Sorry, No Photos!
We have such great photos to share for each of these days, but for some reason can not get them to post - so we'll keep writing, and post the photos when we can.
A & K
Following the Music to the Sea
Sunday June 24, 2006Vias, Grau d’Agde, Agde, Pézenas, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
Started out the day stretching our necks to see over the crowd at the door of the church in Grau de Agde, a small town in the corner of France where the Hérault meets the Mediterranean Sea. The gathering in the church was spilling out into the sidewalk like Easter because the church service, where the alleluias of the congregation floated out the door into the sunny sky, was part of an all-town annual festival commemorating the sailors who had disappeared at sea.
In the street were several police men and women who were keeping the traffic clear in anticipation of the annual parade from the church to the mouth of the river Hérault to commemorate the lost sailors. Two adolescent flag bearing boys led the parade made up of very young, adorable children dressed in traditional Agathois dress followed by increasingly older women some of whom looked like santons (Provençal nativity scene figures) we’d seen in shops in other parts of southern France.
There were also proud young lance bearers dressed in all white holding vertically the weapons that are used in the boat jousting matches held in the area each summer. Towards the rear was a brass band that signaled the start with music and behind them from the church filed the relatives of the lost sailors. The parade route was parallel to and one block from the river making a turn at the sea to the docks where several large fishing boats were waiting for the paraders to take them out for a short ride in the Mediterranean, where they would toss flowers into the sea in memory of lost sailors.
I don’t know how many events like this unite all the Grau d’Agde townspeople but it was good to see the multi-generational participation at this one.
Between Grau d’Agde’s parade and Agde’s jousting, we had lunch and took a long walk on the beach.
Just 4 kilometers up-river in Agde, which at one time was on the Mediterranean shore, we watched the oarsmen from the Red Boat preparing for battle against the oarsmen of the Blue Boat. This is all good natured, of course, but the action on the platforms slanting up beyond the back of both boats can get rather fierce. Jousters holding lances under their arms face off in an attempt to knock each other off the boat into the Hérault, taking a strong stance as one approaches the other. The tips of the lances hit the opponents heavy but small wooden shields so there’s not much chance for blood.
Judges, scorekeepers, and play by play announcers keep track of who is up to bat and which team, red or blue, is in the lead. After each pass which sometimes results in a fall and a splash, the oarsmen slow down and turn around and prepare for the next high speed pass. They have to row like mad to the music of drum and oboe players seated in the front of each boat then, when the other boat approaches the oarsmen on the side next to the other boat have to lower their oars in the water so they don’t crash their oars against the other boat. It appears very tiring for the rowers. The fans in the stands are paying attention most of the time but the returning losers are continually climbing ashore and drying off and joining their families so there’s a lot of competition with boats in the water for the fans attention.
Following the music to Pézenas, a lovely village north of Vias, we found an early evening concert in the church of the convent of the Ursulines in a part of town we’d not seen before. Guitar trios and quartets, pianists, and ensembles of guitars, flutes, and cellos entertained us from the golden baroque altar.
Then afterward we discovered a shady and cool plane tree allée behind the World War I soldiers’ memorial. We couldn’t leave Pézenas without meandering through the medieval and Renaissance core and looking at the shops. Just inside the Faugères Gate to the left is another gate marking the entrance to the old Jewish Ghetto. And nearby is a knife shop featuring build-your-own Laguiole shepherd knife all-day workshops. We remembered Karen and Jessica again because we’d explored some of these lanes with them almost two years ago.
A Day in Aix-en-Provence
Saturday Vias and Aix-en-Provence France June 24, 2006
The Vias market awakens the village with sounds of greetings, vendors’ trucks, and weights being dragged into place to hold the tarps tight against the wind. Before sprinting to Aix at 7:30, we took a stroll through the market. There by the olives was Alain talking with the friendly policeman who was there to make sure there were no territorial disputes among the vendors. And how shocking – he, who was so disturbed that I was drinking a cup of coffee out-of-doors when Karen, my sister, and her daughter-in-law Jessica were here a year ago in October, was taking bites of a homemade sandwich in the market. I wish I got a photo of that.
We went to Aix to research the restaurant Relais Sainte-Victoire in Beaurecueil (rhymes with phooey) about 15 minutes east of Aix and south of La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the mass of stone that monopolizes the view from Aix to the east. It also monopolizes many of the paintings and aquarelles
(this is another French word that surpasses in style its English twin – in this case, water colors) of Cezanne.
We’re also here to re-walk the Cezanne en Provence exhibition we enjoyed so much at the National Gallery in Washington DC at this exhibition’s only other stop. At least I am – Anne will visit the museum as part of the activities of the July Music and Markets classical music tour
centered on La Roque d’Antheron’s International Piano Festival. So after getting a ticket at the office on the Place Quatre Dauphin, we marched up the hill to the Musée Granet.
The president of the Committee of the Celebration of Cezanne 2006 said that “to be fully appreciated, Cezanne must be appreciated in Provence.” To which I initially disagreed, but having viewed each of the 117 works in our nation’s capital and then here, I can now say I appreciate them more here.
When you get out of the air conditioned car and smell the lavender and hear the cicadas, and look up at that mountain, you can see why he chose blue and ochre tones. There is the grand single pine tree and there is the grove of pine trees where one or two are leaning into the frame. The house where his stayed with his parents off and on from age 20 to age 60 and which is the subject of several paintings in the exhibit is nearby and north of the mountain is the quarry where he often set up easel and mulled over the seminal thoughts that would, after his death in 1906 become a more mature approach called cubism. Both of these places are open to the public for the first time ever during the exhibition.
While I was soaking up the Cezanne culture, Anne was on the phone with Aix friend Anne-Marie discovering that some photographs of another Aix friend, Michael Padnos were competing with the works of Cezanne in an English bookshop just off the Cours Mirabeau. She called his cell phone from there and found him in the world famous Aix Saturday market gathering supplies for his summer kitchen in Vauvenargues. He said he was meeting Patsy in Place Richelme and that Anne could find them both there. It’s great to have friends here who are not surprised to get a call from us and who can spend a while catching up on a moment’s notice. Sorry I missed it but I was spending time with Michael’s competition.
Afterward we looked in a few real estate windows wondering if we could ever have a big garage sale and figure out how to live just part of each year in Aix.
The drive out to Beaurecueil is similar to the drive to Vauvenargues – winding and narrow. And with my mind full of all things Cezanne, I kept picturing him walking around this turn in the road with his brushes, easel, and paints –off to Bibémus Quarry or to find a new angle from which to portray his boyhood haunts or his beloved mountain.
We sat out in the glass room of the Relais Sainte-Victoire and enjoyed reading why they abdicated from the ranks of the Michelin - starred restaurants. The stress of the standard was driving out the fun of the food and friends. So after 12 years with the star, instead of lusting for that second star, they gave the first one back and told Michelin they would rather just cook well and please their own customers. Though still pricey, the food was excellent and nicely prepared and delivered. After dessert, they bring to each table a super sized goblet of meringues – maybe a hundred of the little puffy calorie bombs in an impressive 3 gallon glass. After such a fine meal, they don’t have to worry about anyone eating more than just a couple.
We got lost again trying to get from the east side of Aix to the west to head home. If we ever do live here for any length of time, I’m going out on a vigilante midnight mission to correct those contradictory directional signs!
We stopped in Beziers to make sure we knew how to get to the train station and to pick up some food. At the grocery store, I passed a stall with dry sausage and the aroma triggered my memory of staying up late in Spain, eating hard sausage and hard cheese on hard bread. I think we were cleaning out the refrigerator of our friend in Marbella. So we got a small piece for dinner while staying up till midnight watching a movie at home, I sliced it thin and ate it with some cheese on a roll left over from lunch in Aix.
