October 2020 marks our one-year anniversary in France. It’s been, ah, a pretty weird year, and our being in France had little to do with it. Still, let’s just take a look at where we’ve been…
|October is breast cancer awareness month, which apparently includes pink umbrellas over the main street in town. (Note the masks...)|
|And here we are, just one year earlier; same street, same umbrellas! (and, note the lack of masks!)|
We arrived in Montpellier on October 10, 2019. We'd rented an apartment in the same neighborhood where we were the first time we came to Montpellier, three years ago. This time we lived on Rue de la Merci: Thank you Street. The view from our bedroom window included a great view of a belfry, which I photographed—and Paula painted—with different lighting and in different moods. We came to enjoy hearing the bells ring every morning about 8.
|The belfry, morning and afternoon.|
|And Paula's rendering in watercolor!|
|Rue de la MERCI - Thank-you street; some wag has added the French equivalent of "You're welcome!" (de rien)|
Although it was a small place, Paula managed to host a Thanksgiving gathering of about a dozen people, some French, some Brits, and a few Americans. We had plans to visit Bordeaux, the French city near the Atlantic coast known for its wine. But, massive rains washed out the tracks somewhere west of here, and by the time they were fully repaired we were ready to head for Spain.
|Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment.|
|And, Christmas angels in Seville!|
It was our third (fourth?) Christmas and New Years in our favorite city, Seville. In addition to all the usual architectural and cultural attractions, we had a particular reason to go: my daughter Nina fell in love with Ricardo, a guy she met visiting us in Seville last year. Meeting and getting to know Riki’s family was a very special treat!
|A lunch with Riki's family was a highlight of our time in Seville.|
We also caught up with some America ex-pats I’d been corresponding with, Mary and Mark. They’d spent a couple of years in Paris, and came down to Seville for the same reason we did--better weather! And, naturally, we checked in with our other American friends, Karen and Rich, who hosted a fabulous Christmas dinner for about 25 of us.
|Christmas dinner for 25 at Karen and Rich's.|
|Us with Nina and Riki on New Year's Eve, after eating the grapes at midnight.|
We returned to Montpellier in February, to a new-to-us apartment, one we’d arranged while we were in France the previous year. On the top floor of an eight-story building, it gave spectacular views of the city. Once we returned from Spain we managed to get tickets for the tail-end of the Leonardo DaVinci exhibition at the Louvre, in Paris. For it’s last few weeks the show was open all night, and our tickets were for 5 in the morning. We headed off to Paris with Debra, another American friend we’d met in Montpellier.
The retrospective on the works of Leonardo, mostly his paintings and notebooks, was extraordinary. But it was tripping around the streets of Paris in the pre-dawn darkness that we will always remember!
|Us with our friend Debra in Paris on a chilly February day.|
|Pre-dawn Paris (on a chilly February morning).|
|Obligatory photo of the famous tower.|
In early February word started coming through of a major world-wide pandemic, now known as COVID-19. Although, no doubt, you’re heard of it...? We watched with horror as the numbers climbed in Spain—just to our west—and in Italy—just to our east! Then, in mid-March, in an attempt to slow the spread, France went into a full-time lockdown. We could go out one hour a day provided we went no more than one kilometer (0.6 mile) from our home. And, we needed a signed and dated paper stating the reason for out being out. It was weird. We watched the days—and nights—pass from our “Eagles’ Nest” on the seventh floor, and joined our neighbors in applauding the health care workers from our balcony at 8 PM every evening.
|Confinement in Montpellier: Empty streets.|
|More empty streets during the lockdown.|
|April, and in the midst of the pandemic panic, we're wearing our home-made masks. That's the train station behind us.|
Oh, then there was our daughter’s wedding! She and Riki had moved to California, and shortly after the “shelter in place” order came down there we got a call from her: with the promise of jobs, they had just taken on an expensive apartment in the Los Angeles area. Now their jobs had evaporated, and they were in an area where they didn't want to be. We worked out a plan so she and Riki could move to our “pied-à-terre” in Los Osos, the empty apartment on the ground floor of our house.
|The bride and groom on their joyful day!|
That worked out well: they settled in and got most of their money back from their landlady (who was really quite nice about everything). Then, while still sheltering in place, they got married! Our friends in Los Osos put together a really touching ceremony in a beautiful, private spot outdoors. We got a video featuring all five people present! Everyone always remembers their wedding, of course, but I think this one will be especially memorable, a joyful day amidst the fear and panic of the pandemic!
|Our anniversary evening in our new flat...|
While we liked our view of the city from our eagle's nest, it really didn’t feel like our place. The décor just wasn’t right, and we really are not “big city” people (not that Montpellier is so very big!). Anyway, Paula began looking around, and on May 1, our wedding anniversary, we left our high-rise nest and moved into a second-story apartment not too far away, but with a completely different feel. We now have more trees around us, and a lawn under our balcony. The views are less impressive, but it feels more like home. It was a bit unsettling, though, moving during the pandemic lockdown (yes, still on six weeks later).
|A suburban lawn below the balcony of our new apartment.|
But all went well, and we adjusted to our new normal. We were concerned about abandoning our landlady, since we’d initially agreed to stay for a year, but we found her some excellent tenants: our American friends Mark and Mary! They were visiting Montpellier for a month in the winter, as a break from Paris, and got caught in the lockdown. They came to appreciate the area, and figured they’d stay for a year, in the apartment we’d just left. A win-win for everyone!
|"Monster Cloud Threatens Montpellier!"|
Same view from our former apartment, different year. And I can tell from this picture I got from Mark and Mary that they are really enjoying the view.
How have we been celebrating the conclusion of our first year? By arranging for a second! We have our récépissé, essentially a permit to stay another year. Sooner or later (the French bureaucracy grinds ever so slowly) we will have our Carte de Séjour , a residency card. We’ve finally got our medical documents, giving us access to the excellent French medical service (and paying 70% of the bill; the other 30% is covered by the private insurance that we’ve purchased). And, we have just signed a contract for another 12 months in this apartment!
|Another view from our balcony last spring.. All summer this has been a solid wall of green. It's opening up now, though!|
We also opened our own electric account (a major step: a utility bill is about the only way to prove one’s address, required for pretty much everything), and our own Internet service. We’re layin’ down roots! And it feels good; we’re more in control of our lives now. We’ve recently added a library card, a Tram card (good for public transit), our French bank card – our wallets are getting full!
|It's like living in the suburbs, but we still have a city view!|
And, in breaking news, I’m working on getting a French driver’s license. It seems our California licenses are valid for only our first year. Now it’s get a French license, or don’t drive. And that is a whole story unto itself, which we’ll save for another time.
We’ll cover that question in another blog, but if you can’t wait, you can check Mary’s blog on our trip to the Parc Ornithologique (bird refuge). And, here she writes about another of our trips together.