Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tuesday, September 11

In the morning we join the other guests and the large orange cat on the terrace for breakfast. This cat is as big as my two cats together. Why do I end up with all the shrimpy ones? Mr Orange takes his time making the rounds, sniffing what’s being offered, then goes off to sun by the pool.

What to do today, what to do?

There’s walking around. No, too much walking.

There’s driving around. No, too much being in the car.

There’s windsurfing. No, not enough wind.

There’s swimming. Mmm…

There's kissing.

Oh yes, let's have some.

There’s biking. They have electric bikes for rent.

Yeah, we could try that. Let’s give it a go. There’s a trail along the waterfront that gets us to a lighthouse, and from there we can go on, or turn around.

We barely get going before I’ve just got to stop and look at all the birds having their breakfast in the estuary. Oh, and here’s some more. And look! Flamingos right close to the path! At this rate it’ll take all morning to get to this lighthouse. But whatever, that’s what we’re here for.

So we pedal along, and stop, and pedal. We don’t meet up with too many people at first, but the path gets more crowded as the day goes on. In full tourist season, this must be terribly congested, as it’s the only path in this direction. In spots the wind has built sand dunes across the path. Most of these are small enough to get through on the bike, but some are wide and/or deep enough that you can’t pedal through, you can’t coast through, you just have to get down and walk. Sometimes you think you can get through, and you turn out to be wrong just a few feet from the edge.

He’s having a ball here on the electric bike. No effort at all!  They’re perfect for biking with somebody who doesn’t pedal at the same speed – I’ve not used the motor at all, and he has his on the lowest setting, and that way we advance at the same pace.

Oh, look! Flamingos! While I’m getting just the right angle on the birds, JP phones his brother. Gotta share how fabulous electric bikes are, he didn’t believe they could be so great, he’s going to get one instantly when we get home. First thing! He must have one!

Then we come to a stretch where there are a lot of sand dunes reaching across the path. It’s annoying to have to walk the bike just a few meters so frequently, and we both test the limits on how deep it has to be before you should just give up. Sometimes you know it’s too deep, but it’s not very far across, maybe you can just power through… It’s at one of those, short but deep, where JP gathers speed before hitting the sand, and he gets most of the way across but not quite. He goes down on a knee, laughing, no harm done but sand everywhere. He pulls the bike to the side to let a group of people pass us, and phones his other brother. Having too much fun not to share it with everyone.

We get to the Gacholle lighthouse sometime after 11. Both the lighthouse and the snack stand around the back are closed, though there is a small crowd hanging around. I think I’m not the only one who was hoping there would be snackage and cold beverages available, because it’s getting pretty hot out. Or that you could go in, and climb up the tower to get an exceptional aerial view of this super-flat area of salt marshes, islands and beaches. It would be cool to get some perspective on the place.
Speaking of perspectives, we could go on and hope that lunch will not be too many kilometers farther (a few kilometers, but not too many). We are not yet halfway to the other end of this trail, and who knows how much farther to an eatery. Or we could turn around. Our stomachs are very important body parts, so naturally we turn around.

Back in Saintes, we are wandering through the pedestrian district of town, glancing at all the souvenir shops and looking for a nice place for lunch, when JP stops to talk to a fortune teller. These women are everywhere, begging to read your palm, desperate to tell you your future. I just blow them off, but JP lets himself get caught. Alright. I’ll just go on and see if there are any original shops around, and what looks good to eat.

Most of the shops are utterly predictable, part of a chain where you can buy the same goods anywhere you go. Some nice, some just made-in-China crap. I’d like to see some original art, or clothing, but there isn’t much of interest. The most promising boutiques are closed.

JP is still occupied with his gypsy, so I check out the eateries. Seafood? Or steak? Beef from the local bulls (not steers) is a specialty, and I quite liked it on a previous trip south. I pick a place kind of at random, where it’s just as well that the tables on the terrace are already occupied – eating indoors at least you’re away from the cigarette smoke.

The gypsy is still at it, but JP finally gives her a 20 and breaks off. He’s looking pensive but won’t tell me anything other than he’s meant to lead a long life. Like all the other times he’s had his fortune done. I wonder what on earth she had to say that took so long, and had such a sobering effect.

