A few pictures from Lille, France

lille-5-2016

Here are a few pictures from Lille, France. I had them on my phone and I meant to post them on my blog, so that I do not forget the places and what I felt then. The first one are the two expressos in the morning. One after the other. And the city waking up.

There is Lille in the morning when I went jogging from 6 to 7am. The streets and plazas were empty. The cafes and boulangeries were closed at 6, and were putting their croissants and breads in the windows at 7. And staring at me when I made the pictures. In the mornings the streets were wet from night showers and the dumpsters smelled badly. But the streets were empty, so you could chose on what side to run.

lille-14-2016

lille-10-2016

lille-3-2016

lille-7-2016

There is this smell from the childhood. The smell comes from the trees in the park. The little yellow flowers produce the smell. And I remember our summers at my grandma’s place in Lipetzk (Russia). And those trees are called Lipas. And the smell is very sweet and it makes me smile and want to fall asleep.

lille-6-2016

lille-12-2016

And then there is a slightly everyday Lille. With people. Shoppers. Tourists. The buzz of the downtown.

lille-13-2016jpg

And the Lille at night, when the cafes are closing.

lille-4-2016

The blue doors and shutters. I always had this thing with doors. I love doors. They tell a story. But they do not tell the full story. They leave the most important behind.

lille-9-2016

And there is Lille that made me think of my two kids. The sweet Lille. My kids would have loved that.

lille-1-2016

lille-2-2016

Lille from inside of the cafe when it is raining outside. In the morning.

lille-11-2016

And the sky.

lille-8-2016

Lille, July 2016

The last day of the year

Mont-LouisI was waiting at the cafe in Mont-Louis for my family to pick me up. It was the last day of the year. December 31st of 2013. It was cold in Mont-Louis. Earlier that day we went to see the church and the small town around us; Three streets inside of the fortress walls. There was only one cafe, one restaurant, one small grocery store, a pharmacy and two newspaper and souvenir boutiques. That was it. The kids dug the snow on the small plaza in front of the church. It was getting dark. Finally they were taken inside of the hotel to get changed and ready for the New Year’s Eve. I walked through the town a little bit longer and ended up at the only cafe that was open. The place was almost full with locals. Plus two or three couples that came down from skiing. Still in their skiing pants. Their faces fresh and red from the sun and the cold air.

I asked for a coffee and took the newspaper. It was the local newspaper and it covered the news of the towns around Mont-Louis. Then I dropped the newspaper and vaguely listened to the people around me. Everybody talking in French. I like to sit and listen to people in the cafes. People talking about the mountains, about the snow, about the TV shows. People discussing the skiing season, the weather and the lottery tickets.

I walked to the grocery store and got some cheese and wine. And talked to the store owner. I asked him if he was open the next day. He said he never takes holidays. He is open all year round from morning till night. He has the only grocery store in the town. He was nice. Then it was dark and there were no stars on the sky and I walked to the hotel, because it was windy and cold and there was nothing else to do in Mont-Louis on the last day of the year.

Next day we spent the morning skiing at Station de la Quillane, I think it is a part of La Llagonne. The morning was sunny and bright. The perfect skiing weather. The kids tried alpine skiing for the first time in their lives. They lasted for about three hours, then it was lunch time and we drove to the town. Everybody went to the hotel to change. I was already in a dress and decided to stay in town. After making the reservation at Le Dagobert I just wandered around. It was windy. The grocery store was open and I saluted to the owner. I talked to the newspaper stand lady and then ended up at the same cafe as the day before. There were five local men at the cafe. Too early for the skiing crowd. I ordered my coffee and took the newspaper. It was the yesterday’s newspaper. It felt awkward to open and read it, as if everything I read happened far away in the past. There were four pages dedicated to the stories about kids’ Christmas choirs. It covered the maternelle section of the French public schools, the kids ages 3 to 5. There were bright pictures of the kids singing and stories about each school, choir, songs and festivities. I read all the stories. I was touched by the dedication and enthusiasm of the music teachers. It made me think about the music teachers of my own kids.

Then I sat there lost. With the stories of the kids’ singing rounding in my head. Everything that touched me seemed to belong to the past. Like the newspaper from the last year. “The future must be so different,” I said to myself.

DSC_4326DSC_4355DSC_4356DSC_4538DSC_4665

On the Road to Spain

“Lorena, Lorena,” the voice was intense and quiet.
“How do you know that my name is Lorena?” she asked.
“I know you. I saw you many times.”
“It is raining,” she observed.
“Do you know that when it rains in Spain it snows here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“And when it rains here it snows in Spain,” he said.
“It never snows in Spain,” she stated in a steady voice.
“Yes. Sometimes it snows in Spain,” the boy insisted quietly.
“It never snows in Spain on Christmas,” she said.
“Spain is the only place where it does not snow on Christmas,” he agreed.
“It does not snow in California on Christmas. California is in America. I used to live in California.”
“My dad goes to America a lot,” said the boy.
“May be he can come to my house in California next time he goes there,” she offered.
“He never stops in America. He just flies the plane there and comes back. He never goes to anybody’s house in America. He flies over the country, that’s all,” the boy observed.
“My dad works in Norway. He also flies there. Then he lives there,” her voice sounded even. She was merely stating a fact. Then she added, “What’s your name?”
“Pablo.”
The whispering stopped and there was silence. The bus was going at a steady speed through the hills of the Pyrenees. It passed green pastures, vineyards, villages with its churches and fields. Fields that were now bright green with patches of red poppy flowers sprinkled along the road.
“Pablo, Pablo,” she whispered.
“What?” he turned to her.
“I was looking for you,” she said.
“I saw horses.”
“I know,” she felt silent and then added, “My dad told me once that if my mom works a lot we will be able to buy a farm in America and five horses. All I want in life is to live on a farm and ride a horse.”
“My dad just bought a new car,” Pablo said in the same low and intense voice.
“We do not have a car here. We get one when we need it. We are going to move to another country soon.”
The bus crossed the Spanish border. Both of them felt silent looking at the road.

Nights in France

at night at the hotel

The hotel room ceiling has the shape of a lemon. But you do not see the shape in the darkness. What you see is the shadows of the four hotel-room windows on the opposite walls. And the moving shadows of the trees. It is April and it is well after midnight.

In the silence you can hear two men talking on the street. They are French and they are quietly discussing something. Never-ending sounds of their voices. You can hear them from the hotel bathroom. It is big and light and your eyes get used to the white marble with the grey details. White is all your eyes can see. You lie in the tub and do not think about anything. You get absorbed by the whiteness that surrounds you and by the darkness of the night. You listen to the men talking French.

Then there is silence. And you think why your life is not more normal. Why is that you enjoy listening to two strangers talking French under your hotel window while soaking yourself in the bathtub for over an hour? Why closing your eyes and seeing everything white makes so much sense? We probably like to listen to the stories we do not understand. There is no point in understanding everything. Living the nights is different from living the days. At nights we do not have to explain, accept, comprehend, pretend, persuade. We live things that do not make sense. And shadows sometimes are truer than pictures.

Corbières Roads in Spring

Everything comes with its price. Sometimes we do not realize it, but the price is still there. We were driving along the Corbières roads in the Southern France and my husband told me that the things between us were really not working out. And I thought of the Spanish Civil war and how the guerilla fought on the other side of the Pyrenees. My only notion of it is from For Whom The Bell Tolls, and in the book it was winter and it snowed in the mountains when they fought. The same mountains we were driving through, just on its other side. How must it feel to lie in those yellow flowery fields not knowing what will happen to you? There is a high price for everything beautiful there is.

Then comes the part about understanding. It occurred to me that we push ourselves to understand people when we stop loving them. When we love somebody we do not have to consciously remind ourselves that we need to understand that person. It comes naturally. It is the part of love that we actually enjoy. It lets us live a new life through the eyes of the other. When the feelings are not there we push ourselves to understand him (or her). We can succeed at it, but the barrier already exists. We make ourselves walk through it to get the other’s point of view.

The last one is beauty. So far, with all the traveling we have done, I have not seen anything ugly or anti-esthetic in the nature. The green fields, the trees, the windy ocean coast, the white snow of the nordic countries, the yellow desert, the flowers, all of them are amazingly beautiful. I look around. The strength, the light, the life are visible through each of its parts. And there is silence.

I love the roads in the Southern France. Even if the price is high for each glimpse of beauty, it is totally worth it. I could walk through those fields and mountains for many many hours.

Driving towards Limoux
Roads around Couiza
Driving on D14
Driving on D14 France
Mistletoe
Chateau de Peyrepertuse
The village of Duilhac Sous Peyrepertuse
peyrepertuse chateau
peyrepertuse chateau
On the road around Cucugnan
The vineyards around peyrepertuse chateau

Black and White (France)

It is dark right now. At night Carcassonne is not black and white, it is brown and yellow. Yellow streetlights in front of the building and on the plazas give a tridimensional feel to the city. From my hotel window I can see the boulevard, all the trees are yellow. The houses are brown. Then, the sky is black.

During the day the city was more in black and white. In the spring the tree branches are still thin and uncovered. The sunlight is seen through the shadows. The stones and shutters under the direct sunlight.

My favorite part of the castle is on the last picture. I love this fresco. Every time I see it, the colors attract my eyes enormously. For me it is about the passion. In spring it is the most colorful spot in Carcassonne.

Carcassonne in the morning
Boulangerie Carcassonnelunch in Carcassonne
Carcassonne Castle
The tree and the cross
Fresco at the Carcassonne Castle

France in April

The world holds no magic. The things exist around us. We see some of them. We think in terms of stories. Some stories are better than others. Still they are just stories. The reality is only a part of our life.

I like stories. They may distort the truth, but my reflection in the big hotel mirror in the dark room is also far from the truth. It is almost black and white, it is real and it is not. My shadow is also not me, but if I move, it moves too. If I smile, the shadow stays the same.

The shadow is true to me. The reflection is true to me. Both are stories. Maybe the stories are good, even if they hold no truth. Sometimes I want to talk without words. In France in April, and I am slowly falling asleep. It is one hour past midnight.

Carcassonne
Carcassonne Castle
Carcassonne Shutters
Carcassonne
Carcassonne
Shutters Carcassonne
Carcassonne
Almost black and white
Carcassonne Castle
Carcassonne

Over The Mountains Into The Other Land

Mistletoe

There are some places where it grows naturally. You drive and look up and see it. Mistletoe. You just have to stop and look at the sky. And it becomes about the light breeze that plays with your hair, about the winter air, about the small white flowers sprinkled at random around you. About the green grass under your feet, about the earth that has already became warm from the noon sun. It is about the smile. About your face smiling when you fully believe the story that is coming.

It is about how much you can become a part of this sky. How through the moments of pain you are able to fly higher. Pain heals. If you just let it heal and forget about it, you do not get closer to the magic of the stars. You cannot hear their tales. You had felt the pain in vain. You lost the opportunity to look up and to smile. When something hurts, think about the silence of the elders. Their faces are sunburned, their skin still holds the bitterness of their morning black coffee. And in the midst of the dark night, right before the dawn, the gaunt fingers of their rugged hands are knitting tightly the stories about the immense nobleness of the people of this land. If you follow their eyes they will show you the path. Barely moving their lips they will tell you that in the middle of the torment you have to raise above the clouds. Only flying high over the mountains you can see what is happening in the other land. Then you will understand.

If you listen long enough to the wind you will know where the mistletoe grows naturally. And may be it will tell you another story. This time a better one.  About the virtue and generosity of the people around you.

Barcelona, March 8th 2013

Love Me For Who You Are

Castle in Arques

Many times I hear people say, “Love me for who I am”.

Driving along the Languedoc austere roads in the silence of the hills made me think of the rightness of those words. Does it mean that if you do something unexpected, something that goes against your nature, I should stop loving you? No, I should not. I love you for who I am. Not for who you are.

I thought about it. I do not believe that we love people for who they are. We love them for who we are. It is our ability to love, to pardon, to be sensitive, to be compassionate that matters. To certain point it really does not count that much how the other person is. I will love you as much as my own belief in nobleness of human nature goes. I will love you to the extent that I am able to believe in love. In the midst of loneliness I find love within me. And this makes me profoundly happy; The notion that no matter what happens there is something stronger inside of me fighting for the light. And I will love you for who I am.

What we love in others is our own ability to love. We love our own strength, our nobleness our understanding and compassion. We are attracted by the riddle of how much others will love us for who *they* are. Their love is about them, our love is about us. And there is nothing wrong with it. It is actually amazing. It gives us the power.

Independently of how great, awesome or successful we may be, let’s be honest, we do care when other people love us. Yes, we may not care what others think or talk about us. I personally do not care what people around me say, I am sure my life in their words sounds more extravagant than it really is. A smile goes here. But I do care when people love me. At least when certain people that are important to me love me. We all care. You care too. It is the most natural human feeling.

Thus, when it comes to love, do not love me for who I am. Love me for who you are. And I will do so too.

Arques CastleBoth pictures in this post are of Le château d’Arques (Southern France). The château itself has little to do with what is written here. It was the silence of the hills that surrounded it and the cold February air that influenced my thoughts while driving slowly along the Languedoc roads.

Barcelona, February 18th 2013

Street Signs in France

Street signs CarcassonneNot sure if it is the fact that even the street signs are in French here, but I find them very attractive. I like how they look on the corners of the buildings, how they sound when you pronounce them and how they are a part of the city.

CarcassonneThe streets have names and those names have as much personality as the old buildings with wooden shutters.

Carcassonne streetsMany of the streets have two names. The old and the new name.

Carcassonne buildingI love French language. I am probably just a romantic, however, I easily imagine how people lived in those houses hundred years ago. When I see the castles, I see the cavaliers and the merchants trotting in and out; I feel the passion, the wisdom and the villainy of the people. What a world to live in! Do you also think of yourself as a cavalier on a horse galloping along the castle walls with your right hand resting on your spade before falling asleep at night?

Chateau Villerouge Termenes

Castle and houses in southern FranceSome of the castles were converted into housing complexes. Like the one you see above, Chateau Villerouge Termenes. Till 1980s people lived there, there were stairs and couple of apartments inside this castle.

A bookstore in CarcassonneIt is true that French people love books. There are lots of bookstores in France, in each town, city and village you stumble upon bookstores. And people enter bookstores, buy books, read books in the cafes and on the streets. I love the humming of low voices in the bookstores. Makes it very homely. In spirit I am at least one third French, I entered almost all the bookstores I saw on my way and got books.

Bookstore in CarcassonneThere are very few things better than books in French. And among those are the houses with blue shutters and people talking in French around you.

House in CarcassonneWell, and the street signs in the Southern France.

Street signs in ToulouseFrance, February 17th 2013