July 1 The day began, when I woke up for was it the 5th or 6th time, and realized that it was getting light outside again. I had a brief scare when the train stopped in Pau, and, not knowing the route, I assumed I'd missed my stop. Still, after that I admired the countryside, and the train reached Lourdes around 7:50AM. For having had 4-5 hours of sleep, interrupted on numerous occasions, I was surprisingly awake.
This was important, since getting to Gavarnie involved taking 3 separate buses. First, I took the bus to Pierefitte-Nestalas. Getting there around 8:40AM, I switched to a bus that went to Luz-St. Sauveur. At Luz, I switched to the Gavarnie bus. All happened smoothly, but I was a little worried that I might miss my connection at some point, and wind up spending all day trying to get to Gavarnie.
The weather in Lourdes had not been that auspicious, and in Gavarnie it was even less so. There was a think blanket of fog, overlaying the entire valley, perhaps 200 meters above the town itself. In my eager to be off and away, I also missed the trail I was supposed to take, and had to go back a good bit.
Still if the weather made the scenery limited, it kept things cool. The climb up the trail was not too difficult, but I was definitely nervous that the trail might take an unexpected turn in the fog, leaving me more or less lost. This didn't happen. Instead, after about 2 hours of solid climbing, the fog began to open up. Soon I could see the mountains in almost all directions, as clouds raced down and away from the Spanish side of the area. The entire Val d'Especieres became visible, as did much of the Cirque du Gavarnie.
In fact, it was shortly after a pseudo-lunch break that I did in fact lose the trail, or rather, could not figure out where it went. After a considerable amount of scrambling about, I unexpectedly rediscovered it, and continued on my way. From climbing grassy hillsides and meadows, things were now resolutely uphill and rocky. I was having a very unsuccessful time predicting where the trail went, and a very bizarre stream-crossing did nothing to help. Then, rather suddenly, the trail detached itself from the little valley it had followed, and climbed sharply to the left, over a snowfield, and onto a little ridge.
There, from the Col des Sarradets (2600m), I had my first
non-foggy glimpse of the southern part of the Cirque du Gavarnie.
The Refuge des Sarradets (or de la Brèche, both names were used)
had a rather distinguish location, with an excellent view, and a
large number of hikers lounging around in the sun on its
For my part, I figured it was early enough to make an attempt at the Brèche du Roland itself, and so dumped my pack, drank a lot of water, and was off again. The trail left much to be desired, being steep and composed often of loose rock. Going up was okay, but I figured going back down would be less than fun. Still, after climbing over a little ridge, the Brèche became quite visible. It was certainly quite a sight: a 50m gap in a 100m high cliff. The last part of the trail was mostly in the snow, but it was thankfully less steep.
From the Brèche, one could a fair bit of the Cirque du Gavarnie, although the Pic des Sarradets partly blocked the view. Moreover one had an extensive, if hazy, look at the Spanish side as well. Deep gorges, peculiarly shaped mountains, and a goodly quantity of snow were all on display. Chatting a bit with the hikers there (of which there were plenty), I learned that Le Taillon was an eminently reasonable hike from the Brèche, as was Le Casque, although for other stuff crampons were probably necessary.
Going back down was actually not too bad, since the snow was soft, and by digging in my heels, I could avoid slipping. Consequently, I avoided the trail, and mostly walked down to the refuge on the snowfield. There were still lots of folks milling around, among whom I found a group of 5 British hikers who had been in the Pyrenees most of the week. They had visited quite a bit, although not the Mt. Perdu, and were very friendly. Chatting with them, and rearranging my backpack kept me busy until dinner was served.
Dinner in the refuge was a busy affair, for there were 60 people spending the night there (they were full), and most had ordered a meal. I was seated with a rather nice family from Toulouse (parents plus 3 boys) which proved an excellent opportunity to find out a little about the region, as well as practice French. Since I hadn't had much of a breakfast or lunch, the fact that the meal was large was also quite welcome.
After dinner, I wandered around for a while, taking pictures, and chatting with hikers, until the sun had definitely set, and it was becoming cold and uncomfortable outside. I also had learned that the refuge was full the following night, and since I hadn't had the foresight to reserve for 2 nights, I would have to go back to Gavarnie the next day. Not especially helpful, given my hopes of making it to the Mont Perdu.
The other unhelpful fact was that I was assigned a top-level bunk in a room seemingly full of people with respiratory problems. Leastaways, climbing up to the bunk was quite a chore, and once there, snores and whatnot made sleeping less than simple. I was also worried I might oversleep and miss my 7AM breakfast for the next day. Still, I eventually did get to sleep.
July 2 My fears of not waking up on time proved unjustified. In fact the problem was that I woke up too early. With some difficulty, I managed to fold my blanket, and climb down from the top row of bunks. I spent a little time rearranging my backpack, and taking out what would not be necessary for the day hike, but otherwise I had precious little to do, waiting until 7AM breakfast. The sun was of course rising outside, so everything had a reddish cast. I made sure to take plenty of photos.
Breakfast was something of a disappointment. Biscuit or rye bread, jam, butter, and milk or coffee. I don't know why, but I'd been somehow expecting more, and the whole thing left me just a bit unsatisfied. At 7:30, I was off on the trail, with the intent of climbing both Le Taillon and Le Tour de Marboré.
Of course to get to any of these places, one must first reach
the Brèche du Roland, and cross over to the other side. Going
just about as fast as I could, I reached the Brèche after only 20
minutes. Took a few more minutes, and then continued on.