Lunch is nice, nothing to rave about. Crispy fries, too much dressing on the salad, tender beef. They have a sort of pineapple-yogurt thing for the dessert of the day, and JP has it. I don’t think it sounds like a happy combination, so I stick with lemon sorbet. We probably should have skipped dessert altogether. Why are they so big?

On our way back to the bikes JP gets distracted by one of the menswear shops. They have a vast collection of “Gardian” shirts in the striking floral patterns typical of the region. Not big flowers like Hawaiian shirts, but small, even tiny ones. Sometimes you have to look closer just to tell they’re flowers at all. I quite like some of them, but not the same ones as JP. The best one we both like, they don’t have in his size, ditto for the second-favorite, so he gets the one he likes. Dark blue on white. And a casual jacket with that, even though it’s going to be a while before he needs one. Then we pedal to the hotel for a nap. Next time I promise to skip dessert.

Around 4 I snap my book shut and accept his suggestion that we go out for another spin, this time on the other side of town. And the bird sanctuary a stone’s throw up the road should be interesting as the sun gets lower.

There ought to be a path going around the big pond on the western side of the town, but we can’t seem to find anything but driveways to people’s vacation homes. Though that may be right, the path may exit out the back of one of these properties. As we make another U-turn, JP suddenly throws his bike aside and vomits into the ditch.

I wish I had a bottle of water with me, but the best I have is a package of tissues. You ok?

Yes, yes, fine.

You don’t look so fine.

It’s nothing, just didn’t digest that yogurt at lunch.

Let’s sit down here for a while.

Really, it’s ok. I’ll just go back to the room and lie down for a while. You go on.

You sure?


I know how he hates for me to hover around when he’s not feeling well. It’s not the first time he’s had this sudden nausea, and after a lie-down he’ll be fine. It happened once after a bridge tournament in Vichy, much to the surprise of passers-by. Then, as now, he got pretty pale for a couple of minutes, but then it was over. So I watch as he rides back up the road to La Palunette. If he wavers, I’ll go after him, but he goes steady and straight until he’s out of sight.

I try again, but don’t find any access to this silly pond. The best view of the thing we’re going to get is right from our back porch. Maybe the road west along the coast will be more interesting.

Nope. The road has way too much traffic. The path goes from one depressing campground to the next, all trampled crabgrass and dust and debris caught in the surviving greenery. So much for this direction. I should try the bird sanctuary, which is inland.

I’m almost there when I decide that this messing around on my own is not really interesting. It’s about 5, or a bit after. I’m happy to relax with JP on the lounge chairs facing the pond, reading a book then watching the sun go down. Maybe the orange cat will come around for bellyscratching. Maybe we’ll go out again about 7 to birdwatch together at dusk. And we'll drive there, take it easy.

I park my bike by the main building, and go to our room to collect his and turn them in. JP is lying on his side with his back to me, and I think, Oh, sleeping – must be quiet. There’s his bike on the porch. I come back in to look for the key to his bike lock, and notice the silence.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Monday, September 10

Monday morning bright and early: time to go On Vacation ! Would have gone on the weekend, but the Card Player and I had card playing to do so we stuck around home for that.

We’re taking a quick trip south to taste the wine and the seafood, then we’ve got a long weekend planned at a friend’s apartment in Paris. Unnecessarily complicated, but whatever. I’ve packed Counting Crows, Knopfler, the Bodeans, Santana, and suchlike for road music. JP doesn’t mind listening to the news & traffic loop, but I only like that when the news is new, not when I’ve heard it four times already.

Right about noon, we are at a fabulous big bridge, where we stop for a pee and a stretch. If you ever happen to be here, be warned about the toilets. They are fancy designer toilets with super high-pressure flushing. Gets that bowl blasted clean. Only, the bowl is designed to look nice, but not to contain that blast of water: it splashes over and drenches everything. Even the door gets wet. Fashion before function taken a little too far. So zip up, gather your stuff, open the door, then quick flush&run.

Having stopped, we realize it’s time for a bite. In Mende for lunch, things are quite deserted. It’s Monday. It’s back to school. Heh heh heh, we are On Vacation.

