Tag Archives: Bisous


POSTED: May 1, 2023

Once you reach a certain age, retirement creeps into your mind. You watch friends do it, your partner talks about it, there are pieces on the news about it. Much of the world’s population is quite young, but the western parts of the world are aging fast and its only immigration that is not making it worse. This whole generation of baby boomers has retired or is just about to retire.

Just the word retirement brings out crazy feelings in people ranging from elation to dread. For some of us who have not accumulated “stuff” to sell or mortgage, or the credits to a pension or other income retirement in the conventional sense, is not really an option. Similarly, for those who have worked in the gig economy or otherwise been self employed or on contract work the whole retirement thing is not as binary. Just dial back the amount of work to make life a little easier as needed is the way to go. No gold watch, no cleaning out the desk, no drunken goodby party with coworkers.

So what I mean by retirement is that traditional version – you work at something for forty or forty five years and then you stop working at that and have the income to do whatever you want without worrying about the financial side of the equation.

This has been raised in my consciousness recently by my friend Peter’s sharing with me that he is going to retire. Now unlike some friends who, like him, have worked regular jobs, largely for others and have been counting the days to stop going to a repetitive job, where their work has been eclipsed by younger, higher energy, better educated or trained people or not very personable microchips, he always enjoyed his work and has usually been senior enough to drive the culture, the work ethic, and the focus of the company’s activities. He has enjoyed his work life and had by all accounts a successful career and has I think accumulated those pension credits and paid off the debts and can do retirement fairly well financially. No regrets on the work life, but its now time to retire and do something else.

Like a lot of people he has a partner who has been chomping at the bit for him to do so. They have watched friends do round the world trips, or pursue specific hobbies at a higher level, moved to a cottage or downsized the house and bought a second home.

I don’t have any first-hand experience with retirement. I expect I will never retire as some would argue I never really got started. But as Peter is going into this with some trepidation and because I know so many people who have worked the conventional jobs and then retired, I decided to do a little survey of them to get any insights on what to expect and what to do and what to avoid. Part of my motivation for this endeavour came from the painful exercise of watching my friend Jose who loved her job as a physical education instructor at a private school, who had decided to retire and was encouraged by many to do so. She put in her notice for a school term ahead and then was loving her work even more with the knowledge it would soon end and reversed her retirement plan. She still sits on the fence on this.

What follows is my understanding of the various things told to me by these friends who have all retired from conventional jobs and gone on to have fulfilling lives after their careers. Some of the advice is expressed in the negative and some in the positive. Some have some real scars to show for their bad decisions, while others rave about how fabulous retirement has been.



What came up more than once was the overindulgence in the first year from a pend up demand for a change. Many commented that they travelled too much in the first year but hardly appreciated the expensive trips they were on. Their suggestion was that if travel is a real interest to plan one big trip per year and to really research it before hand. Learn some of the history, a bit of the language, understand the culture and the politics and geography. Then go and try to travel with a greater depth of understanding. The word savour comes up a lot when talking to retirees.

The same applies to starting a new small business or moving to a different community or changing houses. You have the time. It doesn’t all have to happen right away. Take a deep breath, do your homework and enjoy the journey – don’t just devour it and then look up and burp!


While the first point above was raised by many, almost the same number commented that there needs to be a healthy recognition that the time ahead is not endless. You may live a very long life. I have two friends in their nineties that I could certainly win against if in a boxing ring or foot race they would still win a debate with me on any topic. But too often there is a physical element or two to slow us down or otherwise impair our abilities. And the most insidious thing about aging is not the deterioration of our health, but that if we have a partner we don’t deteriorate at the same rate. One persons bad hip may hold up both for certain activities.

The point here is that at sixty or sixty-five if you have three or four things you would really like to pursue, recognize that if competing in a triathlon is a goal, its not for your eighties but for your sixties.


Ah, money. It came up a lot in my chats. It is clear to me that the world is made up two kinds of retired persons – those with a pension and those without. Good pensions that have some benefits and a steady and inflation adjusting income are what let you take that out of your stress basket.

The relationship of money and health came up a lot too. What does it take to go into a retirement home or have home health care at some later point? Those numbers are a bit scary and need to be considered, particularly if you live in a place that does not provide these things as part of a government programme.

