My Pandemic Perfect Birthday

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:

Eileen and Bobbie

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:

Mananea House & Barn

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! appeared with its long list of French wines available for delivery.  I entered “French cheeses” into Google Search and Voilá! 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.


Dars 70th #3

(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. )


22 thoughts on “My Pandemic Perfect Birthday

  1. You had a very clever idea to make the most of these challenging time! Wish I had thought of something like that for our cancelled 25th Anniversary trip to Portugal. P.S. count me in for a Fiesta Party if that happens ❤️❤️🎉🌹🌹

    Liked by 1 person

    • Virtual Viva La Fiesta! Let’s put our heads together and come up with ideas. Who wants to sit around at home drinking margaritas by themselves? I happen to have a carton filled with cascarones and I’m itching for a reason to crack one or two open. Let’s start planning the menu now and make up a guest list. Email me or call me or contact me here. I’m keeping my distance from Facebook right now.


  2. What a fantastic idea (and a late Happy birthday if I didn’t tell you before)! I have been toying with the idea of doing something similar as a family reunion as my adult children, grandchildren, and great-grands are spread throughout the country. Two of us have portals but there’s the new FB app now to try as well (I like the portal idea). Thanks for sharing this special day, Darlene!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should definitely do a family reunion – what fun that would be! The great thing about Portal (and I’m not a Zuckerberg fan, at ALL) is that the picture is much sharper than any of the other formats I’ve used. Also, I love that the camera will track you if you get up and move around. Nothing else does that and it opens up all kinds of cinema possibilities. Also, you can use a Portal to call someone who doesn’t even have a Portal, so that’s definitely a plus. I think you’d have a lot of fun planning a family reunion, Linda. Get as creative as you like – your imagination has no boundaries. Plan a menu, a theme, change your background, do it outside, inside, use music, share photos, wear costumes, sing together, dance. Or simply sit and talk with one another, face-to-face, without masks getting in your way, relaxed and connecting with the people who you love in your life. And if you do a virtual family reunion I’d love to hear all about it. I’m avoiding Facebook right now until they get their act together regarding their posting policy and hate speech, but you can always find me here. Leave a comment at any one of my posts, or go to “Contact” and leave me a comment. I’ll always answer. Have fun! Stay well. Be safe. Be creative. And thanks for reading my post.


  3. Dear Darlene, it looks like a beautiful Birthday!!! I could even smell the cheese!
    I was thinking about you the whole June… I couldn’t figure out when exactly you gonna celebrate… now I know it! And it’s easy to remember – on July 28th is my turn to have a party 🙂
    I wonna say thank you. Ten years ago I was reading the first scene between Julie and Alice. We wanted to make a short movie …. it never happened. But two years later, after another failed audion I’ve hold the dialogue again in my hand and decided to play it all. For the rest of the year you were indirectly with me while I was translating “Pizza Man” during the work breaks, other rehearsals and on the weekends. You gave me so much power to create my own life the way I wanted it. And you helped a lot with the German theaterproduction as well! Thank you! I would even go so far to say, without you I’d never be with the future father of my son – as he invited me to the first date I said: “you’ll have only 2 hours – I have an amazing play to translate” – this sentence is often quoted in our family. If the Big Plan comes true, and we gonna finally do our USA trip next year, I’d be more than happy to have a chance to express my gratitude personally…. I wish you a safe and warm summer! Greetings from Berlin, Julia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhhhh, Julia, what lovely words. You make me smile and feel so happy to know “Pizza Man” had such a positive effect on your life. It did the same for me when I wrote the play, and I always feel a special connection to all the actors who have ever said Julie’s words, or Alice’s or Eddie’s. What year did you perform the play? I would love to see the poster or the program. Maybe you could take a photo and send it digitally to me? You can reach me through the contact page here on my blog, or at darlenecraviotto AT darlenecraviotto DOT com. (I have to spell it out so someone doesn’t send me a boatload of spam) I send you birthday greetings for July 28th and hope you have a wonderful new year of much love, laughter, and beautiful memories. Greetings from California, Darlene


  4. Many happy returns of the day for you! What a pretty place Baigorry is.May you and your family enjoyi an actual trip there next year. But what a fab idea you had and carried out for a virtual party under lockdown this year.We could do with such a party at any time–in or out of lockdown– because our children are very,very rarely at home.After graduation from university they have been working abroad and we have been obliged to visit them, the elder more often as he is permanently in England, the younger less often because he is more of a traveller, sent by his company to a new post every four years. This year he was in Shanghai and, fortunately, decided to visit us during the Chinese New Year clebration in January. He is still with us and starts work using his computer and telephone at 6am Cairo time which is midday Shanghai time.

    Please stay safe and keep writing. I love reading what you write, for which I thank you. It is always heart warming, helping to lift me out of plunges into the doldrums

    Liked by 1 person

    • On no, no doldrums! Nothing good ever comes from those dark places. I think that’s why I write, why I try to use my imagination and be creative as much as I can so I can stay out of those dangerous doldrums. I hope that we are able to take away from these pandemic months many new positive ways to enrich our lives. With so many of your children beyond your reach I hope you have a way of connecting with them visually. I find that this really helps me – just to be able to look into their eyes and to see their beautiful faces inspires me and lifts my spirits. I strongly recommend it. Please stay safe, my friend – I look forward to seeing you here and to having you read my posts. And I love speaking to you through these comments. Be well. Be creative. Be safe.


    • I am 100% with you on that! It was a birthday that I will always remember and I encourage anyone who has a special event they want to celebrate to put on their thinking caps and create a once-in-a-lifetime event.


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