Rebonjour: From my eclectic pandemic muse

“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.

This winterscape made the creative juices flow.

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.

Bellevue is an eclectic mix of circles and squares …

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.

… inside and out.

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.

This view of Antibes inspires, no matter the season.

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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68 thoughts on “Rebonjour: From my eclectic pandemic muse

  1. Hello, hello from North Western Québec.
    How nice to find your post this morning in my email. Greetings to you and all your family!

    I am writing , sitting in the morning sun near the lake with my hemerocallis fluttering in the breeze and ducks passing by , as my cottage is on the side of the lake and alongside a brook .

    Our spring was precocious so all the blueberry flower buds froze. The bears will come close in august as they won’t have their usual delicious blueberries. Nevertheless, the raspberries wil be exceptionnally abundant this year.

    Yes , the pandemic was certainly something very hard to live. But compared to Toronto and France, it was much easier to live in our region. We had much fewer cases and our confinement was , most of the time, not strict. We are like insulars, cut from civlzation by the forest of Parc De La Vérendrye.

    All is well here and I enjoy paddleboarding as my sister Suzanne gave me a nice paddleboard! Of course , she has not been in Canada for such a long time because of the restrictions.

    Thank you again for your interesting posts on your blog!

    Take good care!

    Pandemic obliges, I hug you as the japanese do with the hands together and a small discrete salute with the forehead! 😉

    1. Paddleboarding amid the forest’s cornucopia of raspberries? Sounds like heaven! Thanks for writing from your safe and quiet space.

  2. Welcome home…and welcome back to my inbox! I have missed you! So excited about your book. No doubt it will be a fabulous read. Love to you and your beautiful family. Hope we can re-connect in Florida this year! <3 Be well, my friend.

  3. Happy for you on so many levels. Thank you for this post. Enjoyed reading it, as always, and enjoying thinking of you back there. Congratulations on the discipline and dedication to the book! Celebrating that for you. Looking forward to more posts and lessons from you this summer. Be well. Peace to you.

  4. PS – building with special character My father grew up next door to this house and then he bought that childhood home from his father, then the LG of BC, and me and my siblings grew up next to this house too. It is now called Canuck Place and is a children’s hospice. It was a nursing home when we were growing up and when my father was growing up they called it the Mae West house.

    1. Great to hear from you, Lise, and merci for sharing the story of this special place. I love how this home is noted for its “exuberant aesthetic appeal” and for its philanthropy. It’s always intriguing when the name of a place changes. Mae West house to Canuck Place: You know there’s a tale.

    1. Bonjour, Electa, and thanks for following Lise’s lead. Agreed, you also have une maison eclectique in your midst – and in a town enticingly called Sandwich, which I now learn is the oldest continuous European settlement west of Montreal.

  5. Bienvenue chez vous! I can’t wait to hear how your summer progresses and wish you bonne continuation with the edits!

  6. So pleased to see your french lessons in my inbox. Summer has begun! Such interesting times and now need to read up on galactic morphology…

  7. I have so missed French Lessons and you! I look forward to reading your blog and your book. Let the summer adventures begin!

  8. Welcome back – lovely start to the summer! Can’t wait to read the book in due course. xx

  9. Delighted you’re back home, missed you, and have been delightfully swamped with photo memories from our time there on holiday and with you in 2009, so fun! Here in Sydney we are in full on lockdown thanks to Delta, so our island prison is now even more cut off. Your post and the news of your book are the shafts of positivity I needed! Send more 4 leaf clovers! Much love to you all, Lx

    1. Your island-prison – ugh! There were times in the past year when Australia looked astonishingly civilized, what with the pandemic locking the rest of us up in our home-prisons. This will pass eventually, but yep, those four-leaf clovers are on their way shortly….

  10. Now I know summer in my email box has officially started your articles are a welcome break from working Have a great and interesting summer . Never stop exploring

  11. Everything feels abnormal, but getting the frenchlessons mail in the inbox somehow tells me, it will all be alright! Can’t wait to read the book! Welcome back dear friends!

  12. Hi Jemma,
    Great to see you back on line and very happy that you can benefit from your French Riviera paradise again.
    It’s hard to find anything positive from that pandemic but if there would be one, it would probably be for all of us to remember to never take things for granted and now better appreciate the values of Health and Freedom.
    You are in the best possible environment to work on the writing of your book, so enjoy the experience and we can’t wait to read you.

    1. Merci, Andy. Health and freedom – well put. Stay safe, and may we all cherish our freedoms as they come trickling back.

  13. Loved finding your blog link in my email this morning. Summer is announced!

    I do indeed have an architectural bond with this white house in the south of Spain. Regardless of AC glitches, pool pump malfunctions, and Wi-Fi unpredictability, my heart warms every time I close my eyes and imagine myself there. These homes connect us to friends afar!

    And on that last note, missing my Toronto friends from afar! Looking forward to every blog and the future book! Besos!!!

    1. The white houses in the south of Spain – absolutely, Julia. You can feel their cool in the afternoon heat. Gracias for sharing that image!

