POSTCARDS FROM FRANCE   2015 - #1


Another French Catch 22: The window replacement that was supposed to have been done on my RV over the winter was incomplete & inadequate, so on Monday I went to a larger RV service shop about 45 miles away. Many businesses close Monday that have to work weekends (like museums, tourist or weekend clientele) If you’re French, besides the 2 hour lunch, you have to take every possible vacation, too. (The schools just had another 2 week one, also.) Yep, RV service falls into that group. So rather than drive back to Cahors, I took a turn West down the Garrone River to the town of Castlesarrasin.

 

Fine, I thought castles & Sarrasins could be interesting for a night. There was no Castle but a lovely section of the parallel canal that runs to the Mediterranean, so I found a port-side spot beside rows of house boats and internet at the near by Capitainerie/tourist office. It is one of my fantasies to live on this canal in a houseboat capable of cruising from Bordeaux on the Atlantic to Sete on the Mediterranean – about 300 miles - but can continue to connect with the Rhone River, the Rhine to Holland & the North Sea or to the Danube & the Black Sea (Crimea or Istanbul!)  Long story short: stumbling through pidgin conversations with convivial boat owners eager to practice bad English with an American speaking bad French, we had a great time. Topic was the 35' beau bateau shown here A Vendre for about E55,000. ( ~$60,000. US) Two staterooms, bath, galley, lounge and wheel house, powerful motor, decks, bike racks, etc…a 2 bedroom home on water, for about the price of an average, used RV:

Turns out a Sarrasin, in the Middle Ages, was a Muslim living in Europe, and Castlesarrasin is the Western limit of the territory known as the Languedoc. Languedoc is thrice interesting because it is a commendable wine region; the home of the Oc Language speakers (Langue d’Oc, possibly a mixture of Roman & Basque!); and of the mysterious Cathars. (Google them.) The DaVinci Coders portray the Cathars as Mary Magdalene’s people who migrated here with Christ’s child!!! I’m just sayin, that’s what some people believe. There are MANY towns in this area of France named Magdalene or it’s cognates. ANYWAY the Pope didn’t like them and ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate them, along with gypsies, Jews and other heretics during the inquisitions (talk about Nazi’s!)  What little self-history wasn’t burned along with them depicts the Cathars as peaceful, collective, ethical, religious people who thought the Popes were self-indulgent and corrupt. Who you gonna believe?

My Cahors buddies, Jean and Mel, to whom I’m highly indebted. Jean was from Quebec before she married a French doctor 40 years ago. We met at Plum Village 4 years ago - she was my interpreter/guide in my search & purchase the RV last year. And friend of Mel, an Englishman, former RAF translator in China, who stored my RV in his courtyard this winter. And me, at our Cahors office, Café l’Interlude.

On Earthday, my daughter Aria’s birthday. There’s much more but surely enough for now….

Loren

 

 

POSTCARD FROM FRANCE #2  2015

 

May 1 – Cahors  Yep, the French vacation thing again. The repairman needed to finish installation of the window was out until the next Wednesday, so I left Cahors for 5 days at Plum Ville - time to take up the search for that lay sangha hostel near by. Frederic is in Cuba for a few weeks so I’m flying alone. The property we underbid last year has been cleared, an access drive & mailbox installed. The 2.5 acre Chalet above Lower Hamlet was still available, tho, and another group is attempting to buy bare land along the road near Upper Hamlet. I’m tempted to bid the Chalet but the dollar/euro rate just went in the tank, 1.12 from 1.05 low.

Last Year’s Property

Chalet,  Above

Plum Village, Lower Hamlet

There was an UK Awake (young persons) retreat just ending and a random group of adults moving in. Among them was Miguel Vivanco, a Basque from Vitoria, Spain and industrial engineer with Airbus, the giant French Boeing, in Toulouse. It’s been raining lots and he recognized my beret, which started a friendship that lasted the duration. He’s new to Buddhism and distant from his Basque roots, but helped with Euskara language tips. I tried to impress him the importance of his heritage. Also present were a sweet lady, Quincie, from New Mexico, and a German couple Emmanuel and Pascale – she’s Pascale, he’s Emmanuel, a science teacher who plays a mean piano! Thay’s Buddhist world is broad. It’s cold but everyone is bundled and joyful!

Miguel, Vitoria Basque

Quincie, New Mexico Professor

Pascale  &  Emmanuel, Allemand

The senior monastics all disappeared Friday to visit Thich Nhat Hanh at the hermitage, where he is recovering from his November stroke. Word is, he’s progressing with walking & speech therapies, vocals not yet intelligible, eating solid foods, learning to draw left-handed. His paralysis is mostly Right, otherwise, health reported as normal. The Awake project aimed at youth has been on every continent, a contingent of adults has just left for Japan, other forays on the docket.


