Monday, February 15, 2010


We are back in the States for a while, visiting/mooching off relatives in Florida, then California, then Idaho, with visits to Missoula and friends there. Briefly we'll be in Florida until mid-March, in California until early April, in Idaho from early April until early June, then departing from California back to Europe in mid-June. I'll be doing updates and refinements to this blog from time to time, but for the immediate future, it's intermission time, folks!

Oh, and among the updates and refinements, I am tinkering with the Google Ads thing. Feedback on it, positive or negative, will be appreciated.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Passage From Marseilles

Passage to Marseille, 1944

Passage from Marseille; the Marseille airport, main Halle,
Saturday morning, February 13

So a few nights ago, to get into the mood, we watched Passage to Marseilles, one of the most colossally-awful movies ever made. It has almost the same cast as Casablanca (except Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid), was made maybe the next year, by a legendary producer and director and composer ...but Bogie is just not all that convincing as a French intellectual/journalist, the story is told through five or six embedded flash-backs, and the rest of the main cast, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, et al., appear embarrassed by the war-propaganda script; which well they should have been. I mention this, anyhow, just to give reference to the title of this blog entry.

We found a campground near Marseille and spent a day or two packing, researching storage possibilities, transportation, etc. The weather had turned awful, but by this time we had already drained the tanks and winterized the camper. Our last couple days were busy but chilly. At length, we got everything arranged and everything done, even found a home (the Guardian) for our houseplants, Rosie and Venus, and, Saturday morning, boarded a plane to Frankfurt, connecting to a flight to Dulles, then to Orlando. We arrived in Mickey Land very early Sunday morning, courtesy of Lufthansa and United (smooth flying, no problems, even got upgraded for the Orlando leg), exhausted, but happy to be back in the US of A for a while. Norm and Marie met us at the airport. I'll detail our immediate plans in the next entry, then probably go to Intermission.


Remnants of town portal, Arles

In the Coliseum in Arles; sat 20,000

More coliseum


We'll see Van Gogh in Amsterdam

Not Arles

The Roman amphitheater in Arles

Spare parts

Artsy Arles

En route to Marseille, we stopped at Arles, a town we had not visited before (we'd visited Nimes, Pont du Gard, Carcasonne, others, on earlier visits) for the coliseum and amphitheater.

Bottled Epiphany

Camped on the beach near Sete

We are on the beach at Sete, in the south of France, a place I had remembered from a previous visit. July, maybe August, 1989. We were all younger then.

Despite the wind, the damp, the cold—it is February—I go for a walk along the beach. 10,000 paces per day is my goal. I rarely miss.

The beach is as I remembered it: miles of blond sand and shell, no development, no condos, no trinket shops, just beach. The waves roll in, not quite lazily, but not violently. The horizon where sea and sky meet is merely degrees of gray. I am alone. I wish it were August.

I have ended my walk, far enough, and turned back, and I am wondering what the chill factor might be. I have already put on my hood and gloves. This is not fun.

Then, I see it.

Among the debris and sands and shells and pebbles...a bottle. A whole wine bottle. Green. How had it washed ashore? Is there any wine in it? Would I drink it? Is wine lighter than sea water?

Something beckons me. Why has this bottle not sunk to the bottom, not become beach glass? I look more closely. South African wine. Whatever. The bottle has a screw-on cap, still in place. (This should have been a clue). And there is something inside, a note or card, rolled up like a scroll.

It is a dream of mythical proportion: walking along a deserted beach, finding a bottle, with a note. It is a gift, a blessing.

I pick up the bottle and examine it. Alas, there is no wine inside, not even South African wine. The cap is still on, but it winds off easily. The cylinder inside is indeed a note, more like a postcard , with a picture of a sail boat, rolled up. With a shake or two it falls easily out the bottle's neck.

What message will it bring?

My mind explodes with possibilities. Something of historical value? A note from captives of Mediterranean pirates? A plea for rescue from an abducted damsel? Maybe an heiress? A last will and testament before shipwreck? A treasure map? An offer of fame and riches for the finder? Some good Powerball numbers? A message that will change my life or the lives of others? My excitement is such that I can barely open the scroll.

Damn! It is in French! Don't these people know that English is the lingua franca?! And it is hand-written, although reasonably legible.

