Warm greetings to everyone for a safe and healthy 2021 – and hopeful for a changed world, too. The promises are there – in vaccines, in new leadership, in new ways of working and living together. And for a calm and quiet holiday at the end of this memorable year.
We start this musing with a rainbow of hopefulness, thanks to Peppy’s great photography capturing an unusual wintry rainbow from our poolside view of the town of Grasse in November 2020.
When this year of 2020 started, a pandemic was sweeping across the world. In spite of the warnings from epidemiologists, most of us went through the first two months of the year as if everything was on a usual schedule – an impeachment proceeding that set the stage for a crucial Presidential election in the US, a preoccupation with the prospects of a no-deal Brexit in Europe and a disconnect between national politics and municipal elections in France. There was plenty of material for Kathy’s blogging activities while Peppy was finetuning his photographic skills and tackling the ongoing renovations of Villa Ndio. We were also celebrating the arrival of our first grandchild who was born in early January in Richmond, VA, with happy prospects of family visits to Villa Ndio in May and August and December.
In addition, we had started the planning for a summer trip to the US for Peppy’s ISB (high school) reunion and a White House Fellows class reunion back at Villa Ndio in September. We had a fully booked summertime schedule of Airbnb visitors at Villa Ndio – plus time set aside for friends who were planning to stop by in connection with their European holiday cruises or cycling tours. Great beginnings for what we thought would be a fulfilling 2020.
The warning signals were there, but it seemed so inconceivable. What a transformation! Or, actually, what a transmogrification! And here we are approaching the end of 2020 with ten months of shock to the system – and more yet to come. For us in March, even though we had already started taking safety measures, when lockdown was implemented in France, it was dramatic. Everything closed down – airports, train stations, schools, museums, theaters, offices, shops, sports facilities, parks, beaches. Wow! Kathy’s English classes, her monitoring the municipal election in Grasse and her training to be a Grasse ambassador were all suspended. Grocery stores and pharmacies stayed open but with strict entry and mask requirements, and we quickly learned to order our groceries online. Kathy even learned how to make homemade masks and distributed samples to the neighbors.
Peppy concentrated his photography on the birds and insects and butterflies , mostly on our own terrain or a field close by. (
Even so, we thought it would end in mid-April – this pandemic would be quickly brought under control – here and everywhere else. We cancelled the AirBnb bookings for Villa Ndio month by month. Well, the first lockdown lasted until May, but by then we had cancelled all our summer bookings; family visits for May and August were scratched, our own summertime visit to the States was scratched; cruise ships and cycling tours were cancelled; and the White House Fellows class reunion was postponed to 2021. We had all started, finally, to absorb the seriousness of the pandemic.
Poolside benches remained empty. But then in the early summer everyone seemed to be encouraged by the downward trend in the numbers, and so we held on for a while longer to the hope that a steady downward trend would at least make it possible for us to have a family visit in December.
As it turned out, deconfinement in the summer months was gradual but ultimately overdone – both in the States and here in Europe. And here there was no comparable summer surge as there was in the US. During the hiatus, Peppy was able to take his cameras farther afield but also got serious with renovating the dining room. Meanwhile, we cautiously enjoyed visits with friends (but none from overseas), attentive to the wearing of masks and proper social distancing by the pool. In August it was a few days with Chris Shepherd and daughter Vanessa from Geneva and later, three generations of Poznanskis from nearby, and in September with Barbara Zolty from Geneva as well. Our chicken kabobs on the grill were a big hit. And so was our new dining room.
But a surge in cases across the country became a delayed second wave and led to a second lockdown in October. So no in-door dining with visitors, after all! And here we are with record-speed vaccine development, on the one hand, and the certainty of worse months ahead, on the other, before the vaccine(s) can be widely enough distributed to make a difference.
We have been swept along in the amazon and zooming world of capitalism and communications to do more and more from our homes. The world around us has been tumultuous. Not only has the catastrophe of a pandemic altered our daily routines, but the tsunami of racial awareness rushed over us as we all became witnesses to the brutal murder of George Floyd and the god-awful behavior of Trump and his Republican sycophants in the Presidential election. Kathy shifted her blogging to reflections on both racism and COVID-19, and Peppy tracked the polling numbers daily in the midst of his hammering away at renovations. As two of the early voters by mail, we watched the Presidential election results from afar, hour by hour, day by day, and yes, week by crazy week.
At some point along the way, we were both inspired to do some serious dieting in our isolation, while another appealing diversion within our cocoonish world was an abundant olive harvest. A harvest that Peppy knew something about this time around, with his buckets and nets and tree rakes at the ready. (We had learned a thing or two our first time harvesting our olive trees in 2018 but had been disappointed that the erratic weather patterns in 2019 had destroyed the olives throughout the region in 2019.) Peppy has taken charge of the effort, aided from time to time by Kathy’s willingness to go around the yard picking stray olives off the ground – lots of them, actually! So we shed pounds from our bodies but gathered lots more pounds (kilograms) from our olive trees, and we now have a generous supply of Villa Ndio olive oil!
Where do we go from here? Nowhere! We’re staying tight right here at Villa Ndio. A holiday for two, enriched by family and friends and collaborators and colleagues through Skype and Zoom. We are enjoying the newly renovated dining room where we happily celebrated our first Thanksgiving feast for two.
We also enjoy the technology that lets us see the daily changes in Remy’s transformation from infant to toddler – soon to celebrate his first birthday on January 4th.
And we get to see how Becky and Scott are overseeing an addition to their home, building their pet care business and adjusting to the permanent closure of their restaurant business;
as well as how Kristina and Julian are adjusting to their first home ownership (and child-rearing) experiences in Richmond and Kristina’s career advancement to managing a statewide campaign for family leave protections;
and how PJ is adjusting to a home base in Richmond with girl friend Sarah while working on a beverage tax with small businesses on the streets of Washington, DC or applying the same strategies for the Democratic Senate candidates in Atlanta, Georgia – and enjoying the benefits of being Remy’s uncle!.
We’re OK, after all. We expect that 2021 will be better for all of us – as long as we stay safe and healthy. So that is our wish to all for 2021 – safety and health (and a win for PJ’s efforts on behalf of two Democratic candidates in Georgia)! Please join in taking extra precautions in this holiday season and in the risky months ahead. With a global pandemic still out of control, we are safe only when everyone is safe.
Love to all from the Villa Ndio Duo, Peppy and Kathy (aka Ralph Doggett and Katherine Hagen)