The path toward Le Tour was alternately rocky and steep or snow and steep. In the first major snow section, one gentleman was hauling his friend, who had slipped about 5m down the slope, back up to the trail. This I watched with interest, and figuring that if I were to do the same, I'd rather do so with other people nearby, I proceeded to more or less tag along with the two of them.
After the snow field, there was a section where you basically haul yourself across the mountainside by chain. So long as you didn't lose your footing, or handgrip, all was well, but otherwise, it was definitely steep enough that the alternative was unpleasant. We took it slowly.
The snow after the stretch was a bit less steep, but after the earlier experience, the folks in front made ample use of their ice axes going down the trail. Good instruction for me, who'd never seen an ice axe used.
The two of them had plans to go up the Pic du Marboré. Since they had no crampons, I figured I could more or less go about as far as they could, since my walking sticks were not particularly less effective than the ice axe. Still, where the trail was going was far from clear, and when another group of hikers reached us, we asked for directions.
What we learned was not especially encouraging. The main route
to Marboré was more or less impassable without crampons, as was
the alternative. In either case, one had to go up a steep couloir
of what appeared to be hard snow. Bad news.
After a bit of discussion, the 3 of us settled on going up Le Casque du Marboré, which did not appear to require crampons. True, there wasn't much of a trail that one could see. On the other hand, the top was mostly visible. We knew what we were getting into.
Still it was steep, and once we abandoned the snowfield, loose rocks became rather unhelpful. Also, since nobody had read the suggested route in the guidebooks, we wound up going up the right side of the snowfield, which landed us on the ridge all right, but left a harrowing final climb up what were basically cliffs. The view of Gavarnie and its cirque was excellent though, so I took many pictures.
Descending a bit, and reading the guide carefully, we instead made our way up the left side of the peak. Here, while the rocks were loose, there were at least no cliffs that required scaling. Around 11AM, we reached the top.
While Le Casque was reasonably broad and flat, it still had something not far from a panoramic view in all directions. On the French side, the Cirque du Gavarnie and the Brèche du Roland were plainly evident, as were the other mountains in the cirque, including Marboré. On the Spanish side, one could see Mont Perdu (3rd highest peak in the Pyrenees), the Refuge du Goriz, and deep valley eventually feeding into the Rio d'Ara.
We had a pretty relaxed time up top, resting, taking pictures, and eating what more or less counted as lunch. Around 1PM, we finally began the descent. Fortunately for me, we went slow, and so despite the treacherous footing, it was not impossible. Still, it was a relief to reach the snowfield, where at least if one dug in one's heels, one was more or less guaranteed not to slip.
Returning as we had come, we reached the Brèche du Roland around 2PM, just as a group of about 20 hikers started coming down on our side. We descended the other side, next, reaching the Refuge des Sarradets where I picked up the odds and ends I had left behind in the morning, to save on weight. Next came the Col des Sarradets, and impressive views (from below) of Le Taillon. The descent was hard on the feet, and knees, but going slow kept it all manageable without much in the way of stops. One of the definite advantage of hiking with other people who are not in a hurry is that one definitely winds up less tired.
The last section to the Port du Boucharo and then the Col des Tentes was quite flat, but also fairly long. As we had descended from Le Casque, clouds had rapidly formed, so that despite continued sun, the sky had much more than just blue in it. Interesting patterns of shadow formed over the valley. We reached the Col des Tentes parking area around 4:30PM. The folks I'd hiked with generously agreed to take me down with them to Gavarnie, saving me a good 2 hours of descent in the process.
Back at Gavarnie, my first order of business was to find a hotel. This was complicated by the fact that I was hoping to spend the following night in a refuge, but couldn't find out if the refuge in question had space (and thus whether I'd be in Gavarnie 1 or 2 nights). At any event, the same hotel I stayed in during May (Le Taillon) had space. Amusingly, on the way there, I ran into the same group of British hikers I'd seen the night before at the refuge. They'd had a moderate day, climbing down, and were planning to go in the same direction I was for the next day. Equally surprisingly, I ran into the 2 folks I'd been hiking with during the day at the Hotel Le Taillon. They were having a relaxing afternoon drink/conversation.
After they left, I went back to my hotel room, and planned out the next day. I also figured I should probably eat some of the food in my pack, since I had little desire to have to carry all of it up the mountain the next day. So dinner was an odd combination of crackers, ham, dried fruit and candy bars. The cheese was in such a bad state that I gave up and threw it out. I fell asleep, without difficulty, around 10PM, having paid and set my alarm for 6 the following morning.
July 3 My alarm went off, as planned, at 6AM, although my dreams before had me oversleeping. Quickly packed up, and went out into the dim pre-day. The sky was light enough to see where I was going, but the sun was just beginning its trip, and so I made several attempts at night photos on my way up the valley to the trailhead.
The idea of the day was to go up the east side of the valley,
past the Refuge des Espuguettes, over the Hourquette d'Alans,
and up the Brèche du Tuquerouye. If I had time, I'd also go
up the Pic de Pinède. An ambitious plan, with well over 2000m of
ascent. So for starters, I went up the trail toward
The trail did a good bit of zig-zagging, although it was reasonably steep. I wasn't feeling particularly fit, but I did manage what was in retrospect a very rapid trip, making it into the opening of the valley around 7AM, just as the sun began to touch the peaks on the opposite side of the valley.
