty of being ignored. Well, I must dash, I have to pick up the kids soon. I hope I don't get lost, every charming country road looks the same. I miss you all. Please keep in touch. More to come.
Love you,