31 July 2013

An Ex-Pat in South Africa (June 22 - July 2, 2013)

Returning to South Africa for a ten day visit re-established my fickle feelings for this country of my birth and childhood. I yield to its seductive power, but, like a disinterested lover who can only offer superficial satisfaction, it leaves me exasperated. It’s always with much joy that I purchase my plane ticket. The anticipation of reuniting with people I love and going on game drives and eating Mum’s food fires me up. But almost as soon as my plane touches down, apprehension seeps into my abdomen.

This June, midwinter in South Africa, as the plane descended, I looked out the window at the desolate landscape of the Highveld. So evocative of the landscape of my childhood winters in Ladysmith. It made me think about all that is wrong with this country. (When I visit at Christmas time my feelings are the exact opposite!)

At passport control I gleefully went to the line for foreign passport holders. I felt foreign to my very core. This country was never mine, even when I lived here. As a child I was taught to hate my brown skin, to feel ashamed of my cultural ancestry, to be embarrassed about my uneducated community. The nation’s orange, blue, and white flag, proudly waved by supporters of the ruling National Party, represented oppression and hatred. Up to the age of 23 I never experienced what it was like to be a member of the mainstream. We, Indians, lived in the shadows. Isolated from the whites who were the “true” citizens. And isolated from the black majority, natives of this land that they loved, but from which they’d been disowned. From my inferior place in the shadows I watched, like a curious visitor, the “true” South Africans living proper lives. Enviously, I watched them shop at expensive shops like Ackerman’s, and eat at fine restaurants. These “real” South Africans played rugby, and went on beach holidays, and lived in lovely houses on clean, tree lined streets. The mainstream media carried their stories, and advertisements targeted their lifestyle needs. Meanwhile, I, along with my community, lived in our own space within the prison walls of apartheid.

And so I resume my visitor role in this country. The line at passport control is exasperatingly long. Americans, Europeans, Asians, people from the Middle East, and people from all over the African continent - a rainbow of nations -here to visit the Rainbow Nation. The handsome African man who stamps my passport welcomes me warmly, and I shrug off my bitterness. Decades have past. It’s been the New South Africa for a while. Nelson Mandela’s picture greets me on my way to the baggage carousel. My chest swells with pride. In silence I shout out to all who have just arrived in the country: Dear Overseas Visitor, are you noticing how modern and clean and beautiful this airport is? This isn't really Africa you know. It's South Africa. 


My darling sister is waiting for me in the arrivals lounge. Familiar sounds - Zulu expressions, South African English, Afrikaans - mingle, make me smile. Outside, the sun, reliable as ever, is shining out of the great blue African sky. I sniff the dry air, and smile at everyone. I love being here. 

From the airport we drive onto a modern freeway passing the tapestry of contrasting scenes that  form South Africa's landscape. Shabby tin shacks, then rows of little government project homes, then elaborate gated communities, then more shacks. The third world right alongside the first world. We drive through the policed gates of my sister's estate, entering an artificial haven where kids can ride their bikes on quiet roads and front doors can stay wide open. As we drive past Tuscan villas in grandly landscaped gardens, I am reminded of Europe during ancient times when the privileged lived within the walls of a city, protected from the riffraff. But who am I to criticize? I have my own walls - the Atlantic and the Pacific - which keep me secure.

After a shower and rest my sister whisks me off to an amazing food market. We go to the Honeydew Shopping Center just a few minutes drive from her place for an absolute trip of the senses. Imagine a more jazzed up Whole Foods and Waitrose. Greater variety, larger quantities, more sensibly priced, and  primarily locally sourced. (To be fair, most of South Africa's produce tends to be locally sourced.) Well, you would get this Food Lover's Market, which frankly, is a tad pretentious. Take a look at this photo, for example: 

Even though it's midwinter the variety of produce is staggering. Shopping at upscale food markets is one of my things, but in South Africa the familiarly unique foods makes this activity even more entertaining. Huge butternut squashes, enormous bunches of dark green chard, oranges in big red sacks, gem squashes, flat round pumpkins, beans of various shapes and colors ... In the dessert section I can't make up my mind whether to get milk tart or malva pudding. Breakfast rusks fill up several shelves. I select the healthiest muesli rusks. The bakery section displays every type of bread imaginable - rye, multigrain, wholewheat, white - freshly baked and still warm. Further on - ripe, creamy cheeses from Simonsberg and sharp, hard ones from Bergville. And yes, many more from abroad. Got to have gorgonzola from Italy and Wenseleydale from England to satisfy the clientele! In the dairy section there's ready made custard, along with various yogurts and fresh creams. Exercising superhuman willpower, we take home groceries for just three days.