As I continued, a large squarish rock began to dominate on the skyline above me. Amusingly, half an hour later, the rock turned out to be the Refuge des Espuguettes (700m above where I'd started). I stopped long enough to refill my water battle (from a faucet, pretty fancy!) and make sure the refuge had space for the night. Then on I went.
The trail felt steeper afterwards, yet it continued to wind up the valley. At the split, I took the direction of Hourquette d'Alans, and reached the pass, elev. 2,420m, some 45 minutes later. The valley remained entirely in shadow, making the climb surprisingly easy. Throughout, one had a breathtaking view of the other side of the valley: Le Casque du Marboré, Le Taillon, Le Grande (and Petite) Vignemale, La Brèche du Roland, and so forth.
I took a little rest at the top, and had a quick "breakfast" consisting mainly of the dried fruit I'd been carrying for 2 days, but hadn't started eating. I even had enough cell-phone service to call home, briefly, although it kept cutting out on me, making for a very disjointed conversation.
Problems began as I descended on the other side. The sun was direct, and hot, and of course my hat had been missing since the previous afternoon. Sunglasses and suntan lotion go a long way, but they don't make up for real shade. The other, more serious issue, proved to be my misreading of the map. Trying to avoid descending only to have to reascend afterwards, I abandoned the trail, to cut directly across the hillside in the direction of what I thought was the next trail I was aiming at. Not only was this much more difficult than it looked, but it took a good chunk of time too.
Once I had finally recovered the trail, I continued going straight up the Val d'Estaube. While it might have been very scenic and all, this had the marked disadvantage, that an hour later, having climbed through an uncomfortable boulder field, I learned I was in fact on the wrong trail from some folks going the other way. This was the way out of the valley all right, but not via Pinède.
Not thinking to clearly, I figured, I was not going to make it to Tuquerouye, and just kept on going straight. Half an hour later, in the hot sun, I reached the Spanish border, and the Pont Neuf de Pinède (elev. 2500m). I took a quick look at the precipitous Spanish side, and decided I'd make a second try for Tuquerouye.
Going back, even though downhill, was hot. It was now 11AM, and when I finally found the trail I had missed, it turned out to go through a field of boulders, marked only by inconsistent cairns and a less than obvious course. It took immense effort simply to figure out where I was trying to go. Things got a little better when the trail ascended a small hillock, in reasonably straightforward fashion, but from there on it was even more problematic.
For what I saw coming over the miniature pass, was a narrow ravine (perhaps 30 meters wide at the base, and narrowing as it ascended) with a snowfield covering about half of the area, and the rest being mostly smallish chunks of loose rock. That the whole thing was incredibly steep did not help matters. Tuquerouye was of course at the top.
After half an hour of ascent, two things were clear. It was a pain to go up (probably 250m at least still to go), and it was going be even more of a pain going down. Having already been hiking for 6 hours, doing 1500m of elevation gain, I decided it was too much, and started going back down.
The return wasn't especially easy either. After the descent to the main trail, there was of course the reascent of some 200m to the Hourquette d'Alans, and then the descent on the other side of 400m. The sun was at its maximum force, although clouds had begun appearing, making for occasional welcome periods of shade. I plodded along. Sometime around 4PM I reached the Refuge des Espuguettes.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. I read. I dried my socks. I tried to find a place where I had cell-phone reception. I took photos now and then. Most importantly, I let my knees and feet rest. The scenery was equally as inspiring as in the morning, so I could hardly complain that the time was badly spent.
When I went in to the refuge for dinner, I discovered I was in fact the only one there for the night (aside from the keeper). Their dining room was nicely furnished, but it felt peculiar being the only person being served food (and eating) in the big room. There was also a definite surplus of flies who were most annoying throughout. Still the dinner prepared had the definite advantages of being large, and relatively more balanced (as opposed to what I'd been nibbling on all day).
I was sufficiently tired after all this to go upstairs, set my alarm for an ungodly hour, and fall asleep pretty much immediately.
July 4 Woke up a few times during the night. A roaring wind and a unclosed door will do that to you. Still managed to anticipate my alarm clock by a few minutes for no readily apparent reason.
Getting dressed and packed is a lot harder when the only light you have is the illuminated screen of a cell-phone. Still, got everything together, and after major fumbling with a less than cooperative bolt on the front door, made my way out into the cool, and largely dark outside.
Bad news was that the valley below was a sea of thick fog. The plan was to go up Le Pimené (in a hurry), snatch a look at the reputed 360 degree panorama, and then head down in time for 10AM bus from Gavarnie. Naturally, as I ascended so did the fog. It was still dark, but by about 6:30AM, it was clear that by the time I reached the top, not only would their be no view, but the trail down would be pretty much impossible to find in the fog. So I called it quits when I reached the same elevation of the Hourquette d'Alans, and started descending.
In the process, I met a fair amount of local fauna too. On the way up, I nearly stepped on an enormous frog that was in the middle of the road. It was hard to see the frog at all, given the lighting, but as it hopped away croaking, I got a bit of a look. Also in the mix was a very confused mouse, who ran right down the trail in front of me, and good many sheep and cows.
The refuge itself was all but invisible when I reached it, fully submerged in the fog. I lost the trail several times after that, as it passed across flat meadows, unmarked, making various contortions which could not be readily guessed. The drizzle didn't exactly make matters easier. Somehow, I managed to almost run right into a hiker on his way up, and thus regained the path.
