Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Poem for Tuesday, Papal Palace, Lion, Start the Revolution

An Orchard At Avignon
By Agnes Mary Frances Robinson

The hills are white, but not with snow:
They are as pale in summer time,
For herb or grass may never grow
Upon their slopes of lime.

Within the circle of the hills
A ring, all flowering in a round,
An orchard-ring of almond fills
The plot of stony ground.

More fair than happier trees, I think,
Grown in well-watered pasture land
These parched and stunted branches, pink
Above the stones and sand.

O white, austere, ideal place,
Where very few will care to come,
Where spring hath lost the waving grace
She wears for us at home!

Fain would I sit and watch for hours
The holy whiteness of thy hills,
Their wreath of pale auroral flowers,
Their peace the silence fills.

A place of secret peace thou art,
Such peace as in an hour of pain
One moment fills the amazed heart,
And never comes again.


Happy Mardi Gras! Jetlag is belatedly kicking my arse. I got to spend a post-Oscars Monday with Cheryl, which included lunch at Zoe's Kitchen (red pepper hummus and baked feta) and a viewing of Lion (even better the second time I think). Before we went to that, since we knew we'd be seeing Nicole Kidman and David Wenham in it and since La La Land doesn't even come close as movie musicals go, we watched Moulin Rouge, which only improves with time and distance from the Cruise-Kidman marriage.

Niece had an interview and audition to transfer from the Berklee College of Music's online program to the campus in Boston, and came home happy with the interview though nervous about the singing. She went out with friends in the late afternoon while the rest of us watched Start the Revolution Without Me, a cracky French Revolution-era parody with Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland that cracked us up a lot. And now I'm caught up on Supergirl and The Flash! From the Papal Palace at Avignon:

Monday, February 27, 2017

Placeholder for the Oscars

Cheryl is here and we are eating chocolate while watching the Academy Awards, which weren't as bad as they could have been (every time Hacksaw Ridge won something, I resented La La Land a little less, but oh, that did not make it easier to watch America's greatest actor, Denzel Washington, lose to stunning mediocrity with family connections). Kimmel was a pretty good host but I feel like most of his jokes must have been lost on people who don't watch his show, though the Matt Damon stuff had me howling.

I did appreciate Kimmel's swipes at Trump ("Remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?") and at Hollywood ("Black people saved NASA and white people saved jazz"). Meryl was awesome. So were Mahershala Ali and the Moonlight writers. And Katherine Johnson! But I feel like the disregard for Hidden Figures in the top categories shows how things need to improve, though that insane ending was also a thing of beauty. Earlier in the day we went to the Phillips Collection to see the Toulouse-Lautrec illustrations:

If you don't know much Toulouse-Lautrec but May Milton is familiar...

...it may be because Picasso painted it into The Blue Room.

Lithographs of Jane Avril in a snake dress...

...and the original pose and dress.

Here is Jane Avril dancing...

...and Toulouse-Lautrec's version.

The exhibit introduction.

And here we are in the Rothko room, not even pretending we appreciate Rothko.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Poem for Sunday and Pont du Gard

A Roman Aqueduct
By Oliver Wendell Holmes

The sun-browned girl, whose limbs recline
When noon her languid hand has laid
Hot on the green flakes of the pine,
Beneath its narrow disk of shade;

As, through the flickering noontide glare,
She gazes on the rainbow chain
Of arches, lifting once in air
The rivers of the Roman's plain;--

Say, does her wandering eye recall
The mountain-current's icy wave,--
Or for the dead one tear let fall,
Whose founts are broken by their grave?

From stone to stone the ivy weaves
Her braided tracery's winding veil,
And lacing stalks and tangled leaves
Nod heavy in the drowsy gale.

And lightly floats the pendent vine,
That swings beneath her slender bow,
Arch answering arch,--whose rounded line
Seems mirrored in the wreath below.

How patient Nature smiles at Fame!
The weeds, that strewed the victor's way,
Feed on his dust to shroud his name,
Green where his proudest towers decay.

See, through that channel, empty now,
The scanty rain its tribute pours,--
Which cooled the lip and laved the brow
Of conquerors from a hundred shores.

Thus bending o'er the nation's bier,
Whose wants the captive earth supplied,
The dew of Memory's passing tear
Falls on the arches of her pride!


I was slightly less jetlagged on Saturday, in part because February was lost all morning and it was nearly 80 degrees so we went for a walk in the park (where there were daffodils as well as the previous crocuses etc.)...then a cold front blew in with a big windy storm in the afternoon, so I spent that time uploading trip photos and trying to figure out which ones should be in a Shutterfly book. Maddy went to work in the afternoon and we had cats very confused about the temperature change and thunder.