Ah yes, lekker to be "home" again. Immersed again in sights and smells and sounds that my senses know so well, a warm feeling spreads throughout my being. Weaver birds, raucous hadedas, Afrikaans, Zulu, cricket news, papayas in the fruit basket, guava juice, Sunlight soap - why does such primal familiarity make me so happy?

Pam, my sister, starts dinner preparations - roti and soya shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce. She asks me to select a wine from their wine cabinet. I choose a Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon. Years ago Daryl and I learned, on a visit to the Delheim Wine Farm in Stellenbosch, that they'd been making wine for over three hundred years. The Cab I pour myself is a 2008. I sniff its powerful aroma. Very promising. I let it breathe. My niece, Kimi, shows off some new dances she'd learned at her Saturday morning dance class. Outside, winter darkness has settled over Johannesburg. Back in the land of my childhood with people I love and who love me, I feel content.

The next day we drove to the Lion and Rhino Game Park just outside Johannesburg. From Pam's Honeydew home, it was a mere twenty minute drive. Quite unbelievable how quickly we could escape the built up city and enter the wilderness. It turned out to be a truly rewarding day. 

Midwinter is widely know to be the best time to view game. On the highveld, as this area is known due to the land lying on a plateau, the vegetation is sparse. It's the savannah - with tall grasses and scattered flat topped acacia trees. No rain in winter results in dried up grass. (Summers here are wet, with frequent electric storms and the vegetation then is quite dense) So we saw wildlife pretty much the whole time we were in the park. The herbivores - eland, gemsbok, blesbok - were everywhere. We also saw lots of ostriches and Cape bison.

But, of course, seeing lions is really cool. From the car we were able to see them quite easily. It was midday and a family was feasting on a fresh kill. A male lion rested away from the pride, a satisfied look on his face.
This park is small and easy to drive through. Helpful signs lead you to the various sections where you are likely to see the bigger game. We saw wild dogs resting beside the road. Then a short while later we saw a cheetah through the grass. Further on we saw another cheetah more clearly.
Driving on we spotted rhinos right in the middle of a "made for a movie" African scene. Ostriches, blesbok, gemsbok, and Cape bison dined alongside a mother rhino and her infant. Flat topped thorny acacia trees dotted the bare landscape The sky, cloudless and deep blue, formed a pretty contrast to the browns. In this beauty, this tranquility, I felt like a native again.  

Later, we were surprised to spot white lions lying in the grass. I'd never seen white lions in the wild before. They are really magnificent. Before leaving the park, close to a lake, we saw some hippos. 

It was quite the day for photographs. Ah ... seductive Africa! How gratifying to be on your precious soil.

Settling into a state of complacency in South Africa is unfortunately quite impossible. Everywhere you go you still see blatant evidence of a hierarchical society based on race. Yes, there is a significant black middle class. But in the upmarket stores, and malls, and restaurants, the clientele is still predominantly white. All middle class homes still have full time maids and gardeners who are deferential to their employers, addressing them as "madam" and "baas". There is such wide spread poverty and people resort to all sorts of heartbreaking ways to earn money. Car guards in parking lots make sure nobody breaks into your car. At busy intersections people try to sell drivers the newspaper or fake designer apparel. Produce vendors set up stands wherever they can. You are constantly reminded what a struggle life is for so many people.

The big news item was Nelson Mandela in critical condition in a hospital. Everyone expected him to die any moment. Newspaper reporters were camped out near his hospital. Cautious announcements about his health were made by President Zuma. Another big news item was the anticipation of a visit by President Obama. It was interesting to observe how South Africans felt about Obama. Protest groups planned marches to demonstrate their resentment of America's imperialism.

Pam was determined to show me a good time in Johannesburg, so my three days here were really wonderful.


