Sunday, June 18, 2017

Some excerpts from Janina's journal

We are sitting out the heat of the day in someone's barnyard among several varieties of chickens, geese, about 10 goslings, very hot panting rabbits in a hutch, two rather thin cats, one a very serious looking male tabby who does not seem to mind the heat. We managed to get up early and leave Digne-les-Bains even though we did not do all we wanted to do. We rode a good 25 miles before the heat and hills got to be too much. 
A very warm wind is blowing across a ripe wheat field. We were supposed to find a place to stay, recommended by a lady in a moulin where they made biscuits, into which I ducked when the heat was overwhelming, climbing a hill into the this town. A lovely town (we probably should have stayed there for the afternoon) with a church with a Romanesque core, and an ambulatory with shallow Gothic arches. It had not been rehabilitated and so had more character than the churches that are all cleaned up. It looked like it was still in use, although I saw a lot of la France insumise--the far left posters around. Sorry I did not snap them. 
One tends to not want to stop too much, especially, when you know it will get really really hot. A huge duck is sitting behind me and there is some kind of ornamental chicken--very poufy and full of feathers with a headdress and a very silly walk. A funky chicken indeed. Hopefully, the farmer will not object to our spending the afternoon sitting at a table under a lime tree or linden next to the fowl-yard... The Guinea hens, who make a lot of noise, are hiding under an hedge from the heat.  And each variety sets up its call from time to time. 
Did I say we saw a Renard, a fox run by the trailer that George and Ralph and I rented one night. I got a good look at him, although he was traveling fast. There are red hens and a well-attired rooster, white hens, a Bantam pair a bard-rock hen, red faced pie-bald ducks and two geese who are separated from their goslings--about 10. 
When we decided to leave around 5, a lot of the fowl--the geese, ducks and chickens including the beautiful rooster came to the shade near us: I think they wanted to be fed. A Siamese cat, a Himalayan, appeared in a doorway, also watching. I hope the owners--I did not want to explain why I was there again, that we were lost and needed to get out of the heat--came soon. It was touching to see the fowl group up like that and all rather strange, as if it were some hallucination of magical fowl arising from the terrible heat of the afternoon. 
I am so glad to out of the sun. Glad George, who can take it, understands that I can't. He is happier with my performance however.  I am proving he says that I can do it.

I will try to write about Digne now. One observation is that there were clearly Arabs and African people around, but you only saw a couple of shrouded ladies here and there walking along with shopping bags or a lanky young man walking at a good pace on his way somewhere. I also wanted to remember the color of the rivers--and I will have to look up the names of them later but the color was an incredible azure and the water rolled along through wide fields of whitish grey rocks. I was surprised to learn that the mountains there are largely limestone, sedimentary unlike the Rockies and of course, the area was covered by a sea. The limestone accounts for the color of the water, and the place is famous for its ammonite fossils. On the way from Digne: downhill from les Alpes du Haut Province until we arrived in this region where the town of Forqualguier sits, we went though a town called Mées, which sits under a very high colonnade of dark (dolomite) limestone towers called Les Penitents. The story runs that a local hero was holding 10 very lovely "Saracen" girls and the local monks were turned in to stone when they looked on them--in order to preserve their vows of chastity. 
Last night we were camped outside of a town called Maubec, near Cavaillon, which is on the Durance river which we encountered near Digne in a town called Mées. The campground was called Las Royéres  du Prieuré next to the Massif du Luberon and the forest of the Luberon. It was close to perfect: wooded, clean bathrooms, free wifi and a cat. It was quiet and secluded away from the road. And it was, I think a municipal campground, so it has that sense of generosity that comes with a sense of the social, and a love of nature. 
Tonight we are in one of these dreadful places called "Capfun,"a sort of KOA of France. It's expensive in terms of camping and there is no wifi. But it was very windy and hot on the road and the traffic, which had not been too bad, seemed to be getting worse and worse, so we are better off here than 10 miles up the road. Every car that goes by, and they are going quite fast, jars my senses; it's always more or less nerve-wracking to drive in any kind of traffic. During the earlier parts of the day we were driving through the avenues of plane trees planted by Napoleon to shade his armies, presumably on the way to Spain. The plane trees with their limbs wounded by pollarding are endlessly beautiful, they keep you cool, but they also feel dangerous, because there is not much of a shoulder and cars and trucks whiz by at speed.  They also make a beautiful sound in the wind, while the filtering light flickers and moves. 
The glare is tremendous in the Provencal sun, the rond ponts, filled with traffic are particularly brilliant with light bouncing off of the circulating vehicles. George, however, guides me through them with a certain amount of frustration. But it was a pretty good day and we did not have to spend the afternoon in the shade like we did yesterday in Abt and the day before in the barnyard outside of Forqualqier. 
In Apt we languished in a Park and then went on to a Mediatheque, which is a library with media. A nice concept. In any case we sat in the literature section and I caught up on René Char--a Surrealist poet, whose name the cultural center Digné sported, and read a very strange story in a volume of Cendrars (there were several) from Guinea in Africa, about an evil baby and seeresses who lived in human blood. George has written about the American literature in translation: a lot of Ereskin Caldwell, who no one in America reads, and what looked like all of London and Steinbeck. Godard fans will remember the charming and good Franz' comment about Jack London in Bande a part.

On our way from Apt there was a wonderful bike trail, unfortunately, the wind was blowing like mad against us. As we sped along we came upon a 5,000 year old dolman, a burial chamber with rings of small upright stones and a kind of paving of flat stones over the mound. What a thing to come upon all of a sudden.

The campgrounds here in France are like small ephemeral villages, everyone says hello, a Dutchman is helping the people next to us set up a tent. People sit at dinner and look out over the scene. The economies are interesting: the municipals are subsidized, the small-business ones must be quite an undertaking. The charming woman in Digne--it was so hot, she invited us to sit in front of her fan while we signed in--was selling beer to the "Germans," to bring in a few more euros.

The towns we passed through, Tarascon and Beaucaire at the deep blue green Rhone when the bells in the old church were chiming noon, were filled with the bright blooms of oleander hedges. A huge old citadel evoked more history and the color of the river, was like the sound of the bells, filled with harmonic overtones and resonances. I want to know more about the river, it looks so lonely, nothing is ever on it? Is it no longer navigable? What must it have been like looking at the deep mysterious river, the Alpilies, the citadel and hearing the bells ring out 1,000 years ago?

So we just fly along the sunny windy roads of France. In the last two days the wind has been very very strong, and sometimes you have to bear down on the bike to keep it from being blown off course. Its the bags that make it vulnerable. But the wind is also refreshing and lessons the affects of the sun. The campground listed its coordinates: we are still 43 degrees north latitude. Chicago is 41.

I will write about the sounds of France. In the campground the first night out of Digne, in a valley near a small river (EauVive was the name) there were frogs, I think, setting up a clattering racket in the night. Here there are cicadas and the the refreshing sound of the wind. There are pigeons. What are they saying? On a very bad day I thought they were mourning for me, repeating their endless three syllable phrase. --/, --/ --/ --.  Is it anapestic? Adam Gopnik called the sound erotic, and I agree. In the woods cookoos sing, another and more elusive two syllables and then there are birds who repeat a whole sentence, there seem to be several varieties of these song birds and if you lived here you would begin to recognize their songs, although I imagine only poets know what they are saying. 

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