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The Trip

Our Original Travelogue 1997

We welcome comments. Please send them to Stephen and Dawn

The Three Parts

Estamos en Costa Rica    Cooped up in Europe?   Southern France

This is a three part E-Mail travelogue of a trip to Costa Rica, Italy, Prague and France, from January through June, 1997. We were both in our fifties and self-unemployed. Dawn was a modern dance choreographer and I was a theatrical lighting designer. We took six months off in response to the death of my parents and our own need to re-evaluate our lives. We took the laptop and emailed our friends as we went along. Internet Cafés were our only access.

Costa Rica

Language School We fly to San Jose, meet our family with whom we are going to stay, start Language school, take a weekend in an hotel.
On the Way to Nosara We head for the teleferico, Zarcerro, Lake Arenal, then we go to Nosara, to see Ruth and Ed, catch some green flashes, go to a Rodeo, surf, and finally, get burgled
Central Highlands We go to the Inn Cafetal, meet Amalia, ridesome horses, raft a river with Otto.
Caribbean Side: Go to the Caribbean side, battle rain, speak French, meet hummingbirds.
Pacific Side: Back through the country to the Pacific, back to Inn Cafetal for a final night, then fly home.

Language School

Although we did many of the things on our lists, we missed returning the library books and hope Dan and Bebe will take care of that. We turned over the house to them and sailed out the door with two light suitcases and two heavy back packs. The scale at the airport said the two suitcases weighed 65 lbs. together and the backpacks weighed 25 pounds together.

The fog was pea-soupish, the gate next to us was announcing that the equipment could not land and was being diverted to Hartford, then to Springfield. Dawn wanted to call everyone and tell them she loved them, which I told her that they already knew. We were flying one of Boeing's newest and brightest so we were told there was nothing to worry about. We took off without a hitch and they promised us that the captain would keep us abreast of the score as we were flying during the first of the "Big Games" that the Patriots may be playing this month. The Patriots' score seems to mount in some supernatural way. When we landed in Miami I was able to "see" the last few minutes of the mop up. With that camera level, it looked like a high school game.

We found a book in Spanish in Dawn's seat, "Noticia de Sequestro." We managed, I mean Dawn managed with my occasional help, to sort of read the first couple of pages. It seemed like a good sign.

After the game finished in Miami, We got our boarding passes and then had a drink at a "Miami" bar in the airport. All the right colors. We watched part of the Dallas game, but football is really boring when you don't care who wins. Even when you do care, it is sloooo. The next leg to San Jose was uneventful. I listen to my Spanish tapes. Would they help? Somehow, I was given a Spanish language immigration card. I was too stupid to realize I should get one in English, and combined with some article I read in the Miami airport magazine about import taxes, and my inability to in fact read Dawn's card, I believed that I was going to have to pay taxes on the worth of my laptop over $500. While I was trying to decipher all of this, my suitcase was not showing up. Most of you are probably familiar with the sinking feeling you get in your stomach when as the number of people around the conveyor belt is shrinking and you are beginning to look at each other and make faces, the belt stops.

The silence bounces around in your brain

I began to look around the room and after about five minutes found my bag near a stack of bags that all looked familiar. Did they send their son to get all the blue bags and they would sort theirs out later? I have never seen a flight that has so many bags that looked like mine.

The airport has colored lines on the floor that tells you where to go depending on how many bags you are carrying. You cannot imagine how many people going to Costa Rica are color blind. We theorized perhaps a vision clinic had been set up in Costa Rica alongside the tummy tuck and face lift places. Well, I did not have to pay any taxes, and they did not even look at anything. So now we are going up the stairs to look for someone named Gata, a secretary at the school, who was supposed to wave a green sign with white letters saying --- Wait, there she is. What a great sight she was as it was now dark and we did not have much of a clue otherwise and the last time someone said the would meet me at the airport it was in Tokyo and he said he would have an elephant on his back and he never showed up. Gata was, of course, a woman. Gata is a female cat; Gato is male. Chico, the driver, helped Dawn with her bags, then went off for the car, excuse me, the jeep. It was an interesting ride, not gentle through roads of various degrees of completeness to our family. The Badillos.

Jeannette and Guillermo

Well, not actually "the Badillos"...Jeannette Badillo and Guillermo something else. They keep their names in Latin America even though it is a muy Catolico country. The kids get both their parents' names. Our host (pronounced Yanett) is very sweet, amiable and energetic, and is 20 years younger than her husband. The house is very basic, rather funky really, no hot water in the taps but an electrical device that makes the shower slightly warmer than cold. We have an uncomfortable mattress and not enough light to read in the bedroom. Rice and beans every day...not bad for a vegetarian, but a little boring. Although tonight we had fried yucca that was delicious, much pineapple, papaya, and banana.

The town of Santa Ana is a working class, agricultural, mining town. Much gasoline fumes, noisy motos and loco drivers! But trees are blooming everywhere in all colors, fruit is falling off the trees, and the people are very friendly. The school is up in the hills and gorgeous. We are working our butts off and feeling totally stupid in Spanish.

We are now toying with the idea of moving into the "casona" at the school for our second week here because it is a gorgeous modern structure, beautifully sited with bella vistas, private bathrooms, HOT water, living rooms, comfortable furniture, a kitchen and a lavadora (washing machine.) However, we don't want to either hurt our hosts' feelings or cause any loss of income to them as the school pays them to house and feed us. Tune in next week to see what happens. The rooster crows at 4:00 a.m. and gets all the dogs barking.

We get up at 6:00 am, have desayuno at 6:30 and take a one-hour uphill walk past farms, animals, countryside and the quarry to get to school. On the way, we have to run from some very aggressive geese. There are "taxis", jeeps really, to take us up and down the mountain, but we like walking and I sure ain't dancing so I have to do something for the old body. At 8:00 a.m. we take a swim and stretch in their beautiful piscina, (pool)
Walk Pool

On the way to school             Swimming pool at school

then go to class from 8:30 until 10:30. Then we have a (second) breakfast and break, more class from 11:00 to 1:00, then lunch. Florita is my charming profesora and there are 3 other students in my class. I haven't been in school since 1967 (as a student) so it's quite a shock with homework every day. At least my Spanish accent probably sounds better than the folks' in the group here from Birmingham, Alabama (Buenaaas diaaas,y'all [us]tedes). Our teachers do not really speak English; only the director, who is an American expatriate, former peace corps worker, muy simpatico, does.
I have a six months pregnant teacher name Lorena, who didn't show up on Wednesday. Ray and I were sure she was having her baby (he had been kicking pretty good on Tuesday), But no, she had just been to the doctor for a check-up. She brought in her Ultrosonidas. They were great. She was very proud. Not only will it be her first, but also her mother's first grandchild.

So I am limping along, pronouncing things like French, having difficulty when the word has more than three syllables. I love the challenge and even though I cannot really construct a complete sentence without trial runs, I am learning Spanish. As I write this, a soccer game is playing on the TV in the next room and I am beginning to understand words and phrases. Not everything by any means, but a beginning. We still have another week.

We took a weekend. Friday night we went to Rancho Macho, which is the place on our walk to school where we have to watch out for the geese. It is also a bar/restaurant with a beautiful view of the valley. Macho in this case means mule. We found out that some of the Conversa "adults" were going there for dinner and dancing and we decided to join them. We stopped a cab and he being busy, radiod for another and we were there in about ten minutes. We found them finishing their meal.

Rancho Macho is the same place where the geese molest us every morning. It is farm where they exercise horses and there always a couple of pickup trucks around, but on Friday night it was a magical place with the lights of the valley stretching out before it. We drank beers and then a couple of tequila shots. The band was great. Thry played a somewhat soft Latin that was exceedingly fun to dance to. I danced with all the girls at my table and by the end we were all dancing together. We met Gata there. She was hanging out because she was waiting to pick up another student at the airport. All in black, wearing a tailored coat, she showed a different side of herself. We got ourselves home in a cab about one in the morning.

We got up early on Saturday to go to the optional tutorial but the cab never showed up because Gata forgot to arrange it. We are beginning to see the structure of the school and she is definitely the workhorse of the place in terms of making it run. We came back and hung out and began to really get to know our family. Another son, Mamfred, came by. He sells medical instruments. His English is quite good, so he spoke English and we spoke Spanish. Dawn spoke Spanish and I spoke something that was not English. We are beginning to have adult conversations. In short, we have decided not to move up the casone on campus. We have just gotten back from a night at one of the best hotels in San Jose and our need for luxurious surroundings has been satiated.

Front Porch our patio

Our Patio                       Front Deck of the Hotel

The Grano de Oro has 33 rooms. We were in the new part and it was beautifully designed with a private patio for our room, a Jacuzzi on the roof and a restaurant that was half inside, where we ate dinner and half outside where we had breakfast in a garden muy estupendo. It was small but its use of the walls that surrounded the garden was exquisite. The bed was great; the water was hot; the privacy was appreciated.

Occasionally we rode the city buses to get places. We were the only gringos on them. A polite gentleman tried to help us, but it took me quite a long time to communicate what I wanted to say. If you don't get the right accent, the word is not clear. So, I think we are beginning to establish the pattern we will follow for the rest of our trip which is to travel at ground level with occasional trips to the swanky level where everyone is a tourist.

Last night, we had about three hours of heart to heart with Jeanette about her family and her first husband and about the way the ticos still feel about the Spanish.

Today was our last day as students. It's amazing how much was packed into our heads in the last two weeks. I can actually speak, somewhat extemporaneously, in class now for 15 minutes solo! I have also started writing a cuento (tale) in Spanish that was inspired by our visit to the contemporary art museum with Stephen's teacher, Luis. There were many installations by Nicaraguan artists that were incredibly powerful. War has been a way of life for so many of these people and for so long. Every family in Nicaragua has lost a son or a father of a brother or a cousin. Luis is very simpatico and helped us see the art through the eyes of a Central American. He has worked with indigenous people in Guatemala and his girlfriend is from a Guatemalan refugee family that lives here in Costa Rica. He also knows a lot about pre-Columbian history and spirituality, which enriched our visit to the jade museum. All of our discussions were in Spanish, of course! I don't mean that the language just rolls off our tongues with fluidity; we still struggle to find the right tense, the agreement, etc. It's just that we are doing a hell of a lot better than we were two weeks ago!

Yesterday I tried to make a phone call on a public phone and didn't get through. Right after I lost my 10 colone coin and was cut off, the phone rang. I figured it was the operator, but it turned out to be a very fast-speaking woman who wanted me to get her husband who was selling fruit out of the red truck, parked near the church! I got as far as the red truck and the church, then chickened out and handed the phone to a native.

Today was, I hope, our last day visiting the city of San Jose. We went in to get our rental car and had a hell of a time getting to the big market at which Ruth and Ed (friends we will visit in Nosara) had asked us to buy some things. Between Stephen and me, we've been in a lot of cities in the world, from New York to Paris to the old Dubrovnik to Copenhagen to Amsterdam, Essen, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Florence, Tokyo, even Pittsburgh, White Plains, or Zarragoza, but we can't think of one city we would less like to live in than San Jose, Costa Rica! Sorry, folks, the Costa Rican people are warm and friendly, but their capital city is another story, except for the museums, the Teatro Nacional, and the oasis of the Hotel Grano de Oro.

So we have gotten our standard shift Toyota Tercel con aero condicionado and we're ready to be on our way. We're heading for the aerial tramway that goes quietly through the treetops in one of the rainforests. We're going to try to hit a B&B near it tomorrow night so we can get the 6:00 a.m. ride the next day to be in the "canopy" the with all the early morning songbirds.

On the Way to Nosara

From Rio Blanco
We are in the B&B as planned, but the day did not go quite as foreseen. We were ready to go by 10 this morning, but when we got to the Email place, it had been totally dismantled and they were reconfiguring everything. So they were closed. We left from Santa Ana without a last Email. Going around San Jose, we got completely turned around and found ourselves headed for the airport, Northwest instead of Northeast. Our alternate route was slow and completely unsigned. There were some signs on some streets and some names on the lines on the map, but never for the same road. The compass came in handy. So, a one hour trip turned into a two and a half hour one, but we stayed in good spirits and got to the teleferrico by 2:30. They had a brochure there for a B&B fifteen minutes away and we headed for it. After the turn off the highway, we worked our way up their "road" and just about when we thought they were a hoax we got there and got their last room.

Except for the proprietor, Ron, who is from Boxboro Mass, and was a little more talkative than we were ready for, it was a very inviting place. It was in a secondary rain forest, with a nature trail down to the Rio Blanco where we stripped off our clothes and took a swim. Their dog came with us and took quite a shine to me. We had dinner there with some of the other guests, one of whom was a painter who had been hired by the tramway to make a painting that would be transferred to silk scarves to be sold at the place. She was quite interesting. The others were mostly interesting as Norte Americanos uncomfortable in the Centro Americano culture.

It began to rain at dinner, and continued through the next day. Our tram ride in a six-person open gondola was preceded by a video talk by the inventor and followed by a trail walk with our guide, Juan Carlos.
Rainforest Tram Rain Forest

(left) Juan Carlos, Stephen, Dawn (right) The Rain forest

It was as wonderful as a church. The wildlife stayed home but we saw one toucan and many beautiful plants. We rode with a young couple from Canada to whom we had given a ride from the B&B. Norm and Karen, who were on the same wave length as we were about the forest. The four of us stood out in a sea of silver hairs who came on a bus. Dawn spoke Spanish to everyone she could and by the time our tram ride was half way over Juan Carlos was explaining everything in English for us and in Spanish for her. Most of which I could understand. We got to the beginning of the tram ride by taking two separate rides from the highway on conveyances that look like farm machinery, walking across a suspension foot bridge to get from the first to the second. When we left the tram to return to our car, we went with some employees and they were hitting on Dawn before they asked if we were together. They were very friendly and we ended up chatting about this and that walking instead of riding for the last leg of the trip back to the highway. , I chimed in now and then but Dawn is out front with the speaking.

We spent the next couple of hours driving to a hill town on the continental divide called Zarcero. The roads are good if your expectations are not too high and you keep a constant look out for pot holes. For most of this route around the Northern tip of Brauillo Carillo the road was paved, but about 10 miles was not and that slowed us down quite a bit.

The country has very little if any European type charm. Those cute little hill towns in Europe are replaced by people who are very open and interested in communicating with us.

When we got to the town about 5 in the evening, there was no hotel to be seen or signs to it, so we did what I am sure we will do again. We drove to a high point in town and looked for it. We saw it but there seemed to be no one there. I asked some people but got no answer that I could understand. Next we went to the Bar/Restaurant Geranios and asked in there. They were busy but they did call the hotel and found that they were lleno, so they pointed around the corner (in a way that you can only do when you are speaking to a foreigner.) We found the hostel and, for $15 plus $2.50 for a locked place for our car, we got a place for the night. (Car theft seems to be the biggest crime in Costa Rica.) We took a walk around the square in a light drizzle. The square was filled with imaginative topiary depicting everything from elephants to helicopters, and then we returned to the restaurant for dinner.

Dinner is complicated because my digestive tract is quite a bit behind schedule and I want very little to eat beside a salad. We were taken under wing by the waiter whom we refer as El Jefe. We explained our situation and negotiated dinner and finally he said that he understood and that he would talk to the chef and we would like the dinner. We never knew until it came what it would be. The hearts of palm were delicious and the rest also.

The hostel was fine. The view not bad and the bed firm, but coffee was hard to find the next morning, brewed coffee that is.
Topiary Church

Topiary and the Church

We did meet the topiary artist and Dawn jumped in to congratulate him on the work, and ask him how long he had been working on it. He said thirty years. (Maybe nearly everyday.) We had not the courage to ask whether he was paid for the work. It was right in front of a rather ordinary church on the outside but wonderfully charming on the inside. Maybe it was for the greater glory.

After waiting around the baño at the hostel for a while we launched ourselves again toward Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes. We are now hanging out in an inn/motel above the lake, thinking that if the clouds lift we will see lava and sparks and whatever. It is a great place to write. Alas, it is now raining.

We picked up a hitch hiker, Enrique, three times today. He was walking from Santa Ana to Teleran, about a three hour car trip. We never did get the whole story but it was fun to try. Somehow we both thought he was going home for a funeral, but no he was just leaving the church where he had been working. We kept stopping to look at hotels and saying good-bye and then after moving on, finding him at impossible distances ahead. We passed what I think was a coati mundi on the highway and he had us stop and he lured him almost back through the bushes for a photo. He had many things to say about the hotels, but he spoke very fast. We did correct his English pronunciation of the word "cow."

Tomorrow, if the weather does not improve, we head for the Nicoya Peninsula to see Ruth and Ed. We are realizing that we will have to plan the rest of our stay to be in one place longer to keep the traveling part to less of the total, so we can write and study Spanish some more and just be.


With Ruth and Ed

Dawn (and Stephen):
We managed to find our way to Ruth and Ed's lovely villa in Nosara just about by sunset, but after the famous "green flash." Apparently we turned off the main road a bit late so we had an extended version of the "road" -- that is dirt, rocks and ruts- to Nosara. It was a surreal drive, again with few signs to reassure us that we were going the right way. After about 15 minutes on this "road," we came to what looked like a wide and deep stream across the road. A bicyclist rode through it, and it looked too deep to me for our Toyota Tercel. (4-wheel drives are prohibitive to rent.) I asked the bicyclist if he thought our car could make it, and I thought he said, "No." We were sitting there wondering if we should turn back when an old truck full of a family of indigenous barged through the water. This time, the driver's response was (in Spanish, of course), "Sure, go ahead, no problem." They were beautiful people with stunning smiles. Their truck had a lot more clearance than our car, so I got out and waded across and Stephen plowed through with the car.

At one point, we rounded a corner to encounter four horses, one with rider galloping towards us. I just stopped the car and they galloped around us, two on each side without slowing. The handsome caballero flashed us one of those great smiles. Later, we came upon two riders with a Brahma bull roped between their two horses. The bull was stopped with one rider in front and one behind. This time no one looked too happy as they waved for us to go through. Once we did, I looked in the rear view mirror to see the bull bucking his way down road with the riders doing their best to keep him under control.

Although we missed the green flash, we were in time for a couple of Ed's martinis that went down mighty easily.

View from their House

View from the house

The house is fantastic. It is on a hill about four hundred feet above the ocean. We can see a couple of miles of beach as it curves out to a rocky point to the South of us and on the North disappears behind the intervening hills as it goes up toward the village of Nosara.

We have been entranced by the monos (howler monkeys) swinging in the trees. Ruth and I keep wishing we had tails because the tail is such a useful, articulate appendage for those monkeys! I am starting to fantasize about getting a costume/set designer to design a harness cum tail for my next bit of choreography...swinging from a tail sounds like more fun than standing on my head. Those monkeys have such manual dexterity, and their tails seem to telescope and stretch on command. Watching these beasts affirms my belief in evolution (not Stephen's though; he's a skeptic.) But instead of swinging from trees, Ruth and I go to a pool with a bunch of old ladies and do "agua aerobics" 3 times a week from 8 til 9 a.m.! It's not bad, though a bit boring. It's O.K. to be the "youngest" one at 51!!
Ruth and Ed
The beach is stunning, broad and curved, great waves for surfing with a boogie board, warm water...(it's been in the 80's and low 90's here, but usually with a nice breeze-sorry, New Englanders: Adam Emailed us that it was 15 below in Vermont last weekend where they skiied!) Snorkeling in the tide pools is irresistible; I can see now why Martha likes to dive so much. We saw a school of vertically black and white striped fish with a blue ventral fin, a big yellow guy, a family of silver ones and one of those prehistoric-looking camouflaged "dogfish" types, about 18" long, hovering near the reef, perfectly disguised.

Those of you who have the pleasure of knowing the Ruth and Ed will understand that we rarely have a free moment here! Their social life is immense. We've had drinks and dinner with numerous gringo cronies as well as visiting the bar in "downtown" Nosara, that consists of a dusty soccer field, a small airstrip-the only paved one on this coast- A "super mercado" which redefines the word "super", a few bars, (the gringos start drinking early here...ourselves excepted) a "store" or two which sell a bit of everything, but mostly nothing you would want to buy! Everything happens pretty much "afuera"-outside- stores, restaurants, houses are often just covered by lean-tos of thatch or dried palm leaves.
D and S
There is some poverty here, but if you have to be poor, this is the place to do it...you don't have to worry about heat or much about shelter. We all drove Cecilia, the young woman who cleans for Ruth and Ed, home one day. She lives in a veritable shack with her three children; apparently her husband is a not-so-nice guy who has disappeared. She's a lovely person who tolerates my Spanish very well. She said that some gringos have been here five to eight years and don't speak a word of Spanish, so she appreciated my efforts. Again, we are struck by the wealth they have here, that is the wealth of Nature and spirit...Living in a shack doesn't seem so bad, if most of the time you are living outdoors. It may get a little tough during the long, rainy season, though. Many roads become impassable then.

