Through my eye

A sometimes caustic view of things.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

In the deep south--of France

Southern France is as distinct as all the other regions of France. To some extent it is more than one region because of the variations in dialect—sometimes a whole language—Occitan , for example, as different from French as Catalan is from Castilian Spanish.

On a trip such as ours, we are always traveling in a linguistic fog, with never enough time to adapt to the sounds (or to wrap our own tongues around the phonetics). So we depend on smiling a lot and trying what little remains of my long-ago high school French, which is very bad, apparently. All too often I get more puzzled looks from my attempts at pronouncing French than I do from saying things in English. Of course, my southern accent is another block to understanding.

Ah, well, on to the visit to the deep south of France. We went from Barcelona to Perpignan, with the plan to stay four full days, thence to Cahors and the cave paintings at Pech Merle, another four day stay. Last, down to Nimes for a week where we would do day trips to Arles, Avignon and the Pont du Gard.

Despite my more recent culinary adventures in Paris, a good meal is always easy to find. The wines were consistently excellent without any two being alike, especially in the Cahors area. My friend, Jim Ayres, says the wine from that region is called "black wine" and it is easy to see why. Under good light the wine is the deepest purple you can imagine, in romantic lighting, of course it is black.

After seeing the 700-year-old bridge, the Pont Valentre at Cahors, Saint Bénezet bridge --also known as 'le pont d’Avignon' and the Pont du Gard and various other Roman bridges, plus the two amphitheaters (that we would think of as "coliseums" and Roman buildings and ruins from Barcelona onward, I thought I might just play with the claims of the towns:

Nimes: My Roman Amphitheater is bigger than yours.

Arles: Mine is prettier.

But each city was a revelation all its own, even if there were similarities. Perpignan had a nicely kept up fortress, part of which was open to the public as a museum, the rest was closed off because it still a military installation. In fact, on the side opposite from the tourist part is a barracks and a French Foreign Legion recruiting office.

In Nimes we often saw exceptionally fit young men, with shaved heads, colorful tattoos and white kepis on the town. I presumed there was another Legionnaire station there.

Walled cities, especially Carcassone and Avignon. Ancient wandering streets in Arles and Tarrascone, a harbor filled with yachts in the center of Beaucaire. Flowers and gardens and vast fields of sunflowers and grape vines. As a photographer, I’ve been in hog heaven.

Finally, there is the human element. I can appreciate the strong faces and hardy physiques of the men and, even more, the beauty of the young women that I’ve seen, as well as the variations from cute toddlers to weathered octogenarians, but I haven’t taken many candid pictures of people because in the back of my mind is having read that there are new laws regarding "man-on-the-street" photos in European countries which forbid the
use of images, even on a personal web site, without the express permission of the subject.
There were times when I couldn’t resist some group or scene and I have a few good images of human nature at play and work but they will have to be saved until a later time, perhaps after enough photojournalists have complained about the laws.

All in all, there is nothing I can say that can compare to seeing and tasting the real thing. You’ve never been so cognizant of the difference between cultures as when, for instance, you go to swim at a Mediterranean beach and discover that it is topless and nearly all of the bare torsos belong to German grandmothers.

One’s perceptions are guaranteed to change.


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