Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An amalgam of experiences

Sitting in the coffee shop across from the church – awaiting a “body” for another writing session – there were plenty of interesting details from the candle flickering deep within the church to the cat using its door as a scratch pad (after all no one seems to have been able to communicate to the cat that a good wooden door – church or otherwise – isn’t a good scratch pad: it was there – he used it).

Open door - the glow of a candle seen on the street

Church door as a scratch pad - and a black cat at that!

After a couple fun writing exercises I then proceeded to join one of my friends for a hike into the mountains above the village so that we could look back down upon both the Mediterranean and the village – the castle of Valmy taking pride of place. http://www.chateau-valmy.com/le-chateau-valmy.html for more information in French. 

Château de Valmy, Argelès-sur-Mer

Constructed in between 1888 and 1890 by a Danish architect commissioned by a lawyer – Jules Pams - who married the daughter of a cigarette paper manufacturer, upon their deaths the upkeep was too expensive for the inheritors and it sat empty until Victor Peix fell in love with it. Although Jules Pams became the Minister of Agriculture in 1911 and in that capacity managed to install sweeter wines as valid and the AOC as a label, it was Victor Peix who developed the cellars, building more at the foot of the castle and sending his wines throughout Europe via the railways.  However by 1980 the castle and its grounds were closed and it wasn’t until his grandson – the present owner – took over in 1997 that Valmy came back into its own.

The view further up the hill takes in the entire surrounding area from the Pyrénées to the Mediterranean. And the paths on the mountain are numerous – a very enjoyable hike.

Mountain path similar to those of my youth

the beginnings of a branch shelter: we found stone ones as well

The area is beginning to be very well labelled for hikers

Lots of water this spring meant the odd river or fall where usually there are none.

We had already reserved lunch back at the coffee shop, due to the day’s dessert: strawberry and custard tartelettes (mini pies). 

Tratelette aux fraises

The evening was spent suspended in our little “The Good Wife” world – with yet another tray of “nibbles” and the remainder of the champagne (a good cork keeps it fresh for days).

All straight from the market!

This morning was another writing session and as my stories were short I had time for a very short reflection brought on by what I saw outside the window.

She lay there her head small lavender pansies; the belly full of cancer a bright spring green tapering down to the golden blossoms of her feet: just a flower pot; gone yet very present

It may seem as if this particular trip is very food oriented – and that it is – it has also been a great deal of laughter and friends: thank goodness for a younger son willing to stay in the house and take care of the cats!

Monday, March 30, 2015

TPP – no not the Trade Agreement, rather

Tapas, Passing Time and Palm Sunday.

Tapas, wonderful tapas: Saturday night we, three friends, headed for Al Raparou in Argelès-sur-Mer www.facebook.com/al.raparou where we ordered a selection of tapas and washed them down with a local wine, a Mas Rous.

To the tune of much laughter, oh-ing and ah-ing and in particular ummmmmmmm….ing we proceeded to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

Al Raparou

Tapas galore

Great little local wine

Passing Time: That time of the year that I absolutely abhor (and no it isn’t too strong a word for how I feel!) when we loose an hour during our sleep. Least said, best said.

Palm Sunday: the bells rang at 10 and I wondered then if it was for mass at the church down the street to end, or for its beginning. When they really rang at 11:30 I knew that church was out so walked the 50 steps to the end of the street to enjoy the sight of all the believers having their palm branches – in this case usually olive tree branches – blessed.

Church in Argelès-sur-Mer

Local equivalent of Palm branches

Bunches and bunches

One of the angel statues on the square

Then it was off to the harbour and a delicious lunch at one of our friend’s restaurants:
Sofi at T’Hé au Quai https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006052279360&fref=ts where she produces some of the loveliest local delicacies.

Even the sky needed sunglasses

table settings at T'he au Quai

Hors d'oeurves

Local speciality a "Torrade" with salad

Every bit as good as it looks!

A walk along the harbour walls (we left the beach for another day as very windy) and yet more interesting cloud patterns made the day feel full – and very vacation like.

more interesting clouds over the harbor

"Jaws" - which number?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Writing with the writers – 2

Friday at the coffee shop down the street from my housemate’s flat we did two writing exercises: although everyone preferred their first story, the object of these periods being to simply write – well, badly or indifferently – I thought that it was also worth publishing the second lot so any would-be writers out there can see that it’s all a matter of perspective and appreciation. Sometimes the story you prefer will not be the one your audience prefers. I know this from my photos: I am often amazed at the cards my friends will chose as they are often not the photos that I like best.

So for what it’s worth – here is the second series (in the same order author-wise)
Story one – D-L N

Jean followed his brother watching the kid’s backpack that was almost as big as his brother, the little shit.

“Make sure he gets into the school”  his mother would say as she handed them their lunch.

Jean would sell his and use the money for a joint.

Thomas knew his brother was behind him but didn’t want anyone to know his mother insisted he not be alone.

Jean didn’t want any of his buds to see him with his little brother so the distance suited both.

At the school Jean held back until Thomas disappeared.  He knew the brat would raise  to answer all the questions he could, hand in his homework, which would be perfect and his teacher who said “You are certainly different from your big brother”.

She’d been Jean’s teacher, the bitch who never understood that when he looked at the letters they jumped around.

Sighing he walked to the alley where he ditched his backpack.  Maybe he’d spend the day in the woods --- anywhere but the classroom.

He went close enough to the school to sell his lunch. A fast sale and he was off to freedom from the weight of his life.

Story LS

He was late for school again and so was Selby who was running down the street a few feet ahead of him.  His mother was always nagging him to hurry, drink your chocolate, do your homework, have you had a shower yet, did you brush your teeth, and forget about the homework question.

He was going to cut school one day, he was going to hop on a train, be a hobo for a few years and then come to his mum and say Mum see? No school, no problem.

Because the thing about parents was that they always saw the bad side of life – He had read on the internet about these businessmen who had started their own company and made tons of money and travelled and were famous and role models and in the end, they were all dropouts and that’s what he had to show his mum, that he could be who he wanted to be.

But at 12 years old, all the adults in his life saw was grades, manners and who he hung out with.

Story JSL

Nonchalantly he sauntered down the road past the church, head uncovered – never mind his mother’s request that he cover those ears – he might take cold.

It was nice to be allowed to go back to school; it was lovely to not have to submit to any more treatments. Cancer was a thing of the past – he was off to continue a normal life.

The Tramontane blew but he felt invigorated by it: he no longer feared the cold.

His friend followed a few paces behind – sweatshirt and jeans totally covering every body part.

What was very interesting about the two “bodies” – two authors had them as brothers, the third had noticed that one was dark-skinned, the other white.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Village R & R or…

The (boring) story of my past two days vacation: for any of you who are allergic to the “I” or “we” narratives, stop right here.

The Canigou - photo especially for Rick who is probably homesick

Now R&R stands for rest and relaxation – and that was the main reason for coming, however I could also add F&F for Flowers and Food or 80 steps – the amount it takes to go from my housemate’s lodgings to the local cinema where we saw a film on Iceland (fond memories of our trip almost seven years ago).

Although said housemate was no where to be seen upon my arrival – it turns out that she was in the hospital with yet another oesophageal attack (but was getting out shortly according to the landlord who heard me ringing the bell) – we did recuperate the flowers that she had bought to welcome me from the doctor’s office yesterday morning.

beautiful lilies

Once these attacks have been taken care of – she has no lingering side affects (thank goodness) so once we had had our “writing session” when we saw that the chocolate tarte was part of the lunch menu we reserved seats!

Tuna steak with a tarragon sauce, rice, salad and grilled tomato
chocolate tarte - the whole "formula" was EUR 11

Sparkling water makes pretty ring reflections

After lunch in order to somewhat compensate for the calories (note I did say somewhat – I needed to have hiked 50 kms probably) I took a walk around the village and over the bridge to check out the water levels (flooding earlier this year was bad and it had rained heavily again last week). Cloud formation was fascinating as was the view towards the Canigou (local mountain).

The "Massane" river

Yes, this is the "normal" crossing - sometimes one can't.

 Of course coffee time rolled around and it was out to check the new tearoom: I approve.

Afternoon coffee and a cookie

Then we had our own little repast, including champagne as we set down to finally look at Season 5 of “The Good Wife” – I have had the DVDs for months now, but our divergent schedules had not allowed us to start. All in all the perfect holiday day.

Foie gras, cheeses, champagne - what's not to like about "nibbles"

This morning was market day – in a village in Southern France, it is always a big deal and my favourite olive guy was there so life is good. We sensibly ate leftover lentil soup and a fresh green salad from the market before I had a “pause” on the couch.  Then it was 80 steps to the cinema the film on Iceland.

Part of the Saturday market that spreads throughout the village

rain spouts are fascinating in this part of the world

Another unusual cloud formation on today's walk

Tonight we’ll visit another friend so that I can see her new flat then the three of us will go have “tapas” (the Spanish version of cocktail nibbles) in the new Tapas restaurant. I will again sleep splendidly – especially knowing that Sunday is the one day the trash pickup doesn’t take place: at 5:21 both mornings they were just three feet from the foot of my bed!

Writing with the writers

Down here in lovely Argelès-sur-Mer I have two writer friends (actually more and it’s a colony for artists of all types). This time I decided that it would be fun to be able to write with them during one of their normal exercises and requested – and to my shock – duly received not only permission, but also an invitation to do so.

The basic premise of this exercise is for one of them to pick a body (a passer by on the street outside the coffee shop) then they write for about 10 minutes. Stories are then read, first by the person who didn’t choose the victim (I too was rather startled by the phrase “I picked the body, so you have to read first” until I remembered that one is a mystery writer).

The results:

Story D-L,

The dark glasses didn’t block the brilliant sun from hurting her eyes.  Of course the light was a contrast to the dark church where she’d listened to the early mass as she had every day for the last forty years.

She’d started when Frédéric had been so sick, his blood cells fighting with each other. The good cells had won, merci dieu and in thankfulness, she’d gone to morning mass every day since, except when she had the flu and her hysterectomy.

Now she wondered if his life had been a good thing.  A month ago she’d have gone for a coffee across the street but she couldn’t face her friends.

Her baby boy, once so sweet, had been in all the papers laying on the ground his arms behind him, his hands attached.

Police were wheeling away the cloth-draped guerneys.

Frédéric’s gun was being held by one of the flics.

She’d had trouble praying this morning. All she could say over and over “forgive him, forgive me”.

Story two: LS

She hated the wind with a passion but wouldn’t have missed a visit to the church for anything. It was a way to talk to Ricardo who had been dead well over 30 years but still answered when she spoke.  She couldn’t expect Karls her “new husband” of 15 years to understand but he was open-minded enough not to comment.

She liked her morning routine of lighting a candle for Ricardo, one for their daughter who was following her own path but certainly not the right one, according to Karl and most of the neighbors.

That was the thing about living in a village. People had a collective mind and opinion and the only moment of privacy was when you locked yourself in the bathroom.

It was taking a while for Ricardo to respond today. Her biggest fear was that one day he might not answer her questions – then what? She’ll have to turn to Karl.

Story three: JSL

She struggled against the wind, even her tightly tied scarf fluttered and struggled to break free.  Thin, greying, sensible shoes and a raincoat, she could have been anyone’s beloved aunt.

However, underneath her rather worn exterior beat a heart and body that had known a much gayer life young.

She had been the prima ballerina in a group in Paris young. The darling of the director, she – it was inevitable – she was also his mistress.  At 25 she was forced to abort his child.  At 30 she was cast aside both professionally and personally and for 10 years walked the streets making a living.

At 40 she was desperate to become a mother so married the only man who would have her: they adopted two children and life was stable for a few years. She came to love her husband and adore the children.

At 50 she lost them all in one of those freak accidents.

Not at 60 she is leaving the church at 9:30 on a Friday morning. Guilty? In pain? Or finally at peace?


Friday, March 27, 2015

30 hours of which 11 hours of train or…

On the road again.

The name of my blog surely gives it away: Views from Everywhere.

I love to travel, but even I have been known to cram in perhaps a wee bit too much.

Seated on my first train yesterday morning, headed towards Southern France (thanks S for being at home!) I realized that once I got here out of 30 hours I would have spent 11 of them on one train or the other.  Leaving St.Gallen the day before around noon, arriving in Argelès-sur-Mer at 18:00, I have also covered just under 1’000 kilometers.

Below a few scenes – through dirty train windows – of the trip in between Geneva and Argelès-sur-Mer.

Rhone river outside of Bellegarde, France

ruin on the outskirts of Bellegarde

Lyon, France the "crayon"

a mountain-top village along the way

Sète France

Towards the Mediterranean

Harbor entry

Along the Mediterranean

Along the Mediterranean, Spanish mountains

C's fish soup - a great welcome!

the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions