Elizabeth Gabay

“People forget quickly,” says Elizabeth Gabay, “Many people presume life has returned to normal – they do not realise the extent of the devastation. Both the Vesubie and La Roya should not be forgotten. We need faith and optimism.”

Elizabeth lives in Saint-Martin-Vésubie, one of the villages heaviest hit by Storm Alex eight weeks ago, on the night of October 3, that left 8 people dead and 11 missing in France. The town, with a population of 1,411 (Source: INSEEE 2017), was cut off from the rest of the world when its roads were washed away, along with hundreds of coffins from the local cemetery. To date, over 80 homes have been lost and this number continues to rise as the land remains unstable and wet winter weather is upon us. Temporary roads now provide a lifeline for the town but the Vesubie still has no sewage treatment works.

“It was like a war zone with helicopters 24/7. Three days after the storm, everyone was saying we would have to evacuate, which meant the village would be abandoned and die. There were no roads and we were isolated. About half the village left. The rest of us decided to fight to keep the village going,” Elizabeth describes.

“Communal soup kitchens and animal rescue were set up, counselors brought in to assist those suffering from trauma. Many people who lost homes have been temporarily lodged elsewhere, some in holiday accommodation in the village. People are being very stoic, tearful but moving on, while others have cracked from the stress of losing papers and photos. For some older people, they have lost everything and need to start again.”

For Elizabeth, one thing that has been very noticeable over the past two months is that “the expat community on the Coast seems very unresponsive to the disaster” in a town some 40 kilometres north of Monaco. So how did she end up in this commune on the edge of a glacial plate in the first place?

From City Life To Village Walks

Elizabeth moved to Saint-Martin-Vésubie eighteen years ago from London. “My husband and I and two small children decided to have an adventure and move to France. We looked round all the wine regions and Paris, but a chance discovery of Saint-Martin was a coup de coeur,” she recalls.

She was no stranger to the South of France. Although Elizabeth was born in New York, her mother missed Europe and her parents returned to the U.K. when she was two. As her father was from the Mediterranean and a native French speaker, every holiday they came south.

“In the 1980s my parents bought a holiday home in the Var. I had worked in the theatre, backpacked round the world and was looking for what next. In 1986, I set up my own business representing Provence vineyards in the U.K.”

As only one of 400 people in the world accredited as a Master of Wine (there are three in the Alpes-Maritimes), Elizabeth is an authority on the wines of southern France (and central Europe), and a Provence specialist for the Wine Scholar Guild (formerly the French Wine Society), guiding tours around the region and giving regular webinars on the wines of Provence and rosé. She has written the definitive book on rosé, Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution.

Although she had a strong link to the region, village life was not quite the same as the buzz of London with its large mix of people, museums, and theatre. “95% of people in the Vésubie are local French and we have found it harder to have as active a social life as in London. Still, it is never lonely; every time we walk into the village we meet people we know – so I love the community of a small village. Weekends and summers give wider diversity – a chance to meet some interesting people. Life in London with small children was expensive and my kids have had an ideal childhood here, as it is safe to go out and play, and there is a large garden and woods to explore.”

She says that although her family is accepted and part of the community – they are also very involved in organizing the Marche de la Memoire, the annual walk commemorating the deportation of Jews in St Martin Vésubie in September 1943 – they “sometimes feel, even after 18 years, like outsiders.”

A formidable tambola (raffle), running until December 16 in
aid of victims of Storm Alex, has been set up by French singer Julien Doré, whose grandparents were from the Vésubie valley.

On Top Of The Disaster, There Is Covid And Accusations

In Saint-Martin-Vésubie, the risk of getting Covid has increased as 1,000 workers were brought in for search and rescue of bodies, helping those stranded, building temporary roads and services, and stabilizing risky buildings. (Elizabeth points out that its thanks to Nice mayor Christian Estrosi and MP Eric Ciotti the town wasn’t abandoned and left to die.)

Mayor Ivan Mottet, 73, has not been strict about lockdown, but Elizabeth and her family have chosen to be stricter and remain quite isolated

“Lockdown has been emotionally very difficult. We had a long week of one café being open and it was packed everyday with those of us who had stayed on. We needed the community and to be able to chat.