Back to Cahors and the mechanic was there but not all the parts - now waiting for mails to bring the rest. Friday, May 1 was another national holiday (there are four such in the month of May alone – is it a wonder things happen slowly over here?) It’s raining and everything is closed, so I packed up and drove down the River Lot to my favorite vignoble, Chateau Eugenie! I tasted their superb 2011 Cuvee Reservee de l’Aieul last year and jumped at the chance to meet them:

Nathalie from Cannes

Le Cave Eugenie

Tasting Room

Nathalie was pouring tastes, bottles & bulk. The Chateau has been in the Couture family for hundreds of years. Grandfather developed the unique Reserve of 90% Malbec, 10% Tannat to award status, and named the establishment after his wife, Eugenie, whose grandsons now run the place. To my buds, the Reserve has the perfect balance of body and character, fruit & tannins.

The Municipal Malbec Lounge, Cahors

1st, 2nd, 3rd Categories of Cahors AOC

Wysteria on Old Limestone & Timber!

The municipal lounge in Cahors carries 200+ different Malbecs, strictly classified into 3 soil categories, constituents and prices. First level is 5-7e per bottle, 2nd is 7-14e, 3rd  is 14-25e. Levels 1 & 2 can have up to 25 or 15% Merlot or Tannat to soften & round. If it comes from that terrain, it stays in that category no matter how good or poor it may be. Eugenie’s Haute cuvee sells for 22e - you’re looking at twice that in America. Now it’s Saturday, the bountiful, fresh market is in town, my latches have not arrived and I’m still stuck here with some of the best wine in the world. Wadda ya gonna do?
 

Have a good weekend yourself.

Loren

 

 

 

POSTCARD  FROM  FRANCE  #3

 

May 7 – Languedoc. Well the long, tortuous window caper has finally ended (we hope) but not without more pain and screw-ups. Missing yet were all the struts & latches that hadn’t come with the window and were hoped to piece from Lydie’s scarce inventory. We were waiting for the employee to return to work and a shipment of 2 more handles. But then they arrived a day late, to her Brother’s store in Montauban instead, and without any of the mounting hardware. Typical of everything this woman has done! I wonder who helps her get dressed in the morning?  Happily I volunteered to drive to her brother’s & have him complete the installation, who also had all the missing parts in stock.  Half hour later, 10 months of delays & mistakes were all behind us. Rolly had a new eye in the middle of his forehead. And we just kept driving…out of the rainy midlands…around Toulouse…past Carcassonne…straight to the Canal du Midi in Trebes,  where it was sunny and lots of boats were waiting to pass the locks:

It takes about 45 minutes to pass the 3-stage lock at Trebes, rising at least 25' going West. There are 63 locks between Cap d’Agde and Carcassonne. If there is heavy traffic, much of your day could be spent waiting your turn. The full trip might take 6 days.

Many of the boats are self piloted rentals from Le Boat, a German conglomerate with agencies at ports all along the way. The Savannah is a typical hotel ship rentable for your entourage with captain, cook & hostess. Like all waterfronts, there are areas of open and liberal access.

After tapas & wine at a canal-side bistro I drove on to Homps, another canal port where I’d met Fabienne 3 years ago at the Chevaliers de Malta wine cooperative outlet. Her husband and sons have begun their own vineyard and label in the St. Chinian AOC.

Fabienne recommended Le Somail, another picturesque port with nice restaurants & camping, on my way to Minerve the next day.

The Languedoc is like Northern California with it’s scrubby foliage, olive trees, palms, warm climate grapes Grenache & Syrah – 10` warmer than Oregon, everything is now in bloom. Finally some sun in this wet grey Spring!  Settled between the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Southern feet of the Central Massif, it’s well watered, windy and rocky. Many a ridge & gap has a row of wind turbines fanning away.

The wine areas of St Chinian and Minervois climb the chalky clay terrain to the North, where the unfortunate Cathars made their refuge in the 10th – 14th Centuries.  Minerve was one of their signature cities - perched on a narrow, rocky promontory between two river canyons, surrounded by water and only accessible from a narrow causeway to the North, it has an ideally defensible position overlooking a lush valley.

After visits to the Archaeological and Cathar Museums and chats with Michelle, the historian keeper, I found this delicious lunch at the Table de Troubadours restaurant and then collapsed for a much needed rest. The Southeast beckons, I’m headed for the Cote, with stop in Arles.