Pam, Kimi, and I make the four hour drive through the barren winter landscape to our hometown. Immersed in the scenery of my childhood - the sad, empty Klip River (which used to be a proper river when I was a kid), the gentle hills spiked with acacia trees ringing the town's perimeter, the lighthouse perched on the highest downtown hill - I feel the prison walls close in on me again. In Mum's garden the skeletal deciduous trees conjure up the oppression of my conservative community - a childhood of prison walls within prison walls.

Mum is in such ecstasy to see me. Surrounded by love, and bonding with the new generation - Cayden. Shreyan, and Kimi - cheers me up. These kids attend integrated schools, travel, read, are comfortable with iPads and laptops, and interact with adults who have traveled the world. Progress has been made.

Despite some heavy duty remodeling projects going on, I had a lovely time in my two days in Ladysmith. I ate well (an aromatic biryani tops the list), spent quality time with Mum and other close family members, and read Greek Myths to Kimi and Cayden. An unusual heatwave in the middle of winter enhanced the pleasantness.

Umhlanga Beach


After Ladysmith we escaped to the Durban area for a few days at a beach resort. Pam reserved a spacious apartment on the beach so we could enjoy quality time together in a gorgeous setting. Well, this was just the most civilized idea, if you ask me. Leaving the dry interior and entering the lush subtropical coast was like hearing a Mozart symphony after hours of a jarring sledgehammer. From the open plan kitchen, dining room and living room we had sensational views of the boisterous Indian Ocean. Oh yes, those enormous waves roll across like monsters, crashing on sand that is worthy of the adjective "golden". We were in the middle of a stretch of hotels and vacation apartments lining the coast. Between the buildings and the beach a paved promenade stretched for miles and miles all the way into Durban's waterfront area. We hung out on the beach, strolled along the promenade, devoured delicious meals, lazed about on the terrace, and generally just enjoyed being together. The weather was pleasantly mild - except for the day we arrived when we had the mother of all electric storms!

Umhlanga has a fine assortment of restaurants. On our first day here we had the local specialty - bunnies. This South African Indian dish is basically a spicy curry in hollowed out bread - like a bread bowl. Many Indians live in the Durban area and they have a reputation for being outstanding cooks - justifiably so in my opinion. The bunny I had - broad beans and vegetables - was so good I couldn't stop eating. I spent the next hours feeling like a large rock had lodged itself in my tummy.
Phuket Thai Restaurant

Another great food discovery I made was this incredible Thai restaurant right in the middle of the very cute downtown area. I found it while wandering past the lively cafés and bars. It was winter break for the school kids in South Africa so this resort town was quite busy. Anyway, I had lunch at Phuket Thai and boy, was I impressed! First of all, the coconut based sauce had a perfect consistency - neither runny, nor too thick. And the spicing was clear evidence that a master chef ran the kitchen. Secondly, the tofu dish had a variety of vegetables all cooked just enough to preserve the color and crunchiness. Wow! I raved about it afterwards and the next day Risha and Pam bought take out from here. They too were equally blown away.

And on the topic of meals, I should mention another unforgettable dinner I had. Mum's sister Angie, and her family came over to see us. They brought along some seriously tasty curries and roti. While enjoying this lekker meal Angie told me all about her trip to Australia last Christmas. It was her very first plane flight ever, and the only foreign country she'd ever visited. Boy, was she stoked about this trip!

In Umhlanga a highlight for me was getting up early in the morning to watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. In South Africa it's never a problem awakening early because  squawking hadeda birds work like alarm clocks. From our apartment's large terrace the view was perfect. Surprisingly, it was actually quite a busy time of day. Just across from our apartment I could see many surfer dudes bobbing in the water. The surf here is legendary, and with both air and water temperatures pretty mild, it's a surfer's paradise. The promenade was also busy with people in fitness attire power walking in the cool of the early morning.

Here, in Umhlanga, you see posh hotels, clean beaches, upscale restaurants with generic western menus, and all the people on vacation are white. You could be in America or Europe. Then you see a family of monkeys hovering close to balconies, waiting for that opportunity to dart in and help themselves to fruit from the fruit bowl. And you know this is Africa. Exotic Africa.

