LA to Japan was one long afternoon, so instead of sleeping I stayed awake and worked, first on Jason’s publisher’s criteria, then on my talk for Korea. The Narita Admiral’s club had these wonderful woodcuts by Hiroshige, the 53 stations of the Tokaida. Wonderful compositions where space where scales merged, simultaneously showing dramatic distances, mid-range action, and vivid close portraits; merging also humanity, place, always with a sense of the winding road, the journey going on. I got pleasantly sozzled on gin and tonics, remembering at some point to check my hotel reservation and discovering that I was not due to arrive until the day after. So I spent my first night in a luxury suite at the Intercontinental Grand rather than the Intercontinental Coex at the other end of the convention complex. Nice way to recover form a first night’s jet lag.
Had a nice time with John going over all his old treasures, which I took video of. Took a pre-Christmas walk down around to wreck bay with the McMani, coming back up the road to the Suspension Bridge in the dusk. Then flew back home on Christmas Eve.
We climbed out of Cabrespine through scrub and heathland composed of completely different vegetation from the other days, more mediterranean, with grey, woolly, or waxy leaved plants. We reached the plateua de la Condamine with the threat of rain, jumped over the fence on a stile made of wooden stumps called plots. We meandered up a wide path along the ridge for about 3 km–lots of bird calls, never sighted. Then we branched off to the left, sidled along the hill, and stopped for lunch in a sheltered spot after the Fount Frejo–pate and ham sandwiches, tomatos with salt. We passed the hameau of Escandelle, then a steep descent down to the Moulin de Bru, and a final ascent to Castans. There we met Roland sitting on a wall, looking somewhat improved.
We took the car to La Tourette for our final night’s stay. A tiny remote village perched over a gorge, with a 13th-16th century towered church.
We started out going past the lake of Pradelles, where we saw a boy fishing for ecrevisses, then descended through a beech forest to the ruisseau de Mulet, where we wet our caps, and climbed back up to Bourdials. There we struck south to Cabrespine, crossing the Clamoux, climbing through the hamlet of Thérondels-Bas to the col above Serremijeanne. The trail became indistinct with lots of stinging nettles and brambles. Eventually we made our way to a lovely châtaigneraie, where we stopped for lunch. We continued our descent to the ruisseau de Serremijeanne, where we had a swim amid blue dragonflies.
We rejoined the D189, started cutting off its boucles by going down through the woods, passed a beautiful but unfortunately occupied house, with pool and manicured lawns. We joined the road again for the last stroll through Laval with its vegetable gardens, passed the cobwebbed virgin, to Caprespine.
We were greeted at the chambre d’hôtes l’Olivette by Elizabeth and local apple juice. The house had been in the family of Elizabeth’s husband Pierre and was full of historical photographs of Cabrespine, including a fascinating postcard in the toilet showing terraced farms and no houses. We were invited to Jane’s for a swim, boules, and rosé.
The menu: olives, saucisse de foie, pistou on toast, salad, chevre with miel, Cabrespine lamb stew and local rice, and tarte au figues à la mode.
We climbed gently through the woods on a dirt road, with beautiful butterflies and spectacular alpine wildflowers, reaching the Pic at 1 pm, and sat on a ledge for lunch with a large group of other tourists. The Pic is topped by a large tower that looks like a rocket set to launch. It was too hazy to see Carcassonne or the Pyrenees, but we did see Pradelles and the lake. After lunch we hiked around the back of the Pic de Nore, started down in much more open country, a fairly gentle descent, but uneven and painful for Bunion Bill.
We reached an old stone cross, “carrefour importan pour les sentiers Village Perchés”, with trails leading off to la Bastide, Haut Pol, and Pradelles. On the way into Pradelles we passed some old ice houses, deep dug and lined with stone, one with a slender arched roof remnant. The hotel were luxury in comparison to our previous accommodation: bath and toilet in the rooms, swimming pool. The proprietors were a Belgian couple who spoke Flemish with some of the guests.
Dinner was outside under a tree: creamy soup with figs, medallions of pork with lardons and red onions, leeks, potatoes, and creamed broccoli, followed by cheeses. The wine was Chateau Donjon 2004.
Jane joined us for the day at the Fournil de l’Espic. We hiked down into l’Espinassière, overshot the turn-off, then hooked back for a very steep climb through the forest, which continued until lunchtime. Jez was the only person who continued to talk all the way up. We lost the trail once in the woods, and Rob found it for us again.
We had lunch at the Cun de San Marti, with baguettes, ham, cheese, and two tins of pate. The heather was in bloom, orange on pink. We hiked down into the Castans valley, past some horses which Amy smooched with, and dowsed ourselves at a laverie in the first village. We passed some marvelous ruined gardens at hameau de Quintaine where Amy and Bill ate wild cherries. Got our first view of the wind turbines above Cabrespine.
We had a final climb back up to Castans, where our food was delivered by a woman of the village who was helping Roland (who was sick). We “borrowed” some beers and white wine and sat out on the terrace, finishing off the delicious serrano ham from lunch. The menu was tarte au poireaux and roquefort, blanquette de veau in a stew on rice, cheese and fruit.
We passed many ruins, but weren’t sure that we found the ruined village that Roland told us about. We crossed a beautiful bridge with a sign “Alga Fresca.” As we got higher the forest switched from chestnuts, oaks, and beeches to fir, spruce, and cedar, and there was a beautiful mossy beech forest at the top.
Seduced on the way down by a stele for two martyrs of the Resistance, we missed the turning to the Fournil de l’Espic and had to climb back up from l’Espinassiere. The track to the gîte was long, with Nicolas, his spectacles, and Beebop the dog at the end. We had tea on the terrace with exquisite teacups, cold showers and a free apèro in recompense. Bill found wild strawberries on the path to the creek. We saw and heard buzzards mewing. The accommodation was unfinished, but there were beds, and a dry composting toilet.
Nicolas had owned a restaurant in Toulouse, and presented us with the meal of the journey: aubergines topped with grilled cheese, tomato and herbs; small red peppers filled with salted eel (morue) in bechamel sauce; guinea fowl and peaches; and tiramisu. The wine was chateau de l’Homs, appelation Minervois.
Another picnic in the Jardin de Luxembourg, this time to meet Nell’s friends (from left to right, Robin Lisker from England, Robin ? from Chicago, and Sarah Keane from Ireland). What a great group of friends Nell has gathered, as she always does. She has had a wonderful year in France, crossing all sorts of shadow lines. (Dad used to use this metaphor from the Conrad book of the same name to describe those moments of growth when you discover you can make a phone call in French and get the gas turned on). I’m not sure how academically useful it has been, but as a year of growth it has been worth it, not to mentioned the ability to write bullshit in French.
Elliot and Pierre had us around for dinner (later in the week we took them to Le Grand Vefour). Their apartment in the Marais is large by Parisian standards, which is to say that they could fit us at all, at the expense of some furniture moving. Abby had just joined us at the end of her European tour … there was some competition between Abby and Nell to show knowledge of French politics.