Friday, May 25, 2007

Home Time

(Well, almost).

Life is swings and roundabouts. As we prepare to leave for Paris in a couple of days, there was much excitement at the hotel today-the orchestra arrived. You could see the excitement on so many of their faces-rushing around the terrace, by the pool. Taking pictures of the ocean, the hills.

One of the girls started chatting to me at the pool (she thought I was one of their group). There are 55 of them-and they're from Belgium, Apparently made up of two smaller orchestras-from Brussels and Liege.

This as we prepare to leave for Paris for Sunday.

One of the things that I've really noticed-even when out with mon C is that I seem to get cruised so much more often than before. The only difference, tan aside, is that I'm wearing a wedding ring. Can that really be the cause? Unfortunately, I can only find anecdotal evidence rather than hard stats. But it is strange. Whether I'm with Xfe or on my own, it's happening more frequently (ok, I'm hanging out on the beach or by the pool, shirtless). Without a doubt.

So, do people think it's more fun, to chance with something (perhaps*) unobtainable?

A 3-week holiday has also given me the chance to reflect a little. On happiness, on what it means to be together...A little on where I am in life.

I think that getting married still hasn't sunk in properly.

Before it happened there was the usual business at work. Then even when the holiday started I spent the first 3 days working. Then it was all stations go-meeting our out-of-town guests, the wedding itself, the honeymoon.

Helsinki was full of activity, but here far less so. Consequently, I've been thinking. Plenty.

Mon C dotes on me, and I love him. I forget that he's no longer my boyfriend. In law he is my civil partner (or is that my civic partner-I don't really know). But emotionally and socially he is my husband - although I've not yet had the chance to introduce him to anyone as such yet.

Simon, my long term bf, before mon C ,always said I was a lucky person. Now I know it, for sure. Once I was *lost*. Who would have guessed that I'd get another chance at happiness? Of course, I've learned from life, experience and my mistakes.

The thing I've realised-and never want to lose-is that no matter how tough life might get, I've always got mon C.

Home is where the heart is, and wherever I'll be with mon C, we'll be home.

*in their opinion, not mine!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Red Nose Day In Reunion

(And I don’t mean the one with Dawn French).

It is 5pm and the sun has just dipped behind the mountain-the one with the Monaco road that, like a serpent, snakes up the side of the slope then helter-skelters its way to the bottom. You can see the cars clinging to the bends as they ascend and hugging the curves as they descend, with even more prudence.

With the dipping of the sun the heat begins to dissipate, although the warmth of the day now radiates from the rocks all round. In the shade the air still warms. A slight haze can be seen over the ocean and clouds form, heavy with moisture.

The sun, hidden behind the mountain, casts an orange reflection on the clouds, which are then reflected back by the sea.

By degrees, night swiftly falls.

Today I wondered no further than the sun lounger by the deck of the hotel pool. I finished my novel, and started another. When it became too hot, I dipped into the pool, swimming a few lengths, floated on my back, and then swam a few more.

Immediately after noon I took an aperitif by the pool, surrounded by my opera chums. They only had 3 hours of rehearsals today-and were back by the pool at 4pm. What a life.

Lunch followed-gaspacho of tomato, timbale of lamb in a tomato sauce (wrapped in aubergine), then swordfish with king prawn and a vindaye (here, a fragrant and mild curry) sauce. Washed down with water, and a glass of sauvignon blanc (the local rose wine is fantastic by the way).

Having spent the best part of 3 weeks in the sun now, I became a little careless in applying the sun block-or rather, by omitting to. In the evening twilight parts of me, that had gone unnoticed in the brightness of the sun, appear to be rather red. Including my nose.

Unlike my face, the sky no longer holds any colour. Just tones of grey.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Just When I Thought It Was Safe... get back in the water, I understand that I'm more at risk here on land than in the ocean. As highlighted by George Burgess, Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History:

A statistic that came to my attention recently was that worldwide 150 people are killed each year by falling coconuts...contrast that with about 10 people each year being killed by sharks. So you have a 15 times better chance of being killed by a coconut than you do by a shark.

150 people killed each year by random falling coconuts!

Amazing that I have survived another brush with death! Just look at this killer bunch of coconuts - spotted after I strolled underneath them, carefree, on my way for lunch - this tree just ready to unload its nut on you.

This island may look like a tropical paradise, but there's hidden danger lurking everywhere.