While the comments came from retired people in all walks of life, a common bit of advice was to be honest with yourself when looking at the future and your finances. Property taxes, groceries, utilities etc. will all keep going up in cost – will your income move with those costs or be eroded over time? Can you realistically work part time if your costs and income don’t match? Perhaps for the short term, but not over the longer haul.

Sit down with a big pot of coffee and a calculator and set out conservatively what your income will look like over the next twenty years and what your expenses will probably look like over that period. It will tell you just how much you can spend each year on those trips or dinners out. It is also the exercise that has kept many from taking the retirement leap.


This title sounds grand doesn’t it. What it needs is the tag line or caveat below within your resources and capabilities. When chatting with very elderly people I have learned that very few regret trying something – even something that turned out to not be the best thing for them financially or that did not live up to their expectations. If you have worked as an accountant your whole working life and always loved  flowers and longed to have a flower shop, it may be better to have that flower shop for a least a few years, even if it does not work out perfectly financially.

There was a time when retirement really meant retiring from and not retiring to. This is a fundamental distinction. A head chef I once worked for had a little tattered and stained cartoon up by his meal planning area. It showed two old fellows sitting in a boat fishing. The dialogue box said “I don’t really like fishing, but I like golf even less”.  The implication was that these  were the only two things you could do in retirement.

The really interesting thing is how much this time is like that period right after high school or university when you have your whole life ahead of you and you get to do whatever you want. Don’t waste it. So think big and make those changes or undertake those projects (within your resources and capabilities).


Like the comments earlier about being realistic about setting the different goals for different stages of your retirement,  the notion of the right thing for right now is an important one. I have talked about this before and it is simply the idea that an activity or pursuit doesn’t have to be forever, but might be the perfect thing to do for a time, and then have as a memory. The beach house or country cottage may not be sustainable in terms of costs but might be a possibility for a few years.


I don’t tend to think of things as either strategic or tactical. Strategic are those decisions that are fundamental building blocks to achieve long term outcomes, while tactical are just those opportunities that come up from time to time that are beneficial to pursue. A formation for a soccer team and plan is strategic, but an error by the other team creating an opportunity to score is a tactical opportunity.

A few of my better educated friends went on at some length about how this applies in retirement.

Have a series of plans – short, mid, long term that will help you fulfill yourself. Anything that supports these should be a real priority as they are strategic.

But sometimes opportunities come up that are tantalizing. They need to be evaluated as whether they support, are neutral or a negative relative to your longer- term strategic goals. At earlier stages in life you can go off and pursue these tactical opportunities, sometimes for years,  and still have a chance to get back on track later. But in your retirement years I have learned you can only pursue those tactical opportunities that are positive or neutral to your longer term strategic goals as you wont have the time to recover.

I had not really thought about it in these terms but now that I am and looking back, I wish I had thought this way earlier in my life.


If you are a couple you need to think about these things individually and then see how you can mesh it all as a couple. A tough challenge I think, but a necessary process.

If single, several friends told me they found it, in most cases, rewarding to share their longer term plans with their children, siblings and close friends and often had some valuable feedback. Feedback is good, particularly from those you are close to and respect.


This whole exercise I set off on was triggered by my buddy Peter telling me about his plans to retire, and I hope these comments help. The truth of it though is that he is a fellow who is one of those methodical, honest people and good thinkers who  everyone would like to have in their lifeboat. I expect he is all over these concepts already.


If any readers have comments, I don’t have a comment section but send me comments on your retirement experience and I when I have enough will do an update to this post at some point. djangobisous@bell.net



POSTED: March 1, 2023

In last months post I referenced the notion of some places being seemingly on the edge of the world, or at least at the extreme edge of a continent and the sense that the idea of isolation creates in people. At various times I have also chattered on about Key West. That stems largely from my buddy Jim and his partner Janice hiding out there each winter. Well today I am going to share some images of that place.

But first, a little background. I have been receiving an image or two a day from my buddy Jim. He has been walking around that little island (its about two miles by four miles in size) for about an hour every day since the beginning of January. While the island is beautiful and visually stimulating his walking is not just because he likes the scenery. Back in September of last year he had a similar diagnosis to the one I received recently for hypertension. So over the months last fall he really worked on his diet, and dialing back the wine. His blood pressure numbers improved but when he came back to Key West at the end of December, he decided to walk for about an hour a day. That really made the blood pressure numbers come into line.

Now just to go off on a bit of tangent here, the little piece I did on January 1st MY DOCTOR DOES NOT KNOW JACK  generated the most number of emails of any post I have written. Apparently both hypertension and the other issue referenced in that post are pretty common and the piece really struck a chord with people. By the way, while I don’t have a comments section on the website I am always pleased to get emails from readers. djangobisous@bell.net

So when he walks he takes his phone and then sends me a couple shots each day. The images below are not intended to be an intro to Key West or a comprehensive travelogue but just some random images that caught his eye.

I will put in a bit of commentary to try to add some context for those who have not been.

The foliage is full on. This place is exactly halfway between Toronto and the equator and has much more in common with the tropics than most of Florida. The issue is not as much what to plant but what to hack back as everything grows,  and grows quickly. I saw an image of a small palm tree pup that was in Jim and Janice’s yard when they bought their place, and within a few years it was over three meters (forty feet) high!


Key West is also closer to Cuba than to Miami and before the embargo was created by the U.S. to try to destroy the Cuban economy the flow of goods and people between Havana and Key West was extensive. The image below is the White Street Pier that Flagler built after completing his railroad from Miami to Key West. That railway linked various keys or islands with causeways and bridges. The longest of those bridges is seven miles!  The pier shown below was his start to the railway bridge he intended to build to Cuba so is a comment on both the ingenuity of Flagler but the hubris as well. Mother nature took out his railway from Miami to Key West with one significant hurricane.

That intertwined heritage of Americans and Cubans is quite common in many old Key West families. The success of wrecking (taking the cargo of ships wrecked on the shallow unmarked waters at the time) sponging, shrimping and cigar making has been replaced by tourism but in each phase many of the successful entrepreneurs have been from both cultures. All kinds of sponges thrive in these waters but are now protected. The water is clear enough that the shot below was just taken from above the water line in about two meters of water.

Today, because of American foreign policy Cuba of course is being starved and boats arrive each week carrying a few who have put together a very rough vessel (chug) to make the 90 mile crossing. They arrive on the various beaches in the night if not intercepted by the coast guard before making it to shore. Each week Jim sends me pictures of new chugs that have made it to the beach.

Antique cars abound. No salt on the roads, and limited mileage (where are you going to go on an island that’s two miles by four miles in size) makes for a great environment  for cars to just keep going whether pampered like collector cars or just used as regular vehicles for driving every day.

And as so small a place and with the highest point on the island being less than three meters bicycles and scooters are much more common than cars.

This island has always been a location for writers, poets, musicians and dreamers and the houses reflect that, with various expressions of creativity. The first image below is a house made of stone and coral, while the second one is more typical. Most of the houses were built in the late 1800’s when Key West was one of the largest communities in Florida. Many of the smaller houses were actually barged over from the Bahamas.


Feral chickens and roosters are everywhere. It is illegal to kill them so they just run around the streets and yards and reproduce and poop and the roosters wake people up in the morning and often throughout the day. While locals hardly notice them if you stop and spend any time observing they really are quite beautiful creatures.

Various times of the year bring out the decorations – some traditional, like Christmas, but much more significant is Halloween, the Day of the Dead, Carnival. And once a nice decoration is up, well you might as well just leave it up as that celebration is sure to come up the following year!

Now by my calculations, while I am guilty of not putting pictures in many of my posts I am hoping this post redeems me.


P.S. As always, no problem using images you have seen here but please acknowledge the source.


Posted: August 1, 2020

Now it would be easy to think that I never leave En Plein Air, and that is largely true. But sometimes I do leave to get some exercise, and do some chores. During Covid 19 I am largely on the boat, on the marina slip or in the nearby park. I keep two really nifty and horrendously expensive fold up bikes on the boat, courtesy of a British couple who thought they could run out without paying their bill after a four-day weekend last year and forgot to take their bikes. I still smile at that bit of justice. So I get out on one of those sometimes.