“The mayor and the municipal were elected in June and were out of their depth at the beginning. The prefecture sent up a crisis management team for three weeks. The town hall is working very hard but communication is not their strong point so there has been a lot of anger. And in the meantime, villagers are discussing plans for the future, which is not always easy as everyone has a different agenda on which direction to go to revitalise a village that was already in decline for various reasons,” Elizabeth says.

She adds, “Insurance companies have ranged from fantastic to real bastards. I heard today that a resident has not been able to get to her house for 8 weeks. All the roads around her home have gone but, miraculously, the house is still standing even though she cannot access clothes or papers or anything. Insurers say that the house is still there so nothing to pay.”

There is concern over the lack of transparency, information and consultation of residents by mayor Mottet (who won with only 59.89% of the vote), and especially his decision, as reported in Nice-Matin, to take away control of the distribution of donations from the non-profit organisation, Secours Populaire. Facing critics shouting cronyism – “all the friends will benefit, the others will have to make do” – the mayor defends his decision by saying the Secours Populaire has overly restrictive criteria for receiving aid: “You have to be below a certain income threshold to benefit from it, so what we’re talking about here is giving out to people who have lost everything.” he told the French daily.

Hélène Martin, who launched a collective in her neighborhood so that the residents “are not forgotten” has said that “between the prefect, the metropolis, the department and the elected officials, there are people who speak for the Vésubie … but inhabitants are afraid of not having their voice.”

Covid And The Wine Industry

With Covid and lockdowns this year, Elizabeth says her “income has been devastated” but she is no longer travelling on a weekly basis, which was part of her work as a senior wine consultant. “I have been very busy working online, writing mostly for trade magazines to support the struggling wine industry and to help vineyards.”

She launched a weekly Instagram live chat with a wine colleague called #iloverocknrosé.

With more people staying put this holiday season, it could be a time to discover local wines. “Of course, a glass of bubbly – a Pink Prosecco has just been launched by the appellation. Villa Sandhi – is lovely. I increasingly find sparkling wines are better if decanted, not too cold and in a normal, not flute glass brings out the fruit.

“I am a great fan of sweet and fortified wines, they feel very special as they are not part of everyday drinking. Although I do not eat foie gras, a sweet wine with cheese, salty nibbles, dessert or on its own really is heart-warming.

“I taste a lot of rosé, L’irreductible from Domaine Bégude in Bandol is great for winter, and if you have leftovers – mulled rosé is delicious – more delicate and the chance for more fragrant spices.”

When The Storm Passes

When the rain stopped at 4 pm on October 4, the main street of Saint-Martin-Vésubie was a flood of water and rocks. “The village square, full of firemen, was strangely silent. My son and I walked to the Vésubia sports centre and saw the size of the muddy torrential river,” Elizabeth narrates.

“I think that was when it first hit us. The park, tennis courts, car park had all gone. We saw the petrol station fall – in my memory in slow motion, none of the panic or hysterics you think – there were about five of us in shocked silence. The gendarmerie has gone, the brewery, builders’ yards… the cemetery is going… someone shouted “GET OFF THE BRIDGE!” …. We were still in slow motion.

“We went home and saw the level of the Madone river at the bottom of our garden had risen dangerously. My husband still thought the biggest problem was water coming into the cellar. Without power, we lit the fire, opened the fridge carefully, ate dinner by candlelight and closed the shutters to hide the noise of the rocks crashing down the river.”

The next day, Elizabeth and the rest of town faced the damage. “The village was completely silent, everyone just looking at the size of the river, the number of houses gone. We had no electricity, no water, no WiFi for texting, no phones … A recently widowed friend lost her house and everything and she and her kitten came to stay with us.”

Four days later, electricity generators were flown in and mobile phones re-connected but they had no water for three weeks. “It will take at least six months to repair the roads and some of the structures of the buildings. “I think the disaster has hit the local French more as many come from arrierè-pays families and have spent childhood holidays up here. The expat community seems very unresponsive to the disaster. I am on many expat Facebook groups no mention while on French groups, people are very involved,” says Elizabeth Gabay.

All images are courtesy of Elizabeth Gabay.