Once the trail started descending in earnest, it was much easier to follow, since there were no flat areas where it meandered, or appeared to split. The fog continued almost to the bottom of the valley, although towards the end I could in fact see Gavarnie. I had a makeshift breakfast, at 8:30AM, finishing off most of the food still being carried in my pack, and then ran into the British hiking group for the 4th day in a row. Apparently I'd seen them yesterday on the way down from Pimené. I also managed to purchase a replacement for my late, lamented and currently disappeared hat. Not quite necessary given the current conditions, but hopefully helpful in the future.
The bus ride from Gavarnie to Luz-St. Sauveur was uneventful, and almost empty, although for some reason the return cost 2 euros more than the initial trip in the reverse direction. The weather was not noticeably clearer in Luz, but there was less wind and so the experience was somewhat more pleasant. Since the bus to Lourdes didn't leave for another 5 hours, I had plenty of time to try and keep myself amused.
I didn't really have a lot of ideas, but almost immediately after leaving the train station (where no trains come), I ran into the local street-market. There one could find local breads, cheeses, sausages and innumerable other edible products, not to mention less-local things like shoes and t-shirts. I picked up an enormous loaf of whole wheat bread (about 3 lbs).
Next I wandered up one of the roads in back of Luz, in the direction of the villages of Villenave and Astes. Going up the hill gave me a nice view of Luz, but the fact that semi-trucks loaded with gravel kept going up and down the road was less than exciting. I then tried going up the main valley, toward Barèges. After reaching the town of Estorre, and seeing a road purportedly going to the half-ruined castle across the valley, I changed direction once again.
The road in fact went a great many other places besides. Taking it up various switchbacks, I passed first a development of homes, then a collection of farm-buildings, and finally a gigantic pipe, which presumably brought water down the mountain to the villages below. The road dead-ended with a rather impressive overlook on Luz and its surroundings, including the Chateau St. Marie I had yet to reach.
Since the trail on my map that would have allowed me to make a loop to the castle was not quite extant on the map, I returned the way I had come, regaining the trail to the chateau far below. The chateau itself was on a piece of prime military real-estate, slightly separated from the town on a steep hill with the only easy access from above. It had begun its days in the 12th century, controlled by the English from the 13th to 15th, and finally reconquered by the French, and allowed to deteriorate thereafter. It too had a considerable view of the area.
My final goal, before getting some sort of lunch, was a church which supposedly had rather ancient stained glass windows. Not only was the church inconvenient to get to (having to descend all the way back down to river-level, and then come back up again), but the main road in the town of Esquieze-Sère was undergoing major surgery. The church was predictably locked and closed. Still, an interesting little town to pass through.
Final destination was lunch, which was much more complicated than anticipated. Pretty much every restaurant I tried had just closed their lunch operation at 2PM. I eventually gave up, got a baguette from a bakery, and to took the opportunity to empty my pack of further food. Even though I had time to spare, and my knees no longer permitted my to do further wandering, I still almost missed the bus to Lourdes, which had decided to park itself one block away from the train station, in a less than obvious location.
The bus ride to Lourdes (with a change in Pierefitte-Nestalas) nearly put me to sleep. The train in Lourdes, which I got on barely after 5PM, finished the job. Indeed, en-route to Paris, I probably fell asleep on a dozen different occasions, which included most of the journey. Otherwise, I reread Hobsbawm's book, wrote postcards, stared out the window, or ruminated on the foibles of classical liberalism. The train arrived on-time in Paris at the Montparnasse station at 11:15PM. From there, it was but a short metro-ride to home. A somewhat abbreviated dinner followed, and then bed.
Incidentally, Happy Birthday, U.S.A.! Since as Eric Hobsbawm points out in "Echoes of the Marseillaise", Independence day in the U.S. has largely lost any other meaningful character. Perhaps July 14th will be more meaningful. I hope so.
July 5 Up surprisingly early given how late I went to sleep. My cousin leaves for Tehran today. Had breakfast, said goodbye, and then after he left, quickly moved my bags into his room. Nice room, but there's stuff everywhere (ie it's a bit of a mess). Tried to rationalize things a bit to make space for my (limited) quantity of odds and ends.
Next went off to the center to work on my e-mail backlog, and upload pictures from the last trip. In the process, deleted the work I'd done on Thursday. Yup. Brilliant. Rest of the afternoon was basically spent reading off of photocopies I'd made earlier, a less than effective use of time. Oh well. In the evening, the student who's moving in had apparently already done so, though we saw her briefly after dinner. Then to bed.
July 6 Began the morning with phone calls. Finished unpacking my stuff. Realized that I was missing my new pair of glasses. Argh. Couldn't find it. Somewhat irritated. At the ISEP center, a short half hour task took a good 4 hours. Yup. There's productivity for you. Frustrating. Continued yesterday's readings. Then read a "The Coming of the French Revolution" by Georges Lefebvre, as a light reading. Hey, it's lighter than the incredibly repetitive news reports that got published on the Arab revolt in 1936 Palestine. The press in those days didn't necessarily cover itself in glory either.
July 7 At the library. Not much worth noting.
July 8 Screwed up this morning. Had to re-photograph almost 150 pages which I'd deleted by accident (in lieu of photocopying, for the older works). The dangers of photos named 310Canon and 311Canon.
July 9 Out doing errands with my uncle for the morning (and early afternoon). Did some light reading, flute and computer-related stuff in the afternoon.