Yesterday I was at the park beside the marina and playing Petanque with Ciera and it got me to reflecting how much that game is a metaphor for our current times. If you don’t know Petanque it is game played like the much better known ball game of Bocce. The scoring and many of the rules are the same but the key difference is that the Frenchman who came up with this fairly new (1910 ish) game thought of, in contrast to Bocce is that you don’t need a court. Bocce is played on a nice level court with little walls you can grace the ball off, and the predictable surface, and consistent width and length or court, makes playing it a skill. Watching talented Bocce players coax that ball around other balls on the way to its destination close to the little Cochonnet or Jack ball  is a thing of beauty.

And just to stay with Bocce for a minute the image below is a bit whimsical. When I was in Key West visiting Janice and Jim last time we went out to their local Bocce court and played a game. In Key West, play is regularly interrupted for either the feral chickens running through or one of the huge iguanas sauntering across. Crazy place.

Iguanas at Southernmost Bocce Club, Key West

So Bocce, and British Lawn Bowling for that matter is this refined pastime played politely on tidy courts. Petanque in contrast was invented to be played wherever you have the space – on gravel, on grass, with a slope or even on sand. Steel balls about the size of tennis balls are used instead of the larger resin Bocce balls.  Petanque is not as much a rolling game as an underhand throwing game to get close to that little Coche or Jack ball.  There is significant skill involved of course in getting your ball to fly through the air to get close to the target, ideally with a little backspin to keep it from rolling too far, but because it is played on an irregular surface that irregularity is a great equalizer.  Just a little bump in the ground from a root or stone can humble a good player. So in that regard if Bocce is chess, Petanque is backgammon with that roll of the die to add an element of chance.

Parenthetically I should add that I think to play Petanque according to true French tradition you must have a baguette, some cheese and wine also on hand. This also equalizes the quality of play!

The use of a beret and French sailors stripped shirt however will just get you laughed at.

So why do I think this is a metaphor for our current times? Well, Bocce is predictable. You do certain things in a disciplined way and the outcome is pretty easy to forecast, even if the chickens and iguanas have messed up the court a bit, because once they pass, things are largely back to a normal surface. So in life, you study or learn your trade, you work hard and employ good discipline and behavior and pretty regularly your career or life works out.

Petanque has that crazy bumpy surface with roots and stones that makes every throw a new adventure. I think that is where we are right now.  Some have hit a nasty bump and lost their incomes, their jobs and in the extreme cases, their lives. Some have had their business fail that not only takes away their livelihood but their nest-egg and crippled their plans to sell the business and retire one day. Some have hardly noticed the effect of this pandemic financially and are just enjoying so much take out food. In general it has been very bad for the poor but randomly unpredictable for everyone. I see it here with some losing their boats, while others are excited by the buying opportunities,  and for some a certain thinking that with the world at an end – anything goes.


The only stocks I buy are stalks of celery, but when I hear people in the financial worlds talking I know that the conventional wisdom is that in a down market you buy to get your average cost per share down and your dividend yield up, and in an up market you sell to harvest the yield from your earlier good buying discipline. But this may well be a different time. Some will benefit I am sure from that old strategy and some of the “smart” money will do well but just as some people made money in the early days of tech and the early days of legalized cannabis, some lost everything in both of those sectors.

Certainly it is a time when lots of people are experiencing some changes in their lives that while not positive, have some positive elements and ones they never would have experienced voluntarily.  Slowing down, spending more time together, evaluating what is important in life are all things we see happening all around us, and those are positive trends.  The most common response I get when asked what someone will do when this is over? Hug a friend.


I think any of us who chose to continue on the planet are at some level optimists. But I also  think that most complex things are not as binary as that.  We may be optimists on personal growth and pessimists on financial security. Or pessimists for the short term prospects and optimists for the longer term. And those of us who are on the wrong side of a certain age have seen enough to be cautiously optimistic, or pragmatically pessimistic. Experience counts, and some of us have the knowledge that we don’t have the time left to get some of this wrong so we may be quite positive in attitude but make decisions to protect ourselves if we are wrong.

This post has truly been a bit of ramble, but I think we can learn a lot from the game of Petanque.