Note-- especially to dawn s. lane: The itinerary that we sent you initially was a copy of what we gave to my mom...so we are not really visiting all of you Email correspondents the first weekend in March; we are visiting my mom then, before we take off on our next adventure! We will try to respond individually to all of you who are replying. We do love to hear from you. Access is a bit tough here, though. The neighborhood communicates through CB radio so you hear what everyone says to everyone else. Beverly has a cell phone, but you don't want to use it much because she refuses to take any money and it costs her a pretty penny.
Part 8 - Stephen:
We are finishing up our first week in Nosara with a boca party here at our Casa. We are serving sashime that we have just caught ourselves on today's excitement, a six hour fishing trip. We went in a 16 foot open boat that Tom had built and we had to launch it through the surf which is quite a bit of fun. We trolled with lures and caught some mackerel and a reef bass. We also got two other fish that we used as bait to go after some rooster fish. They run about forty pounds. We did not catch any but I caught a ten pound grouper and Dawn fought with something for a long time until it became caught in the reef and got itself free. The view from the ocean is quite wonderful. Most of the coast is uninhabited. Tom our fishing guide has already sold this boat and will turn it over to the new owner when he goes back to California to build some houses.
Well, there is trouble in Paradise...just like everywhere else. Sunday, when most of the gringos - including us - were at parties and the fiesta was in town, four houses were broken into, including our's. Together we lost a couple of hundred dollars. Stephen and I had just been talking about feeling uneasy with the high contrast between gringo life here in Nosara which seems very wealthy, compared to Tico life which is economically still poor in small towns like this. I believe that it was probably "out-of-towners" that came in with the fiesta, but who knows. Well, as my friend Stan used to say, "Material loss is spiritual gain."
Bull fight
The Medicos are Behind the Red Circle

Anyhow, the fiesta was a hoot. The Costa Rican form of "bullfighting" consists of riding bucking bulls with friends from the audience jumping into the ring with red flags to excite the bulls. The riders don't hold on with their hands but do a wild flapping motion with the arms to try to stay on the bull. If they stay on long enough, they jump off the bull and run like hell to avoid the animal's vengeance. The beautiful part is the roping that the caballeros do to lasso the bull afterwards and get him to go back to the pen. They ride the horses at full speed and rope the bulls behind their backs
Part 9 - Dawn:
We had been here about 10 days before we were bitten by the bug...that is the surfing bug. Yes indeed, we've taken Deirdre's advice to be brave and wild, so I've started learning to surf...at 51! The beach here is a Mecca for surfers. Of course, the day we started, the waves were unusually large. I did great on day one, according to "Mouse," the old-time famous surfer here, but today, Stephen and I are both wrecked. It takes a lot of upper body strength to push up and bring both feet under you to stand up on the board. Too bad I'm not in shape as I was for doing "Memorial Day," when my upper body was really strong. We're just surfing in the whitewater now to learn, but you really have to fight those waves to get out far enough to ride in. When you get that wave and manage to get up on your feet and ride it in, it feels great....but I get worn out so fast. Every muscle aches, which I don't mind -- makes me feel like a dancer again -- but after an hour or so, I feel like I no longer have the strength to make it happen...another reminder of my chronological (not emotional) age! Anyhow, we both like a challenge. . and to learn new things, but we also like to be successful! I am not sure I have the time or stamina to really get to the point where I can do it well enough to go "afuera" which means outside in surfer lingo, way past the breakers, to wait for the big one."

There are folks here, from the states and from Europe, who kind of change their lives so they can spend 3 to 6 months here to surf every day. I have always loved the physical challenge of dancing, but for me making dances has "meaning" as well. I put myself though that physical agony to connect with other human beings, to get some idea or feeling across the footlights, to hear from the audience that they have thought about something new, or felt something familiar, or seen something beautiful. This surfing thing is an individual sport that for me, connects me with nature and all her power, taps some of my deepest fears (my writing group will understand), is very demanding and can be exhilarating...but I don't think it's something I could dedicate my life to. Also, surfing is a very male thing. There are 2 or 3 women here (Europeans) who do it, and about a hundred guys. So there's that thing about proving that my gender can do it, too!

Meanwhile, every time I go in the bathroom and catch a glimpse in the mirror, I don't know who that dark woman is! I put #15 on my face a couple of times a day and wear a shirt to surf, but all of me just darkens up fast. I love the way it feels and looks, but I know I'll just be more of a prune for it later. Oh well...

Central Highlands

Shifting forward (I will try go back), Dawn and I are at a rather stylish bed and breakfast called El Cafetal Inn where I have the full attention of a young girl of four years named Tatiana, her dachshund, Taffy and her collie, Tyson.

Cafetal Inn

She is the daughter of the hoteliers, Lee and Romy who are not here at the moment. We have not met them yet because they are out doing errands. There is a goat and a rather tame green parrot that climbs in through a hole in the screen door and walks around the house looking for dinner. The parrot and collie are great friends. The parrot often stands on the dog's face and picks the bugs out of his ears. Down the hillside thirty steps is the pool with a bar and a restaurant where they serve a "Sunday in the Country" brunch. The room comes with breakfast that is a wonder, starting out with a hot chicken broth based soup of home grown fruits and vegetables.

We are still not as good travelers as we would like to be. I think also that Dawn and I are leaning in different directions. I think I want to go at a slower pace, while Dawn would like a quicker one. Also, we know we are traveling, but are momentarily confused about what we are doing while we travel. Are we vacationing or are we supposed to be doing something else? I am sure Dawn will have more to say on this subject.
Many of you may be wondering why we are not responding to your Email. It is because AOL was hard to get to and then one day I was interrupted in the middle of a transmission and that has seemed to have confused AOL about my mail. So we can send (occasional) but receiving has been difficult. The E-mail is not the only thing that has been confused. My credit card autopay arrangement fell through. I set it up on a checking account which I then closed shortly after. My long distance card has been canceled by my local service, and Dawn cannot seem to make her phone card work, either. So, we are having a slight mutual anxiety attack.

If you get this on Friday the 7th or so, it means that our journey back to the computer store in Santa Ana was successful.

Filling in...

After we left Nosara, we headed for the Monteverde cloud forest and stayed for three nights at the Arco Iris Lodge in Santa Elena. The drive up from Las Juntas was 1.5 hours to go 30 kilometers (c. 20 miles). At a couple of points, Dawn and the hitchhiker had to walk a short distance to give me enough clearance to make it successfully. At one point, I had to get out and "walk the road" ala a whitewaterer looking for the correct line. In my case, I got to alter the route by filling in one particularly nasty hole to make the passage possible.

We took two long walks in two preserves and visited a butterfly farm. Again, we didn't see too many animals or birds but on the way into Monteverde preserve, Dawn saw and I got a glimpse of a quetzal. They are very, very spectacular. Check your bird books for more details.

The communities of Monteverde and Santa Elena are filled with tourists from all over the world. Our host, Heymo, spoke it seemed an unlimited number of languages, and his wife maintained an organic garden from which she cooked delicious meals. We went to dinner at a local restaurant with a Swiss couple who turned out now live in Alicante, but were in Tokyo for many years. We exchanged cards so maybe we will see them again.

After talking to some people at the El Cafetal Inn, we have decided to backtrack a little to the very Northwest town of La Cruz. Now, at the Inn, if I lean forward a bit, I can see the Nicaraguan coast from where I am writing. Earlier this morning, I thought I saw the ghost of Ernest Hemingway on the verandah. . .

Coastal View
We are now at the Amalia Inn. Here is what the guide book says.

"Amalia Inn is a newly opened American run hostelry operated by Lester and Amalia Bounds, boasting fabulous clifftop views over Bahia Salinas and north along the Nicaraguan coast. Its seven rooms have private bathrooms. A pool is handy for cooling off, though the inn's setting is breezy enough. You can prepare picnics in their kitchen. They offer horse and boat rentals. Rates $25-35 s, 35$-45 d, including American breakfast"

Yes and no.

We expected a young, enthusiastic couple from California or Colorado or someplace, with a freshly scrubbed place. What we got was a small hotel, slightly run down, operated by an old Spanish speaking woman and her brother, Hector. The place is full of large paintings, signed LB, done in a sort of Fauve style. She showed us two rooms and we took the one on the second floor. We of course stopped negotiations long enough to look for the green flash at sunset that we had become used to in Nosara. No luck here, I think a little too hazy, but the colors were much more intense and the view was exactly as advertised. We are perched at the edge of town, overlooking a sea of treetops that spread out to farmland and then to the sea which is about a mile or two away. To the South, peninsulas with rugged hills jut out into the sea. At night, the farm has a few lights, and there are two small villages out there; otherwise, it is dark.

Our room is large with a double and single bed, and a coffee table with a couple of wicker chairs around it. We have our first bathtub since we have been in the country. We negotiated a price of $35 a night, tax included, but not breakfast, if we stay a couple of nights. I think we are planning 4 or 5. The pool is inviting with a Centro-American, Picasso-ish mural on one side, maybe 10' by 50'. There is a doctor staying here who is finishing his required national service and about four guys from Nicaragua, perhaps fishermen or drug smugglers. That seems to be about it.

There is wind. Constantly.
Dawn and Amalia Here's the story, pieced together in Spanish from the woman and the house maid named Carmen. She is Amalia, maybe seventy years old. Her husband did the paintings, but died about a year ago. She is Costa Rican and her husband was from Washington, DC. She seems very old world, more Hungarian than Spanish. She is wonderful and Dawn has taken to her immediately. For this morning, Dawn got us coffee served at six thirty, which we had at a small table at the very edge of the precipice. Amalia is also doing our laundry although all we asked was to use the equipment and we ended up doing the loading.

There is a large Verandah outside our room, where we sat last night with our G and T's and where I am now writing. Dawn is stretching by the pool, and the wind is increasing. This place has one thing in common, and certainly one thing only, with our house, the contrast between the front of the building and the back. At home, we have a busy street in front and our small woods in back that we share with our neighbors. In the summer, we cannot see any houses in that direction although Met hill rises behind us with it's streets of houses. Here, we drive up a village street with somewhat dilapidated houses on it and drive through an iron gate to the enclosed space in front. After we enter, we walk down a narrow corridor to the back of the building and walk onto the downstairs Verandah and we can see ten miles in all directions only nature in its grandest form with only the farm and a couple of houses to our right to interrupt.
You can really see what the guidebook means when it says that this is an area "crying out for resort development." How lucky we are to have gotten here first! Like Roslindale, the town is working class funky. Except for one renowned seafood restaurant, the place is not at all fancied up for tourists.derivative, but it certainly makes a statement.

Cubist Nude About the pintorras (paintings): They are huge canvases, boldly colored, cubist, and some of them sort of fauve, as Stephen said. In our room alone, there are 5 large canvases...so we are surrounded by this man's vision. My favorite is a cubist nude woman, seated in front of a Matisse-like background. The stuff may be derivative, but it certainly makes a statement. The wall next to the pool is sort of a cheerier "Guernica" with Mayan overtones!!
Yesterday marked the scariest event to happen so far, for me. Getting our money ripped off in Nosara was no fun, but yesterday's incident was scarier. Since we are near the Nicaraguan border, the car is stopped every so often by border patrol. They want to know where we are headed, etc. The second time we were stopped by two armed guards in camouflage, we told them we were headed for La Cruz. They kept asking something else which we did not understand. Finally, Stephen realized that they wanted a ride. Now we have picked up many hitchhikers here, mostly Ticos and occasionally Gringos, but I have never driven the car with two men in fatigues sitting behind me with automatic rifles. I was totally tongue-tied and could not respond to their questions and polite chatter with one word of Spanish. I had to keep a light foot on the accelerator as my instinct was to gun it and get the hell out of there (not that that would have accomplished anything since they were in the car!) The guy was saying to me, "You don't understand much Spanish, do you?" I was trying to tell him that normally I did much better when there weren't guns behind my back, but fortunately they got out at their "commando station" and all was well.

Writing Assignment

Con mucho gusto - Stephen and Dawn:

In La Cruz, a border town with Nicaragua, on a bluff 250 meters high overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Bahia Salinas.

From Amalia's Inn-
Amalia Bounds, a seventy-four year old women who was born in San Jose (her parents came from Madrid), and who runs the inn and with help of

Carmen, a thirty year old Costaricense with three children and

Hector, Amalia's brother who lives next door and is a highway engineer.

Lestor Bradley Bounds, Amalia's dead husband, a painter from Washington DC.

A young doctor finishing his national service, who never appears

From the Ehecatl Restaurante, a restaurant that belies the statement that for eating places, the better the view, the worse the food. See below for more details:

A young handsome waiter, name unknown.

From the hacienda and the farm stretched out below-

Amalia's sister who lives "alone", her husband always working the farm and her 18-year-old grandson who has lived there since he was 17 days old when his mother died in an accident.

From Bahia Salinas-

a middle-aged, portly man who drives a gold 1970, 8-cylinder Buick Skylark. He helps a few young men load sacks of rice onto a beat-up row-boat with outboard motor.

They sail off into the sunset...to Nicaragua. The man says they come to Costa Rica to buy food because it's cheaper. Two gringos (guess who) who pick up four women hitchhiking up the big hill from the salt pans and cow fields to the town, two of whom are from Alajuela. The Gringa who is driving says in her best Spanish, "Oh we just met a man on the beach from Alejuela." They say, "Was he fat?" The Gringa, being polite, says "Mas o menos. He drives a 1970 Buick Skylark." They say, "Oh, it's her husband, Carlos!"

From The Frontier Guard Post-

Two fully armed amiable hitchhiking border guards.

And finally -- A constant wind.

For extra credit, add the two chubby bakers at the local panaderia who made incredible pastry and opened at 6 a.m.

Write a novel, or a short story, or a play (perhaps observing the unities) or whatever. Enjoy.
Men in a boat
The restaurant has about the same view as the Hotel. The bar is downstairs, with the restaurant up. The food was excellent. We have gotten behind in our writing and must now run to catch up. We spent three nights with Amalia before leaving; I think we left mostly because of the wind. I think she is the person who has affected us the greatest since we have been in this country. She is childless for reasons unknown to us. We came back one night and talked to her. She admitted that, because of her loneliness since the death of her husband and the geographical remoteness of her family, she wanted to die. We were stunned, our responses inarticulate, but we gave her kisses goodnight and went upstairs to our room and fell into each other's arm crying. We cried for her and we cried for ourselves.

Our existences are so fragile. Both life itself and the framework that we all build to make ourselves happy exist only a moment away from dissolution. We all live on the edge of tragedy. . .

Our first day in La Cruz we went on a two hour horseback nature trip at the Lodge at Los Innocentes. With about six other people, we walked our horses through their fields and forests and looked at animals and birds. We didn't see much except a band of spider monkeys, which made the whole trip worthwhile. I seemed to remember my days at the Lazy K Bar Ranch in Wyoming when I was thirteen and could get my horse to do what I wanted to do.

Our second day there we took a hike in the Santa Rosa National Park. We walked in the fiercest heat by far of our trip, and waited in the middle of the driest forest imaginable at two watering holes for animals to appear but none showed.
Dawn on horse
On the third day we left after lunch at the Mirador. It was a sad good-bye for us, but I think our attentions to Amalia cheered her up. We gave her our address and told her to visit us. She said that she wanted us to visit again and this time it would be as her guests. She added that she planned to be here. So we felt that we had brought a change for the better. I think she liked us; she would not let us pay more than $30/night for the three nights.

We never did get to see the doctor.

We headed down the road, looking for a place near the volcano Rincon de la Vieja. The place that we liked in the guide book never answered the phone so we picked the other and drove 12 kms. up a barely dirt road to the Buena Vista Lodge. The place was pleasant, but the room was rather dark. We negotiated a better price and took the room because they offered a horse ride to some waterfalls and a volcanic mud bath with hot tub.

Also, the 12 km. had taken an hour to negotiate and we didn't want to do it back down the hill in fading light. They were having a "bull fight" in their corral with the local cowboys for the guests of the lodge. They weren't as good as the cowboys in Nosara, but not bad either. During the event it began to rain. Although we did not know it at the time we were now trading one natural phenomenon (the wind) for another (the rain). Afterwards the cowboys came up to the bar and had a "few" beers and sort of checked out the tourists most of whom spoke German with a few speaking French.
The Other Couple

The evening event for that night turned out to be a buffet supper and dance. It was very much like a cruise ship. After the supper was over, the boom box went to "Latin" music of varying quality, and the cowboys began to come over and ask the women to dance. At first, they had no success, but eventually the women began to accept. What we have not been able to figure out is whether this was part of their job at the lodge. Some were more sober than others, but in all cases the results of the dance pairings were interesting. Although Dawn and I were stuffed from the buffet, we danced so that Dawn would not have to dance with one of the cowboys. One of them got through our defenses and Dawn did dance with a Campesino/Caballero.

The next day, we got up early and had breakfast, and began our riding adventure. It could not have been more different from our first. Although there were only four people taking the early morning ride, each couple had its own guide. This was because only we were headed for the hot springs after the waterfalls. Dawn and I started off first and soon were doing quite a bit of trotting as opposed to the first trip where, except for about five seconds for me, we walked the whole way. I was pleased to find that I remembered how to post, or some version of it so that it was pretty comfortable. Soon the other couple galloped past us and we thought that they must be advanced riders.


Stephen and Socorro, after applying their Mudpacks

Not so. Soon our guide, Socorro, rode behind us instead of in front, and with a set of verbal noises controlled the pace of things which meant that all of a sudden our horses took off on a gallop. I LOVED it! No one ever taught me to ride a horse and it was only my second time on one in the last 40 years or so, but the rhythm of the gallop was so wonderful after all that bumpy trotting. The horse, "Pomada," and I seemed to be dancing together in a rounded polka or something. My respect for these animals is tremendous. I cannot tell you how steep some of those trails were - both up and down - and how well those horses negotiated them. They knew how to avoid the slippery places or the rocks and when to speed up or slow down unless Socorro (or occasionally I) had another idea. I guess I now know where the expression "horse sense" came from. Returning to the ranch, we galloped up a hill into a field of toros! One of them was standing firmly across the trail, all 2000 pounds of cattle testosterone and horns, staring right at us. I brought Pomada to a halt and weakly looked back at Socorro and said, "Toros." "Si," he said, utterly unconcerned, but he galloped up and rousted them far enough away for me to feel like I could get by without having a heart attack.

Stephen: After our horse trip and lunch, we headed down the rocky road again; by now there is a good clunk coming from the rear right section of the car whenever we go over a bump. We push on. Our destination is a river raft float trip for the next morning with a reasonable cheap place to stay for the night. We see a good place in the guide book, but miss it on the way into town. We drive back the requisite 8 kms. but find nothing. So we move onward to Safaris Corobici. We arrive to find it run by a Swiss man with whom we arrange a 8 a.m. float trip and who recommends a couple of places. We find the Bed and breakfast and for $30 total we get a basic and clean room and a great breakfast with cloth napkins. We are happy to be here because it is run by a Tico family.

Early next morning, we meet Oscar our guide and get some more film for our camera. We then set off on a three hour fairly sedate float trip down the Corobici River from the Pan American Highway, just Dawn, the guide and myself. Oscar, at my request gives us the bilingual tour, which is Spanish first and then some English fill-ins if we don't understand. It is a great trip, full of information, silences, a swim at a sandy beach, howler monkeys, a huge assortment of birds, a glimpse of a crocodile's tail as he flips off a log, a swim in the river along side the raft as it drifts with the current, a delicious pineapple and cookies and a couple of Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water).

After lunch at a restaurant we make the decision to drive to Lake Arenal on our way to the Caribbean side of the country. As we climb out of the Coastal plain, it begins to rain . When we get to Arenal it is too early to stop because we don't want to hang out in the rain so we push on to Fortuna and have a couple of afternoon refrescos and plan our next step. While doing so, we see some Americans not handling their language barrier very well and before we can feel too superior remember that soon we will be headed for countries where we will be in the same boat. Hope we handle it better. We pick a place out of the guide book. (I hope we have mentioned that we are mostly using Chris Baker's Costa Rican Handbook published by Moon Travel. It is very good and we recommend it to all who would visit this country.) We call them up and arrange a room and they tell us it is two hours away. Right, two hours by jet on a clear day.

About three and a half hours later we arrive. I navigated a wrong turn into a forty-five minute delay.


I asked directions of a gentleman standing in front of a church. With map in hand, I asked him, "Donde estamos?" He answered, "Estamos en Nicaragua!", which was a pretty humorous and bold response from a complete stranger. We DID know at least that we were not in Nicaragua.

The rest of the time was just driving in the rain and then driving in the rain at night on gravel or potholed roads with no shoulders and pedestrians on them. I think we have mentioned that the roads are shared by everyone. Well, the sharing continues in the dark also and makes the driving very difficult. A few miles north of Virgen, near the Sarapiqi River, we got to the sign, which we had to read with our flashlights. It was pointing down yet another rocky path -- 7 kms -- or was it 1 kms? With relief we discovered it was a one and pulled into the place exhausted.

It was a beautiful place with a beautiful room. We made a snack and a couple of G and T's and went to bed. In the morning the rain continued. We were now high up in the central valley and we decided that the weather would be better on the Caribbean coast as it had been on the Pacific one. After a walk, we packed up and started out.>

On the Caribbean

This time we made no calls and when we got about an hour South of Limon we started going into places that looked promising or that we had read about in the guide book. The first place was Aviarios, a beautiful riverside lodge with guided canoe trips and a wide, polished-wood verandah and a pet sloth that Dawn got to hold. Its mother had been killed and they had raised it. It was now 5 years old and they were in the process of starting a study of its pregnancy. (Actually they were still looking for a mate and setting up a collaboration with the University and talking to the Discovery channel, etc.) Buttercup was very cute and spent her time with Dawn looking as if she had just woken up from a nap, which in fact she had. To my mind, she also looked as if she had just heard a joke that she didn't quite understand. The place was $60/night without breakfast with the room downstairs near the parking lot. It also looked like another dry land cruise ship.

So we moved on to Puerto Viejo, Limon and stopped into a place that had gotten a guide book rave, run by a woman named Elizabeth Newton. Well in my opinion Elizabeth needs to relax a little if she wants to be a Caribbean hotelier. The place was beautiful with chamber music playing on the stereo and Oriental rugs in spaces that weren't sure whether they were inside or outside, a pool and a fancy restaurant. A room costs perhaps $50 a night. We came over to the Caribbean side because almost every Costa Rican and foreigner that we had met had told us not to. They said that it was violent, full of crime and drugs, that people were lazy, etc. To me that sounds no worse than Boston and , hey, let's find out. Also, I suspected that a little racism might be at a bottom of some of this. It was not until fifty years ago that members of the black population were allowed in other parts of the country besides Limon province, although I have heard that evidence of this existence of this law, now repealed, is hard to find.

So Elizabeth's place did not seem to be enough there. It seemed isolated from the area. So, with a couple of longing glances over her shoulder by Dawn, (it was still raining, mind you), we moved on into the actual town of Puerto Viejo and for the first time ran into places that were full. One proprietor would send us to another and tenants would tell us where their owners might be if they weren't there when we were inquiring until we found the Jacaranda cabinas and the attached Garden restaurant.

Jacaranda The restaurant was highly praised and the cabins were barely mentioned. The cabins with shared bath were 2500 colones and the meal was 8800. ($12 and $40). The meal was great! A bottle of wine, plates garnished with hibiscus blossoms, the works. As we ate we tried to figure out which of the two women moving from table to table making sure things were right was the owner. We picked the one in the sheath dress and asked her.

Oh, no, she said, Our boss is the cook and we turned to notice the small wiry black woman who had been working away in the kitchen all night. We stopped by the kitchen on our way out to praise her food and her vision.

Lucky none of the tenants felt like making love at the Jacaranda cabinas because we could hear every breath in the adjacent rooms. In the morning the rain continued as we hurried to breakfast to drink coffee and to discuss the rain. The town which might be charming in the sun was looking mighty bedraggled and a mite depressing. For those of you who have been in Christiana, Denmark or any other alternate community, that's the way the place looks. It has much energy, much building and selling, but not enough planning of things like streets and sewage systems. The beach had driftwood strewn on it and the water was rough because of the 7 -9 days of rain and storm that they had had. Our room had been very dark and we decided to move yet farther South away from civilization and find a place that would work in the rain as we hoped for better weather, although, I, Dawn, liked hearing all the reggae and seeing those handsome dark men struttin' their bodies on the beach. Apparently, there's a lively escort service established by the dreadlocked natives for the pleasure particularly of the Nordic European blonde ladies...

Miraflores We were looking for light and air and on the beach. We stopped at a couple of places but they were too dark. So we drove to about the end of the road to look at another guide book rave called Coral and Almonds Tent Camp, a bit of Kenya in Central America. It was a disappointment, but a spectacular one. Large tents on six foot high platforms connected by walkways lit by methane gas from the bio toilets. So we headed back up the road, checking the ones we had passed until we got to Miraflores, which is the place that had been recommended to us in the first place by Roger in Nosara.

The book said that the bottom floor units were dingy but the second floor units were wonderful and the book was right. They had rooms available, three upstairs, and we picked the best and moved in with the rain still coming down, off and on. The building is based on Bribri architecture. It is made mostly of bamboo with a corrugated roof. Bedroom The four bedrooms upstairs are on two sides of a central corridor called the living room. There are no end walls so the living room is more a street with roof than a room. In the rooms the windows are large with no glass or screens. One can birdwatch while lying in bed, and watch out because the hummingbirds occasionally used our room as a shortcut. At night we used the mosquito netting, but it was not really needed. We kept our shoes at the bottom of the stairs per house rules, and the shower was mostly outside at the back corner of our street. The sheets and covers were white with a red design motif and the art was striking. The rooms grabbed all the light and air that was available and we felt home.

Usually a place comes with a cast of characters and this was no exception. In order of appearance, they are:

Chris, the cook and person doing mostly everything from Charleston, SC. He could cook but was a little confused about Pina Coladas. He had been there for five months and now that his surf board was fixed wanted to really learn how to surf. He giggled a lot .
"Living Room"
Dennis, he came over and introduced himself to me, so I asked him what his job was there, because he seemed to work there. He said his job was starting a new relationship with the owner. He also was the head of an attitudinal healing center in San Jose. He always looked me straight in the eye. He was in charge of the music sessions that took places after the dinner in the restaurant, head drummer. We were asked to dance, but demurred.

Maya, a woman from Toulouse, France now living in Alaska but moving to Seattle, who was looking for places to bring tour groups to stay in Costa Rica while they kayaked or walked or did their off the beaten track thing. She had led many kayak trips before, some North of the Arctic Circle, where you never want to tip over. She was big boned, robust, but also soft in a nice way. (DK-She was 54 and had gorgeous legs!)

Pamela, the owner. Her actual job was raising flowers and seeds that she exported around the world, or maybe her actual job was being on the board of a group that was working to get the indigenous population included in the tourist industry, or perhaps it was to get her relation with Dennis off on the right foot, because it didn't seem to be her B&B, which was left to bump along on its own as well as it could.

Ignacio, from Barcelona, now in San Jose. A web page designer trolling for business in the B&B waters of Costa Rica. Sort of business partners with Maya. Thirties. Looks like Peter Dimuro's younger brother, for those of you who know Peter. Very handsome. A go getter.

Two women from Minnesota, Julie and Louise (who wore a Thelma and Louise Finishing School T-shirt). They started downstairs, but we gave them a tour of the upstairs and they moved up with us. They worked at a women's shelter and went on snorkelling trips on their vacations. They raved about the French Polynesians.

We walked the beach in the fog. We took Maya, Ignacio, Julie and Louise in the car down to Manzanillo which is the end of the road, south of parts of Panama, and went to a restaurant called Maxis. Beat up, but the fish was great. The trip was an adventure, this time with five people getting out for the rough parts and once a couple of people pushing. We got back as the rain continued.
After our trip to Manzanillo, and a snooze, we went to an upscale French restaurant about a five minute walk down the dirt road. We walked into a huge rancho (a large space with an A-frame style roof made of bamboo and palm fronds. Ella Fitzgerald was on the stereo and we had a bottle of wine with the house pate. Ignacio was there to do some business with the manager. A great place, but to me it seemed not to be there. It seemed to belong in a hyperspace full of places like it where you are taken care of, everything is quiet, the people that you are with are polite and well to do. In the middle of Rasta's and surfer guys and run-down shanties, it was very pleasurable.

The next morning we listened to the details of a guided trip that was being planned. Pamela, our host, would take some people on a trip to an iguana farm and village artisan shop, both which were run by members of the indigenous population. Our job was to buy iguanas for release because they are eaten by the BriBri and were becoming scarce, and to buy baskets from the villagers (and maybe donate an article of clothing). We decided not to go, mostly on my call. Pamela's group had presented themselves as being interested in bringing the Bribri into the tourist economy, and certainly some of their programs such as training the locals to be guides did just this. For Pamela to charge us $20/hour for the group to take us to make donations in my mind did not fit in. It seemed like charity to me. It can be argued either way.

To the Pacific Coast

So we paid up and after they all took off to the village, we headed for sunshine. During our whole stay on the Caribbean, we had only a couple of scant moments of it so we decided to head back to the central plateau and if the weather was good, stay. Otherwise, we would head to the South coast of the Pacific Ocean for our last week in Costa Rica. Bernard, Jeannette's adopted son, had told us about places in the country that he really liked and the first place he mentioned was the country near Paraiso, west of Cartago. It had some old churches and beautiful scenery. Once we began climbing, the drive was beautiful, steep and curvy. I am guessing that we did 4,000 to 5,000 ft of elevation in an hour or two. We were surrounded by rushing rivers, mountains and volcanoes. When we got to Paraiso, we lined up our accommodation choices from the guide book and headed off to Orosi.
Sanchiri This time we landed on the first try, the Sanchiri Lodge and Mirador Restaurant. The restaurant has a plate glass wall overlooking the Orosi valley with its town and the mountain rainforest behind. They had five cabinas on the same slope with the same view with a tiny deck and a bathroom below made entirely, walls and floor, from natural stone. The bathroom had one of the greatest views from a toilet seat that I have ever seen. It was surpassed only by a toilet at Heart Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming that had a semi-circle of cedar trees instead of walls that left your view of the continental divide unobstructed.

We were the only people in the Restaurant that night (Monday) and were waited on by an older gentleman that we referred to as "El Senor". It turned out that he was the owner of the place and ran it with the help of his sons and his sister. It had been, and to a certain extent still was, the family farm. They were raising some of the food that they cooked in the kitchen. We fell in love with him. He had a quiet dignity and a pride that only comes with a long life well lived. He had a soft way about inquiring about our lives and sharing his own that was captivating. Near the end of our meal he treated us to a couple of Café Ricos to have with our tres leches, a traditional dessert.

So we spent two nights there, and spent the days being tourists. We drove to the top of a 11,000 foot dormant volcano about five minutes before the fog rolled in and visited a beautiful old church in Cartago, the colonial capital of the country until the early 19th century. This church is the center of the country's religious life. In August, thousands walk on their knees from San Jose to offer their entreaties for better health, victory in sports contests or love affairs. All leave little momentos of their success. When we were there, there was a constant stream of people swaying down the aisle on their knees.

We also visited Lankaster Garden which specializes in orchids, wonderful, wild, beautiful orchids. That night, we went to Orosi to find a place for dinner. The place we wanted was closed and when we went to the next, they were having a function in the dining and the deck was too cold, but before we could leave, they carried a table into the bar. So we stayed. The food was okay, the decor was terrible, but the vibes were good. People always seem to be ready to make things happen without seeming servile or resentful. It seems to be in the national character to be engaging. They had a great bar menu with a number of different kinds of rum and vodka, although we never could get a straight ordinary lime.

We had a drink with El Senor when we got back to the Sanchiri. They have a good Brandy from Jerez available so we had a glass each and talked, letting him know at the end of the conversation that tomorrow we would be heading for the Pacific. We did not want to leave the country without another hit of tropical ocean. After breakfast, the next morning, just as we were leaving, I could not find my glasses. We searched for a while and then got the whole family involved. We checked the car, our bags, the restaurant, our cabin, everywhere. Even other lodgers got into the act. Finally Dawn found them in my computer bag. I had looked there but not closely enough. When Dawn went back to say our final good-byes, El Senor gave her a painted wooden paper napkin holder as a remembrance of our stay. It is only pretty by summer camp standards, but it is now treasured. As we drove out the dirt road, we started to express the same thought--How could we get Amalia and El Senor together? We assumed that his wife had died, because she had not been mentioned and his sister was doing the cooking. Amalia is older, but it was our deep affection for both of them that made us have the simultaneous thought.

Before we headed for the Pacific, we toured the two churches and one artisan studio (that of Macedonio Quesada) that we wanted to see. I love beautiful churches. This one was very small and not grand, but it had a simplicity that was stunning. The faith of the people who built it and of the people who had worshipped there through the centuries was palpable. You could feel all the baptisms and weddings and funerals that had taken place here. I said a prayer for my parents, realizing that without their deaths and my subsequent inheritance this trip would not be possible. Then I realized that without their lives this trip would not be possible and without the lives of my grandparents and all their parents. Have I done anything to carry forth what is best in my family, genetically or spiritually? Precious little.

Needless to say, it was an emotional morning. Part of the beauty of churches is that they are places of mystery. There are no answers in a church, only questions that alternate between exposing our temporal insignificance and hinting at an unfathomable glory. No matter where our beliefs lie on that spectrum, we should probably spend more time in churches. The other church was a ruin, turned into garden, surrounded by a park. Interesting, but I think a church needs a roof.

We had to jam on the brakes to stop at the studio. There was no sign. He was a quiet man, one of two brothers carrying on the work of their father. Making religious and emotional sculptures out of the roots of coffee bushes that are carried to him by the stream next to his studio. The studio is made mostly of small branches treated like bamboo. He reminded me of the topiary artist. One of many around the whole world who live as artists, focused on their personal art, seemingly unaware of critic or buyer. From my point of view, is it simple or profound?

We spent the rest of the day driving over the Central Cordillera, near the highest mountain in the country. Stopping at a gas station when we are back down to have our rim pounded out to make them circular after hitting so many spectacular pot holes. We mutter about a country that has such unrepaired roads while admiring a people that will put up with them. We have to remember that most of the people are not driving fast cars, and whether the road is paved or not is really no matter to them. Should they pay for roads to suit our convenience? Are we visiting their country as it is, or their country made to suit us? I think it should be the former.

We stop for lunch at the top of the last fifteen minute descent to the ocean. I order a small chicken appetizer. It is simply the best chicken that I can remember ever eating, with wonderful sauce, and tender and moist. I come up with a heartfelt but nearly incomprehensible compliment. He wants to know whether I have been eating typico or gringo. I tell him both. He explains that they are free range chickens, and that he has to cook well so that customers return. He gives us a brochure of a place to stay if we are interested. Dawn mentions to me after we leave that he was a stunningly handsome man. There is much that around here of both sexes. We have been enjoying looking.

We stop in Dominical and check out a place that is full, but we wouldn't want to stay there anyway. It had too many young surfers and sort of a crowded beach. It looks like Fort Lauderdale South. So we move on. Next stop is full also, but we promise ourselves to come back for dinner. It is on a point with ocean visible on both sides. He points us to a couple of places down the road. So our final spot in the country is going to be Cabinas Escondidas, a vegetarian restaurant/ocean view cabinas/meditation center in Dominicalito.

The Pacific

D and S We picked a hillside cabin with walls on three sides and a deck on the fourth. The shower was outside under the deck and with a view of the ocean. The room was airy, bright and private. The sun was shining and the temperature was hot. We hit the beach just after sunset and headed for the restaurant after we found our way back from the beach in the dark.

They had candles on the table! For anyone planning to go to Costa Rica, please remember to take a couple of candles for the dinner table. When we asked the waiter to sell us a candle, he gave us one instead. Again, the food was good.

The next day we found a beach which we dubbed "Nuestra Playa" (our beach), a small horseshoe shaped beach between two rocky points about a half mile apart. We saw a road, and by moving some wood aside, were able to drive our car down to the beach and park it in the shade. No one on it, and with beautiful tubular shaped waves; I spent most of the morning in the water playing in them. We moved on to the next beach, Playa Hermosa, about three miles of gray beach with about 10 people on it.

When we got back to our place, we realized that we probably should confirm our reservations with American Airlines. Armed with information from Kathy the manager we set off. First, we stopped at a noisy bar. We gave him the number which he dialed and then seemed to lose interest in the transaction. The second place no longer made telephone calls and the third phone needed a local phone card to work. So we bought one, and while Dawn hid in the car away from some of the few insect attacks of the trip, I managed to dial what seemed like 30 code numbers and the AA number and actually get through without being on hold more than 5 seconds and actually confirm the reservations. It seemed like a miracle to me. So I swaggered back to the car and informed Dawn that the task had been completed and we could go back and have our African Groundnut Stew that was awaiting us at our restaurant.
Part 16 - Dawn:
We have been periodically stunned by the level of understanding and sophistication of thought that is expressed by Ticos who have never been farther away from home than a thirty mile radius from where they were born. After a snorkelling trip off of a disappearing sand bar in Bahia-way south on the Pacific coast-we stopped for a cold drink in a local "soda." (A soda is a kind of luncheonette, or a less expensive, less fancy restaurant that may have just as good food as anywhere else, but cheaper.) This particular place was made out of an old yellow school bus with one side knocked out and high stools attached. Anyhow, we ordered a couple of cold drinks and, sure enough, the Tico proprietor started up a conversation...about his brother living in Boston, working in a nursing home long enough to collect a pension and then come home to Costa Rica. He spoke a bit of English and I ,of course, babbled away in bad Spanish that sounds good enough. He asked what my work was so I told him "dance." He asked if it was "classico" -you know with the special shoes, he said, demonstrating a point shoe with his hand. I said, "No, es baile moderno-interpretivo." (Of course I guessed that there was a word "interpretivo" and apparently there is.)So the guy got up and said, "Oh, si como las formas de animales," and he gracefully made his body into the shape of a bird, a dog, a monkey. We discussed my teaching at an art school and the idea that this type of dance was "art." He seemed to get it, totally...which surprised me because many Americans I have talked to seem to think modern dance is Broadway or TV dancing.

An even more surprising example of this sensibility came from our guide, Marino, who took us on a steep, wild walk in the jungle as a "reward" for having stayed three nights at Escondidas. We started the hike at 7:30 a.m., and it was already about 90 degrees and humid. I started dripping immediately as we hiked only UP on a non-trail which was very slippery from the previous night's rain storm. It was a wonderful hike, rewarded by encountering a family of howler monkeys in the canopy of old trees above us. Marino spoke only Spanish; Stephen and I did our best to translate for the other American couple with us. Sometimes we would just stand around and wait and look and listen for wildlife. Since I was the one willing to babble in Spanish, Marino struck up a conversation with me. He wanted to know where we were from and how long our vacation in CR was. Not only had he never been out of CR, but he had never been farther than the local beach on one side and his father's farm, about 15 miles up the mountains, on the other side. AND he had never had a vacation. I was starting to feel a little overly fortunate about my life, but told him that if he was going to be in only one place in the world, he certainly had a beautiful place to be in. He said, "Yes, I have the ocean and the fish, the jungle with all the birds and animals, the mountains and the farm." He is also married with a young daughter who was born after a 7-month gestation, spent a month in the hospital and is now fine. Discussing families, he seemed surprised that he was only a bit older than my son. He was 28, although to me he looked at least 38-that may be the combination of never having a vacation, worrying about his daughter, and seeming to be so wise.
Our hosts
Marino wanted to know what work I was going back to. (I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was on vacation for several more months.) So again, I found myself explaining "modern dance" and again he seemed to get it. I also said that I thought I was getting a little old for dance and was trying to figure out what else I should do. He said, "Pero es el espiritu que es importante."("But it's the spirit that's important.) He went on to describe his 75-year-old father who still dances every day of his life. Marino was the second-youngest of nine children.

So from the mouths of the "unsophisticates" comes wisdom, and I really have missed dancing and creating something. I wonder if this trip may end up validating the life I already have rather than making me want to change it. Vamos ver, vamos ver. On va voir. We will see.

It was hard to leave the ocean and the jungle for the relative civility of the central highlands for our last night in Costa Rica, back at the beautiful, modern B&B, El Cafetal. But our hosts, Romy and Lee, gave us big warm hugs, happy to see us again after two weeks. They got up at 6:00 a.m. to make us a delicious breakfast before we had to leave for the airport. (Breakfast is usually served at 8:00.) Looking at the photo (paper only) that they took of us at breakfast on their patio, it appears that we were sitting in front of a theatrical drop. Even the early morning slanted light cast shadows that looked as if they were created by a lighting designer with slatted gobos!

So this chapter ends here. We are surrounded by bananos, papayas, and coffee plants and filled with the warmth of new and sunny people in our lives. As I think with great sadness of my friend Susanne, I am reminded once again to live each day as fully, deeply and wildly as I can and to wake each morning with a rebirth of wonder.

Cooped Up in Europe?

The middle part of an E-Mail travelogue of a seven week trip to Europe in March and April, 1997. The first part was in Costa Rica (See Estamos en Costa Rica). Afterwards we went home for some business and then went to France (See Southern France). We welcome comments. Please send them to Stephen and Dawn
Italy We fly to Paris, take a train across the Alps to Padua, visit Elena and cross-country ski
Venice We spent a week in Venice
Vienna and Prague We go through Vienna on our way to Prague, then head to France
Strasbourg and Dijon Two towns on the way to Paris
Paris Paris, fly home.
(Back to Europe)


Thursday Night
We have arrived in Padua after three days of travel by many of the accepted means. We started off at the Shipyard, the bar at the Northwest Terminal at Logan, with a beer and then flew to Amsterdam, getting off about an hour late. Once in Amsterdam, we took a long walk in the terminal to our Paris flight. Here, we took off about a half hour late and landed only twenty minutes behind our schedule, which was to get to Paris Est and get on the afternoon train to Basel, Switzerland. We got through customs easily, and got some money changed and bought tickets and found the train to Paris Nord and then walked to Paris Est, initiated our rail passes, got some more francs, all with fifteen minutes to spare.

Six hours later, we arrived in Basel to find the tourist/reservation office closed. About an hour later after visiting the eight or so hotels near the station, we found one, still more than we wanted to pay, but suitable enough. The next day we took the Transalpin from Basel through Zurich to Innsbruck and changed to the train to Padua (with only five minutes on the schedule between our arrival and departure) and rolled into Padua at 6:30 PM to be greeted by our friend Elena. Today, we got a little break from traveling and walked around Padua seeing churches containing famous and wondrous art and then drove up here to Cortina with Elena and her fiancé Michael.
I have to say that having lunch in the dining car with a changing panorama of mountains and Alpine villages made me feel like Greta Garbo in a great old movie! It was indeed elegant. However, our Austrian waiter was a bit stiff and rule-oriented. I did not want a complete meal, I said I was a vegetarian, and asked if I could just have the vegetable soup. He said he did not think so, that he would have to ask the boss. Five minutes later, a brown consommé arrived which smelled a lot like beef broth. Stephen tasted it, and sure enough, it was beef consommé with noodles. I was too intimidated to return it, but Stephen did and eventually I got a salad, but I did not get a very cheerful waiter. By contrast, when we boarded the train in Innsbruck, jumping on quickly and dragging our luggage awkwardly though the dining car, the Italian crew was all "Buongiornos" and smiles. From such stuff are stereotypes made.


Padua is not a city on many tourist agendas. After all, Italy has Rome, Florence, and Venice. However, Padua is a lovely city and, like so much of Europe, has a Centro filled with ancient piazzas, churches from the 12th to 16th centuries, history and art everywhere. Our wonderful young friend Elena found us a hotel right in the center of the old town. The highlight of our walk there was my rediscovery of Giotto, the great fresco artist who painted so many of Italy's church walls in the early 1300's. His work fills the Scavegni Chapel. From 1303 to 1309, he painted the "Poem of Redemption" with scenes from the life of Christ as well as scenes from the Old Testament, mythology, and "virtues and vices." Not only is the quality of his painting so beautiful, the detail and color, but also the expressions and sense of humanity of his subjects is so moving. Moreover, he had a sense of humor; i.e. painting a pair of upside-down, flailing legs with body disappeared into water and whale for the story of Jonah, and painting one angel riding right on top of another in one of those celestial scenes!
Saturday evening
I have just gotten back from skiing at Cortina. Quite an experience. It is Spring skiing here now so we took two large trams (75 and 50 people) and then a chair lift to get to the top. We skied far above the tree line next the shear rock cliffs that go straight up to the ridge. I was skiing with Michael, Elena's fiancé, whose family lived in Cortina when he was growing up. He started skiing when he was four and when he was young skied in ski school with Alberto Tomba. He was the best skier that I saw today on the mountain. I was not, nor was I second best, but I managed to keep up, although with nothing of his economy and elegance of style. The valley is beautiful because twenty years ago they stopped the construction of new buildings in the area. When you drive along the road or look down from the ski runs, there is plenty of green space.
After dinner smiles Rushing off to Email now, but we will tell you about the spectacular dinner we had with Elena, Michele, and Elena's parents at her family's elegant apartment. For now, all I can say is "Wow!" we are off to Asiago and then Venice for the rest of the week.

For those of you who do not know who Maria-Elena is, her aunt's cousin is a friend of "our" Carlo Rizzo's grandmother! When Elena was coming to Boston a few years back, the Italian contingent asked Carlo to help her find a place to stay while she was doing some post-graduate work in engineering at MIT. Carlo asked if she could stay with us until she found a place in Cambridge. We were delighted to have her in our home, and thus began our friendship. While she and Michele are young enough to be our children, we have a wonderful time with them ( which is not really a big surprise since we have a great time with my children too, and they are a few years younger than Elena & Michele.)

So dinner at her mother's house was her beautiful way of thanking us for "taking care" of Elena in the USA. Somehow, having heard what a devoted mother Senora Valcher was, always cooking and ironing, I imagined her as a stereotypical short, plump, Italian mama in a house dress with a big apron. Imagine my surprise when a slim, blonde, chic woman in leather pants greeted us at the door of her Victorian style apartment replete with crystal, silver, formal furniture and a lot of original artwork! After some sort of apricot/vodka cocktail, we sat down at a beautifully set round table for the first course, which was a triple layer terrine of a kind of ham mousse and caviar, very delicate. (I abandoned my vegetarianism for that evening.) Then we had some incredible crepes in a creamy sauce, followed by roast veal with an almond sauce and baked fennel with perfect seasonings and a bit of corn, and spinach on the side. Then the salad course with two separate bowls, one of greens and the other of tender, young radicchio. Two desserts! Pana Cotta, which is a kind of mold of milk, cream & vanilla confection with a deep red berry sauce drizzled over it. Then we had to refresh our palettes with a fruit cup topped with lemon gelato! Oh my, and three different wines, too. They must have been washing dishes for days. And how did she manage to have everything perfectly cooked and just at the right temperature to serve at just the appropriate intervals? Astonishing, really.

The sad part was that Senora Valcher spoke really no English, and apart from the Italian phrases that I had practiced, my Italian (and Stephen's for sure) is quite limited. Nevertheless, they charmingly complimented me on my accent, and all was hugs and kisses at the end of the evening. As Michele was driving us back to the hotel, I said that I didn't really think that we had done so much for Elena when she was in Boston to warrant such royal and effusive treatment. He said that in Italy, it is very unusual for a family to take in a "complete stranger"-which essentially Elena was, so they were indeed grateful, and we were very lucky to have such generous and warm hosts for our stay in northern Italy. Elena's dad, a professor at the University of Bologna, did quite well with English and was the quintessential charming Italian, right out of the movies.
A simple breakfast of two cafe lattes was enough to get us started and after a short walk we packed up our bags and stored them at the hotel while we went to get our rental car. We stopped off at Padua's beautiful open air market to get some flowers for Elena and her family, and once we got to her office tried to do some Email. Except for one to Amber, it was not successful, so we headed to the hotel to get our luggage and started out of town.

We had just as much trouble getting out of Padua as we did in many Costa Rican towns for the exact opposite reason. In Costa Rica there are no signs. Here there are so many signs that by the time you read them all the time for decision is long past. Also, the Italian in the car behind you is gently reminding you to keep up the average speed of cars driven in the country to twice the speed limit. Elena referred to this habit as "efficiency".

The roads are wonderful here and the kilometers on the map melt behind you when you are doing a hundred and twenty of them an hour. Asiago is a location like no other that I have been to. We drove right up to the base of a three thousand foot mountain and then continued right up the side of it with ten switch backs in all until we reached not the top, but a large plateau with another set a mountains behind. Here was the seven communities of Asiago. We rolled into town with only the name and address of our hotel. We couldn't find the street and it took us a long time to find the tourist office, but the women behind the desk gave us a map, but when we got there it was closed! Strange. We went back to the tourist place and she found us another, the Hotel Milano.

The skiing was great, even though there was no snow in the town itself. When we drove up to the Centro Sci da Fondo, we found a charming ski haus. . . above Asiago Dawn:
Actually, half the hotels in Asiago had closed prematurely because they had had 20 days of unusually warm weather -70 degrees and no snow, and business was kind of slow. So we were very happy to find the Hotel Milano, with only Italian-speaking staff and 20,000 lire less than the place we were supposed to stay at, and with breakfast! On day one, we ended up doing a 19 kilometer trail, with no lunch and no water. I did get a little cranky, what with feeling my age and my out-of-shapeness, but it was gorgeous country. At a rest stop on the trail, I stripped down to my sport bra, took a few rays, and watched the crocus start to bloom. Next day, we were tourists, supposedly to give our bodies a rest from skiing. However, walking in beautiful Renaissance hills towns sometimes makes you feel like you've been skiing for 19k. The third day we skiied the same trail (it was the only trail open) but in the opposite direction. A trail or a road always looks so different when you take it the other way. Moreover, we brought lunch with us on the trail & took a couple of leisurely stops. It seemed like we got more nice, long, graceful downhill runs that day, but I was still dragging by the time we got back to the lodge for a beer and sunset on the deck. Ah, life is tough here.
(Back to Europe)


The tough part really is finding out what to do next, finding accommodations in a foreign language, dealing with the vagaries of ever-changing phone systems, and dragging our bags around. Given that, Stephen had a strong yen to change our original plans and spend a whole week in Venice, instead of 2.5 days, and dump Budapest completely. Our Italian friends were surprised that we would spend more than a weekend in Venice, apparently thinking that a few days was enough to walk around and see the pretty buildings, eat, and drink. I too was a little skeptical at first, thinking of the greatness of Florence and Rome and that Venice was so touristy. from the Academia bridge Yet I'm really glad we did it. We saw an astonishing range of artwork, from the 14th to the 20th century and heard an excellent chamber music group in a 12th century church. They played Mozart and Vivaldi's Four Seasons...I couldn't help but envision my beautiful teen dancers running around with boxes during the last movement! I only wished that those kidscould have the chance to sit in an historic church in the composer's home country and hear that piece of music played live by real people on real stringed instruments. I can just imagine Lakeisha taking Venice by storm! Which reminds me that we have seen very few people of color in northern Italy, Vienna or Prague . Italy is trying to figure out what to do with all the Albanian refugees arriving in their country. The Venice that I love is the one we saw on our first long walk, getting up at 6:30. It's a city of spatial contrast. You inevitably get lost in the maze of tiny winding streets and canals only to arrive at some lovely open space, a campo you haven't been in before, where the light and angles are brighter and steeper, and the human movement is bigger - kids playing soccer against the church wall, groups of friends and families with strollers and bikes and rollerblades. Then you enter yet another church filled with gloriously excessive Italian religious art, and maybe you wish that Tintoretto had painted a little less feverishly, or maybe just a little less.
early morning Venice
Yes , the Venice stay was my idea I needed to be someplace. I didn't want to move to another country and I certainly did not want to not understand another language. I liked the week quite a bit. Venice is simple. When you want to go somewhere, you step out of the hotel and walk there. And when you have had enough, you turn around and walk home. No place in central Venice was more than twenty minutes from our hotel.

The hotel was also simple. It started two floors above the street and was 9 rooms with a couple of baths in the corridor and a nicely decorated lobby. Two young guys in their thirties ran the place. One star. We had a big room with a sink with two tall windows that faced south and looked out over a small campinella. When we returned mid afternoon for a break, it would invite us in with a flood of sun warmth. We soon created our daily schedule which was an morning stand up coffee with a croissant at a caffe on the Campo San Stephano, followed by a short walk, perhaps to check the view off of the Academia bridge. We would return to the hotel and then off to a museum or church. We followed that with lunch al fresco at one of the many outdoor cafes in the numerous squares of the city. Lunch might be followed by a snooze before going out again to see a church or walk through a neighborhood or do an errand like buy supplies for the evening's picnic. We decided to save money by not eating every meal out, but decided to picnic at dinner because it was warm and sunny in the middle of the day and the lazy lunches were wonderful.

Beekeeper There are two Venices. One is the well traveled streets that the tourists use to get from the train and bus stations to the Rialto Bridge, San Marco Piazza and the Academia Gallery. Along these routes move the groups of fifty Japanese tourists, the gaggles of French schoolchildren following their teachers, the well heeled buyers window-shopping in the store of New York, Paris and Rome. Dozens of languages are heard. The other Venice begins one or at most two streets over from the "highways" The are no fancy shops, locals outnumber the outsiders and it is quiet. You discover campos with mothers and children; there are people going to and from work. You share a small church with a handful of other people. The streets are narrow, sometimes just wide enough to let another person pass you in the other direction. The scale is perfect and there is always a surprise waiting around the next corner. I found it a very comfortable place to be in and that was what I was looking for.

I am seeing a lot of art and not liking very much of it. The piece that I have liked best is a modern piece called the beekeeper by a Flemish artist named Fabre. It is made by gluing green jewel beetles to a wire mesh in the shape of a hooded figure carrying a large basket. The whole thing is about eight feet tall and suspended out from the wall about six feet off the ground. Underneath it is a square of black linoleum and on it is the detritus of the piece, small things that have fallen off. They must be egg cases because every once in a while you see a small flutter of movement on the floor. The shape, the color, the mystery all come together to make a piece of art that is totally satisfying. In a nineteenth century Pallazzo in Venice of all places.
(Back to Europe)


Switching from Venice to Vienna was like going from spring back to winter, from sun to snow, from human scale to monumental, and from vowels to consonants. In short, it was rude, though in truth, the train ride itself was stunning. Approaching the Austrian mountains, it got grayer and cooler, then a few flurries. I dozed off a bit and awoke to a winter wonderland. We seemed to be in the middle of a furious snowfall, pines and Tyrolian houses covered with the thick white stuff. The snow tapered off as we got down to Vienna, but the cold remained. It was such a total surprise after the 70 degree, sunny afternoons in Venice.
I didn't really like Vienna at all. It had large monumental buildings without focus. They seem to be put down without any plan. They are either too far away from each other or too close. We went to the National Art Museum and were overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that they had collected. The vast size of the collection overwhelmed the couple of pieces that were truly wonderful. Art is seeming to me more and more to be ego. Who can be bigger, flashier. Who can get more commissions. The cold also got to us and made us cranky. We thought about the ski clothes that we sent home.

We ate in a series of interesting places. The cafe with formal architecture but a lively multigenerational clientele, the diner modeled after an American Fifties juke joint, a smoky multi-projector lit bar, and a family restaurant. People spoke English and were friendly. But, we can not leave Vienna without mentioning the Viennese coffee shop where we had a coffee and a sweet. It was in a beautifully proportioned, mirrored room with waitresses in black. We picked out our treats at the counter and seated ourselves at a small table. I loved the place. I am fascinated by public energy. We were in an establishment that was over a hundred years old. It had the vitality to absorb tourists and locals, first-timers and old-timers, gawkers and talkers and to be real. I think it is the clarity of the purpose of the place that gives it its integrity. They are there to be the best shop in Vienna, period. Not to make a buck, or to sponge off tourists. It was expensive, so the difference is subtle, but on that day it was real.


Mysterious Prague Vienna was only a stop over on the way to Prague, mostly as a necessity because we could not get from Venice to Prague in one day on the train. So, Monday morning we grabbed an early train and headed for Prague. After we arrived, we found the place to buy our seven day transportation passes and headed for our Pension outside of downtown Prague. As advertised, it had a great view of Prague and Jana, our innkeeper, was friendly and effusive. They were re-habbing their breakfast room, so the first day we had breakfast in our room. A true treat, to open our door and find breakfast waiting for us on a tray.
I am beginning to find it difficult to be an observer all the time, a voyeur. When I was in Europe with Dance Collective or at the artists' colony in France, I was participating in something, making something happen. While there is a vast amount to see and learn as a tourist, it is hard to feel active or creative in the sense that one does in one's normal, albeit hectic life. Just before we left home in January, we found out about an international peace organization called Servas through which people all over the world host travelers in their homes. We rushed the application process, letters, and interviews so that we could participate in this group during our six-month sabbatical. After a failed attempt at getting the host-lists through Costa Rican mail, we got them as we were leaving for Europe. I thought that by spending time with families and being in people's homes we would have a richer experience than being in hotels all the time. However, because of constantly changing telephone systems in Europe or one thing or another, we have not linked up with any Servas people yet.

Being able to communicate with people makes a huge difference in how one experiences a foreign place. We did spend a fascinating two hours with Rusina, a Czech woman, an Internet contact, and her elegant 72-year-old friend, Stanura who spoke English. She has had a tragic life, losing her husband 10 years ago, and then her only daughter and her daughter's fiancee were killed in a fire. Her husband had been a representative for Czech artists abroad; her apartment was filled with a provocative array of art as well as antiques and heirloom furniture. "Stan" was in the Czech ministry of foreign affairs, serving in Copenhagen and Tokyo until 1968 when the Russians took over and he and a few thousand like him lost their jobs because of not buying the party line. He talked about the long history of foreign domination of the Czech Republic. For 300 years of Hapsburgs, they were forced to speak German, then again under the Nazis; then they were supposed to speak only Russian, with English and German banned as languages of capitalism. There are only ten million Czechs in the world, about the population of NYC, but the history and culture of these people is very strong; at least it appears to be in Prague.
He also talked about an American invasion. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, so I asked him whether he meant tourists or business. Neither, he said, movies. Hollywood movies are probably our largest cultural export, even more so than fast food. What a shame that Hollywood with its preponderance of films aimed at the affluent teenager now represents us abroad. And what a shame about the cultural damage that it does. Nevertheless, Stanura was very proud to tell us that a Czech film had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for the first time ever only the night before.

He was a wonderful man to talk to. He told us about his trip to the United States. He went with a group. They flew to Los Angeles and took a three week bus trip through the South of the country to New York City. The stopped in Las Vegas, San Diego, Texas, New Orleans, Florida and Washington, DC. What a strange sample of the USA. He was very excited to have an opportunity to hear opera at the Met in NYC, and told us that he carried evening clothes the whole way only to be disappointed in not being able to get tickets. He also related a story about a friend looking for school for his son in the United States and being horrified by the lack of discipline in the schools. Stanura felt that we had too much democracy in our country. I think he meant too much freedom. At first I found this strange coming from a man who had suffered from the lack of freedom in his own country, but on some thought have realized that to love freedom you don't have to love absolute freedom.

The people here do love freedom. We asked Jana how long she had had her Pension. She replied that she started it after Communism fell and that it would have not been possible before then. As she said, "I thought we would never be free", her face expressed a radiant joy almost childlike in its purity that nearly embarrassed me, a member of the world's oldest democratic country, who like many of its citizens, takes for granted its fundamental wonderousness and focuses on its trivialities.

As we were getting ready to leave Rusina's apartment, I realized that the part of me that generates fantasies was excited by two things. First, some of the paintings that were on the walls were of Rusina and her daughter and it seemed oddly romantic to be in the same room with the art and its subject. Second, it occurred to me that Stanura had been working in embassies that perhaps were sending spies into the United States. Maybe he himself had been a spy master. He looked the part of the cool, handsome East block diplomat. By cold war standards perhaps he had been a dangerous man. All that was thrilling, but what was more thrilling was feeling all that politics and propaganda melt away in the warm presence of the man in his own free country.
Dawn at the Opera
It may be hard to believe this of Dawn and Stephen, but we had been starting to doubt the value of art, having been in so many museums owned by the wealthy and filled with portraits of the elite, and having witnessed the many excesses as well as the profundities of Italian religious art. Then we went to see "Tosca" at the State Opera House in Prague. Now my Norwegian grandmother was an opera singer-an "amateur" because in those days it wasn't considered proper for a woman of a certain stature to be a professional entertainer. However, for some odd reason, I don't remember my parents taking me to the opera . We went to dance, music, theatre, and Broadway musicals. I suffered through "Tristan und Isolde" at the Met in NYC early in my married years with Larry and his parents, and I went to the Met's touring version of "Madama Butterfly" when I was a Wellesley student; it was at the Hynes Auditorium so you can imagine how lovely the acoustics and ambiance were there. And I did see a wonderfully bombastic version of Aida (for tourists, no doubt) at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (1965) with lots of elephants, etc.

I always thought that I disliked the theatrics of opera, all that sentimentality, all those extreme plots. I was happily taken by surprise, sitting in the top row of the top balcony (for a $6 ticket) with perfect sightlines and acoustics, and moved to tears when the Czech diva sang, on her knees, the aria "Vissa d'Arte." Fortunately we had researched the plot on the Internet, so even with the Italian lyrics and the helpful Czech surtitles, we knew what was going on. The character of Tosca IS a singer. She lives for art and love. She sings this aria when she realizes that the vision of her life and her vision of beauty will be shattered when she is forced to succumb to the seduction of the bad guy (Scarpia) in order to save her lover. It was sublime. It is the music that makes the opera. Theater notwithstanding, the music is simply beautiful. (For those of you who want to know the rest of the story, Scarpia allegedly writes an order for the executioners to use blanks instead of real bullets; then Tosca kills him with a knife so he can't seduce her. Then it turns out that he double-crossed her and her lover really got killed; then they come to arrest her for Scarpia's murder, so she jumps into the Tiber.) A gruesome plot; I guess you had to be there.

I cry in mediocre, sentimental movies too. So what is great art? A question philosophers have grappled with for centuries. (Nelson Goodman, where are you?) It's a question that Stephen and I are grappling with too. Not only what is great art, but what is the relevance of art in general? Here I've been allegedly making art for 25 years and teaching at an art college for 20 years, and now I'm doubting the value of art. How many art experiences have changed my life? Certainly as an adolescent, seeing Martha Graham's works and Jose Limon's pushed my life in a particular direction. Also, seeing some visual art like Picasso's Guernica or Rembrandt's portraits truly moved me. (not to mention Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony-perfect for adolescent rapture.)But there's so much out there that is technically proficient decoration, and so much out there that isn't even that. And adults are not quite as impressionable as adolescents, although the Rembrandts I just saw in Vienna still moved me.

Then we come again to music. We sent home our walkperson and tapes along with our ski clothes to lighten our luggage burden. So we haven't been listening to any canned music- something we normally do daily at home. We have been going to concerts instead. When we went to the Prague Chamber Ballet, we were, well, shocked, to hear recorded music again. We had just gone to hear the Mozart Requiem two nights before, with chamber orchestra, chorus, and soloists. This piece couldn't be more different from Puccini. It was beautiful in its own way, profound and spiritual, and to my ear, unpredictable. We've been living like "the old days"-before recordings, only able to hear music when it is played. All of which makes me feel like if I ever choreograph or perform again, it will have to be with live music.

In spite of all the bad music out there, I am beginning to think that music may be the truest art. I have always loved the language of movement, but the older I get, the more the narcissism of dance bothers me. Is it possible to perform a dance without a trace of self-glorification? Is it possible to perform simply as an instrument of the choreography? I don't really know, and I don't know exactly why this issue has become so important to me...maybe it's old age, that there's not so much left in my personal instrument of dance to be narcissistic about.
Prague Stephen:
Prague is a mysterious, elusive city and for the most part it eluded us. A combination of the cold weather that continued from Vienna, the fifteen minute ride into the city from our pension, a beautiful guide book that was beautifully illustrated but in fact un-illuminating, and mid-stream doldrums that settles on us every once in a while, made the city itself remain aloof from us. It is definitely on our list of places to come back to. It will certainly be different as the place fills with the energy of new opportunity.

