Posted by: jeanne | June 16, 2018

lavaur to paris

we had our little nap in lavaur – it’s our first actual conventional hotel, and it feels so heartless compared to all the old, quirky, shabby places we have stayed in.

and after our nap, we went out to see the old town center (not much there, all closed, even tho an old monastery with church, and a huge medieval church). this is another large town with little character, and perhaps people even commute to toulouse from here.

we passed all the places to eat, and found the prices much the same. most of these places were on the ring road around the old walls, and there was lots of traffic. and the pub les americains had lots of people watching sports, and no food, even tho they advertised it. so we returned to our hotel, where there was also a restaurant.

jim wasn’t even hungry, because we’d just had lunch a couple of hours ago, so i got a salad with smoked salmon, poached salmon, and shrimp. i ordered that, and the waiter said and…? i asked how large the salad was, and he spread his hands, so i said and nothing, and jim helped me eat the fish. but we couldn’t resist the creme brulee, so we split one, and then went up to the room, where i opened the windows wide and started in on the narrative of the day.

we went to sleep before it was dark. because of the open windows, we could hear everything on the street. damned fast driving they do here in these towns. very narrow streets, and they’re gunning it. but nobody stays up all night here, so by 12 it was mostly quiet. we were close enough to the ring road that there was traffic all night, but infrequent, and it didn’t bother jim at all.

however. we both slept fitfully. we were both nervous about flying out in the morning. would we make it in traffic? would we have to fruitlessly argue with the car company about how much they would charge us? would that make us late for our plane? so we both tossed and turned. now, this is the usual way of things for me, right before traveling. but usually jim sleeps the sleep of the just. so we were up half an hour before the first alarm went off.

breakfast was rushed, i adjusted the settings on the gps not to avoid motorways and toll roads, and we got into morning rush hour traffic right there in lavaur. but the cars mostly turned north toward montauban when we hit the autoroute, surprisingly. maybe they commute to montauban rather than toulouse?

it took about an hour to get to the airport, which is 50km from lavaur. it should take about half that time, but that’s rush hour for you. once we got there, i had to do a bit of tricky maneuvering to get to the gas station on the motorway, and then got lost again trying to find the car return area. it seems to be a thing in toulouse. but that’s the last of the rental cars on this trip.

when we parked the car at the return office, i ran in and told the attendant that there was a scratch on the car, and took a picture of it because she said she was going to do the same thing. but she looked at the rental paper where the previous damage had been noted, and sure enough there was the scratch, indicated already. so there was no charge at all, and we skated, paying $100 for a week’s rental instead of $400 for full insurance. however, the peace of mind i sacrificed for a cheaper car definitely wore me down.

going in thru the airport doors, we saw some special forces guys with machine guns and cammo, and sure enough there were their red berets. jim’s is now black, and mine/his is a girl’s cap anyway, and back home nobody’s going to know. we did notice that everybody but the very oldest people wear jeans, and nobody at all wears a beret (except the army guys). just the same way that there were no bidets at all in any of the places we stayed, but every place had a modern, glass lined shower stall. what’s this world coming to?

we got thru security and to the gate with over an hour to spare, just the way we like it. i pulled out our books and we read until they called the passengers, and then got on last just to be lazy about it. and now we’re descending into paris already, having flown above the clouds the entire way. it’s been a very rainy summer here so far, and for several days it’s been flooding around bordeaux, which we could have guessed given the very brown and swollen rivers we’d crossed since we’ve been here. we have avoided all but the lightest rain on our trip, and the weather has been cool, so we consider ourselves very lucky. i just checked the weather in atlanta, and it’s up near 100f, which is horrifying. we wish to be stranded in reykjavik for a few months, until the fall arrives in the southeast…

hey, i can see our place from here

okay, we’re in paris, and we’re sitting on the terrace of a typical paris apartment (read: small). the flight was easy, and getting into paris from the airport was also easy. there was an enormous line for tickets, but then some helpful guy said the line was for credit card only, and if you had cash, you should go over there. so we went, and the line was much shorter, but still it was half an hour before we got to the ticket machine, and then we found that it only took credit cards!

we both nodded off on the train into paris. a woman came thru, handing out cards to say she was homeless with 2 young children, and she sang an out of tune song in our car. so we gave her two euro, and she got off and went to the next car down when we reached the next stop. we haven’t seen homeless beggars before in france.

we got off the train for a subway, and had to walk forever, but we both remember the paris subway system – the most complicated in the world – so it was okay. when we emerged into the daylight, we were at odeon, in the saint germain des pres quarter, and it was just gone 1pm. it was crowded, very lively, extremely busy. too busy, too noisy. and being tourists, we disappeared into the landscape, where everybody is a tourist. we must have heard 10 different languages in the blocks we walked.

it was too late in the day to go to a museum, so we walked up to notre dame. jim lived in paris in 1959-60, and i have visited several times, in 1969, in ’72, and in 1996 when allison and i traveled from barcelona to amsterdam and had to walk from one train station to the other. paris was not as crowded in any of those years as it is now. we walked down to the pont neuf and then along the ile de la cite until we got to notre dam. jim was remembering his time here, i was dodging tourists.

when we got to notre dam, he told me that he’d never been inside, so i was about to insist, but then we noticed the line. the line to get into notre dame stretched from the right hand door, all the way to the end of the place in front of the church, and then doubled back on itself all the way to the left hand door.

it was a good hour’s worth of line, and people were being patient in the hot sun, pausing at the halfway mark to take selfies with the church in the background. we sat on a wall and watched them for awhile. it’ll be as close as we get, i’m afraid. it really is a lovely old church inside, and the rose window is not to be missed. except we’ll be missing it unless we take in sunday mass when the tourists aren’t allowed in. we’ll see.

we were getting tired, so we walked back toward our little parisian flat. i’d done some searching, and knew where there was a carrefour grocery store in st germain, so we went there, and got some nice things for dinner – a head of lettuce and a bottle of dressing, some ravioli, some lamb chops, a half bottle of wine (i’m a lightweight and jim doesn’t drink at all), and then the usual for tomorrow – bread, cheese, ham, and some yogurt. we also got coffee and milk because we’re not going out until we’ve had our coffee. we will have to find a patisserie in the morning so we can get our ambulatory croissant.

now we’re back at the apartment. i’ve made dinner, we’ve eaten, and now jim is finishing his book. i’ve already looked up the english language bookstores in st. germain. now i have to look up the opening hours of the musee d’orsay, because we’re going to haunt that in the morning, before the crowds. we’re afraid to go to the louvre, based on that line at notre dame. but i’ve checked it out. notre dame opens at 8, the museum doesn’t open until 9:30. we can do both. we’ll let you know.

Posted by: jeanne | June 15, 2018

labastide-rouiaroux to lavaur

the days just keep getting shorter and shorter. 80 photos today. we’ve run out of steam, and are very glad that we’re leaving for paris tomorrow. we set the alarm for 8 this morning, only so i could process the photos for our post of yesterday’s travel. i was surprised to see that it takes me an hour to do; i’d never measured it before, but i had the second alarm set for 9. i would have stayed in bed for another little sleep, because it was so nice and quiet at the back of the hotel, but i’d had this dream about the enemy swarming over the pass in jets and we the townspeople having to retreat to the limestone caverns and tunnels, and then monitoring the resistance via internet and spying on peoples’ emails.

jim read while i messed with the photos, and then we went down to breakfast; our hosts had a bunch of store-bought cakes in a basket, and two halves of a freshly-warmed baguette. it was difficult for jim to crunch thru the crust until i persuaded him to dip his bread into his hot chocolate.

it was very windy again this morning. we loaded our stuff into the car, which i had moved in the evening so it wouldn’t be rammed by one of the huge trucks that ply these roads between the mediterranean and toulouse. we were parked the outside of a curve, and i was very nervous about it. we had time to go to the one weekly market that we’ve managed to schedule alongside our stays; this one was in a covered building – salle des fetes – and so we went inside to find a bunch of trucks parked inside the building, the sides opening out into shop windows and display cases. we walked around and i directed jim to a cheese truck, where we got a piece of goat cheese for lunch.

then it was time to go meet our one and only real estate agent, an englishman named clive, who has lived in the area for years, and has single-handedly taken on the job of enticing foreigners to the area to settle. labastide being such a sleepy little town, we wondered if it were possible, but he showed us several nice properties that had been bought up by english-speakers, and assured us there were loads of brits around buying up second homes, and basically countered all the wisdom we’d been collecting from the people we stayed with. so we’ll have to see about that.

on our little tour clive showed us to an impressive pile we’d stopped at last night. it had been snapped up by an englishman for $120k, and he was busy putting the $200k needed into its renovation. the guy was there and asked if i wanted a quick look, so i took him up on it, and while he and clive chatted, i ran in with jim. according to jim, our house looked much like it inside when the family first bought it. just not as big, or in stone, i suppose.

clive showed us one house; we’d been hoping to see the inside of something so we’d know what we were looking at. it’s an art-deco house, and two little old ladies who are now in nursing homes own it, and it was going for under $100k with only surface work to be done on it. of course, it won’t be there when we are ready to do anything, so it’s only an example, but it was good to see.

and then we were off. it was just gone noon, and everything closed for lunch. including the grocery stores. we thought it was funny. a bakery was open across from the shop, so we got bread. all we needed was meat, so we stopped next after mazamet, where there was a hypermarket, france’s version of a super walmart, i guess. there was so much choice. washing machines and refrigerators cost about what they do at home, by the way. we got some ham, and got back in the car for our next destination.

