ALABAMA OR…OOPS, GUESS NOT!


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I had never been to the South before. I visited North and South Carolina but not enough to warrant me putting the states decals on the van —  a decal means you have really explored it. Georgia and Florida warranted stickers and Alabama would also or so I thought.

In my mind, Alabama has always been a symbol of the “iconic south”, witness the above photo, and Hwy. 29, the back road from Pensacola, Florida to Montgomery, Alabama solidified that idea.

Alabama

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PLANTATIONS, POVERTY, PEACHES AND PRISONS


Georgia was full of surprises for me–unexpected visual pleasures and observable sadness struck me while driving through the Peach State. I decided to take a break from Florida and its cold rainy windy weather, and not reading the weather report beforehand, I drove up to Georgia on Christmas Day. Google maps was set to “avoid interstates/toll roads” when I left Tallahassee, FL on Hwy. 19 to Macon, GA. Mabel, my van, has really slowed my driving down so I now use the phrase, “meander down the road”‘: hence, 125 miles and 3.5 hours later, I arrived at Americus.

Windsor Hotel, Americus at Christmas

Americus is the home for Habit for Humanities’s International Headquarters. It also has a wonderful hotel, the Hotel Windsor, built-in 1892 that displays the Victorian architecture so prevalent in the late 1800’s .http://windsor-americus.com 

I spent Christmas afternoon in the hotel’s dining area sipping coffee and  eating carrot cake before joining the 18 wheelers at Wal-Mart for the night. Wal-Mart’s free RV parking does come in handy.

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Breakdown, Beaches and Birds


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Alligator Alley–that’s the highway (I75) I took to cross over to the western side of Florida. The name alone did not sound terribly auspicious, but it seemed the quickest route to go and allowed me to by-pass Miami. Surrounded on both sides by swamp and everglades and brackish water, Mabel (the van) crunched over the occasional -already-dead turtle or bird or “blob-of-something” as we headed West. I realized this was the first time in seven months I was actually heading away from the sun in the morning. All this time, I have been driving north or east or south. After a while, it is the little things that bring amusement to the long distance road traveler.

Alligator Alley

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JOIN ME FOR A WALK THROUGH THE FLORA AND FAUNA OF LABRADOR


The going from Base Comeau, Quebec had been slow to Labrador City, Labrador and did not change on the way to Goose Bay, Labrador. (1,115 km or 692 miles)  Potholes, washboard, and muddy roads combined with workers and stop signs and red/green lights constantly caused us to stop or slow down. Patience was becoming a thing of the past, which resulted in pulling over around 2:00pm at a rest stop which had nature walk to Hamilton Falls. Continue reading

SIERRA NEVADAS TO PACIFIC OCEAN


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Run off from Sierra Nevada Mountains, Bishop, CA

The GPS had been set to avoid highways and toll roads and what a journey that made from Bishop, CA to Pacific City, OR.  I drove through four seasons in two days: snow in the Sierra Nevadas and the road to Lassen Volcanic Park had a CLOSED sign due to snow; spring wind & summer’s driving rain in southern Oregon; sat on a bench in the sun on a bench in Coos Bay, Oregon. Continue reading

Leaving Rognonas…on to Italy…


Au revoir, France…..

I saw leaves turn yellow and carpet the orchards’ ground, trees pruned and left to wait out the cold winter months, and greenhouses filled with lettuce slowly emptying to provide greens for the village markets this winter.  My village status changed from tourist to inhabitant when the grocery store clerk asked me when I was going to get my discount card -“vous économiserez de l’argent, madame” (save money, madame). When the bus drivers greeted me with “St. Remy, madame?” or “Avignon, madame?”, a comfort level settled over me like that first cup of morning coffee.     The dog stopped barking at me every morning, the horses followed me in hopes of a treat as I walked thru the pasture, I navigated the streets with confidence, saw progress in winterizing the orchards’ trees, and the days began to flow one into another with living life’s routine.  Eventually, the museums, historical sites and other tourist attractions became a non-entity in life, day-to-day living seeped in, and before I knew it, Rognonas was my home.  I have lived here for three months now, and it has given me a window into life in France.

I rode the bus, recently, to the market in St. Remy.  Again, I marveled at the passengers and bus driver’s patience when we stopped for 3-5 minutes in the middle of the road behind a taxi driver asking directions from a passing pedestrian.  Amidst hand gesticulations from taxi driver and pedestrian looking at the village map, the bus driver sorted out her change while we all waited for the taxi to move along.   The minutes inched by and, eventually, the taxi continued on down the street..   This 5 minute photo summed up my experience with village life in Provence. Live your days with good food & wine, enjoy friends, remembert the stores close from 12 – 2 or so for lunch, purchase fresh vegetables, cheese and meat at village markets, fill your wine container from the local distributor once a week, ride bicycles at a leisurely pace through town, have patience with people,  and listen to the church bells.  ….I learned about “the life” that happens around the grocery store check-out line.  Some stores have check out lines for elderly people and if you are in that line, “seniors” can go in front of you at any time. Or, there is the person who searches for the checkbook, then the pen, positions the check just-so, writes a check, asks 6 different times the correct amount, chats about the grandkids, forgets something so the check is COMPLETELY re-written – while everyone in line looks out the window with acceptance written on their faces.  There isn’t a lot a person can do, so, accept the delay, and save the energy for something that really warrants it.

