Tuesday, August 14, 2018
I think I write this as much for myself as for anyone else, and I rarely edit anything, which makes it somewhat stream of consciousness. It's a more modern version of what I always did as a kid, chronicling my travels, with family, and later, on my own, in paper journals. It's funny to look back on those car trips with my parents and siblings - they consist mostly of recording the beginning and ending mileage for each day, every single expense, gas, food, motels, entry fees, etc. And then a pretty mundane recording of where we went and what happened.
I think Loring and I, on our early trips, also kept track of every expense, but I don't remember or even know if those logs even exist anymore.
I am going to write here a chronology of this trip, because I know how much the entries jump around, and also to help myself remember
The first week I spent just outside Avignon, France, where I participated in a mosaic making workshop with about a dozen others. Avignon happens to be where I spent part of my first trip to Europe, in 1968, exactly 50 years ago. So it seemed fitting. I then spent an extra few days in Avignon proper, to experience part of its famous theater festival, which I had also attended 50 years ago. Next, train to a couple of days in Loches, in the Loire Valley, home to the famous chateaux, to visit my friends Marie and Tim. Marie and I went to college together in Paris.
On to Paris. Will I ever become satiated with Paris? I hope not. I spent five days there on my own, then an additional two days when Loring arrived.
And then on to part two of the trip - Croatia and Bosnia-Herzogovina. We flew from Paris to Pula, Croatia, where we rented a car and spent two nights.All the rest of our stops were for two days each, except for our last stop, in Split Croatia, where we spent our last three days.
In between our first and last stops in Croatia, we stopped in Rastoke, Croatia, with its fairytale like environment and old mills. Next, Jajce in Bosnia, where we stayed in a family run b and b with wonderful hosts. Then, onto Sarajevo, and after that, Mostar, both cities in Bosnia. Last, we returned to Croatia, to Split, for our last three days, before flying back home through Paris to Boston.
Rather than add to this last entry, I'm going to go back and add a little bit, because I don't think I've done Mostar justice. So if you've read that entry, I hope you'll go back and reread.
And although I say I write as much for myself as for others, I do appreciate knowing who has read any of this. If you have, I hope you'll leave me a little note.
And so, that's it for now, until the next adventure. People are already asking me when and where. And of course, I have already started thinking about it. January, maybe? Where? I don't know. Check back in a few months!
So now, back ensconsed on my sofa and my regular life at home, I will try to at least fill in some of the details that I have missed.
Loring and I spent two days together in Paris, after my five days there on my own. It was actually more like a day and a half. I tried not to cram in too many events, or even plan anything definite. But I had seen a brochure about a summer festival, with events throughout the summer months. One was a tightwire artist who was going to walk a distance from Sacre Coeur, the impressive church in Montmarte, to someplace down the steep hill. We decided to go, and to walk part of the way, until we(me) got tired. Turned out we walked the entire way. It was about three miles. We walked around the very touristed top of the hill, where zillions of artists do charcoal portraits of visitors. We actually have a a very nice one of Carolina when she was small, so I shouldn't be too disparaging.
We looked for a cafe, there were plenty, but I wanted one that made citron presse. It's basically just lemonade - a lot of lemon juice, served with sugar and a pitcher of water. But they press so many lemons, and I ask for extra water and ice, so I usually get about four glasses from one serving. Or maybe it tastes good just because it's Paris. Should I start calling my own version, which I make at home with soda water, citron presse? Or citron presse gazeuse, to be even more pretentious? I have to confess I just use bottled lemon juice for mine.
Okay, back from that tangent, we found a cafe with the citron presse, and a good view of the throngs passing by. Perfect, to do the Parisian thing of sitting in a cafe passing time. (It was a while before the tightrope performance.) Perfect, that is, until a musician with a speaker, a guitar, and terrible taste in music, (think Barry Manilow.) planted himself right in front of us. He sang, and the speaker blasted at a pretty intolerable level ,and we cringed and tried to ignore him. When he came around to ask for donations after at least 15 minutes of excruciating loud music, I said, as politely as I could, that the music was a bit too loud. Escusez-moi, he said, and I couldn't tell if he was being genuine or sarcastic. But he did move the speaker further away, and faced it away from us. And then, obviously realizing that we were American, played When the Saints go Marching in. At least that's a decent song, and the decibels were much reduced.
Found spots on the sloping lawn and steps that lead down Montmarte from Sacre Coeur. There were plenty of people around but it wasn't mobbed and the atmosphere was festive. When I looked up and saw the height and length of the tightwire, I felt slightly sick and wondered if I really wanted to be there.
She began at the bottom of the hill, and went up towards the church. The lower part was the highest above the ground, and we were near the top. Her walk took about a half hour. There was live orchestra music, and she stopped and turned and hung and balanced frequently along the way. There was no safety rope or net. About halfway through I finally relaxed somewhat. I was beginning to convince myself that she might survive and not slip and plummet to the ground, as I kept envisioning.
It was an impressive performance, no doubt. And I applauded with everyone else when she reached the top, just beyond us, and bowed, along with her four assistants(they helped the volunteers who were holding side ropes along the way to steady her rope.) and the orchestra. But I wonder what it is that makes us want to watch performances like this. It's partly, of course, being impressed with the performer's incredible skill. But isn't part of it also the dark thrill of knowing that it's possible that it will end in tragedy? I find myself both drawn to and repelled by the event. But there's no doubt that it was an incredible performance, in an incredible setting.
Anyway, we made our way back to the bottom of the hill, and the metro, and went back home to watch the Tower glow and flash its lights for the first five minutes of each hour.
The second, and last day of our Paris time together, we walked at length again, this time through a corner of the Bois de Bologne, to a museum that is relatively new, and to which I had never been. I don't believe, that in all the times I've spent in Paris, that I've ever been to the Bois de Bologne. If I remember right, during the time I lived there, it was famous as a gay pick up spot. But places change, Times Square is now family friendly, and the former Combat Zone in Boston is now the quite the proper theater zone.
There's a children's park in the Bois, which we walked through, with all kind of rides, the usual amusement part kind, and camel rides, which was kind of startling to see. The saddles held a couple of children on each side, sideways. Which is exactly how I remember riding at the Bronx Zoo when I was small. I think that was on an elephant, but now I'm not sure, maybe it was a camel. Bizarre in either case. I don't think you'd see that at the Bronx Zoo these days, and I was kind of surprised to see it there. The children's park is old, from the 1890's, but they just renovated it a few years ago. There are elements of the old architecture, but I wish I would have seen it before. Although that would probably have made it sadder. One nice touch - they had water spouts( know there's a name for them) embedded at intervals in the pavement, which would periodically shoot up, and then, after a few minutes, die down. quite the treat on a blistering hot day, and not just for kids. (Loring, where's my "Marilyn" picture?) Also startling, when you didn't expect it.
The museum is the Fondation Vuitton, funded by the haute couture luggage company, if you can call luggage couture. I think it opened in 2014. The building is spectacular, designed by Frank Gehry, and is truly worth visiting for that reason alone. The exhibits were great, too, and we wound up spending a few hours there. I would definitely recommend it if you are spending more than a couple of days and have already seen some of the old standbys.
That night, we ate at a restaurant just a couple of blocks from our apartment, recommended by our host. She said they eat there often. It was an excellent suggestion, and a great way to end the Paris part of our travels.
The next morning,we flew from Paris to Pula, Croatia. We spent the next two weeks driving thru Croatia and into Bosnia-Herzogovina, and back again to Croatia, where we ended our travels in Split. If you have been confused by the chronology and itinerary, I am not surprised, so am I. We stayed in 6 different places, and it's hard for me to sort them all out now. A couple were wonderful, and all were interesting. I am not sure I would recommend Croatia in the summertime, it is replete with tourists. The crowds made it difficult, at times, to enjoy the places. But the less traveled places, in small towns we chose partly for the location between other stops, were the real treasures of the trip. I suppose that is often the case in any travels, the hidden treasures you discover mostly by chance are some of the most memorable experiences
Still worried about losing entries before I can post them, I will stop here, then pick up again with another, hopefully(for you and me both) last post...
Saturday, August 4, 2018
At first we thought there were no regulations and no lifeguards, but eventually saw a guy in a canoe whistling at one person for climbing up the rocks to one of the waterfalls. One brief whistle, then he headed to under a tree with some shade and joined another canoe with a couple of other young men it it. They didn't seem to be doing much guarding, of lives, falls, or anything else.
If one had thought of it as a once pristine set of waterfalls, now overwhelmed by tourists, it could have been annoying and disappointing. But everyone was clearly having so much fun, together in one environment, it was a gathering of people of all kinds, kids going in the water for the very first time, teenagers, dormant lifeguards, etc. There were a few cafes, and many people just sitting on the grass and on the concrete, with towels spread out, lunches, etc. It was a fifteen minute hike down. I had the feeling that many of the people there were local, as well as the myriad tourists.