which was a tiny little place called viviers-les-montagnes, which we only decided to visit as the hill appeared off to one side of the road. so up we went, found a place to park, and wandered around looking. the church was closed. the chateau was a private home. there were no shops. so, that was quick. jim tried to stop and pee in the bushes, but it was at the back of someone’s house, right next to a shrine, and beside an ancient church. i nixed that and made him pee in some other bushes…

and then to puylaurens, whose claim to fame was that it was the site of the inquisition, instituted to root out those heretic cathars back in the 1200s. and then a protestant stronghold a couple of hundred years after that. we took our food to the park in the town square, and ate in the shade, then wandered up and down the streets and back to our car.

a protestant house in puylaurens.  looks just like everyone else

i don’t know how many pictures i took today, but we’re already at lavaur, a medium sized town within driving disance of the airport, where we are supposed to get on a 10am flight to paris in the morning. we’re exhausted, and don’t want to walk around the city until we’ve had a nap, but reception in our hotel doesn’t open until 5:30, giving us an hour.

i turned around the put the bags back in the car while jim sat down at a table outside the hotel, and then i brought back his book and my computer so i could jot the day’s events down. of course, i left the cables in the car, so i can’t consult the photos, but that’s okay, because i’ve been marking my phone with where we’ve stopped (partly so i can find the car when we get lost).

so that’s it. we’ll wander after they let us in and we get a nap, then we’ll get something light to eat, and go to bed.  ok.  after our nap, we wandered.  we found the big church right away, and went in just as the bells were ringing.  if you look really carefully at the bottom of the picture below, you can see the 3 people there to say mass.  they’ve totally lost the younger generations here.

can’t escape.  so far we’ve seen jim’s spitting image, my name and figure everywhere in churches and on street signs, and now allison

another masterpiece of le moyen age.  but it was closed

Posted by: jeanne | June 14, 2018

gaillac to labastide-rouiaroux

today was a very light day – only 235 photos. one of those days recently we took 800.

we fled from gaillac as soon as we finished breakfast. albi was only 20 some-odd kilometers away, so we went there right away. it’s a very large city, like gaillac, but it was much nicer, and we didn’t feel like we might be mugged at any moment. it had lots of innocent schoolchildren going home for lunch, and pedestrian streets in the center of the old town.

back to flat land

and it has the largest brick-built cathedral in the world. so how could we not go in? it was so magnificant that we even paid to get into the choir area. actually, we balked at paying 5 euro each, and didn’t want the guided tour (an audio player), and the nice young man said we could go in for half price, so we did.  jim remarked that it was funny how they would bargain in a catholic church, and i reminded him that there was a long precedent of doing just that.

how they built the cathedral

we couldn’t believe the intricacy of the carving, and argued among ourselves whether it was stone or wood. the surface of the walls was plaster covered brick, and every square inch had been painted, and/or was in the process of renovation.

after that, we went to the toulouse-lautrec museum, and they wanted 9 euro apiece to go in. but there was only half an hour left before they closed for lunch, so we laughed out loud at that and turned around and left.

we found a nice bakery nearby, and got ourselves a sandwich, and then walked the many blocks back to where we’d parked our car for free. the city is very large, and there was a lot of traffic, so we consider it too big for our purposes. but we liked it, all the same.

altho it was only 1pm, jim was very tired, while i was fine compared to yesterday. so we set the gps for castres, and diverted to lautrec when we saw the sign.

another medieval city, this time on the saddle between heights, rather than on top of a hill. we came across a shop where everything was the same light blue shade. this is the region of ‘pastel’, which is what the french call woad blue, or indigo blue. it only grows in this region, and it’s a big tourist thing. we wanted to get some actual plant material so we could use it at home, but the guy in the shop insisted that it was too technical, and any tourists that bought some brought it back and complained, so there was none available to buy. so we bought allison some more soap, instead.

there was a windmill at the top of this town, quite unusual from what we’ve seen. the wind was way up today, and the skies were fair, so we sat in the shade near the windmill and ate our ham and brie sandwich, and then pushed on.

jim peed in the bushes, but i waited for the public wc, and it was one of those squat and aim types of bathrooms. some english tourists who came along after i did were a bit too fastidious to use it, but i didn’t care. it was else that or the bushes…

the ladies’

then we went to castres, another big town, found the goya museum, and spend an hour inside, looking at all the wonderful paintings to be seen. and then jim was very tired, so we went on.

goya’s self portrait

armor with faces?  the helm, the breastplate, even the knees

we had to backtrack to get this shot, and jim hoped it was worth it, so i put it here so everyone can see it

the first real mountains we have seen, and we headed right into them

we got to labastide-rouiaroux, one of our major contenders, because there is a lot for sale, and it’s quite cheap compared to the other places we’ve seen. that’s because the character of the town is completely different. it’s not a circular town, and it’s not on a hill. it’s on a main road to the mediterranean, and it’s in between mountains, and it’s a former industrial town that is very sleepy (dilapidated) now.

which is too bad. we are staying at practically the only hotel in town, and our hosts bernard and dominique are wonderful. he’s a great cook, and they made us a wonderful dinner – jim had a tornedo of beef, and i had some smoked duck (they smoked it themselves). aperatif, appetizers, wine, the main course, and creme brulee. we’d warned them we weren’t very hungry – we usually split one dish between us – but they fed us a lot anyway, and we ate most of it.

then we went for a walk while it got dark around us.

decorative slate walls, only in the montagne noire

we found a lovely old pile that someone has recently bought and is beginning to fix up, and a similar house set back amid a garden that looks much newer. while we were drooling over the old pile, a van of workmen pulled up and offered to paint it for us, supposing we’d bought it. we told them were were poor artists, but they still gave us their card.

mostly it seems to be an empty town. lots of ‘a vendre’ signs up, some with prices (50k means they’ll take 25). but the town is almost sad. there are murals in places, but they date back to the ’80s. and several restaurants out of business. not a good sign. we’ll meet with a local real estate agent tomorrow morning, after we see what the local weekly market is like, and we’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on here.

but now it’s 10pm, and we’re both exhausted. we’re getting up way late in the morning – 9:00 – so it’s appropriate because it’ll be our last day here. it’s been very fast. i’m going to need some recovery time when we finally get home, almost a week from now.

Posted by: jeanne | June 13, 2018

saint-antonin to gaillac

today it rained. it was light rain, and we brought our raincoats, and since jim got a new beret in cordes, we both have hats. we had wandered enough thru saint-antonin last evening, so after a nice breakfast with hot, freshly-baked croissants, and a delightful conversation with another guest, from amsterdam, we left town, stopping at the local grocery for lunch stuff.

we didn’t have too much to do today, and everything was very close to everything else, so we took the road along the river and over the mountain to penne. it’s another hill town, surprise surprise, and we’ve been to another penne a few days ago. penne evidently means large feather, and it figures on coats of arms, but i know nothing about the why of it.

penne had a wonderful square, and lots of medieval houses, and right now i forget what makes it special. did it have a castle? i can see i’m going to have to process the photos before i add too much more.

a word about the process: i tend to want to write up the day’s events before i forget them (oops), and then choose and adjust the photos the next day. that’s why each day’s blog is about yesterday’s events. it’s so easy to run everything together in my mind. but i’m so tired at the end of each day, and i’m having so much trouble with my computer and the internet, and it’s so frustrating, that i end up exhausted, trying to deal with the actual work of writing blog posts. but it’s necessary for us, because otherwise we wouldn’t know what we’ve seen, what we’ve liked, and what we haven’t. so let me go on.

look carefully.  jim is the spitting image of alexandre viguier, a famous poet of penne

a sign says sexual harrassment won’t be reported, but will be rated

okay. penne had the construction site. the castle was under repair, and so the site was basically a construction site, and it was raining, so it was actually dangerous to be wandering around. and of course we were the only ones there. we had argued about visiting, because it cost money, but it was worth it to see what renovating a ruined castle is like. and the view was magnificent, of course.

the scaffolding is made of local branches, not metal

then bruniquel.  where there was another castle, this one in great shape, also being renovated, but with almost livable parts housing several exhibits. bruniquel is where in 1990 a kid found a limestone cavern with neanderthal remains in it, and there was a good exhibit about it, tho the cavern is closed to the public.  there was a movie shot here in the ’70s, with romy schneider, one of our favorite actors.  it was a ww2 movie, i forget the name.

neanderthal skull

what a french attic looks like

then we went to puycelsi. and i’ve forgotten again. i had no energy today, and dragged myself around village after village, taking pictures of adorable medieval houses with flowers at the doors, and almost no tourists. when we were done there, we stopped for coffee at a wonderful hillside cafe, and for a few minutes it stopped raining.

a seriously creepy house.  we loved it

the paving stones are laid to direct rainwater thru the streets

france’s warrior goddess.  mostly, there’s mary, who is sweet.  nothing sweet about my namesake, tho

look at that color!

cafe au lait pour moi, et jim adore le chocolat

after puycelsi we stopped at castelnau de montmiral, where they have a very large central square, a large church, and loud french tourists – who’da thunk?

i’m sure i’m getting all this wrong. i will correct it tomorrow, when i process the photos. (or not)

but i remember entering gaillac. it’s in the plains, in wine country, and it’s not a hilltop city at all. it’s huge, and the ancient center is very small. our host this evening was very gracious, the hotel is very quaint and comfortable, and after a nap, we wandered down to the river and back very quickly, as it was windy, cold, and threatening to rain again.

we don’t like gaillac. it’s more like a modern city, made for cars, with lots of commerce, crowded, noisy, dirty. so we got dinner at the supermarket and came back to the hotel to heat it up and eat it, because they have a working kitchen here. and now i’m going to give up on writing this, and go up to our room to go to bed.

tomorrow we’re going to be going thru several large towns on our way to labastide-rouairoux, which is where there is a lot of property to be bought, where we actually will get to experience a weekly market (we’ve managed to miss them all so far), and where we will meet a local estate agent to talk about the area. and then there’s only one more day to wander before we go to paris for two days, and then back to the states and my brother’s family.

