Category Archives: lockdown blog

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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liver_and_onions

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 formula..as 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 11 – Update from Cotignac

It’s becoming more evident that, for now, France is doing better (and therefore maybe we were better prepared?) than the their European neighbours in terms of cases and deaths due to the coronavirus. Today the United States has officially overtaken China in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Only time will tell how well they deal with the crisis and whether or not rushing to “open up” the economy again is a good idea. I recently heard the not-very-funny joke that this virus is being coined “boomer-remover,” meaning it will wipe out much of our elderly generations. Could this be where we are headed? There are still people who believe the disease is not that different from normal flu or that it is a totally “fake” pandemic, or according to that bizarre group Goop, there is no virus, just fear causing deaths!

Whatever you believe, if you are stuck at home like we are, you’ll clearly get this is not fun, that this will likely affect most jobs here (though ironically not so much the elderly who are retired and/or protected by pensions).

Yesterday afternoon I braved a short drive away to the big Spar to get some needed groceries like chocolate and flour. When I got there there were a handful of people shopping and all the staff wearing masks and gloves. The vegetable corner was abundant and sparkling; everything looked so fresh and perfect! They were very well stocked, the fridges full, the aisles stacked high. I found myself stuffing my little caddy with strawberries, blueberries, coriander, crème fraîche, more wine, tortilla chips, bread…everything except chocolate and flour. I was so distracted by how stuffed the supermarket was that I FORGOT to buy the essentials. But I wasn’t going to turn back as I was already well on my way home. I was fuming though and felt like hunting down a policeman so I can beat him into asking me for the darn permission slip that I continue to diligently fill out without ever being stopped and asked for it!! This is going to be the theme of my life, I just know it – keep doing the “right thing” without ever being checked. Grr!! Speaking of doing the right thing though, there are now new prefectoral requirements for leaving your trash 24 hours, closed tight, before putting it in the big bins for collection, another crack down to help contain the virus.

I should stop complaining. Here we are in the middle of the beautiful French countryside where it’s very easy to avoid people, everyone is abiding by the new rules, and no one is homeless. In the bigger town of Cannes though, just over an hour’s drive away, they have opened up the Palais des Festivals (where the Film Festival usually takes place in May) to homeless people needing a safe place to quarantine. I find the French are very good at helping each other when needed the most.

Sad news came from Paris this morning where a 16 year-old-girl died of the virus, in intestive-care, after having just a light cough the week before. Thinking of my own daughter of the same age my heart just broke for her parents. This virus is hitting all ages, it doesn’t discriminate and we can’t afford to take chances. Hope you are keeping safe and well. Hang in there everyone! Sending positive vibes from Cotignac, France.

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! https://www.mirabeauwine.com/recipes/aups-and-a-black-truffle-feast/

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 7 – update from the South of France

Fines for leaving your house, for no good reason and without a permission slip, have risen. 135 euros for the first warning, then if you get caught again you’ll be asked for 1,500 euros. If you get caught 4 times in less than one month the fine goes up to a whopping 3,700 euros plus 6 month’s of jail time. I’m sure even the wealthiest among us would not want to risk jail at this time. I wonder if the cops get commissions for fining like they do with giving out parking tickets?

Watching the news, showing incredible scenes of a deserted Promenade des Anglais in Nice and the turquoise beaches sans sun woshippers, I had a thought: I wonder what the prostitutes are doing? Since there are no cars on the road I suppose they wouldn’t be working either. Would their wage losses be covered by the government too? Afterall, their profession is legal here (as long as they work for themselves (ie without a pimp) and declare their earnings).

My father called me from Japan this morning. He wanted to know how it’s going in France. We communicate in Japanese. “Looks like you guys are in a very bad position there” he says, not-surprisingly. “How do you get to work?”

“I work from home, Dad, don’t worry, we are fine, we are all at home, the kids are off school and we are keeping busy, how are you?”

“Well everyone is out shopping, it’s as normal, except Disneyland is closed!”

What a surprise.

“You know how we Japanese are: we wash our hands all the time and wear masks in normal times when sick and we don’t kiss each other, like the Italians do all the time. But they will cancel the Olympics, you’ll see. Is your village okay? Are there any cases there?”

“No, there are no Coronavirus cases in Cotignac but there are 3 cases in Brignoles at the moment, that’s about 20 kilometres away.”

“That’s far enough,” he says, reassured.