We eventually continued on to Split. I had chosen it over Dubrovnik, because it had sounded like Dubrovnik was absolutely sieged with tourists, between cruise ships, fans of Game of Thrones, etc. Well, it's hard to imagine a place more inundated than the old town in Split. Diognenes Palace is more than a ruin of a castle. It is a veritable town into itself. It is massive, and a warren of little streets and alleys. Its architectural is impressive, and beautiful. But amidst the falls and alleys are shops, some junky souvenir stands, lots of high end designer shops, jewelry stores, intermixed with restaurants and ice cream stands. There were also a number of hostels and hotels within the complex. A little of everything, and a lot of people. We had to elbow our way through. Kind of depressing to see an incredible ruined palace turned into a veritable shopping mall.
We haven't been doing much cooking here, or on this trip in general. Some of places didn't have kitchens at all. And the food in Bosnia was so incredibly cheap that it didn't seem worth it , it was better to get more chances to sample the local cuisine. We've been having breakfast at home, then a big meal for either lunch or supper, and snacks in between. The local cuisine features a lot of meat, and I've tried to order other things. But yesterday, we went to a restaurant for lunch that our host had suggested. When we first got here and found the restaurant the first night, there was a long line waiting to get in. So we decided to try to get a reservation the next day, or see if it was less crowded at lunchtime.
That worked well. The second day there was no line at all, although the tables were mostly filled. I had a lamb stew with peas, delicious, and Loring ordered the house specialty, beef cooked overnight in a wine sauce, which came with gnocchi. I chose "Croatian Swiss Chard" as my side, which was also delicious. I think they boiled it first, then cooked it further with olive oiI and spices.) I gathered that most people order some kind of potato with the stews. I saw people ladling stew over fries, as well as over mashed potatoes. Luckily, Loring's had come with a huge bowl of the gnocchi, and I ate at least half of it with my lamb stew.
There's a bandstand on the waterfront, and we've seen two events there. I am hoping there is something interesting there tonite. The first night, it was traditional women singers, then dancers. It was my first and only encounter with traditional music or dance on this trip. I was delighted, and got a couple of videos with the crowd, and a couple of children imitating and doing their own versions of the dancers' moves
Last night the stage was set up for another event. We waited to see what it was. A marching band that looked like high school students came from down the street. That was followed by a lot of men, young and not, all dressed in white sailor uniforms. They filled about half the seats set up, including right next to us. For the next fifteen or twenty minutes, a man, probably the mayor, spoke, and of course we didn't understand a word. He introduced a variety of men, and one woman, who came up to the stage to plant various flags. People applauded at each one. Some were wearing full uniforms, not the white navy ones. Others were wearing military type shirts with jeans. One was wearing a tee shirt and jeans, but a military hat. It was not something we would have seen in the states.
Eventually, a group of male singers came out and sang what must have been the national anthem, since everyone stood up. Some people sang along, including the navy man next to me, but most didn't. The mayor had his hand over his heart, but most people didn't. I wish I'd been able to understand what was said, and what the occasion was.
We left before the event had ended, and strolled the waterfront, stopping for a fruit smoothie. They are big here, almost as popular as ice cream. Mine was called hot lips, I think. It was watermelon and lemon. I may have to stop for one last one tonite. We'll go out again soon, to a museum that we are not sure what to expect of, then probably dinner, and then take a look at the stage again to see if there's a performance tonite. I imagine there will be, especially since it's Saturday night. And then, hopefully, we''ll spend an hour or two on our very nice balcony. Which is, by the way, a level above our apt. you have to go out of the apartment and up a flight of stairs. There's another apartment up there that opens right onto the balcony. So we share the big space with them, each with our own half. I haven't seen any others there, but have heard them, a man and a small kid. By 8 or 9 pm it will hopefully be cool enough to sit out there.
I hope to write some more reflections about the trip, and whatever awaits us tonite before we leave early in the am. Perhaps from the airport or on the plane.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
My major concepts of Bosnia, and particularly Sarajevo and Mostar, before we travelled there, was images and memories of the war in the 1990's, and a book that had been written by a Sarajevo teen, Zlata, who has often been referred to as the Bosnian Ann Frank. I think it's called Zlata's Diary. She wrote detailed descriptions of her life then, of people dashing out amidst sniper fire for bread and water, of living in fear, without electricity, over many months. The images have always stayed with me, and are part of the reason I wanted to travel there.
Zarajevo is filled with history, not only about the most recent war. It is also where the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, triggering World War I. It is also a vibrant living city. If one were to go there without knowing the history, it is likely that she would never realize the scars it . Unless one visits one of the museums dealing with the horrors, or takes a walking tour. Or once one sees the wall of a building riddled with holes, and is told or realizes that they are the result of sniper or shell damage, still unrepaired after 25 years. And once you realize, it is hard not to see everywhere.
We looked and saw, in villages and in the countryside, as well as in Sarajevo and Mostar, destroyed abandoned buildings as well as pockmarked ones. In some cases the buildings had been attacked, others probably were abandoned when people fled, many of whom never returned to their homes or country.
It is hard to imagine those other times, in fact, at least for me, impossible, no matter how much I try. I have had similar feelings in places affected by other wars, particularly the Holocaust. Not just in places like Auschwitz and Dachau, but in mundane places, homes and businesses, from which people had been deported.
One of the first place we visited in Sarajevo was the beautiful city hall building, not far from our apartment. . We discovered that it was a reproduction, and had only been completed a few years before. Later, I saw a film at one of the museums that showed the building burning, being totally destroyed, in the 90's war. It had been built in the late 19th century, in a semi Arabic style, partly to emphasize the co-existence in the city of people from various backgrounds and religions. Not only the building, but the vast library of some 2 million books was destroyed that night. And that could not be reconstructed.
The building reproduction was beautiful, though, and a woman in one of the rooms talked to us at length (she seemed thrilled to have visitors) about a new agency installed there that was dealing with documenting the war crimes.
Later, we joined a free walking tour (I've taken them in other cities, Jerusalem and Berlin.) The guides depend on tips. This guide, whose name we never found out because we joined it already in progress, was terrific. He was in his 30's and had been seven when the war began. It was very moving and enlightening to have a first hand account. He freely talked about his experiences and his beliefs, and encouraged people to ask questions. He was also adept at keeping much of the tour lighthearted, and balancing the terrible stories with the positive. He had lived in the basement of his apartment for four years with his family. They had lived on the eighth floor, too high to be safe. Many people fled before the city was barricaded, but about twenty five people, including his family, spent the war years there. He described his mother going out with plastic jugs to fetch water, several times a week. We had already read and seen films about that, but it added another layer to have his personal experiences. I would have loved to talk to him at greater length, but he had another, private group booked for the afternoon. (a food tour!)
Later in the tour he took us to the brewery that Sarajevo is famous for. It's built on top of a spring in the middle of the city, and is still an operating brewery. But during the war, it became the one reliable source for clean water. People would haul their jugs, often in carts or childrens' wagons, usually under threat of gunfire. They didn't always make it. I've read both factual and fictionalized versions of the four year siege, the snipers, even the City Hall and Library burning and the trips to the brewery for water.
Our guide described himself as not religious, and not hating anybody, even the Serbs who committed a veritable genocide of the Muslims. He said his parents were secular Muslims. And, on a more lighthearted note, he related the story of once asking his mother why she considered herself Muslim. And her answer, that she liked baklava!
He ( I wish I had found out his name, we never even knew the name of his tour business) took us to a bright, one might say garish, building that dated from the communist era. We had already walked by it, I particularly noticing the very nice, bright murals along the inside corridors. He told us that most Sarajevans considered it the ugliest building in the city. The building colors were bright blue and yellow. It was right next to the one still operating synagogue, and one theory was that it had deliberately been built there by the communists to spite the Jewish population. It's the one synagogue still operating in the city, although there are other buildings that remain, but not as synagogues any more. I'm not sure how many more there had been before the war, if any. But the Serbs had targeted both mosques and other religious buildings. I don't think any of the minaret towers had survived, but most, maybe all, had been rebuilt.
A fascinating addendum: the yellow-blue building was one of the more desirable and expensive places to live in the center city, more so than the beautiful Hapsburg era building across from it. One possibility - from the building, you couldn't see it, whereas from nearby buildings it was the view! I'm sure that there are some who truly do like the building. I wouldn't call it ugly, but it sure was different, and didn't seem in the right place. Then again, the Eiffel Tower was considered ugly when it was built.
I will stop here and post this now, before I do anything foolish and lose or delete it again. Will continue on with another post.
Back again, same post. I decided to live dangerously and add to this entry, rather than post a separate entry. Trying to keep at least a semblance of chronology.
Mostar was probably the most frustrating stop in our travels. What I'd known about it before was its famous high medieval bridge. It had survived many conflicts, but was destroyed during the 90's war. It has been rebuilt, and reopened about a decade ago. It is the central focus and symbol of the city as it was before. It is also the focus of the tourists to Mostar. There is a famous diving competition every summer, which brings divers and visitors from many places. Around the bridge, on the cliffs and below, are numerous restaurants, with wonderful views and friendly waiters.
The bridge was also the route into town in old times to the market, to traders from afar, Turkey and other places. And it is today, too. The market still exists, or exists again. But it is now a tourist market, hard to tell the local crafts from the imported from probably China ones. And it is so thronged with visitors that you have literally to elbow your way through. I did eventually find a metal worker who made interesting plaques out of copper and enamel. He was a second or maybe third generation vendor in the same place. His father still makes art, but worked from home now while the son and his wife ran the shop. I did get my Mostar souvenir, a small piece that looks, if you look at it one way, as a face, but look again and you will see it's a represenetaton of the famous bridge. I know it's locally handmade, I spoke with the artist. Loring is less convinced and more cynical. But I agree with him that the market is really just a tourist trap, and it and the bridge and market is basically the whole old town.
