Thursday, June 01, 2006


Joe asked, "How was Paris? Did you base jump off the Eiffel Tower?"

All I can say is no.

The biggest reason is that we were not in Paris, except when we madly dashed through the Charles de Gaulle airport on the way there and back. Otherwise, we were in the southwest, having flown into Toulouse.

But we did not stay in Toulouse either, except for one night at the end of the trip. The rest of the time we stayed in Vabre, in a partly-seventeenth-century-partly-nineteenth-century farmhouse belonging to a friend of the friends with whom we were traveling.

We spent two weeks in Vabre, a town of about 800 people. Unlike towns of that size in the USA, however, Vabre has two charcuteries, a decent baker, a newsstand, a pharmacy, two grocers, two bar/cafes, a 25-meter outdoor pool (not yet open, alas), a post office, a fabulous little stone bridge, a trout farm, a town hall, a gas station, two churches (one Protestant, this being the hotbed of Huguenots), and a really cool clock tower. The newsstand sells over 35 different postcards of Vabre, all different, some bearing historical photos.

The owner of the house had primed the people in the village about us, so the proprietor of one of the groceries welcomed us quickly. The next day, as the PP and I were walking up the street (I had gotten out of the car a little sick from the incredibly windy roads), two separate people walked up to us to ask, ah, are you the American friends of Mme X? and to say that if we needed anything we should get in touch with them right away. Now mind you: my French is not too bad, but it gets better the more I use it, and I have precious few occasions to speak French here in the upstate. And furthermore, one's abilities in foreign tongues do not improve when one is carsick, do they?

Our house had six bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. When I say half, I mean that the ceiling and floor were exactly 5 feet 5 inches apart and that there was no sink in there. The back of the kitchen-diningroom opened onto a little terrace overlooking the back garden, planted with peas, fava beans, tomatoes, and salad greens. Up the hill from that was the chicken coop, with chickens (and, partway through our trip, a new chick) and geese. A neighboring horse grazed up the hill from them. One of the two living rooms had around its ceiling old framed photographs of family members and a plaster winged statue behind a sofa. The windows and shutters could block out all the noise and light, or, open, they let in beautiful (but often chill) breezes, and the honking of geese.

We were there with my parents and another couple: we all traveled together last summer, too. My mother, quite an outstanding cook, had been itching to cook in Europe, and visit markets and little shops. So each day she would see what looked good at the charcuterie/boucherie, or go to an adjoining town to visit a market, and come back with local strawberries (fraises and garriguettes), fava beans, fresh pork chops or veal or trout, beautiful breads and pastries, Norman butter, cheeses (both local and Basque, also fresh sheep and goat cheese), pates and sausages, pears and melons, and we would all benefit from her cooking. The stove was tiny and the sink and adjoining table (there was no counter, per se) were incredibly low, but she pulled together terrific meals, and no one complained afterwards when they did the dishes in the low little sink and came away with the world's most tired and sore lower back. Neither did the people who walked the trash and recycling down daily to the bins behind the gendarmerie.

Some days we went on little outings. Some days we went on hikes in the miles and miles of trails within a walk or short drive of the house. One day we hauled ass down the coast, seeing as we went the landscape change from craggy granite mountains, to rolling hills, to more mountains, to limestone landscapes complete with caves and canyons, to the Mediterranean coast. We sampled Gaillac, Minervois, and Collioure wine, and even had a bottle of Banyuls and some Pineau. Some days, though, we just hung out in the village, reading a little on one of the sunny terraces, playing with the neighbor's enormous sweet dog, taking a walk down to the Bar du Pont for a panache, visiting the geese or the newborn goats, or sketching the clock tower, or finding a little fingerling sausage (made of duck) at the charcuterie.

So we did not see Paris or the Eiffel Tower, but I can tell you this: that new viaduct they built near Millau, completing the autoroute from Paris to Barcelona, fucking rocks. Apparently it is now the tallest manmade structure in France--taller than the Eiffel Tower. But although we went to see it--and stood with mouths agape together with French people, Belgians and Swedes, all of us pulled off in little impromptu parking lots underneath it, since the hardcore tourist infrastructure hasn't settled in yet--there was no base jumping for me.


Joe said...

I'm so jealous. That little village sounds so idyllic. I'm sure time didn't matter when you were there. Did you even wear your watch?

Isis said...

Ha! That's funny you mention that: I only wore it on the days we went on outings, and on the other days I thought to myself, "This is so cool--I am not even wearing my watch!"

estaminet said...

It sounds so unbelievably non-alarm-clocky (I can't think of a better adjective) that I almost want to hop on a plane right away and go.


I *heart* fava beans, though.