Umhlanga's white vacationers who are serviced by blacks is a sobering reminder that even after twenty years of a post apartheid government, the country has made so little progress toward integration. Of course, it's hardly surprising. Twenty years ago when Nelson Mandela became the first black president after the country's first free elections, the vast majority of adult blacks were illiterate, living in various levels of poverty. Due to the design of apartheid South Africa, black families rarely lived together in the same home. A forced dysfunctionality had its expected consequences. Today's black adults were the traumatized children of those unfortunate  families, and to expect them to suddenly blend into the middle class mainstream would be naive. Yes, there have been lots of good changes. Some things are better. Some are worse. Overall, though, I feel hopeful. Today's black kids go to school. The universities are overwhelmingly black. How could it not get better?

But after years of living abroad I do find it quite disconcerting to see the country of my childhood still so divided. I find the government's inefficiency and corruption even more distressing. South Africans are not proud of their president, squirming at newspaper photos of President Zuma beside President Obama.

President Obama's South African visit received much (positive) press coverage. It was heartwarming to watch him give his main speech from the UCT campus with my family. We chuckled at his references to Nando's and the group Freshly Ground.

Pam, Risha, Mum, and I spent an indulgent evening at Mangwanani African Spa at the Sibaya Casino which was a ten minute drive from our apartment. This was an evening of sheer luxury. First you get into a robe and slippers, then get seated at a table in the classy dining room. African décor and music provide the desired ambience. A cocktail and appetizers are served. Then you get escorted into a cubicle in a very African style rondavel where a masseuse offers you a choice of oils for the massage of your life. Forty five blissful minutes later you are back in the dining room for a sumptuous meal. On the menu was potjiekos - a South African stew loaded with vegetables and herbs and spices, prepared on a big cast iron three legged pot over a wood fire. The superb stew was served in miniature three legged pots. For drinks we decided to live it up and have champagne. Mum found this level of luxury a bit bewildering. We were worried that she might not actually be enjoying the experience. After dinner we were taken to another thatched roofed rondavel for head and neck massages. This time we didn't have private cubicles, but sat on comfortable chairs arranged in a long row.
Back to the dining room for dessert. There were three yummy cakes to choose from- cheesecake, chocolate cake, and a vanilla cake. I had a tiny piece of each and enjoyed them all. Dessert was followed by another treatment - a foot massage. I have to say the three therapists I had were outstanding.
Back at our dining table we were served Amarula (a South African liqueur very similar to Bailey's) and dark chocolate. Ah, what luxury! Truly a memory to treasure. Definitely worth the long plane flights here.

On my last day in South Africa I had a long, leisurely brunch with my cousin Jaya. Sitting at a beach café in Umhlanga, we caught up on all the news of the last two years. We've known each other since we were babies, so we have quite a bond. It's always so easy to be with her. Sharing a meal with a childhood buddy in this stunning setting - the great Indian Ocean with its huge waves crashing on a sandy beach, the red and white lighthouse just over to our right, and the warm winter sun above us - was the perfect ending to a most satisfying trip.

As my plane makes its ascent the usual schizophrenia returns. Saying good bye to the people closest to your heart is never easy. I'm sad ... yet happy. I'm returning to the big wide world, a global citizen once again. In ten hours I'll be with my English husband in London. After a couple more weeks in Europe we'll return to our California home.

Sala Kahle, South Africa!

24 July 2013

French Riviera (June)

We moved out of Villa Maye to base ourselves in the heart of old town Antibes. We planned to spend the week working on our projects. So it wasn't quite vacation week. I had fantasies of doing some serious writing during the day and in the evenings we'd go out and enjoy Antibe's vibrancy and beauty. When we saw our new place we immediately realized what a mistake it was to move out of Villa Maye. The new place was so tiny (appropriately named Le Petite Masion) and even though the owner had gone to great pains to decorate the place with interesting art and foreign acquisitions, it lacked the class and elegance we had enjoyed. The best feature was its location.
We were steps away from everything! The Antibes produce market, boulangeries, cafés, the ramparts, wine, everything we could want  - just around the corner from us. I loved going out to get my morning croissant - always still warm - every morning while Daryl made the coffee. We breakfasted out in the tiny upstairs terrace, grateful to be able to see blue sky above us.

