October 4, Les Baux

Sad news today, Dear Readers, or as Hans says before he addresses us, Chers Amis. Something is terribly wrong with my camera, and all the fabulous outdoor photos I took today look like poor-quality etchings–wavy black lines, with a mild wash of color in one part. I have Jim, the resident tech expert, fussing with it, and so far nothing has fixed it beyond just one photo. Oddly, inside flash seems to work fine, so there can be photos of food. I’ll try to arrange photos from the other travelers, but, till then, you’ll need to use your imagination. Dommage.

So today was packing up and moving out of Graveson. We started with another lecture about Van Gogh from Marie-Charlotte. It was interesting, though a certain amount of drowsing occurred. Marie, in her enthusiasm, announced each painting was “especially beautiful,” and I pointed out to Helena, and we then giggled each time we heard it.

Today was our biggest climb, over Les Alpees, meaning the little alps. We did stay below the snow line, but I admit to some anxiety about how difficult the endeavor would be. We started out in the lovely Provencal countryside that we all enjoy so much. There’s a certain mindlessness involved in cycling a lot, and and it’s possible to simply absorb one’s surroundings, though the birders in the group were obviously more aware of sounds while I concentrated on sights. Some of us did see a kitty resting in a driveway, and enjoyed the sight. Anyway, the climb was broken into three parts, long and not bad, shorter and worse, and shortest and just walk that sucker.

We arrived at Les Baux around noon, and it had been worth every calorie burned, every muscle tested. I loved Les Baux, and took fabulous photos, none of which are usable, alas. It’s a fortress town on the top of a rocky mountain, the highest in that area, and splendidly suited for defense, as enemies would be seen miles away, almost to the Mediterranean, and picked off as they climbed the mountain.  It was a fortress for more than a thousand years, and an early lord conveniently claimed Balhtasar, one of the Magi, as his direct ancestor, perhaps pronounced as “BaUlthasar.”(This was also where Bauxite was first discovered, and hence, named.)

Upon arrival we dispersed to lunch, with orders to gather for a lecture tour in an hour. The lunch was very interesting, as Les Baux is totally a tourist town, and you would think were used to dealing with their lifeblood, tourists. The lunch embodied all my worst images of French stereotypes. A number of us, about ten, ended up at a little restaurant, sitting at tiny tables. First, the waitress announced they were “ferme’ (closed) and chased away some late arrivals. Then as some tried to order the sandwiches listed on little stand-up separate menus, she whisked them away, and announced they weren’t serving sandwiches. So Clasina and I ordered the plat du jour, a pork chop, roasted tomato, and ratatouille, which were all delicious, I must say. I requested “eau normal”–tap water. She brought some for the tables on each side of us, but none for me. I’m glad the others we willing to share. The Japanese couple sat next to us, and we helped them with a little French, that “L’addition” is the bill. I taught “merci beaucoup” and “merci mille fois” (thanks a thousand times.) So when l’addition arrived, it was given to the Yuji, the Japanese gentleman, and was for 74 euros, apparently for about six of us. “Merci mille fois” I exclaimed to him. We asked the waitress to break the bill into individual tabs. She refused. We asked for change while we paid separately. She said she didn’t have any change. I was thoroughly pissed off by now, and didn’t leave her a centime over my bill. We shrugged. At least the food was delicious.

So then we met with Patrick our local guide. He traveled all over the world as an Air Force Brat, and hasn’t used English as a primary language for many years, though he’s obviously a native speaker. And he was incredibly well-informed. A little more information that we needed, perhaps, on siege weapons, but his stories on the history and architecture were excellent. We tromped over much of Les Baux, but I would have loved to spend the entire day there, visiting the museums and seeing the ancient structurse we missed. (I am really missing my fabulous photos here. You would have loved them.) I did try a little of my nasty game “Stump the Docent” and though it contribued to the conversation, Patrick was always ahead of me, except about Vatican Two. It was definitely one of the best lectures we’d had. We were told to stop for ice cream on the way back to the bicycles. And so we did. It was a perfect afternoon lift, with still a long ride ahead of us.

But! It was mostly downhill, which made it much easier. and enjoyable. Hans took us on a wonderful little side trip down a deserted road. And, on either side of one spot in the road, were the partially-intact remains of the Arles aqueduct. Right there. We climbed right up onto the structure, and followed it on its path, to its abrupt end above a field. I continue to be enchanted by the touching–this stone was put in place 1,800 years ago. Someone held it to put it here, just where my hand is now.

We ended up at Hostellerie de la Source. It’s in a tiny town, just outside Arles. Hans told me the name, but I can’t remember it. It also had a pool, and I realized later, a clothesline, which would have been fabulous. And they did have a restaurant, which served us a lovely dinner.

There was another filo dough starter: HPIM0447.jpg image by zecainfrance with salad.

And fish with rice, both, I presume, local: HPIM0448.jpg image by zecainfrance

And a chocolate brownie for dessert, with creme anglaise, which ended up in my coffee.

HPIM0449.jpg image by zecainfrance Notice also the generous quantites of rose wine, though the blush-colored white was delicious, also. ah.

Starting to cough, and I fear a cold is developing, and local insects have been finding find pickings on various body parts. Whatever.