Shortly after my diagnosis, my mother looked me in the face and said something to the effect of ‘When all of this shit is done, we are going on a trip.’ Over the course of this past year, the trip has been planned, unplanned, re-planned and changed. My original intent was to walk a week of the Camino in Portugal, see some Gaudi in Barcelona, and meet up with my mom and my sister in Morocco, camera in hand. The Camino got canned when I ended up having those infamous two awake-surgeries in March, and we kind of put everything on hold, because nobody knew what was coming. Once I decided to put off surgery for the indefinite future, I brought up the idea of a trip again. If I was putting reconstruction on hold so that I could live my life for a bit, why wouldn’t we take that trip after all? The Camino was off, because I didn’t feel like I could step off a plane and walk 20-30km a day, having spent so much time recovering from surgery. Morocco was then likely off as well, because Portugal was out. Here’s where a neat little story that I’ve told just about everyone who will listen comes into play.
Having spent a great many hours sitting on my couch over the past year, I found myself gravitating towards travel magazines. I needed something to look forward to. A light at the end of the seemingly never-ending tunnel, so to speak. In one of said magazines, there was an article whose first line was ‘I was hoping Grasse would smell like my first love.’ . I was, obviously, hooked. The author spoke my language. He talked about the ‘alchemy of memory’. He described a perfume created for his woman as ‘Utter perfection: deep, woody, and like a flash of lightning on a pitch-black night, a touch of lingering jasmine.’ I read this article again and again, and pored over the photos of the tiny little town in the south of France, and decided I needed to go there some day. I also decided I needed to contact the author of the article and tell him just how perfect an audience his article had found. We exchanged a couple of emails, and I was very happy to send him a quick note a few weeks back to let him know we were, in fact, planning a trip around a visit to Grasse. He recommended a specific perfumist, whom we then researched and ended up spending an hour with in Grasse, in his tiny little store on Rue de l’oratoire, a narrow cobblestoned road in the heart of Grasse.
There was some interesting preparation necessary for this trip. Bathing suit shopping was agonizing, until it wasn’t. Anyone who has ever gone shopping for mastectomy bathing suits will likely agree that it is a market that desperately needs some work. As it turns out, a bandeau-style regular bikini works just fine, and I actually ended up having to narrow my choices down to two, because I had so many options. One hurdle conquered. Another was finding a magic brush and the perfect concoction of products so that I could tame the crazy chia-pet-like mass of curls I have growing on my head post-chemo. People are very kind; they tell me they think the curls are cute, and that I should just ‘go with it’. I assure them that the curls they are seeing are the result of three different straightening products and a blowdryer ‘concentrator’ and that my reality is very different from what they are witnessing. I knew that along the French Riviera the heat and humidity would combine to ensure that the photographic record I had of this trip would be heinous. As it turns out, scarves became my best friends. Because this kind of curl is pretty tough to manage when your hair is maybe 2 inches long. Scarf revelation: hurdle #2 conquered.
Yes. I am aware that I am very much diving into the ‘whining about first-world-problems’ pool right now. It’s very difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t had their entire appearance violently taken from them over the course of a year, through surgeries and chemicals and more surgeries and left-over-chemicals, how very much I long to feel like myself again, to recognize myself in the mirror again, to feel comfortable in my own skin. Months later, I am still feeling the effects of chemo and treatment, and it’s exhausting and frustrating and sometimes I want to scream, or cry, or both, like when I bit into some crusty bread at the airport on the way home and my already ragged front tooth chipped. Thank you, Taxol, for your lingering memories.
But I digress.
The trip. Nice, Grasse, Cannes, Antibes, Èze, Monaco, Menton – The French Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful. Each of these little towns was different from the one before, which is contrary to what I had previously been told about all of these little towns being so much alike. Nice – bustling, busy, noisy and beautiful. I spent every night there listening to the city noises late into the night and what I noticed was that I never failed to see someone ending their night just as someone else was starting their day.
Grasse – after an hour of ‘please-don’t-let-this-bus-go-flying-off-the-highway’ we arrived in Grasse, and wandered up and down its cobblestoned streets, explored the perfumery and learned all about each one of Didier Gagnewsky’s special concoctions and chose one for ourselves. We ate an extraordinary lunch and drank rosé in the sunshine and photographed sun-soaked buildings before leaving for Cannes. Cannes is where very large extravagant yachts are lined up in the Marina and where I learned there was another hurdle I was surprised by. Stepping onto the beach in Cannes, I was hit by one of those waves of anger, grief and need-for-flight when my eyes scanned the people around me and all I could see were breasts. I can’t think of anyone who would have loved to lounge topless on a beach in the south of France more than myself. That being ‘off the menu’ for the present, I choked back tears, stood dutifully in the water for the photo op, and escaped, taking the next ten minutes of walking to formulate my thoughts and calm down enough to let my mom and sister know that for me, the beach was off-limits on our trip to the French Riviera. More rosé, tears all around and a promise that I would do something different – like go to Italy for lunch – so that they could enjoy a beach day followed.
We wandered through Monaco and Menton, two very different towns – Monaco – pristine, organized, well-policed, and beautiful. Menton – earthy, laid-back, relaxed. We bused on the Corniches and trained to see the spectacular view from Èze, a small town perched on top of a mountain from whose castle one is granted a panoramic view of shoreline that would be difficult to rival.
Our last day in Nice, however, was special for an entirely different reason. I gathered courage, and yes – more rosé, and we had a beach afternoon. Something about lunch being served to us on the beach, and laying in the sunshine sneaking wine out of the ’emergency bottle’ in my sister’s bag convinced me to wander into the water. A generous push from my sister decided it for me, and I swam. I swam, I somersaulted, I soaked my curls in the salt water of the Mediterranean, and yes. Hurdle #3, conquered.
Spain? Well. That’s just an entirely different blog.