We have had enough of schoolish things. We want crisp salads and crusty bread and some pretty rosé to wash it all down, here at this nice sidewalk café in the shade of the plane trees. Oh, that is a nice rosé – local, is it? Let’s note the address and pay them a visit on the way back.

Back on the road, south south south on the A75. Turn left at Montpellier. I hate crossing Montpellier by car, because the freeway is not continuous. If you’re on the A75 and you want to turn east, you have to mess around endlessly on surface streets. The heck? Finish the d*** road. And there’s traffic. Nasty traffic. But here we are finally on the coast road, passing by the Grande Motte and the Grau du Roi and the walled town of Aigues Mortes. We stopped there last year. This time it’s on to Saintes Maries de la Mer, via the extra-small roads.

Goat tracks, Dan would say.

I love the goat tracks.

We’re in the Camargue, the huge salt marsh where the flamingos live and there are white horses living wild (or not so wild) and herds of tasty black cattle all around.

JP is just tickled that I picked Saintes as our destination. Of course I picked it because I knew he would be tickled. And in the flash-visits of the past I’ve never stayed more than a half-day, never seen the flamingos close up or any of those free-roaming quadrupeds.

There they are! There they are!

Oh look, bovines. I am so easily amused sometimes. But they are really pretty, all black and peaceful out there in the fields. And here are some tourists from Holland stopping to see what we’re gawking at, and they get their cameras out too and we all admire the herd for a while before moving on.

JP loves showing me around all his old favorite places, and one of these is the beach where he used to go windsurfing. It’s not an easy place to get too, and so much the better or it would be overrun. It’s been some time since last he drove down here, decades at least, and the road has not only not been improved, but at one point there’s this concrete funnel that prevents anything larger than a regular car from getting through. Prevents people from driving campers down here and wrecking the nature reserve. Our car is about the largest that will fit, and fortunately we have a professional driver at the wheel.

Another 12 km to go to reach the beach, but long before that the quality of the road becomes just too poor for any vehicle that’s not already a wreck or aspiring to be one. So we will not be seeing the Number One Windsurfing Beach today.

Oh look, some of those white horses. And birds! Gotta see the birds! So we get out and walk around for a while. I go off birdhunting while JP sticks around the car. He’s wary of thieves, he says.
Thieves? There’s nobody here. Nobody.

In the evening I have 50 photos of horses, birds, birds standing on horses, birds in trees, trees that recently had birds in them, and some of the sluices that keep the Mediterranean from invading (or escaping). JP has photos of his car. I don’t know why.

More goat-tracking and we finally arrive at Saintes Maries. We’re staying at La Palunette, a bit out of town on the main road inland. Room 4, with a patio facing west. It’s a really nice place, quiet and homey; once again I have landed an ace. We are 2 km from the waterfront where most of the restaurants are: a distance in that gap between our ideas of what’s walking distance and what isn’t. He wins this time, as I concede that, yes, on the return trip it will be dark out and there’s no sidewalk.

Ah, dinner by the sea. Fresh clams with linguini. Mmmm. Broiled sea bass for JP. Some crisp white wine with that. Delicioso! Fresh seafood is sadly lacking in Clermont; it’s worth it to come down here for only two days just for this.

It’s warm out, and we linger, watching the boats coming in and the people going by. Strolling around holding hands is one of my favorite parts. JP’s hands seem so big, but wrist to fingertip they are exactly the same size as mine, just thicker, meatier, warmer.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The pirate ship

I was going to post one of those stories that I sometimes do, featuring various toys doing odd things. Took all the pictures back in January, when the house was still decorated for the holidays. I just couldn't come up with an interesting end to the story, though, so it never got finished.
So here are the pix. Think up your own story.






Monday, April 15, 2019

oh, is it spring already?

ok, ok, some blogging for you. yes, it has been a long time. a long, long time.
Nothing much has been happening, not recently, not since the Card Player died.

It is spring outside. Early spring has been happening since February. The apricots flowered weeks ago; they are pretty much leafed out now. Then came the cherries and the plums and they are mostly done now too. Last up are the apples.
I like the apples best, with their bright pink outer petals.
Alright, I'll tell you about the gardening.

