July 12: The Romans of France

Well, Dan finally did make it home alright. It was very late but I was still awake, reading Umberto Eco's In the Name of the Rose, which is appropriately about a medieval Abbey in the Southeast of France. Here I am just a few steps from such a place -- stands to reason I should finally succumb to the pressure and read this book. He was excited --they had had a great day, which I will let him blog about. We went to bed in the heat, with the windows open -- again in the middle of the night, the air turned chill and we found our covers.

At night, here, in the kitchen, if you open the windows, a beautiful breeze blows through the house. Of course, medieval cities had no screens, so you have to swat a few moths.

Monday morning, we woke up a little tired, considering the previous day's exertions, and while Dan figured out how to use the coffee press, we contemplated our plan for the day. Consulting the binder that held all our pre-trip planning, we found that today said "Nimes" so off we went to Nimes!

Driving down into Provence, we did meet with a little of the traffic about which we had been warned -- and we saw a lot of out-of-town plates. Benny, our hyperlexic child, was fascinated with deciphering the letters on the license plates, trumpeting out each one as we passed, and getting particularly bouncy over the ones with right hand drive. It was so typically Benny that we had to laugh. Here we are in the South of France, and Benny is fixated on the license plate numbers and the letters and what countries they represent. Whatever, though, he was definitely enjoying himself!

We decided to visit Pont du Gard first, since there was an attractive exit calling to us, labelled appropriatly.

Pont du Gard was incredible. The scope of it was a complete surprise. From looking at pictures and reading guidebooks I had no idea how big it would be, how grand it would feel, or how strange it would be to put our hands and feet on those Roman rocks. It was a great, great experience. One of the coolest things about it is that the river at that spot is beautiful, clear, cold, and a swimming spot. Had we known enough to bring our suits, or even to bring a dry set of clothes, we possibly would have spent the rest of the day there. There were gorgeous little colorful marbled rocks lining the riverbed, tiny pretty fish, and since the river there is actually a quarry, there were places where it was deep enough to jump in and really swim.

Here are the children, communing with history:

The fam with the monument. Looks fake, doesn't it? I swear it was really back there:

From there we flew into Nimes looking for more Roman ruins, our thirst barely slaked. Our thirst for ice cream was not slaked either, so Dan declared it a two ice cream day, and we went with it. In Nimes, we visited the Tour Magne, the Temple of Diana, the Roman coliseum, and even drove briskly past the Maisson Caree, bringing us to five Roman ruins in all for the day, which was pretty much a record. Separate post planned: Roman Nimes in six hours.

Tour Magne:

Ruined temple (or library?):


Oh, wait, that's Sadie. Sadie really loved the coliseum. We got the audio tour for the kids, and they had a great time with it. It was very well produced, with sound effects and music and cool violent little details. I found it fascinating how the coliseum had been used for so many different things throughout the centuries -- fortress, castle, bull-fighting arena, and even today it was being set up inside for a fireworks show on Bastille Day. The reason it is still standing, and is such a well-preserved artifact from antiquity, is because the community has never stopped using it, never stopped keeping it relevant. Here's an example of different construction periods and types of bricks through the ages:

Ancient cheap seats now covered in bleachers:

Outer hallway:

The kids listening to their audio tour while watching people set up fireworks down below. The audio tour told us that in these seats we would have been able to really see all the gorey stuff down on the sandy floor of the coliseum.

The view from up here is different:

Another objective in Provence, besides sniffing dusty Roman artifacts, was procuring some lavendar oil for Ahno, which we did. We saw beautiful purple fields of lavendar, also groves of olive trees and other unidentified fruit trees. Provence, what little we saw of it, was beautiful. I note again how green France is, how unpopulated, how unsprawled, how unadorned with billboards, how empty of chain restaurants clustered around every freeway exit, how devoid of malls.

After we had finished with Nimes and were ready to turn the car back Northeast, we had to decide to either spend two hours eating dinner in a restaurant, or go to the grocery store. Since the grocery store was more likely to result in breakfast in the morning, we chose that. Passing by a few Intermarche locations close to Nimes, in favor of a store perhaps more close to home, we hoped to preserve our refrigerated goods more effectively. However, the GPS decided to take us in a bizarre direction and far far from the freeway to find a Carrefour (Tour de France sponsor!) and since we were there, we went in.

Provencal melons had been teased to us from roadside stands, so I bought a watermelon and a small, fragrant thing that turned out to be cantaloupe-ish, and lots of other fruit. The pears we got in Provence look like the pears you see in still life paintings -- perfectly yellow/green and blushed in pink on one side -- firm and sweet. The little round things we got that looked like biscuits turned out to be kind of like cream puffs without the cream -- airy. On the way home from the grocery store we listened to a podcast of Coffee Break French, courtesy of the connector cable Dan found at Carrefour, and also looked up some stubborn words in the French/English dictionary he'd bought there -- strangely only the English words have phonetic pronunciations.

We also got some local wine -- one bottle called Mille Dix (with a drawing of a Roman milestone) from a vineyard in Nimes and one from a vineyard in Cote-Rhone. I love this local wine -- it has a light flavor that I can drink as if it were a beverage, not alcohol. It does tend to get me silly, but it does not need to be cut with diet Sprite like the red wines I find at home. I wonder if I'll become some kind of wine snob out of this experience. Or if I'll just never be able to find again what I like about young French wines -- I can drink a gulp and be happy.

When I was pouring out my wine, I dropped a few stray drops on the counter. The next morning, I was wiping down the counter and saw it. I had been smelling fruit -- when I brought my nose close to this wine, I smelled grapes as fresh as if I had crushed a handful under my nose. It was amazing. I almost wish the children would try it. It tastes healthy.

Speaking of health, driving down to Nimes was really beautiful -- fields of sunflower, the aforementioned lavendar, fat cows and sheep, and even the factories have a picturesque setting in the hills. We saw clifftop fortresses, speculated on the use of watchtowers, and began to understand that the rustic villages we saw in the Loire valley were not just an anomaly, but the norm in rural France. Old in the US means decrepit and mouldering -- old in France means someone's lovingly, if pragmatically cared for it. Because old here means 1000 years, and if it's standing up at all, it's because someone has taken a lot of pains to keep it that way.

Arriving home, we had pasta with provencal vegetable sauce, watermelon, and baguette. I was hoping to fuel up Dan for his big climbs tomorrow, but I worry that he's not getting the right potassium and sodium -- he said he was cramping some last night. Very worried about tomorrow's insane map. Reading Umberto Eco and going to bed.

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