I went to one more war museum. Loring had had enough of disaster museums and went to the beach under the bridge to read.We arranged to meet up an hour or so later. When I got to the bridge, there were a couple of wet guys in Speedos. They had just jumped. One sounded American. Anyone can jump after going thru a short training including lower jumps, and paying 50 euros. (about $60) There are local divers, and also tourist ones. I don't know how many of them get hurt. It is impressive to watch. Loring had watched several jumps already, and took a great slow motion video of one. At one point, the local man next to him said, "this should be interesting. " explaining that the jumper was a tourist. But he apparently made the jump okay. Maybe he was the English speaking guy I saw later on the bridge.
We did walk some, and saw the non tourist part of the town. There were a number of damaged and destroyed buildings, even 25 years later. Reconstruction is still ongoing outside the central old city, the tourist part. One building, totally destroyed except for some of the outside walls, had an interesting exterior, looking almost like Egyptian hieroglyphics. I assumed it had been a museum. But later, we were told that had actually been a shopping mall. It made us realize that not only was there still a lot of remaining destruction, but that Mostar had been a modern city, with amenities like large shopping centers.
Well, that's a recap of Mostar. Interesting, yes. Would I suggest people go there? Probably not, just because the tourist market and bridge were basically all there were to do and see, and both were totally overwhelming because of the crowds. I enjoyed the smaller, off the beaten path discoveries more, the places like Rastoke in Croatia, and Jajce in Bosnia. And Sarajevo, largely because it is important to remember atrocities and genocides, and hopefully somehow prevent them from occurring again. And because there is a lot to the city, in addition to the history of the war.
I'll now go back in time to Pula, our first stop after Paris. We flew from Paris to Pula. We'd picked it mostly because it was a short flight and cheap trip from Paris. Once we had that reservation, we mapped out a potential route through Croatia, to Bosnia-Herzogovina, and back into Croatia, where we will drop off the car and fly back home through Paris.
We didn't know much about Pula, aside from the fact that it has one of the world's largest, most well preserved colloseums.
We didn't expect it to be as much of a tourist town as it was. The main streets were thronged with tourists and tourist shops, and restaurants. Our apartment was in a modern building overlooking the main street. But we were several stories high, and were not at all bothered by street traffic. And we had interesting views from the apartment, including Roman ruins just next door. And also a patio overlooking the harbor. The harbor was filled with huge cranes, that we at first thought were dormant, left over from other times. But in fact they were working cranes, and it appeared that most, if not all, were involved with shipbuilding. A little further down the road was an additional group of cranes. These were lighted up for several hours each night, in a kind of art installation.
The collosseum was indeed impressive. There had been a film festival that had ended just a day before. There were workers disassembling the massive scaffolding that must have supported the screen. The arena was still filled with a mass of blue seats. The temperature was hot, as it has been the entire trip until yesterday, when we arrived here in Jajce. I did not envy the workers out in the hot sun for however many hours they had worked.
They hold concerts in the arena fairly regularly. Our neighbors at home, when they were living in Prague, had attended a concert of a group they'd long been wanting to see, there in the stadium, and had said it was a remarkable experience. They also stage regular gladiator reinactments, which I would guess would not be quite as moving. And, you can rent gladiator clothing and have your picture taken. The booth wasn't open when we were there, which is just as well. I might have been tempted.
Our second night, we took a boat trip out past the harbor around the islands nearby. There were a number of boats, and a variety of trips, offered by various vendors along the harbor walk. Some were day trips, some involved swimming and looking for dolphins. The one we chose was advertised as a "fish picnic." I liked the sound of that, and it included boating around the "light giants" as the illuminated cranes are called. So for about 30 euros, roughly 35 dollars, we had an over three hour cruise, complete with fish dinner, all we could drink, (wine, juice or water) and a lovely boat trip. The captain narrated from time to time, in several languagaes, but it was hard to understand any of it, even the English. The dinner was delicious, and included a cabbage salad. a combination of cabbage and tomatoes. When I complimented him on the salad, he said that the cabbage was from his neighbor, and the tomatoes had been grown by his father.
As we cruised around the light giants and approached the dock again, we heard music from the lower deck. It took us a few minutes to realize that it was live. As we headed downstairs, we saw that it was the captain, playing the accordian and singing. When he saw us, he said - Ah, the Americans, and started playing When the Saints go Marching In!
Neither Loring nor I had ever realized before, until that evening, why construction cranes are called cranes. Oddly, it occurred to both of us at the same time, and in retrospect, seems so obvious.
The trip from Pula, through the border into Bosnia, was pretty, and pretty uneventful. We had read about lines at the border, but anticipated nothing except a brief back up, much much less than the New Hampshire toll booths on a summer weekend. The customs guy asked us where we were going, and since we said "Jaycee" not knowing how to pronounce the town's name, he looked baffled. When we added Sarajevo and Mostar, he waved us on.
I am sitting on the patio of our Jajce home, a rooming house here in Jajce. We have picked our locations partly by distances, leaving an approximately 3 hour drive between destinations. It's hard to know from pictures and limited information what to expect, but I would say that, so far, we have done quite well.
Tomrrow we will head to Sarajevo, and then, a couple of days later, to Mostar. Those are the two locations in Bosnia with which I was at all familiar, and that, only because of reading about the war here in the 1990s. I read a book, Zlata's Diary, which was quite well known at the time, written by a young girl who lived here during the war, She's been called the Bosnian Ann Frank, and the comparison is apt.
The owners of the inn here are quite friendly, but speak hardly a word of English. It is helpful to us that their son and his family, wife and two daughters, as well as their daughter, are all here visiting. The family all left during the war, and just the parents returned. The son, Dino, and his family, live in Australia. Their girls were born there and speak just English. They were amazed that we spoke English! Aisha, the older one, has been busily cleaning every available surface, tables, windows, walls, etc. Her younger sister Elma is equally adorable. They are about six and four, I'd guess, and their mom is pregnant. I asked her about family leave in Australia. Everyone, working outside the home or not, gets at least the minimum wage, close to $500 American dollars a week. Wow. And she says Australians are jealous of countries like Sweden.
I've been chatting with her for a while. Loring has been off on a hike. We both hiked up to the fortress that looms over the town this morning. And then we drove to the waterfalls and little mill buildings that are a few miles down the road, which is whaat you see in every picture about the town. It's a virtual Disneyland down there. There's a large hotel, and an amusement park/playground, plus horsecarts, bicyles built for two, etc. Hadn't known what to expect, so it's a good thing we didn't choose to stay there. Plus, it was pouring. So it's also a good thing that we didn't walk, as Loring had originally proposed. We didn't even get out of the car, but was able to get a good view of the falls/mills, etc from the car.
Returned here to the center of town, which is pretty small. There are a number of cafes and shops, but the shops have mostly been closed. They are for the most part aimed at locals, although there are a few souvenir stands. Just across from us is the central mosque, although there are several others in the town.
Shortly after we arrived yesterday, there was a loud honking of car horns from a procession of car, with some waving flags from the car windows. My first thought was that it was a political demonstration. But it was actually a wedding. Since then there have been a number of similar wedding processions. And we watched the aftermath of a wedding at the mosque, right from our patio here. In fact, here comes another one now. The first couple were interesting. Now it's getting kind of annoying. Apparently, it is a fairly new tradition, does not date from before the war.
While I have been writing and chatting with the girls' mom, Loring has returned from his walk. He went way up the hill, saw another, outdoor wedding. Also walked by many buildings riddled with bullet holes. Our guess is that they restored and rebuilt the buildings here in the center of town, because we haven't noticed any around us, but didnt bother or have the funds to repair the farther out neighborhoods.
We've talked a bit with a variety of people about the war. I'd read not to bring the subject up, that people didn't like to talk about it. But it hasn't been our experience; we've only talked about it when people brought it up. Dino's wife, the girls' mom ( I need to find out her name) said it was bad, but didn't go into details. Mostly people have said that they left the country for that time period. Some have come back, others just come back in the summer to visit family.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Back in the garden again, second and last night in Rastoke,
It is a beautiful place to write. Loring is wandering around the garden, out of my sight, taking lots of photos. It is hard not to, it is so picturesque at every turn.
This morning we headed up the hill to the village above, in search of breakfast. There are numerous cafes here, but most serve only coffee and other beverages. The restaurant where we ate last night did not serve breakfast. The cafe down here didn't either. The pizza place had only pizza and lasagne, which they were apparently willing to serve at any time of the day. I am not a big pizza fan, and in the morning it seems even less appealing than later in the day. So up the hill we went to the larger village above, which we wanted to visit anyway. Bea had told us that the weekly market was today.