Palm Sunday in Prague
Sometime during the week we cleared up my confusion about what train station we were leaving from. Both stations start with the same letter and are abbreviated in the schedules and I had jumped to the wrong conclusion about our train. So, bright and early Monday morning we were off to Strasbourg, a city we picked out of the guide book as another half way point. An easy ride even with three train changes and we arrived with plenty of daylight left because we have changed along with all of Europe to Daylight Savings Time. We took a nice walk made sort of embarrassing by the noise our luggage wheels made on the old paving blocks of the streets.

We have yet to take a taxicab in Europe. We have opted for subways and buses and have managed the intricacies of each city's systems pretty well, even if I thought that the official on the Prague tram was trying to sell me a piece of ceramic when in fact he was asking to see a valid ticket and showing me his badge.
(Back to Europe)

Strasbourg and Dijon

Cathedral Stephen:
We had a case of sticker shock when it came to France compared to the Czech Republic. Beer went from one dollar to three and the price of wine and food doubled. We sat in a beautiful small square one morning and three coffees later we left eight dollars lighter. But we did find a nice restaurant and had a delicious meal for 211 Francs including wine. I told the waiter/perhaps owner that we had a budget of 200 francs and he designed the meal for us. Dawn was horrified by this tactic, but when the menu is full of things you don't understand and the pricing is confusing, sometimes I decide to rely on the mercy of strangers. He warmed up to us in spite of my tactics and especially when Dawn recognized that the red we were drinking tasted like a white which we had ordered. It turned out that in Alsace they take the Pinot Noir, a red grape that is used to make red wine in other parts of the world and use it as if it were a white grape, that is, they don't used the skins (I think). The Cathedral, which we had not realized is one of the great French Gothic Cathedrals, stunned us when we went in. I am not nearly the poet to describe a Gothic Cathedral, but let me say that walking into one is like being taken as a lover.

We are in Strasbourg on our way to Paris. But we had another day on our rail pass and since we wanted to see some other part of France we decided to visit Dijon. We also thought we might get into the countryside a little. In keeping with our travel methods we have not made any reservations for Paris , and we needed time to take care of that detail. In Prague, using American Online we had gotten the names of about six hotels in Paris that seemed to be what we wanted. Each hotel had a page with a description and with three or four comments from people who had been there. We also had a couple of recommendations from people we knew. We found out that the time we wanted to be in Paris would be at the end of the French Easter vacation, so we were worried that there would be no room. In fact, the two places that were recommended were full but two from the Internet had space, so we ended up making reservations at two hotels, the first would be for two nights at the Gobelins in 5th arrondissement and then we would move to the 4th to the Hotel de Nice in the Marais. We also hooked up with a Servas host, so we planned to stay with him for the last weekend, leaving the last night in Paris still unreserved. It was going to be a problem anyway because our flight left at 7 AM meaning we should be there by 5 AM, therefore . . .Boy, that is early!
Dijon meal Our introduction to Dijon was a couple of cheese sandwiches slathered with Dijon that we ate in a sunny park. The stuff is definitely spicier than what they export to the United States. We did eat all of our meal but it took a lot longer than usual. We thought that they gave us some other kind of mustard, but we found that this is what they serve in restaurants. We finished off the rest of the day and the rest of our Eurorail pass by taking the train down to Beaune and doing a little wine tasting and buying. An energetic town full of places for degustation. One of the things that I think about when I have nothing better to do is the question, "What carries culture?" I have a pretty good idea about what attitudes I have received from my parents, but what is left from their parents, and their parents before them? And how do a couple's separate identities combine to be passed on to their children. And finally, and more to the point, how much of the villages of 16th century Austria and 11th century Switzerland that my fathers family comes from is still left in me? How does America filter in? Catacombs Has the Massive Educational system of the last hundred years change the equation? I feel that our sense of self determination is probably illusional. If scientists had access to time machines these influences could be traced with some accuracy. History, because of its creativity component is not usable for this study.

Where I am desperately trying to make all this lead to is a Roman era catacomb under a Gothic church in Dijon. Unmercifully cold with the bones of a first century martyr at one end and a double circle of squat columns at the other, what does this dark cell have to do with Jesus before, or the Gothic Cathedrals that followed or most importantly with the young altar boy that was woken up by his mother at 6 AM to serve at 6:30 Mass at Saints Simon and Jude parish in 20th century America.

In other words, how far back can personal go. I have always assumed that I was born into a world of hard reality about which I was taught much of what had been discovered about it. There was the world of the past which we studied, most of what had no relevance to our lives, (life in Medieval castles, for instance), The world of today, of progress, and the world of the future, of which nobody spoke. Nobody seemed to care about a time when we would all be dead. I see it differently now. Our minds are a jumbled pile of all the brilliance and foolishness of all that has gone before us. Everything we see and every sentence of language that we hear binds us inexorably to the past.
(Back to Europe)


Ah, Paris! It felt like going home. I realize that this was my sixth visit to Paris, the first having been in 1959 with my parents and brother. Mais cette fois, Paris s'est si bien habillee! I have never seen the city so beautiful. Spring arrived there at least three weeks before coming to Boston. All the tulips, daffodils, iris, lilacs and fruit trees were blooming. The trees and lawns were all green in the Jardins du Luxembourg and the Jardin des Tuileries. On our last weekend there, we finally stayed with some Servas hosts, in a suburb of Paris. In spite of Herve's collection of tarantulas, snakes, and exotic insects, he and his wife Michelle and son Tomas were warm and welcoming and fun to be with. They took us to visit Giverny, the house and gardens where Monet lived and painted for the last years of his life. It's amazing to walk around the lily pond, look back at the Japanese bridge and realize that you've seen all of this before, only you've seen it through Monet's eyes, through his amazing ability to paint light, to have us see not only color and form but also atmosphere. We had just gone ( again, for me) to the Musee d'Orsay to see the wonderful impressionist collection there so it was particularly timely to visit his gardens. And what gardens they are! I have never seen such density of plantings. There must have been a million spring bulbs in bloom. There were beds, for sure, and a planned gradation of color and form to each one. However, the garden did not appear formal, not in the English sense anyway. It was refreshing for us to look at the impressionist work which seemed to be so much about painting, about color and light, about the medium itself, after all the heavy religious art we had been seeing for weeks. Dawn and Malek I was very relieved to see my Algerian poet friend, Malek. He and I had met at the artists' colony at La Napoule in 1989. He had been suffering a terrible depression since his younger brother had been assassinated by the radical conservatives in Algeria, about two and a half years ago. His brother was THE man of the theatre in Algeria, and it's the intellectuals that have been targeted by this violent group. Malek managed to put together a book of writings about his brother which will be published in Paris in the fall. He has also started a foundation to support theatre and social consciousness. However, he has been working so hard as an editor and supervisor in a well-known Paris publishing house, that he has no time for his own writing which he is burning to do right now. He's hoping there will be enough money in his compulsory retirement account (like social security) that he can retire in a year or two. He will be sixty in November. That way, he can devote himself to writing and to working for this foundation. It did my heart good to see him smile and hear him laugh again since my only contact with him since the assassination had been by letter or telephone. He is a man of great intellect and talent and deep feeling.

Malek speaks only French and Arabic so when the three of us had dinner together, of course the translating fell to me. I'm not sure I would always understand Malek's ideas even if he were speaking English, and I know I don't understand Stephen's thoughts half the time in spite of our common language and years together. So picture me, dear reader, sitting between these two highly opinionated men, both of whom I adore in different ways, trying to interpret to each other their thoughts about history, xenophobia, art and literature! As the evening went on, my tongue became more and more tied, my English waned and my French nearly died. Somewhere around 11:00 PM, knowing that we had to be up at 4:00 am to get to the airport, Malek looked at me and said, "Mais tu es fatiguee, cherie!" Yes, I was tired, exhausted really, but engaged, happy, thinking, stimulated.

If only I could bring along a few more of the people I love, I could live in Paris with no problem. .. except I would have to find a way to make a living. Perhaps it's my mother's legacy; whenever I sit in the Jardin des Tuileries, I picture her playing there as a young child or listening to her "Nou Nou" (her French governess) entertaining a large group of children with her stories and tall tales. In fact, just having spent a week with my mother in Connecticut and confronting the strangeness of an aging mind with its inevitable memory losses and repetitions, I had the pleasure of speaking French with her again. It was as if her brain's synapses jumped back to her being five when French was the only language she knew, and of course the language that rolls off her tongue is perfectly accented WWI Parisian French.

Chez Marianne It has been luckily rare for me to encounter the stereotypical obnoxious Parisian snob. In fact, most people I've ever encountereed in France (bureaucrats notably excepted) have been friendly and generous, such as the young man in the train station at Strasbourg who offered me a "coup de main" getting my bag down the stairs. However, on the evening that we decided to go to "Chez Marianne", a restaurant highly recommended in "Let's Go" and the "Pariscope" as being reasonably priced and different, we encountered the attitude. The first night we tried to get in, it was just too busy, they said the wait would be an hour, so we tried the next night. We arrived at 8:45 and were told to leave our names, that we could be seated at 9:30. While others in line were being handed complimentary Kirs to drink, we were told to take a walk and come back in 45 minutes. When we returned at the appointed hour, the line was shorter, but people kept coming in and seemed to get seated before we did. At about 9:45 I said something to the young, rather bitchy host, and she said, "I told you to come back at 10:00." I said, "Mais non, vous avez dit 9:30." At least we were then presented with the complimentary apperitif . Eventually we got seated ""in the second room" which meant going out on the sidewalk and entering another part of the restaurant through a different door. It was probably after 10:00.

The food was great, many little portions of middle eastern and eastern European specialities, the service was fast and lively, and the price was right, especially for the Marais which is now one of the trendiest districts in Paris. So at the end of the evening, I took the trouble to go back through the other door, wend my way through the line that was still waiting to tell the ice lady that "Il vaut la peine d'attendre." (It's worth the wait.) Well, I have never seen such a personality transformation. She smiled and said, "Oh, comme c'est gentil de dire cela. Tiens, (using the familiar form now!) cette carte, et la prochaine fois tu ne dois pas attendre." ("Oh, how nice it is for you to say that. Here, take this card, and the next time you will not have to wait.") On the card was a picture of this young lady herself in sort of eastern European traditional garb, so I guess she was Marianne. It was astonishing to me how one nice word from a formerly disgruntled foreign customer could change her attitude entirely. The previous night when we had inquired there, there had been another host, and he immediately lapsed into English when I spoke to him which always upsets me, when my mediocre French is so obviously put down. So this little episode with Marianne was a small linguistic, interpersonal triumph for me.
Servas Hosts
We had a rather hilarious linguistic moment in the kitchen of our Servas hosts, talking with their teenage son about "surfing." I asked Tomas what sports he liked to do. His reply was futbol (soccer) and surfing. So I immediately launched into a discussion of my attempts to surf in Costa Rica, even physically demonstrating the technique for jumping up to one's feet from a prone position. He said he learned on the flat but that it was really easier to do it where it was steep. I said that I, too, had only gone in the whitewater, not out in the big waves yet but that the experts said it was actually easier in the steeper waves. He asked me if I learned with "batons" (poles), and I couldn't imagine what he was talking about.

I said, "Where did you put the poles? In the water or on the board?" At this point, Stephen, Michelle, Tomas, and I simultaneously burst out laughing, having realized that he was talking about snowboarding and I was talking about ocean surfing! He had been wondering why I had to get up from a prone position on the board; finally this absurd conversation made some sense. Ah, the subtleties of language.

Southern France

An e-Mail travelogue of a seven week trip to France in May and June, 1997. We took the laptop and emailed our friends as we went along. This is the third part of a 5 month travelogue. After Costa Rica we went to Europe). Then we came here. We welcome comments. Please send them to Stephen and Dawn
Barge trip: We fly to Toulouse, deal with train strike, get the barge, meet our friends
Montpellier and Arles: We leave the barge, visit Montpellier and Arles
Çezac: We rent a car, rent a house in Cezac, find paradise, drink wine, eat fromage, fly home
(Back to Southern France)

The Barge Trip

We are now in Cézac but it is not the beginning, rather the middle. The beginning is of course at Logan airport where we got our flight to Amsterdam. I hadn't paid much attention to our itinerary when we got it and so was horrified to find we had a five hour layover before our flight to Toulouse. We took good advantage of it by finding some large couches upstairs and sleeping for a couple of hours. The rest of the day was spent in flying to Toulouse and then getting a hotel, changing money, getting into town, finding out about the train strike, arranging to get to Le Segala the next day by substitute bus, calling home, and having dinner.

Le Capoul Le Capoul, according to the guide book is a three star hotel with a lively brasserie downstairs. We don't stay in three stars but we did eat at the restaurant. It was great. For me, one of the most important parts of a restaurant, strangely enough, is its sound. I think it is created by the combination of three things; the right lighting, the right room architecture and the right clientele. La Capoule had high ceilings with the tables fairly far apart, quite bright lighting and I think interesting customers at tables for four or more. What you get is a background noise that feels like much interesting conversation that you can't make out the individual words. It had a vibrancy that could be felt. Oh yes, the food was good, but not great. Great food brings a reverent hush. This was not a place of culture, but a place where culture is created anew by the interaction of the people. I even remembered to go back and get my bag which I had left under the table.

Le Segala is a small town which has a restaurant, and an épicerie and a boat rental place run by Rive de France, which why we were there. Because of the strike we got there by bus to Castelnaudary and then a cab back to the town. Even though they had said they were ready the day before, they weren't. But slowly we progressed through inventory checks, a boat tour, and driving lessons. Then lunch at the restaurant and supplies at the épicerie and finally we were off. We cast off, did a U-turn through the tree branches and headed back for Castelnaudary. We were beginning a ten day trip on the Canal du Midi. We would hang out in Castelnaudary for a day or two waiting for Linda and Sage Walcott to fly in and bus/train their way to us.
Barge Trip Dawn:
It was a good thing that we picked up the boat rather than Linda & Sage because "Didi'" the mechanic who checked us in, spoke absolutely no English. Thank God for my French with its slowly expanding vocabulary, for instance "amarrer" is to moor a boat and un "balei" (pronounced just like ballet) is a broom...for the decks, for instance.

Day one was intense with Stephen at the helm and Dawn on the bow and stern lines for going through the écluses (the locks). Although my friend Susan had just been in southern France and said they were having an awful drought, we encountered an intense, soaking downpour just as we were going through a series of locks with two other boats, one occupied by two French couples, about our age, and the other manned by a swarm of young German men. The Germans kept hopping on and off of our boat to "help" with the lines, since it is really easier to have one person at the bow line and one at the stern. Their "help" became progressively questionable the more beer they drank. By the time the storm ended and my jeans were hugging me drippingly, they had all stripped down to their little bikini underwear. Ah, the Europeans!
The next day we hung out in Castelnaudary watching and trying to decipher a race. It turned out to be a mini triathlon in two heats. We sat in a quay side restaurant for about two hours as the contestants came and went in a totally, to our eyes, disorganized fashion. What was most impressive was that they swam in the canal. A few too may canal boats with two many people on them and too many marine toilets for our taste.

The waiting worked out because it was a lock holiday, (Pentecost) and we would not have been able to go very far anyway.

Monday came windy and moving the péniche up to Castelnaudary was fairly difficult. The bow is very flat bottomed and it is easy for the wind to turn the whole thing around, especially if you are in reverse. But we made it and found a water hose to fill our tanks and a spot to pull up and wait for Linda and Sage. Because of the railroad strike we didn't really know when or where they would be coming into town. No one we asked gave us anything like correct information. The gentlemen at the train station didn't seem to be able to understand that we were inquiring about trains from Toulouse rather than to it. Just as we were leaving to find the bus station, a big bus pulled in and Linda and Sage got off.

After getting them settled, we went for lunch and found out that today was the real holiday and very few places were open. Also, tomorrow was the town's regular day off, so after finding some wine, bread and cheese, we launched ourselves down the Canal du Midi for real.
arrival Day I was so happy to see Linda and Sage get off that bus after about ten French Legionnaires descended. I was definitely ready to share the responsibility of "crewing" the barge and equally ready to have some other "captains" take over for awhile. Those of you who have been involved in a theater production with Stephen as stage manager when we're under great time/money pressure will understand how much "fun" it can sometimes be to have Stephen at the helm when he's worried something isn't going right! I know all you liberated women out there are wondering why I didn't just take over; well, I did, but my mid-life shortness of temper combined with his fear that I'd crash the barge (which I would not have) made me give up the wheel in five minutes. It wasn't until our ninth day out that I got behind the wheel for a good, long time and learned by my own trial and error how to steer that silly, flat-bottomed thing with the rudder in the stern and the wheel in the bow. Then I had a wonderful time steering it through one of the twistiest sections of he canal.

The countryside around the Canal du Midi is a wonderful combination of rural and civilized. The farmland, filled mostly with vines, is so carefully cultivated; every square inch of land is used. Big trees, mostly plane trees, have been planted evenly along the towpath next to the canal so one has the feeling of processing slowly through a canopied path of water. Since we were there in May, the canal wasn't too crowded with boats. Those we encountered were piloted mostly by German, English, Dutch, or American groups. The French do this mostly in August, when there are nearly no French people in Paris.

A little lunch Traveling with Sinda and Lage (as we called them one evening after too many Ricards) was a treat. They added another dimension to our experience. Being a professional chef herself, Linda's knowledge of and fascination with food stimulated a more intense culinary experience than Stephen and I would have had alone. Linda's first open air market of the trip was in Carcasonne. We ended up with a wonderful dinner that day of gorgeous sliced tomatoes, white asparagus, a nice green salad with a strong garlic dressing, local chèvre and other cheese, a country baguette, and of course a bottle of local red which cost $3 or $4!

The Art of the Lock

Luckily, we had only to go downhill on this trip, so we had the easier of the two possibilities. In principal it is easy. If the lock keeper is expecting you, as the lock comes into view the gate toward you will be open. All you have to do is motor in slowly, dropping the bow line person off just after you go through the gate or missing that opportunity, head for the side of the lock after passing into it (making sure not to whack the gate with the stern), reverse just in time to stop the boat, and then they jump off and wrap the rope around the forward bollard. Meanwhile a second person has jumped off, been thrown the stern rope and throws that around the rear bollard. Then, if we are in a manually operated lock, a third person goes to the gate that we have just come through and cranks it closed while the lock keeper closes the gate on his or her side. Once the upstream gate is closed, the rope holders get back on the boat still holding the rope that has been passed around a bollard. Now the lockkeeper on his or her side and the crewperson or our side walk to the downstream gate and crank up the sluices and the water begins to drain out of the lock. The boat drops slowly and the crew let out their ropes to compensate and soon we are down and the two downstream gates are cranked open. The ropes are pulled in from the bollards, we give a slight push away from the lock wall and slowly motor our way out of the lock and pull into the bank a little ways down the canal to pick up the crewperson who was manning the gates and sluices. It took about ten to twenty minutes.


Art of the Lock They were many. An easy one would be that the locks were operated by electric motors, then we would not need to crank the lockgate nor stop to pick up the crewperson which could be difficult given wind or traffic.

Another one would be that the lock was the first of the day or first after lunch and the lock would not be ready for us. We could sound the horn or pull over and send Dawn down to let them know we were there. This made it easier later in that there was someone already off the boat to catch the rope.

The most common variation was that we were sharing the lock with other boats. Nothing really changed except that there was less margin for error and the error was greater. Many times we were in the lock with two other boats. Usually it would be a gathering of many languages. We could share the work if it was a manual lock and socialize a bit.

Multiple locks were in principle the same. Except that we would keep the crew on shore and they would walk down with the boat as we motored out of the first lock directly into the second (or third or fourth), which brings us to the supreme variation.

The jigsaw puzzle

One day while I was ashore and the lock keeper was filling our top lock with three boats, I walked over and noticed that there were two boats waiting in the bottom lock. There was a moment when I thought that a mistake was being made, but then I saw the plan. Once we were down and the gates opened, we would have five boats that wanted to change places. Two of our boats would go into their lock, then two of theirs into ours, then the final boat would change. The lock gate would be closed and water would be let into their lock to lift them up at the same time as the water would be let out of ours to drop us. The two outside gates would be opened and the boats would be on their way. It was fun and all directed by the lockkeeper with gestures to his multilingual charges. Dawn:

I loved to meet and chat with the various "éclusiers" (lockkeepers). As imagined, some of them were old men who looked like they had been doing this job since the Revolution. However, other locks were managed by young families, including women and children. One of the most surprising éclusieres was a youngish, slender, attractive woman, wearing black lace leggings, a skimpy black top and a large brimmed black hat. Stephen and Sage had to battle it out as to who was going to jump off the boat and handle the stern line at this lock!

One day, near 7:00 PM, the cut-off time for going though the locks, we approached a lock that was closed. As usual, I was sent ahead as the linguist to see if we could get it opened. I approached a man watering his beautiful garden on the right bank and began the conversation by complimenting his garden. "Moi, je ne suis pas l'éclusier. Vous devez demander a la maison," He told us that he was not the lockkeeper and that we had better ask at the house. So I asked a kid if he knew where the lockkeeper was, and he said that he was "out." So I headed back to the boat to tell the gang that we better plan on mooring right there for the night when the man from the garden came up to me and explained, ""Well, actually I am an éclusier, but this is my day off. If I open the lock for you and there are any problems, I will get in trouble for working on my day off. But you can moor right here for the night and I will open the gate for you at 8:00 tomorrow morning. Do you understand?" Well, of course we understood; it was fine with us. What I did not understand was why he chose to tell me the truth the second time around. Then at that moment, the lockkeeper who was supposed to be working that day appeared and opened the gate for us.

