(Author’s Note: This short story is a follow-up to Expat Tales – How Do You Know…? , which pondered the question of knowing WHEN it’s time to leave your adopted homeland and move on…)
Part 1 – The Woman
A “50-something” blonde woman sits at an outdoor cafe on a sunny Saturday morning, slowly stirring her cappuccino as her sleepy mind drifts. The chime of the bells on the nearby clock tower suddenly breaks the spell, “Gong, gong, gong…” Ten o’clock.
Across the narrow cobblestone street of this Old Nice neighborhood, people gather at the morning fish market. The smells of today’s catch drift in her direction. Seagulls circle overhead, cawing and diving, hoping for a fresh scrap of tasty fish guts.
She passes the time people-watching as she sips her cappuccino and slowly wakes up. Some people pass the cafe in a rush while others linger at the nearby butcher shop or stop to smell the fresh flowers on sale at the neighborhood flower market.
Finishing her cappuccino, she orders another and settles back into her chair. She can finally relax. Her intricate plan for a brief escape from her comfortable but stagnant life in Taiwan has been a huge success – house sitting her way through southern England. Now, with a weeklong break between house sits, she pays a visit to a friend living in Nice hoping for a bit of winter sun.
This beautiful Saturday morning finds her alone at the cafe while her friend sleeps in.
The woman thinks back to her life in Taiwan – remembering the stress of leaving the comforts of life in the US and the struggle of starting over, learning to teach in order to survive. But after 4 years, the thrill of life in Asia has waned and she wonders if it’s time for a change…time to finally move on.
Move on to where? That’s the burning question.
She’s studied the map of Central America and after careful consideration (and hours of google research) has settled on the idea of Guatemala. Friends have raved about the natural beauty, interesting culture, and kind people of Guatemala. Fortunately, she’s secured a house sit in Antigua, Guatemala in a few months.
The four-week sit should give her taste of Guatemala and answer the important question: “Could I actually live there?”
Part 2 – The Wine
Four women gather at an outdoor cafe in Plaza Garibaldi, a popular square in the historic Old Town area of Nice.
Rosemary is from Scotland and speaks French fluently after spending part of her childhood living in Paris. She speaks softly with a dry British wit. Kim is an American expat and the youngest of the group. She’s tall with long hair and the athletic build of a not-yet-40-something -the kind of woman that other women envy even though she’s incredibly kind and humble, seemingly unaware of her charismatic beauty. And finally, there’s sweet Moe – another American expat and the glue connecting this diverse group of women.
They’ve gathered here today to catch up over a glass or two of happy hour chardonnay and introduce the Blonde to the Nice lifestyle.
As the talk turns to men, (doesn’t it always?) the Blonde quietly listens while her mind wanders back to the life she left in Taiwan. Peaceful but lacking something. (Men, for one thing…)
In Taiwan, she goes mostly unnoticed by the local people and often feels invisible. When people look at her, they see just another foreign teacher who doesn’t speak Chinese. She’s a bit odd and someone few can really relate to.
Lacking any real connection to the culture or the people, she’s slipped into a shell. Dating? Not even a consideration at her advanced age of 50-something. Most evenings are spent on her patio, listening to music, sometimes sipping a glass of wine. Usually alone but not really lonely. Content and at peace, but that’s all. Grateful to have stumbled into a peaceful life after the stress of leaving the US with no real plan.
“Isn’t that enough?” she asks herself.
Her mind rejoins the conversation as she shifts her focus to being in this moment – sitting at this outdoor cafe in the beautiful Plaza Garibaldi on this sunny late February evening. Slightly buzzed from the chardonnay, she begins to emerge from her shell like the snails that invade her garden back in Taiwan.
Suddenly, a Chardonnay epiphany jolts her like a slap across the face – THIS is what’s been missing! Something as simple as sharing a glass of wine with a few girlfriends at an outdoor cafe. One of life’s simple but necessary pleasures.
“Will I find this simple pleasure in Guatemala?” she wonders.
Happy hour draws to a close and the women finish their wine, say their goodbyes, and go their separate ways. Moe and the Blonde wander through the cobblestone streets of Old Nice toward a favorite jazz club, Shapko, to hear whatever local talent is on display. Shapko is a small, quirky place with an ornate chandelier and large Persian rug decorating the stage where amazing bands perform nightly.
On this night it’s 70’s Classic Rock. The two women grab stools at the bar and join the band singing the songs of their younger years, remembering every word. Rolling Stones. Jackson Browne. Neil Young. The small club is crowded but not claustrophobic and the joy and energy are infectious. People dance like nobody’s watching with uninhibited freedom.
Live music. Passionate people. Energy. Fun. Life!
The Blonde’s shell cracks a bit more as she dances on her bar stool, moving her hips to the pulsing beat of Classic Rock.
Finally, after a night of 70’s flashbacks, it’s closing time and the women walk slowly up the narrow cobblestone alley toward home. The night is silent except for the “clack, clack, clack…” sound of their heels echoing loudly with every step, bouncing off the walls of 17th-century buildings lining the alley. Slightly buzzed on a little too much chardonnay, they burst into laughter and continue on tip-toe to avoid waking the neighbors.
“Guatemala? Guatemala who?” the Blonde wonders as they giggle their way home.
Part 3 – The Look
A month later, the Blonde returns to Nice for a long weekend. She’s determined to answer the burning question:
“Was Nice just a crush or could it become more? Could this place be the beginning of something really special?”
An amazing live music scene. Sipping chardonnay with girlfriends at an outdoor cafe. Exploring ancient nearby villages. The Mediterranean Sea. The simple pleasures of life.
With the score heavily favoring Nice over a fading fascination with Guatemala, Moe and the Blonde finish their wine at a local gay bar, “Le Bitch”, and walk next door to their favorite hangout, Shapko. Tonight’s band is one they’ve never heard. The door opens and they’re drawn into the pulsing, funky music filling the space of the small club, energizing the large crowd.
As the women enter, he looks up. Their eyes meet and a huge smile spreads across his handsome face.
“Wow, he actually sees me!” she realizes as a smile lights up her eyes.
She’s no longer invisible and the remains of her shell melt away and slip silently to the floor.
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(Wine photo credit via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/4d216e”>Visualhunt.com</a>)