Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “October, 2016”

Freeway Free in France: Ambling around Arles in Vincent’s Footsteps

20160909_063127doc

This morning DM was picked up at 9″30 by her Swiss cousin and his wife who happen to live about a half hour from Lunel.  Right afterward the remaining four of us set out for Arles, known for its Roman ruins and former resident Vincent Van Gogh.  We saw a lot of both.

vvgoghfondOnce we got to Arles and rather miraculously found a free parking space that I could maneuver into, we headed first for the Bureau Touristique for city maps, and then, at WB’s insistence, went first to the Fondation de Vincent Van Gogh, which was sponsoring a special exhibit of Arles’ favorite summer tourist. C scoffed “This isn’t Paris!  There will be no queue!” But there was one, and a twenty minute wait for tickets.  Rather than retrace steps, we shifted our plan of saving the nice air conditioned museum for later in the afternoon and plunged into three rooms of I would say B-level van Gogh’s on loan not from the Rijksmuseum but a less prestigious Vincent van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. 20160909_030921doc

The only well known work on view was the one of fishing boats on the beach.  It is a beautiful work.  There were a couple of others that I wouldn’t mind having on my wall, and a couple that I would NOT want to display  too dark and foreboding. Once out of the museum (including an ascent to La Terrace, with a wonderful view over the rooftops of Arles) we discovered we were starving.  We tried a couple of places with recommendations from Michelin and Routiere but found them with no available places, and ended up rather serendipitously at la Cafe de la Nuit, which was famously painted by Van Gogh, and which I had used as a focus point for one of my Lamaze experiences.  The lunch was better than expected, service snail like, but the locale could not be beat!

We rounded out our VvG experiences with a visit to l’Espace Van Gogh, which is the asylum to which he repaired after falling out with Gauguin and cutting off his ear.  It is a lovely enclosed space with a garden that blends the formal French garden with an Impressionistic flair. It is now a tourist center with one of the world’s greatest collections of postcards, and tour groups ebbing and flowing constantly.  I had to wonder whether the current buildings are painted as they were when Van Gogh was there or painted as he painted them (not necessarily the same.) Then we started our Roman ramblings. Maybe it would be good to consign that part of the day to a separate email.

Advertisements

Freeway-free in France: the Arches of Languedoc

p1030020docFrom Lunel:

We began the day at 6:30 with an early light breakfast of coffee and fruit, then set out for a shortish hike to the old Roman bridge and assorted ruins at Ambusson. This bridge was famously painted by Courbet.  The old fort is nothing but ramparts and a few walls, but from its height one can see 360 degrees around Languedoc (that’s where we are, just across the border from Provence). Then we went to the musee, where we got to try on authentic Gallo-Roman couture, and see lots more pictures of the famous bridge in less and greater stages of deterioration over the centuries. september-2016-024web

september-2016-025doc

 

 

 

 

 

We came back for brunch a la Mediterranee. Lots of leftover quiche, three kinds of soft camembertish cheeses, delicious seedy whole wheat bread, lots of fruit.  Then to the medieval town of Sommiere, with another Roman bridge which is still used by cars and pedestrians to cross the river.  Six of its arches span the water; the other 11 are now land-locked. The river is herded into a narrower channel than in BC times, but periodically floods to its own old level, culverts and levies not withstanding, which means that there are lots of high water markers VERY high on the medieval walls. The old arches are now used for shop fronts and storage chambers along the medieval square. september-2016-055

By the time we had hiked up to the castle on the hill it was after noon and quite warm, so 0ur next stop was a glacier by the river, where there was shade, a pleasant breeze, and 10 flavors of gelato to choose from.  We watched the swans in the river and pondered thoughts of the old Romans who built so well. What would they think of their bridges now?

Travel tip:  Phone service while in France.

20160908_083351webWe had been told in the US that we could easily swap out the SIM cards in our phones for one which would give us cheap European internet, wireless, and phone capability.  We headed for the SFN store in the local Intermarche, where after over an hour of effort by the two very polite and patient clerks, it was clear that NONE of the five phones DM, WB and I had between us would accept data from the SFN SIM card.  Fortunately, I had received a “Welcome to Paris” phone text message from Verizon encouraging me to call if there was any problem, and both DB and I were soon  set up with $40/month international roaming data plans (which we could have easily set up in the US in advance, but thought the local SIM cards would be more flexible.)  WB opted for purchasing a cheap flip phone so she could make calls and text – it turned out having both types of service was very handy depending on what kind of coverage was available in which areas we traveled.

Moral: Technology is never as easy as advertised. Make alternate plans.