Daryl was pretty disciplined about working on his research projects during the day. I, on the other hand, experimented with spending my days doing whatever the heck I felt like doing. During the school year my days are extremely structured and quite intense. There are always numerous unfinished tasks and many more that required planning. So having a week in which I could decide how to spend each moment was quite a luxury. Since we'd been to Antibes many times in the past, there weren't any urgent "tourist have-to-do's" either. I usually started each day at the market, marveling at the many cheeses, breathing in the aromas of the summer fruit, admiring the deep colors of the vegetables, sampling the many tapenades. I could never get enough of the place. I roamed the pedestrianized streets of the old town, stopped for gelato, considered purchasing provencal linen, and later in the day I'd rest up in our little apartment.

In the late afternoon Daryl and I would go to the beach and swim in the pleasantly cool water. I can never get over how sensational the experience is - not just the feel of the water, but also the beautiful views all around - the Alps in the distance, the curve of the coastline, the old stone fort, the masts of the yachts, the color of the calm Mediterranean.

After a swim, we'd shower, get dressed, and seek out a place to enjoy an aperitif. Old town Antibes buzzed with tourists and locals. Outdoor cafés were full of atmosphere. Sitting beside a fountain or in a big square full of other people enjoying aperitifs is one of the great joys of European cities.

Sipping a kir at the Royal Hotel Café right on the beach is my idea of sheer indulgence. Ambivalence tends to plague us during these occasions, though - glamor doesn't fit our self-images.

My friend, Venita, who lived in Nice for  a number of years and now lives in Paris, happened to be on the Cote d'Azur while I was there. We met up for lunch in Nice on a perfect summer Saturday. Over Chez Thereza'a socca at the Nice market on Cours Saleya, we had a good old chat about our lives in the last year. She was not her usual bubbly self, and confessed that she'd been out partying all night. After a full day of meetings in Monaco, she and her work colleagues had gone bar hopping all night. At each bar they shared a bottle of champagne and only returned to their hotel rooms at 5:00 A.M.! Talk about a life of glamor!!

Sauntering through the Old Town of Nice is most rewarding. It has a most distinctive character. I love its Belle Epoque architecture, its magnificent squares, its specialty cuisine, and of course, its huge outdoor market which draws crowds of people. I returned to Nice a few days later to immerse myself again in its quaintness. After meandering through the narrow, cobbled lanes of the center I braved the heat and walked up to the Colline du Chateau. From up at the top the views are sensational. The Baie de Anges sparkles in all its azure glory just like the tourist brochures declare. You can see the pebbly beach and the Promenade de Anglais stretching along the coast. As you follow the coastline you can see Cap d'Antibes protruding into the sea. Enormous hotels line the promenade, and the white dome of the Hotel Negresca juts out most prominently.

Cathedrale St. Reparaté
As you fight the crowds through the narrow streets of Nice you inevitably end up in front of this gorgeous baroque cathedral in a very busy square called Place Rosetti. I enjoyed a fine Nicoise meal beside a fountain in a quieter square to round off my Nice visit.

Tourists absolutely suffocate this town. I realized that this is because of the huge hotels along the Promenade de Anglais. Antibes and other neighboring Riviera towns don't have many hotels and can therefore maintain more of their charm. Driving in and out of Antibes, though, is no fun at all. The roads are jam-packed making it a real headache to get anywhere by car. The public transportation within the towns are fine, but intercity connections are infrequent and inefficient.

The sad truth is that the French Riviera is the vacation destination of just too many people. As a result it is overdeveloped, overcrowded, and the roads are always congested.


We whiled away a few hours in this cute mountain hamlet called Sospel. Just an hour's drive from Nice along winding mountain roads, it feels utterly remote. With its mountain backdrop, interesting architecture spanning a few centuries, and the River Bévéra bisecting the town, Sospel is quite picturesque. After a stroll through the quiet streets, we had a leisurely lunch at a café beside the river.

We had studied the menus of all the restaurants along this stretch and were dismayed at the lack of vegetarian options. The place we settled for had homemade pasta with vegetables. Unfortunately the pasta was stodgy with no sauce to compensate. But we did enjoy the bread and wine. And the setting, of course.