Posted by: jeanne | June 12, 2018

villefranche-de-rouergue to saint-antonin-noble-val

we got up late this morning. it was raining in villefranche, so we just stayed in bed. our hosts were listening for us, and when we left our room, they were on us with coffee. and we talked for awhile, tho it was difficult. partly because both of our second languages were poor, but partly because i found it fatiguing to try to think in french, which had been coming easily before. i didn’t much worry about it. the important thing is being understood, not having perfect french.

since we’d wandered so much the evening before, we just got in our car (further undamaged) and went on. our first stop was najac, which is basically one long hilltop street, beginning in a delightful square with fairy-tale houses, and ending in an enormous castle ruin and church beneath, all on the ridge. the castle had a checkered history, with every other entry on the list being ‘razed by somebody’, and then ‘rebuilt in sometime’, and eventually used as a quarry by some guy after the revolution. we walked way down, then way up, then down again, and finally up to the castle. everything is so old.

since we did so much walking, especially up those spiral steps to the keep’s roof deck, steps so worn that we had to clutch the handrail and the central spine in order to keep our footing, we were tired enough to consider stopping in a cafe for a coffee and a crepe. we’d met up with a tiny little girl three times; her family had taken her to the castle and bought her some sort of souvenir, for which she dutifully kissed both mama and papa, and then we saw her singing ‘au clair de la lune’, which both jim and i sang back to her (very disconcerting to her 3 year old self), and then we saw them in the cafe, and she went to accost jim back (he sticks his nose into little kids’ faces and freaks them right out), but her mom distracted her with a toy car from her bag, so they left us to ourselves.

it’s the first rainy day we’ve had; light rain, just showers, so we got out our raincoats. elsewhere in the countryside it rained mightily, so we heard later, but on us it was just soft, thank god.

after our stop for coffee and a crepe, we continued on, setting the gps for laguepie, which we’d heard was spectacular. but after najac, it was uninspiring, but we did stop at the bridge to capture a castle with an even more depressing history (razed, rebuilt, razed, rebuilt, left to deteriorate after the revolution (of 1797)).

then we went to cordes-sur-ceil, another hilltop town, and a medieval town as well. and packed with tourists, so much so that we came up side streets to avoid them.  but they were at the top, waiting for us.

lots of twisty turny streets, loads of ancient buildings. the streets were so steep that jim and i had to hold hand to avoid slipping on the very steep, wet cobbles. we bought our first souvenirs there, too. jim got another beret, and i got a nice indian-made wool scarf.

and then we passed some sun catchers that spin in the breeze. we’ve never seen anything like them; they’re like electric signs, and extremely mesmerizing. jim kind of didn’t want to get them, but i couldn’t take my eyes off them, and knew i’d regret not getting them. so we spent what is for us a lot of money today. i don’t think we’ll be doing any more of it, tho.

after that, i set the gps for saint-antonin, and tho it led us in the wrong direction again, i ignored it and followed my paper map, and we took the river road rather than going over the causse. the river started out in a fairly wide valley, but then ended up narrowing into a gorge with tremendous limestone cliffs, and so we entered saint-antonin.

this is the setting for the helen mirren movie ‘the 100 foot journey’, (jim worked with dame helen on ‘the leisure seekers’ recently), and it’s flat. it’s a medieval town, and circular, and the road goes around it because the streets are in places as narrow as those of venice. it’s also quite small. and it’s flat.

we arrived after 6, which seems to be about par for the course for us, met the proprietor, who is english. there’s a gallery downstairs and the door was open to the hallway, so we could smell fresh paint. and there’s nothing more attractive to artists. turns out there are two artists staying here on a long term basis, and we had a good conversation about art, life, politics (we apologized), saint-antonin, and art.

then we went off to tour the town, because the sun doesn’t even set until 9pm here. we went all around in our raincoats while it dripped on us, found ourselves back at our hotel, and then ducked around the corner to a recommended restaurant with simple food and cheap prices. we asked to split an entree+plat+wine, and tho the lady had a hard time dealing with it, she brought us two plates piled high with salad, and then two more plates full of porkchop and fries. we were stuffed by the end of it. an english threesome from somewhere near yorkshire, judging by their accents, pulled up to the table next to us, and we lowered our voices so they wouldn’t try to talk to us. they were the holiday type, and we wouldn’t have much to talk about, because they were obviously here on holiday, and not to make friends or find somewhere perfect for a second home.

when we were done, we walked down to the river and took pictures of the bridge, then wandered back to the hotel, and right now jim is in bed, reading, and i’m at the desk writing and managing photos. we took 800 photos today, twice what we have been taking. but cordes was so interesting that we took a photo every time we turned around. saint-antonin is nowhere near as picturesque.

breakfast is at 9 tomorrow, and the proprietor promises hot home-baked croissants, so we’ll wait around. this area is full of places to see, so we’ll be busy tomorrow. we’re going to end up at the center of wine production for the region, so we’ll be going down into flatter country tomorrow.

Posted by: jeanne | June 12, 2018

figeac to villefranche-de-rouergue

i felt poorly in the morning, so we didn’t get up until 8, and wandered around the city looking for a boulangerie so we could get some croissants. we went up to the top of the town and meandered down a wonderful stairway, somewhat like the iconic one in san francisco, but not for cars.

every town we visit is more charming than the last, and i find myself being reluctant to leave. each has its positives, and each is very livable. mostly the towns are surrounded by modern suburbs, but we don’t know anything about them. we stay inside the boundaries of the ancient town walls. figeac goes way back.

eventually we stopped in the same little grocery and got supplies for lunch – salmon this time, cheese, little pots of yogurt in usable glass jars that jim is now collecting.

and then i went back to bed while jim sat and read for awhile. when i felt better and got up, it was 11:30, so we got in the car. and went 4 km to capdenac.  unfortunately we left my pillow in figeac.  oh well.

another beautiful small hillside village, but this one went back to the gauls. there was a famous battle with julius caesar, and an ancient well we couldn’t get to. the church was 7th century. while we were passing, we heard organ music and saw people coming out, so mass was just then over, and we went inside to sit in the coolness and listen to the organ.

then of course we toured the church and took photos. an old woman had noticed our every move, and came up to me to tell me if i was taking photos, there were a couple of very old statues i must see, and led me to the first, an adorable carving of saint joseph with a baby (wonder whose?), and off in a vestibule, a much older carving. jim was in heaven hahaha.

the lady spoke of rocamadour, saying it was only 30 km from capdenac, but the gps doubled that, so we decided not to. it’s far to the north of where we are looking, so we’ll leave it for another trip. we set the gps for villefranche de rouergue, our next overnight stay, and went there. we were both fatigued from our travails, and hopefully we have shorter days now, with fewer stops (it will be so, because it’s now raining).

we did stop at the grotto of foissac, but they were closed for lunch, so we ate our own lunch and then got back on the road.

but we did stop at villaneuve, another ‘new’ town, with a donjon, battlements, and 4 quarters. it would have been laid out on the bastide plan of gridded streets, but this plan was interrupted by some terrain (otherwise it was the flattest town we’d been in since moissac) and the streets turned especially near the church.

we met two people. following the interesting layout of houses and the sound of hammering, we turned into a little alley where a sculptor as old as jim was banging chips out of the limestone to build a wall. after asking his permission to take pictures, we had a short conversation about building dry walls, with no cement. he hated cement. it doesn’t allow the water to pass thru the rocks, and starts deteriorating the moment you put it on, whereas rocks last forever. sort of. limestone crumbles, but they deal with that somehow.

then we wandered into the church, again because we heard music, and found the organist practicing something wonderful. when he stopped, i went up to ask what he was playing, and he told me it was a modern piece by a canadian (with a french name) named denis bedard – do you know of him, andreas?

then, but for a photo of jeanne d’arc (c’est moi), we were off, this time heading directly for villefranche, another new town, built in the 1200s.

we parked, hesitantly, considering all the angles someone could attack our car from, and then marched with our bags to our hotel. which was closed. i found a message on my phone saying they’d be there from 7pm, so i was irritated, as i wanted a nap. so we put our stuff back in the car, and wandered toward the cathedral, from which we heard music. a choir and instruments.

so we wandered into a final rehearsal, and sat there until the director dismissed the musicians until showtime. it seems we were meant to witness it, because showtime was still before our hotel opened up, so we explored the city, which is as lively as figeac, but with more empty stores. when we got back, we still had 45 minutes, so we sat in a cafe in the main square where the church is, and ordered some chocolate. some of the other patrons looked familiar, most were dressed in black, and we noticed the first violinist at one table. we were certain when they all got up just as my alarm rang for 10 minutes to showtime, and we followed them into the church.

the concert was wonderful. all french composers except for cherubini, who spent time in france. we enjoyed every moment.

