Category Archives: Cotignac

Cotignac is an idyllic village in the South of France, and the inspiration behind this website. Feel free to visit these official French websites too:

Cotignac Tourist Office
Cotignac Town Hall (Mairie)

Lockdown day 54 – Preparing for the end of lockdown

Mr “hot stuff” the prime minister of France has announced that the country will indeed officially come out of lockdown on the 11th of May. That’s this coming Monday. Of course this is good news because it means that we met the goal of not more than 3,000 new cases of coronavirus since last week. But we should be reminded that we cannot therefore go back to life-as-usual starting Monday – far from it!

The lists of cans and can’t dos is long (see government list below) but basically for us in Cotignac it means we can go out on as many walks as we want and can drive up to 100 km away without a permission slip signed. If you go over 100km you’ll need to sign and travel certificate meant for necessary means (like for work, health care related travel or caring for someone else etc). We can even host or attend private lunches/dinners but not with more than 10 people at a time. I’m not sure how they are going to enforce this but that is the rule. The latest news about beaches: The mobilisation of elected officials from the coast seems to have paid off. Generally speaking the beaches remain closed until June 1, but the Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, announced that from May 11, prefects will be able to authorise the opening of beaches after requests from mayors, subject to conditions. So this may take a little while longer but perhaps we’ll get to go to a beach and lake before June 1st afterall. However we need to keep in mind there’ll be no place to dine out at so one will need to pack a nice picnic and have some good parasols for shade. Oh, and don’t forget your masks.

Speaking of masks, the municipality started distributing masks today. Except they do not have enough for everybody so they decided to prioritise those on the voter register first. Which of course pissed off some Brits (almost 150 British citizens here used to be able to vote but due to Brexit were taken off this year) and other nationalities who reside here legally and permanently, work and pay their taxes etc. But this means people like me and children will need to wait until the next delivery (to be announced). This method of distributing first to registered voters is the easiest thing for the mairie to do, whilst keeping the opposition voters happy at the same time. I’m not going to say this was done as a political strategy but more out of convenience since that is the only database they can use in a hurry. It would have made more sense to me to give out masks to the needy and elderly first, but the mairie does not have a handy database for, say, 60-plus yrs old and up, to use off the bat, but I’ll bet this will be in the making for the next council (still waiting to be confirmed into service) and the bureaucrats will have their work cut out for them. But other towns are using less discriminatory methods to distribute masks (like simply asking people to prove they reside there with a utility bill) which is why the latest action has caused so much controversy.

The current crisis has been a major lesson learned for the government and municipalities who only had emergency measures laid out for 1) extreme weather conditions like drought, storms, floods, 2) forest fires or 3) potential terrorist attacks. Having worked as a councillor at the Cotignac mairie for over 6 years I can tell you we never once discussed the possibility of a “crise sanitaire” like a virus as something to fear and prepare for.

I’m looking forward to being able to go out of the house without having to draw up my permission slip each time. But I’ll be in no hurry to go anywhere that is crowded. Incidentally, we are due for a lot of rain on Monday so not exactly an auspicious start to “deconfinement.” Tuesday markets will be back, albeit toned down and limited to produce and food stands but shoppers and vendors will need to wear masks and keep a safe social distance from others. Since there will be no bars, cafés or restaurants open however, I won’t be immediately tempted to skip down into the village to shop on Tuesdays. It’ll be a long time before we go back to living normally and greeting each other with kisses here. We just have to get used to this.

By the way, if you are looking for some stylish masks I found this on the net today. Some of them look great and are reasonably priced and can be ordered on-line.

Good luck and stay safe everyone!

Lockdown day 45 – Update

The dishy Sean-Connery-look-a-like Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, made another long presentation at the National Assembly yesterday afternoon and yours truly was glued in front of the telly to watch him. I never tire of watching the Prime Minister. He’s so great I think he might have a chance of being the next president (shhh!!).

Lockdown day 41 – Update

Forty one days since the lockdown began in France and only yesterday the government announces they will only be able to tell us when restaurants can open up again, at the end of May (so we will not know before then). Schools will start to open on the 11th of May (albeit scattered depending on region and class/age) and so will other businesses but basically anything that gathers people close together like events (parties, festivals, concerts) and going out to eat, is off. Things are starting to look complicated. I watched a mayor of a coastal town talk on the news about his confidence in being able to open up the beaches to the public whilst keeping the numbers down. I wonder…how?

Whilst Trump in America is touting the use of disinfectant products as a possible cure (just when I thought he couldn’t get any more stupid, he proves me wrong over and over again) and Oxford medical students in the UK become guinea pigs for the first vaccine testing, France continues to use Hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients, albeit only those people without any underlying health conditions. Hydroxychloroquine can cause some heart problems and also has many other nasty side effects that need to be considered before it’s prescribed. The French professor of Microbiology Didier Raoult, continues to stand behind his claim that the Malaria/Lupus drug works against the coronavirus but only if taken in the early stages of the disease. It doesn’t seem to work as well for those 20 per cent of cases who are in the later stage where they need emergency care or ventilators to aid in breathing. But aren’t those people the ones who need a cure the most? The more I think about this subject the more I just think we need to wait for a vaccine before going back to life as usual. And that will be at least a year from now. But France is counting on people continuing to wear masks and practice social distancing, even while going to restaurants (after they open) which will not be easy. Since Sweden is keeping all their businesses open, we’ll see how they fair in a couple of months’ time in their coronavirus case numbers. If they can keep them down maybe we can too. The point is to not saturate the hospitals so that other patients (sans COVID) can be seen to, as per normal. We need to know how to best live with this virus going around in order to save jobs and the lives that would be lost without them.

Here in Cotignac we have been busy preparing our vegetable garden and although we like frogs, we don’t care to hear them all night and day so we have been catching them from garden ponds and bringing them down to the basins lower down on the property. They are so loud it’s impossible to sleep at night or even listen to each other talk outside on a nice evening! This year for planting we decided on peppers (red and green), courgettes (orange and green), tomatoes, and strawberries. I have a raspberry bush at the end of the potager that keeps giving every year, early Summer. The berries make up part of my breakfast and they are super sweet and wonderful. The plant seems to be growing side ways and it looks like parts of it have died but I’m not sure whether to pull those branches out, they have lots of pricklies on them.

The pigs are getting bigger but they are still fun to watch chase the girls around. They have learned to sit and lie down because they know they will get massages and treats if they do. Pigs are smart. On second thought I’d learn to sit and lie down if someone gave me massages and treats too! But speaking of massages, I wonder if that occupation will be able to continue in the world of COVID? What could masseuses do to prevent contaminating/being contaminated should they continue to work? Wear gloves? That would not be the same and keeping a safe distance would not be possible. But physical therapists need to keep working so it must be okay, just risky? The Japanese use robots to look after some of their elderly in care centers, maybe that will take off elsewhere too (?).

