Provence in Winter (photo by the author)
Happy New Year (a wee bit late)! I have grown to love the celebrations that ring in the New Year. Perhaps I am just a sucker for rituals. But I do think there is something positive in the sense of new beginnings that a new year can bring. We need markers in life. The transition from one year to the next is, in my mind, an excellent moment to celebrate and reflect, to honor what has been and what we can imagine. And in that ritual of celebration we can connect to a larger community of people.
The particular community that I am thinking of is that mass of people making resolutions. These are my people. In the United States, at least, almost half of the adult population make resolutions at the beginning of a new year. I am one of them. Every year for as long as I can remember, I have set goals and resolutions at the beginning of the year. Usually, I am one of those folks who can stay with them. I periodically check in with myself and diligently journal about my progress.
In the two most recent years, I dedicated myself to maximizing what I already possessed. This meant appreciating and maximizing what I already had in my life. What it led to was a purging my house of unnecessary clutter, streamlining my wardrobe, focusing on a more minimalist and frugal lifestyle, and nurturing my existing relationships. The payoff was big: a closer relationship with my children, enough savings to take us to Italy for a semester with a few side trips to England and the south of France, and a sense of being more in control of my finances and home life. I was very pleased with how small changes accumulated to mean a major (and permanent) shift in my life.
So with that kind of success, you would think that I would have my 2017 resolutions in place. As luck would have it, I rang in the 2017 New Year sitting on a beach in the south of France with an amazing bottle of champagne watching fireworks. Seriously? How inspirational is that? And, yet, my resolutions simply didn’t come to me. Even my children, who are a bit skeptical of my yearly ritual, were wondering if I was feeling well. My resolutions are usually pursued like a research project with preparatory readings and study. This year I drew a blank.
That is…until I started to head home. The day before we were to depart from France I found myself anxious to buy little banal things that are easy to find in France but expensive or hard to find in the U.S.—varying types of finishing salt for the table, a face mask that I love, those lovely hand-made soaps that are so easy to find in Provence. My son is living in France so there was no reason to frantically search for these items. Yet, I felt that sense of urgency. That is when it hit me…my impulse buying and desire for banal items was an attempt to hang on to and extend my experience. I was trying to take France with me, to extend the pleasure of being in this place where I feel most at ease and return with this sense of well-being.
As we wound our way back through Italy to take the flight home, it occurred to me that this longing for France told me something very important. It is a place that I had lived off and on during my 20s for extended periods of time. Throughout my 30s, I returned each year in May for an extended summer stay. It has only been in recent years that my annual “French bath,” as my friends always called it, has stopped. Clearly, I longed for that sense of connectedness to the culture and language and countryside. Material goods, like soaps, were simply a physical manifestation of this linkage.
With this in mind, I decided, a bit belatedly, to dedicate myself to reconnecting to France and my sense of Frenchness in whatever form that takes—reading French novels, updating my repertoire of French movies, periodically picking up my French cook books, and living with the elegance and daily beauty that I associate with my version of France. I resolved to make 2017 my year of reconnecting with France and my French roots. It was clearly what I needed…a way of feeling bien dans ma peau.
A year dedicated to self-care and my own well-being via France doesn’t exactly break down into a list of achievable goals like, say, lose 5 pounds. But, luckily, I have blogs and book authors and old gurus, such as Julia Childs, to guide me. This past week I started with something very small that I remember from my years of living in France. Having fresh flowers in the house. A quick trip to Trader Joe’s (since my frugal ways have not diminished) and a couple of DIY Youtube videos on floral arranging…and I have a bedside bouquet that has given me a little daily dose of joy and elegance. As I know from all my years of resolutions, small changes accumulate…