Keah Lan

I first met Keah Lan in person on a hot sunny day in the summer of 2020, in between France’s two lockdowns. I picked her up from the train station and brought her back to my home for a warm “live” conversation over coffee and a couple of slices of a carrot cake that my little girl and her friends had made the day before. 

Keah moved near the seaside in lovely Cros-de-Cagnes after the birth of her son Matisse. She and her husband, who is from the South of France, had been living in London and decided to chose a quieter and simpler life with more sun.

In 2018, the couple learned their son had sensory difficulties – sounds, sights, smells, textures and tastes can create a feeling of “sensory overload” – which meant that they had to relearn everything they knew from scratch to support him. “Intuitively I knew,” Keah admits, “but it wasn’t until we saw the French doctor that it became real.  A period of mourning followed. I think fathers process it much differently as my husband only came to accept the diagnosis one year later.”

In her new life on the French Riviera, Keah, who grew up in South Africa, started spending a great deal of time outdoors and discovered that nature is indeed our greatest healer. 

In London, she had set up “Keah Lan Mobile Healing,” a platform to bring health and wellness to busy, stressed and time constrained-city folk. Nearly twenty years later on the French Riviera, she has rebranded the business as SENSES and recently held a reflexology workshop at the International School of Monaco’s wellbeing day.

“I luckily did not have to change my business much but I did have to navigate myself. Immersing into the French community is very important, not just learning the language but also supporting  and working alongside other local businesses is key to opening doors.”

Some women leave their full-time job to start their own business to have more time to spend with their children. The reality is that a home business can also turn into a full-time gig and that work-family balance is harder to manage than anticipated. For Keah, being a mom has definitely made her better at being an entrepreneur. 

In the year of Covid and confinements, she has learned to prioritise her mental health and wellbeing as a mom. “Far too often we put the needs of our family before our own. We become so absorbed by the responsibilities of being a joyful wife, mother, and homemaker that we neglect to adequately tend to our own personal health and wellbeing.”

2020 came with its load of challenges, more than any normal time, and Keah bravely admits that she had a near mental breakdown. 

“Have you ever had a panic or anxiety attack? Multiply that by ten!” is how she describes the experience. “Suddenly, out of the blue, it hits you. Recognising the body’s warning signs early on is important but once you reach the point of breakdown, by falling very ill, remember that this is the body’s way of trying to jumpstart the healing process. I work a lot with this now in my offerings to clients and provide tools to help them.”

The global pandemic has not been kind to small businesses, and Senses has had to completely restructure the business, moving from providing at home and outdoor wellbeing to live Zoom classes online. Keah had to adapt and learn quickly. She created a library of classes online (including a Women’s Circle, €8), where workouts and wellbeing help to bring the five senses into harmony to heal the mind, body, and spirit. The classes provide a transformative and sustainable approach that nurtures and, most importantly, leads to lasting change. A lot of her private clients have decided not to proceed with online and will wait until classes are resumed in person. A few still join our mat classes which provide them with a sense of community .

About “failures” and “wrong paths,” Keah talks about trying to do too many things at once, putting too much on her plate, pouring from an empty cup, always saying “yes” and having become completely run down emotionally and mentally.  Ring any bells ? A big lesson she learned and is still learning is to ask for help, to reach out to the community. 

Keah’s nugget to take away from all of this is that it’s about progress not perfection: to take it one day at a time, to find time to breathe and be grounded.

As researcher and author Brené Brown would say, “We can be courageous through discomfort.”

About Caro Cuinet Wellings

Kerri Moss Beaumont

New Yorker Kerri Moss Beaumont ran her first business at the age of eight. “I was desperate to buy Jordache jeans and my parents were having none of it.” So she started Radio Red, selling homegrown tomatoes over the summer. “I’d fill my Radio Flyer red wagon and walk around the neighbourhood pitching my grandmother’s Italian pasta sauce recipe that needed $5 dollars worth of tomatoes.” Sales were so good that Kerri bought buy two pairs of jeans – at $42.99 each.

