Last Thanksgiving my daughter suggested we do something big for my really big birthday that was coming up in June. I won’t tell you how big of a birthday it was going to be, let’s just say it wasn’t my 21st.
My daughter loves to travel so she suggested we all go to France to celebrate in the small village where my grandmother was born – St. Etienne de Baigorry. Located in the Pyrenees mountains at the border between France and Spain, Baigorry is a Basque town and a very special place for all of my extended Craviotto family. Here’s Baigorry:
After my grandmother – “Nanie” – passed away in 1972, my grandfather – “Bobby” – decided that he wanted to take all of his grandchildren to France to show them where his wife, Jenny Ocafrain, had been born. There were six grandchildren – I was the oldest at twenty-three and my cousin Eileen was the youngest at eleven. Here’s a picture of Bobby and Eileen as we waited for the train in Bayonne:
My brother Jim and our three cousins, Dan, John, and Cathleen, were in their teens. Oh and my grandfather was 82. The seven of us traveled for twenty-three days and nights across Europe and we spent a whole week in Baigorry, staying in the small inn that our great uncle had helped finance with the money he had made as a sheepherder in the Paso Robles area of California. Here’s a photo of my sheepherder uncle, Uncle Jean (“Uncle Johnny” to us kids).
That trip was an amazing adventure (I might do a post about it one of these days) because we all fell in love with Baigorry. Since that first trip, all of us have gone back – as a matter of fact, our family still owns 23 acres of land there and the 250-year-old stone house where my grandmother was born still stands on the land where our neighbor now pastures his sheep. Every Basque house has a family name and this is ours, the House of Magnanea:
My children are the only ones in our extended family who haven’t visited Baigorry, and so this year on June 25th all seven of us were going to fly into Paris and then take the train to Bayonne where we would rent two cars and drive into the beautiful Pyrenees to experience Pays Basque and Baigorry.
And then, the pandemic hit.
Not being able to go to Baigorry made me want to go there even more. I started to think about all of the things I would miss by not being there: the beauty of the land, the delicious wines, the lovely flowers, the food, the people…The more I thought about it, the more items I added to my list and then, I got an idea. Maybe I could recreate Baigorry and the French Basque experience for the day: right there in my own home in California.
I turned to the internet for help: I entered “French Wine” into Google Search and Voilá! Wines.com appeared with its long list of French wines available for delivery. I entered “French cheeses” into Google Search and Voilá! Fromages.com appeared with its variety of authentic French cheeses, many of them from the Pyrenees, delivered directly from France. The more I kept searching on Google the more items I found that reminded me of Baigorry and traveling through France. I could definitely create a French/Basque experience in my home: the sights, the tastes, the smells, (French cheeses can be stinky!). But the part of traveling to France I would miss the most, that I couldn’t order over the internet, would be the time spent with my family – with my son Josh and his wife Simone, and our four-year-old grandson Stokely, and our daughter Katie and our son-in-law Jason. The experiences we would have shared in-person in France is what we would have valued the most from our trip. The challenge now would be how to have the same kind of experiences together while we physically had to stay apart. But maybe there was a way – if we could be creative – to share our French experiences as a family – virtually – as we drank the same wines, ate the same cheeses, macarons, croissants…
I spent the whole month of June ordering three of everything – wines, cheeses, French tablecloths, Spanish cured ham, black cherry preserves from a little village twenty minutes from Baigorry…and hoping that everything arrived on time and in one piece. There were a few glitches along the way: smashed macarons sent to the wrong city, frozen croissants that defrosted along the way and ended up in a large blob of dough. Thank Goodness the wines all arrived safely! We worked around any mistakes that happened and ordered locally for replacement items. And on June 28th – my really BIG birthday – all three of our families gathered in front of our Facebook Portals and enjoyed a virtual French Basque pintxo (hors d’oeuvres) party.
I am still smiling.
Here are some pictures and a couple of little videos.
(I hope that all of you are finding ways to stay connected with family and close friends as we navigate the challenges of these pandemic days. You don’t necessarily have to be in the same space with another person to feel close, to feel connected. Humans have been blessed with an imagination and through our imagination anything is possible. Consider it your own personal virtual reality. It can take you many places, beyond your home, beyond the restrictions we’re all feeling right now. Stay well. Be safe. Be creative. )