Hi all, and thanks for your patience. It has been a busy week, so this will be a long (but still not very thorough) account of it, written on three separate occasions, so pardon the disjointed and rambling character of this post.
July 6, 2017
Oui, nous sommes en France!
It feels great to be back. Of course there will still be the bit of time to readjust, but having been here for a length of time before (a month in 2008) certainly seems to be helping. My ability to hear and understand French in a natural setting remains poor, unsurprisingly. I think my ears will adjust gradually if I have people actually speak to me in French (this has been hard to come by thus far), but I was disappointed in myself when I didn’t know what the barista who served me an espresso this morning was asking when she offered me a glass of water to go with my coffee. At least I was able to reply when she asked me if I were English. I was honest, I told her I was American. No, I haven’t lied about that to anyone yet. Weirdly I haven’t taken too much flack from anyone for being from the U.S.A. yet. I remember times when I almost had to answer for the crime of G. W. Bush being elected and the subsequent crimes he inflicted on the world. You’d think it’d be worse with Trump, but I think Obama was so popular with Europeans that he bought us a bit of capital in terms of our reputation abroad. I still remember being in Paris in 2008 and the look of excitement that appeared on this jolly drunken man’s face when he randomly started to talking to me in the street and the subject of Obama’s potential presidency somehow came up. I know it was just one guy, but anecdotally it still seems to be good evidence for how big of a deal it was for us to elect him, in the eyes of the world. I’m fairly sure we only get the one fuck-up, though. If we re-elect Drumpf, I’m afraid we will be back in the international dog house (if we aren’t already – and let’s face it, we probably are) and won’t be able to regain face, like, ever.
Pardon the digression – Nice, you are a stunner. Your azure waters, picturesque buildings, charmingly cosmopolitan mix of people and food, your streets, your trams, your interesting artwork in the streets, and your implied invitation to open a bottle of wine and pass it around with friends at night wherever you may be all implore me to make sure to return again. Both times I have visited my time has been far too short.
Finally, we are en route to Saint Raphael, where our old friend Sydnie will be married, the occasion which gave us an excuse to make this journey to Europe. We have already reunited joyously with Wilmer and Jamie (and met her new dude, Chris) and there are more reunions to come, in addition to witnessing what promises to be the spectacle of a French wedding on the Riviera. This train ride has me filled with an irrepressible joie de vivre.
Bring on more of your immortal sunshine, Cote d’Azure!
14:50 Saint Raphael, France.
July 12, 2017
“2 Days in Provence” might make for a good film, too.
Shino and I have been in the heart of Provence, staying in a small hamlet in a place called Bedoin, since the evening of the 10th. To be honest, we spent the better part of a lovely drive up here from Saint-Raphael and our first evening here in the heart of Provence feeling a bit melancholy, as we parted hurriedly from our dear old friends in the morning after spending a handful of days on the Cote D’Azure that none of us ever dreamed we would get to experience together back when we were all living in Seattle, before we all went to our various pockets of the world in a sort of small scale diaspora. We reprised that pattern after eating breakfast in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, our nest for a sojourn that we will all, I’m sure, cherish in our memories. As though in some surreal dramatic film, the actual good-bye with Wilmer, Kevin and Michael eluded us. We had arranged with them that we would go get the rental car we had booked for the trip to Provence and then return to the hotel to say goodbye properly, since Kevin was still finalizing getting ready to go. It took a tad too long for us to come back, though, and our friends had to set sail for the Nice airport so they would not miss their connections. We arrived to a vacant lobby at the Continental, and felt all the emotions we would have probably felt saying our good-byes (or “see you laters,” if you want, but that seems to cheapen the fact that parting with good friends hurts, and more so when you’ve just formed some memories together that will stand the test of time) hit us like a truck. Initially, we were actually hopeful maybe we would catch them in the parking garage, but when it became clear they were gone and we sat down in our newly-rented, maroon Fiat 500, we were undeniably sad, in spite of our excitement about the upcoming trip into Provence. The wedding week was a blur of good times and merriment, but the good-byes were all far too abrupt.
A lot of what Shino and I talked about on the way up to Bedouin was that feeling, that kind of hole you feel in you when you part ways with people with whom you have been having such a great time. We talked about how great it would be to have a redux of sorts of the festivities in Saint-Raphael and Frejus in another few years and how, while we could try to do it somewhere else, there was just something about the Cote D’Azur and its hopping seaside towns, lush Mediterranean beaches, and lively French being spoken all around (or maybe just the sheer quantity of pugs – we saw four of them during our time there) that we weren’t sure we could find anywhere else. Food for thought. We eventually started to drift towards the stage of dealing with parting where you focus on your gratitude to have gotten to have the experiences you just had, and not just dwell on how you can’t hang out with your friends anymore (for a while, anyway). We started to absorb (and be absorbed by) the landscape we were slowly penetrating. We knew that we had just experienced one of those brief little moments in time that you never expect you’ll get to but yet you sometimes forget to appreciate.
