Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some Baggage to Unload

We arrived home safely, Nancy, Fergus and I, but all of our baggage stayed in Europe. There was a baggage handling snafu in Frankfort, but they say we should have it by Monday. A lesson lies somewhere there, but I'm not sure what it is.

Our old friend, Smokey, the Toyota pick-up has been sold and it's all over except the transfer of money and paperwork. Smokey served us admirably, but it was not a vehicle well suited to travel around Europe, so it had to go. Our renovation is over for the most part and we no longer have a use for Old Smokey. We'll rent or lease a car next time we go to France. We'll get better gas mileage, not have to maintain it, and be able to carry more than two people. We won't have to buy insurance or worry about where Smokey spends the winter. Nonetheless, we'll miss you old buddy.

We're not sure about when we will return to Leran, but possibly next September, or late August. We have other things on our plate right now. As many of you already know, we've sold our property in Moab and need to find a new place to dwell. Where that will be, we are not yet certain, but a lot of this fall will be spent looking at houses. Houses in Santa Fe, New Mexico to begin with. If that doesn't feel comfortable, it may be elsewhere. We have come to a point in our lives where access to extreme outdoor recreation no longer dictates where we want to live. We want to take into account better summertime weather as there might come a time we won't go to France every year, as well as a little better access to medical care and more cultural opportunities. Santa Fe might work just fine, or not. We'll see.

And lastly, do not expect many posts until we do return to France. We might feel inspired write about the upcoming move, but don't count on it. In any case, thanks for stopping by and see you soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dinner for Four at the Abbey

If there is a better restaurant in this part of France I don't know what it could be. This is a picture of the courtyard at the Abbaye de Camon. You can see Bill and I siting in the center of the photo. It was a beautiful night with a slight chance of rain and we were protected in any case. The restaurant is located in an old Benedictine Abbey. Legend has it that this abbey was placed under the protection of Charlemagne, in 778, who was back from a campaign against the Saracens. It's been a restaurant since 2006 and has absolutely wonderful food.
This is Bill's dinner which was the Maigret de Canard, we think, which would be breast of duck with prunes and potatoes. Bill can confirm in a comment if he remembers.

Nancy and I both got the Supreme de volaille avec lardons et marrons, which in American is a big chicken larded with bacon and marrons (not sure what these are), with some excellent scalloped potatoes. Kathy had the salmon and declared it fabulous. Pictured below are the diners, Kathy at the dinner table and the rest of us at the terrace where we were served a drink while waiting for our table. The best part was that Bill and Kathy picked up the tab. Thanks guys, we hope you had a wonderful time in Leran and in France.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We Remember a Fallen Hero

Near the little town of Alet-les-Bains is a gravesite. It sits hard along side the road, and there is almost no place to park to investigate the grave. We went over to see it today because I had read something referring to it on another website. Yesterday, August 17th marked the 65th anniversary on one Paul F. Swank. He was an American, a First Lieutenant in the US Army in 1944.

The Allies had invaded southern France on August 15, 1944 for a number of reasons, but they are complicated and I will not try to explain them here.

Lieutenant Swank was part of a small party parachuted into the area as the Germans retreated. The Germans had invaded Vichy France shortly after the D-Day landings. According to local legend, Swank and his co-Lieutenant had planned an ambush along the road in this narrow river canyon, intending to block the German retreat and attack the convoy. The Germans, expecting an attack, and being the ruthless bastards they were, took hostages from the nearby town of Couiza, (citizens who volunteered under pressure knowing they would probably die, and if they didn’t volunteer knew the entire village would die) and strapped them to the roofs of their vehicles, intending to frustrate or stop an ambush. Rightly undeterred, Swank descended to the level of the road and attacked from there, hoping to kill Germans not hostages but exposing himself and losing his life in the process. Reportedly, Lieutenant Swank had said he wanted to be buried where he died, wherever that happened to be.

He was buried nearby but the US Army insisted on bringing the body home, as is the custom in most cases. The family later disinterred Swank from his resting place in the States and re-interred him in Alet-les-Bains.

The entire story and the report on the mission in which Swank lost his life can be found at this website.

I recommend you go there and learn all about Swank and his mission. Please scroll down or read as far as "Operation Peg" for a history of the mission itself.

