From One Coast To Another

by Becky on July 22, 2013 · 2 comments

in Travel

packing pains

What an ordeal, leaving Barcelona.  No, really: we became so attached to that city.  And Miss Lavender’s treasured DIY Door out on the sidewalk, waiting for someone else to discover it and haul it home. The idea of dragging an old door out to the street for someone to claim it probably seems odd, no? But that’s the custom: you don’t want it, maybe someone else will, so we parked it on Provenza, five blocks down from the Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Adios Barcelona!

I hope someone appreciated it. And the care that went into its re-making. And the “Adios” spelled out in bold letters for passersby to consider.

Adios Barcelona!

our Barcelona home

Our place looked naked once it was time to head to the airport.

Late in the afternoon on the 11th of July, our plane took off, and as it banked over the city and began to climb, I watched Montjuic and the harbor grow smaller and smaller.  Finally I had to close my eyes because I couldn’t watch everything disappear altogether.

We landed in Berlin, where, at around 9:30, the sun was just setting. Of course the Eleven O’Clock Dad had to stop and grab the moment.


Once we’d settled in, the Camera Man left the airport for a while and took himself on a walk.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

The crew tried to get comfortable. Tough, though, on those nasty metal chairs.

airport sleeping

airport sleeping

Or on the ground . . .

airport sleeping

We made it through the night, boarded a plane for L.A. the next morning, and, roughly twelve hours later, landed in California, cleared customs, loaded our gear into the cars of some (very good) friends, and made our way down the coast to Newport Beach, where the Eleven O’Clock Grandparents live on the weekends.

From the Mediterranean Coast, to the Pacific Coast: Goose loves the sun either way.

Newport Beach, CA

Not a bad thing, being back. The weather’s been glorious. And it’s brilliant, being with family and friends. But it may take a minute or two for me to accept the fact that I will be homesick for BCN. Maybe for a while.

Newport Beach, CA

Right now, on the other side of the world, it’s 6:20 am. Sun’s up. The city I grew to love is stirring. And I am so deep-down grateful that we grabbed ten months that would otherwise have gone by anyway . . . and took off for Barcelona, Spain.

(Photo:  the lifeguard tower at 39th Street in Newport Beach. )

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Life, The Day I Become A Re-Pat

by Becky on July 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Travel

Faucets in Born_9012

I get up early, shower, polish off a strawberry yogurt, check email.  The apartment is quiet for a while.  After a bit, the Eleven O’Clock Dad gets up and goes into high gear.  He is remarkable during cruch time.

Today will be crazy.  We’re almost packed, which means nothing, really.  It’s that last ten percent that gets you every time.

* * *

Mid morning, friends show up to help us with last-minute cleaning and relieve us of fridge and cupboard items that need a home. Saying goodbye to friends here?–brutal. Truly. Alarm bells keep going off in my head, signaling the end of this Brilliant Moment in my life, and I keep punching “snooze” so I don’t have to think about it. If I do, it’s all over.

Last night, Miss Lavender and I stood for a few minutes and stared at the Barcelona Cathedral. When I felt myself tearing up, I told her we needed to go.

* * *

Early afternoon. We’re packed, though still shuffling a few things around so we don’t go over our weight limits. The flat looks startlingly bare. Strange, that a place that was never our permanent home will always feel so much like home.

Barcelona. BCN.  The Catalans say “Adeu,” their version of Adios. I’m not going to say it, though. “Hasta pronto” works better for me.

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Crystal bottles_9683

For those of you who adore lotions and potions as I do, The Perfumery, a small boutique in the heart of the Gotic district in Barcelona, might just be the best story ever.  We stumbled upon The Perfumery one night after deciding to make a right turn, not a left, onto a little street we’d only ever gone left on before.  And when I say ‘turn,’ I mean feet, not wheels, since nothing wider than a bicycle could make the venture successfully.  After all, the streets of Gotic were cobbled together–some of them–by Romans.  In fact, the space in which The Perfumery sits was once an entrance into the old city of Barcino, the walls flanking the store are that old.