…. Paris, Lyon and Marseilles.  Finding a parking place, people rushing, cars honking – city life with the typical pressures were felt – but there still was that underlying sense of “let’s stop for un café“.

….Canadian and British ex-pats who opened holiday rentals, B&B’s, small shops; or, they moved here to retire or have a second home.   Why? The pace is slower, beautiful country and new experiences to enjoy.  I will never forget when I said “goodbye” to the owners of this gite as they were leaving for a 2 week vacation in December.  I asked “Where will you be tonite?”  “Oh, it will take us around 4 hours to get to Switzerland!”  That statement gave living in Europe a new perspective!  I would still be driving in New Mexico after 4 hours.

I arrived in France on September 25, 2010 in Marseilles with some apprehension because a possible language barrier.   Most people have been incredibly patient with my questions, asked what state and city I am from, helpful with directions, chatted with me occasionally at cafés, practiced their English, appreciated my attempt at French – especially in the smaller villages where life is slow. World affair discussions happened and we left the table with differing opinions but a smile on the face.   Job shortages, bureaucracy, taxes, estate tax, visa, citizenship, social, and immigration problems -same thing we speak about in the states.

The off-season prices have made living in Provence for 3 months an affordable experience.  The high season runs from April 1 thru mid October.  I  looked up the tourist statistics for Provence and for 2009:

The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has become a more and more accessible destination, thanks to :
– an important traffic network owning 2 500 kms of motorway (A7, A8, A54)
Mediterranean TGV (high-speed train) accounts more than 14 million of tourists at the departures and arrivals of the stations’ region
Important airports :
– Nice Côte d’Azur owns the 2nd french airport with more than 10.3 millions of passengers,
– Marseille welcomes around 6.8 millions of passengers,
– Toulon/hyères : around 641 000 passengers, and
– Avignon : 82 000 passengers
Harbor :
– Marseille welcomes more than 2 millions of passengers
– Nice : 1.3 million, and
– Toulon : more than 1 million passengers

34 million visitors – I have visions of Provence during the high season replicating an ant farm w/1000’s trudging thru the tourist sites carrying Rick Steve’s Guide to Provence and hearing in the background “Did you bring the water, Harry?” “How come they don’t sell hamburgers?” “Rooms are too small.”   I am spoiled with living here with so few tourists.  But, I missed all the things that spring and summer bring to Provence.  A purple haze of lavender fields trailing off into a blue horizon, riding in the Camargue area on these white horses and bathing in sunshine, sitting on a tourist guide boat floating down the Rhône enjoying the scenery, cooking classes/wine tours etc, etc.,

sitting at an outdoor café at 10:00am drinking a coffee with pain du chocolat and wearing a sleeveless top – which I did not get to do – this time!  So, as with everything, there are the upsides and downsides.

Huge thanks to the gite owners, Kerrin and Keryn Webster(K1 & K2) of Mas Sainte Antoine(see sidebar for website)for their unbelievable hospitality and welcoming me into their world for the last three months.

The Lavender Harvestyour_hosts

Seems unbelievable to me that I left Taos, New Mexico 7 months ago.  Time has flown by and  every moment has been precious.  On vacation, sometimes we think the world will stand still for us.  My 10-year-old bulldog, Abigail, passed on, computer was stolen, son’s house was scorched by the Boulder Fire, riots in Egypt — life goes on without regard to geographical location.  I just got a bit of a reprieve not being in the direct line of life’s events at home.  Those events reinforced the old adage of “enjoy every moment” – we don’t know what the next minute will bring.

The world is inexhaustible so it leaves that gate open to wonder. (Tim Cahill)

A new train ride awaits me in a few days.  I am leaving Avignon for Nice, and then, on to Genoa, Italy.

Take good care,  me

THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO ABIGAIL

July 2000 – January 2010

“THANKS FOR ALL THE SMILES YOU BROUGHT TO SO MANY FACES!”


Normandy………


I left Marseilles on October 17th, took the high-speed train to Paris, then a bus to the Montparnasse Train Station, and boarded the train for Flers, Normandy.  From 7:30am until 3:30pm on that day, the following happened: I met a Venezuelan lady who showed me the way to the proper bus stop in Paris; I left my computer bag containing my passport, all ID, credit cards and some cash on the bus; I sat at the bus stop waiting for bus to come around again, and explained my plight in FRENCH(!!) to a Muslim woman who took me to the ONLY BUS KIOSK that was open(strike was on) and she pounded on the door until someone answered and there was my bag was with everything in tact(angels were watching over me on THAT one);  the bus driver saw me and stopped the bus to make sure I got my bag; I got my roller bag stuck in the turnstile at the train station bathroom(one has to pay to use the restroom there) and held up many angry women for 5 minutes while the restroom employee had to disassemble the turnstile to get the handle thing off (don’t even ask how that happened because I have NO friggin’ clue); I boarded the train, and entered the wrong car but same seat number but nobody checked tickets since everyone was on strike and I hoped to hell there was at least a driver on the train;  and I arrived in Flers, Normandy scared to even move for fear what might happen next.

