Wednesday, 18 June 2014

215. Travels with a cocker spaniel in the Cévennes*

* Title plagiarised from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic account

Sunday, 15th June. Back home again after a restful few days away in the Cévennes, that delightfully unspoilt area that lies along the south-eastern edge of the Massif Central. (Read R L Stevenson's story here)

En route to the Cévennes, we broke our journey at Carcassonne - and the view of the medieval walled town from the autoroute was stunning - and straight out of the Middle Ages (via Walt Disney...) The old town was knee-deep in tourists when we visited and listening to their chatter it was clear that the medieval town of Carcassonne is firmly on the international tourist map.  

After a short 3-4 hour drive the following day, we arrived at our home for the next few days in the heat of the afternoon (temperature in the mid-30s). We were staying at a country hotel situated in an idyllic setting on a winding lane midway between Saint-Jean du Gard and Alès. This link will give some idea of the activities in the area. Staying at the same hotel was a lively group of some 40-odd septuagenarians who graduated from Montpellier University over 50 years ago and they've been meeting up on an annual basis ever since! After unpacking we found our way to the pool for a very welcome and much-needed splashdown.

This isn't a region of France that I've visited before and so the next day we headed down to Nimes, the capital of the Gard department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Winding our way through its shaded streets we came first to the Roman amphitheatre - a colossal 2,000 year old stone structure that's still in use today (primarily, and regrettably, as a bullring). Its profile dominates the town (above) and it serves as a powerful reminder of the impact of Roman culture on Western Europe. 
Place de la Maison Carrée, Nimes
British architect Norman Foster was responsible for the renovation / restoration / (insert word of choice here) of the Place de la Maison Carrée at Nimes. Without wishing to be too unkind to the architect, I think that when faced with the challenge of designing a building to co-exist in close proximity to the gleaming Maison Carrée (16 BC), the timelessly elegant Roman temple built in the palest of stone (above left), then whatever we build 2000 years later is always going to come off second best - unless lightning strikes. The supreme example of the lightning strike of artistic inspiration - in other words, how it should have been done - is I. M. Pei's glass pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris.

However, here, in Nimes, we've ended up with a bland box that, unlike the Louvre Pyramid, predictably mimics the stylistic cues of  its surroundings - in this case, the Maison Carrée - and is constructed in steel, concrete & glass (above right). It houses the Museum of Contemporary Art (but it could just as equally be a supermarket logistics centre). To me, this is just a pastiche. How is it that with all the knowledge, materials, techniques and tools available to us in the late twentieth century that this building was the best that we could do? How is it that an unknown Roman architect who's been dead for 2,000 years can still show us the way home? Norman Foster's Museum of Contemporary Art is about as inspired as the work within it. (maybe that's the joke..) No votes from me I'm afraid. (No doubt I'll be shouted down as a philistine but I feel like reaching for the keys to the bulldozer..)

We were starting to wilt in the heat as various indicators around town were showing 36-37°.. We kept the dog topped up with water but it wasn't fair to him to stay any longer so we headed back to the car. (air con to max!)    

We next found our way to Uzès.. another jewel-like ancient Roman town in the Gard. On another day it would reward careful exploration but on the day we visited, the thermometer was up at 39° and so we parked ourselves in the shade of the Place Albert 1er (below) where the dog (and us) could keep cool - him with a large bowl of water - and us with the aid of a citron pressé.. (Click on the photo)       
Place Albert 1er, Uzès
Feeling hot and sticky? Need something that hits the spot..? I've been making these over the last few days. Into a tall glass pour a fat finger of white rhum from the islands (50° BV if you can find it). Then add a good splash of sugar cane syrup, the juice of a freshly squeezed lime (or two, to taste), stir well and then top up (to the brim) with shaved ice. Vary the proportions until you find what suits you - then make another one right away!

7th July. I finished the first run through the latest piece of translation work late last night and what a relief! It's been hanging over me since April.. I wanted to finish it before the summer really got into its stride as the last thing I wanted was to be sat here while the summer drifted by outside. All that remains to be done now is to go through it and review the text one last time... and then whoosh.. off it will go into cyberspace.

To celebrate here's a "never-seen-before" seagull's eye view of a 4th July firework display - someone had the bright idea of filming within it from a drone.. Eek! watch in full screen HD.. Brilliant!   

Despite the staggering imagery of the display above, I think Japanese firework displays are in a class of their own.. marvel at this one.. (again, best in full screen HD)