The Reader online is now separate from the Reader at the newsstands. Consequently, sometimes my columns don’t get published online for me to link to. That is true of the column for this week. So, I’ll copy this week’s column here below. Today a new column should be coming out.
This week’s column was part 2 to Bold Journeys. It’s Vive la France.
Vive la France
My first step into France began modestly in 1997 during a trip to English-friendly England when my family took the the ferry from Dover to Calais so that we could spend five hours in France. I still have a little of my Dad in me. Today I have 60 days worth of France under my belt. It pales to the nearly 26,000 days of my life and even to the year my Grandfather fought near the Ardennes to thank Lafayette for helping America win its independence. It was his battle that lured me to France on the hundredth anniversary of his getting shot the hell up. Before I left in 2018 I spent nine months on Duolingo to learn some French. It wasn’t enough. I’ve continued to untie my tongue for the last four years.
The timing of this trip was perfect. The sun loving French, who vacation at their Government’s insistence, had just taken their children back to school. There was plenty of autumnal sun left for us. We were originally signed up for a six week French learning experience in Aix in Provence a year earlier. Covid canceled it and then canceled it a second time this year. We switched to a month traveling through southern France. We were nervous at the beginning of the summer because France was well behind the US in vaccinations. By Fall the tables had turned and it was the French who demanded we bring proof that we wouldn’t infect them with our Trump fueled contagion.
Our thirty day jaunt in 2018 was divided between ten days in Paris and a twenty day rental car drive around the Texas-sized northern half of France. We also took a short side trip by train to Bordeaux in Vichy France. That was also where this year’s trip to Texas-sized southern France began. A vineyard is a vineyard and my immune compromised wife no longer imbibes so we soaked up the scenery instead of grapes and proceeded to the Perigord. This region of back roads, forests, stone-age cave paintings and truffles suffered a war between England and France that capped off 300 years of their being joined at the English Channel. The English still feel a little territorial and settle there in retirement.
Troglodyte houses and towns hug sheer white limestone walls and in Sarlat one can take an elevator to reach the black Madonna. For centuries pious pilgrims crawled up to her on their knees. To reach Sarlat our tour bus entered a small tunnel with a right turn inside. He sounded his horn to keep oncoming traffic at bay. Before he could emerge he was pitted against a dozen unwise cars that had entered the other side. Our tour guide turned on the stirring march from an Indiana Jones movie as our bus driver forced a dozen cars to back clumsily out of our way. We cheered when we got through. I put a video of our triumph along with a couple hundred daily photos on Facebook proving how a threat to truth and democracy can still be too alluring to abandon.
Four years of French two hours a day wasn’t quite enough especially on a tour bus surrounded by English speakers but I found a couple folks to mangle my French with. I bought a dozen French books to bring home. In another year I might manage the streets of Quebec quite nicely.
We had lots to see and very small crowds on Fall days that were rarely clouded over. In Albi we toured the old Fort that Toulouse Lautrec’s family turned into a museum with over a 1,000 of his works of Art. It was there that the Catholic church martyred early protestants and Lautrec’s prints repaid the sin a few centuries later by inciting interest in the scandalous world of the cancan. We toured the Medieval walls of Carcassonne which were rebuilt by the same man who rehabilitated Notre Dame in Paris, another early bid to make France a tourist Mecca. We traveled by train to Aix in Provence where we had previously planned to spend six weeks studying French. Our short tour was better as our bus scaled stunning cities built high atop hills to stay aloof from centuries of Christian on Christian murder. Two world wars helped France abandon murderous religion although its cathedrals are still scrupulously maintained for tourism.
Sunny Provence was a haven for artists breaking from dreary realism. In Arles we, like Van Gogh before us, stayed mere steps away from a roman coliseum that could give Rome’s a run for its money. Bulls still run there. We wore masks into all the best museums, caves, wineries and other venues and no one coldcocked any attendant like a Trumpian avenger despite Saturday parades by French citizens against the pass sanitaire.
Everything that Harry Writes that is not about the imminent destruction of Earth as we knew it is superfluous. But, he does have a lot of pretty pictures on: https://www.facebook.com/harry.welty