France Again, Naturally
Friday Reston, VA – Vias, France June 23, 2006
Our first morning in Vias - the internet shop had a sign on the door saying they’d be closed until 4PM so we tried to get some things done on the library’s PCs. I’m still feeling fatigue from the flight.
When I came home there was a hummingbird flitting around the lavender. Tried to take a picture but I think the flash scared him off.
Took a little gift over to Mamie, Annie, and Alain. They were just finishing lunch but insisted that we sit down. Mamie sat on the side of the bed and gave me her seat. She said if you sit there you have to speak Polish and French. We shared a Muscat and a meringue and a lot of laughs. Anne says my French is getting better. I think I’m just getting bolder. I still can’t understand ANYthing Mamie says. It’s that combination of Polish as a first language, no teeth, and my slow ear.
Went to the beach for the first time this year. Got burned but not too bad. At least we don’t look pale compared with the people who spend their lives in this languedocien sun.
Drove to Agde at 8PM to see the water jousters. On the way to the car in Vias, we were talking to our Arab neighbor when suddenly a small child crashed his bicycle into Anne’s legs. He’s on his back in the street looking dazed and Anne’s got three bad scrapes. We cleaned it in the shower and put on Neosporin. This mini accident is going to leave a mark.
The water jousters were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they cancelled the event because France was playing Togo in the World Cup. So we headed to Tamarissière to watch the sun go down but mistakenly followed the sign to Rochelongue instead. Looks like somebody built a two lane road with a median perpendicular to the beach path and some resort units but there’s no charm, no history, just water, sand and now concrete.
Au Revoir, Reston
Wednesday Reston, VA – Vias, France June 21, 2006
Put in a full and frantic day of work, preparing for more than three weeks away.
At 5:30, though, I left it all behind as our kind neighbor took us to Dulles Airport where we began our altogether pleasant experience with the new airline, MaxJet
. They only go to London Stansted and only from Dulles and New York. And they only have one class of service – Business - so they treat everybody like they’re in a 4 or 5 star luxury hotel. None of the attempt to instill class envy and make the people in coach want to buy a business ticket next time by pointing out all the privileges and benefits of the clients in Business Class.
We were greeted at check-in by two chatty MaxJet passport checkers. One would have told us about all his grandkids except that we had a plane to catch. The security line even conspired to make our airport experience go smoothly. Hardly a wait at all till we were on our way to Terminal 2 and the Northwest Airlines lounge. Of course there were comfortable chairs, a big screen TV, and WiFi, but apples, chocolate chip cookies, cheese, soft drinks, wine, even liquor, and cappuccino available. The staff was helpful and were busy replacing whatever was getting low, the crowd was manageable, and the wait sped by. Our big blue MaxJet was parked right outside the lounge and we boarded it directly from the lounge down some stairs.
Inside, more pleasant staff, two of whom offered to take my blazer to a better place. The legroom and aisle space were lavish, the leather seat width more than adequate, and the food was far better than average. Very cool little pre-loaded DVD players were delivered to our seats and we could watch any of about 20 movies, 20 TV serials or listen to any of a selection of many genres of music.
We expressed our hopes to the In-flight services manager that this airline would have a long and prosperous life span. And if they continue to offer discounts like their introductory fares, we’ll be enjoying their service often.
Tonight is the shortest night of the year with the North Pole pointing toward the sun. And since we’re flying on a northward arc across the Atlantic, away from today’s sunset and toward tomorrow’s sunrise, it’ll be our shortest night ever. They closed all the shutters after dinner, but I could still see some sunset deep into the night. There couldn’t have been more than an hour of darkness, because when they opened the shutters for breakfast, the sun was already high in the sky.
We had about 2 hours to kill in Stanstead before our 2 hour flight to Montpellier, where I was able to find out that the white flag with the simple red cross stretching from border to border was the flag of England. We’d seen it strewn on houses and cars when the World Cup started. The Union Jack is the flag of Great Britain including Scotland.
