American Abroad, Part 2

40 on the French Riviera

Postcard showing the La Reserve and Le Plongeur restaurants, early 1900s.

“On Thursday I’m going to the French Riviera.”

There was only one time in my life when I could speak those words. It was last month, when my husband and I were in Paris and about to begin part deux of our French adventure.

I’d booked us tickets on the TGV from Paris all the way to France’s Mediterranean coast. It was a rail journey of about six hours. And at the end of it would be Nice, gateway city to the famous French Riviera. 

The objective in going? Simply to say that we, too, could trod in the same footsteps as 90% of the world’s superyacht fleet.

I had a free hotel night I could use in nearby St-Laurent-du-Var. With a quick internet search I found a seafront hotel with a private beach that happened to have availability. And voila! We were on our way.

But it wasn’t quite that simple. I was going to be turning 40. Along with that was the acknowledgement that, in all probability, I would never have biological children of my own. Would never be pregnant. Would never watch a life I’d created live and grow and learn. (And before you say, there are doctors and treatments and therapies…been there. Done that.) So I was on the French Riviera to let go of a dream.

Even saying the words “French Riviera” felt a little surreal. Stumbling off the train and into blinding sunlight and temperatures near 90 degrees F only added to the sense of having left Paris and landed in a strange, parallel universe.

Our first order of business was to get to the hotel. My husband found an Uber and as the driver sped us along the Promenade des Anglais, she spoke to me in indulgent French as we chatted about Nice’s remarkable climate and history. She even offered a few restaurant suggestions for our stay. 

As soon as we’d checked in, I changed and made for the beach. No matter that it was nearly suppertime and the sand was nearly deserted. I’d come to experience the Cote d’Azur, and something as trivial as being hungry wasn’t going to stop me. I bobbed in the blue waves, momentarily sated, as the warm waters of the Mediterranean wrapped and held me. 

The following day was Friday, September 13. My 40th birthday. I was up early enough to watch pink rays of light illuminate the sky above the ocean. We had breakfast on the balcony. Always terrible at loafing, even while on vacation, I set out soon after to explore the neighboring area. In short order I found a sprawling shopping complex, where I purchased gold hoop earrings, a colorful headscarf, white sleeveless blouse, and aviator-style sunglasses. I figured it was time to have a little fun. 

Ensemble a la Nice. The whole lot cost less than a DC happy hour.

Newly accessorized, I cajoled my husband into biking along Le Promenade. It was midday, which meant that it was blistering hot as well as beautiful. We grabbed lunch in town (a 3 euro slice of pizza for me, Chinese takeout for him) and biked back. That afternoon I returned to the beach in a swimsuit I’d snagged off a Target clearance rack prior to the trip. I may not have arrived on a superyacht, but dammit, I was doing it. I was in character. 

Our idyll continued that evening for drinks at Le Plongeur, a beautiful multi-level seaside restaurant with views like something out of a James Bond film. We had dinner at the neighboring La Reserve – an exquisite meal of broiled fish served alongside bread, pasta, and olives, accompanied by excellent wine. For dessert the waiter presented a towering chocolate creation nearly too lovely to eat.

There was the tour via electric bicycles to a local vineyward. Vince cracked jokes with friendly Irish couples as we ate our sandwiches at tables beneath the olive trees. It was the first day of the grape harvest. Later we shopped at a local market where I found a pair of yellow earrings as bright as the sun. 

All in all, I was able to live in a kind of magic for which I will be forever grateful.

Part of me – the part that dreamed of creating a child – was empty. It is a painful goodbye which is still ongoing. But another part, the writer and adventurer, came home very full.

Not every day can bring a trip to France, of course. But every day is a chance to give a gift to yourself. What will yours be? A shared laugh with a friend? A visit to somewhere new? A cup of your favorite coffee?

On one of my last days in France I purchased a small postcard that read, in gold letters, “Tout commence par un reve.” Everything begins with a dream. Many dreams don’t come true. But sometimes, we may embrace others that come to take their place.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy. I grappled with this same heartache, after marrying late in life and seeing dreams of a family not play out. Not an easy thing to live with — especially after such high hopes (and expense) of medical interventions that society pretends will make everything right. So I understand the pain of your loss. You captured that feeling of fragile ness beautifully here. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Diana. This can be a very solitary experience – especially after, as you say, pursuing efforts that “work” for some people and realizing they don’t work for all. In solidarity.

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