A few pictures from Lille, France

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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And the sky.

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Lille, July 2016

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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
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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

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

Attached to Languedoc

Fabrics for saleThere are couple of things that I really like about Southern France. One of them is the table cloths and the fabrics. Yeap, I am very much into nice table cloth patterns, the kind you can find at Williams-Sonoma in US, and seeing them in Carcassonne made the ones I had more real.

Cassoulet

Le Cassoulet, the typical dish of the region, was really good. In all restaurants in Aude they serve Cassoulet. In some restaurants it is one of the options, in others that’s the only thing they serve. It is made of white beans, sausage and duck. As Mr. Fawlty (from Fawlty Towers) said in the famous series “If you do not like duck, you will get stuck”. Well, something similar here. BTW, it is really good. This was the first time I tried duck and all I can say is that the way French do it, it tastes much better than chicken.

CarcassonneI love how even on cloudy days people are drinking their coffee outside. When it is raining people are still sitting outside; With their umbrellas open, with the their newspaper and their cafe.

a Store in Carcassonne

I also love that everything is in French. Yes, I know we are in France, it is supposed to be in French. Still, it makes me smile and fall in love with French language over and over again.

CarcassonnePlazas are beautiful in Carcassonne. There are lots of trees, cafes, stores. This one holds a lot of charm and we ended every day on this plaza drinking coffee, walking or visiting farmers market.

cups in FranceRed and white cups. I had those at home for a while, but seeing them in a store window in France made me smile wide. The color combination and the quality of the ceramic enhance my morning coffee experience every day. This multiplied by three morning coffees daily means really enhanced mornings.

pastries in France Pastries in Cathare region reminded me of Russian bakery. As a kid my mom tried to bake those peaches, but they never came out nicely. Then, we used to buy them in the pastry shop sometimes or friends would bake them and bring them over. Seeing them in France brought some sweet memories. And yes, we got a box of those!

CannelésThose small things in the middle row are called Cannelés. Yeap, the ones that are 1.40E, they are also refereed to as humble French little cakes from Gironde & Bordeaux. Now I know that there must be a way to make them ok inside without burning the outside. And well done they taste very good.

LimouxThe houses in Limoux: Everything looks old, but cared for. It is real, people still use what was built hundreds of years ago. They live there, they do their business there. These long lasting relationships with things and land hold the real magic.

AugeThe houses and shutters are painted in different shades of blue. This one was one of the most beautiful combinations I saw. I know, it is old, but I still find it lovely. It made me dream of living in a house like that and seeing the hills with vineyards from the windows.

Canal du Midi, CarcassonneOne other thing I love about France is its rivers. They are wide, full of water and always moving. The rivers in France are like Russian rivers: strong, fast, dangerous and helpful. They are not a mere decoration, they are useful. Thus, it made me a little bit nostalgic crossing rivers in France. It also formed a strong attachment to the beautiful Languedoc.

France, February 17th 2013

Beautiful, Relevant, Violent. Peaceful?

Carcassonne at night

A handful of mixed feelings while visiting Carcassonne fortress. It is beautiful. It is amazing. It was and it *is* relevant. And… violent. The history of Carcassonne is a history of power, fight, violence. It is also a history of bravery, nobleness, hard work and art. And beauty. And it all goes together.

Basilica in Carcassonne

Does it mean no violence no beauty? Does it mean if you are peaceful you can never be relevant?

Carcassonne fortress

Everything that is beautiful and amazing is also intense and painful. Passion and art are tied to violence and friction. Right now that I think of it, nothing that is peaceful ever made it to our days.

The mural painting in Carcassonne Castle

Religion is full of violence, art is intense, beauty is painful. Whatever amazing survived to our days made it through fight and struggle. And we admire the fruits of it now. Even when we question the value of it, we still admire the effort.

Basilica Carcassonne

Business is the same. Great companies that made it to our days, companies which products we use daily are full of modern violence and friction. Nothing relevant comes with the word peaceful (unfortunately). We long for peace, but admire the beauty.

Carcassonne

I question the value of such beauty. It is a curious mix of sorrow and admiration that I felt while walking along the Carcassonne walls. However, I can’t go against my nature. I feel deep thankfulness to those people who built these walls, who defended them, who fought, survived and died for them. In my heart I appreciate their effort. In my work, in fighting for my vision I am honoring their passion.

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Do not be peaceful, please. Life is intense. Beauty is relevant. Fight for what you are passionate about. Build it, defend it, live for it.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne, February 14th 2013

Absolutely Biased about France

Toulouse

I am biased about France. I like it. I liked it as a kid, reading the Dumas books and imagining how the meat pie and the Burgundy wine would taste; I liked it as a teenager listening to Joe Dassin songs and having lived in France for a year; I like it as an adult so much, that I enrolled my both kids into the Lycee Francaise school system and help them learn French. Yes, I read them books in my broken French and ask my daughter to correct my pronunciation. It is a great experience of learning from my own child.

Driving in France

And here we go. Driving through région Languedoc-Roussillon towards Toulouse and stopping in the small villages on our way.

Toulouse

Toulouse is very nice and full of houses made of red bricks. Close to the basilique Saint-Sernin there are lots of book stores. Another thing that I am not impartial about, apart from France, is books. And, books in French obviously win the lot. There is nothing better than holding the books in the language you love. And, hey, I can understand almost everything. And pronunciation… well, I try!

Books in French

If you visit Toulouse, here is a thing about it: they close kitchen really early. You can’t get a warm meal after 3 pm and dinner ends towards 8. Very much like US, I guess, but opposite of Spain.

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However there are plenty of Tea Houses that are charming (and warm). It is February and it is cold in France in February, thus finding a warm place for coffee counts! The cakes are home made, the staff is friendly and the view, well…. we are in Toulouse!

Toulouse

Toulouse is welcoming. We walked quite a bit through the city, and its central part is full of cafes, book stores and souvenir shops that sell everything related to violets. The violet soap, the violet marmalade, the violet candies, the violet oils, the violet liquors… well you get the idea.

Violette Toulouse

I do not think there is much I can add about Toulouse. But here are some random moments of the day that I liked:

1. The menus written in FrenchCafe in Toulouse

2. The signes on the streets (in French too!)Street name in Toulouse

3. The basilique Saint-Sernin insideLa basilique Saint-Sernin de ToulouseLa basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse

4. The red brick buildings with blue shattersHouses in Toulouse

5. And most of all I like the fact that everybody is speaking French (and everything is in French!). Well, I started this post with the statement that I am biased about France, so there you go.Cafe in Toulouse

Toulouse, February 13th 2013