I had attempted to pen a newsletter several times over the lockdown. What does one say about this virus? I should not be giving Covid-19 advice so that is a no-no topic. There are very few tidbits to share about my not-so-fascinating life as I isolated at my place in London… getting up late, moaning about my hair roots, living in the same 3 pairs of pajamas and who wants my list of shows to watch, never mind more banana bread recipes? So, I laid my pencil down, until now.
I know many of you are still isolating, but some countries are cautiously crawling back to some form of normality, albeit a new normality. New Zealanders are going back to work and Europe is carefully welcome tourists. Many schools are back in action in England and the Brits wait longingly for the pubs to open…oh the pain! In my hood patrons hang around staring longingly at the closed doors, oh when will the Queens Arms open (that is a pub near me.) Actually, it’s called the Queen’s Legs but that sounded a bit rude.
I am writing this as my old man and I hurtle south through France. Early yesterday morning we left London for the first time in four months. We have the relevant papers, the masks, plastic gloves and sanitizer flowing like wine. We are driving his 1963, impeccably restored, midnight blue, classic Mercedes cabrio (the other love of his life) which to his horror is tightly packed up with everything but the kitchen sink. There are bags of ‘stuff’ containing things I can’t find in Italy such as my favorite brand of teabags, nut butter and Marks and Spencer’s knickers. There is plenty of prepared food for the journey as we have no clue what will be open.
With little traffic on the roads we arrived early for our appointed spot on the Euro Tunnel. No one there cared, the trains were empty and we were allotted a spot on an earlier train. Good start so far. It was my first time taking a car across to France by train. It is rather like putting your car on the subway, you just sit there staring at the vehicle ahead and then 19 minutes later, voilà – Bienvenue, France. There were rules in place of course, which I am pleased to say everyone kept to. Masks were mandatory, no loos or food to buy. But hey, how lucky to be getting out there, I think we can manage this hardship.
Our overnight stop was towards Lyon, in the tiniest village of Demigny, trying to say the name without squealing like a piglet. Le Clos des Tilleuls is a restored priest’s house, now run as a small B&B. It was perfect. We had not eaten all day so we literally fell into the most tantalizing French fare at a local bistro. What a first, a meal in a restaurant – it was sensational. I would have eaten dog food if it had been whipped up by someone else, I am so fed-up of my own cooking. France has only just opened its restaurants. Masks on arrival are mandatory and the staff must wear them too. Once you are sipping local wine and tucking in, then you may remove them – our new world. It is familiar sight now, masks on the top of heads, hanging from an ear (aka Joe Biden) or resembling a fat bow tie. And back it goes on when you leave the establishment.
The following day, with home as the destination, we braced ourselves for the twelve hours drive ahead, less in a modern car but this old lady takes her time. Mind you, she is from good German stock and can hold her own with all the Ferraris and Maserati on the roads, well kind of.
Being a passenger for such an extended time makes you think. The mind wanders as I stare over fields of green, gold and vibrant lavender. My thoughts bounced around, musing over the strange months in isolation. We all have a story to tell, some mundane, some stressful and some tragic. Mine was not too painful. I missed my children madly, but we managed to talk daily, play games on-line and have some poignant conversations. My phone was a pleasant surprise as it rang daily with calls from friends I’d not heard from in decades. We curled up with our glasses of vino and chatted the hours away as if we were at a beachfront bar, yet we were miles apart on our own sofas. I will be forever grateful to those who reached out to see how we were handling the situation and I hope I did my part too, checking on others. I came to the stark realization that those who never bothered to get in touch with an email, a text or phone call do not care, being too busy (unless you are a blessed essential worker) is no longer an excuse. It is hard to accept the status quo but that is the reality. You are not on their mind. It is a bit like cleaning out your closets, hold on to the favorites, the memorable, the beloved and let go of the ones that no longer fit – sadly they have had their day.
It is mesmerizing racing through the landscape of Europe, so varied, it seems to change by the hour. The plains south east of Calais emotionally announce names of places from the history books such as Dunkirk and Vimy. We sped through mile after mile of flat fields of crops then drove into the gently undulating hills of the Loire Valley scattered with princess castles and endless vineyards. Before you know it, the snow-capped Alps roar up in the distance and we are in Italy. Impenetrable castles and monasteries dot mountain tops and olive groves wave at us from the hillsides. We munch sandwiches (kindly made by the B&B) marveling at the beauty of Italy even from a gas station carpark. The autostrada cuts through these harsh mountains then transcends into civilization, but all is still relatively quiet considering that most of Italy is not back at work. We hurtle down the coast, the Mediterranean glistening alongside us. We head east towards the center of the country and there before us is the postcard that is Tuscany. Our hearts race. Crumbling stone farmhouses lie amongst fields of wheat, ancient villages cling to the edge of hillsides looking as if one shake will have them tumbling into the abyss. The quintessential umbrella pines welcome our arrival, the cypress trees stand to attention. Soon we will be home.
Cheers and stay safe everyone
Debbie and the Tribe at The Tuscan Getaways