In Sludj, though, we could find no breakfast either. Plenty of cafes, with plenty of people in them, but no food. I wondered what the tourists like us do for breakfast. We eventually noticed that a number of people had crumbled paper bags on their tables , and realized that they had bought pastries and brought them to the cafe. But we couldn't find a bakery either. We decided to go to the supermarket,, where, right inside the door was a bakery, with a separate cash register, perhaps a separate business located inside the store.
The young woman behind the counter spoke no English, although most young people here seem to, but another customer offered to help us. I wanted something with chocolate, and got a croissant, Loring wanted something with meat, and got something that had some, plus a second thing. We sat in the cafe and ordered our coffees, and tried to linger and drink them as slowly as possible, as the Croatians do. That isn't easy, especially with an expresso.
A man about our age guided a frail older man, clearly his father, into a seat opposite us. We tried to make room for the son, but he indicated that it wasn't necessary. He left, but came back a few minutes later, with a package of cigarettes for his elderly dad, then left again and didn't return. We wondered if this was a form of elder day care, that the son would return for his father at the end of the day. When we left, I smiled at the man, and he smiled back wanly. Or maybe it was happily, it was hard to know.
We've now moved from the garden back to in front of the house, where we still have a nice view, and can dash inside if it begins to rain. It is already thundering and lightening. Did I tell you that you get to and from the garden by a secret door? Well, it's not really secret, but feels like it. You go thru the garage to an old wooden door, which is pretend locked, and covered with a broom. It makes the place feel even a bit more special.
On the way back down to our village, we stopped at the market and bought peaches and plums, which we have been eating throughout the day. They were incredibly cheap, just as Bea had told us. The plums, about 20 of them, cost about fifty cents, total.
Later, we went to the swimming spot, a calm section of the river with grass banks on both sides, a bridge crossing from one side to the other, and steps at intervals leading down to the water. There were a number of people in and around the water, but it was by no means crowded. There were a few little changing booths, material around a frame, and a small snack stand. The water was clear, with lots of little fishies, and pretty warm. Loring did a few lazy laps up and down the river, and I floated around a bit with my favorite toy, my underwater mp3 player.
After a nap, a trip to the second restaurant that we had not visited the night before. It was perhaps five or six o"clock, hard and unneccesary to keep track time in places like this, Dinner is served until late, about 11, but there seem to be customers patronizing the places at all times of day. I had mushroom soup, and then a pasta dish with smoked trout. The trout was actually blended into the sauce, and it was delicous, though rich. I asked the young waiter what was in the sauce, guessing that it was cream and a little tomato sauce, plus the trout. He didn't know and went to ask in the kitchen. He came back, said it was smoked trout plus secret ingredients. I don't know if they really wanted to protect their recipe, or if it was made from something packaged or was ketchup or something like that. It was rich, as I said, but I managed to eat it all.
Only problem, after all the delicous rich food, I had no appetite saved for the dessert I had envisioned, back up to the second restaurant. So back it was to our little house, and our little room, amidst the running falls and streams.
This will be our second night in Rastoke, an amazing little village. Just a couple of closing comments about Avignon, then I am going to write about here, and eventually backtrack to Paris.
I just wanted to mention that all the events I attended at the Avignon festival are part of what is called the "Off" I never even came across the On or figured out what it is. I imagine the On is, or partly is, the events that take place within the Palace of the Popes, the impressive building that was once the Pope's summer residence. (medieval times, if I remember right.) That is where I saw the Bejart Ballet company's incredible performance of Stravinsky's Rites of Spring, which stays with me still, 50 years later. I have seen several other performances of that piece, but nothing that compares to that. The program for the Off festival is like a telephone book, well, one for a small town, anyway. Performances, which start at 9 am and go to about midnight, are listed by venue, alphabetically, then crossed referenced by time, type - theatre, circus, music,dance, mime, comedy, humor(not sure about the difference between the last two), appropriateness for children (by ages), appropriate for people with limited French, etc. They also list by country of group, altho the vast majority are French, and probably a few other categories. I looked mostly at the music and dance ones, and even so, there were many more than I could have seen in a few days, or even if I had more time.
Well, that's enough about Avignon, although there's more to tell. As I said, I will now write about where I actually am, for a change. And if I ever catch up, can't think of a better place to do it than right where I am.
We are in a room in a woman's house, Bea, in the tiny village of Rastoke. As far as I understand, Rastoke is a section of the larger village of Slunj, which is a short hike above us. The major attraction in this part of Croatia is not far from us, the famous lakes and waterfalls of Plivice, which are I think about a half hour away, at least without traffic. But from what I have read, they are mobbed with visitors, especially in the summer, and you have to wait in lines even inside the park, and hike with constant traffic, and we assume the car traffic getting there. So we have decided not to go, although from what we have seen in pictures, and been told by friends who have been here, they are spectacular. So we chose here instead, in our trek through Croatia, into Bosnia-Herzevovina, and back to Croatia for our last few days. We didn't even realize it was this close to Plivice when we booked it. Bea said to us, in her limited English, yesterday, "tomorrow, Plivice?" She seemed a little surprised, but perhaps pleased, when we said no, we were staying here. She is warm and welcoming. She showed us her garden, but not until towards evening, because there were snakes and she doesn't like them. We did see a posting later about venomous snakes, so I guess it's a good thing. But we are sitting here in her garden nonetheless, in the middle of the day today. I am sitting at a picnic bench, with the falls all around me. At least if I see a snake I can lift my feet up or stand on the bench!
This place is enchanting. I picked it well. You are never sure until you reach your destination if the place will live up to your expectations. I pictured Bea's garden as a patch of vegetables and perhaps flowers. It is more a meandering path through foliage interspersed with streams and falls, everwhere, and little wooden bridges over some of them. Bea's garden is a series of little patches intermingled with the water, lettuce, cabbage, zucchini, strawberries. Across one of the streams is a private park, with an admission fee. I think we have the better spot. In fact, I think we may have the best spot in town, although there are several little islands that I think belong to residents, and maybe a few other gardens that we can't see, like ours can' t be seen. There are, though, a lot of visitors who walk down the path to our house (it took us a little while to find it) because it's so picturesque. Until they see the private sign and the log across the driveway. We even have a parking spot inside Bea's garage, and parking seems to be at a premium. There are cars parked all along the road up to Sludj.
The place is so small that pretty much everything is on the map, the few restaurants, all the places with rooms to rent, the museum ( have yet to check that out but will) the swimming place, the souvenir shop (which is just a small cart.) Yesterday, we went to one of the three restaurants for a drink, sat in a swing seat for a beer, and a grapefruit beer. Then decided we were hungry and decided to order an appetizer to share. Smoked trout seemed the specialty, there was a smokehouse and also a pen with numerous fish waiting to be called for dinner. We were puzzled by the price of the smoked trout meal, it was something like $100 a kilo, but we didn't know how much a typical dinner weighs.) The smoked trout appetizer, though, was reasonable, and we ordered that. It was delicous, came garnished with lettuce and tomato and served with what seemed like an entire loaf of bread, sliced, and one shared serving almost satisfied our hunger. We ended with an also shared apple strudel, also wonderful.
We are now in a tiny town in Croatia, our second stop in Croatia. Carolina commented on Loring's fb photos that it looked like a fairytale, and she is right. We are here for two nights, which is our modus operundi for this trip, including Paris for Loring. It is a different way from how we usually travel, and so far it seems fine, except that we never get to unpack our suitcases, and that makes it harder for me to find things!
So, hopefully to complete writing about my French sojourn, or at least the Avignon part of it. I wrote about some of the group, now I'll mention a few more. We were mostly American, aside from Deborah and her daughter, Denille. But even that's complicated. Deborah is, or was, Australian. She's lived in Michigan for many years. I think she's an American citizen. Denille was born in the US, but is an Australian citizen. She lives in Qatar with her husband, and has worked at a university there teaching graphic design for seven years. She is in her forties, but looks like she is in her twenties. She was of course flattered when I told her so. A little later, one of the others said the same thing to her.
Now, that is only the beginning of the complexities of their relationship and their relationship to Laurel, the mosaic teacher. Laurel's mother and Deborah were each married to the same man. Laurel's mom was wife #1, and Deborah was wife #3. He is now on wife #7. Got that? Laurel and Deborah met once before at a family reunion, but Denille and Laurel had never met before. Denille's father was not the man married to both women, her father died, Deborah married again, and has a half brother by the second husband. Got that?!
A couple of the others: Su is from Newburyport, and teaches Spanish at Masconomet. She came on this program last year, and liked it so much she came back. Heidi lives on the Cape and is a personal chef. Martine is from New York, lives on the Upper West Side, and is a psychologist. She and Su met at another mosaic workshop, in Mexico, also run by Laurel. That's probably enough about folks for now, altho there's still a few more.