Posted: December 3, 2015

The last post was all about Risotto and it was also a story about how much I had been enjoying my life with Marc and Lotte and their kids in the summer of 1993. But as August progressed a plan was hatched for the family to go on a one week or ten-day trip with the boat. They had never gone cruising for more than a night or two but both Marc and Lotte and the two older ones had become pretty competent at both navigation and at maneuvering this large boat. There is little question that the introduction of bow thrusters on recreational boats meant that the art of docking something of that size moved more into the science or learned skill category. With that said, it still takes experience and some conviction to handle it well and that was the stage all four of them but Lotte and Marc especially had made it to.

So in mid-August, they were heading off for ten days cruising up the Dutch coast, German coast and over to the English coast before coming back to Harlingen.  I was to make up a lot of prepared food and they agreed to pay me half my usual wage and I would go somewhere on holiday too!

I had not seen my grandmother in Rennes France for some years and had not even kept up with her by correspondence but decided that now that I had some dollars ahead I would take the train and go to see her.

It was a shocking ten days for me. When I arrived I found her in good health but quite upset for many reasons. She had not heard from me nor had my parents heard from me for several months and assumed that I was still working for the cruise line that had fired me. Several calls and faxes to the ship and to the cruise line had gone unanswered until it was learned that I was no longer employed there.

My grandmother was the one to tell me that my parents had both died in a car accident at about the same time I was sacked – almost nine months earlier. They had been on a slippery road with the first big snowfall north of Ottawa where they had rented a ski cabin for the winter and were setting it up.  It highlighted that I had not checked in at any point during that time – not at Christmas or my parents or grandmothers birthday or even to let them know where I was.

My father’s coworkers and some of my parent’s friends and their lawyer had dealt with everything including the sale of the house, the cremation … everything.

As a woman in her eighties, my grandmother or Odie, as I called her, (her real name was Odile), had lived as a child through the first war, then as a young mother through the depression and into the second war. She had buried her husband and daughter from illness in the 1950’s and now one of her two sons. Her other son she refused to see as he had made some bad decisions during the second war. Like me, she felt like an orphan. Unlike me, however, she had always been disciplined and hardworking and supportive.

For the first time Odie told me how bad a child I had been and the sacrifices my parents had made for me. As part of the French Diplomatic corps, my father had many opportunities to move to a higher position by moving to other postings but stayed in Ottawa to try to have a nice life for me to grow up. He became a senior, but not very senior, part of the French Embassy in Ottawa, and would train incoming roles junior to his to be his senior but he like his life with my mother and me in Ottawa. By the time high school was over for me most of his opportunities were behind him and it must have been frustrating for him and my mom to watch me not focus on my future. My cavalier attitude and irresponsible lifestyle after quitting university were tolerated at first but then became tiresome for my parents and eventually an open disappointment.  With no siblings, I was their focus, pride and joy and then disappointment. Their two urns sat on a shelf in Odie’s living room.

I won’t share how bad my visit with my Odie was, but after the second day, I left on a train from Rennes to Paris and a flight to Canada. As the child of a foreign diplomat from France, with a mother from Canada and being born in Canada I carried both a French (EU) passport as well as a Canadian passport, but my Canadian one had expired so I traveled on the French one.

In Ottawa, I went to see my fathers office both to speak to them about any outstanding issues and to have them re-apply for my Canadian passport for me and to send it to my grandmother. My fathers assistant was pretty upset to see me. Apparently, my parents fought all the time about what to do about me. She had a few mementos from his office, one of which was a postcard he prized,  I had once sent them from Turkey. The look on her face when looking at me was so disturbing. This was the second person in a week who needed to make sure I knew that I had not deserved the love and support they had for me.

My next stop was at a lawyers office who was a personal friend of my parents and who had handled my parents will. Apparently, between my mother’s parents who were now passed and my fathers’ mother (Odie), they had fed some of their income each year to help their parents and after the sale of their house in a real estate downturn, there was very little left. My mothers work had been for a not for profit that paid very little as well. Given what a disappointment I now knew I had been to them I was embarrassed even having the conversation with the lawyer about getting an inheritance.

The life insurance company documents the lawyer had me sign and would submit but I would have to set up an account with a Canadian bank with operations in Europe to have the insurance annuity they had set up for me paid into each month. It would be $763.54 Canadian each month until the earlier of the age of 90 or my death.