Note: I should probably write a separate post about this, but the wedding and the associated activities were off the hook. A ceremony in a classy cathedral followed by an all night party at a remote chateau on day one, followed by an all-day brunch at the beach in Frejus, complete with beach volleyball, swimming, and supreme lounging on day two, and an all-day catamaran cruise on the Mediterranean on day three, complimented by bottomless wine and hors d’oeuvres platters. Can’t thank Sydnie and her husband enough for having us, as well as the wedding planner, Daisy. Those matrimonial festivities will be tough to top.
Les Vendras, Bedouin, France
July 15, 2017
We are in Spain, just like that. Our train has just carried us over the border from France and we should reach Barcelona in about 40 minutes.
France has been good to us and I’m certainly pleased to know we will be going back in a short while to stay in Paris. The southern regions, all of the towns we visited and the lush roads we traversed in our Fiat, were dreamlike. We couldn’t stop saying how much the whole experience felt like a dream.
We drove all the way up Mont Ventoux, which looms large over the heart over Provence (and neighbors the town of Bedoin, which we called home for a couple of days. We came down the other side and visited Vaison-La-Romaine, where we walked on, stood on, walked under, and drove over a bridge built in the 1st Century. We climbed to the top of the medieval town that is Vaison’s claim to fame to find a dark age castle overlooking the gorgeous environment that surrounds the city. We drove out of Vaison, without knowing where we were going, to see the sunset, dizzily chasing after a sinking Provencal sun, ending up on the Cote de Rhone road somewhere outside of Valreas where we finally parked the car to take in the sight of the sun morphing from a blazing yellow-white light spilling out its rays everywhere into a smoldering orange ember sizzling in the distance, seeming to give its gentle fading heat only to us, as we gazed out over a scene of a shepherd and his two dogs bringing in his herd of goats and sheep for the night (a pastoral scene interestingly accented by the shepherd’s lively conversation with someone on his iPhone).
Nights in Bedouin, I walked out a couple hundred meters from the door of our gite and felt as though I were in the middle of nowhere, with just the stars, the brilliant moon (which was nearly full), and the chirps of crickets and distant bays of dogs to accompany me. I heard strange stirrings in the brush from time to time, but mostly my immediate surroundings were silent and the sound of my steps on the gravel path seemed to be amplified. I wondered (with a tingle of fear) whether the sangliers (wild boars) we saw on our first beautiful walk at sunset around the Bedoin commune of Les Vendrans (where we stayed) might be foraging nearby. No one warned us about the population of sangliers in the area and we both did a handful of double takes when we saw the pair of them bounding playfully between trees in a vineyard before making a swift beeline back toward our room. They didn’t make themselves known to us again after that first sighting. I had to wonder whether we saw them at all or if it was a trick our minds played. (Google searching did confirm there is a widespread population of sangliers across France, laying waste to farmers’ crops and serving as the most popular prey for French hunters, so the two we saw probably weren’t phantoms, it just felt that way.)
Rolling out of Bedouin, we set a course for Sault, whose spacious lavender fields welcomed us in with the most pleasant and quintessentially Provencal aroma imaginable. We walked around the antique markets for a bit there and Shino bought some lavender soap that helped make the 500 smell delightful the rest of the way. Continuing on, we drove out to see the most dramatic gorge I’ve seen since Taroko Gorge, Taiwan last year (and without the blight of loads of tour buses). We weaved through stunning roads along with the cyclists who surely were treated to an even more spectacular show. Eventually we ended up kind of where we had started before heading to Sault, but we didn’t care. The drive through Gorges de la Nesques is one we won’t soon forget. We wound up in a charming little town where we received down-to-earth and friendly service at a brasserie in front of a quiet roundabout. We enjoyed beverages (for me an excellent Belgian ale, for Shino most likely a peach ice tea) and a pair of perfectly simple ham and cheese sandwiches; it was a perfect respite in the mid-afternoon. Next, we would head on to Roussillon in the Luberon, which was named one of France’s most beautiful towns and lives up to that billing with aplomb. We bought some artisanal candles there, which added to the potpourri of Provencal scents filling the 500.
After a long and (again) dreamlike drive through countless pastoral scenes and idyllic villages, we touched down at a farm a few kilometers outside Arles. Two genial dogs (of the sort you expect to be living on a farm – fairly big, lean, and fast-looking) greeted us literally as we opened the doors to disembark. We passed a few pleasant minutes just petting the dogs and taking in the endless fields and abundance of animals that made up the environs of our resting place for the night before we went to one of the doors of the house and a woman whose kindness matched that of the welcome dogs greeted us and showed us to our room.
Finally (to gloss over quite a bit), we got to experience the 14th of July in Nimes! Turns out the French do kind of celebrate their big summer national holiday in much the same way we do in the U.S.A., with reveling in the streets, quality time with friends and family, and fireworks (of course). Differences would be: people seem to like playing boules, there is less drunken obnoxiousness, and the buildings are much older. In Nimes, we got to walk by the second largest Roman amphitheater in existence (after the Colosseum) on our route back our spacious den. The mornings in Nimes were breezy and peaceful. Our walk to the stately (and very Romanesque) Nimes train station this morning made for an ideal sendoff from southern France.
We now find ourselves just starting out our highly anticipated week in Barcelona! We’ve already taken in a lot of it in the afternoon and evening we have been here, but there’s so much more to come. Will try to keep this updated. Shino’s agreed to at least spend one night partying all night, as you do in Barcelona, right?