So, to wrap things up, if I can, about the workshop week, we actually only did mosaics on four days of the week. When I first saw the schedule I was disappointed about that. In retrospect, it was a good balance. The first day, we mostly rested from all of our travel and adjusting time zones. On two days, we had a bus and did excursions. One day we went to a couple of towns inclulding St. Remy, where Van Gogh lived at various times, having instituionalizing himself. Martine, Su, and I walked up to the place and took a little tour. He had painted a lot there, and they had reproductions of many of his paintings and said where the originals now were. They also had some situated at the spot where he had painted them. We also went to Les Baux, where bauxite was mined, and named. Loring and I had been there over 30 years ago, and found it way overtouristed then. It was, of course, even more so now, although it's at the top of a hill and not room for much expansion. I could have skipped that. But, nearby, in what had once been a quarry, there is a spectacular program called something like Ateliers de Lumiere. It's an indoor sound and light show, and they do different shows. Ours was about Van Gogh. And then followed by a shorter hippyish one - Beatles and Donovan and like music with very hippy bright illustrations. The impressive part is the space, it is huge, with many corners and grottos, and images on every wall, as you walk around. I believe the concept for these programs began here. There is now one in Paris, in an old converted building, once a factory, I believe. The current show there is about Klimt.
Now I will move on to Avignon proper, and the festival. I had booked a room on a site called Wimdu, similar to Airbnb. It was a room in a home in the old town, which was important to me. I wanted to be able to walk around the festival easily, and be able to go home in the middle of the day. The location was perfect, although it took me a while to find it. One of my missed connection misadventures. The other one, later, was finding my Paris apartment. All I had was one of the "Portes", entrances thru the ancient walls of the city. The taxi dropped me off, sent Su off to the train station on her way to Marseilles, and, I later found out, worried about me. She had suggested I go to a cafe with wifi, a smart idea, and contact Sarah, my host. Problem, the cafes all said no wifi, not sure why. They said it had something to do with the ancient walls. Hmmm. I finally prevailed on the woman at the desk of a hotel, after much pleading she contacted Sarah on her computer and I got the address. It was only a block or two away from where I'd been let off.
My room was on the second floor of Sarah's apartment. She, her 25 year old daughter Mia, and MIa's boyfriend lived on the first floor. The bathroom was on the first floor,, along with the kitchen. My room was just a mattress on the floor, or maybe a low futon, and a bureau and a fan, much appreciated. The weather has been brutally hot, in Avignon, Paris, and now here in Croatia. There was a little alcove with a desk, where I left my suitcase. It was perfectly adequate, especially since I didn't spend much time there except for sleeping. (At night, and also for almost daily naps in the afternoon.)
Mia was a singer, and her boyfriend a guitarist, and they were planning to play on the streets, but weren't sure where. I'm not sure if it was their decision, or if it's licensed and/or scheduled. I heard them practicing in the apartment. She has a beautiful voice, very jazz like and belying her quiet demeanor. I really wanted to see them perform, but never was able to schedule it.
In all, I saw five performances in three days, one the first day when it took me a while to find the place, and then to relax before venturing out. This is the third or fourth time I've been to Avignon. The first, my original trip, exactly 50 years ago this summer. I was there once with Loring in the 80's I believe. We were only there for a few hours. And a few years ago, I came down overnight from Paris during the festival, and stayed in Marseille because accomodations are tight in Avignon during the festival. That time, I just walked around and watched street performances. I remember trying to find my house from 50 years ago, unsuccessfully. The time with Loring I did find what I thought was the place, and I think considered ringing the bell. Or maybe I did ring the bell and someone answered and pretended she remembered me. I'll have to ask Loring.
This time, I had no expectation of remembering the location, but as soon as I looked at the map, the name of the street jumped out at me - Rue Violette! It was an old house with a large enclosed garden. What I remember is a huge bedroom with swords hanging on the wall, that had been her husband's. And her serving me biscuits with butter and marmalade, and coffee in a bow. And her daughter and son-in-law, or it may have been the other way around, who came to visit with their two huge dogs.
There is only one house on Rue Violette that matches the description. I could only peer into the garden through the large metal doors, and see that it was now apartments. There are some newer buildings on the street, which is only one block long. But I couldn't say for sure that the others were newer than the 60s. It's funny how some things stay with you, like biscuits with marmalade and butter, and other, more recent memories, like what you did yesterday, can't be recalled.
Let me describe the five shows I saw. The first had been recommended by my mosaic teacher, Valerie. it was a kind of musical comedy and discourse between Beethoven and jazz guitarist Django Reinhard. That show played in alternation with one about Bach and some other musician. It was the other that was playing the first night. It was four incrdibly talented musician/comedians. Even though there were many jokes I couldn't understand, there were many I could, and a lot of the comedy was physical, After the show, Bach and cohort served wine to the showgoers, out on the street. I told the non Bach guy, in French, how much I had enjoyed the show, even though I couldn't understand some of the jokes. He responded that that was ok, he didn't understand some of them either. Funny guy!. Next night, even though there are 100s, maybe 1000s of performances, I went back to see Beethoven. Also just wonderful, although I must say I think I preferred the Bach one. Am glad I saw both.
Another show was called Speakeasy Hip Hop and the flyer showed guys dressed in 30s style. It began with four men dancing, not just hip hop but tap and a real combination of styles. After a bit, a fifth dancer came out, a woman. The guys were great, but she was phenomenal. From then on, the performance went to a whole nother level.
I had seen a group in the street, two women singing, Chatanooga Choo Choo, I think, in classy short red outfits, and a man tapping. Based on that, I went to see their performance. Their singing and dancing was great. There was a little plot line, that involved some competiion between the women, but either I didn[t understand it well enough, or it just didnt add much to the show. It was definitely fun to hear songs like "It's all about the Bass" sung in French.
The fifth show I saw was the only one that was rather a disappointment. It took me a while to recognize that it was based on The Little Shop of Horrors. I had seen "Broadway, Music" something else in their ad and that caught my eye. The problem was that the actors werent very good, it seemed more of an amateur production than any of the others. They were thrilled, though, when I told them afterwards that I recognized the show. I wonder if they knew that Jack Nicholson was the dentist in the orignal movie, early in his career.
I am going to stop here, only because I am having trouble with internet and computer, and don't want to risk losing all i've just written. But I will continue on writing with another post. Who knows, this may be the day I catch up!
Monday, July 23, 2018
We had a nice two days together in Paris. More about that later.
Now are at the airport waiting to depart to Pula, Croatia where we will spend the next two days. As after that we've got two days booked in each of several places, in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
For now, though, back to Avignon, then Loches, then Paris.
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Another morning. Actually, morning is over, I just looked up at the clock, it's 12;10. I am awaiting Loring 's arrival. He was due to arrive right around now, but his plane was delayed about 45 minutes on takeoff, last I heard. Update, just this minute heard that he's waiting for the bus at the airport.
Plan A: he has the code for the outer door and the name on the buzzer for the dinner door. He rings and I figure out how to buzz him in.
Plan B: I look out from the balcony and see him and go down to let him in.
Plan C: I don't hear or see him so go downstairs to let him in or sit in the cafe next door and wait for him.
It's always good to have a plan B, and in my case even a C. I've already had two miscommunicated rendezvous' this trip, including one right here trying to find this apartment . She'd sent me the code and name, but I never received the message and had no connection. Someone let me in the door, and I sat in the hallway for more than a half hour trying to figure out what to do. Finally decided to take the elevator to the top floor and start ringing bells. Miraculously, she was only the third or 4th bell I rang, and the first to
So, back to Avignon, where I spent a month 50 years. go, and a little more than a week a couple of weeks ago.We were a group of 14, would- be and actual mosaic artists along with 1our two wonderful teachers, Valerie , who lives here and at whose studio we worked, and Laurel, who is American and who has worked around the world, on projects large and small. I first came across her work in Haiti, where she has a still ongoing community project.
Later... I was sitting on the balcony when I heard a familiar sounding whistle. Looked down and there he was, according to plan A, but couldn't see me. He later said someone did wave at him from a floor, below; I assume that was Magali. I finally caught Loring's attention I went downstairs to let him in. He had already let himself into the front hall, since I had given him the code.
So, back once again to Avignon, and I will continue to try to catch up,(and probably never will, until possibly on the plane home in a couple of weeks.) But I'll try.
I arrived in Paris on the morning of July 3, and immediately took the fast train to Avignon without having to go into the city. It was a seamless transition, and took a mere three hours to get from Paris to Avignon. It's not the first time I've done that. I once went to Avignon for just an overnight, when I was working on the mosaic project here in Paris, nine years ago. I actually stayed in Marseille that night, as things were all booked up during the festival. That time I merely wandered through the streets, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, not feeling the need to pay for any indoor paid visit during that brief visit.
I was one of the last of the mosaic group to arrive in Avignon. Laurel and Valerie were there to greet me, as well as Martine, who had arrived on the same train. She had missed her original train after her flight from New York was delayed. She was rather frazzled, as one might expect. I was quite relaxed, as my trip had gone flawlessly, aside from the woman next to me on the plane who had elbowed me constantly during the six hour flight.
Well, I'm going to stop here for now, as Loring and I are about to head out for dinner for our last night in Paris. We leave tomorrow for Pula, Croatia
To be continued, somewhere, sometime.
Friday, July 20, 2018
My last entry with that title, a couple of days ago, has vanished. Cant figure to where, I guess into thin air. And, sadly, I don't remember what I wrote about.
So it's on to another day. And in ,many ways, each day is like the one before. Which is a good thing. What I was attempting to say last night is that I don't feel the need, this time around, to run around visiting as many museums and doing as much as possible. Even though I'm
only here for five days, and then two more when Loring arrives tomorrow. I am as content to sit on my balcony writing, or in my living room/kitchen eating biscuits with butter and marmalade as going out gallivanting.