I was at day five of my ten-day “holiday” from my work with Marc and Lotte and decided to look up some old friends to try to reconnect with someone. I really had not been back to Canada much since quitting university about eighteen years before. Most were on summer holiday or had left Ottawa, so I headed off to Toronto where many had ended up. An old girlfriend hung up on me and my call to Jim’s place and the response of his eight-year-old daughter was fairly typical of a busy family who didn’t know who I was. She told me her mom was outside packing to go to the cottage, her dad was at work and asked if I was “the crazy Django my dad went to high school with”.  I assured her I was that very Django and told her to just wish her mom and dad well.

So I had been a bad son, an absent friend and everyone I knew in Canada had moved on. I had felt pretty good about how my life had been going with Marc, Lotte, and their family but knew that even that little achievement would soon end as the summer was coming to a close.

As I sat on the plane back to Europe I  did not really know what I would do but just felt that whatever it would be I would have to create as I had burned out any real links to my past. The guilt I was feeling about my parents was overwhelming but my grandmother and my fathers assistant had only seen it from one perspective.

My parents were pretty absent in my life. As an only child, you would think they were an ever-present part but my father was very focused on his work and because my mother worked for an NGO  that was often at odds with the French Government they never talked about his work or hers so there was a big gap in their relationship. I was treated very much just as a third adult in the house and on the rare occasions we would eat together my mom couldn’t tell me what she was up to, nor could my dad and they would rarely ask me about school or my interests as it would highlight how strange their own relationship was. The only things they seemed to share were skiing, occasional cooking, and house stuff, a few trips,  and a lot of sex. This pair were like rabbits. They couldn’t talk together about work but boy they made up for it sexually. Not my favourite memories, especially when I would have friends over for a sleepover in high school.

Even my name had been a result of their strained work conflict. My father, seen to be an up and coming diplomate did not want me to have his surname as the protocol at the time for diplomats (who were much more senior than he was, but that he aspired to be) was to name their children their wife’s surname to protect them somewhat from kidnapping. So that is how I came to have the last name Bisous, my moms’ last name. Now Bisous is a pretty “out-there” name and was one that my mother was also happy for me to have because I was the last in the line and she liked the idea of keeping the name alive. It was a name that originated with her grandfather, Henri Bissonette, who on the ship from France to New France decided somewhere on that crossing that his nickname should be his formal name. So he stepped onto the ship in France as Henri Bissonette and off the ship in what would later become Canada as Henri Bisous. The snickers that it would attract all the way through my school life my mother assured me were nothing compared to the experience she and her three sisters endured and that it was a fine name. For any of you who do not speak French,  Bisous means “little kisses” and the act of greeting a friend with alternating little kisses on the cheek also falls under this term.

My parents also were unanimous apparently on my other names. Django was my middle name, as they were both fans of the duo Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but Django in particular. Giving that as a second name was also a safe, personal element to my identity as they gave me what they felt was a fine first name – Pascal. Oh My God – Pascal! I know that my buddy Jim was named after James Dean and jokes that he could have as easily been named Fabian or Elvis. I think those would be in the same category as Pascal. My parents and Odie still called me Pascal but from about grade four on I was Django to everyone else. Well, my parents wouldn’t be calling me Pascal anymore. It was a sad thing.

Maybe it was partially having a unique, almost cartoon name that made me a class clown or so self-focused- I don’t know. Other kids had multiples of their name in every class and were usually called by their last name. In one year there were seven Jims in a class of less than thirty. Maybe that’s how my great-grandfather ended up being called Bisous – too many Bissonnette’s?

As the flight back to Europe drew on I kept wondering how much of my strange childhood had been my fault and how much was my parents doing. When I looked at the warmth of Marc and Lotte with their four kids it was nothing like my life growing up.  But when I reflected on most of my friend’s relationships with their parents when we were growing up it wasn’t all that close either. But to put it in perspective none of my school friends experienced two parents forgetting to get a tree for Christmas and going out on Christmas day to find one. The next year my mother bought an artificial one and it sat decorated in the basement for every year thereafter.

I was hopeful  Odie I could still have a relationship with if I worked at it. It was a  long overnight flight and I had the opportunity to write her a letter telling her about what I had done in Canada and that I would stay in touch once I had a more permanent place to live.

So for those of you who thought these posts were going to be all happy thoughts … sorry, I let you down too. But as I am writing this many years later I can tell you it does get better. Don’t give up on me.