and then we got our bags and went to our hotel, a most amazing piece of restoration. the boys who run it, a nice gay couple, had taken it from a total wreck and completely modernized it, and the inside of the building has so many nooks and crannies. we’re staying on the almost top floor, which is mostly outdoors. our rooms are off to the side of the terrace, and it was raining in the middle of it by the time we arrived, but there is a covering we used to get to our rooms.

our hosts have as much english as i have french, so we got along well, if a few misunderstandings didn’t get in the way. for instance, i’m sure he told me the house had never been lived in even tho it’s ancient, and that it served as a conservatory in its past life. i’m pretty sure that’s not possible, but it’s only because i didn’t understand what he was actually saying.

we went back out for dinner, to that same cafe, because our hosts told us there were only 3 restaurants open on sundays, and the first one we passed was closed. they did not recommend the cafe in the square, but we thought it would be fine, because they offered hamburgers, which jim loves, and salads, which i love. so we chose a table on the street outside the cafe – because they blocked the cars completely with tables.

we sat next to an english couple! it’s the first time we’ve seen any english speakers, except for one couple on the hotel tour in figeac (they’d come over from australia and bought a manor house outside figeac, and were going to open a b&b there). the couple at the table beside us was originally from london, but had moved to provence a decade ago, and now were looking here in the midi, because not only was it much cheaper, but it was greener, and the food was better, and the people weren’t so stuffy. so we talked about areas and places to live, and turns out we’d seen none of the same places on our trips. but good luck to them.

the clouds were getting murky, and there was some light rain in the evening, but it turned to steady rain in the night, and now, as we’ve had breakfast and are getting ready to leave for our next leg, it’s on and off pissing rain. but there’s jim, up on the rooftop deck, taking pictures of the city. so we’ll leave our kind and generous and very artistic hosts, and move on. perhaps we won’t visit so many places today, but there are some real stunners on the route, so we’ll see. we brought raincoats and an umbrella…

Posted by: jeanne | June 11, 2018

puy l’eveque to figeac

we got up at 7; i kept the alarm setting we use when taking connor to school, but it was already daylight at 6, and the sun was about to clear the hilltop and shine into our room. our hosts had breakfast set out for us – a very nice breakfast of everything cereal (croissant, cereal, toast), and stood around talking and answering all my questions. jim never got a word in edgewise.

and then we walked around the old town for an hour, so it was 9 before we got in the car and left. before we went, i told our hosts about he poison ivy i had found on their back wall. i was surprised to see poison ivy, tho there was virginia creeper, and the two often go together. he’s english, so has never seen poison ivy, and went to touch it right after i told him how bad it was. so i told him again, in more detail, and warned them to use gloves, wash their gloves and clothing, and never burn it. they were shocked; as they’re avid gardeners, they would have gotten into trouble and never known what caused the rash.

but first we passed thru cahors, which is way too large for us, but does have this magnificent ancient bridge.  so we stopped for half an hour and walked up to where we could see all the way thru, and then went back.  it was going to be a very hot day, and we were already sweltering, so we tired easily, even in the morning.

i set the gps for st. cirq la popie; it’s one of les plus beaux villages de france, and all the guidebooks say how charming it was. at this point we stopped being on flat land, and it became mountainous. but still it was limestone plateau with eroded hillsides and steep valleys, but now it became gorge and plateau, the vegetation thick and lush, the valleys – what there were of them – very flat and fertile. but the corn we’d been seeing was now very small, where in the garonne valley it was almost knee high at this stage of the summer. we heard sheep for the first time, as well; previously it had been cows. we were in the lot valley, and it’s a different area. before it was quercy blanc, where the limestone is white; now it was the causses, and the stones were definitely yellow.

we stopped at the supermarket on our way out of puy l’eveque. we wanted something similar to what we’d had the day before – baguette, butter, sliced cheese, sliced ham, and a pack of cookies. it was very crowded because it was saturday. when we returned to the car, there was a huge scratch on the door panel from some jerk going thru from space to space instead of going around the long way. so i should have gotten that extra insurance. i’ve never had this happen before, and i’m inclined to blame french drivers. but i’m going to have to pay for it, and that doesn’t make me happy.

our hosts had warned us, the road was winding and small. we got to st. cirq, passed the parking lot in our hurry to get to the little town, and had to find a place to turn around. this place had police on motorbikes who would hurriedly drive to a congested spot and wave traffic on, and then zoom around to the next spot. there were tour busses; the first time we’d seen that. we made it back to the parking lot at the top of the hill (mountain), where jim tried to tell me that maybe we should continue on and not walk the mile down to the village on that twisty turny narrow road. but i ignored him, and we parked.

the view from the top was magnificent. the houses are stacked one on top of the other on this hillside, and then the hill drops off into a cliff face that goes down several hundred feet before hitting the river. truly impregnable, except someone did conquer it and then razed the castle that stood on a great knob of rock in the middle of the medieval city. then i learned the reason for jim’s hesitation despite the great picturesqueness of the houses. i laughed so hard. with all this architecture, he thinks i want to climb a rock.

it’s a fantastically picturesque little village. it’s also full of souvenir shops and boutiques, and about a hundred restaurants. and the strangest thing, ALL of the tourists were french. our hosts the night before had warned us – the french are passionately french, and tour france exclusively. they were the only tourists there. we saw only one E plate in the parking lot, all the others were F. and ours was the only rental car (perhaps why we got scraped). i’ve never seen so much nationalism except in that part of america where people never venture out of their own state.

it was a hot day – 85 – and very sunny. it was supposed to rain every day but it hasn’t rained once. and once we got to the bottom of the village (people actually live there, we found, but mainly at the other end from the tourists), we had to walk all the way back up, and then climb the hill to the parking lot. we were exhausted by the time we got back to our car. so we sat around and had lunch, and then got back on the road.

the gps kept trying to take us back to st cirq all the way to figeac. it was most disconcerting, and eventually i navigated by the map i’d brought. i figured it out eventually – i’d been messing with the settings – and we wound our way past limestone cliffs overhanging the road and shedding stones into our path. we drove mostly along the river, which had turned muddy brown. only near puy l’eveque had it been more clear, but it’s been raining a lot in this region, and the garonne was also muddy.

because we’d eaten, we got tired, but it was very difficult to find a place to pull over, and more difficult to find shade; when we did we took a nap before going on. and we were only 10km from figeac when we took our nap, but i couldn’t afford any wooziness on those tiny little roads. so when we woke up, we continued in, found our parking space, and called our host, who was there by the time we found the house.

we’re staying in the office apartment of a clinical psychologist, but it’s still a perfectly serviceable apartment, so we were fine, and after saying goodbye to our host and unpacking what we need, we went out with the camera and climbed about the medieval city. figeac has a large modern surround, and is very lively, partly due to two aerospace companies that have set up shop there. it’s by far the most lively place we’ve been in, full of people sitting at outdoor cafes and having a good time. there are about 10,000 people there, with modern suburbs like puy l’eveque all around it.

first we wandered into a free tour of a 14th century castle, so called. but it had been turned into a hotel, so everybody was waiting to enter hotel rooms that had some history. and the place was on the market, so it seemed we were in a group tour of hotel rooms. we left after half an hour, having seen three rooms. it was the most boring thing. we climbed up to the top of the town, to the church, and sat in the coolness while some women prepared for mass later that evening.

and then we were exhausted, so we came back to the apartment and jim went to sleep while i ducked out to the shops to get some cream for tomorrow. i also got a ready to heat meal of lamb and beans cooked the regional way, and two tiny pots of ice cream (but didn’t turn the fridge down far enough), and stuck everything away to concentrate on finishing the last blog post while jim slept.

we ate dinner, a very light meal, and then went out for a wander without the camera. we have a light day tomorrow, so we can walk around in the morning before leaving. we chose not to set the clock so we can sleep in, and i’m really glad we did, because we are in a house only 2-3 houses from the place de champollion, which was filled with patrons until just a few minutes ago – it’s 2am now. when i said lively, i meant it. and the weather is cool in the evening, so we have all the windows open, and the noise just went on and on. now the staff is wrenching steel tables around on the pavement and clinking plates and glasses, but the talking and laughing people are gone. and so now i can hear the low beat of a nightclub nearby, and i suspect that noise will go on for hours. but now that it’s mostly quiet, i can go back to sleep perhaps, and see how it turns out tomorrow.

Posted by: jeanne | June 9, 2018

moissac to puy l’eveque

we arrived at charles de gaule airport in paris with 3 hours to spare, so the first thing we did was to get a sim card for my phone, and the second thing we did was to sit down and have a coffee and croissant. ok, i had a croissant. jim ate the bagel with peanut butter he’d brought along from home, that had been sitting in its plastic bag for two days. yummy.

i was too tired to write in the blog, so i processed the photos and read some of my travel novel while jim worked thru his. and then we got on the plane. it was an air france flight, so they woke us up for a snack, and then we both went back to sleep again. and then we were in toulouse.

the guy at the car rental place tried to sell me complete insurance coverage for more than the car cost to rent (more about that later), and the law here mandates your car be covered for cdw, so i said no. and then we started out of the airport and tried to get on the autoroute toward moissac, but i was using the gps for the first time ever, and it kept trying to get us to go down a closed road, so it took an entire hour of driving around in circles before we found another way and got on the road.

this part of france is all rolling hills and nice little farms, and the vegetation seems to be a mix of early summer lushness and late spring gangliness. the wisteria was still blooming, for example, while the mullein was already flowering, and at home those two plants represent april and july. so i was confused. our weather forecast was for endless rain, but it was clear and dry, and the sun was coming between the clouds. i had worn my woolen pants and brought sweaters, and already i was down to my one summer pair of pants and an indian shirt plus sandals.

we got to our place in moissac. it was right on one of the main streets, around the corner from the central parking lot around the market area. moissac is on the route to compostella, which is a famous ancient walking path from everywhere in western europe to a shrine and church in compo stella (means field of stars). it was about 7 in the evening, which was about 1 in the afternoon two days later than we left home. we were very tired, so we’d asked the hotel if we could take them up on their offer of dinner. the proprietor is a very nice man named patrick, and his 6 year old son. his wife was away on business, so it was just the boys, and little victor was as cute as connor, and fond of rushing around cleaning things.

we put our things in the room and went for a walk, to see what moissac was like. my first impression was of how many people from other places there were. lots of french-speaking immigrants and their children, lots of middle aged french people. a beautiful ancient town, dating from the 1200s, and actually, considering the -ac ending, dating back to roman times. it’s right on a canal that stretches from the mediterranean to the atlantic, and the house we were in was exactly on the route to compostella, and had a clamshell on the door to indicate its popularity with walkers.

patrick was putting dinner on the table when we got back. we ate in the garden, a beautiful place, and patrick told us about the area while we ate. i don’t speak much french, and he doesn’t speak much english, but we actually conversed quite well together. he had only been in moissac four years, they’d bought the house and fixed it up themselves, they had 8-10 pilgrim walkers every night, moissac was the center of fruit production in the south of france, when it gets hot it gets very hot but it almost never freezes. the last bit was confirmed when we noticed the palm trees and the way the plumbing pipes descended on the outside of the houses.

like connor, victor didn’t want to eat his dinner. he kept getting up and getting distracted. his dad kept telling him to sit down and eat. it was just like home. the food was simple – an omelet of nothing but eggs, from their own hens, a carrot salad, home made ratatouille, salad and cheese for dessert, and ice cream for the boys. i had two whole glasses of local cahors wine, which was very good, and we took another short walk back to the ancient church, and marched off to bed around 10pm. we slept like the dead.

this morning we were up at 7, and patrick brought us breakfast in the garden – fresh croissants, thick coffee, and fresh orange juice. he was particularly fond of the butter from brittany that was like what he was used to back home. it was quite salty, far moreso than what we’re used to, but it sure did liven up the croissant. jim ate all his, i wrapped mine for later.

and then we ducked into the church, found the famous cloister was not yet open, and split. patrick had recommended we go to auvillar, because it was full of artists, and then to lauzerte, which we already knew about – also full of artists. both are hill towns. back in the day, they seemed to have nothing but hill towns, and certainly they were all fortified, because life in the 12th century, right up to he 16th century, was pretty violent, and so everybody lived with protection and prepared to face a siege. so lots of walled towns on the tops of hills, and lots of hilly walking.

at this point it’s all a little fuzzy, because we drove for 8 hours today, even tho it takes about an hour to get from moissac to where we are now. we didn’t stop at each town, but we drove thru a lot of them.


jeanne d’arc, france’s national hero

lots of artists in auvillar

used to be for storing grain


a pilgrim and her horse riding the road to compostella



the ground was very stony on this limestone plateau


penne de agenais

talk about your crazy paving

a grotto behind the modern (1897) church


turns out fumel is a steel town, and the steel industry is now gone

puy l’eveque

the view from our room in puy l’eveque

they’re all hill towns. what can i say, i’ve forgotten which was which so i’m going to have to let the photos speak for themselves. we would drive up the hill, find a place near the mayor’s house to park, wander thru some sort of stone gateway, and enter a medieval city full of tiny, twisty, hilly lanes and stone houses. in quercy, which is where we started out, all the houses were made of white limestone, which grew more yellow the farther we went. the hills got hillier, and by montquc we could see that we were now in the causses, a limestone plateau with towns in the valleys or on top of limestone outcrops. we passed from the valley of the garonne river to the valley of the lot river, where we are now. the architecture changes too, but i don’t know enough about it to really remark on the difference.

it got later and later. we were surprised to find it 1pm, and then further surprised when it was 2, and we were in a totally modern church (built 1897) when the bells tolled three. and then did it again five minutes later. we were in penne at that point, looking at a display of several large balls of limestone that some priest found in a cave nearby (limestone = caves), and that had been used as artillery at one point (my french is not good), and were now made into a rosary. we stopped at a grocery store on the way to fumel and made ourselves sandwiches which we ate in the car facing the hugely spired church of fumel.

we’re looking for two things. we’re looking for a place that would be perfect to settle semi-permanently, and we have a number of preconditions for that, and we’re also looking for beautiful things to paint, so we already have several hundred photos to bring home. many of the places we visited are too small to support our list of requirements, and we avoided the places that were too big. fumel didn’t attract us at all, but we found both auvillar and lauzerte utterly charming. montcuq and montaigu were just too small but very picturesque. and hill towns take a lot of legwork, and would not be suitable should either of us end up needing a walker in a few years. things to consider.

after fumel, we couldn’t wait to get to our destination, so we only stopped once, to take a picture of a really yellow church,

and then high-tailed it to puy l’eveque, where we are now. we’re staying in a delightful old maison built in 1767, in a huge room with enormous ceilings, done up just so by an english couple, who will tell us all about why they like living here, what the winters are like, how the people are. our friend patrick warned us that the area is full of british people, only because of my bad french i thought he was talking about people from brittany. but our current hosts set us straight on that. they also told us that it does get down to -18C in the winter in puy l’eveque, and in the 40s in the summers, and warned us that saint antonin gets way colder because they’re down in the gorge, and the winds come down and freeze everything solid. we have so much to learn about this area…

a very nice maison de maitre

we had a nap immediately, and now we’re sitting in the garden in the late evening, getting our strength back before doing a wander with the camera and finding a certain bar restaurant down by the river. puy l’eveque is between a loop of the lot river, and it’s a hill town like the others (except for moissac), but like moissac it is open to the water. and like moissac, and all of the towns, actually, there is a lot of modernity down on the flat of the land. medieval towns can’t widen their streets, and that’s what the tourists are there to see, so anybody who wants to have a job and raise their kids has to live in the new town at the bottom. and of course that’s where the grocery stores are, and the gas stations, and so on. in puy l’eveque there is a lot of new, and it has spread along the hilltop toward the neck of the loop, rather than at the bottom of town, which is occupied by he old town. it’s rather disconcerting to look up the hill in one direction and see beautiful old rooftops, and look the oher way and find new apartment buildings, already falling apart.

tomorrow we make it to figeac, an hour’s drive, but we’ll extend it out as far as we did today, i’m pretty sure. and there was no rain at all today, so it got pretty hot, almost 80, which we only barely dressed for when we packed. oh well.

a brief note. we went for dinner; it was almost 9pm and our hosts directed us to a bar by the river, so we went down there and ordered the daily special for jim and a salad for me. and a pint of guinness: i just can’t help myself. i could only eat a little, tho, as my stomach is delicate after so much driving and so little sleep. the interesting part came with the check. they’re only open a few weeks, and they don’t take plastic yet, so i was directed to the cash machine, which is at the top of the town. so i had to walk up a whole bunch of steps to get to the top, leaving jim as hostage.

the view from the steps

but it wasn’t so bad, and i didn’t get an asthma attack or a heart attack, and i got out a bunch of money so this won’t happen again. it was actually very fortunate, because i got a few photos of he town, which so far we hadn’t had the energy for. let’s see if we do as much tromping about on hill towns tomorrow.

Posted by: jeanne | June 8, 2018

we’re from france

‘we’re from france’.  that’s an old quote, spoken by aliens.  that certainly fits us at the moment, because we’re just as tired as we can be, and we still have one more flight leg and about an hour’s drive until we can plop down on a bed and breathe again.

i wrote the following on the plane last night:

we’re traveling again. but this time it’s not me by myself, or me and the boys, but me and jim. we’re going to do a tour of southern france. and we’re only going for ten days. we’re going to rent a car in toulouse and cruise around a region called the midi. it’s the south of france for the not-very-rich. the south of france for rich people is provence, the cote d’or, the riviera. we’re going to a land where the population is dropping and housing is cheap, and we’re looking for a special place we’re going to want to come back to again and again.

i’ve been researching the area extensively since we decided to go back in february. it’s a hilly limestone region, the toenails of the massif central, a cool ancient volcanic range in the middle of the south of france, well away from the pyrenese????? mountains at the border with spain. the history of the place goes right back to prehistoric times – archeologists have found stuff going back 400,000 years. cave paintings, dolmens, stuff like that. lascaux is in this region, for example. more, it was the area of the albigensian crusade in the 13th century, when catholic fought catholic over a little difference in doctrine. and later still, it was where much of the war between the english and the french was fought for several hundred years. and later, it was the area of the greatest resistance to the nazis in the second world war. they speak a different language, they don’t consider themselves like the rest of france, and they have attitude. so i like it already.

but it’s a rural area, with small craft-industrial towns, and all the old industries and people are dying off, and the young ones are going away. it’s the same in many countries. what happens then is that a bunch of foreigners – expats – come in, buy and fix the cheap houses, and start businesses. cafes and restaurants, tourists shops, art galleries, hotels and guest houses. and we’re looking for that. a nice little town that doesn’t dry up and blow away in the winter, where there are cafes and shops and at least one grocery store, and that certain something that says we’re home. we’re making a tour of all the different kinds of towns – old roman towns, medieval towns, new towns (new in the 13th century), bastide towns fortified and built to house craftspeople and merchants, industrial towns known in the past for their leatherwork and woodwork, agricultural towns that produce wines and cheeses. and we’re looking at the different landscapes, from the pastoral fields and streams where cows pasture to the hills where grape vines grow, from limestone plateaus where sheep graze to steep gorges with hilltop towns way above the rivers. the weather ranges from mediterranean (hot summers hot hot hot hot hot and mild winters) to atlantic (cool and rainy summers with cold winters). and at the time we’re going – now – the weather is going to range from the low 70s with rain to the low 80s with sun, so i’ve packed spring clothing with a few lighter items for when it swelters. but that’s okay, because atlanta is already in the upper 80s and low 90s now, and it’s the beginning of june – which is one very good reason why we’re looking for somewhere else to spend our summers.

we’ve left the grandkids with their mom, and the dogs too, and the house, and we’re pretty sure we’re going to come back to a slightly more dusty but essentially same house when we return. of course, you never know. it could be spotless. as long as it hasn’t burned down, i’ll be happy enough.

we left atlanta on tuesday, before dawn. this took some doing. i got tired of renting cars every time i have to go somewhere, so we put my ’91 honda station wagon into the shop, and paid almost as much as i paid for the car to fix a variety of things – a new head gasket, a new alternator, belts and hoses, an oil change, a general tune up, and an alignment. the last item was the problem. the guys at the shop don’t do alignments, so they recommended a company called kram. and here i’m going to be mean. the guys at kram took one look at me and decided it would be fun to mess with me. so after five minutes on the lift, they came out and told me i had loose bushings on the rack and pinion steering, and i’d have to get that fixed before they could align the tires. so i took it back to the shop. and they told me that there was now a bolt missing on the rack and pinion assembly, and they were going to have to make a new bolt, drill a hole in the subframe, and kluge it back together. and then i took it to firestone to get the alignment, and they told me my tires were dangerously bad, so i got a new set of tires. and now i’ve paid for the car twice over, but on the other hand i have a car that runs remarkably smoother.

so i canceled the rental car i was going to use to get us to washington, and we took off before the traffic got bad in atlanta, heading north. 5:00am. it was a clear morning, for a change, and somewhat chilly. the kids were all still asleep as we snuck out of the house, and we were almost to tennessee by the time the sun rose.

there’s not much to tell about the trip to dc. the car behaved well, but i stopped a little more than every 2 hours, to let it cool down a little. and i had jim with me, so it was very pleasant, and we talked the whole way, except after breakfast when jim went to sleep for awhile. having left at 5, we hadn’t actually had any breakfast, and that’s not normal for jim. but traveling 600 miles isn’t really normal for him, either. so we stopped at 10 and gassed the car and let it rest for awhile. and we both walked into a truckstop for something to eat. jim’s not used to truckstops. i should write a blog post about them because they’re such an american icon, and the only place i know where you can get sequined baseball caps. we found a stand where the guy was frying up some chicken, and when i realized they fried chicken livers as well, i called jim over, very excited. he loves chicken livers. and so do i, but i got a breast of chicken and let him have all the livers. at 10 in the morning. we ate in the car, just to be outside, and i basically stood around on the verge with my feet squiggling in the wet grass, and doused my chicken with ketchup while i ate it. jim sat in the car and worked thru the livers, and when we were finished, we turned on the car and proceeded. and that’s about as interesting as the drive got.

only 3 states – georgia, tennessee, virginia. a minor city every two hours, and a whole lot of mountains. we took the main truck route north, because truckers are every so much better drivers than the run of 4-wheelers we would have to travel with if we went the piedmont highway, or the coastal highway. it wasn’t very sunny, either, so it was a comfortable drive. but the virginia part is always much longer than the signs say, and even tho mapquest tells me it’s a 10 hour drive, i can never do it in under 12, and even when my calculations said we’d get there by 4, it was sure enough 6 when we pulled in to my brother mike’s house just west of dulles airport.

mike has 4 kids, and they’ve seen a lot of me in the past year, but probably don’t even remember jim. they were all out doing stuff when we arrived, so we got ourselves something to eat at a local asian restaurant (sushi for me, thanks, and jim’ll have chicken fried rice), and a pint of guinness from the local grocery store, and arrived back just as mike was getting home. the kids trickled in later, and everybody settled in for the evening.

middleburg, va

i tried to talk family business with my brother, because i’ve been coming up to dc every couple of months for almost a year now, trying to straighten out mom’s affairs, and i usually have to talk family business with all the siblings. but nothing came out this time, and only after jim and i discussed it did i realize that this trip has nothing to do with the usual reasons i go up there, and it was inappropriate to even bring it up. so we didn’t discuss anything about mom, or her stuff, or the other brothers and sisters. which was actually quite a relief. i had called mom from the road, but she thought i was coming up to do more with her stuff in storage, and acted as if i was trying to steal it from her, so rather than pick her up and take her to storage so she could see what’s there, in the end jim and i decided to just plain never mind family involvement, and go to a museum instead.

jim and i went for a walk as the sun set. mike lives in a freshly-built community full of expensive houses and lots of kids, the equivalent of the neighborhood we grew up in, but updated for the modern era. and they have wonderful landscaping, and great water features. so we walked up to look at the fake stream and waterfall at the entrance of the neighborhood. it cost somebody a lot to build, and was very intricately designed, but there were parts that were stagnant already, and you could tell that the water was chlorinated, so no fish but also no algae. there were rocks in the streamlet that kids could easily make stepping stones out of, and lots of things for kids to play with, but it wasn’t designed for kids to play with, and the rocks weren’t cemented in, and definitely not safe and sanitized, the way the water feature is in the north fulton park where the kids do sword practice. this streamlet and waterfall complex was not designed for kids to play on. and i found that absolutely amazing. if we’d had that in our neighborhood when we were growing up, we’d have been all over the thing every day. it had climbing rocks, for heaven’s sake. and no kids climbing. i even felt like climbing it myself. so how in the world would kids not be all over the thing? turns out todays kids don’t roam the neighborhood. they go out with their parents for walks, and other than that they’re at home with their electronics. so kids don’t run unsupervised in these neighborhoods. just like they basically don’t run around the neighborhood we live in. our next door neighbors never leave their house except to get into their cars and go away. what’s the world coming to?

but never mind all that. it got dark on us, so we walked back to mike and shan’s house and went to bed. i always sleep well at my brother’s house. in the morning we were up before the house rose, which is normal. shan homeschools the kids and so everybody gets up when they get up naturally, and there’s no scrambling around hoping they don’t miss the school bus. a much friendlier way to do things, in my opinion. but i could never homeschool, so my solution would be to start school an hour or two later in the day. we had our coffee downstairs, and the rest of them gradually got up and came to join us.

we had decided the night before to just go downtown to the museum district and spend the morning looking at art, and then make our way to the airport in the early afternoon. so that’s what we did.

mike dropped us at the subway station, we had a couple of laughs with two old guys who were going downtown for a baseball game, and dropped our backpacks off at the cloakroom at the national gallery. we only had an hour and a half, so we headed for the impressionists and greeted all our old friends in various galleries. our old friends the renoirs and degas and corots and cassatts. then we went off to say hello to rembrandt and hals and then my alarm went off and we got out bags and left.

union station next, which proved to be farther than i had remembered,

so we flagged down a taxi. we just got to the commuter train in time for the next train to bwi airport, and arrived at checkin before the attendants, got thru security making actual jokes with the tsa guys, and then headed for the first restaurant we saw – a fish place – and had something to eat. because we’re flying wow airlines, and they don’t serve food on the plane unless you pay for it separately.

so now we’re in the air, the sun is setting to the west, jim has read several hundred pages of his travel book, and i’ve caught up with our trip so far. i will finish this post at the airport in paris while we wait for our flight to toulouse, and then the next post will be all about our actual travels in france.



Posted by: jeanne | March 18, 2018

mardi gras lite – because lent

several weeks ago, my friend marie asked if i wanted to go to new orleans for a lesser-known costume parade called ‘super sunday’. it’s held on st. joseph’s day, which is a saint’s day feast brought to new orleans by sicilian immigrants back at the turn of the 20 th century, and features edible altars and lots of sicilian (sweet) food. but the costumed part is a black community festival of great local importance, and the community puts in an enormous amount of work into it every year. the costumes have an indian/african flair and are all feathers and beads but still way a ton, and each ‘tribe’ trash talks and postures and out-splendors the other tribes until somehow there’s a winner, which bolsters he pride of the winning tribe for another year. my cousin susan says that her great grandfather, who had a bakery, used to order fancy feathers from europe that the indians would put on layaway every year, and use in their costume. back in the early 1900s.

marie goes every year, and has a blast, so i decided i could easily go with her, and did. it meant adjusting the dates for going up to mom’s to deal with the family papers, but that was easily done, too. so on friday morning, we packed up and left atlanta, going south. our first stop was south of montgomery alabama, where we got gas (and candy and boiled peanuts (taste like black beans), and stopped at a krystal, because we both agreed that diet and sensible eating be damned while on a road trip. she ordered a bunch of little burgers, and I got the junkyard fries, with everything and ranch dressing. We stood and stared at a computerized picture of a krystal burger, made up of hundreds of tiny thumbnails of the store and its employees. i was looking for duplicate photos. i found 5 or 6. and then we realized everybody back of us in the line had already been served, so we asked again, and turns out they’d forgotten all about us. strange. the food was filling, and the kind of yummy-delicious that means it’s loaded with msg, but sigh that’s road food for you.


and then it was my turn to drive. i love to drive; marie hates it. so when i started to fall asleep, as i do 20 minutes after i eat during the day, i decided to shoulder on thru, and was very drowsy for awhile, but managed not to run off the road or get into an accident, and after an hour i could feel the food fog lift and was fine again. did i mention that i-85 south is as boring as anywhere else on its route? it is. even going thru the great dismal swamp in north carolina / virginia. it has only been surpassed by trying the alternate route north from new orleans – i-59 thru hattiesburg. that’s the most boring road i’ve ever been on.

all the way down from atlanta, the trees were still bare, with green here and there, and the beginnings of the dogwoods coming out. but once we got to the gulf, it was full spring. every tree was out, the azaleas were in full bloom, and it was warm and muggy the way it never gets in atlanta.

we pulled into our hotel – a comfort inn or something – about 4 in the afternoon local time (they’re an hour behind atlanta). marie had gotten a motel in slidell, across lake ponchartrain from new orleans, for the very good reason that there wasn’t a single place in new orleans for under $250 a night. i checked airbnb, and their prices were much worse than the hotels (which isn’t usually the case). the room was comfortable enough, but since we’ve both had the hotel niles experience, we weren’t very impressed. it’s the little details. the musty smell, the missing coffee cups in the bathroom coffee center, the mold on the walls in the bathroom, the ill-fitting room door-jamb, the persistent odor of cigarette smoke in our nonsmoking motel.

after a brief rest while the vibrations of the road finally eased out of our bodies, we got up and went down the street to the local thai restaurant, which looks like all the other thai restaurants i’ve ever been in. we both ordered the same things and split them – basil spring rolls, tam gai soup, pad thai. and then the same thing happened. they forgot our order, and served everybody else in the restaurant until we realized what was going on and asked them about it. then the wrong soup was delivered, and the pad thai was rather tasteless. but since i’ve been a waiter, we overtipped as ever, and then went to the local jo-ann’s fabric store. because it’s new orleans, they have a great selection of costume-friendly fabrics, like tule and lace. so i got jim several yards of two nice lace patterns, and we went back to the hotel to sleep. the room was too hot all night, but we were so tired that we went to sleep and couldn’t be bothered to adjust the temperature, just kicked blankets around all night. we were both exhausted and out of sorts.

the next day i didn’t feel any better. i kept not wanting to be there. thoughts of our family, brought up by being back in new orleans, made me depressed. and I just couldn’t get out of it. i wrote it off as the travel blues, and just dealt with it, but i was unenthusiastic all day, and eventually it infected marie, and that’s bad.


the forecast was for rain the whole time we were scheduled to be there. and our plans were never very set. so at some point in the morning (nasty breakfast at the hotel, no butter, no half and half, rubbery eggs etc), marie contacted her friend sam, who’s lived in new orleans all his life, and has been a real estate agent for most of it. sam had all sorts of suggestions and ideas, and he was going to be playing trumpet in a new orleans marching band that night.

marie ran into a musician whom she considers the best clarinetist alive today

but i had wanted to get beignets and chickory coffee, and to buy a couple of boxes of pralines as my new orleans souvenirs, so we went down to the french quarter first thing. but not fast enough, because by the time we got there, around 9:30 saturday morning, the line stretched two or three blocks, and no way were we going to wait in the sweltering heat for coffee and donuts.

as close to cafe du monde as we were going to get – the back of the building


so we walked to the moonwalk, the mississippi river overlook, and had a look over. there’s really not much to see up there. the river is obviously higher than new orleans, and the levee isn’t very impressive, and you can just imagine how it must have been during hurricane katrina, which is still everybody’s go-to disaster there. we saw a paddle boat steamer, one of several that do tours around the nearby river historical spots. we saw a couple of barges coming from somewhere in the midwest, and a whole lot of water flowing slowly to the sea.

shout out to jim – steps!



fortune teller, asleep – no news is good news, i guess

i took a lot of photos of the buildings in the quarter. at one point there was a guy in a kilt hanging out on the balcony of his hotel, and i stopped to take a picture of the building, saying that i couldn’t pass up the opportunity of taking a tourist picture of him, so he posed for me.



one of the police floats for paddy’s day


and then we walked back to where marie had parked her car, on ursulines up just past rampart (the northern boundary of the quarter). there’s an ‘indian’ museum there, called the backstreet museum, run by a cute little old couple, and it’s an old shotgun house filled with memorabilia and costumes from super sundays going back 30-40 years.


the actual celebration goes back into the late 1700s, when escaped and freed slaves came to new orleans as a place of refuge, and were given aid and succor by the local indians (choctaws?).


new orleans is one of the few places in america where the festivals and celebrations of the slaves weren’t suppressed, so in this festival are the reflections of african styles and rituals.


the costumes were a mix of native american indian dress and african shamanistic costumes. as i said, the costumes weigh over a hundred pounds each, and are made of very intricate beadwork and lots of feathers. some of them are quite sculptural, with styrofoam padding. they are all works of art, and the collectors were interested in the actual costumes, rather than perfect samples, so they were worn, and torn in places, and were hard to display properly because of the great weights. but it’s a really cool museum, and the contents have a great deal of meaning to the community.


and of course i was out of sorts, and depressed, and altho the displays were magnificent, and the history fascinating, i had no enthusiasm for listening to the curator talk about the background of this piece and that altar. it was fascinating, tho. she told us about her ancestry, which is as much indian as african, and showed us a map they got from the choctaw that showed all the tribes in pre-white america, and what happened to them. stuff they f’real don’t teach in schools, but now that we’re moving toward a polycultural sense of american history, maybe they’ll make a few copies of the map and spread it around some.


marie talking to the mr. francis, the other half of the couple running the museum

once we’d seen enough (every room had something else i hadn’t seen the first time), and once i got terminally annoyed at the religious programming on their radio (new orleans is a place where divorce is still considered a scandalous bad thing, and annulments are prized because it means you can still go to church), we went for the car and drove up elesian fields to find sam’s house, which is pretty much opposite the university of new orleans campus.

just a small typical new orleans cloud

sam is real new orleans. his accent was the same warm burr as all my new orleans relatives, and i’ve always loved it. he lives in a house built in the early 60s, where they moved from downtown when he was a teenager, and his mom was still there, slowly declining but at home where she wants to be. we sat in his living room, which has photos he took in the ‘70s framed and fading on the walls. it was there that we met anna-lisa, who was darning his jeans pockets and ragging him about making her slave for him. i noticed her accent and asked, and it turns out she’s from venice, so we had a lot to talk about. she’s been in new orleans for 35 years, but still has a thick italian accent that i could place immediately because of my friend laura from rome, who has also lived in the states for donkey’s years.

we sat around for awhile, talking about everything, and i still didn’t feel right. not jetlag, but travel sickness, i guess. there was nothing I could do about it, and I tried not to inflict my malaise on the others. i wished i could take a nap. but we got up and went out to lunch, all the way downtown, around the corner from the house where sam grew up. a place called jack dempsey’s, where they had fried everything, and po’boys.

we all ordered seafood platters, and mine was oysters and shrimp with a side of coleslaw. at least this time they didn’t forget our order, and in fact the people next to us had ordered way too much food, and passed over their entire platter of boiled crawfish (zatarain’s seafood boil spices), so that made up for the two missed orders the day before. we made short work of it, except for marie who is deathly allergic to shellfish. anna lisa and i made the mistake of talking about politics when we noticed fox news on the tv, and marie decided she wanted to sit next to sam instead of having to listen to us, and they shared photos and talked about mardi gras while anna lisa and i complained about people and their short sightedness.


after lunch, sam drove us around the corner to his old house, where he spent his early years, and we happened across the new owner (since 10 years), and we all had a chat about the house. sam remembered he still had one of the original ceiling lamp fixtures at his house uptown, and arranged to drop it off to the guy. they had a serious discussion about renovations at that point, but it was all fascinating to me because i’ve started the renovation on the downstairs art studio, and it’s all stuff i’m going to have to deal with.


then we drove out to chalmette, or arabi, or somewhere along the river, and stopped at an old plantation that was the site of the battle of new orleans in the war of 1812, where thousands of men died in the swamp, and are buried in a national cemetery adjoining the property. it was still raining on and off, and none of us felt like getting out to climb the tower steps, tho we all joked about doing so. we saw an egret, and while i got a fleeting shot of it, the bird kept flying off as marie tried to take a decent photo.


while we were driving back to sam’s house, i realized looking on my phone that it was the day of the new moon, which explained some of the issues with depression and timing i’d been noticing. i also pulled up the altimeter, and discovered that even uptown, we were at most 5’ above sea level, and many places were at sea level or a few feet below. the topic of conversation every time we got into the car was the damage from katrina. it still holds a very important place in the consciousness of people who live below sea level.

then we went back to sam’s house, said goodbye to anna lisa, and hung out with sam for a few hours until it was time to go to the gig downtown. we went in his car – why bother taking two cars when his house was on the way back to slidell and our motel? it was the third time we’d taken the same roads downtown that day. we squirreled around the back streets until we found a place to park somewhere on royal street, away from the crowds. then we walked in. it was mostly dark, and it was also saint patrick’s day, which i haven’t mentioned until now. we’d totally missed the parade (and block party) earlier that day, on purpose, but still got caught in it as hordes of drunks left the party and tried to get to their cars.