From a young age, Kerri understood sales was about knowing what the consumer wants and needs and then working out the difference. “You could say this stuff is in my blood. My Dad was Director at British Airways for Sales and Marketing for years and we used to go and look at toothpaste and figure out the trends on packaging and how they would shift product using discounts. To this day, I’m obsessed with stalking supermarket shelves.”

Kerri launched her “second” business, Naughty + Nice, in France in 2018, although she’d been toying with the idea of an organic juice business for a while.

Since 2013, she had been giving juice to her yoga clients on the Côte d’Azur when she was visiting from London. “Many would joke about throwing in some tequila post-yoga. And so the seed was planted for a ‘Detox, Retox, Repeat’ idea of a cold pressed organic juice that doubles as a cocktail mixer.”

Then in 2017, Kerri and her “very English” husband, Ian, took their four daughters – Lauren is now 14, Daisy 13, Coco 11 and Tallulah 9 – sailing across the Pacific Ocean on a small sailing yacht. “During that year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy loads of fresh produce and cold pressed juices and it highlighted the importance of nutrition for the whole family. From travelling, we also realised how cocktails are made of processed junk and most drinks on the supermarket shelves are also pasteurised and full of additives.”

The following year, the family relocated permanently to Valbonne. In May, Kerri was on Eddie Irvine’s yacht during the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix for the official launch of Naughty + Nice. “Nothing can wholly prepare you for starting your own business, especially in France. A director of Carrefour who is a client and now a friend told me that in the U.S. people would say Naughty + Nice is delicious, whereas in France they say ‘That’s not bad’ even though they mean the same.”

As a woman running a business, she finds the French “slightly antiquated and old fashioned but once I realised I wasn’t going to change the system, I worked out how to make it work for me.”

With a busy household (there is a boy dog to keep Ian company), you’d expect lockdown to be tough but Kerri admits, “It was similar to being on a 60-foot sailing yacht for a year as a family. When you are in ‘isolation’ – our longest sail was 15 and a half days from the Galapagos to the Marquesas – your emotions are on high alert and anything that has been repressed will rear its ugly head. On the boat, and during lockdown, we encouraged the girls to journal and to talk to us. And we reverted to the sailing attitude Chez Beaumont, getting up with the sun, eating healthy food and listening to music with lots of nice wine and good films.”

During the first lockdown, Naughty + Nice was delivering every day, which Kerri shares was a lifesaver. “Being out and making people happy was divine. For example, we delivered to Bill in Monaco who turned 100, that was a very special moment indeed.”

The fruit and veg organic juice company also donated drinks to the Lenval Children’s Hospital in Nice, and in Cannes and Mougins. “I thought that those on the front line would really benefit from a natural energy boost and immunity protection. Word got out … so we ended up shipping to hospitals up in Paris, too. In Monaco, the hospital wasn’t accepting donations due to Covid restrictions but the Red Cross team was great and we gave when we could over several months.” When Kerri received a letter in July from Prince Albert thanking her for her initiative and support, she “immediately called my Mom.”

For Lockdown 2.0, Kerri says she’s using food as medicine and doing a juice and raw fruit fast for the month of November. “Well … until Thanksgiving! I figure a whole body and mind reset is the best way to approach the restrictions.” She adds that as her family has been separated from most friends and other family members, they are hugging at home even more. “This habit started on the boat and is really in full swing now. It lifts the spirit like nothing else.”

Kerri is also using lockdown to work on expanding her business across Europe, starting with the U.K., and will be fundraising in early 2021 through Crowdcube. “My solid education and undoubtedly my ad agency days at TBWA\Chiat\Day in NYC and M&C in London have given me skills that enable me to get the marketing sorted in an efficient and effective way. And I think that Naughty + Nice has taken off so quickly because we are relatable, fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. In today’s world this can be worth its weight in gold!”

On top of raising a family and running a business, Kerri is dedicated to sports “I’m pretty sure my Dad had me throwing and catching a ball before I could walk.” At 11, I started running before school with my yellow Sony walkman and a tape of Tracy Chapman and Paul Simon. I would get out before the sun was up. I’m the oldest of five kids and the house was always mental in the morning – so this was my way of finding peace.”