It’s so nice to see the roses blooming. Roses always make me happy. The almonds are getting big too. The sun is shining bright today and 25 degrees is forecast, bliss! I put my feet in the pool (still being cleaned) and although it was cold, it felt so good so I’ll do that again today. Yesterday I also saw a pretty butterfly in the pool. I presumed it was dead but then when I fished it out I noticed it flinching. So I let it dry out on my hand and then it flew away. That felt so good, like hope was alive! But what I really miss most is walking down to La Tuf, the microbrewery in Cotignac, for a drink with friends and to listen to live music. It’s such an easy place to drop into, a casual, beautiful place to hang out and everyone is always so nice and friendly there. I miss the buzz of the Spring tourists and the clanging of plates and cutlery of al fresco diners on the Cours. I miss a lot of things that we took for granted before. Don’t we all?

Lockdown Day 36 – Update from France

It’s a dreary day here in Cotignac. It’s been raining pretty much non-stop since yesterday which, actually, makes staying indoors less of a pain. The earth needed it though as things were starting to look too dry here. Another plus: I’m sure that in a couple of days we will start to see the waterfalls look more full and dramatic again. That’s always nice.

Yesterday evening the prime minister of France, the dishy Edouard Philippe (he looks a little like Sean Connery in his 40s), together with the health minister Olivier Véran (also quite cute), and a disease expert/scientist presented a thorough update on the coronavirus situation in France and what to expect from May 11th. Mr Philippe made clear that things will not return to “normal life as we knew it before the lockdown” from May 11th but that schools will open back up again. However, they are looking into ways of assuring that students can practice social distancing by keeping the attending numbers down, the details for which they are currently working out in a plan. I think this means they will provide alternative attendance, like one week one half of the students, the next week the other half combined with on-line instruction and maybe even an option to keep kids at home where able. They also promised that testing for COVID-19 will be more vigorous and that masks will be made available for everyone. Restaurants will not be allowed to open on May 11th, the date for that is not yet clear. Obviously events that attract crowds and the public in close proximity will also not be allowed, which means that the second round of the Municipal elections may not be taking place before October of this year (a 6 month’s postponement from the original 22nd of March date). Overseas travel too, will be limited for a long time and boarders will continue to be controlled. So, it’s all still up in the air and no one will know for sure, even on the 11th of May, as to how tourism might look this Summer in France, a country where on any normal year 90 million tourists (more than the country’s population of 66 million!) visit and contribute greatly to the economy (10 per cent of GDP). We are only just starting to feel the pain of loss, making the government more anxious and worried, but I must admit they are doing a fantastic job of regular updating and being transparent in their motives. Mr Philippe also mentioned that the government has made available on-line psychologists (professional doctors) to talk to for anyone who feels they need it at this exceptionally uncertain time.

France is the most visited country in the world so the impact of travel restrictions will cause more loss here than in any other country. But people are generally protected (via Socialist measures) and will not go hungry or lose their shelters as a result (like we are seeing in the US). Even in Cotignac local associations and social workers are prepared to help anyone in need. The older more vulnerable residents are called up twice a week, by mairie staff and council members, to check on their health and well-being.

Recently in Cotignac more restaurants have started offering take-out service, something they didnt use to do, to keep their businesses going. Le Mas de Cotignac, Café du Cours, Restaurant du Cours and SOS pizza’s menus can now be checked on their facebook pages and ordered. Some are delivered others prefer you pick up from them. But of course the restaurants here make more profit on selling wine and alcohol to diners who normally sit on their terraces and enjoy people watching and the good weather. The village post office will reopen starting today at 1:30pm. This is good news for those of us who wish to continue working from home and need a close post office, like me.

So that’s all the news for today. Hope you are keeping well wherever you are.

Edouard Philippe
Olivier Véran
Rain in Cotignac
Rain on our apple blossoms

Lockdown day 34 – What about kissing?

So I had this dream. It took place about 15 years in the future and I was talking to my four year old grandchild, a sweet little girl.

“Do you know sweetheart, back when your Mamma was little, we didn’t need to wear masks when we went out?”

“Really grandma? That’s weird…so you showed people your mouth and nose?”

“Well, it was perfectly normal back then. There were things called crowds too, with people who stood close together, even if they didn’t know each other! Oh, and I used to have nice nails that I would paint with something called nailpolish. And everyone used to kiss each other on the cheeks to say Bonjour and bye-bye. Back then we didn’t even wash our hands that often. Not like now, you know, every hour…”

“That’s yucky grandma! So you must have been carrying lots of germs and viruses!”

“Well we didnt have to worry so much back then. Those were the good ol’ days.”

I don’t remember the rest of the dream. But I remember the feeling of nostalgia I had for the days before 2020, when kissing was required and wearing a mask was for surgeons, or for a costume at Halloween.

I was up late a couple of nights ago and watched a movie from the 90s called Meet Joe Black, starring a young Brad Pitt. The movie takes place in New York, where rich family members kiss each other on the lips (a light peck) when saying good night. It startled me. I couldn’t imagine seeing people do that here, people kiss each other on the cheeks but never on the lips unless they are that person’s partner. So obviously this was a cultural thing. Then an old memory came back to me. When I was little both my parents kissed us kids on the lips good night. I don’t remember when that stopped but that was our family greeting too. I just forgot about it as it had been so many years of not doing so and adapting to the French culture.

I can’t help but think that as a direct result of the 2020 Pandemic, there may well be changes to the tradition of kissing as a greeting, around the world. Maybe la bise will become a thing of the past in France. And for the future, kissing will be something only couples do, after clearing a health test! What a dark premonition. Sorry. I’ll follow up with something positive next, promise.

From Conde Nast, a guide to kissing etiquette around the world (before 2020)

Image may contain: Human, Person, Bag, and Text

Lockdown day 29 – Easter Monday

It’s lundi de Pâques, or Easter Monday, which is always a national holiday here in France. Except this year it feels like just another day under lockdown, but we get to enjoy the leftovers from yesterday.

I hope you all had a nice Easter, albeit confined, if you celebrated. Even if you are not Christian or believe in God the event this year seemed to more pertinently symbolise hope, new birth and new beginnings. I was taught that the bunnies were symbols of fertility so that is what I think of at Easter time, hence my effort to dye the boiled eggs. Our family celebrated with parsley-butter covered lamb (very French), polenta (Italian) and roasted courgettes (probably the most popular vegetable in Provence). I washed my meal down with rosé and Thierry drank a Provençal red, the girls were treated to iced tea. Even the pigs were happy because they ate all the left overs bits of fat from the lamb. Thierry taught the girls that pigs actually eat almost anything, even dead humans, if given the opportunity – which might explain why they keep trying to munch his feet, suggested my younger daughter.

It’s overcast but not cold here today. I walked around the garden and took photos of what’s coming up like the daisies, the figs, the roses, all promising signs of hope. It’s a good thing it’s not the dead of winter right now or things would feel really miserable around here.

Yesterday evening I taught everyone how to play Poker. We have been playing cards every night but I was getting tired of the usual “Old Maid” and “Memory” and “Uno.” It was time to graduate to the more serious stuff. This is casino level, I told them, but I was surprised that even I had forgotten which was stronger; a full-house or a flush. Good thing we have the internet to quickly find out. We didn’t bet real money but used Scrabble squares as chips. The most important thing to learn is how to make a poker face. The game is more about how to manipulate other players to give up first, not so much about having the best hand. It’s competition based on impression. I won all the games of course, but probably because of my acting talent, being able to convince them I had the winning hand, a bit like the practice of marketing. This is such a Capitalist notion, I thought. No wonder gambling isn’t big in Socialist France. Still we had a great time and I know that one day when these lockdown days are over, or more precisely when my girls have grown up, I’ll be missing the conviviality of family time.