    1. Merci, Carolyne, and thanks for including a few stories from French Lessons during the past year on your own site, Perfectly Provence.

  14. Good job on the book! Sounds romantic but it’s more like digging ditches. Greetings from Rockford! Linda Z

  15. Welcome back.
    Our summer is now be complete as once again we have French Lessons to look forward to.
    Love the writing, the stories and oh my gosh – love what is likely award-winning photography. You just transport us all there.
    And can’t await for the book.
    Enjoy yourselves and be safe.

    1. Transporting us together – thanks, Dale, and wouldn’t that be terrific! Merci for your strong encouragement.

  16. On closer inspection of your manuscript in the photo, it is written French! What a major accomplishment. Bien fait mon amie.

    1. Ah, Electa, you have a sharp eye! Oui, certainement, I wrote most of those reams of historical notes en français because the sources were French. The language situation definitely prolonged the research process, but the upside is that this book may offer some details that aren’t yet published in English. In any case, the effort forced me to improve my French! Thanks for this comment.

  17. So proud of you, my sweet friend! A book is no small task! Lovely to wake up and have this nugget to read this morning. Miss you!!

    1. Thanks, Lisa, and no, it isn’t a small task! But there’s a long way to go. I hope the manuscript doesn’t end up in my desk drawer!

    1. Thanks so much, Keith! And I’ve enjoyed reading your own rays of French sunshine online through the year. Merci for that gift.

  18. A book seems like a great covid project to keep your mind entertained! For me it was (don’t laugh) renovating an old school bus into an RV so Dom can happily camp again without sleeping on the ground. Glad to hear all is well in both of your worlds!

  19. Glad to feel the smile 🙂😊🙃 on your face.

    How beautifully said : travelling to Antibes in your mind, everyday…we all tried to find something to dream, something to lean on, something to rest our minds during this sad 15 months. Glad it is over.

    Pls enjoy the wonderful wibe of southern france. We wish a wonderful summer to all of you 🙏😊🙋‍♂️

  20. Thanks so much for sharing! I miss your beautiful home there in Antibes and fondly remember my time there! Missing you all too! Glad you were able to go back and spend time there!

    I was recently in Bar Harbor, Maine and was able to see the outside of the house where my great grandma was born 109 years ago yesterday! It was great to be able to go and I was able to meet the lady who lived inside who had helped care for my great grandma before she passed 15 years ago!

    Please pass on my greetings to P and L! Thanks for reminding me of the beautiful view of the old town of Antibes!!

    1. That’s a great story about your great-grandmother’s house, Angie! And how wonderful that you were able to live a small piece of that story on your visit to Maine. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Meditation can lead to enlightenment but it takes a lifetime of effort. Your portal transcends with ease and exhuberance into a state of mind that uplifts and renews. The anthology will be binge-provoking, I won’t be able to help myself but can’t wait!!

  22. Living vicariously through your delightful descriptions and photos, is a wonderful way for us to begin summer! Can’t wait for your next post…and your book! Joan

    1. Trust you are having a beautiful summer, Joan, whether in the city or the glorious countryside. Onward!

  23. Que de bonnes nouvelles : vous êtes là et ton livre est terminé. Comme l’écrit Marcel Schneider : “La création littéraire prolonge la durée du rêve qui passe à travers nous”. C’est sans doute ainsi que ton vécu de Bellevue perdurera à travers les mots et les émotions que tu as choisis de partager avec nous. Il me tarde de le lire. Bel été !

    1. Merci, Diane, j’adore cette réflexion. Mais pourquoi les mots sonnent-ils tellement plus poétiques en français? En tout cas, une chose est sure: Je vais vraiment prolonger le processus du livre car publication est un très long chemin…. 😀

  24. Your lead photo above says it all – cloudless blue sky, dijon mustard walls, tile roof……
    You’re back!

  25. Summertime will have some much-needed bright moments for us all now that your posts are starting up again. Welcome news! Looking forward to your book — a massive effort, I’m sure, but one that will prove well worth it.
    As far as significant older homes are concerned, Christina and I will be visiting Sweden again this summer, and we will make a pilgrimage to the very old little red cottage from which many of my Swedish ancestors set out on their journey to America. I’m deeply moved each time I see it.
    Warmest greetings to you all!

    1. A pilgrimage, to a very old little red cottage – there is something lyrical in those words. Thank you for sharing that image, Barbro, and bonnes vacances!

  26. Love this blog! Living vicariously through you again! Looking forward to your book and seeing you when you return to Toronto! Enjoy 😊

    1. Merci beaucoup-beaucoup, Shelley! As someone close to the writing industry, you’ll appreciate that there’s always a good story here…

  27. As an Antibois myself, I always love reading your words…and seeing the south of France through your eyes….summer would not be the same if Bellevue had its shutters closed…! I for one can’t wait to read your book…! Cheers to your accomplishment you clever girl!!!

    1. Love this so much, John! Thank you for being part of the French Lessons community. Folks like you make the effort of this site worthwhile.

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