How should I begin? What is my excuse after so much time spent not writing?
Maybe I’ll begin with what finally prompted me to write–a journalism-school friend, who I didn’t know even read this thing (Hi Sara!) telling me “For the love of God please update your blog so I know you’re alive.”
I could write about Croatia, Bosnia, Albania and Italy, but those are stories in and of themselves, so they will be separate entries, as originally planned.
In Nimes, I settled into the easiest routine with my discussion-group friends–Annelies, Daphnée, Marianne, Jean-Claude, Seydou and the rest. We picknicked in public places, formed part of a human chain from Avignon to Lyon to protest the expansion of nuclear power plants, and spent delightful afternoons in the park and evenings at each other’s houses.
Rob and I, along with his housemates, cooked together every few weeks and talked about the future. I happened to mention that I was doing a magazine story on Course Camarguaise, a regional sport in our part of the world, which involves young men snatching ribbons from between the horns of a wild bull. (http://tinyurl.com/cojfhsj) I happened to mention to him that I was getting up at five in the morning on my day off to go out into the middle of nowhere and interview a bull breeder. “Can I come along?” he said. Now that’s a travelling companion. We undertook the three-hour-plus journey from Nimes to Pioch Badet, outside of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer (a suburb of a village!) –which would have taken under an hour if we’d had a car–to visit the bulls. It was a fully organized “press visit” with another American, a travel writer whose French was bumbling but endearing. He followed most of what Guillaume, the bull breeder (a tanned and fit guy in his late thirties with a Midi accent and a kind of understated charisma) was saying, but when he spoke French it was as if he’d learned it from books and never heard it spoken. Still, many more points from me thsan if he hadn’t made the effort at all, which so many of our compatriots seem to do. Of course, that would have negated his entire trip, because while Guillaume’s talents include running a farm, organizing a press visit and charming journalists, they do not include English.
We took a hayride through a field to look at dozens of big, black bulls, and tried to convey to Guillaume how cute we found all this, as Americans who had all taken “traditional” autumn hayrides with groups of children at some point in our childhoods. Then we tucked into an amazing meal, which started out with these mussels that were like seafood chewing gum, they were so good. Then meat products made from all parts of the bull, and finally somethingorother made with strawberries that we almost couldn’t find the room to eat. It was a surprise, and a delight that a half-starved minimum wage drudge won’t soon forget. Rob and I spent most of the rest of the day in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which incidentally is the centre of Gypsy culture in France. We wandered the streets, looked at beautiful overpriced coton beachwear and went into churches with their unspectedly colourful Gypsy altars. I bought a Gypsy saint’s medal from an elderly woman who pinned it to my jacket and asked for a fiver before I could utter a word, while Rob all the while tried to pull me with his eyes away from the woman…he believes, not entirely without reason, that I am naive. But I still have that medal…who knows, maybe I will need some Gypsy luck someday!
I also have the memory of the gelato I ate that day- lavender, goney and rosemary. There were a whole constellation of flavours…salted caramel, licorice, pastis, speculoos…why do such things not exist at home??
After Saintes was Avignon. After Avignon was le Grau du Roi. After le Grau du Roi was Nice. And after Nice everything changed…