Tonight we’ll listen to the dashing President of France, Emmanuel Macron, speak on TV. We’ll get to find out how much longer the lockdown will continue for and maybe even when the kids can go back to school. I’m going to bet they won’t go back before September. But I think shops will begin to open up sooner rather than later. Travel will most likely continue to be limited, and with it, tourism. But masks will be worn for a while longer. I, for one, will not be taking any chances.

Hope you have a good week, wherever you may be.

Lockdown day 26 – Reflections on news about COVID-19

When the news hit that the Chinese whistleblower doctor died of the virus I thought to myself “my God, what are the odds?” He was 34 years old and healthy! All the graphs and statistics we are getting about confirmed cases of COVID-19 show that anyone dying from it under age 70 is very unlikely. But he was a doctor and was caring for these sick patients day in and day out. So when I read the NY Times article by Dr Rabinowitz and Dr Bartman, the idea that the higher exposure you have of the virus, the more likely you are to get severe symptoms, made sense to me. To read the article click here

So what does that mean? It means the mortality rate is more likely much lower than everyone is saying (so, lower than 0.5 – 1.0 per cent). It’s likely that many more of us have already had coronavirus infections but tossed the ordeal to the side as a cold because we simply did not get a big “dose” of it. Looked at another way: I now feel more confident of going to the supermarket without fearing getting full blown ICU-worthy coronavirus symptoms from touching vegetables or food packages an infected person might have touched before me. The virus death rates are based solely on confirmed coronavirus infected patients. Imagine how many people have not been tested or have immunity having got over the lighter symptoms of the disease. Still that doesn’t mean one should go out without doing everything to protect oneself from being exposed. I will of course still wear masks and use antiseptic wipes when I step out of the house.

At the moment in France the government is discussing the feasibility of using applications (Google and iOs) on smartphones to see who might be nearby with COVID-19. If the app works, it could stop people from going near the infected individuals that pop up on the map screen. But if someone has the symptoms, wouldn’t they necessarily be staying at home? In anycase I don’t really see an end to confinement without this or a way to identify healthy individuals with test results showing they are either virus free or have antibodies. If tests are given out on a massive scale there also needs to be a way to identify those healthy individuals without smartphones so I wonder how that would work? Badges? Papers? Embedded Tags? I say just do whatever it takes to allow families to see their older relatives in care homes without worrying about contamination. Maybe in the future we will see, as a result of this pandemic, more elderly being looked after at their adult childrens’ homes instead of at cold plastic-y nursing centres.

I have been reading a lot about coronavirus but what I hate is how reporters with no medical background talk about a possible cure here, a soon to be available vaccine there, or just plain nonsense that gets people’s hopes up only to be completely fabricated tabloid bologne. It’s hard enough being able to sort through what’s true or false but now with cornoavirus being thrown into the equation it seems the whole world is being swept up in a emotional wave of misinformation. I understand the need to feel hopeful of a cure, like from hydroxychloroquine, but with all the hoarding going around the world for this drug it’s horrible to think those who need it regularly (eg, sufferers of Malaria and Lupus in Africa and India but also up to 40,000 people in France, mostly women, who suffer from Lupus) will not be able to get it easily like they did before, risking death. It’s hard to see things rationally while going through what feels like the spin cycle in a washing machine. Then there is all this anguish and pain in watching how many people are dying on a daily basis. Seeing the video of those poor souls be burried into a mass grave in New York because no one came to claim their bodies after 14 days was just heart-wrenching.

I truly hope that at the end of confinement, whether that be in a few more weeks or months, the world doesn’t just simply go back to how we were before. If people can work from home, they should. If people do not need to travel abroad, they shouldn’t. The fewer cars on the roads and aeroplanes in the skies, the better. Look at these clear skies! Look at the clean rivers!

But if it turns out that it is inevitable that we all eventually be exposed to coronavirus then let’s try and get the lowest possible dose.

Stay well. 🙂

Lockdown Day 24 – Life goes on

Walking into the village yesterday I came across a number of pretty flowering trees. The pale yellow jasmin creepers adorned some old abandoned windows and more and more poppies are popping out of the stone walls. I caught a dog peeing on some flowering weeds that look just as pretty as the poppies but I’m sure they didn’t appreciate the acid treatment. The irony of the act matched the fact that this idyllic weather has almost zero people enjoying it.

The almond trees blossomed early this year in Provence due to very warm winter temperatures. They were already out at the beginning of February and have now turned into bright green leafed trees. Soon we’ll be able to pick the young fuzzy almonds off of them and eat them, yum! There are so many types of blossoms here, I can’t name them all but I’ll describe them to you and you can see the photos. They really are beautiful and have a way of cheering one up in this miserable time of coronavirus “battle.” Some cherry blossoms are a dark pink and the pear blossoms are white but with tiny little yellow and black dots in the centre. There was Wisteria too, early stages but glorious still.

The village is not totally dead. I noticed the workers were busy continuing to build around here. Particularly at Lou Calen, where it must actually be quite pleasant to move trucks around without worrying about running over pedestrians and dealing with other vehicles coming in and out of the village. They are able to keep the safe social distance too and are considered required workers so can continue to earn their living. While France declares a recession, and a severe economic blow that resembles its state during WWII, they can consider themselves lucky.

It was hubby Thierry’s birthday yesterday. I wanted to throw him a surprise party with his friends but of course that wasn’t possible. The kids and I decided we would make a special Raclette dinner for him so I had to go and get the ingredients. Going out anywhere these days requires some preparation in making sure one has the right gear on. I didn’t have gloves but I brought my big packet of antiseptic wipes with me. I had masks and I wore one when I got to the shop. With one wipes I wiped down the caddy, then took another wipe and held it in my hand and used it to open the fridge doors and picked up the items I wanted to buy: Raclette cheese slices (flavoured with pepper, white wine, and herbs), Italian shaved chorizo, parma ham, Danish salami, smoked beef. I also found a really wonderful looking Pouilly Fuissé (white wine from Burgundy). For these items I had to go to the Casino market in Salernes. They are a bit more expensive than Super U or Intermarché but they have some out-of-ordinary products. After using the same wipe to punch in my code for my bank card when paying, I pushed the caddy back to the car, careful not to touch my face during the whole time I shopped mind you, then after getting into the car I took another wipe and wiped every inch of my hands then the stearing wheel, the break, the stick shift… Then I sighed and wondered if I’ll ever stop doing this every time I get into a car. What I do know though is that one day I’ll run out of these antiseptic wipes and will need to find another way to keep things clean if I can’t buy anymore. I suppose I could carry a block of soap and a big bottle of water in the car and wash my hands onto the parking lot? Then I should also carry a clean towel each time too. What a pain.

When I got home I noticed Thierry cutting more wood. I think we have enough now for about 3 years but he keeps at it to stay active. My chance to use the internet, I thought. Normally, if he is using WIFI for a conference call, I cannot use it at the same time because the connection here is very slow. I believe this is the case for lots of other people. Cotignac will not be getting high speed internet before the end of this year and where we are, just outside the village, this will not happen until 2023! But the problem at the moment is that there is too much demand (understandably considering our confinement) and the service providers (like SFR and FREE) are being overwhelmed making it impossible for us to all use internet at the same time. But we have adjusted by taking turns here in our home.