I've been eager to get out in the dirt, though it is still officially Too Early for that. Too much risk of a hard frost, and indeed just yesterday the apricots lost a lot of their tiny fruit to the cold night.
I turned over a couple of plots of dirt, and buried old potatos along the left side of the veg patch, along the clothesline. Tomatos get too tall, the sheets get tangled in them. Spuds are short.

Most every morning I go see if they're peeking up yet, but they are not. Also planted are some onions, coming along fine, and peas & salad seeds. Nothing up but the onions, which I suppose is just as well since tonight again it may get to -1°C. Whenever I turn over some ground and come across a lost spud from last season, it's always got great roots, but no leaves yet. They know what they're doing.
For the aromatics, the rosemary is going gangbusters, much to the pleasure of the bees. The sage is trying to keep up, but it's set back by the cold nights. The different thymes have sprouted new leaves, and the raspberries & currents at the back have new leaves.

You can't resist tomatos. 70 cents a plant at the Sunday market. I've got 4, safely in pots where it's warm, and some green beans sprouting.
Mostly for the veg it's hurry up and wait.
Eggplant, zucchini, cabbage, leeks, hot peppers. All will wait.
Part of why it's so frustrating to not get on with planting is that the lawn was halfway up to my knees in places.

My electric lawnmower had a bad contact and was out of action or I wouldn't have let it get so wild. Jerome came over on Saturday and messed with it. A broken bit of plastic was all it took for nothing to work. So he took a bit of wood and stuck it in there where the plastic used to be and now the thing turns on when you squeeze the handles, just like it used to. As a nice knock-on, when I release the handle it doesn't stop immediately. It'll stop in a minute if it gets jiggled right, but with a solid hour of mowing ahead of me, it's a relief not to have to squeeze constantly. Yesterday the mowing took 2 hours, and I didn't quite finish, but took off instead with Mericia to go shopping.

In previous years, you may have noticed the unmowed patches left here and there. Cat playgrounds! Used to drive JP nuts; he thought it looked sloppy. Yeah, so? Well this year I decided to change the areas for not mowing. So I shaved off the patch by the apricots. Ew. Now that looks shabby! The larger areas at the back I didn't completely mow, just gnawed around the edges. And then I left three new patches, places with interesting flowers growing. we'll see how that develops.
Then the other thing that makes it seem like it should be past time already to get the garden in, is that the flowers are all coming along fine. The daffodils have come and gone. The tulips and the camellia are in full swing. The irises and lilacs are about to burst. Those renonculus and poppies in the planters don't count; I picked those up at the market last weekend. Gotta plant something.

I have a section full of azaleas and rhododendrons, but they're not doing well. I think they get too much sun in the afternoon (though not until 3 pm, because of the shadow of the house). Maybe I can move them (but where to?), maybe they don't have the right soil (possible, though I have added bags of the 'right' dirt a couple of times). If the lilacs would just grow faster and get some shade going, that might do the trick. I have a deal with Mericia to trade lilacs this year. She likes the white ones, and I like the dark ones. She has only dark ones in her yard, and whenever I shopped for lilacs at the gardening stores, they never had the dark ones. So I have white and pink and 2-tones. We'll cut each other bouquets in a couple weeks, and if you're nice to them, lilacs will sprout roots from cuttings. Then I may just plunk a dark lilac among the sad rhododendrons and let it take over.
The worrying thing is there's no water. In February I emptied the tank that collects water from the roof into the well, thinking that the rain would fill it again long before I needed to water the yard. No sense in sending the overflow into the sewer system. Usually it rains plenty in March & April.

We've barely had a drop since. A drizzle now and then. I've not yet set up the pump to draw well water, but I've had to water since March, and I am on to my summertime habits of collecting grey water from the kitchen and warming my shower into a watering can to empty on the yard later. Some people will not understand the sense of these measures. Just run the tap! But what did Granddad's conversation revolve around, when I was a kid? Undocumented laborers, and the price of water.
ooo, I almost said a bad word. "Wetback". My grandfather would never have said anything else. It seemed like such an ordinary word at the time, that I did not even know it was a bad word until high school. It was just the word we had for the illegal laborers that came up from the southern border.  Not until we moved away to a different (though not less discriminatory or intolerant) universe did anybody say 'Hey!'.

