Sunday, April 12, 2009

One Last Day in the South

As noted yesterday, we awoke to a dramatic thunder-and-lightning storm over the Mediterranean, and the rain lasted the entire day—quite often in heavy downpours. We left the hotel, nonetheless, avec parapluie, and strolled over to where we had been told there was a regular Saturday marche aux puces (flea market.) Since flea marketing, no matter where in the world, is one of our favorite occupations, we were disappointed to discover only a desultory handful of people standing around and wondering whether the rain would stop. It didn’t. It didn’t even look as though it might.

Undaunted, we walked on further to what proved to be the trailhead for a bicycle path...

... that led out alongside the great, shallow lake that separates Palavas from the mainland. The rain for the time being was light and occasional, so we set out on the path and walked for a good half mile or more beside marshy wetlands...

.... rife with water birds, crossing a broad canal with a barge ...

... heading out for some unknown destination. Driving into Palavas, we had seen flamingos from the car, and I was hoping to find one or two to pose for my camera. Alas, they had chosen some other place to shelter from the rain, and there were only the egrets, ducks and moorhens that I could photograph just as well along the Los Angeles River. Too bad. But the walk was marvelous, scenic and refreshing.

We met up with the family for lunch at a restaurant across the street from our hotel. The last thing we needed, actually, was another of those twenty plus euro four-course lunches that seem to be the custom hereabouts: the menus offer little other than their “formules” for the day. We managed very well, though, with a simple salad with goat’s cheese and a glass of a good local white wine. Others went for the more elaborate menus—leading us to wonder where they find the appetite! Joining us for the occasion—and for the day—was Dick Cameron, a glaciologist of note from the U.S., a good friend of Leslie and Helena’s who had been best man at their wedding too many years ago to count! Here they are...

We enjoyed Dick's company, and learned a bit about his profession, at a time when his field has become one of the most vital for our common future.
The great debate at lunch, with the rain bucketing down, as Leslie likes to say, outside, was what to do after lunch. The planned trip to Sete, the famous seaside resort, seemed less than propitious, as did the long drive to other destinations that were proposed. We had hoped to visit the art museum in Montpellier, but even this involved a good long drive, parking problems, and a long walk through the rain. We opted instead for a nearby archeological museum at Lattes, which proved to be an excellent choice. We were amazed, not for the first time, by the skill and sophistication of ancient members of our human species, from prehistoric to Greek and Roman times.

There is something very moving in the spectacle of a lovely object conceived by the human mind and shaped by human hands—a connection and a sense of identity that we feel between ourselves and a distant brother or sister that is something much akin to love.

A small museum like this one is often just as enjoyable, for me, as the bigger, more encyclopedic variety like the Met or the British Museum. You do the whole thing comfortably in an hour or so, and leave with the feeling that you’ve pretty much covered it. From the third, top level of the Lattes Museum, there was a view out over the excavation area...

... from which many of the artifacts in the museum have been recovered, adding to the sense of intimacy. The whole area of Southern France was a hub of human activity, of course, during Roman days, and the museum certainly made it seem alive and present in our day and age.

From the museum, we drove back to Helena and Leslie’s for an hour or so with the remarkable family albums they have kept with such evident love and care from their earliest days together. We dined on excellent take-out pizza and a delicious endive salad. and left shortly after for the return to our hotel to pack for the journey, Sunday, to Paris.

I sit writing this text (for later posting) on the TGV—the Tres Grande Vitesse bullet train—looking out over a flat green landscape and recalling the last time I traveled this line. It was in 1948. I was twelve years old, traveling with a school friend of the same age to spend the summer holidays at their home in Barcelona. It was a long train ride, in those days, with a change in Paris. In the middle of the night, I was overtaken by the need to pee and searched desperately for an available WC. Finding none, and by this time unable to hold it any longer, I was forced to risk catastrophic injury by poking my little urinary apparatus out between those accordion-like passageways that used to connect old railway cars. A scary and embarrassing moment, remembered to this day with clarity—proving, at least, that I lived to tell the tale. Intact, to boot!

1 comment:

cassie said...

Happy Easter, Peter (and Ellie),
We've been following along with your adventures and have enjoyed the photos,especially those of the family, as well. Leonard Cohen was absolutely wonderful - we looked for Sarah, but to no avail. Before the concert we took in the Elias Sime show and all 3 of us loved it!! Thank you for reviewing the exhibit a while back - we couldn't help but think of the two of you throughout the day and evening.All in all, it was a great day.
Have a safe trip home. Love, Mary