I’ve always been amazed by the Japanese’ superiority complex in spite of all the natural disasters they have suffered. The last big earthquake with massive Tsunami that killed over 10,000 people comes to mind. That was around this time of year, 9 years ago. They showed the world, even during those horrific times, that they could be stoic, free of emotion, and wait silently and patiently in queues at the supermarkets. I suppose this global catastrophe will be treated no differently. Will they show the rest of the world they are better at controlling the spread of diseases? Time will tell.

Anyway, back to France. Strict curfews have been set in place in the larger towns. From 10pm to 5am in Nice, 8pm to 5am in Bandol, but I haven’t seen anything announced for our village of Cotignac…yet. The last time they had curfews here must have been during the war. Maybe that is why so many village houses had tunnels that connected them in their basements? I can imagine the fear they felt as the Nazis were approaching and all the gossip that must have circulated about who supported The Resitance and who might have been less keen. The biggest human loss suffered in one day was the Bataille du Bessillon, on the mount Bessillon, about an hour’s walk from the centre of Cotignac, on the 27th of July 1944. The Germans massacred 18 brave fighters. They are paid hommage to, every Summer, by the village Council and locals here who wish never to forget.

It’s cold and overcast here today. It matches my melancholy mood. I think I overdid it on the treadmill yesterday because I felt nauseous afterwards and even skipped dinner and evening wine because of this. But they say it’s a good thing to fast every so often? I’ll take it easy today. Hope you are well, wherever you are 🙂

The memorial that honours the soldiers and locals who lost their lives in WWII, Cotignac cemetary.

Lockdown day 6 – back on the treadmill (Memories part 2)

What day is it? Oh, who cares. I’ve had it. This morning I took my “lard-ass” down to the basement, damp cloth in hand, and started wiping down two-milimetres of dust off the old treadmill. I plugged it in – it worked! With my bluetooth speaker I started playing a high-energy playlist on Spotify that I put together some months ago. It’s called “Funky Friday Night” and it’s a great dance worthy mix of tunes. I was blasting the music so I’m sure my neighbours now hate me. Wake up everybody!! DJ Susana at your serrrrrrvice!!!!

I forgot how great it feels to sweat it out while singing out loud. I felt like Brigitte Jones at the end of the movie, like Carrie Bradshaw at a NY city nightclub, like the dancing queen in the Abba song. And that brought back memories of my party days in Hong Kong from 2000 to 2002. That was a crazy time in my life. Every young-ish person worked hard and played hard and I was no exception.

I lived on the 19th floor of an apartment building on Glenealy street just a few steps from bar-central Lan Kwai Fong. I used to take the subway to Causeway bay then after work take a taxi to my gym, work out, go home, grab some dinner, then every weekend head out to meet friends at the bars. After bar hopping, where we’d meet some expat strangers who seemed nice enough, we’d move on to clubs like Drop in Soho where they served the best watermelon Martinis and always played the best music; Jamiroquai was popular at the time. Or if we felt like braving the seedy after hours’ bars we’d go to Wanchai where drinks were cheaper but you had to brave the sticky smelly floors. On ladys’ night (during the week) we could even score free Long Island ice-teas at many bars there so it was always oodles of fun. But excess has its limits and for me it was coming down with acute tonsilitis and ending up in Central Hospital for a week on intravenous antibiotics. I always seem to learn lessons the hard way.

Which brings me to think how lucky I am to have these happy, studious, genuinely do-good young girls as my children. When I was their age I got into so much trouble. Everything that was “prohibited” I was attracted to like a magnet. I smoked clove cigarettes at the age of 15, I was drinking and dancing in clubs with a fake ID by the time I was 16, spending every last dime I made from babysitting. I can’t imagine my girls doing this. Maybe telling them about how dangerous my behaviour was back then has had a positive effect. I occasionally offer them a sip of my wine so they don’t think it’s something off-limits and therefore something to do on the caché. They can try anything, I just ask that they are open about it. My mother was the opposite. She told me I would have to wait until I was 21 (in California that is still the age limit for alcohol consumption) which obviously did not work.

Sixty minutes, 5.6 kilometres, 360 calories and 6,500 steps on my fitbit, yesss!! I am sports queen, fitness godess, the champion of quick-walking on the treadmill. I feel like I just climbed to the peak of a tall mountain, like I can now conquer the world! Astounding what a release of endorphins can do for the mind. I feel happy again, waaaheyy!

“Mom, what’s for luuuunch?” Ahh, shucks, my kids are whinging again. Back to the kitchen. And I just realised – it’s Sunday.