And the goat is still here. She has not gotten away yet.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

train to Kiel, anyone?

Left Clermont on the 8:30 to Paris, which conveniently arrives just at lunch time. Across the street from the Gare de l'Est we spied an acual sit-down restaurant to restore ourselves before going on. Ah, a burger place. Go to France to eat burgers. D ordered the pseudo-pad-thai, which was not a better idea.

We promise ourselves not to do that again.

Then the 13:55 from Paris to Karlsruhe. Nice TGV, cruising along at 316kph, but once across the Rhine they don't have the right rails, so back down to regular train speed. In Karlsruhe at 16:25 we have time to pick up German snackage as we change quays for the 16:51 to Hamburg. D gets some sort of pizza item (didn't we just say not to do that?), and I opt for a ham & cheese sandwich on some fun bread with seeds stuck on it. And an apple pastry. Karlsruhe to Hamburg is long. We will need sustenance. The apricots and peanuts and oreos and chocolate in the backpack may not suffice.

On the French trains they roll a cart through selling food and drink, and depending on the train there may be a 'dining' car. No real dining, just a fixed area to buy the same stuff that's on the cart, with a handful of tall tables to stand and eat at. On this German train there's also a dining car, but in first class at least, the train guy comes around and takes orders, then serves you at your seat with real cutlery and glasses and everything. Neat. 

Ohhh, neater, they have rhubarb among the flavors of fruit juice. Well, I think, ew. D thinks neat! It's a thing now.

The Hamburg train is running late.
It's only 10 minutes behind, but we have only 8 to make our last connection. They make announcements in German, the a much shorter version in English, and it's not clear what's happening. The train person assures us that the train to Kiel will be delayed to wait for us. OK. But delayed how much? What if we can't find our way around the station fast enough to catch it?

We arrive at platform 12, and the train to Kiel was announced at platform 5, and we have 5 minutes.
We heave the luggage off the train and make our way to the escalator, but it isn't easy to do anything quickly with so many people doing more or less the same thing. There's not going around the woman with the stroller.

So I spy "Kiel", but it's platform 7. Kiel looks good to me, so what if it's not platform 5? Well, the extra hour to wait... So down the escalator to the right platform, and onto the train, where we are about the last passengers to jump on. And off we go.

Ooof, got it.

There's almost nobody here. There's a screen to tell you what's going on, but it only gives the time, not the route or the next station. I didn't have time at the station to look at how many stops we'd be making, but eventually we find a little schematic of the regional routes, and we try to figure out which line we're on. Could be the orange, could be the red, could be a lot of things. The sign said Kiel was the destination, so what does it matter?

We were supposed to get in at 23:00, but we started about 5 minutes late. At 23:05, the lack of announcement for Kiel isn't worrisome. At 23:15 it is.
And then the PA has lots to say, blablablaKielblablablablablabla.
Er, alright. Our station is the end of the line: just stay on until we get there.
Then we stop somewhere we don't see on the map, and I think we're so close that they just don't list everything because there's not space on the tiny map. So we have to be just a minute away.
Several minutes later, a new station is announced, and this time I just keep looking at the map.

Oh, there it is. And there's the last one. They're way over here where we weren't looking for them at all.

We gotta get off this train.

Next stop Schleshwig. Let's take it! We can get a new train, or a taxi, or lodgings, or something.
Mmm, there is NOTHING here at the station in Schleshwig. Middle of nowhere. The five other travellers all bolted into the darkeness of the north German night. The lights are on at the station, but it's boarded up and undergoing renovation.
There are two trains going back down the line. One to the station where we paused several minutes on the way up, and where apparently they split the train, with the head cars going meekly to Kiel, and the others off into this dark hinterland. That one is coming by in just five minutes, so get over there if you're going. Only, once in Neu-whatever, we'd still have to find a train to Kiel.
The other one doesn't come by until 0:07, but it says it goes where we want to go. The map appears to corraborate this news - there is a line from here to there.

Finally here it comes.
It's a teeny little one-car job. No splitting this train, with one for Kiel and one for Bora Bora. We get on. We make every village and car-park stop imaginable from Schleshwig to Kiel, and we get there at 1:15.

Just a little bit late, but we have guaranteed late arrival at our hotel. Time for bed.