So, I've been in the south of France for the last few weeks. Carolyn, Anne, Chris (Anne's boyfriend), and I have vacationed the heck out of those weeks. I can say with confidence, no vacation stones were left unturned. Just as an example, last Sunday was an easy day, but in that day I was mountain biking in St-Tropez, wine tasting, had lunch by the beach, and a quick swim too. We didn't go to a lot of sights. We took in the Chagall museum in Nice and in the realm of guide book high points you might pay to see, that was about it. This trip wasn't about seeing. Don't get me wrong, there was a LOT to see along the way. The picture below was from our lunch stop in Éze. How do you even eat when you're looking at that? But really, it was about being in a place. And it was about the people in that place.
The daily intensity has made it difficult to write anything about it, at least in any kind of narrative way. That said, I do want to note a few things that have been especially memorable beginning with...
|The view from Chateau de la Chévre d'Or. Dear Lord...|
|Technically, Ellie in the front is the only French person|
I have always struggled with any language except English and French was no exception. But language on this trip was different in some significant ways. The biggest difference was we were traveling with French speakers. Both Anne and Chris speak French but very differently. Anne has a sharp, process-oriented mind and she studied French for years. She can conjugate the heck out of French but it's a head space she has to shift into and she really works at it. She could order a pizza on the phone but had to take notes up front. Chris, on the other hand, never studied French, but enough has soaked if that he can brazen out pretty much any situation. He's also a natural ambassador who loves finding humor in about anything. When he speaks with someone he leads with a question and follows with something funny or self effacing related to the conversation. It's a brilliant way to bridge a language gap. Anne tends to defer to him when speaking with others though I suspect her language skills are better. To stretch a metaphor, he uses his people skills in the way one would apply English to a billiard ball. That, almost more than language acquisition, is an innate skill and one that's very hard to learn.
I was also surprised that I understood most of what I was hearing. Not always, but enough to make me realize that I should stop struggling with trying to understand language as this monolithic thing and just get my head around a much smaller subset of this language. I can do this. After all, I figured out...
|Carolyn and me sighted off the coast of Juan-les-Pins|
|Anne and just one of many, many bottles of rosé|
They drink it like bottled water here. I'm not kidding. If I ordered pancakes for breakfast, they'd bring me a glass of rosé to go with them. I don't know why. The tap water is fine here. They just like it, I guess. Helps take their mind off the insane traffic and all the mega-yachts clogging up the harbors. Whelp, when in Rome...
Quite remarkably, despite consuming a blistering amount of the pink stuff, I didn't gain any weight on the trip. That's probably because I got to go
|Chris, Burke, and Ann in the Alpes Maritime|
I should be banned from vacations after this one. Nobody gets to have this much fun. We rode in Valmasque, outside of Antibes, in the Alpes Maritime, and near St. Tropéz. Generally, the only time I get to ride with other people is when I have a number plate on my bike. The past few weeks I've not only been riding with new friends, I've been doing it in France! I'm going to be unbearable for the foreseeable future.
We got to do several rides with Chris' friends Burke and Anne. We were a perfect foursome. Chris and Burke were outstanding technical riders and Anne and I were better climbers, so we always had someone to talk to whatever the terrain was. It was so much fun just riding with people and these were great people! How great? When Carolyn handed our passports to the ticket agent at the Nice airport as we were getting ready to fly home, the agent said "Oh! You're Anne's friends! Hold on, I need to call her." It turns out Anne was also a ticket agent and had told her colleagues to keep an eye out for us. She ran over to say goodbye to us.
|Ann and Carolyn|
Which brings me back to where I started. This trip was about place and the place was defined by the people we met there. And they made it beautiful indeed.