Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Sun Sets on Our Adventure

Bonjour. Today is a dual saints' day, so Happy Sts. Henri's and Joel's Day (July 13)!

Since I last wrote, Lois decided to return to the States to help care for her Mother, whose recovery from surgery to repair her leg, which she broke in a fall, has not been going as well as had been hoped. She left on Friday the 10th, so Mike and I are on our own and will have to wrap things up here without the benefit of her gentle but firm guidance, and then we'll meet her in New York. We'll do the best we can here but there are bound to be lapses from her high standards. We just hope Lillian improves.

On a beautiful early-summer evening the week before last, the twin tutelary gods of commerce, who stand gazing out across the Cours Mirabeau in sleepless search of opportunities for profit maximization, were witness to a different kind of transaction. Six hundred elementary school students were singing their hearts out as part of the annual music festival, and we were there. Lois had gone downtown earlier in the day to visit a friend at an Indian art show and had noticed the preparations for the concert later that evening. Her enthusiasm inspired us all and we drove downtown after dinner to see what the fuss was all about. The stage was set up at the head of the Cours and the street was closed to traffic and was packed with spectators. You can imagine the sheer number of proud parents and grandparents alone. I mean, 600 kids. That works out to, um, let's see, figuring an average of 1.4 parents, weighted for the high French divorce rate, and .89 grandparents, weighted for the high French smoking-related cancer rate, that makes, well, beaucoup, anyway.

Here are the multitudes assembling, strolling up the Cours Mirabeau.

And here's the choir, all 600 of 'em, who were/was accompanied by a rock/jazz ensemble and a series of African singers and instrumentalists. The music was an interesting hybrid of all these influences.

After the concert and some ice cream we strolled back down to the other end of the Cours to the Rotonde, the hub from which the main streets of the old part of Aix radiate.

For some time we had been noticing wasps flying around the apartment, especially by the armoire (or whatever it is) in our room, and when I looked inside I saw a bunch of little cylinders made of dried mud clustered in one of the corners. I scraped them off and we opened one and, voila!, look what we found. Quite the science experiment! They're filled with little spiders, apparently still alive, and based on our vast field experience of watching the whole BBC Planet Earth series, not to mention several seasons of Nature on PBS, we deduce that these little arachnids have been paralyzed by wasp venom and are probably hosting wasp eggs implanted somewhere in their bodies. Yuck! But fascinating, in a macabre sort of way. That's life science!

We've driven through the village of Lourmarin many times on the way north to somewhere else and have always wanted to stop and explore, so we finally set aside a morning to do just that. Lourmarin has two main claims to fame: its fabulous weekly market and the fact that Peter Mayle lives there. Provencalians have mixed feelings about him. His books [A Year in Provence and its offspring] have drawn tourists here in their thousands, which is a mixed blessing. Like everwhere else, tourists are reviled by the natives despite [or maybe because of] the natives' economic dependence on them. While we were walking through the crowded market, we heard mainly German and the American dialect of English.

The strait and narrow primrose path to the village.

We bought some bread, cheese and sausage and had a plein-air pique-nique far from the madding crowd (well, not that far) down at the end of town near the chateau. There aren't very many chateaus in this part of France - that was a Loire valley thing.

On the way home we stopped at the Durance for a little fishing. Or, as I'm compelled to think of it in the complete absence of fish, "casting practice". Still, just standing knee-deep in a beautiful river on a glorious day is reward enough. The bed of the Durance is composed of loose round stones like those in the photo and has been completely rearranged since our last visit by the high water of the spring. I mentioned before that there were fears that the river would overflow its banks and flood warnings were issued to 20 or so towns along its course. The last time we were there, the path to the water ended at a steep dropoff which we had to clamber down, and, more significantly, back up. This time there was no dropoff and no sign of one ever having been there, which made the walk a lot easier.

If it was up to me, I would order a giant dumpster and throw everything we can't fit into our suitcases away. Including the car. But cooler heads, or head, prevailed. Lois found out how to participate in the weekly vide-grenier (literally, 'empty granary' and, by extension, 'empty attics or storerooms or basements or garages') which is held on the southern edge of downtown Aix, right by the Arc river. So we rented a space, got up, literally, at the crack of dawn and trundled a carload of stuff over there. It was another of those cultural experiences that we'll remember fondly. What struck me were the older North African men strolling around with shopping bags trying to recapture the experience of their youth in the souks and bazaars of Algiers or Casablanca. We quickly learned that bargaining is de rigeur. It's part of the etiquette. Once Mike accepted a guy's first offer for some jeans or something and, although the buyer agreed, he was obviously disappointed and told Mike, somewhat resentfully, that he should bargain more. He obviously felt cheated of one of the elements of a successful transaction, even though he got a better price.
Dawn breaks over the railroad bridge in Pont de l'Arc, and the vide-grenier begins to stir.

Setting up.

Remember the book 'The Material World', a photographic essay of families around the world and their stuff? The following picture would have fit right in.

The spiders wait patiently in their lair, and then...

...when the unsuspecting victim wanders in, strike with the speed of lightning! That'll be two euros, please. Oh, all right, one euro fifty. Merci.

Later today Mike and I are driving to Gardanne to deliver some of the things we couldn't sell to some friends who, we know, will give them a good home and put them to use. Tomorrow is Bastille Day (although the French don't call it that; to them it's Quatorze Juillet - July 14th) and we'll attend the festivities in Eguilles like we did last year (Yes, Mike, including the shooting gallery.) Then Tuesday the plan is to visit the Kratzes, who have appeared in these annals before (Francois, Maria, Helene and Matthew). We leave on Sunday, a week from today, which leaves time to follow the Tour de France on the tube and get a few more jogs in. And maybe go fishing. Oh, and lest we forget, to pack, clean, dump, ship, give away and otherwise dispose of the things we've accumulated during our sojourn.

I may not be writing another one of these communiques. It all depends. But if not, it's been great fun and thanks for reading. I know we'll be seeing many of you very soon and we can hardly wait. Until then,

Au revoir,


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