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the second last stage – Montpellier to Paris

It’s Saturday morning – I’m in Montpellier about to haul the enormous suitcase to the train station – the second last stage, the trip to Paris, one night there, and then tomorrow – HOME. Can’t wait.

I wrote this to begin a catch-up a few days ago:

Thursday. A moment yesterday – standing in
a grocery store in a small skiing town in the French Alps, talking on my cell to
my daughter who was giving me details about her pregnancy and latest doctor’s
appointment. I could not have felt further from home, the craggy snow-tipped
mountains looming all around outside, a shelf of fine wine and Champagne in
front of me – at a small ski resort grocery store! – and my daughter in
Toronto talking in my ear.
And soon, soon, I will see her face.
But first, my Tuesday morning in Nice,
where by noon it was full-on summer and the beaches were filling up. Sadly, as
I’ve said, I could not visit Matisse or Chagall, as all the museums were closed
– I had to stroll along the Promenade to the old town, visit the flower market,
and buy piles of lavender as a gift. Found a hardware store that had been open for more
than a hundred years, and from the clerk – who’d been working there 50 years –
I attempted to buy a classy French chef’s knife for my son. But he advised me
that it’s not done to buy knives as gifts, so I bought Sam something else, and
something for Anna, and found other gifts. A good time. Sat on the beach in the
hot sun to eat lunch of the bun I’d made from what
was offered at breakfast. Back to the hotel to get my suitcase and to the
train station, for a painless journey, again along the Cote d’Azur and then up
into Provence. Well, almost painless. First I got on the wrong train and had to
rush off, and then when getting off my own train I almost forgot my backpack.
But otherwise painless.
Late Tuesday afternoon, friends Lynn and
Denis picked me up in Avignon and we drove to the famous mountain village of Gordes,
where they raised their five children in a huge stone house I’ve visited many
times. We had dinner – as usual, Lynn can whip together something delicious and
healthy in no time, with much wine and cheese and talk.
Wednesday morning we packed up and drove
through the glories of Provence in spring, gold stone villages full of budding
green trees, pink and white blossoms and spring flowers, to the town of Embrun
in the Alps, where we had lunch with an old friend, Isabelle, and her husband
Bernard. A magnificent view of the mountains that ring their town, which Bernard
told us is very near where the German co-pilot drove the plane into a wall of
rock. He said people living nearby didn’t hear a thing.
And then on through the growing mountains
to the alpine town Vallouise, the reason for this trip. Those who’ve read my
memoir know that in 1964, shortly after my family arrived in France for a year,
my father arranged for me to leave Paris on the day of my 14th
birthday with a troupe of Belgian girl guides for a camping trip in the French
Alps – in Vallouise. I hated every minute – didn’t speak French, loathed
camping, didn’t know anyone. When Denis read my memoir, he wrote to say his
family chalet was very near Vallouise, he should take me back some day.
So he did. as we strolled around the small town, I remembered being small,
frightened, bewildered and lost, and was happy I’m now none of those things. Something
new registered – the fact that the mountains there are not magnificent and
snowy, just big, brown and rocky. I didn’t know France, and I also didn’t know
mountains. They must have terrified me. They almost did yesterday.
On to Villeneuve, where Denis’s parents
built a ski chalet in the 50’s, to which he and his siblings have continued to
come with their children and now grandchildren. A simple house with no internet
(AAAGH!) and no TV, just mountains and air. We ate and talked – and talked and
talked, because this is France, and that night, lungs full of mountain air, I
slept more soundly than I have for weeks.
This morning we went for a more than two
hour walk along an alpine path, miles of jagged snowy mountain and fields on
all sides, tiny flowers poking through, animals to be seen by the sharp-eyed –
a few mountain goats in the far distance, an eagle, a puddle full of tadpoles, a
family of marmots keeping an eye on us. What an array of experiences I’ve had this trip!
Home to read and rest – I MISS THE INTERNET
– and then out tonight to eat fondue. Because – another part of the story – on
the second last night in Vallouise with the Guides, we marched to a nearby
village for a special treat, fondue. Only this 14-year old Nova Scotian hated
the strong cheese and only ate the bread. I’ve always wanted to fix that loss,
so tonight, Denis drove us to Briancon, an ancient mountain town, and we ate
fondue – three kinds of cheese mixed with wine, heated in the centre of the
table as we dunked the bread in the thick melted cheese and swirled it around
our sticks. The giant pot vanished in no time. So so good. I have
remedied a forgivable mistake made in 1964. A great feeling.
And mostly what’s a great feeling is that
these are people I’ve known most of my life – Lynn, a best friend since 1967,
and Denis, since Lynn introduced me to her fiancé in 1971. What Lynn is famous
for is her laugh, and laugh, and laugh, we do. Today – trying to remember the profound
lyrics to “My baby does the hanky panky.” Twisting in the kitchen. Remembering
absurdities of our youth. Singing and dancing and laughing, these two
grandmothers – though I only of one and a half grandchildren and she of seven
and a half.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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