There are slightly different translations between the French and English versions on the marble plaque. Below are the texts on the opposite sides of the monument:
AUGUST 17 1944
17 AOUT 1944

During the battle, two French Resistance died and they are remembered every year along with Paul Swank. UPDATED: the two French Resistance were from the Maquis groups Jean Robert and Faita. You can read about them on the above referenced web page.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bill Goes to the Mirepoix Market

Click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quelle est la plante, monsieur?

Not too far out of Chalabre, on the way to Limoux, is a sweeping U-curve in the road at St. Benoit. It courses around a crop that I haven't been able to identify. Every time we've passed this way, I've anticipated another glimpse, in hopes of yet another clue. The other day, with Bill and Kathy in tow to the Limoux market (and lunch at Alaigne), a monsieur was out tending the crop. When I asked for the group's opinion and no one knew, Kathy suggested stopping and actually asking.

"Tabac", he identified as he proudly plucked several of the flower stalks and presented them to us, as if pinning a corsage on our prom dresses. The thought of tobacco leaves had fleetingly crossed my mind, but I asked him if this was not unusual for France. In this neck of the woods, everything is either sunflowers or vineyards. His reaction seemed to imply NO. Through "20 Questions" we determined that his tabac was used for cigarettes---and not just any cigarettes, mind you---MARLBORO! Quelle bizarre.

It's Beautiful Here! Bill's Guest Post

It’s Beautiful Here!

Flying in to Toulouse (pronounced “Too-loosh”) looks like flying into Oregon or Ireland compared to our home in Arizona. Lush, rolling hills, much of it farmland, beautifully groomed and billboard and trash free.

Upon arrival in Leran (the story of the toll booth is a whole story by itself – as was just trying to get out of the rental car lot) Nancy prepared a delicious tomato based spread for some of that famous French bread they buy from the la boulangerie (pronounced “that bread place down the street”). Doug even had a bottle of the Famous Grouse (pronounced “scotch”) waiting on ice.

So far we’ve visited Mirepoix and Limoux (pronounced “Mirapocks” and “Limocks”, respectively), Chalabre and a wonderful little cafĂ© in the small town of Alaigne where they were preparing a 40th anniversary celebration of Woodstock.

Marek and Shirley’s Le Rendez’vous is right around the corner and they, too, had stocked a bottle of Famous Grouse. Great place to meet Doug and Nancy’s neighbors.

It’s quiet here…no background freeway ambient noise. I’m sure Doug and Nancy would like some peace and quiet before they head for Moab but we’re here for at least five more days. Stay tuned for further pix.

It really is beautiful here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Noah's Guest Post

pleese edit for grammer and punktooashun. And speling. Thanks.

Well, our first trip is on the books. But our first blog post isn’t, so here it is. With the bar set high by cousin Kate I will attempt a guest post. This was our first time in Leran, and what a place…. Little Britain as we have called it has treated us well. The town itself is so small I’m not sure more than a handful of Reids should visit at any one time, or they might not all fit. It has everything you need, a bakery, a mayor, a castle, a river, an old lady (or two, or three) who watches you from the doorway and says a kind bonjour, and even an old man who rides his bike back and forth from the garden to his girlfriends house. Outfitted with the iconic beret on his head, he would ride by a few times a day looking like a postcard each time. Once with a bunch of carrots and lettuce in the basket, once with a loaf of bread, and once with a bottle of wine. ALWAYS smiling. This guy broke our hearts he looked so sweet. He also marked the passage of time for us as we sat around in the apartment doing absolutely nothing but reading and talking and staring out the window together.

We had ambitious plans when we arrived. A side trip of four days in Marseilles, a night in Arbois, lots of wine tasting, but we cancelled them all when we arrived in Leran. We decided to take it easy and get to know the Midi Pyrenee instead. The first day Kari caught up on three months worth of sleep and by the second day I was struck with a fever. A few days into it we had it diagnosed as swine flu then in a frightening moment (with a stiff neck and terrible headache) I figured it was maybe meningitis. We were discussing contingency plans on how to get me to a hospital, and when to make the decision when Sally stopped by. In that wonderful way the Brits have of reducing you with a smile she just laughed and said “Just like a man. You’ve only got a touch of what was floating around”. She then teased me every time we saw her by asking how my “Man Flu” was progressing. Proud to say, it wasn’t meningitis after all, nor was it swine flu. Most likely just a touch of Man flu I suppose.