It was such a glorious day yesterday which is probably why my girls spent most of the time entertaining the pigs. They have given them names: Gizmo, Gregory, Kuro chan, Dindinou, Simon, and Kevinette. The last one they thought was male and first called him Kevin, turned out to be female; hence the odd name. They each have their own personalities. There is an introvert, an affectionate extrovert, an ambitious and precocious would be leader, and a real big teddy bear type that likes to be brushed and does a roly poly maneuvre (flops onto his side) each time he sees my younger one come up from the house. These pigs are very clean; they do their business on one side of there big pen and not anywhere else. They know where to sleep, where to play, and where to eat and they are all separate. Having spent most of my life in large cities I didn’t know this about farm animals. I am trying not to get too attached to them because I know that one day they will become food. But I figure if that’s inevitable they might as well have a really good life, heaven on earth, while they are alive. I thank them every day for making our trash less heavy with vegetable peels and for being able to avoid having to deal with building a compost bin.

I found out yesterday that Billy, a British member of the Expat community here, whom I had known for over 10 years, passed away in his sleep. He was about my age, early 50s maybe just a tad older. He was a genuinely nice man that frequented the village bars and made do with his limited French. He was well liked but would get into bar brawls every now and again. I once had a conversation with him about vegetables. He told me he hated them. He was funny. He told me stories about his noble family roots and his trailer home in the same manner, always with a smile. I’m so sad to know I’ll never bump into him again. May he rest in peace.

Lockdown day 22 – Update

Hi everyone, how are you today? It’s an absolutely gorgeous day in Cotignac! This morning I had to drive out to Brignoles because it is where the closest open post office is and I had to send a package out. The normally half-hour drive took exactly 19 minutes this time because of course there is no one on the road and again, I was not stopped by any police even after taking full advantage of the newest way to draw up a permission slip (via smartphone). Story of my life; I never get caught for doing the right thing. You can now go straight to the government site (“attestation de déplacement” on and fill the form out, then download it onto telephone, then show the QR code to the police who will scan it. Apparently they do not store the information anywhere but, hmmm, I have my doubts about that!

It was so odd to drive into Brignoles, our biggest nearest city, without any traffic, especially near the roundabouts. All the shops were closed yet the post office was open. But they were not letting anyone into the building. Instead, the postal workers would come out and deal with people in line one at a time. It was actually quite efficient and I spent hardly anytime there. Oh, and there was plenty of parking, wow! It was slightly dreamy, actually. I drove over to the frozen market shop, Picard, to stock up and that was also a pleasant experience, albeit having to wear a mask and not be able to use a shopping caddy. I carried two bags instead. I also went to the bakery that was open, hoorrah!

I have this problem of my glasses fogging up when wearing a mask actually, it’s rather embarrassing. But I think the psychological affect of wearing one is powerful; you are more aware of touching/not touching your face and of people near you so you can make sure to move the appropriate distance away. Also, I did too many abdominal crunches yesterday that I now have some painful upper abdominal muscles that make sitting up hard (like for driving) and laughing really hurts. Has this happened to anyone of you? It’s horrible! My family members don’t seem too understanding about this and my kids are doing their best to come up with jokes, very annoying.

It is my mother’s birthday today but we cannot be with her in Macau like we had planned to. My family and I are all very sad about this. I wonder when we will be able to go next?

It is technically Spring break for schools in the North of France but of course it is not permitted to travel so many families will not be able to take their vacations like they had hoped to. It’s not just that people are afraid of being caught by the police and fined (even though one would trying to get on and off the auto routes) but in the lucky chance you arrived at your vacation home, the eyes of your neighbours would be enough to make you feel the shame of a lifetime. This is particularly true in small villages like ours. Already people have caught sight of those making use of their secondary homes here and have expressed their anger on social media and to the town hall and I’m pretty sure the culprits will be told off. So, it’s important to stay put. It’s sad not to see the usual tourist crowds descending on our village this time of year but it’s not worth the risk of having coronavirus infection. So far we are doing well in keeping it largely at bay in Cotignac but it is still unclear as to when things will get back to “normal.”

Bonne journée 🙂

Lockdown day 20 – What’s important

First I’d like to thank those of you who have written some very encouraging comments on the facebook page of Provence Living. I went through feeling down the last couple of days but you really lifted my spirits. Today I’m done feeling sorry for myself and I’m back thinking about what’s important in life and think about how I’ll do without the rest.

It helped for me to read what many medical staff were writing about their experience in fighting this “war.” Basically they are telling us to think about what they are going through; how they have no breaks, they cannot stay at home and put their feet up and watch Netflix, nor can they spend time with their family members. They are already exhausted but they continue to fight for our loved ones in hospital. I am grateful for their time and energy sacrifice, I would not be able to do the job they do every day. What’s important is for all of us to be aware of this.

Now the question everyone here in France is asking is: to mask or not to mask? Being half Japanese myself and seeing how low the death rate is for coronavirus in Japan I’m going to say yes to the masks. Back in January I saw this coming so I ordered 100 surgical masks on Amazon. I thought they would be used more for travel and in places like aeroports. I have since given many away to friends. Now everyone is using them inside the supermarkets so I will not be leaving home without a Surgical Mask. When I run out I will use that little sewing machine of mine and start making reusable ones. There are so many things you can learn to make on Youtube these days! But here is my reason for wearing one: you can have the virus and be contagious without having symptoms. If EVERYONE wore masks therefore, we can keep to a minimum the spread of airborn droplet contagion by keeping our mouths and noses covered. It’s that simple. What’s important is that we do our best to keep others and ourselves safe.

So I think one of the other reasons I am feeling better is because I have finally accepted this situation. But here’s the thing – I’m now going to act as though this is not temporary but semi-permanent. As in, accept that I will not have friends around, not be able to travel or work (in the same manner), and will make the most of a year in “hiding.” If you were sent to jail (whether you deserved it or not), what would you do for a year? This is the question I am asking myself. Obviously it’s not as bad as being stuck in a small jail cell (although for some families in small apartments it might be worse!) and we can, once in a while, go out to shop for food, but, you now have the time. What can you create, construct, work towards? What might you read or learn that you may not have been able to before? It doesn’t even have to contribute to society or make the world a better place, it could just be for yourself. With all this time, we can now afford to be philosophical. It’s like being on the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because the physical (food, water, warmth, security), the psychological (knowing you are accepted in the family and that you have friends) needs are met. If you have the luxury of reading blogs on the internet I’m going to assume you are safe and have human basic requirements met. So, if you don’t have to worry about work, being presentable, driving in traffic, getting up early in the morning, engage in mindless chitchat, etc, what would you do? This historic time can be seen as a grand opportunity to self reflect and think about the things that matter the most. Maybe get back in touch with the people that we lost contact with, forgive those who pained us, or maybe make new friends on social media? Say the things we were afraid to say before, express ourselves genuinely, honestly, and without shame or guilt. Exceptional times call for exceptional ways of being. Let’s concentrate on what’s really important in our lives.

