Springtime in France

Jardin des fleurs, Nice, France

Perhaps because it’s Spring, I’m thinking of a trip I did with my father, to France, in the Spring. France is wonderful in the Spring. Maybe it’s wonderful any when.

When my mum died in the Summer of 1997, my brother and I worried about dad and how he would cope with his new life after some 55 years of marriage.

At that stage, it turned out, we didn’t need to be concerned. Dad was just fine.

But he was keen to meet up with an old work colleague, from Cambodia days, our friend Mariella. She lived in Rome.

So in 1999 I promised to take Dad on holiday, not anticipating that I would lose my beloved aunty Kay a mere fortnight before.

It’s an indication of the state I was in, that at Heathrow Airport, where we boarded a flight for Rome, I attempted instead to board a flight to Prague. I wasn’t even embarrassed, although I would have been if I had succeeded!

Villa d'Este, Rome

Mariella’s museum-like apartment had only one bedroom, so Dad and I had accommodations in a small but adequate hotel where I had one of those weird “not a coincidence” experiences.

My aunt’s given name was Mabel but she hated it and changed it to Kathleen. Sometimes I teased her about it.

As we got out of the elevator in the hotel I spotted a suitcase in the corridor with a label that displayed the name MABEL.

It may have been an acronym. It seemed unlikely anyone would write just their Christian name on a label.

I didn’t stop to investigate, but it gave me a strange feeling.

Hadrian's Villa

Dad spent a day talking at length with his old friend as I examined the fascinating contents of her apartment. She had started travelling before WW2 and she had all manner of eclectic items from all over the world including a dinosaur tooth. If she had asked me to select one item, I would have been hard put to choose. I hope it is all safe now in an appropriate museum.

From Rome we flew to Nice where we checked in to a very comfortable Radisson Hotel. With help from the concierge I was able to arrange a couple of tours.

I have long since forgotten the order in which we did it, but we went, of course to Cannes, where people were soaking up the sunshine on the beach. Not a movie start in sight. (Not that I was looking, either!)

We also visited Grasse which is famous for perfume.

Then we went further afield on a train to Monaco.

For an 87-year old man, Dad was amazingly energetic and he wanted to climb the stairway all the way up the cliff to the Jardin Exotique.

I just about made it myself and was really worried that he would strain himself, but he did better than me.

Back at the hotel Dad took a long soak in his bath but he was still game to go for dinner and next day we were off again…

Dad wanted to see Portofino. My helpful concierge found us a driver and off we went. It was a long ride along the scenic Mediterranean coast, but well worth the trip as it was very pretty.

Looking at the pictures now, I wonder how on earth I managed to arrange all this…

via Montreal…

To the medieval fortress town of Carcassone.

Apparently my dad had always wanted to go there.

It was restored in 1853, but still it was very interesting.

After 2 nights at Carcassonne we made our way to Toulouse where we boarded the TGV, the “Tres Grande Vitesse” or “Very Great Speed” train to Paris of which, for reasons unknown, I have no photographs. Presumably I thought Paris was a place one could find a million photos of.

We went to the Musee D’Orsay where we were obliged to wait outside in a queue and for the first time my father complained. The sky that day was overcast, so in my dad’s opinion, it was cold. I gave him my windbreaker but as soon as we gained admission to the museum he announced that he must have a cup of tea. I won’t tell you the thought that went through my head in that moment because it was not particularly kind. However I performed another miracle and found a cup of tea for the old man and it appeared at least to warm him sufficiently to toddle about the various rooms. I suspect he had not visited a museum in many years and I am sure he found it frustrating, attempting to view works of art along with a crowd of other visitors. We didn’t linger long.

We had both visited Paris before and this time it was really just a stop on the journey home. I think Dad enjoyed his holiday. There were many moments that I enjoyed too, but on the whole for me it was an awful strain. I had not had time to grieve for my aunt and it bothered me beyond measure that my father never even expressed his sympathy to me for the loss of my most beloved friend.

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