Friday, April 17, 2015

Short tour of obscure parts of France

So Thursday it was Marseille, by train. They've cut back service terribly, so we had to go through Lyon. That isn't too bad, since the Lyon-Marseille leg is by TGV, whereas the old 'direct' route took its time down the Allier gorge and stopped all over the place. Probably we got there just as fast.
I will say about the cutbacks, though, that they're nonsense - you have to go through Paris to get from Clermont to Bordeaux. Just look that up on a map!
Saw nothing of Marseille - just station to meeting venue to hotel to station.
Had a really early train from there to Lyon on Friday. I hate being late, but did they have to reserve the 6:44 when the 7:10 would have gotten me there in time? And then, a 6am taxi to the station for a 7 minute ride? I did have a leisurely breakfast once in Lyon. Once at the meeting site, however, it was wait wait wait for the others who were also coming up from Marseille, but on later trains, sometimes significantly later trains that did not get them to the CLB until nearly 11.
Later, I hop into Mariette's Alfa as she pulls up to our agreed rendez-vous spot and it's on to Grenoble. The Mercure near the bridge club has a jacuzzi and a sauna. The jacuzzi is too cold and the jets too weak, then the sauna we fail to find the dial to turn up the heat but spend a pleasant moment in the warm. Pasta. I crave pasta for dinner. Right there at the hotel, tagliatelle carbonara on the menu. Heavier than I'd hoped but delicious.
Saturday, a stroll around the city to confirm that, really, there is nothing much to see in Grenoble. Pff. Time to play bridge!
We are cursed.
We start off on a bad foot, forgetting a conventional call that means I actually have zero to three cards of the suit named, but plenty plenty in the red suits. Our opponents pass quickly. They can tell we have screwed up, and I play 3 clubs with a singleton in my hand and just three little ones on the board. All our glorious diamonds get ruffed by the bad guys.
Alright. A fiasco like that is not worth getting mad about. It's just too extreme. A story to tell. (see? I'm telling it again!) The only good thing about it is that it's clearly M's fault, and this cuts short her usual way of explaining over and again what I have done wrong. Not that she doesn't have some occasion for that later, but there is a clear reduction in volume.
But we do not recover from the poor start. One hand we are too timid to bid game, the next we try to be more assertive and get stung going too far. The hands we do right, it's our adversaries who do something right on their side. Hard to fathom we come out of the day 21st out of 40 pairs.
Scored big for dinner, though, with friends who did about as well as we did.
Sunday we take the small roads over to Hauterives, to see the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval. A rural postman at the turn of the 20th century dreamt up this crazy palace.
(photo picked from the internet) Today it's an historical monument, with the middle third covered in scaffolding as they make some repairs. Curious thing. M says it used to be quite colorful, but the shells have all lost their luster and even the different colors of stone are subdued by cement dust.
Love the mention "Defense de rien toucher" built into it (on the very right of the photo). So much so that I picked up the t-shirt. Gotta get a t-shirt now and then. Especially as it was about 77°F out, and I had packed for much cooler weather (it's barely April!).
From there down to Romans sur Isère, where we find nothing of interest except the wonderful Jacquemart

(another image picked from the internet) that was just about the strike the hour, literally. A sort of Uhr-Hammer.
Monday morning started with a stroll to a chapel overlooking Tain-L'Hermitage. Not really in the mood for wine-tasting. We just took a short walk and left.
Then a blip on the map, the hamlet of St Cyr. There's a nicely kept-up medieval church that we admired driving by, and just by chance caught a glimpse of a cloister-like area. Gotta stop for that. Seems it was a convent at one time, and the tiny courtyard is quite nice. The interior of the church still has its frescoes all up most of the walls and ceiling, sadly in need of restoration.
Outside, M railed against all the badly-done restoration work on the older buildings (as she had been doing since Grenoble). Personally, I find most of the restoration quite decent; and adapted to people's lives today. We no longer want tiny windows, or doorways even short people have to stoop to enter. If a wall giving onto the street is smooth and harmonious, should I be outraged that the windows used to be different? No. Things change. Let them.
From there to St Etienne. St Etienne is one of the ugliest towns in the country. I have to come here occasionally to get a visa at the Algerian consulate, but this time M gets sort of lost in parts of town I hadn't seen before. Feh. Oh, yes, that is the School of Mining. Very impressive. (yeah, not.)
As an architect, M appreciates architecture. So we're off to Firminy to see the celebrated works of Le Corbusier there.
Oh. Such concrete. Pity concrete ages so badly.
Hey, I didn't say it was pretty architecture! Just look at the way that concrete structure all hangs on a single support, freeing up the space underneath!
Uh, yeah.
Le Corbusier, master of cement. Leonardo of concrete. Genius of reinforcement rods.
May I go now?
We have to see the church. It's a whole city he set up here - apartment blocks, stadium, sports facility, indoor pool, and matching church. Unique among churches (aside from it looking like an ugly concrete blob from the outside. Which I admit is not unique among churches elsewhere, but it's not usually the thing in France.), this one you have to pay to visit. Because it's an historical site, and there are informative displays inside. (Now, how is that unique among churches here?!) So we go in, and yeah, it's better on the inside than on the outside. Not at all warm or welcoming or inspiring adoration. But better. The painted light wells are kind of cool.
Having paid to see what should be free, we walk the few yards over to the pool, which has a row of windows high up that might be quite nice from inside.
There's an employee just going in as we approach and see the sign that the place is closed. So M asks if we can go in and see the building.
No, we can't. It's closed.
We understand it's closed for swimming. We just want a look at the windows. We've paid our ticket, and the guy didn't say anything about the pool being closed! (of course, this same guy insisted that the church was not a consecrated, working church, and thus not subject to the law about being open to the public - which he was wrong about because everywhere inside are indications of it being a currently active parish church, vestments in the back room and all.) So M starts haranguing this poor woman to let us in, and she won't, not even for visitors from far, far away who have come here to this pit of a town for the express purpose of seeing Le Corbusier's oeuvre in person and who cannot come back another day for the next million years.
In a snit, we leave.
It's time to go home.
Please may we go home?
Good idea.

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