July 10 For our Sunday excursion, visited the tomb of Van Gogh. Actually, went to the town of Cergy, where there's a nice view of the Val d'Oise, and a rather appealing old church. Next, went to Auvers-sur-Oise, where we visited a chateau, had a picnic lunch, and dropped by the resting place of both Theo and Vincent van Gogh (brothers). Also had a drink at a cafe decorated with vines, art on display, and a very entertaining cat. Finally, stopped in Villiers-Adam for a stroll by the river. Saw many people in little boats having far too much fun (at least one would hope, given how wet they were making each other).
July 11 I'm not too big on Mondays. Spent an exorbitant amount of time organizing notes, data (images of documents) and the like. Managed to get out to the library itself too, but not for all that long. My crowning achievement was bringing (secure) wireless internet to the house, courtesy of a purchase at Surcouf (French computer store). It's embarassing how much more expensive networking equipment is here than in the U.S. (try 90 euro for something I got for $60, not even including the $10 rebate I had). Still, it works, and that means the 3 of us can use internet simultaneously.
July 12 Another library day. I have a headache. Picked up light reading at the American Library as well. Like E.J. Hobsbawm's "The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848." Yes we all have funny ideas of light. Also got a hold of the highly interesting documentary, "The Power of Nightmares." Saw the first section. It describes the genesis of both the neocons (starting with Leo Strauss, 1949) and the radical Islamists (starting with Sayyid Qutb, 1949). One sees why these groups are so perfect for each other.
July 13 In the course of the day's research, found an ad for a hotel in Lenzerheide (where I've been 4 or 5 times) in one of the Jewish newspapers. Actually, the ad was run throughout the better part of a year. Interesting that Lenzerheide's position as a resort dates back to before 1936. Saw a tantalizing article about protests in Belgium in 1937 in favor of the Arabs Revolt in Palestine. Hopefully there'll be more on that in the other papers (who was protesting, how important they were, that sort of thing). It was reasonably cool over the weekend, but the weather's now back to normal, which means when I play flute, my hands get slippery very fast. Was embarassed at how poor my French is, during a conversation with a security guard at one of the libraries I visit (nice fellow, and apparently he wants to go to New York).
July 14 Got up painfully early (stayed up too late last night writing e-mails) to go to the Bastille Day parade. Was there around 8:30AM, but lots of people were earlier. The Champs Elysees was secured by 3 levels of barriers, not to mentions hundreds of policeman (and soldiers, who later participated in the parade). It was hard to find a place with a good view, but I got something reasonable, if not photogenic. By the time the parade actually started (past 10AM, I was told it would start at 9), it was a zoo. Interestingly, the parade began with a small band (on horseback). Next, a number of different formations of planes were flown overhead. Trees made photographing the thing impossible, though its probably the first time I've seen French military jets. After a long pause (I read 30 pages of Hobsbawm), the rest of the parade came by. This consisted of French soldiers in trucks and on motorcycles, humvees (or the equivalent), tanks (on the back of big trucks), howitzers, fire trucks, ambulances, and so on. That was the parade. 2 hours of heavy equipment.
Leaving the parade involved some excitement I hadn't bargained on. Too many people, and a too narrow passageway, resulted in a lot of people getting very angry at the policemen manning the barricades. Eventually, the pressure become so tight, that some folks dismantled the outer part of the barricade. Finally, the police opened up the rest, and I could get to the metro (which was itself quite a zoo). Had a quiet afternoon (everybody else was off doing there thing), but for the evening, relatives of my aunt came over for dinner.
Like July 4th, the day ended with a massive fireworks display. We went to the appartment of a friend who lives on the 10th floor of a high-rise. Their terrace had an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower, which was also where all the fireworks were going off. Although it wasn't fully clear, the clouds were just enough to make things extra dramatic (and not so much, that you couldn't see, like last year in San Francisco for July 4). Very colorful (and rather lengthy) display of fireworks. In the distance, we could see at least 3 other displays going at the same time. Whew.
July 15 Day after Bastille day. Was a bit too tired to go out into the wide world. So stayed at home (mostly) and read. Dropped by the Stanford center, did a half dozen minor errands. Kinda dull really. Managed to get about 10 got photos from the 100+ I took last night. Camera just does not respond well at .25 seconds. That, or I need a tripod.
July 16 I'm not sure if I'd term today a success or not. I backed up and organized about 6 weeks worth of photos. Yup, they're all up for your viewing pleasure. You realize I've taken 2,500+ pictures on this camera, in a little more than 3 months? Anyhow, all that organizing got me to thinking that the website organization is kinda a mess. And I want a blog. So combined the two, by setting up blog software on the server (b2evolution) and redesigning the structure of the site. Yes, some stuff is harder to find. But that's mostly stuff that neither I nor anybody else actually looks at.
July 17 In the morning, did a little bit of walking around Paris with my uncle. Saw a lot of streets I hadn't before. Passed the Arc de Triomphe, and for the first time took a picture of it. Now I kinda want to go to the top too, to see the Champs Elysees from above. From there, went past the Saudi and Japanese embassies (same building, oddly enough) to park Monceau. It was a terribly bright and sunny day, but a nice green park is almost always welcome. This one had some bits and ruins from an old Roman amphitheater. Nearby, we popped into the Museum Cernuschi. They're an East Asian art museum, and they had a rather impressive collection of Chinese works, from before the common era (Han dynasty for instance) to the almost modern (Manchus). Even had a collection of musician statues including horn and (I think) flute players. Cool. Afterwards, returned home, and got a little flute practice in for the first time in quite a while. Rest of the day was spent on the webpage. Switched the blog stuff to WordPress which seems more supported by offline editing tools. To make it fit better into the site, I wound up borrowing the stylesheet for the rest of the pages. It actually looks pretty cool. Hope I'm not violating anybody's copyright in the process.
July 18 So I went to the Stanford center today to do reading, check stuff on the web, and generally be productive (also finish the website design transition started a few nights back). Apparently I spent a little longer than intended, because suddenly it was 7:30PM, and I was still there.
So I try to leave, and of course, the metal grating/barrier in front of all the doors is down. Turns out the building closes at 6:30, not 8, during the summer. Oops. Tried forcing the grating, but to no available. Assumed that since the lights were off, and the barrier down, nobody was in the building. Thankfully, the Stanford program folks all have listed cell numbers (in the building), so I called one. She suggested I check the concierge in the adjacent building (very adjacent, you can see them quite easily). I ask if they have the key to let me out. Nope. Do they know who does. Nope. Do they have any suggestions for what I should do. Find who has the key. Wonderful...
So I start wandering around, thinking I may have to spend the night (hey, they've a sofa on one level, and there's highspeed internet access, so it wouldn't be impossible). Think maybe there's a conveniently located window on the ground or basement level. Nope. But there is a light on in the basement. Go down to the basement. Sure enough, there are 5 students in a little room busily typing away. So of course, I ask if they have the key to the building. Nope. Well how do they get out. I get a less than fully comprehensible response about workers, night shifts and something. Great. The program person calls me back, and I'm just about to tell her that nothing's changed when one of the students starts going up the stairs, claiming he has the key. Okay, so he did. Guess they were just trying to be funny. Exciting evening.
July 19 Stayed away from the Stanford building today. Partly because I didn't want to get locked in by accident again, mostly because there's loads of stuff I can do without needing to leave my room. And let's face it: I'm lazy. So I read a lot. In French. Tried to convert the photos of pages from various journals into something easily printable. Failed, but learned all about the wonders of ImageMagick. Also discovered (still not quite sure how, probably slashdot) the Slug. That's the affectionate name of the Linksys NSLU2, a network storage device which is actually an eminently hackable ARM Linux box. The thought of webserver that runs off of 2.5 watts, and has no fan, is highly appealing. Will a 133MHZ ARM with 32MB of RAM be enough? Well, come September, I'll probably go and find out.
July 20 It's hot. Yeah, I know that's a common refrain. True though. At any rate, even being indoors at various libraries did not entirely save me. How am I ever going to survive in the Middle East? At any rate, more or less finished mucking around with the site. I think all the pages validate, and they all display fine in Safari. On the downside, using DreamWeaver as a WYSIWYG editor has gone from slow to unusable. Didn't think about that beforehand :-(
July 21 Another day, another library, another website revision. DreamWeaver does have some good search-n-replace tools, especially for links. Did some image creation too. And some π benchmarking. It's been a while. Suddenly I feel deprived not have a G5 desktop though. Come to think of it, my camera is deprived. Have you any idea how long it takes to manipulate Canon RAW files in PhotoShop on a 667MHZ G4? Looked a little bit at the camera manual too. Learned a few more of the controls...
July 22 Made it to the Bibliotheque National to dig through microfilm. Reading the publication 'Action Française.' A truly charming journal. Oddly enough it became only really palpably anti-Semitic once the possibility of the left taking power became real. A perfect reason not to like royalists though. Was at the library pretty much all day. Came back to discover folks preparing a rather large dinner. Soon there were a good 10 or so Iranians joining us for dinner. Not a problem for me since the dinner was good, although I was tired enough to go back and hide in my room after dinner (and go to sleep before midnight, been a while since that happened).
July 23 Plan was today to drive down to Burgundy to visit a friend of my uncle's who was having a little get-together. Details were somewhat sketchy (at least so far as I knew them). So after a nice breakfast, I had all of 5 minutes to pack, and then we were off and away. The hurry was not really justified, since the friend we were to meet at the Porte d'Orleans was definitely not there when we arrived. Oh well. He showed up after a bit, a tall French artist (drawings and paintings) from Brittany who'd spent quite a number of years in Iran (and spoke more Farsi than French during the car ride). Interesting company.
We took what was more or less the scenic route down. Left the main autoroute not far outside of Paris to follow the smaller (and cheaper) local routes, passing not far from Fontainbleau. Around noon, we got gas and stopped in Sens, a medium-sized town of considerable charm. Lunch was in a cafe directly across from the cathedral, which we duly visited once we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves with the local specialty. Then we continued.
Our route once again avoided the main highway, but roughly paralleled it, landing us in Auxerre after around an hour of driving, during which I was for all intents and purposes asleep. A warm car and a large lunch do that to you. Auxerre also had a cathedral (heavily under renovation) and a nice river-front which we took a look at. The boats looked awfully inviting. On we went.
The last stage of the journey was made a lot harder thanks to the fact that our destination did not exist on any of our maps. Thus based on a vague mapquest printout and vaguer written hints, we did a good bit of asking directions, arguing, and going more or less in circles. It was only slightly less than miraculous when we did arrive in Joncey, having been pretty much lost for the previous hour, labouring under at least 3 sets of contradictory advice.
Given my vague idea of what was going on, I was not at all prepared when we went through a garden gate to discover a yard packed with about 30 people, almost all (save me) connected in some fashion to either the host or Iran. There were thus professors of Middle East studies (one had come down from London), middle-school friends of the host, somewhat random acquaintances, and so on. It was quite an affair, and the host was sufficiently busy that it was over an hour before we managed to say hello.