The Perfumery_9713

But it wasn’t the sign outside the shop that caught my attention, though my eyes often go to signs that promise fragrances.  It was the decor/mood:  rustic opulence might describe it.

Through the bars_9737

Elixir under glass_9738

For example, If I told you that some of the bottles resting on the shelves inside The Perfumery were exact facsimiles of bottles created for fragrances used by Napolean, and that inside said bottles were the same fragrances used by Napolean and his women and children, you’d be within your rights to doubt me.

Years of French perfurme_9698

But it’s true.  And that’s what caught my eye:  the most beautiful bottles I’d ever seen, all arranged just so, the effect giving this little place an air of French decadence that prompted me to say, to the Eleven O’Clock Dad, “Stop.  We are going in here.”

Which we did.

It was Virgilio who helped us that night, reciting stories about various fragrances and the houses that had designed them, and for whom.  A fragrance connoisseur for more than a decade, he and his business partner, Tom, had selected only the lines whose stories and notes were the most unique and compelling.

Fragrance Cones_9657

Bottles with cones_9677

In fact, they actively look for fragrances with stories.  For example, they feature one brand created by a woman who desired to capture the essence of Barcelona, the city’s complex interplay between ancient and modern.  Another brand they carry can be found in only one other boutique on the continent, its makers are that fastidious about where it’s sold.  I adored the feel of the place:  part salon, part apothecary, a menagerie of glimmering crystal arrayed along shelves and tables pushed up against walls mortared centuries ago.

Mercury glass bottles_9722

More bottles_9689

In my jeans and the Volcom pullover I inherited from my son, El Surfeador, and with my backpack slung over my shoulder, I might have felt totally out of place, except that Virgilio was ever the gentleman, eager to respond to my questions and to the petals’ little gasps of delight as he sampled this fragrance or that one for them.

Beautiful bottles_9670

If you can believe it, I hauled my husband back the next day with his camera, to meet Tom, the boutique’s other proprietor.  If Virgilio regaled us in Castillian, then Tom got right down to business in English, giving me the Fragrance 101 rundown on the pyramidal structure of perfumes, which, as he explained, have notes designed to work together to create the scent we experience as a ‘fragrance.’ The head note announces itself first. Then the heart note. And then the base–what stays on the skin. All kinds of things can affect the way a fragrance behaves on a particular individual, including their diet, race, body type, and even the climate. Unsurprisingly, Tom often can predict the kinds of fragrances a woman will gravitate toward, depending on the way she carries herself and the way she interacts with her surroundings.

Bottles of amber_9695

If you’re in Barcelona, you must stop in. Just around the corner from Plaza Neri, The Perfumery will remind you why it’s good to be good to yourself once in a while. And if you’re unsure what ‘good’ might mean, Virgilio or Tom will help you locate your Perfect Fragrance, y con gusto!

View Larger Map

Click on the arrows for a 3-D look at The Perfumery. Be sure you click your way into the shop!

The Perfumery. C/ Sant Sever 1, Bajada de Santa Eulalia, Barcelona. (Just around the corner from Plaza Neri.)

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From the other angle_8855

Sometimes I call my teenage daughters my petals.  Sometimes I call them my flower fairies.  It’s an old habit. But the names fit them quite well during their wanderings through the lavender fields of Provence.

Lavender fields above Rousillon_8487

Millay in lavender_1542

With back to the camera_8661

Millay walking_1608

Deep breath_8601

Tessa reaching out_8531

Millay with arm up_1606

Millay bending over the flowers_1571

Millay walking_1545

Smelling the lavender_8955

Bees in the lavender_1587

What is a sea of lavender anyway, if not an excuse to swim?

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Colors Of Provence II: Market Time!

by Becky on July 2, 2013 · 7 comments

in Travel

Better lavender_0623

Usually, heading to the market means: a hasty list scribbled on a post-it note. And a typical list might read: toothpaste, bagels, shoelaces for Goose’s Converse. And when it comes time to refer to the post-it note, I might realize: Oh, left it at home (which means it’s lost forever). And therefore a trip to the market becomes: guesswork.

But pretty much anywhere in Provence, heading out to the market requires absolutely no post-it note, and guesswork is of course welcome.

No one even minds that you talk to yourself, that you just continaully keep saying over and over, No!–you’re kidding me. (Like when the local macaroon maker insists you try the almond ones, then the pistachio, then the orange blossom . . .) Or that you are heard to exclaim, Oh . . . my! (Like when the endless stacks of Provencal linens frankly just defy understanding.) Or that, to whoever will listen, you insist, Smell-this-smell-this-smell-this! (Like when the fragrant, locally-made soaps make you positively silly.)


Girls with soaps_4076

Girls with soaps_4078




Mortar and pestles_0586

Red chairs and tables_0688

Cafe in Bonnieux_0608



Table linens_0709

Lavender sachets_0610



During our trip to France, the Eleven O’Clock Dad and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. By marketing. I couldn’t imagine a grander way to ring in year twenty-six.

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Painted doors_8052

The other day, a fabulous little gem waited for us just outside Roussillon, France.  We were on our way to the market and got sidetracked.  Just so you know, this is one of my favorite ways to travel:  set out, get distracted . . . and go with it.  We missed the market altogether, but the color museum, or Conservatoire Des Ocres Et De La Couleur, turned out to be a burst of happiness in an already bright day.

Conservatoire de color_8079

First of all, I LOVE color.  I’ve sometimes put myself to sleep at night just thinking of colors that work and play well together.  Second, watching Miss Zinnia, a kindred Color Enthusiast, go neon with joy, also bumped up the color love.

Roussillon’s red cliffs, famous throughout Provence, provide more than just hue.  For decades, locals have mined the ocre to make pigments, and the color museum now lives in the old factory where it happened.

Equipment at color factory_8218

Color wheel on building_8308

Hallway of the museum_8109

Bags of color_8094

Supplies on the shelf_8118

various apothecary jars_8196

Vials with powder_8190

Bags of ocre_8175

Slab with color names_8160

Powdered ocres_8084

Chalk box_8096

Brushes hanging_8402

We stayed much longer than we meant to. Truthfully, I didn’t want to leave. Where else was I going to collide with splashes of color riotous enough to put Crayola to shame? If you ever end up in Provence–especially with artistically inclined kids–you’ve got to stop in for a dose of Happy.

It’ll make you want to sing!  Honest.

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Look: Cherries! Oh Happy Day!

by Becky on June 28, 2013

in Food, Travel

Roadside cherries_7990

I delight in stopping by the little roadside fruit stands dotting the back roads of Provence. Everywhere, the trees are dripping cherries, and you can get a kilo of them for two or three euros, depending on which kind you’re in the mood for. Yesterday, a friendly man who looked like everyone’s Grandpa was selling them at a table on the side of the road. Enterprising gentleman. Today, we stopped on our way to Forcalquier. This time, the cherry “stand” was the tailgate of a truck, and the man selling his cherries couldn’t have looked happier to be soaking up the late afternoon sun while he waited for passersby to take the bait.

I’ve decided that the right road trip food makes all the difference. Goose kept himself busy digging for the two-fers–cherries whose stem tops are still connected–all afternoon. His hands and mind stayed busy, and his belly got full, crucial items on the “Musts For A Happy Road Trip” list.

If there’s a road trip lesson here, it’s this: stop for happy food, often. And if the food happens to be bright and beautiful, so much the better.

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Boy With A Yellow Balloon

by Becky on June 26, 2013

in Travel


Traveling with a Caboose.  Very tricky business.  My teenage daughters could walk the markets and streets of Provence all day.  But my nine-year-old son? Brutal.

Probably because of his aversion to being dragged to one charming French village after another, the universe is kind to him. He always manages to collide with something magical.  Sometimes just the right rock parks itself in his path, begging to be kicked around for thirty minutes or so.  Other times, the perfect stick catches his eye, and it’s love at first sight.  (Sticks make awesome pretend daggers and, moreover, can be used to write cryptic messages in the dirt.)  But last Saturday night’s bit of magic takes the cake.  On the ground in a small plaza in St. Remy, France, an untethered yellow balloon, suddenly abandoned by the baby who had been playing with it, became his!