Montpellier is easy to get out of even in a semi-daze from lack of sleep at the right time. But remembering not to get in an autoroute zone, due to trucks in the right lane that will change to the center lane whether it makes the cars in the center lane have to hit their brakes or not, we made it to Vias by around 4 PM. Annie and her boyfriend were in front of her place getting out of his car. She came right over to our car for big kisses and to introduce her boyfriend, Sergio, to us. He’s the one who takes her with him to Spain often to buy cheap cigarettes. He made some comment about the bugs on his car which I didn’t get at first. Annie told him that I don’t speak much French. She insisted we follow her to her house to see what she had inside. It was Mamie! home from the old folks’ home and looking much better than when we visited her there in May.
The courtyard at La Belle Cour has accumulated a lot of debris since our visit in May. And it’s 99 degrees. Mixed with the bird droppings were lots of fallen Jasmine blossoms on the tiles. Jasmine smells so sweet when in bloom but the spent blossoms also smell sweet but on the putrid side of sweet.
It took some time but while Anne was unpacking and awakening our little love nest, I hosed and swept it all away. Alain came by to lament the apparently dead bougainvillea on the wall by the third floor window, but pointed out three new bright green shoots coming out of the base by the front door. Great news, I’m hoping to not have to dig up the old bougainvillea. Maybe we can nurture these new shoots up to the third floor over the next couple of years. With only the fresh jasmine and newly trimmed lavender in the courtyard, we were able to enjoy a lardons (smoked bacon cubes) salad under the blue sky for dinner. And as soon as the sun is off the courtyard walls, it begins to cool down nicely.
A Taste of Italy in DC
We have a new favorite Italian restaurant in the area, Dinos
, thanks to a Saturday evening get together there of Slow Travel
folks ...we came from Virginia, joining others from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and DC....and even a visiting friend all the way from Hawaii!
Thanks to Monica Pileggi,
photographer extraordinaire, for this shot.
We sure enjoyed the delicious blend of Venetian and Tuscan (Dino's favorite areas of Italy) cuisine in this cozy and bustling restaurant in DC's Cleveland Park neighborhood. We started with Cicchetti
- Venetian for small snacks - plates of succulent grilled octopus, crispy fried calamari, and grilled vegetables drizzled with tasty olive oil, then went right to a light dessert - vin santo and cantuccini. We had come from another traveler's get together earlier in the day, and weren't ready for a full meal.
Everything on the menu looked wonderful - and we're already planning a return visit.
Music and Moore
Another gorgeous spring day in Virginia - and the three ladies spent the morning at the Kreeger Museum
in Georgetown. The photo is on the sculpture terrace - a Henry Moore reclining figure in front of Grandmama and Wanda.
As we walked through the rooms of this outstanding small museum, gazing at a salon full of Monet landscapes (the former dining room of the Kreeger family - imagine eating dinner surrounded by Monets!), then choice canvases of Van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso, Cezanne, and more, we were accompanied by the rich melodies of the American Chamber Players, as they rehearsed for this evening's concert at the museum. What a plus to our enjoyment of the art! Especially appropriate as we looked at the French 20th century pieces was Milhaud's ( a composer from Aix-en-Provence in the south of France) trio for clarinet, violin and piano.
More DC Fun
We're enjoying our third visit of family within the month - this time, it's Kirk's mother and sister from Georgia. They left 90 degree heat to come to a cool sunny spring weekend in the 70's - a real treat for all of us.
Saturday found us at Starbuck's first-ever Coffee Festival, right here at the Reston Towncenter.
Tastings of their coffees from all over the world were accompanied with free cookies, muffins, scones, and banana frappucinos.
Sunday, after a wonderful service at McLean Bible Church, we wandered the impressive gardens at historic Dumbarton Oaks