Hoops

Nothing like heading to Europe on the day the European Union removes the US from its “safe list” of countries whose citizens don’t have to jump through lots of Covid hoops. I think this news broke as we were flying from San Diego to Dallas. Reading the details of what had happened, as reported by the New York Times, I wasn’t too worried, however. It seemed folks who were unvaccinated would be affected — but not Steve and me.

I worried more about getting into France. Up to the minute we departed, the rules were that vaccinated folks could get in if they presented:

1) Their passports

2) Their CDC vaccination cards (completed at least two weeks before entry)

3) A form testifying to the fact that one wasn’t sick and had no signs of Covid (or immediate recent contact with anyone infected)

Steve and I assembled all these things and even fed them into an app called “VeriFLY” that electronically documented our readiness for French travel. In the Dallas airport, the crew at the check-in desk also gave us another complex Passenger Locater Record form to fill out on the plane.

We had all these pieces of paper ready at Charles DeGaulle airport when our plane touched down 10 minutes early Friday morning. After deplaning we hurried to the passport-control booths, where a cute young Frenchman casually thumbed through our passports and stamped each of them in turn. Almost as an afterthought he said, ‘Vaccine, vaccine?” “Sure!” I responded, flashing him my white CDC card tucked into my passport jacket. He waved us on, not even interested in seeing Steve’s card or the Passenger Locator Form or the health testimony forms we had painstakingly prepared. We collected our bags, breezed out of the secure area, and less than 40 minutes after our plane’s wheels hitting the tarmac, we were in an Uber heading for the home of our friend Olivia.

Another more ominous hoop loomed. Around the beginning of August, the French powers-that-be ordered all French people to show an electronic vaccine passport in order to ride on trains, visit museums, or dine in restaurants. Because the EU has standardized digital vaccine records, this passport is easy for French people to get. But for folks vaccinated abroad and armed with proof such as those white CDC cards, it’s been more complicated. At first Americans who were either in France or arriving in France by August 11 were told they could submit an application for a digital pass and three supporting documents (passport, pdf of a white CDC card, and copy of a ticket out of France) to a certain email address. But if you were arriving after that, you were supposed to wait.

On August 12 they opened the admission process for a few more days, then pushed it further down the line every few days after that. Steve and I were overjoyed when on the Thursday before our departure (8/26), the French website said we at last could submit our documents. Within minutes we had uploaded them, but we heard nothing for days, up to and including the morning we arrived at Olivia’s. This was worrisome; we had tickets to a couple of museums on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a Friday morning train for Bordeaux.

We did have a backup plan in case our passes failed to show up. Testing stations like this are all over town, and if you get a negative test result, you can receive a 72-hour pass. But we wanted to avoid this particular hoop, if possible.

Exhausted from the flight, we took a nap Tuesday afternoon. When we awoke, the electronic vaccine passes were in our inboxes!

We loaded them into our Apple wallets, and Olivia helped us get them printed on paper as a backup. We had to use them for the first time Wednesday afternoon when the three of us made our way to the Place de la Concorde to visit the brand-new Hotel de la Marine museum (which reminded me more of the Palace at Versailles than anything else I’ve ever seen in Paris.) Attendants at the door demanded to scan our electronics passports, and the QR codes worked. We used them again Thursday afternoon when Steve and I went to the brand-new (Pinault Foundation) contemporary art museum that just opened in the renovated former stock exchange building.

Steve getting his digital vaccine pass checked in order to enter the Hotel de la Marine.

We showed them again them this morning and got blue wrist bands confirming our vaccinated status to get on the TGV. But we didn’t need them to get on the metro. Or city buses. Or into grocery stores or pharmacies or Monoprix or the sidewalk cafe where we had coffee and croissants yesterday morning. We did have to don a mask to enter all those places, and Olivia says technically everyone is supposed to mask up outdoors too. But only half the folks we see on the street are masked.

I feel confident that at least in France, any additional Covid hoops will be trivial — and probably non-existent at the wedding this weekend. Down the road there could be more. But the reality of what we’re seeing on the ground in France makes me think I shouldn’t worry much.

Two weddings and a tour of the teeny-tiny countries

If you’re reading this, it means Steve and I have managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean, enter France, and make our way to the apartment of our friend Olivia in Neuilly, just outside the Paris city limits. We will have begun an adventure I began planning two years ago, inspired by an invitation to the wedding of Olivia’s older daughter, Annabelle. Originally, we expected to fly to Europe in May of 2020, but the Covid lockdowns forced everyone to cancel all their plans. When the wedding was rescheduled and a second wedding (of Annabelle’s sister, Marguerite) was set for May/June 2021, I rebooked everything. But a surge in case levels led the sisters to postpone their celebrations again.

Now we’ve made it into the country and are just four days from the first nuptials, which will take place in Bordeaux. The second event takes place October 9 in the south of France. In between Steve and I have planned a wide-ranging tour through some of the smallest countries on earth: Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Vatican City, Malta, and Monaco.

We’ve both been to Vatican City before, and Steve made a lightning visit to Liechtenstein in 1974, but the rest will be new to us. The micro states stand out in other ways beyond their limited size. They rank among the wealthiest countries on Earth, and their citizens live longer than almost anywhere else (because prosperity and physical well-being go hand in hand?) They have oddball forms of government. Three are principalities, one’s a Grand Duchy, Vatican City is a city-state (Malta and San Marino are humdrum republics.)