Bridge The canal and all the lockkeepers' houses were designed by one man named Paul Riquet in the middle of the 17th century. Each house is similar, with the same pale green shutters, but each éclusier does his own thing with gardens, climbing roses, sculptures, concessions of local products like honey and wine. One day, Linda ran up to the "lady of the house" to buy some goodies, but she didn't have enough cash and couldn't understand the amount that the lady was asking for, so as the boat was descending in the lock, I got some more cash, found out the total she was asking, gave her the money, grabbed the products, and jumped on the boat as it was descending to the lowest level in the lock. Such excitement!
The first day Dawn and Linda became in charge of selecting the end of the day mooring position. I had selected one, but it had been rejected because of large roots and too much shade. So we backed across the canal to the sunny side. It worked out great for the wine and cheese party that we had on the stern of the boat. Linda and Sage went to bed shortly after to sleep off their jet lag, and Dawn and I walked up to the nearest gatekeeper's house and on out to the road. On the way back, we passed the open window of the house and glanced in at the beautiful armoire and drapery and golden glow. A room that with the exception of electric light had probably looked this way for a couple of hundred years.

Our second day out we got to Villesequelande where we made dinner on the boat and walked into town which had a beautiful little square and a telephone which L and S used to call home, but not much more and it seemed deserted. We had not gotten very far that day because of the four hour break we took for lunch. First, a nice walk into Villepinte to a épicerie for supplies, and then on their recommendation, to then town's Hotel/Restaurant for lunch. The first restaurant meal of the boat trip and one of the best. Sage ordered lamb that was the best that I have ever tasted and the rest of the food matched it.
On the third day, we got an early start and made Carcassone by 11:30. This would be by far the largest town of the trip. . . .
La cite de Carcassone, the largest walled town in Europe, is a top five tourist attraction in France. We walked up to it and split up. Dawn and I ended up taking a French language tour of the inner chateau given by a young, Polish woman in her first week of giving tours. She spoke slowly and clearly and was talking about stuff that I had read about, so I had the impression that I could actually understand a foreign language. I even began to hear the dates! Her study was religious history, so most of what we heard about was the terrible religious conflicts that plagued this area for so long. Down the road in Bézier (where Dawn and I would say good-bye to Linda and Sage at the end of our journey) is where one of the cruelest statements of war was uttered. Simon de Montfort, when asked how to sort out the heretics from the believers in the recently captured town said, "Kill them all, let God recognize his own." Some of us remember an echo of this in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, she is talking metaphysics of religion to a crowd of tourists with cameras round their necks and tow-headed kids in tow. Something about one group believing in the duality of existence and the other group not. At that time, the distinction seemed to be enough for make one group wipe out the other's town. For those who want more information, search on Catherism or Albigensian Crusade.

On the way back, we found a small grocery store, and we stocked up on the aforementioned goodies. Sage and I are now the wine guys, and we point and shoot our way to a selection of red and whites. Preparation seems easy. As many people as possible work as can find room and the rest hang out and do dishes afterwards. The cheese is great and after dinner we head for the nearest bar for Ricards. We play the Gypsy Kings on the jukebox and see the biggest dog I have ever seen. At first glance I thought it was a stuffed cow in the bar, but when I looked back in five minutes I noticed that it had moved, and then that it was moving!

The next day was fairly uneventful. We stopped at the famous bridge where the canal goes over a stream, built in 1686, it was the first of its kind. We were ready to be impressed but were underwhelmed. On to a closed wine store. Linda and Sage saved the day by walking back into Trebes where they found a lively little town and they stocked up on goodies. Evening found us in Marseillette.

Before we had begun, I set up a schedule of where we have to be each night in order that we would do about the same number of kilometers each day, which I calculated to be about twenty. I had no sense that we would have to stay on this schedule but it would let us know when we got too far ahead or behind. So far Marseillette was right on schedule.
Dinner What was not "on schedule" were the bikes we had rented. Only three worked at all and they weren't great, but the fourth didn't really have its rear wheel attached and we had no tools. I had checked the bikes when we picked them up, but I'm afraid, a little too cursorily. So, we sent the bike riders from the center of town to follow restaurant signs to find the best one. There was a restaurant in town but it looked like a pizza joint. I found one at the other end of town and made reservations for four and bicycled back to the others. Dawn and I cycled and Linda and Sage walked to the place and had another great dinner. Coming back to get our bikes afterwards we stopped and had a drink at the pizza joint. We saw a dessert go by and had to have one. A Champignon (mushroom) turned out to be a ball of ice cream topped by pastry, the same kind they make eclairs out of, drizzled with chocolate. Ahhh. The place also taught us a lesson. When we looked in we found the food on the diner's plates to be just as interesting looking as the restaurant we had gone to. In France, good food can be anywhere.

The next morning we followed signs for a cave (wine cellar) to do some wine tasting but were unable to find it so we headed out for our next destination. Our lunch spot was decided for us by the lunch time closing hour of all the locks, from 12:30 to 1:30. This is, of course, France and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of the sacred lunch. We headed for the nearest town which turned out to be Puicheric. It was the first part of the lesson "If the locks close for lunch, so does everything else in a small town in Southern France with no cafés, restaurants or bars." Here they are serious about their lunch hour, not reopening until four or five o'clock. It makes sense. You open up in the morning so that people can buy things for breakfast and lunch and then you open up in the evening so people can buy things for dinner. You don't sit around all day in your store for no reason. So the village was deserted. Life is not Disney World. No one had hired them to be " a cute photo op" for us and they weren't. They just went home for lunch.

So we made our meal back on the boat and continued on our way, arriving in Homps when it was time to stop for the day. We stopped short of about the first ugly thing we saw on the canal, a new metal blue pedestrian bridge that crossed the canal to a new marina built by one of the boat rental companies. It was just a mooring pond cut into the canal and had only a trailer as an office. Later, I found out that the canal had recently been made a national monument and I surmised that the marina had been built to beat a deadline on making changes to the canal and they would add the buildings later. A case of getting a grandparent.

Linda, Sage and I went off looking for a market and followed signs to what really was a seven eleven on the highway. There were people putting gas in their cars, traffic was racing by and we felt as if we had been time warped of couple of centuries forward from our eighteenth century existence. We walked back into the village and found a mom and pop grocery where it looked as if they had been selling vegetables for a half a century but still couldn't quite agree on how to do it. It was a little point and shoot without our star linguist but we did fine.
One of my favorite moments was a bike ride that I took alone along the towpath at Argens-Minervois. I went down to the next lock and then returned by riding through the vineyards as the sky was getting pink. It was a stunningly beautiful experience, perhaps made more special by my solitude.
Saturday was a short day. We traveled all of six kilometers. We had a leisurely breakfast, stopped the boat for a recommended climb up an escarpment for the view, had a leisurely picnic lunch, and when we stopped in Argens-Minervois we pulled next to a portable restaurant where I had a crankiness attack that started over a perfectly terrible landing that I made and continued with the arrival of a DJ and his loud equipment. I got over it eventually, especially as we decided to move the boat away from the music, and Dawn took me for a walk in the vineyard to show me the pink sky. Yet the intensity of my attack and my inability to control it surprised me.

Later, we gathered for wonderful paella dinner and dancing on the parking lot. I love to dance. I love to dance with Dawn. We danced to the music that we liked and sat down otherwise. Dawn and Linda danced together when Sage and I wouldn't follow their wild ways. The place gradually filled up, some of the people we recognized from either the locks or other restaurants. A vague, small, floating community was forming even if we didn't speak each others' language.
We had been promised "flamenco" by the woman who was running the restaurant but it never happened, except for a little canned flamenco music. I was waiting for castenets, mantillas, boots, fans and guitars to appear in the parking lot...with a lot of hot, steamy dancing. Apparently the hot, steamy part was up to us.
Canal du Midi Stephen:
Sunday was a long twisting canal to Capestang made easier because by 9 AM we had gone through our last lock. We were in the ""Grand Bief", a level impoundment of water 54 kilometers long. The need to follow the topographical lines accounted for its twistiness. Dawn drove most of the afternoon. As I suspected, after five minutes she drove as well as any of us. It probably helped that I retired to the roof of the boat while she figured it out. I guess I can be a little too "helpful" at times. The view from the roof is slightly but wonderfully different. The increase in altitude is just enough to widen the perspective of the trip. I don't remember having any revelation about this, but hey, I got to see more.

We had another wonderful dinner in a wonderful town. It was in the courtyard of a winery. I had calamari stuffed with sausage. The same family had been here since the sixteen hundreds, producing wine. The owner pointed out the wall from the middle ages that had been built on a Roman foundation. There is a lot of that in this part of the world, churches on top of churches on top of churches. I suppose it makes sense. If I was going to build a farmhouse, I might find a ruin, knock down its walls to use the stone, but certainly not go the all the work of building a foundation when there was a perfectly good one right there. I also assume that the Romans built foundations to last forever as never having heard of a Roman building falling down because of a faulty foundation.

Speaking of churches, Capestang had a church with the altar end almost solid stain glass. And it was all original, which is rare in France because of all of the religious turmoil. The bottom six feet of windows in Ste. Chappelle in Paris was destroyed by people with poles during the Revolution. It came with a very gentle man who explained it all to Dawn. Our first visit was shortened by closing time so we made another visit the next morning. We also returned to the winery to buy a couple of bottles of their product.
The church in Capestang was one of my favorites, partly because of its simplicity, but perhaps largely because of the personal guided tour I got from the old man who was its guardian. He told me all about St. Roch who was the big hero of the region, and walked all around the church, explaining what he knew about the artwork in every chapel. He asked if I was Catholic, and I felt apologetic about having to say that I was brought up Protestant. He didn't seem to mind and said that he wished he could speak English half as well as I could speak French. He said something I have never heard before when we were looking at a painting of the Nativity. He said, "That's Joseph, the father of Jesus." I have never heard anyone, much less an octogenarian, French Catholic, refer to Joseph as the "father" of Jesus...what a radical idea!

Anyway, he was totally charming, and the church was big and airy enough that his typically European body odor didn't ever quite exceed the level of acceptability. I suppose we Americans are fastidious in some respects such as frequency of showers and use of deodorant. Stephen and I remember a very beautiful young Czech woman, for example, who managed the tourist information office at the castle in Prague, whose aroma made it almost impossible to hang out long enough in the office to read the map! Ah, the vagaries of custom and culture!
Monday is our last travel day. The long windy trip to Capestang had recovered our 6 kilometer day, so we had an easy trip with only the Malpas tunnel to provide a challenge. Sage handled it with ease. Only a 150 meters long, but built in such a way as not to provide very good sight lines of oncoming traffic. It's a one way at a time tunnel.

Before the tunnel, we had stopped at a three star restaurant, but it was closed. Probably luckily for us as it was pretty pricey. As we sat on the side of the canal, which is becoming more and more Mediterranean as we move along, we had a small conversation with a boy on the bow of a boat moving up the canal. He was practicing his English on us and I have never heard everyone of the syllables of conversational pleasantries that way I heard them come out of his mouth. Sage matched him as best he could, syllable for enunciated syllable.

So suddenly the barge trip is over. Dawn, Linda and Sage had a last dinner together. I pass on it to rest my digestive tract. Then it is a flurry of finding, packing, cleaning, reporting, negotiating, paying balances, breakfasting, taxiing and then we are in front of the train station at Bézier giving hugs good-bye all around as the taxi driver surveys all, waiting to take Linda and Sage on to their rental car.

Linda and Sage, thank you and good luck on the rest of your stay in France, and now you know something of the truth gap between trip and travelogue.

Dawn and I missed our train by ten minutes and had an hour and a half wait for the next one. We put it to good use in getting money out of machines, buying tickets, etc. Finding a wall outlet into which to plug the laptop, which had been stored powerless in a compartment in the barge for the past ten days, I began to catch up on the writing which had been going along as jottings in a notebook. Before long the train came along, and we began the "Tale of Two Cities, Montpellier and Arles" . . .
(Back to Southern France)

Montpellier and Arles


I learned alot about my taste in cities by considering my responses to these two cities of southern France. I LOVED Montpellier, a large city of suburbs and high tech parks with an international airport on its outskirts and an old city as its center. Because we were traveling by train we did not have to deal with the large 20th century city. We were whisked to the center of the city by SNCF, and then walked to our one star hotel in about three minutes. Because I now had a sore throat and was feeling kind of low, the rest of the afternoon was taken up with napping and bathing. (Our room came with a large tub which was a great treat after the primitive showering conditions of the péniche.) So it was not until five o'clock that we launched ourselves out onto the town to look for a tourist map. Here's what we discovered:

La Place Place de la Comédie, a large square with no roads or parking. Occasionally, an official vehicle would make its way across at a walking pace. There were three or four outdoor cafés, each with seating for over a hundred people. Here we are talking about the arrangement where many of the chairs all face the square with tables fit in. In effect, a theatrical space with the passers-by being the event and the coffee or beer drinkers being the audience. And what an event. Montpellier seemed to be filled with people of all shapes, sizes, colors, velocities, intentions and spirituality. They all seemed to reveal themselves during their one minute walk across the square to the audience that had the time to watch them. The main building of the square was of course the Opéra Comédie. A small 1,200 seat house with all good parts of nineteenth century design without many of the excesses. I think its small size helped in its impression. At the other end was the new glass shopping and conference center that was barely visible, but housed all those international chain stores and kept all those tourists of a certain type off of the streets. The shop-is-to-live folks. Peeking in at the corner was Place de la Gaulle, A long allee with more cafés and food carts. When we came back the next morning to buy tickets for the opera, Iphigenie en Aulide by Gluck, we found a small but lively market where we bought supplies for the day's lunch. At night, musicians came out and serenaded the café crowds. The Place managed to absorb the McDonald's on the corner in a world weary way. It had seen it before; it would see it again. For me the epitome of the café life, in a city I had never heard of before.

Cars are allowed, sort of. In this section of the city cars are allowed, but with restrictions. There are many streets that are blocked by short metal poles. Image my surprise when as a public transportation minibus approached, the pole magically sank into the ground until the bus passed over and then it returned to its former height. I saw someone else who was making a delivery jump out of his car, use a key to the same effect. Because they were driving in the pedestrian zones they would only drive at a walking pace. So there was a peaceful co-existence that I have never seen before. In a small alley, two restaurants had set up tables and chairs across from each other. They seemed to know the exact width of a car, because that is all the room they left to create an evening's entertainment of watching the cars sneak themselves through the gap. Another time at a lunch on a small plaza shared by two restaurants and a bar we saw a young man coming to lunch park his car right against the pipes so that another car could get through, but unfortunately right in the path that the waiter took from the restaurant to the bar so the next time he needed to make the trip he walked right over the car in six steps: rear, right fender, roof, hood, front left fender, and into the bar. We assumed they were friends. It got a lot of laughs.

A University, Conservatory, écoles

A lot of educational institutions provided an energy of sound and sight. Music floating from second story windows, two bookstores of English books, and cheap places to eat. An internet game storefront café that had telnet to allow us our first email access of the trip.

A conference center

We never saw it but it provided the city with a another group of people to add to its mix. We would see them at lunch, walking with their names tags on, or at dinner talking about contagious diseases or the like. People who were glad to be here. (Especially as someone else was picking up the tab.)

Lots of Restaurants and Cafés

I am afraid that although this category is at the end, it probably should be listed first. It may be the most important to me. Anytime we wanted to sit and relax, there was a place for us. All different, all with character. The first night we ate at the Isadora. The menu had a long biography and tribute to Isadora Duncan in the menu with nothing to indicate the connection other than a high regard for her. This was an upscale restaurant for us, but it was worth it. Very high class but understated service. A strange note was sounded when, after we watched a couple of dogs jump in the public fountain that adjoined the restaurant, we saw the waiters filling the urns that they used to cool the wines from the same fountain. It was in a small out of the way plaza and we watched music student go to and from the lessons, the same students as dinner is always longer than a music lesson. In that time, I also watched the light change on the sandstone colored steeple of St. Anne's as the sun set and as the lighting came on.

We stayed three nights and then decided to move. I said great, let's find another city. Dawn picked Arles, an ancient city with Roman ruins. We made a reservation, worked out the train schedule and were off. Here's what we found. . .

(As you notice, there has been less Dawn contribution. She has been working on a morning writing program therefore has less time to write in the travelogue. I hope she will comment on the opera.)


I hated Arles. It made me cranky. I mean really cranky. Lots of people write really nice things about it. Lots of people go there and enjoy themselves. I didn't. Please let Dawn forgive me because I wasn't a very good traveling companion. (There were a couple of good things. I'll let Dawn write about them.)

Right away, the Railway station is not in the center of town. Secondly, the Allied air force destroyed Van Gogh's house here. (They counted anything within a mile of a target like the train station as a hit). Thirdly, the map at the station didn't include the station itself. Fourthly, we got there at lunch-time and had to take a fifty franc cab ride into our hotel, (which the cab driver wouldn't take us to since it wasn't good enough, and instead arranged another from his cell phone.) Fifthly, our hotel was a hill where young boys accelerated their minibikes up the street at 12000 rpm making a truly awful sound. Sixthly, a boulevard described as a place to have a drink while deciding which interesting restaurant to eat at turned out to be a four lane highway as far as I was concerned. Seventhly, Plaza were parking lots, cars raced around everywhere, motorbikes ran around in the pedestrian zones, kids skateboarded in front of twelve century portals, while families camped out in cloisters playing kickball. Eighthly, the map was terrible, I couldn't find anything, I got lost, couldn't find a phone booth that wasn't next to a noisy street. Ninthly, I hated the ruins, or maybe I just hated the empire.

So all this dislike surprised me. I expected Arles to be magical like Montpellier and when it wasn't, I punished it, myself, and Dawn.
However, we ended up staying in a lovely two-star hotel in a centuries old stone cloister building...at the recommendation of the 50-franc cab-driver. I had been a little hesitant to take the cabby's recommendation on general principles of feeling like maybe I was being taken as a tourist, but the Hôtel Cloitre turned out to be one of the best things about Arles. The host, Jean-François (could you imagine a more French name?) was charming and attractive, somewhat nervously running the place by himself as his wife was off for a week leading a bike tour in Andorra. He had a gorgeous five-year-old Alaskan Malamute dog who seemed depressed because all his hair had just been shorn for the summer, except for a little, soft, buzz-cut on the top of his head: "Nanouk." Very pettable. Oh yes, Jean-François seemed to think we were from California. I was totally stymied by that one so I asked, "Pourquoi?" He said, this time in English, "because you have zee loook." That cracked me up. It must have been my tan and the white outfit that I had actually bought in a consignment shop in Montpellier. "Mais je ne suis meme blonde!" I said. Like I'm not even blonde.

One of the other highlights was the market, which unfortunately Stephen was too cranky to visit. Not only was it extensive and jam-packed, but the stuff was beautiful. There was one North African merchant with long tables covered with baskets overflowing with all colors and scents of exotic spices. I was so disappointed that I didn't have my camera with me that day. There were not one or two cheese vendors, but ten. There were twenty options to buy vegetables, a zillion types of olives, bread of all imaginable varieties, etc.

And there was the Van Gogh museum, the Arlatan, and a delightful restaurant recommended by Jean-François, "La Fuente," which served regional as well as Spanish cuisine. For instance, Stephen had an excellent soupe de poisson, with the garlic aioli and croutons, and I had a wonderful gazpacho. I think Stephen discovered that he doesn't particularly like Roman ruins, which is what Arles is all about. I found them rather impressive, even if highly touristed. The old arena is absolutely the dramatic centerpiece of the town. What most moved me though, was the west portal of the Romanesque cathedral of St. Trophime. Apparently, it had been cleaned within the last two years, and the craftsmanship and artistry of the sculptures was superb. Moreover, at 8:00 or so in the evening, the sun was shuttered by two buildings across the Place from the church, so it shown only on the portal itself, as if a lighting designer had given it a "special" with amber gel.
Our departure day arrived raining. The cab finally got to the hotel and we made it to the train and the train got us Toulouse and the airport and the car rental place and to Cézac which is where we are now.
(Back to Southern France)

France Profonde

Stable Stephen:
The drive to Cezac was time traveling back in time. From Airport to superhighway to highway to road to gravel driveway to farmhouse. The routes got narrower and narrower until at the end we had to put one tire on the grass in order to let oncoming traffic pass us. When we got there the place was so extraordinarily beautiful that I was afraid to look at it straight on. As Dawn got instructions and information, I unpacked our things, sort of keeping my head down and only glancing out at the view sideways because I was afraid that it would all disappear if I stood up, took a deep breath, and looked at it square on. To me it was the fulfillment of every dream I had ever had about living in the "South of France." The view from our bedroom was a Cezanne painting and in fact, I was realizing we would spend the next month in a site of amazing beauty and tranquility.