I was planning to visit the flea market, the marche au puces, today. But I remembrred wrong, it isn't open on Friday. Good thing I checked first. It's really too high end and pricey for me, more of an antiques market. But there's one store where I've purchased eyeglass frames in the past. Dont need any now. What I'd really hoped to get this time around was old stock hair combs, the kind I wear every day. It's hard to find nice ones in the states. And I'd left my bag of them somewhere along the way, either at the hotel in Villenueve d'Avignon or in Avignon in the room I rented there. I've got to try to track them down. I could go to the market early tomorrow before Loring arrives, but sometimes in July they haven't been open, and I can never remember the name of the place.
Enough of my travails, which of a minor sort anyway. yesterday I got a typically late start. Decided to go to the Pompidou. It's always a lively spot, tourists but also local hanger-routers. It took me quite a while to get there. Walked first thru the Marais, once the Jewish corner, in recent years a much more trendy place. There are still some old world ,traditional Jews, and some stores selling Jewish foods or Judaica.
Some of the old storefronts with their beautifully tilted signs, still remain. But most now house fashionable clothing or design stores. On one wall is a plaque commemorating victims of a bombing in the 1980s. I remember when that happened. But I doubt that many do, or even notice the plaque. I've written a before about the other plaques, in this neighborhood and others, on buildings from which people were deported durIng,, World War Two, usually never to return. On a previous visit, some years ago, I came across one on what had been a Jewish school. It's still a school, and I wandered in to the courtyard where parents were. Picking up their children, before getting stopped by the protective guard. The plaques here predate the more recent stumbling stones in Berlin, where they began, and other cities to which they spread. I first stumbled upon one, strangely, in Oslo, in front of an antique store, a couple of years ago.
I have been to Auschwitz and Daschau, some of the most disturbing places I have ever visited. But in some ways, It's the everyday places, where people live and work and kids go to school, that haunt me the most. The places where people live their lives, and nearly no one remembers or notices what once happened there.
Well, on that somber note, I'll stop, and return later, recount more about the Marais and the Pompidou. Will I ever catch up to my life in real time?
Now for some bread and cheese,and the last of my dellcious melon, while I decide what to do today.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
I never eat crackers with butter and jam at home. But I always have it when I am in France. It dates back to my first trip to Europe 50 years ago. I travelled with a small group of girls. We went by train from Paris to Rome, Florence, and Venice, and then spent a month living in Avignon with host families. By host family, I mean in my case an elderly widowed woman. I realize that in saying elderly, i mean a woman who was likely younger than i am now. FIFTY years! It feels more like a dream to me now than something that really happened.
I have a few memories of that trip, one of which is eating crackers with butter and orange marmalade for breakfast, along with coffee in bowls, rather than cups or mugs. I know some people here still do that. As for the biscuits with butter and jam, I don't know if that is very typical or just happened to be what my host grandmother served. The biscuits themselves, though, are readily available in the supermarket.
I called this entry Back to Avignon to refer both to trying to get back to writing about my great week, last week, with the mosaic project, and then for an additional three days in the city during its famous theater festival. But I am also referring to returning after so many years. Although my memories of my original time there are rather foggy, that trip certainly had a powerful effect on where my life took me in the next few years.
So I am going to write a bit more, about my original trip, and my recent one in and around Avignon, before I return to chronicling my present adventures.
When I was seventeen, my father traded his public relations services with the owner of a small student travel agency called Students Abroad. I spent two months in Eurpoe. The owner ran two trips, one coed and the other just girls. Even though I went to an all girls school (or maybe because of it) I chose to go on the all girls trip. There were eight of us and our leader, who was very knowledgeable about art and history. Both groups went to the same places, but in different order, and we all spent the second month in Avignon. This was before it was fairly common for teens to travel abroad. It was the first time I'd been away from home for that length of time, the only other having been for three weeks at summeEurope.
Many years later,my mother told me that they'd decided to send me on the trip to help me break out of my shell, because i was painfully shy. I hope she was happy with the results! I remember being somewhat shy, but not painfully so. I know I preferred staying home and reading to playing out on the street with the rest with the neighborhood kids. But by the time I was a teenager I was going to school outside the neighborhood and most of my friends didn't live nearby. I wonder if the pain in being painfully shy was my mother's more than mine. I also wonder what, if any, pr work my father did for the company.
So, after a month of travelling to beautiful places, visiting many museums, etc. We arrived in Avignon. we had daily French classes. I also remember tutoring a local high school student in English, and that an article about that appeared in the local paper. The combined groups went on some trips together, to the famous Pont du Gard aqueduct, to Arles, The Roman amphitheater in Nimes, and probably some other places.
Bu t the events that had the greatest effect on me had to do with groups performing at the theater festival. The Living Theatre was a radical, political company from the U.S. They had exciled themselves a few years before from the country because they did not want to pay taxes to support the Vietnam war. They`d been travelling around Europe and had become quite the international group, adding members wherever they went.
This was just a few months after the student and worker demonstrations in Paris and beyond, and protest was in the air. I am sure a number of students and young radicals followed the group to Avignon. I remember scores of hippie types hanging around the main plaza, which these days is filled with musicians, breakdancers, mimes, all kinds of performers, during the festival. The Living Theater wanted to provide additional free performances. The festival organizers didn't let them.
All this happened before we arrived. The group's performances were already over. But they were still around, and I met some of them at the municipal pool. I also met some of the dancers from the renowned Bejart Ballet company from Belgium, and saw their amazing performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which had been scandalous when it was first performed in the early 20th century. I was very impressed and moved by their performance in Avignon. I've seen the dance performed several times since, but never did it affect me as strongly as the first time, in the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon.
I did not see the Living Theater perform in Avignon. But not too long after that summer, the mayor of New York, who apparently appreciated their talents, declared some kind of special dispensation that allowed the group to return to the US. They performed in New York, and no doubt other places, although some of them were arrested in several cities, for performing nude. Their performances were provocative and interactive. I was smitten. I spent parts of my senior year of high school following them around. I had gone from a Broadway groupie to a radical theater one in short order. I have no idea what my parents thought of about my activities that year.
In the spring, after I'd applied and been accepted to a number of colleges, I saw an ad in the back of the NY Times for the American College in Paris, I decided that was where I wanted to go. My infatuation with the group had not abated, and my decision go to school there was largely influenced by the fact that the group was heading back to Europe. I thought at the time that my mother was taken with the idea of having a daughter go to school in France. To this day, I remain astonished that they let me go. They may have come to regret it; I don't know. But there is no doubt that decision affected my life in ways that still influence me today.
This year is the 50th anniversary of my original trip to Europe, when I spent a month in Avignon. When I heard about Laurel and Valerie`s mosaic workshops there, t seemed meant to be, as they say. I needed no further motivation to sign on.
Well, that's gotten me almost up to present time and last week in Avignon. It's almost 2 am and the tower has stopped its flashing. So I will stop here, and continue on tomorrow am. Oh, it already is tomorrow am. So I'll go to bed, and hopefully get enough sleep before they start hammering and drilling in the morning.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Today's mission, which I did not accomplish (and that's ok, I often don't]
Was to try to find the housing project where I worked on creating a mosaic mural nine years ago. I remembered the general area, but it is an area with many developments, and I think there are many more now than there were almost a decade ago.What I did stumble upon, to my delight, was the 104 artspace, which opened when I was there in 2009. It was wonderful then, and has expanded since. I just happened upon it. It may be better than having located the project, because if I found it and the mural wasn't there, it would be a terrible disapointment. We had left without knowing if they'd found the space to mount it.
What I did find was a lot more art than I remembered being in the housing projects before, as well as a lot of street art. The neighborhood looked better than I remembered. It wouldn't surprise me if the 104 had had an effect on the surrounding area.
The exhibit on display was terrific. Even better was the activity happening around it. The space is open to anyone who wants to use it as a practice space, and there were many doing just that. So surrounding the major installation there were people doing breakdancing, tango, swing. And a juggler, and a hula Hooper. And also a group of children visiting, all in their neon vests, some of them imitating the moves of the dancers.
The installation was a huge conglomeration of discarded items, from cars to refrigerators to typewriters to tires, aall assembled into a massive display, and all painted white. Around the perimeter of the space were about 6 rooms that you needed to pay to enter, each with a smaller installation by the same artist, Vhils. His pieces include videos, sculptures made of layers of discarded posters, another comprising polystyrene pieces to form an urban landscape., The exhibit is called Fragments Urbains.
There was a cafe where I stopped to have a drink in sight of some of the dancers. It was a concoction I hadn't come across before - fresh ginger with lime juice and sugar. Pretty good but a bit strong; I asked for extra ice as I also always do with my much loved citrons presse - basically lemon juice served with a carafe of water and sugar. It must be at least 4 or 5 lemons worth of juice, and i always ask for extra water and ice cubes. It makes them go much further . I honestly can't figure out how they like them so strong.
To my surprise and delight there was also a thrift store within the art complex. So I spent a good while there, but was good and didn't buy anything.
To see some pix of what I encountered today, take a look at my Facebook post. It's almost 1 am and I am going to try to wind down and rest up for tomorrow.
