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.