Since we had little food we us, the Maheu's graciously invited us to eat dinner with them. The start was a little hectic, as M. Maheu went back and forth between his study and the dining table, wanting to find out the results of the election. It began with a soup of potatoes and radish tops! It then continued with a succession of seasonal vegetables. We added bread and wine. We finished with a question and answer period in front of the walk-in fireplace with mint tea.
View from window Dawn:
I was stunned by the fact that Isabelle used a different set of plates for every item she served, and each part of the meal was served separately and sequentially. After the soup with a dollop of fromage frais in each bowl, she served white asparagus with homemade Hollandaise. The next plate was for fresh peas (the season is just ending for both these vegetables). The next plate was for the chèvre, in this case a semi-mature goat cheese of the region which is creamy inside with a slightly more pungent, harder outer edge. She then apologized that she had made no dessert but proceeded to serve fromage blanc, which I think is a richer version of fromage frais. Depending on the fat content, all of these taste like anything from yogurt to sour cream. She was about to get out yet another set of plates when her husband stopped her, apparently feeling that the raw honey would be perfectly nice with the fromage blanc. They get the honey in the honeycomb. You chew on a piece of it and suck out all the honey and then discard the chewed up piece of honeycomb on your plate. It is unbelievably sweet. One bite was enough for me, even with my sweet tooth.

Much of the evening's conversation centered around their very strong belief that foods should only be eaten in season and in the region that one lives. The idea of flying tomatoes in from another county in the middle of winter, for instance, appalled them. Then they went on about the genetically engineered tomatoes from Holland that are bred for beauty and shelf-life but taste like nothing, and the roses that are bred for beauty but have lost their scent. "Some of the best apples are a funny color and have strange shapes, but they taste delicious,"" Jean would say, for example.

I was struck by how generous and warm they were towards us. They are about fifteen years older than we, have six children, and several grandchildren. We are their first tenants here, and they worked very hard to get the écurie ready for us. They seem very pleased by how much we love it here, how beautiful we think the old stable is, etc. I am also struck by the fact that I have done nothing to try to promote my work though them, although they are extremely connected in the cultural world. She now picks almost all the artists for La Napoule, and he used to be in the Ministry of Culture and was also the head of the Beauborg Contemporary Art Museum. (Pompidou) In the last fifteen years, whenever I've been in Europe, I've always tried to hustle my work in one way or another, albeit without much success. This time I didn't even bring a videotape along. It's just not what I want to do now.
On Monday, after the confusion of getting the phone line prepared, we waved good-bye. they were headed back to Paris and we for the town of Cahors. We needed to find the market that they had mentioned. In the confusion of French/English we had some locations of markets and the names of some cities, but we weren't sure which location was in which city. Driving in Cahors was strange for me. Entering into a city by car seemed to make it more alienated than arriving by train. We passed one huge market, went through town, saw a sign for another, took the highway and found ourselves back at the first one, the Mammoth. It had everything.

The plumbers came on Tuesday, which was lucky because we realized that we didn't have any hot water in the bathroom. Dawn thought for a moment that perhaps that they forgot to tell us that it was a cold water shower. But no, after they set up the pool cover and replaced a broken valve on the stove, they flipped the switch and said that we would have hot water in two hours. I also used them to find out if I had wired the phone well enough to have it ring when some one called as well as call out. They called from their car phone, but we heard nothing. Ah well, back to the drawing board.
Spices Stephen:
Wednesday is a market day in Cahors, so we went off to find the open air market. First we had to find a parking space which was difficult especially as we didn't know what part of town to look for one in. But we found it eventually and it was worth the search. Wine, cheese, fish, meat, vegetables of all kinds overflowed on the tables. We separated with list and slowly acquired our food. The market is in the square in front of the twelfth century church, and the door was open but we didn't go in. It was as if doing and seeing occupy the same part of our brain and if you are doing one you can't do the other. It is very difficult to be a tourist in your own town and I guess Cahors was beginning to feel like a home, at least when we were shopping. So instead, off to the Mammoth for more basics and we were home for lunch.

On an exploratory walk on the ridge above and behind he house, we discovered an odd array of wine bottles. At first, it just looked like a trash dump that you see if you hike anywhere among abandoned farmhouses. The difference was that here there were a couple of hundred bottles, some half hidden in the earth, and none were broken. We couldn't image that they were thrown out without being broken. Of course, there is no mystery. As I write this I realize that it was most likely the storage place for wine bottles that were to be used again to put wine in. The walls had just decomposed around them. On the other hand, they were on their sides which argues for the idea that they had been stored as full bottles and the elements destroyed the corks and evaporated the wine. Throwing away wine bottles is probably a fairly modern concept.

Rain brings a morning of guilt free reading followed by clearing skies under which I cut my hair. The work never stops.

Enough of the sedentary life. Today we would hike. We had been told that there is wonderful hiking from here. We wouldn't have to get in there car or even cross a road to begin. We started at 9:15 in the morning with some water, snacks and the car map in our packs and decided to walk to Montcuq and back. We couldn't quite figure it out but it seemed to be about fifteen kilometers away.

We went back to the road that we had found a couple of evenings before and headed west. We wandered through upland fields, made a couple of wrong turns but eventually found ourselves in Lascabannes. As Dawn said, it was beautiful. There were hundreds of pots of flowers, in window boxes, stairway pots or just by the side of the road. We moved through the small town, up onto the next highland and by 11:30 found ourselves by a small chapel in the woods where we stopped for a snack. A couple was working in the chapel so we waited until they had left and we had finished our snack before going in. We discovered that this was both a church that the faithful made pilgrimages to and a waystop on the larger pilgrimage trail to Campostelle in the northwest corner of Spain. We found flyers from people that offered rooms for pilgrims and corrections to guide books. Also we found notebooks to write comments in. The knowledge that we were walking on a trail that had been used since 800 AD changed our viewpoint completely. We seemed now to be a part of history. It was like following the Oregon Trail, or sitting down to a Seder. Also the day itself now contributed to the feeling, getting hotter and blazingly clear, and we could empathize with those that had come before us as we walked on a chalk white road on a shadeless plateau. It felt as if we had been transported to Spain. In an hour we were back on the asphalt road, and in two hours we were in Montcuq and had rejoined the twentieth century.

Lescabannes I have never in my life been so glad to see a café as when we walked into the town and saw not one, but two across the street from each other. I was worried we would find another Puicheric, cute but useless. It was now 2:15. We had been on the road for five hours. We were hot and tired, and the shade of the large chestnut tree of the Café de France seemed as good as the body of St. James himself. (He remains in Campostelle). We had a couple of beers, found out that there was nothing like a bus going in our direction and the one cab would not be available, if at all, until evening. We walked to the top of the town to visit the twelfth century tower. It was closed but the view from its base was beautiful. We bought some bread and headed back.

It is now about 4:15. I am guessing that if we pushed it would be a four hour return trip and thinking how difficult it might be, but Dawn pulled out her trusty thumb and got us a ride that in ten minutes knocked two hours off that estimate. The woman driver got us down the hill fast and left us with only about 7 kilometers to do. We got in about 6:15 and hit the pool and I began to think about some serious relaxation near a bottle or two of wine when the Maheu's arrived from Paris with news that Printemps Cahors, the second largest photographic festival in France was opening that night. They produced an invitation for us for the opening cocktail party and. . .

We were off a half hour later on Part B of "a long day in le Lot". We drove in, found a parking space, lost the invitation, found the invitation, found the reception, had a glass of champagne, had dinner, watched some dance (the whole thing is set up a little like First Night), went looking for the projections, couldn't find them, got tired and drove home by midnight. The whole thing will be done again next weekend and we will return with Amber more organized and less tired.
Pool behind the ecurie Stephen:
We are now sharing our place in Paradise with the owners for the weekend. A task most pleasant. We hear beautiful music coming out of their house. We see them having breakfast at the bottom of their lawn. They explain the pool maintenance techniques, and then head off to have lunch with friends as we head to the markets to stock up with food because today's the day we pick up Amber in Toulouse.

Toulouse airport is an hour and a half away. We get there early and the plane is late. But she arrives smiling and all the formalities are soon taken care of after which we head for home talking all the way and arrive before nightfall. Amber has gotten some sleep on the trip so she is amazingly unjetlagged and is full of news and stories and laughter. Is it midnight before we all go to bed?

When visiting small French villages, timing is all. We took a drive on Sunday afternoon over to Castelnau which is the biggest tourist attraction of this particular area, and it seemed abandoned. We walked around a bit and nothing struck us as particularly interesting. We wondered if we were becoming inured. But, we got into the car, and went back to Montcuq where we had hiked to the other day, and it still had the wonderful esprit that we had so enjoyed before. We had Ricards and Amber a kir, walked around and drove home.

Dawn and I had been working on our decision making technique over the question of whether to return the Maheu's gracious dinner of our first night with a dinner on the Friday of their return or wait until Sunday when Amber was here. I wanted Sunday and Dawn wanted Friday. We had gotten into the habit of pre-digesting the discussions. We both had been trying to figure out the compromise before we had really figured out we wanted individually. Now we were trying to decide what each of us wanted first.

Our decision to do nothing and wait for another weekend was overridden by the news that this was to be their last weekend in Cézac until after we had left. Dawn and Isabelle made a quick decision to make a joint meal, a cook-what-you-have-meal.
It worked out great. We were going to have dinner on Sunday but not have to worry about it all day instead we enjoyed Amber's first day. So at 7:00, we moved our long inside table out to a nearly level space near their house, found candles, fired up the grill and started thinking about dinner.

Grilled trout stuffed with onions and herbes de Provence
Grilled potatoes with sautéed asparagus
Grilled Spare Ribs with Mustard Sugar Sauce
Légumes Boiled
White Asparagus
Mixed Green Salad with 4 cheeses
Sour Cherry Pie (Clafouti)
Vin Rosé
Cherries in Schnapps
Bouteille d'eau

Dinner The food came from one kitchen then the other. We talked, learned about their children, enjoyed their company. Afterwards, around 11:00, we went inside their house for a tour, to de-stem some currants, and for mint tea.

For me a magical night of tranquillity, aware of all the sights and sounds, aware of Dawn and happy to have Amber with us. Aware of a feeling of happiness that rose of its own accord, to be measured against nothing else, that reminded me of childhood.

On Monday a taxi arrived to take the Maheus to the train. The taxi driver was a lady who asked if we were British. No, Dawn said, American. She exclaimed in French, " Mais vous etes perdus!", you are lost. That's what we feel like out here lost to the world. Later that day, we re-entered the world a little by going to Cahors for sightseeing and dinner. We finally went into the church that we had been shopping in front of. It is the first church I have ever walked down into. In the cloister, a couple of guys were smoking weed and snorting cocaine off of a mirror. An improvement over the family playing kickball. Amber Actually, I think the lady taxi-driver couldn't imagine why we would be staying here instead of, say Paris or the Côte d'Azur. "Mais, vous etes perdus!" has become our new motto. Yes, we have deliberately lost ourselves here in La France Profonde with the hope that "Ye who are lost shall be found," if you'll pardon the Biblical reference. Having Amber here for a week pointed up the remoteness even more, she being 22 and accustomed to having lots of people around and lots of things to do that only a big city can offer. However, she enjoyed some low-key chilling time by the pool, and I enjoyed being able to catch up with her life and thoughts. We had a nice, modest, 4-mile hike together (instead of the 14-mile shinbuster that Stephen and I did), went to Lauzerte together for exploring, a drink, and a food shop, and with Stephen did a day trip to the bastide towns of Cordes & Albi, and just generally hung out together.

Madam Pern came on Wednesday. We were out by the pool. She introduced herself and said a few things that none of us understood. Actually, we understood, but we all understand something different. Dawn thought she was going to pick herbs, Amber thought she was going to smoke marijuana, and I thought she was going to cut the grass. Imagine my surprise when a half hour later, I heard the lawn mower start. I took a little victory parade around the pool, but in retrospect realize she had time to do all three, so who really knows.

Later, I went and picked them up after their four mile jaunt. For me a little nerve wracking because Dawn and I have a history of misunderstood rendezvous's. Once we waited on opposites side of the Charles River in Boston. We took what seemed to be an hour to find each other in the Gare du Nord in Paris, and I worried that we would spend the rest of the evening wandering around, really lost in France Profonde. The gods were with us and we met as if the past had evaporated.

When you believe in progress, you don't believe in the present. In France, the idea of progress, even though it was practically invented here, is a relatively new idea. When a king or a farmer built their edifice, they built it to last forever. No one planned for the revolution or a new house. You built for a now that was also the future. America was a new idea from the start. It was populated only by people willing or at least able to throw off the past. A country of second home owners. It is not the case of "Best is the enemy of better", but rather that better is the enemy of now. So here in Southern France, we find old buildings, because the people only built one house. The houses work, they continue to work, nobody automatically tears them down when they get old. The American Pioneer spirit demands that we keep moving, looking for a better life, with no mechanism to tell us when we have found it.

Which is to say, I liked Corde. It was old, it was beautiful. Why can't I live there? It had lured artists there to give the tourists something to buy, but that's a better solution than trucking in Tee shirts. Also, it had a research center for regional music in which Dawn spent an hour while Amber enjoyed chatting in French with the young shopkeepers.

It is time for all the choreographers on this list to rise up and choreograph more good dances for street festivals. I am seeing too many bad pieces at festivals like Le Printemps de Cahors. The artists here don't seem to understand the restrictions placed on the work by the situation. The wandering audience member coming onto a plaza, or to an outdoor stage is in a totally different frame of mind than the one who has paid serious money to see something in a theater. It is hard to make post modern detachment work outdoors. Dance is not photography.

Anyway, I didn't like the two dance pieces I saw here, but I did like the photography. A Japanese man from Osaka, Yasumasa Morimura, did a series a self portraits of himself dressed up as famous movie actresses in particular films. Wonderful. In a beautiful cloister, a white box was set up in the middle to act as a four wall projection screen. The white, silent, rectangular photos against the sepia lit curves and arches of the cloisters was very powerful. It looked as if it could take off or vibrate into nothingness.
One of the most beautiful visual effects at the festival was the projection of slides on huge sprays of water in the River Lot. Although we were standing next to a young man trying to pick up a young woman in English which was neither's language, it was still magical to watch the projected figures of such luminaries as Maurice Chevalier seem to float in the wind and evanesce into smoke. What a simple and great idea!

OK, how many of you out there knew that Dennis Hopper was an excellent visual artist? We all remember him in various cult films such as "Easy Rider" which he also directed. Stephen and I were quite stunned by his work at the Cahors Festival. He did huge, close-up color photos of graffitied walls in Venice, Prague, and Florence, all of which looked like thoughtful, harmonious pieces of abstract art. I remember telling my friend Elena in Venice that it's the color of the buildings that I found so beautiful. Many European cities seem to be characterized by a certain hue, from the ochre of Venice to the "Pueblos Blancos'" white of Andalusia to the pink brick of Toulouse, for example. Hopper focused in on the walls in a way that gave us the essence of the place without drawing it or spelling it out for us.

He also did a series of photographs from the sixties. Some of them were trendy artist portraits like Warhol, Johns, and Rauschenberg. However, he did some powerful documentation of Martin Luther King, jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965. I stood for a long time in front of the picture of King speaking and looked at the serious expressions of the men surrounding him. It was such a painful and important time in American history and so powerful for our generation. I wondered if the French people there could possibly be as moved as I was by this photograph.
We took Amber to Le Capoul in Toulouse for dinner the Saturday night before she was to fly out. I had really liked it when we ate there our first night in France, and wanted to see what it was like a second time. At best, a risky business. It started out with a bang. We arrived shortly after 10 PM. The place was nearly packed, but no line. A group in front of us got a good table in the back corner of the terrace, and I noticed that the last remaining table had two gentlemen sitting next to it smoking cigars. Maybe one cigar, or two cigarettes, but two cigars was going to be more than I could handle. I don't really have any ability to speak French more than to respond to questions or to accompany many gestures and body language with a word or two, so it was necessary to tell Dawn our problem and have her alert the maitre d'. He didn't miss a beat. His response was a danse d'hôtel. He found an empty table for two, pulled a table section from another table over to it, spied an extra chair at the other end of the restaurant, held it over his head to lift it over to the other side of the table and moved the Carte de menu away from us but turned it so we could read it. All with an attitude of being pleased that we had given him the opportunity to be virtuosic but without showing it. In scant seconds it was over and we were seated.

Dawn had the curried moules this time. I had some pink lamb that was great. Amber had a salad. We all shared some spectacular desserts. Mine was four kinds of chocolate dessert named something that probably translated as decline by chocolate, Amber's was eight kinds of Sherbet in a pastry shell. Dawn helped out.

I got a chance to watch the maitre d' during the meal. He was a young handsome blond. He had eyes like a hawk. He watched everything that was going on, in his restaurant and out on the street as well. But he jumped in when necessary. He cleaned tables, parked cars and everything else that it took to keep his restaurant at the level it should be.

When we wanted to have the same dessert of the people next to had had, we explained it to our waited, but were not able to quite figure it out, so we ordered what we thought it was. Our waiter founded that table's waiter and sent him over to us so he could verify what we had ordered was what we wanted. All in a restaurant that was really just a brasserie, a lively, energetic place to have dinner.

The last surprise of the evening came as we were leaving and the restaurant was closing. They were pulling the table cloths off the tables and lifting off the square table tops to reveal, voila, the classic small round French café table which seems to have only room for two small coffees or aperitifs. We didn't know which as we didn't know whether they were preparing for late night drinkers or early morning breakfasters. We ourselves fitted in between, leaving for the airport the next morning at 5:30 AM, serenaded by a group of young men wandering home .

Things got off to a slow start at the airport, but things eventually did what they were supposed to and we waved Amber through the security gate and headed back for Cézac via Moissac which was another lesson in the timing for the tourist.

We arrived at some god awful hour in the morning just looking for a cup of coffee, the famous tympanum and the cloister. Sunday morning it was another abandoned town. No one on the streets no café to be seen. We had been here our first Sunday in Lot in the afternoon when we were looking for some food. It had been the same then.

After getting bamboozled by one way streets we were an emotional inch from leaving the town and heading home when I decided to park the car and find the church on foot. Since the tympanum is on the outside of the church, I reasoned that we could see it even if everyone in the town was sleeping. We found it fronting a small plaza with a man just beginning to open his café (and his eyes). He said he wasn't really opened but he could certainly serve us some coffee. So we sat at a table and trained our binoculars on the church. And slowly the square continued to come to life. An old man opened the church doors, soon music wafted from the interior. We went inside. A strange combination of styles with a paint job that looked like wallpaper. We wandered over to the cloister which was just opening and had only to share it with one other couple. We were both amazed at yet another magical space. Dawn took pictures, I just walked. We climbed the bell tower and from a place on the roof just below them listened to morning chimes.

When we came down the tour buses had arrived. There were thirty people in the cloister getting a lecture from their guide. But we had had enough of this wonderful place. We headed back into the plaza from where we followed the crowds to the Sunday morning market. Again food, wonderful food, everywhere, but in fact we didn't have enough energy to buy much and shortly after we headed home.
Armoir inside the ecurie Dawn:
Getting back to the lost and found issue, I find that the longer I am on this voyage, the more questions I have. The "answers" seem as elusive as ever. It's not that I haven't experienced, observed, processed, and learned a great deal in the last five and a half months that has greatly enhanced my consciousness; it's just that this experience in itself does not create clarity.

Recently though, I had another illuminating moment, similar in spirit to two conversations we had in Costa Rica with rural people who impressed me with their wisdom. This time I had decided to take a challenging uphill bike ride to a town I hadn't visited yet, Pechpeyroux. With not quite fully inflated tires, I managed to do all the uphill without walking once...although I did stand on the pedals a few times. After the long, luxurious downhill run, I crossed the road to Cahors and started heading up again towards Pechpeyroux. The tiny stone church and graveyard sat on a curve, on yet another incline. I decided to get off and walk the bike a few yards up to see the valley view before going down again to head home the long, but flat way, through Lascabannes. As I came around the bend, a lady of about seventy appeared, walking downhill and carrying a pot of flowers.

We exchanged "Bonjours" and then I somehow felt it necessary to tell her that this was the first moment I was walking my bike on the whole route from Cézac; apparently my macho vanity has not died. We discussed bikes and tires and various routes back. "Vous etes francaise?" she asked, totally flattering me that my French could be anywhere near good enough to be mistaken for a French person. I told her I was American and staying in Cézac at the Maheus. We established that I had already met her "belle fille" (daughter-in-law) who does some caretaking for the Maheus. She called herself Mme. Pern, "la vielle" and her daughter-in-law Mme. Pern, "la jeune." I said, "Oh, you mean, Mme. Pern the young and the younger." She laughed, but made it clear that she thought she was old, and perhaps that she deserved to be old now. I told her my children's ages as well as my own, and she said, "If you can ride that bike to here, you are still young!"

It seems that she was going to the cemetery to put flowers on the grave of her husband, dead four years now. She said, "I talk to him, but I don't know if he hears me." I told her that my mom does the same and that sometimes she gets angry at my father for having left her. Mme. Pern said, "La pauvre" (poor thing). She continued, "It's sad, but it's life. We're all going that way sometime; it does no good to think about it too much. We go, then God decides. Then I will get to find out if my husband hears me." I found myself saying to her, "Yes, you're right, we should think about living."

It felt as if we both reluctantly took leave of each other. Coasting downhill, then through the quiet town of Lascabannes and past the perfect poplars with their shadows, I hoped I would see her again. I said aloud, "A la prochaine" and found tears in my eyes once again.
At the mill stone table Sometimes the big event of the day is watching the pool cleaner. It is a small wheeled machine that rolls around the bottom of the pool between 8 and 10 in the morning and vacuums up dead bugs. Every couple of minutes, a jet propulsion device on the hose itself pulls the machine backwards to some other part of the pool. I found it fascinating. Could one choreograph a pool full of them?

The rest of the day went by with lunch and nibbling around the edge of the huge nine foot tall armoir filled with books in many languages: Freud's book on Moses, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Persian Empire, to go along with my own books on Joan of Arc and Alan Turing and "Was Einstein Right?" I wrote also, but to write about writing would confuse me.