“Se message est pour la liberte des coeurs. Je t'envoie naviguer par las mer pour mes parents et ateux. Que j'aime pour cett annee? … Quelle me porte chance? Pour le personne que traverra cette bouteille veuiller me retourner cette carte a l'adresse si dessus.”

The return address is Beziers, about 10 miles away.

Some pimply-faced kid with a skateboard who probably adores McDonald's went boating last weekend with his family and, to keep the boredom in check, wrote this note. “Dad, could I have that empty bottle of Chateau Screwtop you have been drinking? SVP?” This is my gift, my blessing. Jeez.

So here's the epiphany: next time you do this, Daniel, at least enclose a euro or two for postage. Or a SASE. And write your note in English as well as French (if you must). And make it a good story. An abducted and beautiful and wealthy damsel in distress, offering riches and fame, and other favors, to her rescuer (or anyone else who contributes materially to her rescue). Give GPS coordinates.

At the very least, put it in a French wine bottle. With wine. You might get a response.

PS. I have retained the card; when I am in Wellington or Queenstown next winter, I am going to mail it to Daniel. Ha!
In Sete

In Sete Harbor

A Few Days in Provence

At a campground near Beziers

At an aire on the Midi Canal

Lots of houseboats around; also lots of rain

Our trip began slowing down as our thoughts turned to returning to the states, packing, where to store the Grey Wanderer, how to get from the storage place to the airport, etc. We spent a few days in the Beziers/Sete area, then moved on, via Arles, to the Marseille area.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cathar Castles: Peyrepertuse

We spent the night at a quiet municipal aire at Duihlac, just
down from Peyrepertuse


From the carpark; we were hoping there'd be a good trail...
and there was, except after centuries of use, the steps are
polished like marble, and wet...

Duihlac from Peyrepertuse tower

Lower towers, walls, battlements, etc.

Peyrepertuse from Queribus, some miles away...

And so we are back in France.

Cathar Castles: Queribus


Closer up

Across the valley, from Peyrepertuse

In the AM, with the Mediterranean in the background

Why we did only one of these chateaux

The French/Spanish border ran along here for some centuries, hence these fortresses high up on the limestone crags; they were also redoubts for the Albigensian "heretics"

Across the Pyrenees

Formidable mountains

Normally I don't do double rainbows, but this one was
close and brilliant

Lots of snow

Have to come back and see these in the summer

So, still giggling from the Dali, we drove back east, crossing the Pyrenees just below where they peter out. Vicki had wanted to see one or two of the Cathar castles, so we skirted Perpignan and headed north up into the mountains.

Not Enough Dali

Dali's copy of Rubens' copy of Michaelangelo's copy of ...

Velazquez is Spain's most revered painter;
the Prado guide says flatly that Las
Meninas is the greatest of all works of art;
so Velazquez comes into a full and fair share
of abuse at the Dali; this one is titled "The
Girl with the Pearl"

And this one "Landlord looking in to see
what the crazy painter is up to..."

And this one is the unfinished portrait of Gala, originally
designed to incorporate 1,000 mirrors...

Ceiling of the great hall, the Ascension of
Gala and Salvador into Heaven; alas, my
lens couldn't get it all, but do look into his

Tapestry of "The Persistence of Memory"

Dali also did jewelry (what didn't he do?);
these are the very famous telephone earrings

The red heart inside actually throbs

Grave of the artist

Vicki on the egg bench; art appreciation is hard work

More Dali

Portrait of Picasso...the likeness is remarkable

"Soft" self-portrait

1947 was a good year for the Dalis, and for me

The very, very famous portrait of Abraham
Lincoln; enlarge, then stand up and start
walking back away from the screen...


I love this shot; most photo-editors will sense when
something needs to be rotated...but not necessarily in the
case of Dali; this is the inner courtyard, and there is so
much going on in it I hesitate to offer a description;
nonetheless, there is the 1947 Cadillac convertible, with
mannequins; the hood ornament is a very full-figured
lady; towering over it all, atop the Michelin stack, is a boat,
hanging from which are a hundred or so condoms filled
with blue paint...oh, had I rotated it, I would have lost the
Cadillac and the boat...

Gala, Dali's life-long muse, soul-mate,
business manager, wife

Original Sin

The very, very, very famous Mae West installation...well,
a copy; the original is in a MOMA, Chicago or NY, I can't

Venus de M, with drawers

Closer-up of the boat above the courtyard

Vicki deep into art appreciation