When our French connection began:  The first time I saw Bellevue, our home in the south of France, it was through a telescope.

We were visiting the Côte d’Azur in October 2005 from our then-hometown of Denver, Colorado. My French-Canadian husband and I, along with our seven-month-old daughter, hoped to unearth a town where we might spend time in the future. A town that, in later days, might yield an apartment with a long lease – a space where we’d simply twist the key and dash off to the airport.

Philippe dropped a Euro coin into the telescope situated along Antibes’ seaside promenade. There through the eyehole, in magnified splendor, stood the villa we’d first glimpsed in a local property magazine. The periodical had declared the place rarissime (extremely rare), even if it was “undergoing renovation”. On closer inspection, the residence was enduring open-heart surgery, a kidney transplant and a boob job, all under the same knife.

Why we chose to complicate life:  Living abroad was a yet-unaccomplished life goal for Philippe. As an American who’d spent most of her adulthood in England, I was keen to bolster my husband’s cross-cultural ambitions — even if I’d just begun to learn French.

We set three criteria for our bold, overseas initiative. First, our new town would be in a French-speaking land. Second, the apartment would have a view of some big body of water. Third, an international airport would lie no more than 30 minutes’ drive away.

How we got hooked:  As the sight of Bellevue lingered in our minds, we imagined red geraniums planted in her window boxes and a turquoise pool sunk into her garden. We conjured up crusty croissants and a piping pot of French press coffee on the terrace table – or was it an array of local, artisanal fromages and a bottle of crimson nectar from Vacqueyras? Whatever the fantasy, Philippe and I realized:

1.  Antibes was in France. People spoke French.

2.  Nice Airport was 30 minutes’ drive away (on a good day).

3.  Not only was the Mediterranean Sea in sight. Bellevue was “pieds dans l’eau”. The sea, in other words, lapped right onto her property line.

We met the agent. We met Bellevue’s owner and chief surgeon. Then, coming to grips with a convoluted document en français – a legal instrument studded with antiquated verbiage about phantoms that may or may not occupy a property – we signed on the dotted line.

Where this blog fits in:  French Lessons traces the lives of Philippe and me, and our now-teenage daughter Lolo, as we quit our current hometown of Toronto every summer to dwell within the resurrected walls of Bellevue. We’ve spent long periods in Antibes, at one point living here for a full year. Now resident only during the sultry high season, we are Canadian-Americans with roots in the French Riviera. We’ve become part of its remarkable fabric. And we have stories to tell.

What you can expect:  Blog posts from our first several years at Bellevue are no longer available on this site; they will form the backbone of an upcoming book. Stay tuned. In the meantime, French Lessons will unpack the story of everyday, French life from a semi-foreign, semi-local point of view, educating and entertaining along the way.

Consider these pages my summertime gift to you.


Who she is: Jemma Hélène (charmingly pronounced ZHE-ma el-EN by the locals)

Where she grew up:  Rockford, Illinois

First job:  A financial-type in Chicago, London, and Johannesburg

Second job:  A literary-type in Denver, Toronto, and Antibes

Life-long passion:  Writing . . . and making music

Whole-family passion:  Travelling off the beaten track

Why she writes this blog:  Because reality really is stranger than fiction. Especially when you live in the Côte d’Azur.