Not long after the sun began setting, preparations began for dinner. The barbecue, which nobody quite seemed to know how to get started, provided most of my entertainment (although I occasionally provided less-than-helpful advice). Eventually though, things were cooked, people were seated, and dinner undertaken. My fish-out-of-water sensation remained strong throughout. After a lengthy dessert, during which I attempted to meet at least a few of the guests, we were treated to some Iranian music by two of the guests. A nice performance, although the daughter of the singer (5 years old) appeared hell-bent on reappropriating our attention to herself. It was not until almost midnight that we 3 disengaged, as it were, and went off to the gardener's cottage by the host's brother's house. Going to sleep was not too difficult, although my eyes felt to be burning up, possibly owing to too much barbecue smoke.
July 24 Nobody got up all that early. Still, by the time my uncle and I were up, it was a nice day outside, if somewhat late to call it breakfasttime. Down in Joncey, most of the guests were getting up too, and having breakfast. The little girl who'd been dancing through the last night's performance was now intently focused on a parakeet, so almost everybody had the opportunity to meet, and be pecked, by the bird. Eventually, bored and hoping to escape the bird, I wandered out on my own, to make a tour through town. Of course I'd worn my sandals, which made things harder, but I had a pleasant stroll through what was doubtless a good example of a typical Burgundian town. Since it was Sunday morning, everything was pretty relaxed.
I returned briefly, mainly to make sure I wasn't missing anything important, and then continued my tour of the town. I saw the cemetery, the church (only from a distance) and a good number of people preparing for lunch outside. Weather was patchy clouds, combined with a good amount of sun (quite warm). We had lunch a bit later, and since the crowd had thinned a bit, I was able to recognize at least some of the people.
One of the folks needed to get to the train station (going all the way back to Munich), so my uncle offered to drop him off. This gave us the excuse to visit the area some as well. We left around 4PM, and despite a few wrong turns, arrived at the TGV station in Chalon-sur-Saône around 5. In Chalon, my uncle and I wandered around, catching a parade which included some very oddly costumed people being transported in even odder vehicles, such as the guy inside a giant sphere who was effectively rolling himself along.
Indeed, Chalon seemed to be in quite an uproar, and on our way to the cathedral, we found a rock concert in progress. Near another church were a bunch of jazz musicians, performing on roller-skates. We saw the Saône itself too, a wide river with pastel-colored houses on the opposite bank. Dinner was a sort of kebab, grabbed from the French-version of a fast food place (walkthrough, instead of drivethrough, but otherwise not too different).
Returning to Joncey, we stopped in the little town of Buxy to wander through ancient ramparts and buildings as the sun began a very dramatic sunset through fiery orange clouds. My attempts to photograph the event, were alas, inadequate. Back in Joncey, we stopped where we'd spent the previous night and continued on to our host's house (me on foot, to photograph the sunset), but he was not in. So we walked a little further, up one of the main roads toward the next town. Finally, reasonably exhausted, we went back to the cottage, and to bed. Contrary to my initial expectations, this was not going to be a quick 2 day visit.
July 25 Arrived at our host's house again this morning, with plans to visit some more of the local sights. His daughter was interested in coming too, so that made 3 of us. We had a leisurely breakfast before departing in the general direction of the medieval monastic center of Cluny. Getting to Cluny actually took quite a while, passing through rolling hills and little towns for a good hour.
Once there, we visited the stables (of the monastery), a nearby church and a tower right next to the monastery. The tower gave one a pretty good idea of the extent of the town, and so we decided to just explore the village rather than all the stuff surrounding the abbey. Lunch was in a little Salon de Thé, and followed by a chance encounter with 2 of the folks we'd met in Joncey.
Still, it was getting later, and what with the town becoming quite hot and unpleasant, we decided to move on to Tournus, in the process dropping in on half a dozen art expositions. The route to Tournus was a series of small roads going through even smaller towns, usually barely, if at all, marked on the map. After an interminable forest, some exceedingly winding stretches of mountain road, and a few impressive fields of wildflowers, we descended to Tournus.
In Tournus, we began by trying to get to the cathedral. This proved a bit challenging, but once there, we found a rather ancient building, with an even more ancient basement, and floor mosaics that had seen more than a thousand years of history. Outside were a very curious collection of shops, and even more curious collection of art galleries. In one, just three colors were used in every painting. In another, any and all colors were used for each element.
We had a snack by the river in the center of town, watching people make-ready a boat to depart. Once we'd visited another smaller, and newer church (yes, I've become quite a churchgoer), we finally moved on. Our new destination was Brancion, a hilltop town with a considerable reputation.
Brancion certainly merited its reputation. Having no more than 300 inhabitants, and largely unpaved roads in the village, each building was nonetheless impeccably maintained, with flowers and plants (save for a closed-looking restaurant). A very well-appointed chateau kept watch over the place (closed, unfortunately, to public visitors). The view from the (also closed) church, was superb, although basically unphotographable due to haze and the ever inconveniently located sun.
On the way back to Joncey, we made a number of attempts to find a restaurant for dinner. In this we failed, a somewhat peculiar fact given that this was a Monday night. So we ended up back at Joncey, after witnessing another glorious sunset, for a small dinner with our host. Although I'm not sure he believed us, we proposed to leave the next day to return to Paris (today, we were in theory to have begun going in that direction). Dinner was late enough that going to sleep afterwards was hardly a challenge.