Lava Flows And Lush Vegetation

Yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) I was driving around the east coast of the island, and the interior. As you get into the mountains, so to the clouds, which cling to these lush volcanic peaks. It gets a little wet, but there is something exhilarating about the calm of immediately after the rainfall. It feels like the land is breathing.

I saw all sorts of tropical vegetation. Agriculturally abundant are their lychees, mangos and pineapples. Sugar cane-Reunion's main industry-is everywhere. There's also chou-chou-a squash type vegetable, common in African and Caribbean cooking-and banana.

I visited the Cooperative de Vanille. Vanilla is Reunion's other main export; I now understand why it is such an expensive spice. The orchid flowers have to be pollinated by hand-and the blooms only last a matter of hours. If you miss the window-from about 6am-10am in flowering season, the flower dies. It then takes another 8-10 months before the pods can be harvested.

Once harvested they are dropped into simmering water-about 73C for 3 minutes, and then taken out and left to "steam" in blankets-it is this process that starts the enzyme working which "cures" the pod and gives it the flavour.

Here in La Reunion (but only here), it then takes another 3-4 years of carefully controlled drying to bring out the full complex flavour and aroma of the pod. Each single vanilla pod is felt by the workers to test for its readiness. If it is not ready it is left to dry some more. After that, so long as it is stored properly it can stay good for 10-20 years (and before I knew this I was worried if the bunches I bought would last until Christmas).

8 tons of harvested pod deliver up 2 tons of the spice.

This little bunch (30g I think) cost me 20 euros.

I saw wild poinsettia bushes, there is beautiful bougainvillia everywhere in a variety of colours, and I saw plenty of datura flowers (Dorothy beware-unlike the poppy field, the scent of this plant will put you to sleep-for good; the "visionary" dreams you might have are caused by its hallucinogenic effect).

The other thing I learned, to my surprise, is that pineapples don't grow on trees!

Here are a selection of pictures-from the Hell-Bourg (anything but-it's officially on of France's prettiest towns) to the lunar-like landscape of the lava plains that have flowed from Reunion's volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.

Sugar cane either side
Niagra Falls (honest)

In this next one try and spot the angry looking over-sized hornet. Click on the pic to enlarge it, for a really scary view!

That's the bread tree

In this next one, the black is the first of the lava flow as you head south along the east coast

Here you see two different types of lava, from two different flows. One cords and strings, like blobs of melted chocolate, the other sharp and jagged
Rich in minerals, the vegetation soon starts to grow on the lava flow

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Le Big Film

Today they are shooting a movie at the hotel. Poor guy in the suit-he must be boiling hot.

They've asked if they can use our suite between 3 and 5pm. I'll be out anyway-I'm going to visit the volcano today. Mind you our suite isn't looking quite as pristine this morning.

We did have a very, *very* good night's sleep however.

Monday, May 21, 2007

St Denis

It's got rather humid out, after a heavy dose of tropical rain. So I'm sitting inside, with bathrobe on and a/c cranked down to 5C (which will be too cold for mon C).

I visited town this afternoon. I'm not one to dismiss a place, but gosh, what a dump! I have no idea why someone would come to St Denis (which begs the question, kind of-mon C did warn me). There is no beach-just black volcanic rocks. Even if there was, the currents are too strong-and the beach dips too deep too quickly-to enjoy the ocean.

The main street (singular) has nothing to offer those seeking retail therapy. That said, I did find some delicious freshly made fish samosas and pimente meat things at a kiosk on the street. They were 20 eurocents a piece-and tasted wonderful.

I went to the supermarket on the hunt for some stuff mon C brought me back last time-delicious minced chilli with lemon. I also purchased some champagne and some crisps.

When I went to the check out they decided to close all but one. When it came to my turn, 6 people later, I asked if I could pay by AmEx. Yes, so long as I had an ID. What confusion an EU drivers licence caused (remember, this is part of France-and part of the EC; they have the same licence). Because it was AmEx they had to swipe it, and their reader was not working properly. They said nothing, just kept trying.

I asked if she was sure the chip and pin wouldn't work-and suggested she should try it. My French is good enough to rise to the challenge-the challenge being however that they chose to speak Creole rather than French. It's like speaking French through a thick fog. I had to speak slowly back and under-pronounce my accent.

