That’s Jean-Marc on his way up to the Dolomites. More colorful photos at the end of this post!
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TODAY'S WORD: "BAROUDER"
: adventurer, trailblazer
Today's story is dedicated to my husband and my Mom--both adventurers, trailblazers, and true baroudeurs!
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
On the eve of Jean-Marc's and my Great European Camping Car Adventure, I went to check on Mom. There in her studio, on the side of our house, Jules was putting away her groceries: "Ice cream, yogurt, pudding..." Jules sang, happy for her favorite items to be back in stock chez elle.
"And what do you have for food for the next week?" I quizzed.
"I don't eat food!" Jules smiled, reaching for the ice cream to cool down in this heatwave. While Mom may be kidding, leaving her alone for a week was a serious matter to me, even if deep down I knew she would be ok. She is a feisty 76: spirited, spiritual, and strong. She raised two girls as a single mother and then lived solo in the Arizona desert, with only rattlesnakes and javelinas for company (her Rottweiler and guns were protection). After she left the desert, and before moving to France, Jules lived in Mexico for two decades, part of that time in a house with bare windows (no glass to keep the rain out). One day (2002?) Mom was sweeping the floor when she slipped and broke her hip. She came to France to recover, only to get breast cancer. She has been with us on and off ever since.
No matter how strong Mom is, or how much character she has, she can be vulnerable and I don't like leaving her alone when we go away. Especially when her grandson Max, who lives nearby, is out of town. And to think Jules no longer has Smokey to sleep by her front door and keep her company. Like this, on Day 2 of our camping trip, I was dreaming of my gun-toting, ice-cream Mama. What if she lost electricity? Would Mom know which switches to flip? What if the heat got to her or she fell down? Because Mom doesn't like the telephone (or Messenger or SMS or any of that) it can be challenging to know how she is doing. Thankfully, she promised to respond to my daily emails. So far so good, "All is peaceful here," her replies assured me.
Tossing and turning in our camper car, somewhere along Lake Garda, I awoke to find my side of the mattress wet. Zut! The little camper window was leaking. This was bad news for my flu, which began the night of our departure and turned into bronchitis. A clap of thunder had me scooting close to my husband, whose side of the tiny bed was dry. Quelle chance!
Jean-Marc was in a deep sleep after a few long days on the road. We had left La Ciotat that first morning at 5 am to pick up our rented camper in Grasse. After a picnic by the river in Cuneo, Italy (it felt so good to submerse our legs into the cold water while eating our paninis) we reached our destination that evening. It was the first of several lakeside campsites that Jean-Marc had carefully reserved and, after some reservations of my own, I was surprised at how easily we slid into camp life, and "glisser" is the word as the rain made for a muddy, slippery ground beside our camper. Next time, we'll bring along a plastic mat as the other seasoned campers had done. We were learning every day and that is one thing to love about roughing it: having to make do and be creative with what we had. Thus, a big T-shirt became a cloth sack for laundry, water glasses doubled as coffee cups, and a couple of plastic tire strips were used as a much-needed doormat. Nothing too ingenious, but it was satisfying, each time, to find an onboard solution to a problem!
Jean-Marc, having found a parking spot in Como. That's the Chausson camper car we rented.
The most ingenious thing to me was our onboard toilet. By day two I discovered it swiveled sideways for legroom (turns out you didn't have to be a yogini to use it!). That toilet was a luxury and it meant we could travel to the ends of the world, which is exactly where we were going...
On day 4 we were headed up to the Dolomites, on a suspiciously empty road, when Jean-Marc casually mentioned that he guessed this road was okay for oversized camping cars to use. My husband's remark brought me back to all of the nerve-racking adventures he had ever talked me into before. The King of Shortcuts and his Take-Every-Precaution wife have, kicking and screaming, managed to scale steep mountain paths, pass through narrow railway tunnels on foot, and hurry across pastures dotted with horned cattle. I realize now that most of my fear comes from a lack of knowledge (are pedestrians allowed to walk beside train tracks…in a tunnel? Do horned cattle attack?)
Here we were again, on another hair-raising path, and there was no turning back along this particularly narrow one-way road up to the Dolomites. I began to notice potholes here and there and farther up ahead the road was crumbling off on either side. There in the passenger seat of our roving rental home, just when I thought my nerves couldn't take it anymore, I held on to one thought: we'd soon be eating in a quaint little chalet amidst a blossoming prairie at the end of this Godforsaken path. Just focus on the image. Focus on the little innocent flowers and not the menacing road! Just as I was beginning to relax, a string of words coming out of my husband's mouth strangled every little daisy as hope flew out the passenger side window:
" J'espère que c'est ouvert…"
You hope the restaurant is open?
To make a long, agonizing story short, dear reader, we did make it up to the restaurant (ours was the only camping car in the sparse parking lot). And it was as delightful as those delicate alpine flowers. After lunch and some apple strudel served by a lovely 86-year-old Tyrolian, we parted ways for the first time in days. Jean-Marc went on to hike 2.5 hours until he was able to reach up and touch the Dolomites with his own hand. My husband deserved such a thrill after maneuvering our two-ton trailer and me through the narrow streets and valleys of Italy. Bravo J-M! Meanwhile, I took a nap in the back of our vehicle, soaking in the sounds of nature all around us including the rain which began pounding on our camper car. When that turned to hail we peeled out of there just in time, heading back down over the crumbling road and the potholes, making it safely down the hill and down to the south coast of Italy. Those last two nights were spent at "Agriturismo" sites (camp free on somebody's farm in exchange for buying their products).
From the Mediterranean to the Dolomites and back it was a smooth trip. And when we pulled into our driveway at 10 pm, Mom, having held down the fort, was there to greet us with open arms, happy tears in her eyes. “ I don’t think I have ever been so lonely in my whole life,” my desert-dwelling Mamacita finally admitted.
"That's why God gave us families,” I assured Mom. “So we would never be lonely."
Not everyone has a family to hold on to and if that is your situation I hope these stories keep us all connected. Thank you, dear reader and virtual family, for showing up weekly and for clicking open my letters.
"See you" next week,
It is a joy to read your comments so please don't hesitate to write me using this link to the comments. (My Dad, a faithful reader of this blog, especially appreciates it when you include your town or city! Extra credit if you give a weather report. He loves that!)
Thank you, Holly (right), for reading my journal and for sending in this photo of you and Jules taken on our front porch a few years ago. It is one of Mom's favorite pics. We hope you don't mind we posted it!
Click here to listen to Jean-Marc and Kristi pronounce the vocabulary words below
le baroudeur, la baroudeuse = trailblazer
chez elle = at her place
zut! = darn!
quelle chance! = what luck!
le panini = Italian for grilled sandwich
glisser = to slip
j’espère que c’est ouvert = I hope it’s open
agriturismo = a farm stay
It is humbling, touching, and enormously motivating to receive your support for my French word journal. And huge thanks to the following readers who sent in a donation following last week’s “anniversary” post:
J & C Hawke
Bill and Mary E.
Natalia, Rod, et Mignons
Little daisies at the top of Bergamo, a perched village Jean-Marc used to admire while driving on the Italian freeway for his wine business. This time he got to stop and explore!
Outside one of the churches in Bergamo.
Trip highlight: We had a very warm welcome and a farm-fresh lunch at the biodynamic Alois Lageder vineyard near Bolzano.
The rest of these pictures were taken from the passenger seat of our camper car--a wonderful window from which to take in all the colorful scenes of Italy
Also in Bergamo
This was at the Col de la Lombarde, just after the French Italian border. We (very carefully) passed zillions of cyclists in this area. It was one of the most nerve-racking passages for Jean-Marc, who did a great job maneuvering our camping car. I have so many more pictures. Would you enjoy an extra post this week?