but now that it was night, and we were trying to walk thru the bar streets to get to the collection point. there were some very colorful people there, and i started taking pictures immediately, but then had to fiddle with the camera to find a night setting, so i wouldn’t have the same problem i did in turkey, in the basilica cistern, when the light was so low i had to wait for 3 or 5 seconds of processing time for every shot i took.

sam and marie

sam made sure to clean the mouthpiece after this drunk girl played his trumpet

actual denizens of the quarter

drunken tourists



we finally got to the r bar, even tho i was trailing behind both marie and sam, and stopping to take pictures of interesting fools in green, and i began to feel better. the change was very quick.





a special kind of saint patrick’s costume – erin go braless with a package

band members kept arriving, and they were all the same geeks as filled the band in high school, so i felt right at home. none of them were falling down drunk, most of them were in costume, and like most musicians and singers, they were all highly intelligent and quirky. the difference is that in high school, none of them had any confidence, and now they were teachers and lawyers and doctors and old hippies, and everybody was proud to be different.


holding all the drinks


the band’s designated flagman, keeping people from getting hit by cars

the pair-a-dice brass band

unfortunately, i had infected marie with my depression, so even as i rose out of it, she fell into the hole i had dug, so she walked away from the bar and disappeared for a long time, but we kept in touch by instant message, and she can take care of herself, so we left her alone. it was all my fault, and i felt pretty bad about it, but there’s nothing you can do to bring someone out of depression. i assured her she’d feel differently tomorrow, but that never helps (even tho it was true).

i had my single pint of guinness, in a plastic cup, and started taking pictures of the gathering crowd of musicians. they warmed up with a song in front of the bar, and i felt the energy flowing, and suddenly there was no sign of my depression at all. they took off in a big group, playing all sorts of new orleans marching band music, walking down the middle of the street, trailing cars behind us (the cars, used to this, never honked or tried to get past us. some of the people rolled their windows down to hear the music).



people on the balconies of their hotels danced and waved, tourists on the street stood and watched us go past, people joined in and walked along with us. it was heady; exhilarating. i love marching band music. the only trouble i had was that they’d pitched it too low for me to sing along, when they got to the part in every song where we all sang the words. bill bailey, has anybody seen my gal, when you’re strange, all sorts of songs. and every time we turned to go down another street, i texted the direction to marie.



we stopped several times, always in front of bars, and half the band went in for drinks and bathroom breaks. they are famous for not having a plan when they march. then after ten minutes of hanging out, they’d move on again. at one point, a guy in a kilt came up to me and insisted he couldn’t resist taking a tourist picture of me, and i recognized the guy i’d taken a picture of that morning. i went over to where he was with his friends, and we talked for a moment; he’d been telling the story to his friends all day. it is such a small world. because i never thought i was that distinctive looking.

the tourist picture guy, up close and personal


several times we crossed paths with the paddy’s day parade, and we’d hurl abuse at them and their loudspeaker headbanger music when they drowned out the band. i’d take pictures of the crowd, and the buildings, and the band members, and even the trash in the street.


plenty of work for cleaner in new orleans

finally, at harry’s corner on bourbon street, marie caught up with us, and told me what was bothering her. she was here for work, to get photos of the indians, and i was dragging her down with my depression, and getting in her way whenever she stopped to get a photo, and she didn’t want to be around me and was wondering how to tell me to find something else to do while she tried to get her work done. once she told me what was going on, i found a solution. i’d wanted to go home all day, and now i didn’t feel the need, but she did, so i pulled up megabus on my phone and tried to find out when the bus to atlanta left.



it’s not just kids who miss everything because they’re staring at their phones

it was easier said than done. my phone is so old (iphone 4) and running such dated software (ios 7) that it just won’t load some sites. so megabus only came halfway up and then stalled. eventually i called the helpdesk and had them arrange the ticket for me, but i couldn’t hear the agent because of the marching band. so i ducked back into an alley and let them go on, knowing i could find them again.




there was a bus leaving at 10:20 from union terminal on loyola avenue, not in the quarter but not far from it. i could get a taxi. i had half an hour. so i bought the ticket and found sam to tell him goodbye, and ran into marie so i could let her know what i was doing, and then headed down bourbon street toward canal street, where the nice policewoman had told me there would probably be a taxi.


the trouble is that i didn’t think to go over a block before starting down towards canal. if i had, i would have arrived in plenty of time. as it was, i had to go the entire length of bourbon street in the middle of a parade, where the best route thru the crowd was to slide right next to the floats, which was dangerous, but unless i’d slipped on some mardi gras beads and fell, or unless some angry partygoer decided i was too rude when i bumped into them and knocked me into the path of the vehicles, i’d be fine.

and so i was. i’m little, i can move thru a crowd. there was only my camera to slow me down, and it was tucked into my inside vest pocket. i was motivated and moved quickly, bypassing drunks and beer puddles and treacherous mardi gras beads. i noticed that i still had a string of sam’s beads on my neck, and felt bad about stealing them. little did i know they were charmed beads and always returned to their owner…

finally i was thru the crowd because i reached the end of bourbon street and turned onto canal, where there were actual moving cars. they were all backed up, of course, but they were moving. and there were taxis. the uber guys didn’t appreciate my stopping them to ask if they were free, because uber doesn’t work that way, but finally i found a taxi that was free, and got in. a flat rate of $12 to the train station was fine with me. i had 4 minutes when I got in the car. and still 2 minutes when he let me off. but by the time i got to the ticket counter, the bus from atlanta had left. just then. and the next bus wasn’t until 11:30 the next morning.

i had texted allison with the details of my arrival (7:30am on a sunday), and now i had to text her with a never mind. i texted marie that i’d missed the bus and could they stop by and pick me up, and that was fine with her. then i noticed the grayhound ticket counter, right next to the megabus counter, and heard them announce their bus service to atlanta, boarding now. so i was delighted to go to their ticket counter, and the guy sold me the very last ticket, so i retexted allison and marie the alternate arrangements, and got into the back of the line, and made it all the way to the driver (no luggage), who took my ticket, and when i asked if there was enough time to go to the bathroom, told me to go on back into the terminal and please be quick.

but when i came back out, running thru the terminal, he was in the ticket line with the three passengers in front of me in the line. the bus was overbooked, even tho the computer said there was a seat for each of us. The next bus was 7:30am. so I reretexted allison and marie, and waited for sam and marie to get back to their car and come to get me. allison was already asleep and didn’t see my texts until this morning, but marie kept repeating that the bus/train station was no place to spend the night, and kept me informed as to where they were.

SONY DSC offensive 50s era murals

so i got to look at the 2000sf murals on the walls of the train station. they were very interesting. done in a kind of social realist style of the ‘30s, tho they were painted in the ‘50s, they were all about the history of louisiana. and way racist, just like a lot of the monuments to white culture done during the jim crow years. there were pictures of tortured slaves, raped and murdered women, carpetbaggers stealing the silver, lots of nuns, klansmen. it was rather gruesome, if monumental, and i wondered what black people would think of it if they looked closely. hell, i thought it was offensive as a white person.

a local church takes good care of the homeless people in its parish, with tents, meals, housing programs

contrary to marie’s belief, the place was safe enough, mostly empty, with a few drunks here and there, a few homeless people sitting in the waiting area watching the tv, and a couple of guys playing chess on the wall outside.


i waited awhile, because it’s hard to get out of the quarter on party night, but finally they came, and i got in the car, and we talked about stuff all the way back to sam’s house. but it was close to midnight, so we didn’t go in, and got back to the hotel at 1am, and fell into our beds and slept until the sun came up and marie’s alarm went off.

one of a few remaining old houses in that part of the city

we both felt a great deal better this morning, and talked obliquely about the issues that were bothering us, but really there wasn’t much to say.

heavy fog on the way into new orleans this morning

sometimes it’s difficult when traveling partners aren’t in the same mental and emotional space, and i have learned the hard way that the wrong choice of traveling partners can kill you. so i wasn’t at all displeased to be leaving.


in fact, looking at the weather forecast for dc, where i’m going next, marie had the great idea to leave for dc in front of the weather, rather than waiting for it to be over. i checked on my computer, booked a car for monday afternoon, and prepared to take advantage of my new schedule instead of sitting on the porch recovering for two extra days.


this time we were able to get beignets and coffee. we stopped at the morning call in city park and had our sugar hit and did some people watching (my favorite), and then we went down to the garden district and stopped at a bookstore so i could get something to read, and then she dropped me at the bus station and i spent some time transferring the 500 photos i took last night to my data stick, and texting allison and calling jim, who knew nothing of the drama and was glad i’d be coming back so soon.

we’re on the bus now, just getting into mobile. i was surprised to see spring backdated by a week as we started moving inland – just a few miles took a full week of spring off the trees. now they’re mainly bare branches, and only some of the trees are green. as we move farther north, it’ll backtrack even more, and when I go to dc tomorrow, it’ll be back to winter. i’m bringing a heat cube with me.

so now i’ll process the photos, and when i get a good wifi signal i’ll load it up and post it. the bus gets in to atlanta after 9 this evening, and i’ll be sleeping in my own bed tonight. yay.

okay, i’m just about to post this, we’re in montgomery, and it’s raining. we’ve had a bunch of accident blocking the road, so we’re going to be late, but i’ll call jim when we pass the airport, and he’ll meet me there. thanks for everything, marie and sam, and i can’t wait to see the photos.

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