A smile lit my face when I spotted the small woman with a yellow rain jacket and her little collie on a leash standing on the train platform waiting for me. Jenny, my workawayer.com host and her dog, Tasha, greeted me and we set off to her home in a little hamlet outside of Flers.    We passed stone houses built from the stones cleared from the fields, little villages, small country roads, cattle and sheep  — all very picture postcard-sque on our 30 minute drive to her house.

Jenny had a knee replacement a few months ago and had difficulty doing all the daily chores involved with home maintenance and attached GITE (pronounced G(soft g) -EETE).  (A gite is a holiday rental unit.)  Workawayer.com provides an avenue for people traveling to connect with in-country locals and work for them in exchange for room and board.   We connected via this website and there I was in a house with 3 Shetland ponies, 8 cats, 1 dog, English garden, and an amazing little English woman!

She lived in Bosnia during the war in the ’90’s working to provide educational programs to children unable to get to school because of sniper fire.  Additionally, she CEO’d for the organization that instituted the DNA matching program for mass grave victims and their families, worked at the foreign correspondent desk for a newspaper in England,  taught at university in Bosnia, and now has retired in France. Her house is a veritable library touching on all aspects of history regarding people, politics and countries throughout the world.

During the last 2 weeks, I picked acorns off the ground so the three Shetland ponies wouldn’t colic, picked up “pony poo” from the pastures, stocked the fireplace with wood, pulled grass from the gravel to keep things neat & tidy, cleaned the house, washed dishes,

learned to deal with cats(no choice on that since there are eight), moved hay from trailer to hay barn,  and helped in whatever seemed necessary at the time.

This cat is on MY bed!

Tasha and I went for daily walks in the forests on trails that were shared with equestrians, bikers, hikers and the occasional hunter.  I had to walk every day because the food that came out of this little kitchen with two feet of counter space was AMAZING.

Whom ever said English food was bland did not visit this house.

Jenny’s neighbor stopped by one day, and her pig, Dexter, started to follow her as she left their dairy farm.  We are talking a pet pig(!). She was able to get the pig to turn around and follow her back to the pen by slapping her thigh to get the pig’s attention and continued walk to the pen w/pig following, close the gate, and give the appropriate reward of food to an animal that must weigh at least 500 pounds.

Some of Jenny’s friends I met had renovated old stone barns and houses, spoke various levels of French, had French residency cards to qualify for French health care and gite rentals to bring in extra income, and all had their own stories.  I went to a French dog school with Tasha, visited local markets with fan-tab-u-lous homemade sausage and cheese that was over the friggin’ top(!!), and went to an “agricultural store” that sold everything from espresso machines and specialty wine to tractor discs and hay.  I feel like I lived on a reality TV show comprised of three components:   “All Creatures Great and Small” / “Days of Our Lives” / and a modern version of ex-pat Masterpiece Theatre!!

To sum up my experience w/living w/the Brits, I can only do it by the following imagined conversation:

Henry:  Hm-m, seems to be a bit of a blaze there. Robert:  Yes, there does, doesn’t there.  Wonder what’s that about?

Henry:  Not sure, hm-m, but it does seem to be growing, don’t you think? Robert:  Yes, quite.  Seems a shame, though, doesn’t it, to see those lovely vines, just turning the most brilliant shade of red, lose their color like that.  Do you suppose we should call the fire department?

(meanwhile fire has engulfed the entire town…..)

Henry:  Well yes, I suppose so, but do you have your phone?  Not sure where my mo-bile is. (“Probably damn burning, Henry.” … says Lisa…”Will you PLEASE get on with it!) Robert:  I have mine.  “Hmm yes, there seems to be a bit of a problem here at Cornish Lane.  The houses are burning.  No, not sure.  Quite a mess really, terribly difficult to breathe. Yes I suppose something should be done.  Hm-m-m,  oh that would be brilliant. Hm-m.  Well right then, cheerio, b-ye.”

Omaha Beach was hugely emotional for me when coming face to face to thousands of white crosses commemorating American soldiers. The American Visitor Center is very well done, but sadly enough, the visitor is greeted at the entrance by the standard security apparatus to thwart the ever-present anti-American feelings exprssed by some people.  The French DDAY Center, with no security gates,  gave thanks to all the other countries involved with the DDay invasion, England, Canada, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, etc. and opened my eyes to the amazing feat of DDAY.

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I have come away with these thoughts…

…live my life to the fullest

…….wherever my friends & family are – that is home

………….be open to all, leave my own culture at the doorstep

…………………..and don’t own a pet pig, he’ll never leave you.

On that note, I am off to Paris for a night, then on to Narbonne for a week in the Languedoc region before I occupy a gite and spend 3 months living in Provence.

View from the cliff where I walked Tasha.

cya….me