Did I say it gets dark around 10pm? I was wrong, it's more like 11. I think I'll stay up for one more round of Eiffel lights, and have a little more wine mixed with soda water, which is an absolute no-no in France, according to Valerie, my mosaic teacher. So don't tell her.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Am now in phase four of my French sojourn. Lots of adventures and a few misadventures, mostly missed connections. After a wonderful week in Provence, making mosaics and exploring the countryside and the cuisine with an interesting group of people, I spent three days on my own in Avignon, a place that played a significant part in my life many years ago. More about that in a bit. Then went on to Loches in the Loire valley , chateaü country, where I visited with old friends Marie and Tim. When i say Loches, I actually mean Beauliue, a tiny village outside Loches, where they have lived for many years.
They now live in a charming house that was once part of an abbey. Once meaning in medieval times. There are now many small houses in parts of what was once the Abbey. , modernized to diferent degrees. They rent out the house where they previously to a man who raises mushrooms, and his family. I'd hoped to see his operation but we ran out of time. This area is replete with caves that were once quarries for the stone that built many of the churches, monasteries, and I assume chateaus around the area. The caves are the ideal places for growing mushrooms.
So we had several meals featuring mushrooms, along with local cheeses, eggs from a neighbor, melons, etc. Their house sits right on a canal, part of the reason they bought that house. We are most of our meals on the little terrace overlooking the canal. My room overlooked it too.
The house is a wonderful jumble of rooms and a little courtyard. They've recently renovated what was an attic storage space into a kind of guest suite. That part of the house doesn't have running water. They 've set up a toilet, the kind old people have when they can't make it to the bathroom. Good practice, I guess. It worked out just fine, and I used their bathroom during the day and to brush my teeth,etc.
Marie and Tim are both avid gardeners. She grows beautiful flowers, and he grows vegetables in a community garden plot just down the road. The garden is more than just a garden, it is interspersed with sculpture and other art made of found and repurposed items. There's a bicycle wall made of a row of rusty bicycles whose baskets, spokes, etc are planted with all types of flowers. And all kinds of innovative scarecrows. And a big sideboard in the middle of a small grove that was stocked with a number of books and a sign that said something like libraries in the woods. And many signs with poetry and sayings throughout the garden. Marie and Tim chatted with a number of neighbor gardeners while I strolled around.
I'm going to stop here and post this, although there's still tons to tell. But I'm hungry and it's time for a stroll around town. I'm going to attempt to find the area and the mural I worked on with a group of volunteers a number of years ago. I don't really expect to find it, in fact don't know if it ever got installed. But its worth a try, and a good basis for a walk in an area most visitors don't get to see. And walking is what I like best to do here anyway.
A bientot/see you later.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
So now I am on the train from Avignon to Loches, where I will meet up with friend Marie. But the train is about to come into St. Pierre, where i will change. I am also running out of juice, so will have to see if I make the connection and then find a connection.
At which point i will try to write about Avignon, and then backtrack to the week of the mosaic workshop, which was, after all, the major motive of this adventure.. I don't often seem able to proceed in a linear manner. Just trying to put the pieces together. To be continued shortly, hopefully.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
We are nearing the end of our Guadeloupian sojourn. We are in our third and last location of the trip, in Trois Rivieres. All of our locations have been wonderful. We did a lot of research, but it’s always somewhat of a crap shoot. The photos and descriptions are sometimes misleading, they may show water views but not indicate that they aren’t from the house, etc. And here, becausse the descriptions are in French, it’s of course an additional challenge.
We stayed first at place called Be on the Beach, funny name, especially since virtually no one staying there is a primary English speaker. I guess it has the same kind of cache as some French phrases do to us Americans, like chez whatever, or Maison de …..
As I said in a previous post, it was right on a small beach that we had pretty much entirely to ourselves, and walkable to the slightly honky tonk but charming town.
Next stop, Deshaies, where we stayed last year, in another apartment right on the water, just a block down, and at the other end of town, from where we stayed before. Like many places here, it is pretty much open air, open living room, kitchen, etc. We didn’t tour around as much as last year, because we had checked out so many areas and beaches then. I was content staying long hours on the porch, just perusing the sailboats in the harbor, the horizon, and yacht people coming back and forth in their dinghies to get baguettes or come in for dinner in town.
Our little beach there was just a few doors down and past one of the cafes. Water warm and calm. Loring captioned a photo of me “exercising” after asking me what I call what I do when in the water. I was really just floating around listening to Elvis and Shakira and Springsteen etc thru my waterproof MP3 player, one of the bests gifts I ever got.
Because of the supersnowstorm up north, we’d had to delay our trip three days, and so also extended four days on this end. Norwegian only flies here twice a week. Hence we had to find a third location, and did that from here. That was almost a disaster. Our credit card company apparently cancelled our credit cards, probably because we hadn’t notified them that we were going away. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, but usually they put it on hold and check to make sure that the card hasn’t been stolen. Not this time. So we spent hours trying to find the right place followed by hours trying to reach the credit card company after we submitted the reservation several times and had it rejected.
It all worked out in the end, as things seem to do. The place here is as wonderful as the first two, though quite different, and a nice counterbalance to the others. We chose the town of Trois Rivieres because it was on a part of the island we hadn’t seen before. It is perched on a hill above the town, with wonderful views of the sea and also the “Saintes,” small islands that are part of Guadeloupe along with Marie Galante, another island that we spent time on last year. On a very clear day you can also see Dominica, an English speaking island (country?) a bit further off. Dominica was hit pretty hard by hurricane Maria, but Guadeloupe missed the brunt of it.
The place we are at now is called Ilots des Fleurs, and is indeed covered with all kinds of flowers. It consists of 4 cabins, or gites, plus the larger villa that the managers live in. They are Canadian, and friends of the owners, who are also Canadian. They are a delightful couple, and work hard maintaining the gardens and lawn. The cabins are, like the other places w’'ve stayed, largely open. This one has no ac, but it isn’t a problem. It is entirely “off the grid.” There is gas for the stove, hot water and electricity are solar. The couple have been running the place for a few months, and will be here another month or two, then back home and will be replaced by another Canadian couple. I guess the owners spend some time here too.)
Al and Rachel are welcoming and invited us for a drink which turned into cheese, crackers, watermelon from the garden, and an invitation to dinner, which we declined. But we spent an hour or more chatting with them and their guests, her brother and her best friend from childhood.
There’s no beach here, one has to drive about 20 minutes to the nearest one. If this was my only stay here, I’d definitely choose beach. But it’s nice to have different experiences. The beach here, Grande Anse, has black sand, also a nice contrast to our other beach experiences. In addition to being black, it is very smooth and fine, a nice feel.
There is a pool here, which was a surprise to us, since it wasn’t in the description. I have always wanted to sit it a pool overlooking the ocean. But the water is colder than the ocean, or at least I haven’t warmed up enough in the sun here to be tempted. Tomorrow is our last day here. I guess I’m going to have to go in at least briefly, if just for the experience and the photo!
There are all kinds of little museums around the island, The Musee de Cacao, Musee du Café, etc, And a number of distilleries. There’s a Musee des Bananes just up the road, and we tried to visit this morning. But a sign said it was only open this afternoon, so we’ll try again tomorrow.
Sometimes these little museums are just tourist traps, a way to sell products. But the Musee de Cacao, near Deshaies, which we visited last year, was quite interesting. And we were told by our hosts here that other guests visited the Banana Museum and found it interesting.
Soufrieres, the volcano that provides the black sands, is a major tourist destination. It’s a one and a half hour hike, which I hadn’t planned to do, but thought Loring would. We drove up the winding mountain dirt road. Wonder if we were even going the right way. Then, suddenly, came upon dozens, maybe more than a hundred, cars parked along the side of the road. The parking lot at the top was entirely full. But as I suspected, before long people left and we were able to find a spot. Many were hiking up to the volcano, but others were sitting in the warm springs at the head of the trail, which was really where I wanted to go. Loring decided not to hike up, and we just floated in the spring pool for a while. As everywhere here, the visitors are almost entirely French, but we did run into a couple of women from New York in the springs.
And now, last day, the 18th
Spent a couple of hours on the porch this am, reading our books, emails, and the Boston Globe. First stop, the Banana Museum. It was open this morning. We waited a while, saw and heard no one, figured out how to start the tv, and watched 4 short videos about bananas. While we were watching, a woman came in, who I recognized from the first video, giving a tour of the banana harvesting operation. She led us upstairs to a series of rooms with exhibits about the banana industry. All mildly interesting, worth a visit, but certainly not worth the 8 euros per person. But she was so friendly, gave us each a banana to try. When I asked if she’d been the person who made the dresses and hats out of banana leaves in one part of the exhibit, she said yes, and led us into the gift shop, which was nearly as large as the exhibit. I was surprised at the quality, most if not all made locally, and tried a number of very fashionable couture banana leaf hats. I loved them all, but have no room on my walls to hang more hats, and also doubted very much that I could get them past customs. So I settled for a small banana leaf hairclip which I certainly will wear, and hopefully will not get noticed by customs.