We have to fly into and out of Malta (an island). But mostly we expect to get around on trains and buses and in a couple of rented cars. We smile at how this trip reminds us of our honeymoon 47 years ago. Then we tore around Europe’s Big Bruisers — France, Germany, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy. How different will it be to visit the pipsqueaks? We don’t know. But we are optimistic it will be interesting.

Our French Wedding

We came to France to attend a wedding. It’s a long way to travel, but we feel like we’ve known the groom since before he was born. His mother and I got pregnant almost simultaneously, and after decades of interactions, his family and ours feel as close as family. So Paul-Louis’s wedding stirred us and touched our hearts for many personal reasons. But it also was a fascinating intercultural experience.

Now that it’s over, I can report at least a dozen ways in which the marriage festivities were unlike their American cousins:

1) There were no night-before-the-wedding activities for those in the wedding party. This was great for us because it meant that our friend, the groom’s mother, was free to dine with us. Still, we marveled at the ability to stage such a complex dramatic event with no rehearsal.

2) The bride and groom, like all married couples in France, were wed in a civil ceremony back in March. That was a much smaller affair, but still included immediate family members and godparents. It took place at the City Hall of Neuilly, the suburb just outside Paris where our friend Olivia lives. The bigger event (which we and about 175 other people were attending) was held in a church that is almost 700 years old, built back in the days when Roman Catholic popes lived and ruled from their palace in Avignon (just across the river) from the church town.

3) The church service, naturally, was entirely in French, and I didn’t recognize a single hymn.


4) Even though it was close to 100 degrees outside (and pretty toasty inside the church), the vast majority of the men (young and old) wore suits. Ladies got to wear much skimpier outfits.

5) The service was supposed to start at 3:30, but for 5 or 10 minutes past that hour, many guests stood in the main aisle and pews, socializing. (Some of the young guys took off their suit coats for this part.)


6) Most of the wedding party zoomed up the aisle briskly, paired up in ways that seemed eccentric to our American eyes: the groom escorting his mother to her seat in the first pew on the right side of the church; followed by the bride’s and groom’s sisters, escorted by their romantic partners also to seats in the first two pews; the groom’s father escorting the bride’s mother; two female and and two male “witnesses” each with escorts, and finally no less than seven adorable little boys (the offspring of the bride’s two sisters). In the program they were identified as enfants ‘d’honneur (literally, children of honor).


The bride and her father did move at a more stately pace, however.

7) There were NO flower girls (but many comments about how Paul-Louis and Candice need to make up for the dearth of family females).

8) Most alien to our eyes: after the marriage ceremony and Mass, no permission from the priest for the groom to kiss the bride, and no ceremonial striding of the couple down the aisle to the strains of Mendelssohn. Instead, the bride and groom had to sign some sort of register off one of the side aisles, and while they attending to this, the guests gradually got to their feet and straggled out the front door of the church.

9) The big finale instead came when the groom and bride walked down the aisle of the almost-empty church and emerged onto the front step, where almost everyone pelted them with white rose petals. (Everyone except for clueless Steve and me, still inside the church, confused about what was going on.)


10) The bride and groom drove off in a classic white French Deux Chevaux (their equivalent of our Model T).


A little while later, everyone converged on a domaine on the island in the middle of the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve Les Avignons, and the reception festivities played out there. These were splendid: first cocktails on a huge lawn under enormous trees, then a very formal sit-down dinner, followed by dancing. The food and wine were superb. The speeches (as far as my French went in understanding them) were witty and articulate. And once again, we were fascinated by the cultural differences. Including:
When Paul-Louis and Candice joined the party, the DJ in the room cued up music and everyone rose to their feet, twirling their napkins over their heads. This went on for quite a while.

The dinner and speeches lasted from 8 pm until about 12:30 am. Only THEN did the dancing begin!

I couldn’t resist joining in for 3 or 4, but Steve and I were pretty tired by then. We tumbled into bed about 1:30, but then arose again fairly early to join the brunch back at the domaine.

The grand lawn, where the cocktail party segment of the reception was held, along with the Sunday brunch.

All weddings are special. This was was sure no exception.

Seven reasons we liked Marseille 

Steve expected Marseille to be grubby and disagreeable. But on our whirlwind visit, we had a great time. Among the more likable things:

1) Delicious seafood


2) Reminders of how close we were to North Africa (coupled with adamant assurances from our B&B operator that, unlike in Paris, here everyone gets along extremely well)


3) Some of the most intensely royal blue and azure and turquoise ocean I’ve ever seen


4) The oldest hardware store in France (where we found the bolts and screws we needed to repair my broken suitcase handle)


5) A church filled with dangling ship models



6) A lively, sun-drenched port.


7) Lots of great vistas

One of those little islands in the distance is the site of Chateau d’If, the fictional home of the Count of Monte Cristo

(Less likable was the intense heat. But now that we’ve moved inland, Marseille feels like a cool respite.)

A Visit to Frank in the Bois

Not so much to write about, as I expected, but a bunch of great sights crammed into our 48 hours in Paris, including sections of the Seine transformed into a beach-ish place…


…and our first visit to the wonderful new exhibit space by master architect Frank Gehry in the Bois de Boulogne. (Just a 20-minute walk from Olivia’s house, The Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuiton opened in late 2014). Both the building and the current exhibition (art by contemporary African artists) took my breath away. We had to tear ourselves away after more than three hours.




Now we’re in Marseilles, a much messier, grittier, more international kind of place.