1990-03-29: Orange, Le Puy, Aigues-Morte

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Mike1:

29 Mar, 1840, Mallemort

Two days of touring (by car). Yesterday went to Orange, to see Roman theatre; then went to Le Puy.

Drive to Orange uneventful, though still windy. Some kind of festival apparent: young people in costumes. Those not costumed apparently subject to shaving cream attacks from passing cars. The theatre is the only one with its back wall (behind proscenium) still intact, complete with statue of J. Caesar waving to crowd. Still used for opera in summer. Also saw adjacent ruin of temple in pretty bad shape, hard to discern layout.

Almost forgot: getting off autoroute at Orange, was stopped by pair of Gendarmes apparently attracted by red license plate of unusual design: 3508 TT 92 09/90. We have only seen one other of same design, and that was before we realized how rare it was. Don’t know what it means. Gendarmes asked for car papers & ‘permit’ (I guess drivers license) but before we could understand them, one asked ‘Blackstone. That’s you?’ I said yes (should have said c’est moi) & they waved us on; a great mystery. Also cashed travelers checks in Orange, bought bread & saw local Arc de Triomph on way out of town.

The drive to Le Puy turned out longer than we thought; we had looked at large france map instead of regional map & hadn’t estimated time/distance closely. The road we chose was through & over mountains to valley in which Le Puy lies. In the mountains, S remarked she saw snow up on heights. I expressed doubt, but it was soon clear she was right. The wind was gone, but we were under cloud with intermittent rain, which turned to snow. We were re-assured by a changeable light sign telling that the pass to Le Puy was ‘ouvert’, but wondered why such a sign was necessary. After a while, reached a probable high point & pulled off near a gas station so C could make a snowball (she was pretty unhappy in back seat); the snow was too dry. As we started up again, saw a car coming the other way start to spin on snow blowing across road. The trip down was OK; saw one plow going up. Occasional snow drifted thinly over road was not too slippery (at my speed) & snow in pines was very pretty; looked like Christmas. In Le Puy,parked under main square & walked around looking at some very old & well-preserved bldgs. Some parts were nearly-deserted & probably looked exactly as they had 500 yrs. ago. Le Puy has many lace shops & C & S bought small pieces. We bought some pastry & started to get ready to head for “gite sweet gite”, buying postcards.

In order to avoid the mountain’s scenic road, we took the less direct autoroute toward Lyon, then south. Stopped at rest stop & had pork/veggies; C had hamburg with mashed potatoes – pretty good. The drive home was pretty long, though autoroute to Senas, 68F, got home about 9.

Gite was still cold (radiators were not working when we got back from Riviera), so bundled-up warmly again for bed. Still windy.

There are very few American cars on road: one Chrysler LeBaron & several Ford Escorts.

Today was to be a light-travel day, after exhausting our car-stamina yesterday. So instead of Carcassone, went to Aigues-Morte, very well preserved walled city in Camargue. I didn’t think much of Camargue – guidebooks described it as natural preserve, but the part we saw has large drainage works in progress & farms & vineyards. Aigues-Morte is quite nice. Got there just before noon, walked around (small city) looking at menus & shops, chose an out-of-the-way small restaurant (~10 tables) with 58F ‘fixed’ menu (5 choices for each of two courses) & child’s menu. We were the only dejeuner patrons. S had chicken/mushroom after sea-food mix on shell. I had omellete after cold veg. All quite good. C had her 2nd best hamburger of France. After lunch looked at some shops & bought postcards & a gift horse for Jessica, one of the white Camargue horses.

Toured tower used as prison for Huguenots, & walked ramparts, half circumference of town & back. I bumped my head on a doorway to one of the gate towers (they are all different heights, mostly tall enough).

Stopped at beachfront bar in Les Stes Marie for coke, orangina, strawberry milkshake & frites, then drove home. The heat was working.

S made supper & washed more clothes in sink. While snacking, owner came by to enquire about heat & how things are. S carried on interesting chat in F, telling where we had been this week etc.

Mike2:

29 Mar, 1840, Mallemort

In Orange we completed our planned Roman sites. In our planning we had targeted prehistoric caves, Roman sites, and Brittany menhirs as historical interest items. So far we were doing quite well. The Roman sites we saw were those supposed to be the best-preserved, and we all found them interesting.

The incident with the gendarmes in orange was peculiar. We had noticed that our license plate was distinctive and rare, but not its significance (we never really found out). It was pretty clear that the Gendarmes saw it first and then waved us over. Their surprise at discovering the car was registered in my name was also peculiar.

As usual, we arrived in a town as they were having a festival; we were beginning to expect it. This one looked something like Halloween with the costumes. The custom of throwing or spraying shaving cream (I doubt it was whipped cream) made us a little nervous, so we stayed away from the curbs and out of alleys with merry-makers.

The trip to Le Puy was more exciting and longer than it should have been; poor planning in this case. The snow was never heavy, and the road was well-plowed; the car that we saw spin was just poorly driven. Still the views in the pine forest coming down into the valley, with snow falling among the trees were very pretty, and certainly in contrast with the near-desert landscape on the other side of the mountains.

While we were in Le Puy, wandering around, we found ourselves completely alone, except that we could hear a jaw-harp twanging behind us, echoing among the medieval stone buildings. Eventually a young man came along and passed us, playing that peculiar instrument oblivious to us. Later we noticed a woman in a black, hooded cloak ahead of us, sometimes hidden by a turn in the narrow streets and alleys; we weren’t following her, just going in the same general direction. Her appearance added to the timeless sense of the place.

On the trip home, we passed nuclear power plants along the Rhone river; I can’t remember how many.

The gite was evidently having a problem with its heating plant (the radiators were cold). We had tried to contact the owner, but she was not at home. The temperature was quite low after dark, and the wind-chill was seriously cold outside. Inside, we all wore sweaters and socks in bed, and used jackets as extra blankets. It was not very comfortable. It was hard to get enthusiastic about washing up in the morning. We left a note on the owner’s door, something to the effect of “le chauffage es mal”, but I can’t remember quite how we put it. Heat was restored after two nights without it (and one night we spent in Menton).

Our lunch in Aigues-Morte was interesting. We had been using a special menu-oriented dictionary, arranged by courses and emphasizing the meaning of phrases on French menus. This was very useful to us. When we entered this restaurant, which was like the living room of a house, noone came to take care of us. Apparently the hostess was afraid to deal with foreigners like us! Finally the proprietess/cook came out and nearly forced us to make choices, before we had fully interpreted the menu. She also seemed to say something about one of the choices that we thought was octopus: either it wasn’t ready, or it was all they had, we couldn’t tell which! At nearly every restaurant we tried in France, the food was very good, carefully prepared and served, and better than we could appreciate, even when we didn’t always know what it was. I always felt sorry that Crissy couldn’t bring herself to try a greater variety. (1991-06-12)

Chris:

Drove to Orange to see Roman theatre – nice. People were getting hit with shaving cream. The police stopped us because of our license plate: Weird!!

[sketch of license plate: white letters on red background, 3508TT92]

We also saw a victory arc. We drove going to Le Puy through snow – made a snowball. It was nice. Le Puy was where we were. We saw a mystery lady and an alien. Next day we went to a nice walled city. We walked around the walls but couldn’t go whole way. We had to walk back!

[ sketch of path around three of four walls, and return. ]

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