Yesterday my hubby and I spent a lot of time in our garden. The sun was out and it was warm so it felt really nice to be outside. In France it is required that brush is cleared up to a 50 metre perimetres from one’s house in keeping with forest fire prevention regulations. So hubby was busy using the brush cutter and I swept up behind him. These days I’m letting my children sleep in as much as they want as they are adolescents and need more sleep than we do. I also feel like this will keep the quarantine “trauma” to a minimum. The last thing they need is a demanding mother that makes them do lots of chores during this trying time. They should just concentrate on getting their school work done and keeping in touch with their friends through social media and enjoy feeding the pigs. What’s important to me is that they are happy.

Living in Provence has many advantages. The good weather will allow us to grow lots of vegetables so I’m going to concentrate on that more than I have in years past. I’ll also read up on the history of Cotignac and will share what I find with you. In the meantime here are some old and more recent photos of Cotignac. Can you spot the differences? Not much changed up until “yesterday.” Today, since the arrival of the coronavirus, we must begin to visualise and construct a new future. But let’s hold onto to the best of the past; those important things that are handed down to generations. Have a great Sunday.

Lockdown day 18 – Breakdown

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself” my mother used to say to me when I felt down. “Stop being so dramatic” was another one. Or, “Save it for the stage!” she used to say if I was really acting up. But yesterday was one of those days where I just felt like I’ve had enough of this. This staying-at-home-all-the- time-stuff sucks. I wanted to scream out loud and would have, if I’d been alone, but I don’t want to scare my family members. It’s not just one thing or another that bothers me, it’s not the small stuff like picking up socks on the floor, having to clean another toilet, or looking at the overgrown weeds in the garden – those things no longer bother me. It’s the big picture this time. The world as we know it is dead and it now has to find a very different way to turn.

Unless well-equipped with the latest technology in communication, I can see how many older people (boomers) would find it difficult to be isolated. Extroverts (like me) need social stimulation so they would find this harder than, say, the introverts. But everyone needs attention more often than not, and feeling heard and/or listened to is paramount to life.

In a sense, writing is a lifeline for me. Without it I’d quite frankly go out of my mind. For others a source of comfort might be found in music, in dance, or figuring out how puzzle pieces fit. Speaking of puzzles my mother once told me about a dream she had a long time ago that was quite scary. She was standing in front of a bathroom mirror and pieces of her face were lying there next to the sink. Her job was to pick up the pieces and try and put them back together. It was a metaphor for getting her life back together again. So this is how I feel at the moment. The world is in pieces. We need to carefully put the pieces back together but be wary that the end result may look a bit different, even cracked, in places.

The novelty of the pandemic has worn off for me. I’m sure it has for many people. But now I’m starting to feel panic for the big picture. There is no way we can just take off where we left before the coronavirus hit us. Much of our future has to now be recreated. The earlier we start this process the better off we will be.

The millions of jobs people have lost may no longer be there so they need to be recreated from scratch. New industries need to be created, hopefully those that favour preserving the environment over destroying it. For now people are still scrambling to save lives, to recover from illnesses, and the drama that is unfolding is still fresh and shocking and therefore dominates the news headlines but all this will eventually become repetitive and therefore uninspiring. When the long catastrophic « killer storm » is over and the bell curve begins to fall the destruction, in hindsight, will be so great we will all be in danger of being depressed. But we can’t afford to be inactive. We will have to rebuild and move quickly. What will this look like? If it’s not going to change much for you it will for someone around you so how can you help them?

I predict that Cotignac will fair well in the long term but we will see a significant dip in tourism this year. We will see a dramatic difference this Summer with most, if not all, events cancelled. Maybe our tourists will look more French than international like in decades past. But we have a few things going here that will not change in the short term : great weather, beautiful scenery and fantastic rosé wine. Those things, in themselves, will always attract people as long as they can move from place to place. Cleaning and essential services jobs like plumbing and electricity will always be in need here, as will medical personnel to support our dominant elderly population. Last year I thought the holiday rental market was saturated. This year may prove particularly hard for this market as we will no doubt see far more properties available for short term let than takers. Prices will fall, as will real estate values and fewer people will be buying or moving house.

Rebuilding is like going back to square one. Starting over, like you do when one relationship ends, or you go through a job change, or someone you love passes away. But those are easy changes compared to what’s coming with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us will never know what it’s like for one’s house to burn to the ground or get uprooted by a tornado or tsunami but this world change will, I think, feel a bit like that except this time everyone in the world will feel the effects.

Lockdown day 16 – Memories part III

Well things are looking bleak these days, aren’t they? Coronavirus numbers keep going up and it’s so hard to see light at the end of the tunnel even for France. It’s horrible to think so many people have lost/will lose their lives, so many families will lose loved ones and so much hardship has to be felt by the medical service communities all over the world. I really hope we come out of this without being too traumatised. I wish I could see the end but I also wish the earth can stay clear of pollution when that happens. Oh why do these things seem to be so mutually exclusive?

“You have to suffer first in order to enjoy life later,” my grandfather used to say to me when I was young. He told me how he grew up poor and had to stop going to school and start working from the age of 13. This was in the late 1920s. But he was lucky because he didn’t have to serve in the Japanese army. He pulled a cart full of metal scraps around town and it was hard work. He never really learned to read or write properly but he had an engineering mind and managed to invent the first “linking machine.” He was interested in machines that sewed fabrics together but noticed that there was always a seem. The linking machine allowed fabrics to be sewed together without a seem and became the eventual link to a lucrative contract with Singer sewing machines in the U.S. in the late 50s. His business grew into building very large and industrial quilting and bedding machines that were sold around the world from Japan in the 60’s and 70’s. Having had 8 children, he sent his oldest sons to New York to learn English so they could help with the business internationally. That’s where my father met my American mother, got married, and moved back to Japan where I was born. Japan’s economy was booming at the time and continued until the late 90s until the Asian Crisis. But by that time the bedding industry had already moved over to China and Vietnam and soon the Japanese machines were simply too costly for most bedding companies to buy. But the Iwase Prince companies kept my father and his brothers busy most of their adult lives and served me with Summer jobs in the 80s.

When I graduated from high school in 1986 I didn’t want to rush into college so I took a job nearby on 4th Street in Berkeley (California) at a fancy Futon shop called Thousand Cranes. A Japanese lady ran it and needed help selling and making pillow cases and quilt covers with an industrial sewing machine. I was keen to learn and told her about my family’s business in Japan. She hired me and taught me how to take the beautiful silk textiles and turn them into cushion covers with zippers. She also sold cherry wood bedframes with tatami mats instead of box springs. Once I took an order on the phone from Morissey of The Smiths. He wanted us to make him a silk pillow cover and send it to an address in New York. I happily obliged of course! Another time Alice Waters (famous chef) came into the shop with her young daughter at the time and ordered a quilt cover to be made. I took on this job too. She was already famous for her local gastronomic restaurant called Chez Panisse and is considered a pioneer of California cuisine. Her restaurant must have been my first introduction to French style food that I would become very attached to later on in my life, in the South of France of all places.

I loved using the industrial sewing machine to make bedding covers. It worked so fast and had a huge table underneath it which made maneuvering even large pieces of cloth easy and fun. I got to be good at it too but eventually the owner and I had a falling out over another employee whom I felt was not being treated fairly so I left and took the path toward higher education.