Kerri has run a few marathons – “there’s nothing like London” – and recently entered the world of multiday stage racing, competing in the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and training for the Everest Trail Race, which was cancelled this year. “The way the body can adapt is all about the mind and I absolutely adore it. The 250-km Marathon des Sables was a beast … I was that person in the First Aid tent on the first day as I forgot my inserts for my trainers so I had blisters all over both feet. And I mean all over. On the second morning I could barely walk to the open air loo and I remember thinking not crossing that finish line wasn’t an option. So I put mind over matter and pushed on.”

As a young girl, she always wanted to run marathons. “And I wanted to be a pilot. One down, one to go!” Kerri Moss Beaumont laughs.

Photos byTatiana Trunova and art direction and stylist Sam Lord.

Juanita & Taylor Viale

We have spent the better part of this year staring at Covid figures and graphs, and hearing about how care homes have been particularly vulnerable to the virus. It is easy to forget that it is not just the elderly living in assisted accommodation. The story of Juanita Viale and her disabled daughter Taylor is one of hope.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Juanita Viale was working for a Stanford-funded startup in San Francisco when her dad passed away. She decided to relocate to Costa Rica and settled in Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast, known for surfing thanks to the 1966 Robert August documentary classic, Endless Summer.

By 2007, she was living in San José when her youngest daughter Taylor suffered a brain hemorrhage at birth leaving her permanently disabled. Juanita and her husband decided to move Taylor and her older sister Isabella to France the following year. “My now ex-husband’s grandfather welcomed us with open arms to his 30-hectare vineyard, Coteaux de Bellet, behind Nice, and I stayed there for the next nine years.”

Taking care of the girls, especially with Taylor’s needs, was a full-time job but after a four-year hiatus from the work force, Juanita managed to land a gig in her field of communications and marketing.  “On my second day of work I was already in Monaco on the air at Riviera Radio giving weekly property reports, a vast contrast to being a stay-at-home-mom.”

While her marketing consulting and coaching business grew, her marriage, unfortunately, did not. By the autumn of 2019, Taylor moved into a center for severely disabled children in Saint Antoine Ginestiere, in Nice, operated by the Lenval Foundation, coming home on the weekends. During this same period, Juanita moved around 40 kilometers behind Nice to live in a forest.

“I found my French version of Costa Rica! As I live on a 7-hectare forest my lifestyle is pretty isolated, so when the first lockdown happened, nothing really changed for me since I live and run my business Marketing & Mindset Coaching from home anyway.

Taylor is allowed to come home weekends for this second confinement.

“However, the challenge was with Taylor. Under strict confinement restrictions she was not allowed to leave the center since they were all vulnerable. I didn’t see Taylor for two months with the exception of daily Facetime calls. She held out fine for the first month, but showed signs of depression the second month, which is when Facetime calls became a lifesaver.”

While this weighed enormously on Juanita’s heart, the good news was that it was clear that her daughter Taylor was more aware of her surroundings than the family realized.

A few days prior to France’s second lockdown announcement, Taylor was hospitalized during the weekend for fatigue and no appetite. She was tested immediately for Covid with a negative result.

Juanita wasn’t allowed to visit because she hadn’t had a Covid test. Rapid testing is reserved for the patients only so when the hospital offered to give her a regular test, the results wouldn’t be ready before 48 hours. By that time Taylor would already be out of the hospital.

While Juanita “completely understood” the situation, this was the first time Taylor had to be alone in the hospital. “Even though I have full confidence in the nurses to be with her, knowing she was alone did not sit well with me. However I had no other choice but to surrender that worrying thought and replace it with the gratitude I have for all those doctors and nurses who take such great care of the children at Lenval.”

With this second lockdown that took effect October 30,, Taylor is able to come home on the weekends. “Such relief! But for Isabella, 18, who is going to school and doing her internship in Nice, it will be her first lockdown alone. Facetime it is!”

If there is any lesson Juanita Viale has learned from “The Year of Staying at Home” it is to be adaptabile.

“The more willing we are to live out of our comfort zone, we strengthen our adaptability skills. It is imperative to keep working on ourselves, challenging ourselves, checking in with ourselves, loving ourselves and developing a positive mindset that will serve as your anchor in a sea of uncertainty.”