We bought wine. We went to a small building on the outskirts of Cahors and tasted the products of the Domain Lagrezette. We were led through this exercise by a charming young woman named Annie. In the United States most of the wine experts in liquor stores are men, the one exception that we remember was a young woman in a store in West Roxbury who seemed to have much knowledge about wines, but we never got the feeling that she drank any of them. This woman was different, she had much enthusiasm. Her face totally lit up when telling us how wonderful this wine would be with Roquefort cheese.

We also heard the most charming explanation of Dawn's accent. When we told Annie that we were from the United States (it came up in the discussion about taking wine home), she was surprised. She said that she thought that Dawn had been born in France, but had gone away for a long time and now was back trying to relearn the language. I wonder what other explanations she thought of before she settled on this one. I wonder what she thought of me who could mostly understand her explanations of the wine but couldn't speak a word. At some point, she probably rejected the idea that we were both from Outer Space.
Actually Annie said that I did not have an accent, but obviously I don't speak the language perfectly which is why she came up with the idea that I must have spoken the language as a child in France, moved away, and am now trying to retrieve the grammar and vocabulary...which is exactly what my mother did...Are we in the Twilight Zone yet?
Since neither of us has ever seen prehistoric cave paintings, Stephen and I decided to go to Pech-Merle, a cave discovered in the 1920's by a couple of teenage boys. The route to the cave, beyond Cahors, became more and more wild the nearer we got to Pech-Merle, following the narrow road through holes blasted out of the craggy escarpments of rock. The River Cele twisted through a steep gorge on our right.

Considering that the paintings were done between 30,000 and 12,000 BC, they are astonishingly well preserved. The caves are damp and the paintings, really drawings, were done with the charcoal residue from burnt torches, with no oil or fixative used at all. Perhaps it's the darkness. In order to continue this preservation, the family of the two boys, still the owners and managers of the cave, allow only two hours of light per day on the paintings themselves, and forbid any photography or video. They also limit the number of visitors to 700 per day in an attempt to keep destruction by carbon dioxide to a minimum.

The themes are primarily animal, with bison and mammoths the most prevalent. There are at least two instances when the artist used the natural contour of the rock as inspiration to draw a bison or a horse on this surface, creating a sculptural, three-dimensional effect; perhaps the first site-specific art. It is direct and beautiful. The simplicity of line shows us so much. While some of the work is believed to be hieroglyphic in nature, apparently intending to communicate specific ideas, most of it seems to me to be descriptive of their quotidian dependence on animals. Nowhere did I see any images of weapons or any images of war. Then the guide led us to an engraved figure of the head of a bear which was done much more recently, about 12,000 years ago, but still before the Bronze or Iron Ages, so I asked him what tool the artist used. A flint arrowhead, harder than the rock of the cave walls, was his answer. The bear head did look more modern in a sense, more specific and detailed than the bison and mammoths, but still in fact Stone Age art.

Here is art before there was Art. Here was evidence that someone was representing or interpreting his or her world and sharing it with others. It is theorized that many of the drawings in this cave along with one in a cave 40 kilometers away might have been done by the same person. I was moved by the thought that someone from the Stone Age had the time and motivation to make these paintings when food, heat, and shelter must have been such overwhelming concerns.

Rocamadour juts out of a cliff on the way to the Dordogne. It's a big tourist mecca but deservedly fascinating. We spent a few hours there after lunch. We found there a small, twelfth century black, wood madonna and child in the Chapel of Notre Dame. We've probably seen at least a hundred Madonna sculptures and a few hundred paintings on the same theme in the last five months. This one was unique to my eye. Primitive and refined at the same time, it looked like it came out of Africa, or maybe Asia, rather than Europe. What artistic urge led the artist so far afield from the European tradition of the time? Why is it so revered by the people in this town and its visitors that the large votive candle rack needs an exhaust hood to vent the heat from the hundreds of candles? I thought about the cave painter.

It was 6:00 PM, and although I was really ready to head home, one more stop was necessary, Souillac. It wasn't that far away, but because of a false start and an unforeseen bridge closure at the Dordogne River, we didn't arrived until 7:00 PM. Stephen had had enough of old, Romanesque churches, but I was on a quest to see the real "Isaiah", the sculpture of the prophet that stands beside the portal of the Abbey Church of Souillac that I had seen countless reproductions of in art history books, one of which had hung on a wall in my house.

We walked all around the church and found no sculptured portals. I was getting nervous. Then Stephen opened the door and we stepped into a portico that had photos and explanations of the artwork around the portal and on the tympanum. But where was it? Then we opened another door and entered the church to see two people leaning their backs against the last pew and looking up over our heads at the doorway behind us. We closed the door and turned around and sure enough, there stood the prophet Isaiah, legs in a fourth position, body twisted to face us, hands lifted to touch the door frame, his face and head angled and ready to shout the good news about a messiah. Not only my prophet, but also a column with one side filled with a surreal depiction of the story of Abraham and Isaac, including an angel plunging head first, down from heaven and offering a lamb to substitute for the sacrifice of Abraham's son. The other side is piled up with intertwined bodies, some embracing, some struggling, all touchingly human... perhaps an evocation of the sins and struggles of humanity.

Even though I am not religious in any conventional sense, this sculpture touches me deeply. A few months ago in Italy, I found myself getting impatient with religious art that seemed excessive and even narcissistic. But now my faith is restored by this work concerning itself with human feelings and ideas...ideas of sin, redemption, fear, love, and obedience. In addition, I resonate more with art that is part of people's lives, whether in an ancient church that is still used as the local parish church, or in a town square that people frequent every day. While I have experienced some works of art in museums that touched me deeply, I still feel more personally connected to art which lives in the world where people live.

So art lives, whether like cave art it concerns itself with the physical world, or like my favorite religious art portrays us at the height of our humanity, or like much of the art today examines art itself as pure form, color, sound, or movement. Whether it's in caves, churches, museums, theaters, or in town squares, people have made many millions of artworks over the years. Some of it touches me deeply; some of it astounds me intellectually; some of it just seems like decoration; and some of it just annoys me. Nevertheless, whether it is making music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, photography, film, or whatever, people have always had to do it, or at least to have it in their world.
We have been drinking our wine from two ordinary glasses of different shapes. While washing dishes and cleaning out the used mustard jar I realized that one of the glasses we had been drinking out of was in fact a recycled jar. This was really good news because now we could drink wine from the same kind of glass and it would not be so difficult to make sure that we were both getting the same amount. :)

We were sitting in the Café de Centre in Montcuq the other evening and for one of the few times on this trip I felt like an outsider. I began this trip with the fear that because of the language barrier and a tourist mentality that I might spend much of my time on the perimeter looking in. This has not happened I am relieved to say mostly because of Dawn's persistent attack on the language of any country that we may be in and also her contagious sociability.

We had gone over to the town to hear some music and had arrived in the square of the two cafés with one humming with activity of a gallery opening celebration and the other nearly deserted. The deserted café was to be the site of the concert, so we went there to have a drink and find out what time it was going to start. The answer was after they eat and when they are ready. So we sat on the terrace and watched them set up the stage (plywood on milk crates) and also kept an eye on the comings and going of the party below us in the other café. Slowly people left our café until we were the only ones left. I felt like the only one not invited to the party. I paid for our Ricards and we left to take a walk to find another restaurant where our faces weren't so much at the windowpane.

Montcuq is fairly large but not quite large enough to support more than one major activity at a time so there wasn't anything really happening anywhere else. We got to see a little more of the town, especially the more recent part. We ran through our discussion of what makes a suburb again. Seems that landscaping too decorative and labor intensive combined with too clearly defined plots is what creates the sense of tinkertoyness that is so disagreeable. Overcontrol adds its bit also. I have decided to round off the corners of my too accurately trimmed hedge when I get home. When we got back to the square the situation had changed. The abandoned café was now full of people having dinner. Kids were running around and the opening party at the other had metamorphosed into dinner. It seemed a party for all. We joined in.

The music was jazz played by the trio. They were introduced by the man who had been taking photos at the opening, I thought he was a professional photographer. When the group finished their first number there was applause from both cafés on both sides of the street. As the evening went on, people came and went. I left to get our jackets from the car, but also to see what the whole thing looked like from the outside. It was a pretty picture. Late evening now, both cafés were lit and filled with what seemed to half the town simply enjoying themselves. I never did figure out the financial arrangement of the evening. Our dinner was very inexpensive and the drink prices remained the same and we were never asked for money. So who paid for the musicians? And what is the relationship between the two cafés that allowed them so easily to share a performance?

We went back to Montcuq on Sunday morning for the market. It was set up along the same street that goes between the two cafés. Smaller in scale than the market in Cahors, this market gained by its intimacy. Just one lane to walk down and then back. It was now my turn to have a tear in my eye. This is the endgame now and I was truly sad to be leaving this place shortly. I am just beginning to learn about seeing, about joy, about waiting. Can I continue back in the "real world"? Can I remake this world? Will the Red Sox ever win the World Series? Next Sunday will be our last day. I hope to come back to the market to take pictures. I'll use Dawn to distract them while I take the pictures. I must get a picture of the table with two gentlemen selling "British Food", a display of canned goods in the middle of all this freshness and homebakedness.
We had two unexpectedly good experiences on Friday night, One was that the jazz trio - guitar, double bass, and trumpet - was excellent. At that particular time and place, it was nice to have the bass handle the rhythm and have no drums at all. Kind of mellow. The trumpet player was surprising, especially as the evening went on. Stephen and I both commented on how quietly, yet articulately he played, with no mute. I felt like I should have been at The Blue Note in NYC or at least a boite in Paris, but here we were, sitting outside in this little town in the deepest France, listening to fine jazz!

We were driving home around midnight when Stephen slammed on the brakes for something in the middle of the road. I thought it might be a fox as we had already seen two. It turned out to be an owl, a small one with a stunning, white, heart-shaped face. It stood smack in the center of the road, fifteen feet in front of us, fully illuminated by our headlights. Either it was confused or it was practicing it's safe street-crossing techniques, but it stayed there for at least thirty seconds, turning its elegant head methodically right and left, right and left...magical. For you birders out there, we looked it up in the French birdbook here. We think it is called a Chouette effrai, or Tyto alba. The book says it's a very sedentary bird. I guess so.

Dawn in field Stephen:
We seem to be in the Cézac rainy season as Monday was our third day of rain. We managed to sneak in a short photography hike between showers on Sunday afternoon. We followed a man on horseback. First he, and then his tracks led us on a nice circle route up into the hills south of our place. Good light came and went, and finally went permanently as we got rained on the last 15 minutes of the trip.

We have been writing our sections of the travelogue separately, but much of Monday afternoon was spent in rewriting and editing Dawn's piece about Peche Merle, Rocamadour and Souillac. It was the end of an exercise that had begun a day or two earlier with Dawn's comment that she thought it was too high falutin'. What followed was a complete re-examination of thinking styles, our criticizing styles, with questions about the art of writing itself thrown in for good measure. We survived, although I am not sure we would survive a re-hashing of the discussion here.

Tuesday, we woke to more cold, gray skies. We had heard that it might clear, so we got some bike parts to repair the bike. During Dawn's previous ride, the front gear had become unattached from the pedals. Fifty cents worth of bolts rectified the problem.

Rainbow In the afternoon, I discovered a book by the father of M. Maheu. It is his library that we have been reading in the armoire. It turns out that for twelve years he had been the director-general of UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In fact, he had worked for the organization since its inception. This explains the library's breadth and depth of its examination of world cultures. I could come back here just for the library. Yesterday, I read a book researching the correct route that Hannibal took with his elephants through the Alps.

The sun came out this afternoon.
The bonus at the end of our rainy walk was a huge rainbow with a double arc of violet. The main reason we kept reworking my paragraphs about art was that Stephen didn't think it was clear. That's all. We'll be home next week.
I think I have reached the limit on cute villages and mysterious churches. This is good. It must mean that the wheel has turned and I am ready for other things. The week that Amber was here, she and Dawn would take walks in the afternoon and I would stay home and write and listen to animals in the roof. If they got too noisy I would take a broom handle and bang on the ceiling and they would move somewhere else and continue that little eating sound that rodents make. I didn't tell Dawn or Amber and the animal remained my secret. He got older and/or bolder and made an appearance one evening after dinner and evidently took a liking to us because he decided to play in the wall behind our heads as we were trying to sleep. This I think was the night that we also discovered the big spider, but that's another story.

Wednesday did not dawn sunny as promised so we hung out and I decided to trap the creature. I don't even know what it is. It looks like a juvenile squirrel, but it also might be some kind of mouse. It has a bushy tail, which puts it on the friendly side of the rodent population. We baited a box, but I realized that he was too fast for me to flip the box over once he went in to eat the peach, so my next device was a wooden spoon with a half a fig on it balanced over a plastic garbage bag suspended by weighing it down with a flashlight. It worked and it didn't. The squirrel stole my first bait and knocked the second into the bag, but then conveniently fell into it while trying to figure out how to get to it.

I grabbed the bag, jumped out the door and swinging the bag over my head ran down the driveway. After seventy five yards or so threw the squirrel, bag and all over the embankment. Or so I thought. As I looked back toward the house, out of the corner of my eye, I seemed to see the squirrel sneak off the road into the brush. well anyway, I had gotten rid of him. He reappeared shortly after dinner and although he was polite enough not to run around behind our wall, he did bang on the clean pots in the dish drainer. So today I try again. My second attempt will be with our kitchen waste container. I put it on the counter, place a couple of books next it to provide easy access and wait. Mostly I read. Pretty soon, the beast obliges nicely by climbing up on the books, onto the container and drops down into it. I sneak up and drop the lid on. With this device no need to run around like a madman trying to do something before he escapes the trap. I just take the can outside, put a couple of rocks on the lid and go back to reading. The quiet is nice.

About a half an hour later, he appears again. Now I am confused. Is there a squirrel in the can outside or not? Is this the same squirrel, or a second squirrel or a third? At some point, I realized that the flashlight which belongs to the Maheus and was holding up the garbage bag for the first encounter was missing. I sheepishly climbed down the hill to retrieve the garbage bag with the flashlight in it. So was the squirrel ever in the bag? Is there a squirrel in the can now? I take the can down to the end of the driveway. I peek in. I see no squirrel. I poke around in the bag. No squirrel. Finally, I catch a glimpse of him lying very still on the bottom of the can outside the bag. I pull the bag out and try to chuck him over the embankment, which I don't really succeed at, but I do chase him into the woods. So, two down and how many to go? This guy is smarter, and bolder. We spend a lot of time looking at each other across the kitchen. At the moment, he is hiding and I expect nothing more until I try to go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day.

Dawn was involved in the first part of this escapade, but not the ensuing chases because she took the train to Paris yesterday and is not expected back until tomorrow. The incessant rain interrupted by clouds got to her and she decided to take Isabelle's offer of the spare apartment to get one more look at Paris before we head back to the New World. She also wants to talk to Malek about some ideas she has about doing a joint concert with him in Paris. She probably wanted to get out on her own a little also. In the last six months, with the exception of my being in Florida in May, we have rarely gotten more than a hundred feet from each other and that was mostly when we were going to the toilet.

It has taken a little time to find myself, but I have succeeded. Took a walk up into the hills during a period of relative dryness. Only about forty five minutes, but very satisfying.

On the way back along the road, I spied a flock of pigeons. Actually, there seemed to be two flocks flying next to each other. They were both circling the beautiful farmhouse that is across the road from us. Gradually, they became one flock. In the process they got rid of some other kind of bird that was flying with them for awhile. They were pretty far away. Mostly what I saw was the sun hitting their wings when they hit the right angle. Otherwise, they were just specks in the distance. I could here their cries faintly. Their flight was not predictable, as if they were having an argument. They would wheel and turn and turn back at themselves but suddenly they all stopped flapping simultaneously and glided maybe two complete circles and landed somewhere out of my sight. As I walked down the road further, I could see them perched on the farmhouse roof. A couple of pigeons insisted on solos by flying off again only to return shortly. A rooster crowed from the farm just to add the finishing touch. A rather ordinary event made beautiful and touching because I had the time to watch.

Here I have no list. In the back of my mind I am developing one for next week when I am back. I am hoping to make a habit of holding onto irresponsible hours, list free moments during which perhaps I can do things only for the pleasure of it. I found the shop vac, made it work, and vacuumed the place including all the spiders and their webs. Moving day is coming. Beginning to look forward to the United States. The next adventure.
It is Sunday. I am back from Paris, and it is still raining. In fact, this is our ninth day of rain, cold, and clouds. Noah, where are you? As Stephen mentioned in his rodent section, I figured if it's going to be lousy weather, I might as well spend a couple of days of lousy weather in Paris where I can see some friends and get a little culture. In fact, for the duration of the five hour train ride, it was pretty gloomy weather all over toute la belle France.

Thanks to the Maheus again, I got to stay in their wonderful little "spare" flat, on the top floor of their building in the fifth arrondissement on Rue Clovis. It's only a short walk through the Jardin des Plantes from the Gare Austerlitz where the train arrived from Cahors. The apartment has a view of Paris rooftops, looking north with a great take on the south side of Notre Dame. It must be spectacular when it's clear. Even with the clouds, it's a beautiful view at night when the buildings are lit up, or at 6:00 am when I was up to greet the sun.

Thursday night, Isabelle treated me to seeing Pina Bausch at the Theatre de la Ville. Except for the fact that we spent twenty minutes looking for each other at the theatre, it was an inspiring evening. Pina Bausch concerts always sell out in Paris, and people were scrambling around trying to buy scalped tickets. As a choreographer, Pina has a keen eye for the absurd. This piece had a lot more humor in it than some of hers and much American popular music from the fifties as well as English "skits." She made this piece in Los Angeles, and it's definitely California flavored. One of the things I like about the company is that she has a couple of old guard performers who are definitely on the same side of fifty as Martha and I are. She's also got some extraordinary young dancers who blew me away with the energy, subtlety, and virtuosity of their solos. The only problem with the performance is that she gave us too much. At the end of the first half, we were very satisfied, but then there was an intermission and a second half which, for Isabelle and myself, diluted the strength of what we had already seen. Each part was an hour and a half long. We left the theatre at midnight.

As wired as I was, I only slept four hours that night. Friday morning, Malek and I had coffee and talked about collaborating on an evening of poetry and dance. We fantasized about getting invited back to La Napoule to develop this work, but I haven't had the nerve to discuss it with Isabelle yet. He is one of the few artists who has been there twice already.

I had a lovely lunch with Isabelle and Jean in their apartment. When I speak with him, I guess I get nervous and my French deteriorates. Sometimes I can hear myself using the wrong gender or the wrong tense, but it's too late; the words are already out of my mouth. I still haven't figured out if I should call him "Jean" or "M. Maheu," or if I should be "tu-ing" or "vous-ing." Since Isabelle has begun to address me in the more familiar form of "tu", I feel comfortable speaking that way with her, but it doesn't yet seem appropriate with "Monsieur."

After lunch, they made a phone call and managed to get me invited (i.e. a complimentary ticket) to the Berlioz Requiem which was being played that night in the huge, gothic Basilique de St. Denis, at the northern edge of Paris. After a drink with Isabelle and Malek, I rushed off by myself to the métro. (They all had other plans for the evening.) I arrived just after it started and sat in the back of the audience which was arranged with portable chairs in the nave of the basilica. There must have been easily 2,000 people in the audience and three hundred performers, what with full orchestra and chorus. It was the Orchestre de France and the Choeur de Radio France, conducted by Charles Dutoit. For those of you radio listeners out there in Boston who tune into WGBH, WCRB, or WBUR, you will appreciate how special it was to witness Maestro Dutoit live at the podium. And what music! Berlioz composed this romantic era Requiem as a series of contrasts, in tone color, volume, range of voices, and instrumentation. The Basilica was a gorgeous and appropriate setting for this religious work, although if they taped it live, I sure hope the engineer kept his finger off the reverb switch.

I thought about the Mozart Requiem that we had heard in Prague, in the very austere Bethlehem Chapel, and how different the two experiences were. Berlioz was so French. I started thinking about France as a cultural, social entity. In the time that I was sitting there, "alone" among 2,000 people, I had a moment of sensing what France is. I had a vision of the map of the country and how all its parts make up the whole, and of how that map is a metaphor for the strength of the nation itself. Its history, its provinces and cities, its rural people and their beautiful produce, its urban people and their love of culture - all these combine to make France a very special place.

On the way home, I got yet another aspect of what France is when the métro car I was riding on stopped, and it was announced that because of "les greves" (strikes), this car was not going any farther. So an hour and a half later, after riding a few métro lines underneath the entire city of Paris, I arrived back at my little flat.

So this is it, friends. We're leaving Cézac at 4:15 am tomorrow to fly from Toulouse to Amsterdam, to sit around Schipol Airport for awhile, and then to fly to Boston. One of the things that we have enjoyed most about the e-mail travelogue is the response that we get from some of our readers, from the appreciation and wish-I-was-there-with-you response to the sardonic, slightly mocking humor of some of our nearest and dearest.

I caught the fourth squirrel as the fifth disappeared up the kitchen wall. This battle I leave to other hands. It was great to have Dawn back. It was a simple sweet pleasure to see her get off the train. In a couple of hours I will be dismantling our outpost here and we will not be back online until we land in North America.

Dawn and Stephen:
Thanks for listening