The people behind me were pissed off I was taking so long. I offered the woman behind a "pardon", explaining that it wasn't my fault that all the other check-outs had been closed, to our inconvenience. Except this was ignored by the rude bitch-nor did it go down well with madam and her superior whose task, between chatting to the security man and sorting her hair, was scrutinising my EU driver's licence (which I'm assuming is exactly the same as theirs). These people need to learn if they can be bothered to encourage stmulus of their depressed economy-30% unemployment-they need to get wise and be nice to the tourist. Besides, I'm half French now by domicile of dependence.

Eventually in my own time, I asked if she would like me to use another card. She suggested perhaps I should. It was VISA so the pin and chip is fine, and all ok.

Then I decided to get the bus back up the hill. Oh my goodness, the smell of rank sweat and body odour when I boarded.

Boucan Canot, near St Giles on the west coast was lovely, and gets the better weather. But even there the service was slow and unattentive. Fine when it came, but you had to go prod each and every time.

So, anyway, when I got home I had a spa in our bath, and got thinking...

Short or long cycle, with extra bubbles?

Ensuite, En Suite

Monday morning. That means a new week and a new start. So, we switched locations-we’ve moved from the beach to the main city of La Reunion-St Denis.

It also means a new hotel-we’ve moved to the Hotel Concorde Bellepierre in the hills. This hotel has some nice views to St Denis and the ocean beyond.

Mon C sprung a little honeymoon surprise on me. Yesterday I asked if we had an ordinary or an executive room. He said he didn’t know. When we checked-in the receptionist welcomed us and said the manager wanted to speak to us. Apparently he greets all guests staying in La Suite!

Hmm there’s something strange about staying in a hotel room (well strictly speaking we have 2 rooms, a hall, a bathroom with a spa bath and huge walk-in shower, a separate toilet, and a double terrace with table and lounger) that is only slightly smaller in size than your own home!

Christophe told me that the last time he stayed here he was in the room next door-and French singer Lara Fabian had the Suite.

Time for a little celebration, I think!

We have some celebrity neighbours either side of us. It's funny how you notice things. On the way here, the driver had the radio on, and I heard an advert for Carmen. When we left our room as we walked to the elevator I heard someone doing some voice exercise in the corridor. Thanks to French & Saunders (when they did their brilliant opera skit with Dame Joan Sutherland) I instantly thought-opera singer. Also, there was a genuine low resonance in his voice.

As soon as he saw us he stopped, but he was so bohemian looking I just thought he must be connected with the arts-and most probably the Carmen production I had heard the advert for.

Downstairs there was a small group of people-and I heard some more voice/throat noises. I just knew these were the Carmen people. They were waiting for their car.

I saw they were using the lobby computer. If these were theatre lovies I just knew that they would have been looking up their own promo stuff. So I immediately checked the browser's history, and voila...

Bass Guy Vives

Mezzo Sporano Aurore Ugolin

Tenor Yvan Rebeyrol and the phantom corridor singer...

Gérard Théruel.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

La Lune

Twilight comes so soon, and so quickly here...

It's 6.15pm here-3.15pm your time in the UK. The sun has dipped, and the ocean is warmer than outside her caress.

Look at the waves-they got quite big-no wonder my hands are shredded from the reef.

Then the moon. Zoom in-I've never noticed it so perfectly formed!

Not that. The moon.

Reunion Day 3

This I am enjoying so much! I'm not really a beach person-I'm Scottish and fair skinned, so I have to take great care. And the heat-but at least it's not humid, and by the Ocean, there's always a breath of fresh air. I'm well oiled-believe me.

Today I met up with Sebastien, whom I hadn't seen in more than 13 years. It was quite nice (actually it was very nice) to see him again. We had lost touch, but I managed to track him down before I came here. I never thought that I'd come to La Reunion, and to have done so and missed him would have been a pity.

He remembered things I had forgotten about his time in Scotland, and I remembered some other stuff that had gone. I was just newly qualified, he was still a student on an Erasums exchange...

A lifetime ago, but some things never change. We talked about people we knew then, people we had forgotten.

Once he left, the water looked so blue I had to go for another snorkel on the reef. This time however I swam quite far out to the edge, where it was so very deep-that I got scared (thank you mister shark news sender)-and had to swim back to put people between myself and the open water. Just then, I felt something against my leg...


I swam for about 45 mins then came back to the hotel, showered by the pool (it's so much nicer al fresco), changed then went for lunch. I had some bouchons-like won ton-with piment sauce. The food here is spicy and just to my taste. I've also discovered some delicious Reunionais rose wine. Surprisingly good. And now I'm on the terrace again, with a glass of champagne. What else?