I’m staring at a small sewing machine that I bought last year hoping I might find some inspiration to use it for something more exciting than hemming my kids’ jeans. I’m not the most creative person with crafts or visual art. I admire others who can create beautiful things. Maybe I’ll take it out tomorrow and start a quilt. Ha! That would be something.

Lockdown day 15 – After the rain, a rainbow

We had a dousing of rain for about 30 minutes yesterday afternoon which ended in a rainbow. Looks like it will rain some more today. We needed that. I hadn’t seen rain that heavy since the end of November, 5 months ago, when it was so bad our region had to declare an emergency. Our basement flooded and much of our wooden furniture had to be thrown out. We have since had a lot of work done behind the house so that doesn’t happen again.

Most people required to stay home probably have more time on their hands than I do. Having all my family members here (2 kids and a hubby) actually makes staying home for me busier, giving me less time to get my own work done because I have to cook lunch and dinner and clean up in between. When I wake up first thing in the morning I make my coffee. Then when I get behind my computer I notice all the school work I have to print out for the kids (they forward to me what they get by email from their teachers). This is up to 10 pages each. Of course the ink on my printer ran out so I had to order some more. When I looked on Amazon I was surprised and appauled by the prices that had sky-rocketed (more than double the usual cost). How dare they take advantage of everyone like this? Masks and hand sanitiser aren’t the only items costing an arm and a leg these days. I looked elsewhere and after a while found a more reasonable office supplies’ shop where I ordered the ink. It will take three days to arrive.

Every night, after watching the French national news at 8pm on tv (I really like watching Lauren Delahousse on channel 2, he is rather dishy) I usually get some time to watch Netflix but I am finding the dramas suddenly less realistic since they all take place PRE-CORONAVIRUS. Everytime I see a scene where people are socialising, mixing, enjoying each other’s company or getting too close, I get annoyed. I wonder what kind of series will be made after this world crisis. Surely entertainment will look different and take into consideration the major changes that are affecting our world today. Contagion, the movie, looks a whole less dramatic after going through the real thing!

Welp, that’s all from me for today. Hope you are well and keeping safe.

Rain March 30th 2020

Lockdown day 14 – Food for thought

Two whole weeks have gone by since President Macron declared a national lockdown. Time seems to pass by at a snail’s pace, but already I am seeing first hand the positive effects fewer cars on the roads and skies without planes have had on us. The sky was so blue yesterday and so different to what we are used to seeing here with all the plane contrails, being so close to Marseille and Nice aeroports. I never thought the air was polluted here but I heard on the news that the coastal towns like Hyeres and La Seyne sur Mer are recording record low levels of pollution near the beaches which means that it has never been cleaner. So I took some deep long breaths of air while walking down to my letter box (300 metres down the hill) yesterday and gazed at the sky in awe. How terribly ironic that those people suffering with coronavirus in the hospitals cannot breathe properly. I wish I could breathe for all of them and help them recover.

So, how have you been keeping busy these days? I have been cooking a lot and baking too. I learned to cook from living in France more than any other country. This is perhaps due more to the high cost of restaurants and lack of variety in the less expensive options (pizza, pizza, and more pizza) than by choice. Some typical Southern French fare include dishes like ratatouille, aioli, and tian. Pan fried duck with fig or apricot sauce is another favourite, usually accompanied by courgette flan or dauphinois potatoes. In just about every restaurant here in the Summer you can find salad with tomatoes and mozzarella but it’s so easy to make at home it seems like a shame to order it. And everyone drinks chilled rosé with their meals, all year ’round. This is rosé land and the locals will tell you they have been making it for 2,000 years. Not even a plague would stop that tradition.

I’m big into making crêpes, that’s another thing I learned to make here. While volunteering for many years with the parents’ committee in Cotignac I made hundreds and we sold them to raise money for the local school kids’ extracurricular trips. I wonder how far back history goes when it comes to crêpes? I looked it up: “The dish was created out of a mistake made by a fourteen year-old assistant waiter Henri Carpentier (1880-1961) in 1895 at the Maitre at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris. He was preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (1841-1910) of England.” Who’d have thought that the Prince of Wales would be the accidental inspiration to one of France’s proud culinary delights? If he were alive today I’d thank him.

Isn’t it amazing how food popularity comes and goes with the ages, how what’s healthy at one time can quickly switch to being “bad” the next, how food trends come and go, and even tastes change over the decades? When I was about 10 years old my mother decided to make us kids fried liver and onions claiming it would help us grow strong. I had (and still do) have a gag-reflex with any animal liver and cannot even chew it perhaps due to its metallic taste. I remember how my mother angrily put my dish back into the fridge so she could place it in front of me the next day as left-overs. After I threw up several times and she finally gave up. At the time though, she was just trying to be a good mother by feeding us what she thought was the healthiest choice. Liver and onions actually has a Wikipedia entry. I didn’t know the dish orginated in Venice.

In California in the early 90s I remember being influenced by Susan Powter’s popularity in touting that “fat makes you fat.” Everyone around me started eating rice with nothing else and cut out fatty essentials like olive oil and butter. There’s a good reason she was ignored in France. And eventually there was research done to prove that humans need fat in their diets to stay healthy. One of my favourite books about food is Michael Pollen’s In Defense of Food. It’s about going back to basics and how one’s European grandmother might have cooked with back yard chickens and home grown vegetables. Looking around at the older folk here in Cotignac, who cook with lots of olive oil and drink wine with every meal, and live well into their late 80s and 90s, I cannot help but think they might have the right long as they stay clear of nasty viruses, of course.

Bon appétit 🙂

Even crêpes go well with rosé!

All the fatty cheese can’t be bad for you?
Back to basics

Lockdown day 13 – Phobias

Are you superstitious? I’m generally not, which is why I will stick to writing on the 13th day of confinement. But I only just discovered that it’s not just superstition that’s behind the fear of the number 13. It’s an irrational but real fear called triskaidekaphobia. Hotels and business buildings in China do not have a floor 13. Some even do not have the 4th or 14th floor because the number 4 sounds too much like the word, “death.” Even in the USA 85 per cent of business buildings do not have a named 13th floor. Bad luck or phobia, you can guess the motive for this. I hope you too learned something new today.

My children are arachnophobic, they hate spiders. It’s unfortunate they live in the countryside as of course there is no shortage of insects here. I don’t know how they became this way, these things couldn’t possibly be innate, they are learned behaviours. So whenever they see a spider they scream and call for me to get rid of it. Unless it looks poisonous I won’t kill the insect; I usually just grab it and throw it out the window. But lately I have been swatting flies. There seems to be a sudden surge of them here. They are starting to drive me up the wall. But maybe that’s due to boredom associated with quarantine.

My ex-husband had a phobia of commercial jets, particularly after 9-11. The irony was that he had a pilot’s license so he was fine as long as he was in control of flying. Before 9-11 he used to get on an aeroplane and ask to sit up front with the pilots, something that was allowed before 2001. He told me once during a flight he even spotted something on the radar that they were headed towards that they needed to avoid (bad weather). “Oh, thanks for that,” the pilot said, and made the necessary adjustments in navigation. After entering cockpits by passengers (with pilots’ licenses) was prohibited he stopped flying on commercial jets altogether, avoiding far away destinations and taking only trains and cars to where he wanted to go. It didn’t matter that one has a much higher chance of dying in a car accident than flying, phobia’s are rarely based on real danger. But I could understand the fear of not being in control or trusting the driver. I’m like that in the kitchen lol!

I used to be annoyed by all the kissing I had to do in the village when greeting others. This was not a natural behaviour for me as the Japanese bow and do not touch each other when greeting. Americans do not generally kiss but rather hug and that was something I got used to in California. But here in the South of France even men (who know and like each other) kiss both cheeks when saying “bonjour!” Apparently my French man needed to learn this when he moved here as being originally from Normandy (in the North) it was not part of his culture either. Where he is from they shake hands between men but it’s customary to kiss the opposite sex. Since being under lockdown I have to admit though that I do miss the social contact. I wonder if this virus will change or slightly modify the way the French greet each other forever?

It’s a another beautiful day out today. It’s so warm and sunny. Gardening is on the agenda. We’ve already had a couple of barbecues here. Thank goodness that’s allowed!

First Spring BBQ
Evening bbq

Lockdown day 12 – Spring!

It’s been 12 days of being confined and during the few times I have gone out of the house no police stopped me to ask what I was doing. So I felt safter this morning going out to get some work done in the manner of checking on some houses I look after. Leaving the house seems like a treat these days so I played some raggae in the car and drove slowly. I wanted to feel the warm breeze on my face as the weather was suddenly back to being mid-Spring like with temperatures hovering around 18 degrees centigrade. I barely saw a soul taking a walk, and because it’s a Saturday there were no trucks around either – bliss! The adventure of driving in the countryside was something to cherish this time and make the most of, so I did.

First I headed into the village and as I was driving up the Cours Gambetta I noticed a long queue coming out of the small Spar (convenience store). I had never seen a queue coming out of there before. About 20 people were lined up outside the entrance, keeping at least a metre or two’s distance from each other. All of the restaurants and outdoor cafés that would normally be full of people and even tourists this time of year, were of course, closed.

I noticed there were poppies starting to bloom and lots of other flowers too. I heard people chatting to each other from inside the village houses but very few people were outside taking any walks. There were birds chirping too but no other noises. No trucks, no cars, no street cleaners…this is how life must have been like before cars, one hundred years ago, save for a few horses and carriages maybe? I saw the cemetery just behind the fish pond on the rue Pra de Pé. I guess many of those who died here remembered the war or wars of the 20th century that affected them, their fathers, mothers, relatives. I wonder what they would think of the world now? Is this our WWIII? Is it more painful to die suffocating with pneumonia than to be shot to death on the battle fields? I must stop thinking like this. I’m making this situation more miserable than it needs to be right now.

While staring at the orange fish I wondered where they all came from. They probably came from people not wanting to look after them anymore in their gardens or in fish bowls or aquariums at their homes. This is where they could be tossed and live out the rest of their lives. It wasn’t a bad retirement home for them. They looked happy enough but they weren’t moving very quickly. They were just hanging out, getting some sun. Sometimes you can see cats sitting on the edge hoping one of them might jump out so they could munch on a treat.

A few years back when my older daughter was around the age of 9 we were driving by a fishmongers in Rocbaron. My daughter squealed with delight and told me to stop the car. “Look Mama, we can get some fish food for the Koi right there!” I giggled then replied “sweetie, buying fish food at the fish mongers would be like going to buy grass for a cow at the butcher shop!” She laughed so hard she cried. Kids are so entertaining.

Speaking of entertainment I have noticed that there is an explosion of new videos, jokes, competitions etc. on social media as a direct consequence of being confined. So many performing artists are coming up with genius ways of coping and keeping the rest of us occupied with laughter and I am really enjoying it. Here are some for you to check out for a laugh. I have also attached some photos from my morning. Enjoy your day 🙂

The fish pond near the cemetery Cotignac
Dead Cours Gambetta

Lockdown day 10 – Here, Piggy Piggy

The death count in France stands at 1,331 oday, the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases have gone over the 25,000 mark and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The government will likely announce a prolongment of the confinement for at least another 4 weeks. I’ll guess it will look more like another 6 weeks. For the moment there are 7 cases of coronavirus at the closest hospital, in Brignoles.

Here in Cotignac the sun is shining and the blue skies are back! But it’s chilly this morning and I saw frost all over our pool deck. But this did not bother me because I can tell Spring is definitely in the air because the pear tree has blossomed! In the beginning of the year I swore that this would be the year to start the long-overdue process of composting so we could do our bit for the environment and lower our weight of trash. But then a miracle happened: our neighbours brought some pigs down to just above our house.

This morning I brought up just a bowl full of carrot and potato peals from last night’s dinner. We had onions too but apparently they are not good for pigs nor for compost. It so satisfying to watch the mamma pig chow down on the bits. This is a real treat for them, kinda like if someone were to offer me some Beluga caviar or black truffles. But pigs are not so different from humans. They like truffles too.

Every January Aups, a village just 20 minutes’ drive from Cotignac, puts on a Truffle festival complete with demonstration of the giant truffle-hunting-pig and master. Aups has this amazing truffle museum that doubles as their tourist office there and it’s great for kids and adults alike to learn more about the Tuber melanosporum. There is also the white Alba truffle in the Summer but they are not nearly as flavourful.

In Lorgues the Michelin starred chef Bruno has his restaurant that specialises in truffles. These days his sons are doing most of the cooking and it’s called Chez Bruno It’s not cheap but if you love truffles, gastronomy and appreciate long 7-course dinners this place is for you. Since you cannot get there now, here’s a great article from Mirabeau Wine about the festival in Aups with a recipe for Brouillade aux truffes (a slow cooked omelette) that’s great. If you get around to making it, hope you’ll share some photos with me!

The French love to eat pork. They have this saying, “toute est bon dans le cochon” meaning every part of the pig can be eaten. From chops to terrines to paté and smoked hams, there is a dizzying array of pork delicacies to chose from at the deli counter of just about any supermarket here. So it’s really not the best place for vegetarians although the French are slowly catching onto the trend even in the countryside. Restaurants here in Cotignac now offer vegetarian choices but I would like to see more variety in the future to accommodate any kind of tourist.

Hope you have a lovely day or evening, wherever you are. Stay in, stay safe, and be well. A demain!

Lockdown day 9 – the Var is like a box of chocolates

So, Japan is postponing the Olympic games to 2021. My father was right. And I can imagine many Japanese would approve of this because they would say that the year 2021 would be more auspicious. You see, the Japanese prefer odd numbers which is why you rarely see tea sets sold with an even number of cups. In Japan, they would be presented in a box with 3, 5, or 7 matching cups, not any even number. I was born on an even date of an even number month on an even year, to the horror of my relatives in Tokyo. I was cursed according to the most old fashioned of them. Funny how I don’t see my life having turned out that way. I feel so fortunate to be where I am today.

