May 25, Carcassonne

Toulouse has a canal, built in the 17th Century, for easier and more direct access to the ocean. It’s mostly used for pleasure craft now, and some tour members took a boat ride on it yesterday. There’s a tow path by the canal, and it’s given over to bicyclists and joggers. It was great to see it so well used as we passed out of town.

Random thoughts: There’re some great kissers in France. I’ve seen several young couples in a very tender and ardent embraces, unbothered and unaware of the swirls of emotion surrounding them. Funny store: Teddy had the (mis) fortune, twice in two days, to notice tour members (!) with an unzipped fly. The situations were eventually corrected, with many snickers and double entendres. Now one tour member complains of TPS—Teddy Proximity Syndrome, and, when around her, keeps checking to make sure all is in order. Another funny story: Teddy reports that Odile, the group leader, was talking about something, and mention that she was going to drink some “hairball tea” which sounds truly dreadful. She meant “herbal tea.”

Emeline gave us a lecture on the Cathars on the way down to Carcassonne, and I fear most of us didn’t hear it well, or slept through it, or some of both. But the great fortress itself is just wonderful. It’s okay that it’s a little kitschy, and touristy, and there’s a wooden fire-trap surrounding one of the towers that was built for the Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie. It’s an extraordinary artifact, an accumulated heritage that represents centuries of France’s history. I took lots of photos; look at them, there’s really nothing better I could say. After lunch, we visited the old church, Saint Nazaire,both Romanesque and Gothic. It was interesting to delineate the periods represented in the church, but nothing we haven’t seen before. I also took a peek in the old bishop’s palace, now a four-star hotel. Oh my. The bishop lived very well indeed, even in a fortress.

I was distracted, and got too separated from the group on the way to lunch, and missed the doorway to the restaurant. I wandered around for a bit, asking restaurants if they had a “grande groupe des americains.” Nope. I was thinking I might end up eating on my own, when Teddy found me. Bless her. Just two courses for lunch, a huge plate of red lettuce with some fruits and ham. Didn’t taste great, didn’t rate a photo, but some nice veggies and fiber for a change. Then there was a cheese plate with three cheeses, including some more wonderful Roquefort. Wow. It exploded in my mouth, just like last night

Towards the end of our free time in the city, after having some ice cream (even the double cones are a sensible size, smaller than a US single cone) I decided to go back to the church for a bit. I was sitting in the back, studying the vaults, when a men’s choir started singing. I thought they were playing a tape. It sounded like a Latin hymn, and was beautiful, filling the cathedral all the way to the capitals. I started humming along, softly, just a little descant. When the hymn was over, there was a sprinkling of applause, and another one started. So I got up to look. Four men, dressed in black, were standing in front of the altar, singing. It was a marvelous treat, as if Il Divo had been sprinkled with holy water. Wow. When they were done, there was a little more applause, and one of the men made an announcement in French, then English, that anyone who enjoyed their music could buy the cd. Instantly, a little table appeared by the front pews, and a little lamp, and one of the singers was checking his cell phone. And yes, someone was buying a cd.

We had dinner at a restaurant called “Rest O Jazz.” A young chanteuse, and a truly extraordinary jazz guitarist entertained us with cool jazz while we dined. The food was also outstanding. The starter was a veggie and salad with a baked cheese on top. The main plat consisted of three squares of food, very different flavors and textures, some veggie, semi-pureed, and a fish steak with a very good sauce. Dessert was also three parts, ice cream, flavored whipped cream, and a type of cookie.

This morning I was awakened by two city workers with a little truck and long hose, powerwashing the sidewalks across the street. This evening, last time I checked at 11 pm, there were still five outdoor tables occupied at the restaurant, La Gourmandine, across the street. Can you imagine folks eating outside that late in Eugene? Later, when I was getting to sleep, there were two huge thunder claps, and when I looked outside in the middle of the night (yes, there are some sleep issues on the trip,) the sidewalk and streets were wet, so nature did the powerwash in the evening. And the folks across the street stayed up all night, watching tv, their windows open, like mine.

That’s the final report from Toulouse.

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