Hong Kong party days

Lockdown day 5 – memories from my past Part 1

I chose not to look at my phone this morning. When I came downstairs to make my coffee I chose not to turn on the television, I don’t want to hear more bad news from around the world, I’ll catch up with it later. It’s another gorgeous sunny day but unlike previous days it’s not windy. The tall pine trees aren’t moving. And if you just looked into the distance it would seem like any other day. The birds are chirping and some frogs have begun croaking. Except they are in our swimming pool which has yet to be cleaned out for the season. It’s too early of course but the days are getting warmer. You could pretend that life was normal and everything was dandy.

But the stress is still there. It’s a constant undercurrent manifesting in aches here and there. Sometimes in the head, other times in the back or neck. When under stress it certainly helps to talk about it. But no one here wants to listen to me. My kids keep telling me, “Mom, you’re going on an on about the coronavirus, okay, we get it, it’s dangerous. Can you stop now?” People like my hubby deal with stress by going out and being physical. In his case it’s extreme; he spent 8 hours chopping and stacking wood yesterday and today he’s out using the chain saw and clearing the brush. I’m nothing like that. I put pen to paper…or rather fingers to keyboard.

While sipping my coffee and staring out at the view of tall pine trees so many memories came flooding back to me when I asked myself, how did we get here? My girls are now 12 and almost 16. I’ve been with my Frenchman who is originally from Normandy, for 17 years. We’ve lived in Cotignac for 10 and a half years. I’ve lived in France for more years than anywhere else now and I am now pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of my life here. But my first year was rough – I didn’t speak the language and lived pretty much alone. It was Winter of 2002. I arrived at Nice aeroport with all my luggage and two cats that I brought over from Hong Kong. My English husband at the time had purchased a vacation villa in Théoule sur Mer so I chose to live there after being laid off from a publishing job in Hong Kong – a direct result of the economic collapse due to the terrorist attack, the collapse of the Twin Towers, in the United States. It was a beautiful villa with a breathtaking view of the Cannes Bay but arriving on the Riviera in the dead of Winter was a bit of a damper. Needless to say my marriage to the Englishman did not last, but life in France became the new beginning.

I did not do well in French class at Berkeley high school. I loved my teacher though: Madame Claudine. She was a plump lady with thick round glasses and hefty laugh. She would brag about her Summer trips to Paris and would bring back these big colourful books full of photographs of stylish cafés that I remember flipping through. I used to fantasise about being there. My mother once met Mme Claudine during a teacher-parent session and told me that she said “Susana is not very good at French but she’s great on stage!” You see, I was much more interested in Drama class and theatre than any other subject.

But the practice of stage performance gave me the life skills I needed to survive; a good load of self esteem and presentation skills that would get me the jobs and the confidence needed to adapt to changes, whether they were environmental, cultural, or learning a new language – in this case all of the above, which came in very handy for starting a new life in France, on my own.

When I was young my mother used to call me into the living room whenever she saw something exciting on television. One funny memory comes flooding back to me the most. “Sooooozieeee! Look! It’s the Cannes film festival on TV, isn’t it WONDERFUL?” She pronounced the “s” in Cannes, like it was the plural version of can. But then I didnt know how it was pronounced before I used to visit the area. It’s pronounced “canne” with a soft “a” and a little emphasis on the “n”. I enrolled in three weeks of intense French lessons at the College Internationale de Cannes then forced myself to communicate in the language but taking the easy route of finding a French lover. Voila, works a charm!

Looking back it’s amazing to think I now call this place my home. I still pinch myself from time to time. I owe Mme Claudine a lot. If I could see her again I would thank her for all her positive energy and enthusiasm for France that influenced me so many years ago. I wonder what she might think of what became of me? Would she even remember me? But I will never know; she passed away from cancer just a few years after my time with her.

…to be continued 🙂

Lockdown day 4 – Ch-ch Changes

Every morning I wake up thinking maybe this is all one big nightmare and we are back to being normal again, but alas, no. I grab my phone from bed and check the news: NY Times, the BBC, CNN…they are all talking about the same C-word. Today France’s coronavirus death tally is at 372 and at almost 11,000 cases we are just under the USA (with 14,366). It’s not a bad dream and it has made us all change the way we behave every day as we can no longer do what we want.

In the words of one of my musical heros, David Bowie, “turn and face the strange ch-ch changes.” That song was ringing in my head when I went out for a walk this morning. Again, I filled out a clean new permission slip, dated and signed it. I took a bottle of water and my phone and off into the warm sunny outdoors I went, alone, because that is what is allowed for the time being. Before I left I heard the French government representative on BFM news that people need to stop wearing masks and leave that to the medical staff. That is the exact opposite of what Asia is doing. Whatever, okay, I’ll do as they say. But they also insisted no cycling, no going on long runs (more than 2 km away from your home), and no frequenting parks, beaches, or public gardens. I can understand why.

My walk was going into the village and back. It’s a circuit that crosses a couple of rivers, passes at least 3 waterfalls, goes up and down hills with sweeping views of the Provençal landscapes – tall cypress trees in the distance, olive groves and pine forests, vineyards… and at the moment the quince trees are blossoming! It’s idyllic, utopic, it’s just pure bliss to be living here at this time of year. But normally now the main road in the village called the Cours would be full of al fresco diners chatting away while enjoying lunch. Kids would be in school. The villagers I pass on my walk, whom I mostly know having lived here so long, would happily say “bonjour!” and kiss me on both cheeks. But not today. An elderly lady I know, who is a local, gave me an awkward hello and made a huge bend to avoid passing me too closely. Ah, yes, right, the ONE METRE rule, I thought. But she was walking with her husband and one is supposed to walk alone (this rule does not make any sense to me but nevermind). I kept walking. The river water was crystal clear. The waterfalls were heavy and pretty. And even the crows in the sky seemed to be sticking to the ONE METRE rule.

As I was walking back up the rue d’Ecole I saw a couple of state police (gendarmes) in their patrol car parked at the entrance of the road that leads to the Medievel forts. Oh good, I thought, I can finally show them how well prepared I am with my perfectly filled out permission slip! But they didn’t stop me. They didn’t even say hello. I smiled at them. Nothing. Again, I felt so cheated!! I also felt like telling them off because they were sitting too close together, bad gendarmes, bad! One of them should be sitting in the back…or something! They are going to get each other contaminated, grr!!!

While walking I wondered: when was the last time I had to go through a big change in life? When was your last time? For me it must have been when we moved from the village house into this house with a big garden. But wait, let’s go back to more dramatic changes, like that time when I was living in Berkeley in the late 80s and I “survived” the Loma Prieta earthquake; the Bay Bridge collapsed making us get on a ferry to get over to San Francisco. My boyfriend at the time lived there and I would go and see him on the weekends. It was so pretty to do this at night because the lights of the tall skyscrapers would glisten and sparkle – it was magical! But as soon as the bridge was fixed (a month later) it was back to business as usual and people quickly adapted back to their old habits of driving. Then there was the Oakland firestorm of 1991 that burned down 3,000 houses, many of them owned by my friends and/or university professors. That felt like a big change with so much loss that people around me seemed to be experiencing. People had to adjust to the sorrow. Or how about that time the Northridge earthquake woke me up out of bed in Los Angeles in 1994 and I remember crying because I knew it instantly killed or injured thousands of people. “That was nothing,” I can hear my Japanese grandparents saying. When they were young the Kanto (Tokyo) earthquake of 1923 caused so many fires over 100,000 people died including many of their own relatives. My grandfather had to jump into the Sumida river to keep from getting burned. “You are so lucky,” they used to say. “You don’t have memories of wars.” They must have suffered so much. But if the Japanese could survive and overcome all those earthquakes and two atomic bombs then I’m sure we can get over this virus. Trouble is, it’s all over the world and not just one place. It will probably tank the entire global economy and make many more people poor or poorer. But with all our cultural differences we all share the same traits of being human and therefore of being adaptable. How will we adapt to this, I wonder, if it doesn’t go away anytime soon?

Where the Asians seem better at listening to their governments when asked to change their behaviour, in the West we seem less than keen. Asians do as they are told, generally speaking. Just look at the Chinese and the Japanese. The Koreans had it hard with this virus but they have clamped down hard with all their testing and it’s working. Here in Europe we are one big mess perhaps due to our unwillingness to do as we are told by the authorities. “Stay home!” they ordered, but then we saw all those people on the beach in Nice, having picnics and enjoying the sun like, comme d’habitude, tra la la. Westerners do not like being told what to do. But heck, if it’s going to save many lives I’ll do everything they tell me to do! I’ll bring out the Asian in me!

In the meantime my kids are continuing with their studies on-line, hubby has been productive in the garden and with the wood cutting, and there is more to clean and cook at home but that doesn’t bother me much. It’s the price I pay for spending SOOOO much more time together with them and that is priceless, I remind myself. Over and over.

Reporting from Cotignac, France, on day 4, this is Susana Iwase clocking out. Okay, now, is it rosé-o-clock yet?