 

 

Freeway-Free in France:La Vie en Rose in Provence

allyson-and-friends-072

Note: this begins a series of entries about my three-week journey with my three friends in south-west France and Paris.  DM is on the left, DBat the end of the table in a striped blouse that will become familiar, then myself (AJ) and WB in her trademark blue camp shirt on the right.

The four of us  did not exactly plan to be freeway-free during our three-week adventure tour of France, but the  GPS system in our rental car made the decision for us:  Apparently the GPS had been pre-programmed to avoid toll roads, and despite all our efforts we could not figure out how to over-ride this command.  We wound our way from Marseilles on frontage roads and two lane back roads,  through olive orchards and vineyards and past fruit stands and old stone churches and through innumerable roundabouts until we made it to my friend ‘s charming small cottage  in Lunel, with vegetables and flowers growing profusely front and back and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs for the four of us to share.
20160909_222534web
We had a delightful dinner al fresco in the back garden – local melon and prosciutto and olives, tomatoes from the garden, rose wine from the local vigneron, two kinds of quiche made from goat cheese and local vegetables, and lots of lively conversation.   We had all read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” in advance of our trip, and felt we were living inside the book.

If you sit on the left side of the plane flying into Marseilles and have good weather, you will have  a spectacular view of snow- topped Mt. Cervix in the Italian Alps just over the French border.

Immigrants in the Capital

painquotidien

One of our leading politicos has gotten a lot of publicity in the past months by characterizing a group of immigrants to this country as “rapists, thieves, and drug dealers.” Since my great – grandmother came from Australia, where the first white immigrants were transported convicts – rapists, thieves, and drug dealers –– I am a little bit sensitive on this subject. So on my recent trip to Washington DC I paid particular interest in the impact of immigrants to our nation’s capital.

After a long day of exploring the National Mall, the National Holocaust Museum, and the Museum of Native American History, we welcomed an easy walk across the street from our hotel to the Café Park, deciding to sit outside under the umbrellas fronting Pennsylvania Avenue, where we could people-watch.  By the time we had begun to check out the menu, the humidity had resolved itself into a gentle rain, but we stayed out under our umbrellas as the air turned cool and fresh. CafeduParc

Our server dodged raindrops to bring us our wine and our entrees.  She had been in the US only fourteen months, had been “so homesick” for Viet Nam at first, but then found  a room with a Vietnamese lady who had become her “second mother.”  She hoped to earn enough to bring her own mother over for a visit.  Her enthusiasm for her work and her prospects was enough to sweep away the rain.

We enjoyed our evening so much that we returned the next day, hoping to have the same server.  Though she had been reassigned to a different table, she came over to say hello and commended us to our waiter, a sturdy and attentive young man from Lebanon.

The next evening after dinner we went out to the Mall for an evening visit to the Lincoln and Viet Nam Memorials.  These are the nearest things to national holy shrines that our secular society acknowledges.  At the Viet Nam Memorial the visitor descends below the level of the Mall along a black wall listing all those who died.  Here I did have to admonish one immigrant/tourist – a young lady who was chattering loudly in Chinese on her cell phone as she descended into the memorial area. “No loud voices!  Show respect!” She stared at me, confused, then bowed in embarrassment at her faux pas.

frenchbreadWe stopped in between museums at Le Pain Quotidienne, thinking a French bakery would probably offer a good sandwich.  Our waiter was young and dark-skinned, with a flashing smile and an air of pride in his ability to remember our orders and deliver them promptly.   A quick question revealed that he as well as most of the other servers were Moroccan, not French..  I knew from watching “Casablanca”  that Morocco was a French colony at one time;  the sandwich was indeed delicious, with bread worthy of the French tradition.

On our last day we checked out of our hotel and headed for the taxi queue. A  woman driver saw us coming and jumped from her cab, grabbing our suitcases.  Ahead of her, another driver erupted from his taxi, accusing her of jumping the queue. She claimed we were on the street and fair game;  he rejoined that we were coming from the hotel, albeit from the side door, and as he was first in the queue we were rightfully his fare. We sided with the second driver and retrieved our suitcases. He was still fuming as we took off : “These new immigrants, they don’t know the rules.”  We asked “Where are you from?” “Ethiopia.”

 So I didn’t meet up with any drug dealers, thieves, or murderers.  I did see a couple of people who were a bit rough around the edges in terms of conforming to our traditions.  But our stay would have been much less pleasant without the good service and friendly smiles of the immigrants we met, and I suspect our capital, like much of our nation, would grind to a halt without them.

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: