One December, 2009 to be exact, I had the notion to skip my favorite holiday. I was newly alone, and needed to get away from all that was familiar, especially all the sights and sounds reminding me that this would be a different kind of Christmas for me.
Even though I had just come home that September from a month-long vacation in Nice, AND even though I could most definitely not afford it, I decided that this would be a place where feeling sad would still be beautiful. Deep sadness is a thing of beauty, after all, and should be properly appreciated and experienced.
So I bought a ticket to return to my second home in the South of France, and settled into an apartment on the tenth floor of an old monastery in the Old Town of Nice. Ten long flights of gorgeous marble stairs surrounding an inner courtyard. Up, up, up until finally I was at the last flight of ladder-like steps leading to my tiny apartment at the very top.
It was a spectacular place, despite having to climb all those stairs! I could see over the rooftops of the Old Town all the way out to the sea. It was a very good place to ponder and cry and read and luxuriate in my aloneness.
I had been to Nice many times on vacations with (and without) my family. As I said, I consider it my second home. But Nice in December was something new for me. Starkly beautiful. The smokey grey sky, the moody cold winter blue of the water, caps of foamy white on the breaking waves. It was in a word, lovely.
Of course, Christmas was still happening in Nice. However, this usually bustling beach resort town was relatively cold, quiet and tourist-less.
I walked along the beach during the day, and dined in empty restaurants with steamed windows after dark. And each night, before climbing the stairs, I sat outside bundled up in all my clothes for a final glass of wine at the little bar beneath my place.
One day during this two-week foray, I believe it was the 20th of December, there was a fierce storm. The wind was howling, and the waves breaking all the way up at street level. It was wild, and people gathered on the shoreline to watch the storm rise, all of us hypnotized by the crashing waves. That night it snowed and dusted the rooftops.
I also had a visitor that night.
From a ghost.
He climbed into my bed, which of course woke me up. I pushed him out and screamed. I still remember the weight of him. It took all my strength to shove him out.
I was terrified for the rest of the night. All the lights stayed on. I was sure that I had woken the neighbors downstairs.
The next day, as I was leaving the apartment, I recounted my experience to the neighbor directly below me. Nothing to be afraid of, he said. Just one of the old monks. They still lived in the place, it seemed, and didn’t always like the visitors. Fortunately, he didn’t bother me again.
As Christmas Eve slowly approached, I started to lose my resolve to skip Christmas. What was I doing? Why wasn’t I home with my family like everyone else? Why was I alone on Christmas? In another country?
I called the airline and quickly arranged to change my flight. It cost me hundreds of dollars, but I didn’t care. My ex-husband to be picked me up at the airport, and we spent Christmas together after all.
Though, gladly, I didn’t succeed in skipping Christmas that year, I treasure this odd and beauty-filled winter sojourn to the South of France. Sadness and dark beauty go well together.
Power to the Journey