Thursday, June 15, 2017

Forcalquier, France

Janina hasn't given up on the bike yet.  She was ready to take the train to Nimes from Digne to return the bike she had borrowed from Craig, and be done with this bike touring experiment.  But I managed to convince her it would be less stressful and more enjoyable to bike back than to endure the hassle of  having to go via Marsailles and switching trains a couple of times, lugging a loaded bike on and off.  I assured her our return route would be much flatter than the one we had come by.  There would be more traffic, something Janina doesn't take kindly to, but still within her level of tolerance.

After two-and-a-half days of minimal biking and much socializing with Ralph and fellow campers and seeing some incredible sites her spirit was greatly revived.  We had a steady stream of well-wishers at our campsite our first night in Digne, mostly others of our vintage who had an affinity for cycling who were amazed that such older folk as us were traveling by bike in such heat and such terrain.  One woman from Tours in the flats of the Loire valley couldn't imagine biking with so much climbing.  She commented to Janina that it had to be "tres dur," (very hard).  Janina could cheerfully concur, and add with more veracity than the woman might have believed, "It had me crying yesterday."  They talked like old friends for some time, then exchanged email addresses when the woman pardoned herself for having to leave to attend her session in the nearby thermal baths that had brought her here. Janina thanked her for the nice conversation.  She replied, "C'est normal."

She's drawn considerable attention for her biking efforts and has had the opportunity to flex her ever increasing French speaking skills.  "I may be struggling on the bike," she said, "But at least I'm getting good at French."  She had another one of those instantly-bonding conversations with a woman hiker we met along the road in a canyon on our way to visit one of the Goldsworthy Sentinels.  

We stopped to ask her if she knew how much further it was to the cairn.  She said she wasn't from around here and didn't know.  We had already biked ten miles up the road.  I had visited the cairn three years ago and hadn't remembered it was so far from Digne.  Ralph had already turned back, as this was supposed to be his rest day after a week of strenuous cycling in the Alps crossing the Galibier and the Madeleine.  Janina was demonstrating her legs were strengthening, handling the climb with relative ease on her unloaded bike.  Still, she wasn't sure how much further she wanted to bike up the increasingly steepening road despite the rugged beauty all around us.

I went on ahead to see how much further it was.  After a mile-and-a-half as I neared the summit I feared I was mistaken and that it wasn't on this road and turned back.  And there it was.  It was so recessed I had missed it.  It was more visible to downhill traffic, but even on the downhill one had to be looking.  I rushed back to tell Janina the good news.  As we closed in on it through a narrow gorge Janina was gushing, "This is amazing...this is spectacular...this is not to be missed."

After a few minutes communing with it and whatever spirits might have been hovering by we sped back down the canyon.  Less than a kilometer later we encountered the hike once againr, who had just pulled into a rare wide spot along the road in her car by a trail head.   We stopped to tell her where the cairn was and then had a more prolonged conversation.  She was 72 and wore her wedding ring around her neck.  She was on a two-week vacation hiking all over the area in the morning and then in the cool of the evening.  If we weren't leaving the next day, we would have gladly joined her on one of her outings.  There were two hikes off this trail to Goldsworthys that we would have loved to have done if the mid-day heat wasn't setting in. She and Janina chattered away.  She proudly told us what many beautiful places there are to visit in France, something we didn't need to be told.  She added that there must be many in America too.  When Janina commented how gladdening it was to meet so many people of such gentility as her in France, she replied, "But you Americans have such dynamism."

The length of our ride prevented me from an outing to a third Goldsworthy Sentinel twenty-seven miles away near Tartonne.  There is one in each of the three valleys around Digne, each right along a lightly traveled road.  But Janina and I had seen six others the day before in a fantastic Geo-Park full of other nature sculptures including a teapot fountain.

The network of trails through the park took us past a magnifcently designed waterfall.

There was a walk through a butterfly garden and a museum in an old house that had Janina in awe of its melding of art and science, similar to what she has been teaching.  We encountered two groups of young school children all wearing baseball caps to keep the sun off their heads and walking in pairs, hand-in-hand.  One of the young docents out on the trails recommended a wall of fossils just a mile up the road.  There were than 1500 packed into its short expanse, the most prominent were the spirally ammonites.

We dined out twice in outdoor cafes with Ralph, a welcome break from our usual dinner fare in our tent.  It was pizza one night and crepes another.  The conversation always drifted to cinema, what with that being what drew us together through the Telliride Film Festival.  As we did at Cannes, we speculated on what the directors Tom and Julie might select from there.  We have learned from over the years it is hard to predict, as they both have their prejudices.  We would both like to see again the Agnes Varda documentary made with the photographer JR traveling about France photographing people.  Janina would tto, as Varda has long been one of her most admired film makers.  She's been a guest director at Telluride and is a personal friend of Tom Luddy, even making a short film featuring him.

Digne's Cultural Center had its weekly free movie night during out stay.  It was short films made by students at the local high school.  The 250-seat theater was packed with students and parents.  We thought we might stay for one or two and then have dinner, but the films were so good we couldn't leave.  They didn't have the pretension of so many students films we've seen by Americans.  They all took place in the beautiful setting of Digne and dealt with simple issues of student life.  Their professor had done a fine job in getting them to focus on material that they knew and that meant something to them.  We felt privileged to be part of this celebration of cinema.  

The two nights Ralph was in town we shared a cabin in a campground, the first time Janina and I had slept in doors in ten days.  Janina had been craving to sleep on a sheet, but admitted the lumpy bed wasn't as comfortable as her sleeping pad on the ground.  The cabin came with a refrigerator and a stove.  When Janina and I checked in before Ralph's arrival we were concerned it might not cool off in the evening, as it had been closed up all day.  We thought we might retreat to our tent to sleep, but there were enough windows to let the breeze pass through and make for pleasant sleeping.

We were sorry Ralph had a different route planned than ours, though we all intend to meet up again at Onni and Craig's in a few days.  Janina's legs could be strong enough by then to power up the long climb to Mont Aigoual that Craig regularly tests himself on.  Her legs are definitely coming around, and her sprit too.  Every day and every mile has varying degrees of pleasure or tolerance as Janina well knows now.  Her latest verdict on this enterprise is,  "When it's good, it's very good, and when it's bad, it's horrid."


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