Sunday, August 29, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
After a morning of cultural-intensive sightseeing, what more does a dog ask for than to join his best friends for lunch? In France, consider it done! After touring Abbey Saint-Hilaire, sipping blanquette with M. Bernardini, and driving through vineyard country, we were near exhaustion. Not to mention that it was approaching 100 degrees F (36 C before high noon). The streets of Limoux were deserted, as if it was a wild west town due for a shoot-out. More like the blazing heat driving everyone to the sanctuary behind the shutters. We headed for a shady restaurant with Fergus in tow and sat down.
The garcon insisted we come inside for le plat de jour where one could find air conditioning. We pointed to le chien, and he tossed it off as if it were no more than a 6-year old kid. Another garcon immediately followed us with both a pichet of water for us and a bowl for the Ferg, which he promptly slobbered in a 3' radius around the bowl. They pointed to a small space behind the table where 'they' assumed Fergus could huddle. But Ferg liked being out in the open, where he could survey everyone's comings and goings.
We were a little shocked but we accepted and sat down at the cafe nearby to hear what was on his mind. His English was better than our French (naturally) so we talked over some blanquette, and learned that he trained to be a pilot, for 16 months in 1943 and 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama, Panama City, Florida and Detrioit, Michigan. How did he come to be training in the U.S.?, I asked. He was on vacation with his father in French Morroco when the German invasion made it impossible to go home to Corsica. They stayed in Morroco until the U.S. invaded North Africa, and then it was possible for Monsieur Francois Bernardini to volunteer to join the French Air Force and was shipped to the USA to train.
Mr. Bernardini said a day did not pass when he did not think of the USA........and that he loved Americans in general and one in particular. He met a young lady in Detroit, a young lady whose parents were Swedish immigrants to Michigan. He described the Swedes as " half for the Allies, and half for the Germans." In truth, Sweden was neutral during WWII and did not participate. But, in any case, Francois fell in love with a young lady whose brother didn't cotton to Frenchmen. As his training progressed, he would write her frequently, but all he got from her were letters asking where were the letters that he promised. The brother, apparently, was watching her mailbox and tearing up the letters.
Just as Mr. Bernardini's training ended, France fell to the Allies and France's role as WWII as a combatant ended. There was some talk of Mr. Bernardini joining the troops in the Pacific, but in the end was sent home to France.
We thanked him for his service and told him about my father flying B-24's out of Bari, Italy. We shook hands, said goodbye and he told us, "We'll never see each other again, but I want you to know there are many Frenchmen who love Americans."
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Snip, snip, clip, clip. Angela works at a feverish pace. Nancy too, and in less than an hour they had quite a pile of the quintessential French aromatic plant.
In a month or so, they'll be working at a feverish pace making lavender pillows and sachets. While it is still fresh and pliable, those with advanced crafting skills will also be working on lavender wands (which, rumor has it, Angela is lucky to possess).
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
He's old enough to be her father. Are they related? The sign says "Attention Chevaux" but you can barely see it through the mountain bike. There is also some kind of antenna for...........tv, radio, what?
Your thoughts or questions are welcome in the comments. If you have any knowledge or information, it's welcome too. Click on 'em to enlarge 'em.
Monday, August 23, 2010
On Saturday, we're headed off to Slovakia to visit the home village of my maternal grandparents. It's a 3-day drive, across France, Italy, Austria into Slovakia, and return via Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and into France. Fergus will be adding several new countries to his doggie passport. We were given a not-to-be-missed opportunity to do a house trade in Slovakia.
I've included a map for any of you who are as geographically-challenged as our former president, who called it "Czecho-Slovenia". But, to be fair, George Bush isn't the only one who has 'misunderestimated' Slovakia. Apparently, travel guide writers aren't frequenting too often either. There is only one dedicated guide in English for Slovakia (Bradt).
Click on the map to enlarge, and in the far NE corner, look for the town Snina. Well, that's not it. My grandparent's village (current pop. @ 350) didn't make this map. Hostovice is due north of Snina, a few km shy of the Polish border. As you can see, Slovakia is a landlocked country, surrounded by Austria to the west, the Czech Republic to the northwest, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east, and Hungary forming the southern border.
The relationship of all these surrounding countries is important historically, because at one time Slovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And we all know that Empires are a good thing, right? Briefly, the Empire came, saw and conquered, and then fell. Over the course of time, Slovakia has been under the thumb of many rulers. And, not surprisingly, some did not have much regard for human conditon of the Rusyn people.
Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, conditions deteriorated. Rusyns were forced to assimilate into Hungarian society. The process was known as Magyarization. Hungarian was the only language taught in schools. Land was confiscated by Hungarian settlers. On the birth records of my grandparents and great-grandparents, occupations are listed as tenant farmers. They didn't own the land nor their animals. Poverty, famine, and magyarization didn't give the Rusyns much choice. Estimates indicate up to 900,000 Rusyns emigrated, most to the USA. My grandparents were among them at the beginning of the 20th century. Their names were Nicolaus Kicsa and Maria Szteranka.
Somewhere around 900,000 Rusyns left their homes, their homeland (but not their country), got on a boat with a few belongings, rode in steerage for 21 days and arrived through Ellis Island with a few bucks in their pocket. Some were lucky enough to speak a little English. Nicolaus and Maria were not. America must have been the hope for a new start. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..." so greets the Statute of Liberty.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
By way of contrast, my first trip to Europe in 1972, I got home to the USA before most of my postcards did. I was gone seven or eight weeks, perhaps, and never called home. Who could afford it? On our long bicycle trip to Europe together in 1987, Nancy and I made one phone call home, read a newspaper maybe three times, rode in an automobile once, saw no movies and were cut off from everyone (and everything) we knew for three months. It was wonderful, actually, but we missed our dogs and friends and family.
Well, things have changed. Now, we bring our dog, some of our friends and family comes to visit, and we sleep in our own bed every night, and get up in the morning and check our e-mail.
Friday, August 20, 2010
At the Lavalenet Friday market, this young basketmaker was working on one of her creations. Not much has changed in this profession for awhile except that she had a nice pair of clippers, very sharp.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
4:30 am came and went and no Le Tour de France was streaming live. Instead, some NASCAR-like British auto race was blaring away. Still auto racing at 5:00, 5:30, 5:45. At about 5:47, they award the gold-plated cup and switched to Le Tour de France.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Their clothes were ragged, their faces painted near ghoulish, as if the Plague was making a comeback. They did not speak or sing, but stared blankly and demonically as they processed. With the backdrop of the centuries-old buildings, I could have been time traveling.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Between the bouledrome and the bar, the old photo was displayed on the stone wall. If I remember my Roman Numerals correctly, I believe it identifies this as a view of the clock tower, 16th century. My photo follows, 21st century. Remarkably, however, the buildings haven't changed as much as I would have expected---no condos, no convenience store, no GAP.
Camon has a rose festival every spring. Every house is bedecked with rose bushes, with the tags hanging proudly identifying the specific rose. This is one of the oldest (or oldest) houses in Camon. It is across from the Tourist Bureau, where I was attempting to gather brochures, but the tour guide was just setting off with a group to visit the stone huts (cabanes).
On the short drive back to Leran, we stopped at the tunnel that was once a railroad tunnel and then a one-way part of the road system. Traffic was diverted through the tunnel going to Camon and on the roadway leaving Camon. It has now been converted for pedestrian and bicycle use only. Fergus is providing proportional scale, as well as a certain canine charm.