So, it ended up being a week of sleeping, reading, navigating French pharmacies and laying low. Which in the end was exactly what we needed anyway. In spite of this we made it to dinner at the abbey in Camon, which was an absolutely lovely night. We also managed to drop the key down the grate in front of the door to the house. Something I had worried about the whole week. When it finally happened we could just see the glint of the key down the little shoot to who the hell knows where. We asked a neighbor for a coat hanger or something, and he came over to help. He arrived with an antique looking pair of fire tongs, and managed to grab the keys, get them right within reach and then drop them again, this time sliding away into oblivion. I figured the key (which had the front door key, as well as the rental car key) had slid all the way down into some sewer or storm drain runoff, and that we were screwed royally. The neighbor who was helping felt so bad about dropping it a second time that he rallied the whole street, which caused a wonderful neighborhood wide council on what to do. This culminated in a neighbor who is employed by working under old houses being remodeled. We climbed into the window (which was unlocked thankfully) and found a trap door in the kitchen. This nimble little kid scrambled down a set of rotten steps, past Fergie’s kennel, grabbed the key and hopped right back up. Everyone cheered when he emerged with the key.

I baked about ten tarts and gave them to some of the neighbors; we attended the Marche Gormande in Leran on our last night. We ate mussels, frites and snails, and watched a torrential rainstorm move through. Everyone was either safely inside the garage of city hall or across the street at Marek’s watching each other from across the street. All in all it was a wonderful week of relaxing and getting to know this beautiful little town. Thank you both for your generosity and kindness. We were amazed at what you’ve created and all the hard work it must have taken. We love you both.

Noah and Kari

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Trip to Mirepoix

Bill and Kathy arrived last night all the way from Cave Creek, Arizona. We went into Mirepoix today to drop off Old Smokey for repair and to take in a few of the sights in Mirepoix. Since we are all extremely religious and pious people, we decided to visit the Mirepoix Cathedral. Inside the church, there are models of the cathedral from it's beginnings in the eighth century, showing the changes though the ages until it's completion a hundred years ago. I was fascinated by the light coming in through the windows and so I took some pictures of the light on the floor. Click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Car Show in Limoux

We thought it might be interesting to see the old car show in Limoux today, and so it was. There weren't as many cars as the Moab April Action Car Show, but it was special in it's own way. There was this Citroen CV that someone had altered to have a little more storage space. I can't imagine that it came off the production line this way. It had a "S" on the rear, perhaps to indicate that it was registered in Sweden.

And, it had a great sticker which I hadn't seen before. I translate it into American this way. "This is not a car...this is a way of life." Or perhaps "...this is the art of life."

Great old motorcycles were here and there. I had not ever heard of the manufacturers and therefore cannot remember who made this specimen. In any case, it needed a little work and a new back tire.

Another Citroen CV was there, and this one, inexpliciably, was not in the car show, but just sitting in the parking lot. Please click on it to enlarge it so that you can see the tea cup and saucer on the hood, and the little farm animals grazing there as well. "Deuchiste"? Makes no sense to me. Can you make sense of the word? It is numbered 007, like any spy would be caught dead in a car this conspicuous.

And there were several classic old cars in remarkable shape, like the Le Zebre Type C Phaeton from 1914, made by Solomon and Lamy, that had 4 cylinders and could attain a top speed of 60 km/hr. Whee! Monsieur Solomon eventually went to work for Citroen but no mention of Monsieur Lamy.
This is a Zedel from the 30's. I have never heard of a Zedel either, have you? Anyway, the car show was smaller than I expected for reasons I cannot fathom. The April car show in Moab has 400 to 500 cars, coming from Utah, Colorado and all over the western half of the US. See This show had 30 or 40 decent cars and a few clunkers. Are old cars harder to come by in Europe because of some economic or geographic cause? Are there fewer old car nuts in France? I can certainly imagine that the US might have the world's largest supply of cars and car nuts, and shows. Do the old car shows in other parts of France, like Paris, blow your socks off? I don't know. Your thoughts?

Such a Small World: Exhibit A

Every once in awhile we think we are the only Yankees in this part of France, and of course,we are wrong. We're not the only Americans. No way. And what are the odds if you ran in to one of the other 300 million Americans, (not all of which are abroad on any given day) say somewhere in southern France, that they would know someone you know. Well, here is an example of the Small World Syndrome.

His name is Larry and he's from Vashon Island, Washington. For some reason, he chose to wear his "Isle of Vashon" t-shirt and attend an old car show in Limoux today. It was a little bit of a drive from where he is staying at a friend's place up around Carcassonne. Of course Nancy and I had felt compelled to drive over to Limoux today and see what the old car show was all about. (Larry, if he had seen our truck with Utah plates, might have wondered why there was a sticker that said "VSH" and below that, in tiny letters, "Vashon". ) And quite natually, Nancy and I noticed the t-shirt that said VASHON in all caps at about the same time. Nancy pipes up "Hey! I know people on Vashon". Had he been wearing some other t-shirt, we wouldn't have said a thing to him, because Larry was being very quiet and we hadn't picked up on the fact another yankee was in our midst.

In a very brief converstation we find he knows my sister, my late brother-in-law, nephew, niece, and the rest of the Oldham clan living on Vashon Island, Washington. What are the odds?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Excursion to Pont du Gard

It’s a good 3+ hour drive from Leran to Nimes, but if you leave at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning, you can rest assured that you will be one of the first vehicles in the car park at Le Site Pont du Gard. Since it was Jim and Vicki’s last day, I guess they wanted to make sure they got in a fair share of driving before heading off to Paris on Monday. Mission accomplished, and we were well rewarded.

Our ticket entitled us to walk across the top level of the aqueduct, escorted by an English-speaking guide. There are locked gates at both ends to control entry. Lea, our young guide, alternated her explanations in English and French to us and the only other group, a French family. Doug and I had visited the Pont du Gard several years ago on another Europe trip, but for some unknown reason we were unable to access the top level. So, this was a treat.

The Pont du Gard crosses the Gardon River at 160 feet high and a span of more than 900 feet. It is the gem of the Nimes aqueduct, transporting water on gravity flow the 50 km from Uzes to Nimes, most of which lies underground. Between 38AD and 52AD, 1000 slaves quarried, hauled, chiseled, levered and mortared 50,000 tons of local sandstone to create the three-tiered structure. The aqueduct carried water to Nimes for 300, maybe 500 years. During that time, the Roman people enjoyed a standard of living significantly raised due to running water.

We were now walking where the water coursed. Cap stones were added on top to keep the water from evaporating. Lea had us look down the length of the aqueduct and pointed out that it wasn’t straight, but had a slight curve towards the upstream side. It wasn’t constructed that way, but the bridge has actually curved due to the heating of the sun on the southern exposure. This occurs at a measurable rate.

As we walked through the water conduit, Lea also pointed out deposits on the side walls that in places nearly reached the cap rock. The photo of Jim illustrates a good example of how thick these limestone sinter deposits were. Regular maintenance was performed on the conduit walls to scrape the sinter off, because the deposits had the potential of choking off the water flow. They painted the original stone wall red so that they knew when to stop scraping.

As we approached the other end, Lea handed me the key to open the gate. We began our exit by descending an extremely narrow circular staircase. When we got to the gate and I tried the key, it wouldn’t open. I tried it again, nothing. Lea arrived and I handed the key to her. She failed. Jim attempted. Nothing. Lea radioed for help. Her co-workers arrived on the other side of the gate with their keys. Nope. Meanwhile, we are all standing at the bottom of this 18” wide staircase. A crowd is forming outside the gate, wondering what’s happening. After about 10 minutes or so, we decide to go back the way we came and have a double tour of Le Pont du Gard.

Walking along the bottom level of the aqueduct, we read inscriptions embedded in the stone. Above our heads, in one of the arches, we notice a series of faint Roman Numerals inscribed in order on the stones. Since each one was precisely chiseled to fit, their position was marked to avoid placement error. The old “measure twice, cut once” philosophy.

We also notice numerous square indentations and stone “pegs” sticking out. The museum has an exhibit of the construction of the arches, showing the wood framework around which the stone was laid. The framework rested in the holes and on the pegs. Because the aqueduct was constructed by engineers, the pegs were left and not cut off level. The two lower levels of the aqueduct use no mortar, depending upon the weight of the stone for support. Only the upper level mixed a lime mortar, to seal the stone.

Since I will never remember everything I learned on our tour, in the video or in the museum, I also have scoured several websites checking facts and figures. I encourage anyone who is the least bit interested in architectural or civil engineering marvels to explore it much deeper (, as this post will be more pretty pictures than anything. And, of course, the best way to explore it… to experience it.