Silas sees the balloon_5141

Clearly, the gods of Childhood Distractions had bequeathed him a gift.

Silas gets the balloon_5144

Silas whistling_5204

That balloon kept him busy all evening.

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

Silas happy with ballooon_5215

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

No other distractions came close.  Not the red bike with the nifty yellow market basket.

Silas by bike with the yellow binIMG_5291

Not the yellow tablecloth on the table outside the cafe, a place which might easily have distracted his mother.

Silas ignores yellow tablecloth_5397

Not even the Girl With The Yellow Skirt (though she was a close second).

Silas via Millay_5084

Silas via Millay 2_5087

Honestly, what could be better than instant liberation from an evening of aimless wandering with a Photo-crazy Dad and a Provence-crazy Trio (mom, teenage sisters)?

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Because with your own Bit Of Yellow, you’re good for the night.

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Pizza Night In Provence

by Becky on June 24, 2013 · 1 comment

in Food, Travel

The Pizza Wagon_4918

Makes perfect sense that my first little dispatch from Provence would involve praise of the local food.  Saturday night we stopped in St. Remy, wandered, got hungry, stumbled onto this pizza wagon, a little outfit calling itself Pizza Pierrot, and the rest is history.  We wolfed down two large pizzas:  a Provencal and an Olive With Ham. I have capitalized the names of both because they deserved capitalization, as all Memorable Meals do!  I believe I could have eaten a whole pizza by myself. The Provencal was especially, well, special:  marinara, roasted vegetables, cheese, and provencal herbs (a bag of which I picked up at the market in Arles earier that day.)

Two girls in front of pizza wagon_4933

Pizza man putting olives on_4992

Making the Provencal_4990

Tessa behind pizza box_5010

The Olive Pizza_4995

Pizza from the wagon_4997

Folks’ve gotta eat, right? I love it when the right meal just sort of shows up, like it was waiting for us. And who says it wasn’t?

(More pictures and stories to come!)


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View through the arch to the castle_1086

About an hour north of Barcelona, on the famed Costa Brava, sits Tossa de Mar, one of my favorite spots on earth. We happened upon it last fall, the day before my birthday, and we headed up again last week, for one more visit. It’s all there: the Roman ruins, the medieval fortress up on the hill, the little sapphire bay dotted with candy-colored buoys, and an effusion of beach glass all along the shore.

Church at the top of the hill_1008

Bay dotted with buoys_0933

Sand, with beachgoers in the background_0900

Up on the hill, tucked behind the archway of the old fortress, is my favorite cafe-with-a-view. As in, like, ever. The petals and I stumbled onto it last October, several potential birthday cakes flirting with me from a cart on the porch just inside the entrance.  We sat together on the terrace that fall day, shared a piece of cake, and gazed out across the general Mediterranean splendor of the town.

And here was the cake once again, actually calling out to me this time, saying, You know you want to be good to yourself for a minute.  (Wouldn’t you have been tempted, were a piece of cake using that kind of language with you?!)


Cafe with paper lanterns_1055

The cafe_1065

So we grabbed a moment that involved chocolate mousse cake and views.  Felt like my birthday all over again.  And of course we walked and hiked, Tossa being an ideal place for both, the streets of the old city an enticing place in which to lose yourself for a couple of hours.

Umbrellas on the path to the castle_0918

Becky shading her eyes_1297

The cannon_1033

View down the street toward the mar_1152

View back up the same street_1199

But I have to confess that perhaps my favorite thing about Tossa are the shards of beach glass that wash up along the shore. I could spend hours just sifting through the sand, searching for the perfect piece in that magically translucent shade of aqua. Not kidding: I could live on that beach and just fritter away my mornings hunting for glass; waste my afternoons in cake and gazing; and spoil my girls by bringing them up to do the same. (Yes, yes, of course I am kidding.)

Green beach glass_0906

(But you should see my collection of treasures tumbled smooth by the sea! Anyone want to teach me how to drill holes in them so the petals and I can make pulseras?–I mean, bracelets?  Wouldn’t they make fabulous gifts?! . . .)

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