“I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date!” Lewis Carroll’s rabbit put it perfectly in Alice in Wonderland. Here’s the truth: I’ve been working on a book linked to this blog for too many years to admit. Put that way, I guess I’m only sharing part of the truth.
This year has been difficult for everyone, full of weird twists and turns, but a book has been a perfect, hunker-down, slow-burn, pandemic project. It made this night owl want to get up in the morning – even though there was nowhere to go.
Nowhere to go in the physical sense, I should say, because every day I was travelling in my mind back to our second hometown of Antibes in France’s Côte d’Azur.
“Start out with your book,” Lolo advised me. I always dread the blank page at the start of this summer series and had asked my 16-year-old for her advice. She suggested a bridge between my two worlds: Canada and France. The school year and the summer holidays. My subdued physical space and my more vibrant head space. “Write about your book.”
The book is the reason I’m late for this season’s important date. My heroic and erudite editor delivered her (final? penultimate at least?) batch of comments, and I needed to finish reviewing them. I’ve been here in Antibes, but I’ve been hiding.
Why do I feel so immediately at home inside Bellevue this summer? Lolo and my husband Philippe feel it, too. Maybe it’s pandemic-time. Nothing feels like it’s supposed to. But for me, the unexpected ease must come from my book project. I’ve been here every day for the past year. It’s like I never left.
The centrality of our home within the manuscript became clear as I scribbled-with-intent one January morning in Toronto. Outside, snow was drifting from a grey sky and adding another layer to our white garden. A woolen blanket spread across my lap, and seated at the wooden writing desk that had belonged to my grandmother, I doodled on a sheet of paper. I’d always known that the past was as important to my work as the present was, but how could I show it? How could I link Antibes’ history, and Bellevue’s past, to my present-day story in a satisfying way?
That was when my pencil swooshed across the page with an arrow that joined one blob of words to another. This thing had prompted that thing. That other thing had prompted the first thing. Chicken-and-egg. Egg-and-chicken. It was glorious. And at the root of the discovery was Bellevue.
We bought this construction site on the bay beside Antibes over 15 years ago, and every time we return to her, we still discover the next thing that needs fixing. Often times the culprit has been the air-conditioning or the WiFi. This year it was only the espresso machine that had conked out – but “only” isn’t the right word for a household that is hooked on coffee. No matter Bellevue’s ills, she has been more than a shelter to us. She is a thorn; she is a lure; she is a connector. And, I realized on that snowy day in Toronto as my pencil spanned the past and the present in one glorious arc, Bellevue has been a motivation to learn new things. Like finnicky français, for starters.
Scouring the internet often leaves me sorry that I wasted my time, but during one bout of research, I found a website about Antibes’ heritage and a list of the city’s notable buildings. Our home ranked among them, and the webpage described her as néo-provençal and éclectique.
I could not shake that second word. Yes, Bellevue has a traditional Provençal, red tile roof atop a curious, rectangular-and-curvilinear frame. She has old-fashioned shutters as well as a modern, glass curtain onto the sea. She is eclectic in the true sense of that word. She is a hodge-podge of ideas. She cannot be put in a box. She has a personality.
Hiding at my motley maison, I’ve made my edits on the terrace. It’s shaded in the mornings, and with Antibes’ craggy old town and the Prealps as my backdrop, I’ve worked while paddleboards, kayaks, sailboats, and kids in colonies de vacances crisscrossed the bay beneath me. At lunchtime Philippe, Lolo, and I gathered in the same spot, and as seagulls darted overhead, Lolo regaled her parents with notes from her prior night’s online lecture: dark matter, kinetic energy, neutralinos, the Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and galactic morphology.
“Did you spell that right?” my teenager asked as I made notes one lunchtime for this first post. Learning about black holes didn’t rest my brain at lunchtime, but I did not complain. Lolo is passionate about her subject, and the timing of her course, which ran out of the United States, prevented any involved dinners when we first returned to town. It encouraged my task of editing.
Gros merci to readers who keep emailing me, wondering where-oh-where my blog has gone this summer. We are here. The book edits are done, and so is Lolo’s black holes course, and it’s time to come out to play.
First up, we must share how lucky we feel to be back. The year’s cocooning has increased everyone’s joy in reclaiming their habits, right? As the Côte d’Azur revs back to life, French Lessons’ luck has found a couple of four-leaf clovers. Literally, we mean. And we’ve been spending our good fortune on our canny poodle and, well, our beloved espresso machine. Life has been a mix éclectique of triumph and terror.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. Say bonjour in the comments below, and if you’re so inspired, please tell us: Do you know a building with special character?
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