We were disappointed in the museum, and especially that we didn’t get to see any of the actual banana fields, much less any of the harvesting process. She did s
how us a little of the clothing and hat design process, because I’d asked. And showed us the parts of a costume she was making for some kind of presentation, consisting of a banana leaf bustier and part of a skirt. Quite classy!
We headed back to our beloved black sand beach, called Grande Anse. Anse means cove, and there are Grand and Petit anses all over the islands here.
This is the one with the volcanic black sand that we’ve spent several hours at each of the last few days. Unfortunately, the weather was gray and we were clearly in for some rain, more than the brief showers that have cropped up pretty much every day. We spent a brief few minutes on the beach, then went across the street for a lunch of accras (fish fritters,) chicken, and various veggies we weren’t familiar with. Loring went for a swim, but it was clear more rain was coming. So we abandoned our plan of beach time and headed back to town. The town here is in several valleys separated by rivers (Trois Rivieres)and you need to drive up and down numerous hills on winding roads to get anywhere. We made a stop for our last baguette and pastry at one of the bakeries, drove up and down the same road at least three times trying to find some slave related site we’d seen signs for, and finally did located it, a ruin of a small stone cell where slaves had been been imprisoned on what had once been a sugar plantation. The sign said there were other ruins of the plantation in the area, but on privately owned land.
Now we are back at our gite, the beautiful little cabin with a porch facing the ocean and the Saintes, smaller islands about ½ hour away from the main island here. And it’s a wonderful place to be. I’m not even sorry that we had to curtail our beach time today. I just hope I get warmed up enough to venture into the pool here, the last thing I feel that I need to do before heading home. The sun’s come out again, and if I bask in it for a while, I just may be able to do it. Even a brief dip will suffice.
Friday, January 12, 2018
A year after our first trip here, and a year, perhaps to the day, of the inaguration. We are in the same town, and just a few doors down, from our previous dwelling. Last year I watched the inauguration, in depression and fear, from our porch here. Loring preferred to go kayaking and ignore the real world. It is certainlly easier to do to that here.
We have on and off internet here, probably not a bad thing. We did get the “shithole” comment this morning, though. I love the way the press explained and justified their use of the exact term. Ie, if the president uses it, it is important to quote verbatim. I fully agree.
After a false start from Providence, due to a serious snowstorm about a week ago, we left the US three days later than planned, and extended our visit here by four, because Norwegian only flies twice a week.We did lose three days of our first booking, and will need to find a third place to stay, the second not a big deal, the first could well cost us hundreds of dollars as it wasn’t refundable. We are hoping the airiline will reimburse us, but are not at all confident that they will.
Well, we are here, and so I will try to not focus on or worry about that.
Our first stay, where were only able to stay three days of our week planned, was right on the beach in the town of Ste. Anne, on Grande Terre. We’d stayed on Basse Terre, here in Deshaies, last year. Our bungalow in Ste Anne was right on the beach, on the edge of town. Ste Anne is bustling, a busy public beach, lots of shops and restaurnats and lots of traffic. It was fun to spend a day in, eating crepes on a beachfront restaurant, food truck actually, with a canopy and tables and chairs. There was a market that was primarily spices, with some other foods and also crafts.
Although we saw other cars and, a few times, people, in some of the bungalows, we rarely saw anyone there in four days, and only once had company on the beach. Just my kind of place, where you can walk out to the beach without shoes. The water was shallow and warm, the depth or lack thereof a little hard for Loring, heaven for me.
Our stove didn’t work. The first night we arrived at midnight, so didn’t even know. We thought it was some trick that couldn’t figure out. It turns out it was just plain broken. So Fritz, the owner, sent us out to dinner at a wonderful gourmet Caribbean/French place called Kote something, at the other end of town near the Club Med. He had to talk them into fitting us in, they were all booked up. By the time we got back to our place, there was a new stove all installed! Amazing service, especially in such a laid back environment.
Our booking was actually for 15 minutes before the restaurant opened, so that’s how they fit us in. It was well worth not having a stove for a day. Fritz did the right thing by treating us to dinner, but he certainlyl needn’t have sent us to what might have been the choicest location in town! Several times, folks came in and were told the place was all booked up for the evening. One couple was American, the only native English speaking folks we’d yet come across.
A couple of days later, I heard Americans in the market, a young couple deciding which beach to visit that day. That is the extent of the English I’ve heard spoken in the five days we’ve been here, aside from what’s been spoken to us. I havent’t heard any other languages at all beside French, it seems that, thus far, all the visitors have been French. And the locals are French, as well, since Guadeloupe is part of France.
We spent parts of our days driving around the nearby towns, scoping out other possibililties to stay. Found a play on booking.com and went to check it out, having made a no deposit reservation. Only to find out that the listing was a mistake, the man had forgotten to remove the listing, he already had a booking. Good thing we’d gone to check it out, or we would have driven back across the island for the last few days of our stay, to fnd out it wasn’t available.
So now we’re back in Deshaies “dayhay” the first time, I believe, that we’ve ever come back to the same place, or even the same country, two years in a row.
Actually, having written that, I realize there’s an exception, Hummingbird Cay in the Bahamas, where we returned a number of years when we were in our 20s. But that was a special place and a special arrangement. Loring worked for the owner of the private island, doing maintenance, and he let us stay there a number of times after that. That was an experience we’d never be able to match, and for a time we were too spoiled by having been there to consider another beach trip where we didn’t have a whole island to ourselves!!
So, seeing that this is the only other time we’ve returned to a tropical island, or another other location, repeatedly, you can imagine how much we like it here!
What is so appealing, aside from the beach and the ocean and the weather is the so slow pace of life, at least for those on vacation. I could easily spend the day on our porch here, with the only activities being reading, writing, getting a baguette from the bakery a few doors down, going in the water which involves a one or two minute walk to the little beach nearby.
There are plenty of activities around, water sports for those interested, or even just watching the kite-surfers, excursions to various beautiful beaches, ruins, Museums of Rum, Chocolate, Coffee, Bananas, etc. We visited the Chocolate Museum last year, it was actually quite interesting. The others may or not be, and we may or may not find out. Yesterday, we went to the very impressive looking Museum of Slavery in Pointe A Pitre, the capitol. It was worth a visit, but not as interesting as I would have hoped. Perhaps part of the problem is making a museum about such a terrible subject. Then again, I’ve visited several Holocaust museums and found them very interesting and powerful.
There was art incorporated into many parts of the exhibits, and that was the most interesting part. There were also a number of fascinating sculptures outdoors on the grounds of the museum. They were not mostly related to slavery but seemed to be part of a project with an environmental theme. One was made of thousands of bottlecaps. Others were of plastic cups and tubes. One was a veritable plastic Chihuly garden. I’ll try to post that one.
But what touches me most on this kind of trip is the slowing down, of all my activity and even thinking. I can do nothing for a long time and not be bored. I remember that feeling well from our times in the Bahamas, several months one trip for me, and others of several weeks. Loring spent a whole year there, coming back briefly to get me.
There is so little and so much to do. Time and experience seems to expand. A day or two ago I was mesmerized by merely some grains of sugar spilling out of a package and into my coffee. The sugar here is different, a light brown, between the colors of our white and brown sugars at home. And large granules,more the size of sea salt than regular table salt. I watched those granules tumble into and then dissolve into my black coffee, admiring their beauty.
So many other things reflect that intense experience in the usually normal, heightened by a different reality and pace of time.
Almost since we arrived here, there have been small birds flitting around our balcony/living room. I of course encouraged them by putting out a dish of sesame seeds, fallen from our sesame crackers, and then some tiny chunks of melon rind with small amounts of melon still adhered. I find their flitting around our chairs and heads endearing, Loring not as much. So he took the seeds off the table and put it on the porch floor. I can live with that! The birds have pretty much settled in now, and perhaps they would have anyway. There are at least three different kinds, but the only ones I can identify are the bananaquits, small with yellow breasts.
On the beach, this morning, were several cats, very reticent, and a little later, some roosters strutting about. And again, hardly any people. This, though, is a public beach in a town, and there were plenty of people strolling by, some stopping to try to attract the cats. Also a couple of restaurants with porches right up to the beach, and a number of folks, some with coffee, some with beer, in the late morning.
One of the restaurants is the one featured in Death in Paradise, the British tv series filmed here. We didn’t find out about it until we rented our place here last year, but friends had watched it on pbs. It’s a wacky murder mystery series with a death in each episode, kind of a Murder She Wrote Caribbean style. So much fun to see places we recogize, including our house. They don’t film this time of year, but yesterday I saw a flier for a Death in Paradise festival coming in July, with 48 hours straight of 48 episodes. And also some discussions and who knows what else. I hope the actors and crew will be here.
I’ll end for now with a description of our current habitation. It has a beautiful porch, which I saw last year and which partly led to our returning. There are two ac bedrooms, with views of the ocean from bed. The porch is the dominant part of the place, it is basically an outdoor living room with sofa, chairs, lounge chairs, table and chairs. The kitchen/bar is also open, a common part of Guadeloupe architecture. So, as I said, I could easily just wile the day away here. And aside from an hour’s excursion downstairs and down a few yards to the beach, that is just what I’ve done thus far today.
My choices right now, either back to my book, a sad but absorbing account about a teenage Syrian refugee, or a nap, or, most likely, one followed by the other.