 

Happy Trails, Yrselves,

Loren

 

PS: I think I’ve found my solution to the French full-meal custom, Too Much Too Early, Too Much Too Late!  Eat late on the Mid-day meal but only choose the plat d’jour – usually a featured main dish that comes with exotic greens, veggies & carbo anyway, costs only 9 or 10 euros, and is prepared & presented with the same finesse as the too-full meal deal! ☺

 

 

POSTCARD FROM FRANCE  #4

 

May 14, Cote de Provence, Bouilla Beach -  Finally, the Sea!  Having fill of the chilly interior, my goal was a warm beach on the Mediterranean. From Minerve, first stop was Cap d’Agde for a night by the windy sea, composing Postcard #3. Next to Sete for internet (WiFi) and inspiration – Frederic is still in Cuba, to return next Monday. Visited a few hours at the amazing castle-city of Aigues-Mortes on the way to Arles for Friday night, found public parking by the Rhone after circling the prison a few times. Saturday market in Arles for take-along Paella & Monkfish au Mediterranee & the discovery of the amazing, classy ***Hotel Le Calendal:

Looking for WiFi, as usual, I entered the simple Garden Café and found this! Room after room of amazing facility, design, comfort – a hotel, cafe, B&B, garden restaurant, spa, exhibition room….  If you’re staying in Arles, check out Hotel Le Calendal.

Adventures on the Cote: Reached the coast at Cassis but a policeman ran me out of town. It’s a really beautiful area & port, full of tourists, but no RV’s allowed. When a cop is chewing you out in French, even if you understand, calmly reply “Parlez vous Anglais?” Usually he says “No” and will get rid of you as fast as he can.

 

So, on to La Ciotat – a nice port/beach/tourist town with no aversion to RV’s. But that name kept confusing and I just couldn’t get the hang of it until I realized, it’s a misspelling, of Cotati (CA)  That recalled my friend Prof. Miron Ort who taught filmmaking for years at Cotati State U, and a renowned virtuoso of hand painted visual films. Turns out, La Ciotat is itself famous…for the invention of cinema!  Yep, the Lumiere brothers actually lived, worked and invented cinema right here. In fact one of the worlds first films “Train Arriving at a Station” is actually “L’Entre d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat” - shot and premiered here in 1895 at the still operating Eden Theater!   How do you like them juxtapositions?

Tourist Ports Galore

World’s First Cinematheque

Cinemataurus au Bord

My plan was to drive East along Route N559, Provence’s version of California Hwy 1, surveying all the beach scenes to San Tropez and then Cannes. Skipped Bandol cause the small touristed hill ports are uncomfortable for RV driving, I landed in Sanary-sur-mer with miles of flat beaches. First dip in the Med this year (water 62`, air 80`F) - floating freely in the clear, dense salt water & warm sun.

The Tourist Bureau, for locations & WiFi, offered the enigmatic Six-Fours-les-Plages and camping Au Jardin de La Ferme, a working olive farm w/ Camping, Gite, B&B, WiFi just 400m from the beaches at Port du Brusc.  After 4 nights on the streets of notable towns & cities, a peaceful, quiet, shady spot to relax, peddle to cafes & beach, take warm showers and not feel rushed!  Beaches are warm but a little windy, PM.

Beyond Toulon  -  Driving N559 is a mixture of Marin County, Big Sur, Monterey & Sausalito – exciting vistas, winding roads thru pine & eucalyptus, ocean cliffs & white sands over blue waters, tile roofed stone maisons, white sailboats, vinyards – all your picture postcard shots! And…pizza, the omnipresent tourist/beach food. I avoided Toulon, circled Hyeres’ plentiful sands, liked La Lavandou, but headed for Cavalaire & a beach labeled “La Bouillabaisse” - expecting a good fish soup.

 

Now here was Bolinas! Not only surfing shop, beach cafes, free camping, fish soup, but a significant piece of American War History! Known locally as Le Plage de Debarquement, this was the first, Alpha, point of the American-led Allied invasion of Southern France!  A three-pronged attack that also landed beach forces at Saint Tropez and Saint Rafael, drove the Nazis out of Marseille and the entire South. Churchill, wanting a different plan that might have changed the post-war Soviet domination, labeled this Operation Dragoon. Look it up on Wikipedia!  (Myles?)

Invasion  Central

Found my soup, a fine petit  Bouilla de Fanny

Served by the colorful Fanny herself.

I’ve turned North headed for Saint Tropez, San Rafael and the beaches along the Cote d’Azur leading to Nice & Cannes, where the Film Festival just started yesterday. More on that later.

 

Loren

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