Speaking of the Olympics, one of my favourite movies of all time is Forrest Gump. I wonder how Tom Hanks is doing? I hope he recovers from the virus soon. He’s such a talented actor. Who doesn’t like him? “Life is like a box of chocolates…” mmmm, chocolate. I rummage through the kitchen cabinets, there must be some, somewhere. Oh my god, we are out of chocolate. How could we be out of chocolate? We have a ton of toilet paper and wine, chocolate is in with that group of life-necessities! I start thinking of ways of sneaking out of the house and go to the Spar just to get some. I’d have to lie to the policeman and say I was going to buy flour or something. Just kidding, they don’t ask for specifics, even after the latest even more strict clampdowns of not taking walks more than a kilometre away (previously we were allowed to walk up to 2 kilometres from home) and of calling for curfews in the larger towns like Brignoles (from 9pm to 6am every night).

Cotignac is like that one favourite chocolate in the centre of the box. For me this would be See’s Scotch Mallow. It’s chewy toffee topped with fluffy marshmallow and covered in good quality dark chocolate. It’s not too sweet, not crunchy or nutty, just perfect. Here we have a really beautiful limescale cliff that hangs over the old houses that were built back in the 1500s. On top of the cliffs are even older Medieval forts from where you can admire the view that stretches out to other villages and the rolling hills of Provence. There are several waterfalls to easily walk up to and the main shopping road, called the Cours Gambetta, is home to many restaurants including my favourite place to drink, bar La Tuf. At this time it’s normally bustling with locals and tourists but for now we are taking a big break, like the rest of the world. Now, the other surrounding villages are not bad either, don’t get me wrong. But for me, they are are more like the chocolates with almonds, walnuts or praline stuck in them that take them just one step away from being perfect. Okay, I’m being biased of course. The Var is very much like a box of chocolates; in any direction you go from its centre Cotignac, you’ll find a village, not unlike those other chocolates, that’s worth picking and tasting.

Just to the North you’ll find Sillans-La-Cascade. At first glance the dominant turret from the castle (which is its town hall) is grand and impressive but this cute little village is famous mostly for it’s huge double waterfalls, hence its name. You’ll see cars parked here all year ’round because it’s such a picturesque place to come and take a walk. It’s just over a kilometre’s stroll through the olive groves in front of the main church and down into the valley from where you’ll see and hear the waterfalls. In the Summer you can walk further down (at your own risk as the signs will warn you) to discover the many pools of azur waters flowing into each other, it’s spectacular and a great place to cool down. But it can get crowded here during the day so if you do get there, try early in the morning.

To the South there is Carces where the Saturday markets are always very crowded but the village itself is worth taking a walk around because there are some really charming alley ways, Medieval tunnels, and sweeping views to check out from the outdoor theatre. If you get here, I highly recommend lunch or dinner at Les Chineurs, for mussels (Moules-frites) and home made fries that are out of this world!

Go East and you’ll get to the delightful castle town of Entrecasteaux and if you go just a bit further, there is quaint Saint Antonin, which is a wonderful place for a picnic in the Spring. There is a nice park there too with a zip line to hang from and a big tyre to swing on. Perfect for kids.

To the West is our neighbour village of Montfort-sur-Argens with a beautiful castle you can walk up to. One of my favourite restaurants is here, the pretty “La Petite Marmite.” You can get lunch specials with starter and/or dessert for 15 euros during the week.

In any direction, if you keep going you’ll discover even more flavours of beautiful old villages here in the Var. I’ll even go as far as saying that all of France is like this. The country has everything anyone would want to live with: snow covered mountains with ski resorts, white sand covered turquoise beaches of the Mediterranean, stunning old castles and cathedrals, steep canyons (think the Gorge du Verdon), the list is long! Of all the places I have lived in the world – and I don’t take it for granted, ever – this one takes the cake, or rather, la boite aux chocolats 🙂

For more photos, please do a search on the site, for eg “Sillans-la-Cascade”, “Verdon canyon”, “Carces”, etc.

Lockdown day 8 – adaptability

Good morning! It’s an ugly day here today – overcast, cold and dull. Might as well stay in, eh? Ha! Great idea.

When I went into the kitchen this morning I decided I would have something different with my café. You see I usually have my personal mix of organic meuslii with fresh fruit like strawberries. When blueberries are in season they are my go-to fruit. When raspberries are growing in my garden (in early Summer) I pick those. I have to admit though that although I did have a flash fantasy of trotting down into the village to buy myself a fluffy warm croissant at Lou’s boulangerie, I decided I would hold off being so exigeant until after this ‘rona crisis. I would make do with what I have and practice the virtue of being grateful. I cut a slice of some pain rustic left over from dinner last night and placed it in the toaster. While waiting for that I sliced up a banana. Then I spread my toast with the very French “demi-sel” type of butter, which is salted. I never understood why they call it “half-salted” but nevermind. I gingerly placed the slices of banana over my toast and took a big fat bite out of it. When was the last time I had bananas on my toast? It’s been decades. I remember now, it was 26 years ago.

Between 1992 and 1996 I worked in Los Angeles for the Japanese government’s trade agency, JETRO. I lived in an high-rise apartment within a 10 minutes’ walking distance, on Figueroa street, downtown. I would walk to work in the morning. For most of you this would sound perfectly normal but for Los Angeleans it was novel because everyone drives everywhere, even for just a few blocks. Anyway I would first head over to the little Mexican snack shop across from my office building and ask the friendly shop manager to make me a sour-dough banana sandwich for breakfast. The bread had to be toasted and buttered and the meal had to be accompanied by a giant Latté. The sweetness of the banana mixed with the saltiness from the butter was pure bliss and in sunny Los Angeles this was the way I started my work day. And I earned it after the long 10-minute walk. Happy memories.

At the end of 1996 I said goodbye to my life in the warm, palm-tree-paradise to live with my English fiancé in rainy Yorkshire, England. I suffered a severe bout of culture shock that first year. It rained every day. Every day. I had left my life of morning lattés and started drinking tea like a proper English lady. I had to adjust because frankly the coffee there did not taste good. Adaptability was my pointe forte. I missed the sun but I would survive because damn-it, I was adaptable. I even learned to be sarcastic because that was just the way people communicated. But coming from California, where everyone takes everything literally and we have to be mindful and careful of not insulting others or their cultures, etc, this was a challenge. But quickly I went from feeling shocked and insulted to throwing sarcastic quips right back at anyone and even found it funny after a while. As for getting used to that dreary weather, well, that was the exception.

Sarcasm is not a form of communication for the Japanese either, so I did not grow up with it. Their humour is found more in poking fun of people or things, in manipulating words, or even in criticising. Virtue is found in being humble, like putting your own children down because saying they were wonderful was not being humble enough and would be considered conceited. Breakfast in Japan was often a piece of grilled fish, some miso soup with seaweed and a bowl of rice. I loved that. But when you grow up in a country there is no process of forced adaptation to its culture. It’s naturally learned throughout childhood. It’s seemlessly absorbed, assimilated and then enjoyed.

Adaption is the second main point of Darwin’s theory of evolution, after competition. Survival of the fittest – I wanted not just to survive a new culture but evolve and be better. I got a taste of this in the UK but France was where I exploited the opportunity to do just that.

I have now lived in France for 18 years. It’s the year 2020 and the world is going through a complete transformation. Maybe the Christian date starters got it wrong 2,020 years ago. Everything leading up to this year should be called B.C. – before Corona! Perhaps this is the year we should start counting, in the year of A.D., after disease…