Bonjour Friends of Karbohemia:

I hope this finds you safe and well. Here in France, President Macron announced Monday that our confinement will last another five weeks, until May 11. Macron isn’t particularly popular in France. He’s a fabulous orator, but people remain largely unmoved by his  speeches. As an American I find them thrilling, a notch down from the Gettysburg Address. But, of course, my standards are low. This was passed around among my French friends in advance of the speech. You don’t need to speak the language to know a drinking game when you see one. (Gorgée means to sip).

::News from the rue::

In France, the nightly ovation for the nurses, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, and doctors caring for people with CoVid-19 takes place at 20h, or 8:00 pm. Our apartment sits on the corner of a narrow cobblestoned street, rue du Petit Puits, and the only somewhat less narrow rue Pasteur. Petit Puits is so narrow neighbors can pass things back and forth through their windows. Our terrace looks out on rue Pasteur, and here is where we stand every night at 20h.

The ovation began with simple clapping, but it was like applause given by members of a small family at a poorly attended open mike night. The permanent population of Collioure is just under 3,000, and many of the apartments in our neighborhood are second homes and Airbnbs, so the crowd is a little thin. Across the rue, next to the second best boulangerie, is a boutique that sells beautiful French homewares, soap and a locally made perfume line. The proprietor, her husband, (the newly-elected deputy mayor), and their handsome grown son are all confined there.

Last week, the handsome grown son appeared with an aluminum saucepan and a spoon, and commenced tapping the bottom, to increase the noise level. The next night I fished out a cast iron pot and a wooden spoon.  Meanwhile, in the apartment across from us on Petit Puits, there is young Spanish medical resident, here to help with C-19 patients in Perpignan who plays the saxophone. On Sundays around noon, he has taken to offering free concerts out his window. He always follows his gut punch rendition of “Hallelujah” with that schmaltzy sax standard “The Girl from Ipanema,” and thank god. The night after we started using our saucepans and spoons, he emerged with a cowbell. Wherever you are in the world, under whatever circumstances, there is never too much cowbell. On this everyone can agree.

Two nights later, hoping to get in on the act, a guy at the far end of rue Pasteur leaned far outside his window, and started banging his shoe against the wall. I traded disapproving glances with the handsome son across the way, then with his mother. This was a clearly a breach of the unwritten rules of ovation etiquette. Life felt like normal, just for a moment, to shake our heads with disapproval in the French way.

::Color, un truc that always lifts my spirit::

Many things remain open to us, even as the world is closed. Among them: reading books, listening to music, singing and dancing, petting our animals and loving our people, even if it’s from afar. Savoring color is another. Matisse, working in Collioure during in the summer of 1905, was so inspired by the golden light he dumped his muddy, earth-tones and adopted the colorful palette that would revolutionize his art. Often, I look around at the bluish mountains, green vineyards, azure sea and sky, lemon trees and magenta and think: really, he just needed to look. Russian painter Kandinsky said, “Color is a power that directly influences the soul.”  Every day when I walk the dog, I make a game of noticing a certain color. Today’s color was yellow. Dandelion flowers. Daisies. Custard-colored paint. Faded yellow marker on signs. The plastic lids of recycling bins. Lemons trees heavy with fruit, everywhere.

::A truc like no other: the power of fragrance::

A dozen years ago I attended perfume school in Grasse, France, on assignment for a travel magazine. Since then, I’ve been mad about scent, and something that always perks me up is a new recommendation from my friend Rachel, who really knows her stuff. An English professor with a life-long passion for all things fragrant, last year Rachel enrolled in a professional program to become a “nez de parfums.” Her current fav: Masque Milano’s Romanza.

Rachel says: It’s spring in Bordeaux, and despite CoVid 19 confinement, the garden is overflowing with young green and fresh blossoms, inspiring me to reach for Masque Milano’s Romanza, “a strange and challenging perfume for this strange and challenging season.  It’s a surprising, deep, weird blend of sharp edgy green and unexpected florals, not the massive luxurious reach of a rose, or the cloying fug of jasmine, but a spiky floral, a flower stalk, stem included.

“When I spray it on my wrist, the sharp and bitter green is briefly amplified for the first few seconds. I find it startling and almost unsettling. Seconds later, hyacinth and narcissus dance their way onto the scene, and the intense bitterness gives way to a still-green sweetness. It’s herbaceous, bitter green, overlaid with the gossamer elegance of a spring bouquet. It reminds me of things growing, garden shoots appearing and reaching for the warmth of the sun, the veil of fragrant spring flowers insisting on winter’s departure.”

You can order Romanza online, or better yet, at your local indie parfumerie. I guarantee they will appreciate your business.

::Mon petit promo::

​If you’d like to pre-order my new book, Yeah, No. Not Happening: How I Found Happiness Swearing Off Self-Improvement and Saying F*ck It all — and How You Can Too, click on the world’s sexiest sloth.

For readers in Europe, click here.

Merci bien for reading!A+ (A plus, from à plus tard, see you later).

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