While I'm here, I'm trying to avoid reading Swim At Your Own Risk-rather ill advised I fear!

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Tale Of Two Fridays

Last Friday we were in Helsinki, in a boat on the Baltic Sea.

As you can see from mon C, it was too cold...

This Friday, we're sunbathing by the Indian Ocean.

This is the beach where I was snorkelling this morning, viewed from the hotel terrace.

I love the food here. It's creole, spicy-lots of fresh fish.

Look what someone emailed me!

LA REUNION A 34-year-old surfer has died after a shark attacked him off the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion on Sunday morning. The man was attacked at La Pointe du Diable (Devil's Point), on the island's south coast. His left arm was severed at the shoulder but he was rescued and immediately taken to hospital.

Just off for another swim...


It’s going to be one of those relaxing-very relaxing-holidays. Helsinki for Eurovision was a tiny bit adventurous. OK we had to go to the arena where Eurovision and the semi were staged. But we also walked around town-quite a bit actually.

Here, we’ll be sitting on a beach, sitting by the pool-in the sun; relaxing. It has just passed noon, so I’ve retreated to the shade. I’m Scottish-I have fair skin, so I need to take care. Mon C tans naturally, but being in the fashion industry he prefers to stay in shade. However, he started bronzing yesterday-and it really suits him!

This morning we had breakfast. The restaurant opens onto the terraces, so it was lovely and fresh. Then we went back to the room, got ready and-to the beach-all of 2 minutes away.

I hired some flippers, snorkel and goggles and snorkelled over the reef. The beach by the hotel is outside the protection of the reef, and although it’s safe to swim with the green flag, there are strips that they don’t advise you should swim in. So I didn’t!

By god, the currents are still strong-and the waves push and pull you. I was dragged over the reef, which scratched to fcuk as I was dragged over the coral. And even with flippers it was a battle against the relentless battering of the waves (so you see, it’s not all paradise here). Well kind of-I do have two scratches!

It was strange watching the fish get swept along too as they fed on the reef. Of course, outside the protection of the reef it’s open ocean-and that means les dents de la mer-sharks. I checked the boards-shark warning was amber, but I wasn’t going to chance my luck-so after about 45mins I decided it was time to come to shore.

I showered on the beach, dowsed myself in sun block and returned to the hotel, and the shark-free pool. Here I can sit, in the sun or shade, have a beer, and play on the internet.

So maybe I’ll cover up a bit now, get my book, another beer and get back into the sun.

It's strange looking north to face the sun. No wonder my bearings are a little off!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

La Reunion-Thursday

We flew overnight to get here. Mon C downgraded from business to fly club with me-but club was rather fine itself. The only difference, as far as I could see, was they got a fuller toiletries bag than us, and had much, much larger seats.

Still, club was far, far better than economy!

We left Paris at 8.15pm Paris time Wednesday evening, and arrived La Reunion 8.45am local time Thusday morning.There's a 3-hour time diffence from the UK here.

I'm such a light sleeper that I only got about an hours sleep on the plane. But I watched movies-the good thing about French with English subtitles is that I could listen to my iPod, and watch the movies at the same time, whilst also keeping track of the planes location on the main screen...

When we arrived at 8.45am it was already 24C. You walked into the heat as you stepped off the plane. But it was manageable.

When we stepped out of the airport, this was the sight that greeted me:

So beautiful. I can't wait to get into this Island's interior!

I just about wet myself when I got to our room. I have stayed in many fine hotels, and although this is not likely to be the finest service wise, it's among the best I have stayed in-the location makes it very special. How is this for a view from your own private terrace?

I'll be sleeping to the gentle roll of waves breaking tonight. Although we're by the beach there is a private pool, looking out to the beach either side:

Looking to the north, and here's looking to the south:

And here's the view from the poolside into the verrandah-and mon C.

We went to the beach, and I did swim with the tropical fish in the lagoon. No requin today! Our friends did laugh when Xfe explained that I was worried about swimming with the shark reputation. Although it is predominantly the east coast that has the problem, they nevertheless took us to the lagoon which is protected by a reef-and assured me I'd be safe! it was beautiful.

The lagoon.

However later in the day a 4 or 5 year old boy who was paddling when I swam to shore asked me (in French), "Monsieur, are there any sharks close today". I told him they were all on the other side of the reef. I thought he was going to cry-I meant to reassure him.

So, now we're enjoying cocktails in the bar which looks out onto the sea. It's 7pm and pitch black.


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