Monday, June 26, 2017

Of Rosé and Remembrance

Since Mark died a year ago last March, there have been a succession of firsts in my life - the first time I did this without Mark, the first time I did that without Mark. Now, a week from today, I leave on my first bike trip without Mark. I have thought about him on every ride I have taken these past four months; but as my trip has drawn closer, memories and images of the European cycling trips we took in 2012 and 2014 have come more frequently and powerfully to mind. This was especially so today when I attended the last of a series of monthly noon wine classes, this one devoted to French rosé.

As I listened to the descriptions of the wines and to the banter around the room, images and memories of France came to my mind ... 

One of the rosés we tasted today, new to me, was from the Chêne Bleu winery in the commune of Crestet in the Vaucluse. As our instructor told stories of some years ago visiting this winery, which sits on a hillside not terribly far from the base on Mont Ventoux, my mind was drawn back to when Mark and I cycled in this area in both 2014 and in 2012. 

In 2012, we had started our first cycling trip in the Black Forest in Germany, in the areas where we both had ancestors. 

Mark in a vineyard near Sasbachwalden in the Black Forest

We'd then gone to the French Alps where we cycled the iconic Alpe d'Huez and other routes before heading further south to Provence. 

My man. Love this picture.

Alpe d'Huez

There, in the Luberon, we cycled around hilltop villages - including Gordes and Roussillon - as well as made our first ascent up Mont Ventoux.

The town of Gordes in the background

The Abbey of Senanque (the lavender, alas, having already been harvested)


The last slog up Mont Ventoux after having started in the town of Bedoin

We continued our cycling trip that year with a two-week tour of the island of Corsica. There were many memorable moments from that trip, but one of the funniest and sweetest in my memory is captured in this photograph:

We had been cycling all day and had pulled into the town of Solenzara, on Corsica's southeast coast, on a Sunday afternoon. After finding one cafe still open for lunch, we inquired after our meal whether there was somewhere we could buy a bottle of gin. The owner said no place was open, but he'd be willing to sell us a bottle. We were on our bikes, and there was no place to carry the bottle the few blocks to our hotel but down Mark's bibs. The Gordons was henceforth dubbed the "marsupial gin."

We returned to France in the late summer of 2014, almost a year and a half after Mark's diagnosis. After spending a few days in the French Alps again, we joined our two-week tour that began in Geneva and ended in Nice.

Mark in the French Alps southeast of Grenoble

Once again, we would have the opportunity to climb Mont Ventoux, this time starting in the town of Malaucène. But first, we would, from our base in Vaison-La-Romaine, do a loop ride around the Dentelles de Montmirail through some of the (unbeknownst to us at the time) most iconic vineyards in southern Rhone region: Seguret, Gigondas, Vaqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise, passing through, toward the end of our ride that day, the commune of Crestet - the home of the wine we tasted today in our class.

In the village of Segueret

The Dentelles de Montmirail

The next day, we rode up Mont Ventoux -- one of the most exhilarating, most beautiful days I've ever experienced as a cyclist. The visibility was outstanding. A perfect day.

On our way from Vaison to Malaucene, possibly in the commune of Crestet

The Alps in the distance

Me, near the top

At the top

Another wine we tasted today - one of my favorites - reminded me of the tail end of that 2014 tour. The wine: Whispering Angel, a rosé from Cave D'Esclans that is produced about 60 kilometers from where Mark and I cycled on the last memorable day of the 2014 tour.

Lunch at Gourdon on the last day

Our last descent on our last day - the last time Mark and I would ride in Europe

It's been sweet to remember. I cherish these memories. I appreciate sharing them through this blog because there are so few people who were there, the most important of whom is now no longer here. I want my friends to know this part of me.

Now, I look forward to my upcoming trip. Sardinia. Corsica again. New friends. New experiences; but never forgetting the memories ....

Friday, June 9, 2017

On a Trip

As I mentioned in a post on Facebook the other day, my kids and I have thought of Mark this past week as we have been vacationing at Disneyland and Universal Studies. Mind you, we/I think of Mark every day. But we've been especially reminded of him this past week and of the trip that he, I and three of my younger kids took to Disneyland in June 2013.

And being on this trip has brought to mind another trip - the one Mark is on. Time and time again, as I proceed down the road on my own journey of adjusting to life without the man who made me feel so special and my life so complete, I have had the feeling that Mark is on a trip. He has left on a long trip, I tell myself, and there are many times when I feel/expect him to someday walk through the front door of my house. Of course, I know he won't. But it's nice to feel that. It somehow makes him feel not so far away.

I also recently referred in a Facebook post to a picture of Mark that was taken with my daughter Esther and my granddaughter Hazel in June of 2013, a week or so before we left on our trip to Disneyland. "In what now seems like a long time ago," I wrote, "in a galaxy far, far away, Mark fell in love with being a father and grandfather." There are a couple of amplifications I'd like to make to that statement.

First, Mark never had children of his own, and though he welcomed my ten into his life, this was a process that evolved over time. Because of the train wreck of my divorce, some of my children had little or nothing to do with Mark (or me) for some time. Also, Mark had to adjust to his role as father - not being a father, per se, but being a father to so many while also, after we'd been together only 18 months, adjusting to the fact that he had a terminal illness. During the almost three years following his diagnosis, it was wonderful to watch him grow in love and tenderness and acceptance in every area of his life, including that of his role as a father to my children.

Secondly - I've often written that my time with Mark now almost seems like a dream. It was so intense, so full, so well-lived, that time almost seemed to stand still during those years following his diagnosis. When I wrote of "long ago" and a "galaxy far, far away," it is not because Mark now seems like a fading memory. Quite the opposite. It's because of that time warp that we lived in. That time, along with all of the emotions, love and memories that are associated with it, are sealed in amber; preserved; never to be forgotten ... but, alas, never again to be lived.

And so, as we prepare to head home today, I'm grateful for the new memories we created this week; but I'm also grateful for the memories we created four years ago and for the sweetness I/we have felt this past week as we have remembered Mark. We all love you, Babe ... and miss you.