On our last evening in Antibes we hiked around the cap one last time. The beauty, the temperature, the air, the smells, sounds, colors, light - I wished I could bottle it all up. Afterwards we found a spot beside the water to enjoy a picnic dinner. We have picnicked out here many times in the past, and it always feels just as magical as the first time. Across the turquoise water we could see Antibes town, and Nice in the distance. We munched the regional specialty - pissaladiére -and salad in contentment.

Two weeks was definitely the right amount of time to enjoy this area. We were ready to move on to the next destination.

23 July 2013

Antibes in June

What is it that draws us again and again to this part of the French Riviera? We fantasize about setting down roots here, living out our retirement years immersed in the dreamworld of the South of France. I first visited this area twenty years ago when I backpacked around Europe. I chose Nice as a destination because my South African friend Venita lived there at the time. Venita, unfortunately, had been away in South Africa the week I'd arrived. But, thoughtful, sweet person that she is, she had arranged for her friends, all graduate students at the University of Nice, to look after me. In those four days, with Sandrine and Jean Francois as my guides, I wandered through the vibrant streets of Nice in a state of dazed stupor. I hadn't prepared myself for the Riviera's magic. How could I not have realized that this had been the home of Matisse and Chagall and F. Scott Fitzgerald? Famous places like Monaco and Cannes were here. Ever since that trip, the Cote d'Azur has been like a magnet to me. Naturally, Daryl has fallen under its spell too.

Typically we book a vacation rental somewhere close to Nice/Antibes for a week and spend each day exploring a different part of the area. Relatives usually stay with us and our days tend to be absurdly busy. So many exquisite towns, such a lot of breathtaking countryside, and of course lots of beaches, hikes, museums, the list goes on and on. When the week is over we heave regretful sighs, wishing we'd had more time to just hang out and soak up the beauty around us. So this time we decided to spend two weeks here, basing ourselves in Antibes.

On the last day of school - June 7 - I jetted across the Atlantic and arrived at the Nice Airport in the middle of the night. Daryl, who had arrived earlier in the day, was there to pick me up and take me to our accommodation. We stayed at Villa Maye, midway between Cap d'Antibes and Le Vieil Antibes (the old town). The owners live on the ground level and rent out the very tastefully decorated upstairs. We had spacious rooms, a well equipped kitchen, and a fantastic terrace for outdoor dining. The beach was a five minute walk from here.

Plage Salis was the closest beach to us. To reach the center of Antibes we walked along this beach and  up the ramparts. The views from here are fantastic. We could see the snowcapped Alps in the distance. Expensive yachts bob on the water and the old fort squats over at the other end like a giant punctuation mark.

In our first week we were surprised at the very mild temperatures. It was the second week of June and in the past we've always found the daytime temperatures a tad too high. The cooler days were perfect for walks down and around the cap and for exploring the town.

Troy and Jon were with us during our first week in Antibes. This was our opportunity to spend quality time together.

Our typical day went something like this:
Coffee and croissant on the terrace (Daryl nipped out to the bakery every morning); then a morning hike - mainly around the cap; back home for lunch - fruit, baguette, cheese; siesta; afternoon stroll or drive to some nearby attraction; back home for aperitifs with olives; long dinner which was, of course, accompanied by good French wine.

Trail along Cap d'Antibes
Exploring the cap was a highlight of that first week. Around the tip of the peninsula the coast is very rugged. A well defined trail, paved much of the way, makes it really easy to enjoy this most stunning part of Antibes. As you walk around you are treated to different views. The water changes from green to turquoise to blue. There are many hidden coves along the steep cliffs. Far away from traffic and modern sounds you hear just the lapping of the waves and rustling of leaves.
Jardin Thuret

On the way to the cap from Villa Maye there is a botanical garden called Jardin Thuret. This place was set up as an experiment to grow exotic trees. We strolled through these peaceful gardens and saw enormous cycads and eucalyptus. Walking along these roads on the cap you see some impressive estates. We were reminded of the homes in Montecito, with similar landscaping. Purple and red bougainvillea draped walls and other familiar Mediterranean vegetation grew in the pampered gardens.

