mardi, octobre 23, 2007

07.10.23: To each hexagon, six points

French folks like to refer to their country as the Hexagon (l'hexagone), easily associated to the geometric, geographic shape of the land. They are, in fact, quite proud of this and refer to it quite often as though this is either clever, or at least, quite fashionable.

In any case, as of October, and after 2.5 years of casual, travel when I can, exploration, I finally completed a trip where I can now say I have touched each of the six points.

Equally french-y, the double meaning of every word is always fun to exploit ... so in that word game point of vue, I offer six points of traveling and living in France. Not in the order in which I visited the six corners, but nevertheless, here we go counter-clockwise from the SW corner ...

  1. Cheese, cerise and wine are not the same as french, spanish and basque
  • Oct07 - Pays Basque, Biarritz, St-Jean du Luz, Bilbao-Espagne. If you go up in the Pyrenées mountains you can find a lot of sheep, and those sheep provide a nice supply of milk that ends up in brebi cheese. Add a light sauce from local cherries, and accompany with a glass of very nice Irouleguy red wine. All very complementary and enjoyable. This comes from a region of the country where the local language, Basque, is one of only 3 languages in Europe that does not descend from the vast indo-European family of languages. Apparently, doesn't mix well with french or spanish.
  • Lack of communication sometimes results in bomb-making.
  1. Pushing on a rope is not usually pleasant, unless you really believe in what you are doing
  • Oct07 - Banyuls-sur-Mèr. A little spit of land on the Mediterranean coast, all the way in the southwestern corner of France, just next to Spain. A beautiful landscape of very steep hills completely covered with grape vines and stone, overlooking the Mediteranean Sea on a beautiful sunny week-end in October, long after the large majority of tourists have departed until their return next summer. Hills steep enough that you can only imagine goats would be happy on these hillsides. Having said that, the Romans planted the first wine grapes here, and after about 3, 000 years of practice of working these hillsides, vine by vine, all by hand in between small hand built dry-laid stone walls to stabilize the steep slopes, they turn out a rather nice desert wine, and an ever-increasingly reputable series of red wines that recall the Order of Templars that used to hide out in this part of the country.
  • Practice often makes plenty good enough.
  1. Every week has 4 1/2 days.
  • Apr05 - Nice, Antibes, Mediterranean coast near Monaco and Italy. First experience I had with recognition that the rhythm of life here is completely different than the US. Lunchtime is lunchtime; dinner is later; in between - well, too bad you missed lunch. Tues the museums close, as well as Sun afternoon, and well if Monday is a holiday, why not close all the basic tourist attractions for a three-day week-end. It can be that way. There is no 24-hr Walgreen's or Kroger's. Get your work done during the work day, plan ahead for the time off, no one else works just because that is a convenient time for you to shop or visit.
  • The other 2 1/2 days, you might as well enjoy with family and friends and with whatever supplies you have on hand.
  1. Not everything in France is French
  • Dec05 - Strasbourg. In the face of a true architectural marvel of a 15th century cathedral, sipping hot spiced wine in the Marché Noël crisp winter air after having enjoyed a traditional choucroute (sauerkraut) dinner in a restaurant that has been in business for about 400 years, you can reflect on the fact that the soil here has changed owners and languages every hundred years or so for several hundreds of years. French, German, French, German, loves-me .. loves-me-not. My great-grand parents exited from Alsace-Lorraine in the late 19th century in the face of conscription into the German army for my great-grandfather. He decided chances were better in the USA. Spoke German; came from France. Strong signs of non-french-y influences everywhere. Napoléan decreed that French would be the spoken language in his France; Austria marched into Paris on his watch. Beer, sauerkraut and auld-long-syne all around. Static is nowhere ... today in france, there is the basque country, return of the language Bretagne-ic, and significant immigration from Africa.
  • We all need to update our definitions of ourselves on a continuing basis, or speak Latin, I guess.
  1. The best beers are made in the USA
  • Sep07 -Lille. I drank a few (hundred) beers in the US. Love a good IPA or pale ale. Traveled all around France; always heard talk of Belgian beers as the finest. Went to Lille; hooked up with a group of americans in search of the finest; sampled a few (tens) of the finest northern france/belgian beers that the connoisseurs could barrel up. Give me Snake Dog from Flying Dog or a Commodore Perry from Great Lakes, or just the next IPA off the shelf at Dutch's Pony Keg any day of the week.
  • Never question that the new school can beat old school at it's own game.
  1. Magic still happens
  • Nov06 - Bretagne, La Forêt de Brocéliande. I didn't make it all the way out to the point at Brest, but nevertheless, had a nice long Thanksgiving week-end '06 to explore a nice portion of Bretagne. Deep in the center, from the heart of the country that brought us the Knights of the Round Table, chivalry, and Merlin, (yes, from France - see point #4) if you have the fortune to follow a mysterious trail deep in a an enchanted forest, you can collect some water from a spring that marks the location where Merlin met the mysterious Lady of the Lake and persuaded her to give the magical sword Excalibur to King Arthur. Today, it is said that the water from the fountain provides some mental health stability. Worth a try, after having traversed l'Hexagone and lived in France for 2 years.
  • I have drunk from the fountain; I feel all the better for having done so.