July 26 We were up pretty early, and after quickly packing up, we made our last pilgrimage down to the house in Joncey. Breakfast was genial but short: our host was packing himself, for a several-day visit to Toulon. We made our final goodbyes around 10AM, and after picking up lunch material at the grocery store (the only one in Joncey), we set off down the road in the direction of Beaune, Dijon, Vezelay, and wherever else we might end up.
We got to Beaune without much difficulty, in about an hour. The town was an absolute zoo though, and so my uncle, who insisted on visiting the tourism office for the usual collection of brochures and whatnot, spent quite a while waiting. We did our usual tour of the old-city (Beaune was a real city), and so saw a cathedral, narrow streets teeming with little shops, and the sorts of things to be expected. Beaune was a very agreeable town, in spite of the heat (no clouds today to protect us) and we made our way through quite a bit of it.
I preferred lunch a bit farther on, so around 2PM, we continued, in the direction of Vezelay. The road was as usual narrow and winding for a good bit. When my uncle saw a sign mentioning the home of the noted architect Vauban, he immediately took the exit, and so we wound up once again in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. The home (a museum) was of course closed, since it was Tuesday. Instead, we sat in a park, on a very rickety bench and ate lunch, while trying to ignore the man mowing the town's lawns, as he passed by.
Nearby was the Abbey de la Pierre qui Vire, so of course, we had to visit that too. Talk about disappointing. Dating back all of 60 years, the complex consisted mostly of ugly modern architecture, and an extremely oversized Catholic bookstore where my uncle spent quite a while browsing. When we left, I was not in a good mood.
Still, it was only another hour before we reached our final sight of the day, Vezelay (Dijon had been jettisoned). Located on the ridge of a series of hills, Vezelay was an ancient town surrounded by an incredibly long wall. After parking, we followed a trail traversing the wall, and gave up after 20 minutes: the wall just did not end. Still, once we had entered, we discovered a town, almost entirely in stone, lit by that magical evening light. Quelle belle vue! The fact that one could see much of the rolling countryside of Burgundy, including forests, cultivated fields, and towns, without haze or blinding sun, was much appreciated. We took our time strolling through, saw the church, the walls, and even some of the shops.
At 8PM, it was nonetheless time to move on, if we were to make it home that night. We had an interesting incident in Clamecy (also a very nice looking town, though we had no time to stop), winding up in a gas station that did not offer the most common type of gas, but after that worked our way along steadily. By the time we reached Auxerre, the sun had already set, and so we decided to take the autoroute the rest of the way. It felt like a long 180 kilometers, although the tolls proved less expensive and bothersome than feared. Sometime around 11PM, we entered Paris proper, with almost no traffic to speak of.
When we got back to the house, it turned out that I'd not been the only one ill-informed about the venture. The American student staying there had been expecting us home on Sunday too. Dinner was quick, and the sleep afterwards most appreciated.
July 27 The day after a trip is always hard. Adjusting. Finishing off loose ends. So on. Spent a very distracted time in the library in the morning (got up rather late in fact), and returned early in the afternoon. Weather was so-so as usual. Began catching up on a backlog of e-mail, as well as organizing 4 days worth of photos (and yes, there are a lot of them). In the evening, we had surprise guests (I'd stayed at their place in Annecy 4 years before around Christmastime). Enjoyed the visit, but was a bit surprised to learn they were coming 5 minutes before they did. I am quite definitely in the loop.
July 28 As the last day the AIU library was open, I wound up doing almost nothing all morning, so as to be able to visit it in the afternoon and wrap up my research there. The fact that it was raining afterwards didn't help matters especially, and lunch wound up being a baguette and an apple sitting on the stone wall of a park, under a tree.
July 29 Along with my research (which seems to be falling behind) there is the question of vacation. Namely, when my dad comes out to France, where will we go. Spent all of the day that I wasn't in the library trying to find a satisfactory answer based on certain endpoints (need to spend a couple days in Paris, a couple in Geneva and a couple eastern Switzerland, so as to see all the relatives). Frustrating exercise, but I've almost found a solution. Yes, as I said, planning and researching are not the best way to spend a day.
July 30 Took the day off planning to help with errands and finish off my photo-examining. Picked up the usual supply of food from the market (and the argument, as to how much was necessary, was equally usual). Otherwise spent a lot of quality time with Canon's panorama tool, stitching together stuff from our trip to Burgundy. Discovered Photoshop's Shadow/Highlights filter too, which saved a number of otherwise terrible photos that I'd taken of various guests at night (or when backlit).
July 31 Saw the closest thing to a Persian quarter in Paris today. We went out in the afternoon to pick up some imported food items, and a phone card for calling Tehran. We wound up walking across the Seine to the 15th arondissement, on a street with 5 different Persian specialty shops, plus several restaurants. Coming back we made a detour and saw a bit of the Left Bank of the river, including a guy fishing. I never supposed there was much in the way of fish in the Seine, but who knows. Came back in a hurry because of the impending rainstorm.
In the evening, we went to a cousin's (not first cousin) house. Interestingly, her guests included two Americans from New Jersey, on their honeymoon (related to the host's brother's in-laws). An opportunity to speak a little English. Discussed French roads, and tried to allay their fear of mountain roads in the Alps. They're not really that bad. Also discussed the relative merits of digital cameras with an Iranian living in Besancon, and the English language with a Frenchwoman from nearby. A fun evening, with a very good (and enormous) dinner.