In the early evening we sat in the garden sipping rosé. If the owners were around they would strike up a conversation with us in their limited English. They had lived abroad in various African and Latin American countries for many years and had lots of interesting stories to share.

We made meals in the spacious, modern kitchen with produce acquired at Antibes's famous bountiful market. White asparagus was still in season so it featured in quite a few meals. We splurged on some good red wines and a couple bottles of champagne since we were in a celebratory mood. I bought a selection of cheeses (mainly chèvre) and olives from the market. Crusty baguette was always on hand to sop up the sauces on our plates. Great food, divine wine, animated conversation, and the opera Simon Bocanegra in the background made these evenings quite special. Of course, sitting out in the terrace, the sun lingering until 9:00, and the temperature just perfect helped with the sought after ambience.
Fondation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence

We drove into St. Paul de Vence one afternoon to visit the Fondation Maeght. This village, like pretty much all Provencal villages, sits atop a hill and looks stunning as you approach it. The central cathedral sticks out from the middle and the rest of the medieval buildings huddle around the main square. Inside the walls the cobbled streets are pedestrianized. From here there are jaw dropping views of the Mediterranean.
St. Paul de Vence
The Fondation Maeght is a modern art museum just outside the village of St.Paul de Vence.

We enjoyed strolling through the gardens, marveling at the enormous Miro sculptures. The front garden displays Giacometti sculptures and primes you for the modern art inside the building designed by a Catalan architect (Josep Lluis Sert). There are works by Bonnard, Chagall, and Braque, as well as exhibitions of contemporary artists. We were a bit disappointed because a lot of the permanent displays had been put away to make room for some contemporary American artist that we didn't care for.
Still, we enjoyed our visit and it made going up to St. Paul de Vence a lot more meaningful.

Another excursion we went on was a drive to the Grand Canyon du Verdon.
Grand Canyon du Verdon

We drove inland via Grasse (famous for perfumes) through mountainous landscape and pastoral countryside to the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Along the way we stopped at a goat farm to buy cheese for a picnic lunch. We felt like travelers rather than tourists when we followed the hand made sign pointing the way to "Fromage". We followed a narrow, rutted road and came to an old stone farmhouse. A herd of goats were resting in a corral. A few ducks clucked at us and a shaggy dog barked in annoyance. The baldheaded farmer appeared and escorted us to a small refrigerated room where he kept his home-made cheeses. When we pointed to the two we wanted he insisted we taste them first. He flashed a bright smile at our expressions and carefully wrapped up our purchases - a fresh, creamy one and an aged, crumbly one. We also bought a dozen eggs. I mean who can resist fresh eggs? Back in the car we continued on our route, eyes peeled for the perfect picnic spot. This appeared pretty soon.

As if on cue we spotted an old stone bridge, with a gentle stream flowing underneath. It came complete with a parking spot, lots of pretty trees, and not a human around. Could we ask for anything more picturesque? We had brought baguette and fruit with us, so the chèvre balanced out our meal.

Back on the road after lunch we started to see glimpses of the gorge.

We stopped at the many viewpoints to take in the beauty and capture the magic on film.

This stunning gorge, about 700 meters deep, has steep limestone cliffs and the river down below is turquoise.
We went to the restaurant at the "balcony" and sat on the terrace. Over refreshingly chilled beer we took in the incredible beauty of the French Grand Canyon.

We spent a most enjoyable afternoon/evening in what I think is the most romantic town in the world: Villefranche sur mer. This tiny medieval hamlet is just a joy to stroll through. Much of it is perched on cliffs with the Mediterranean just down below. Orange and pink pastel hotels and restaurants line the waterfront. Bright bougainvillea spills down the banks and small boats anchored at the little harbor add to the charm.

After a stroll along the ramparts and under the medieval arches and through the town we sat beside the water and enjoyed aperitifs. Later we dined at one of the waterfront restaurants, seated at a table right at the water's edge. It was pure magic. As usual the temperature was perfect. Troy, Jon, Daryl, and I enjoyed a pasta dinner and chilled wine in this unforgettable setting. The food wasn't anything special, but the experience certainly was.

The week came to an end too quickly and Troy and Jon returned to England.