My friend Christine is an inspiration. A few years ago, this California girl wrote to me out of the blue saying that she would be moving to Nice and would like to help with my cooking classes. Her positive tone and obvious love of food made me want to meet her, and soon we were working side-by-side in my kitchen. During the months she spent in Nice, Christine also waited tables at a local pub and blogged about her experiences. She went on to become a well known travel blogger, exploring just about every corner of the world on her own and occasionally staying for long stints in places like Australia. Somehow, she found the time to send postcards and e-mails, and she continues to work with me at a distance, doing the maps for my Edible Paris itineraries. Christine is now settled in Brooklyn - at least as settled as she is ever likely to be - and I like to check into her blog to follow her ever-adventurous life. Recently, she wrote about The Happiness Project, and I found myself thinking about my own sources of happiness.
I'm fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, doing work I love, with a hilariously perceptive son and a circle of true friends that is growing all the time. So happiness should come easily, right? Sometimes, though, it's not that simple, and like anyone else I need to remember what makes me happy even as I get swept up in the swirling currents of life. There is no better time to pause and think about this than during La Rentrée, when the laid-back month of August comes to a halt like a car slamming on the brakes.
Christine mentioned thinking about what made us happy as children, and for me it was books. As long as I had a pile of books next to my bed, I felt safe and comforted. Today not much has changed. I briefly switched to a Kindle for the ease of downloading English books in a French-speaking country, but lately have been rediscovering the pleasure of paper. I still love well-written novels best, even if I might occasionally leaf through a mouthwatering cookbook before falling asleep.
I was the little girl doing backflips in the garden, and though the last time I tried to do a cartwheel I put my back out, yoga keeps me feeling flexible, grounded and young. I don't always take classes as often as I would like to, but once a week is a minimum and twice is the most I can hope for at the moment. In the past few years I have discovered the pleasure of practicing with different teachers, which keeps my mind open and forces me to go beyond my comfort zone.
3. The sea
As a child and teenager, I spent many summers with my family in Eastbourne, an English seaside resort. This is where I landed my first newspaper job, by walking into the offices of the local newspaper at age 17 and asking if they needed an intern. Their new intern had failed to show up that day, and next thing I knew, I was reporting on the circus by hanging from the trapeze and covering 50th wedding anniversaries in a town where most of the population is over 70. Fortunately, just about all the young people worked at the newspaper, which was overseen by a crotchety editor I'll never forget. Eric Redfern usually greeted me with the words, "So Rosa, did you paint the town red last night?" When I go back to Eastbourne, I now realize that in some ways it's a miniature version of Nice (without the good weather), its pebbly seaside lined with white buildings. Most of the time, I forget that the sea is just five minutes from my door, but this summer I swam most mornings and on Sundays treated myself to a lounge chair and iced coffee at Castel Plage - the ultimate luxury.
It's a little funny that, having grown up in a Canadian province known for its vast expanses of prairie and "big sky", I now live in a 400-year-old building in a street so narrow that I can hear my neighbor snoring. Having visited Prague recently to explore my Czech roots, I understand that my love of centuries-old buildings runs deep. To compensate for the lack of open space at home, I like to go for long walks in the mountains, though I don't do this nearly often enough since I have also chosen to live without a car.
I would describe myself as an introvert who loves people (yes, there are also extroverts who don't like people). I'm very comfortable with my own company, but I like to know that friends are nearby, and I get a little panicky if they are not (this is why I don't travel alone very much, unless it's to places where I already have friends). I think there is always room in my life for new friends, and always time for the old ones. With them, we can pick up where we left off even if we haven't seen each other for years.
When I was growing up we travelled a lot, spending most summers in Europe. Now I'm fortunate to live in a place where in 40 minutes I can be in a different country, sipping a real cappuccino surrounded by joyous Italians. Rather than explore a new destination on every trip, I prefer to establish a relationship with a city or country, be it New York, Vancouver or Guatemala, and go back as often as I can.
7. British TV
I won't surprise anyone by saying that I loved Downton Abbey, but currently I'm on the last few episodes of Doc Martin, about a surgeon totally devoid of social skills who, after suddenly developing a phobia of blood, becomes a family doctor in a small seaside town full of eccentric characters. Nearly as comforting as having a pile of books near my bed.
I'll bet you thought I would never mention this. Food has always made me happy and always will. Lately, though, I like to remind myself that there is more to life than my first love, cake. I get huge pleasure from cooking and eating nourishing foods, and think it's a shame that "healthy" and "pleasure" rarely coexist in the same sentence. This year, I'm studying part-time for a certificate in Dietary Counselling at the Institute of Health Science in Dublin, so that I can encourage others to make themselves happy with healthy food. But I won't give up cake altogether - happiness is about balance above all. Oh, and did I mention champagne?
Thank you to my friends George Crawley for the photo taken of me during a polo match in Monaco and Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen for the photo of Castel Plage, snapped with his iPhone on a perfect Sunday morning in August.