We're trying to decide which TV is worth catching up. I'm spoiled for Nashville and therefore done with that show. We watched the finale of The Young Pope, which was pretty great, and last week's Supergirl, which was pretty hilarious, plus the Timeless finale, which is hopefully just for the season and not the series. Not sure I'll bother with The Flash, definitely not bothering with Agents of SHIELD. Blindspot? Anyway, here are some pics from Pont du Gard's Roman aqueduct and museum:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Poem for Saturday and Arles Roman Sites

From Tanka Diary
By Harryette Mullen

The botanical garden is just as I remember,
although it is certain that everything
has changed since my last visit.

How many hilarious questions these fuzzy
fiddleheads are inquiring of spring
will be answered as green ferns unfurl?

Walking the path, I stop to pick up
bleached bark from a tree, curled into
a scroll of ancient wisdom I am unable to read.

Even in my dreams I’m hiking
these mountain trails expecting to find a rock
that nature has shaped to remind me of a heart.


Home. Jetlagged. Cats so happy to see us they walked on us all night. About 3/4 unpacked. Two laundries washed, not yet folded. Photos only 1/3 uploaded to Flickr. Cat food and French bread acquired at food store. 80 degrees out, despite it being February. Crocuses and apricot blossoms in Cabin John Park. Dinner with parents. Now distracted by Hugh Jackman on The Tonight Show. More when awake. Pics of ancient Roman sites in Arles, including the amphitheater, Alyscamps necropolis, Thermes de Constantin, and 1st century theater:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Greetings from Home

We spent nearly all of Thursday traveling, though I did get plenty of exercise racing through Munich's massive airport after we took off thirty minutes late from Toulouse due to some sort of medical emergency with someone on our plane and had to go running to make our connecting flight to Dulles. Fortunately the snack Lufthansa fed us on the flight to Munich was big enough to count for lunch, and they fed us dinner and breakfast on the flight to DC even though it wasn't an overnight flight! We are very tired now and have lots of laundry and unpacking to do. Our one sightseeing activity for the day after leaving our hotel breakfast and before returning the rental car was a visit to Toulouse's Roman amphitheater ruins, surrounded by a quiet neighborhood and big contemporary church:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Greetings from Toulouse

This is our last night in France, which makes me sad, though I also miss my cats and people at home so I will be glad to see them! Today I am exhausted not from staying up sightseeing but from hiking up to the Château de Montségur, where the Cathars made their last stand. It's a long, steep hike up at elevation, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, and completely worth it. Earlier in the day we visited another Cathar castle, the Château de Puivert, which has several restored rooms among its ruined towers including one that celebrates the troubadours from the region who gathered there. It's an easy walk up the hill from the parking lot to Puivert, though there's no running water anywhere in the area so the only bathroom is three trees to the left of the trail.

We brought cheese sandwiches for lunch from our hotel because we weren't sure we'd be able to find an open cafe in the remote areas in which we were traveling, so we had a picnic beneath Montségur, then continued on to Toulouse. After so many days in gorgeous, spiritually important small towns, I wasn't sure whether the city would be disappointing, but the historic areas are right next to the university here and it's like a big, happy college town with dozens of cafes and hundreds of people sitting by the Garonne River enjoying a spectacular sunset. We visited two famous churches and had falafel at one of the cafes near this city's Pont Neuf. We're going to try to see Toulouse's Roman amphitheatre before we head to the airport in the morning!

Outside the ruins of the Château de Puivert, which has short films about its history and structures, including its festival for troubadours...

...and inside by the round table surrounded by the accoutrements of knighthood.

About to hike up the incredibly steep trail to the Château de Montségur. Remember I said it was tough going to the Sainte-Baume grotto? Forget I ever said that; I had no real experience of "tough going" then!

The hike goes past patches of snow as well as some signs of spring -- flowers, lizards, snails, butterflies (though every Pokemon on the mountain is a flopping, gasping Magikarp, which is entirely appropriate despite the lack of water). The Pyrenees rise up along one side.

Everyone who gets to the top is very sweaty and happy and there are amazing views in every direction, until one remembers that Crusaders burned alive every unconverted Cathar man, woman, and child who survived the siege in 1244, in the field that one passes on the way up to the castle.

This is the beautiful Château de Foix seen from the road headed toward Toulouse. We also saw the Château de Roquefixade as we drove away from Montségur, and it appears that Roquefixade is in an even greater state of disrepair.

The exterior of the imposing Basilique Saint-Sernin, named for the first bishop of Toulouse, though it is more famous because the stone that killed Simon de Montfort, a brutal leader of the Crusade against the Cathars, was thrown from the roof of Saint-Sernin while he was besieging the city.

Toulouse's original Black Madonna at the Basilica Notre-Dame de la Daurade was stolen and later burned by Revolutionaries in the late 1700s, but the copy there since 1807 has kept the church a pilgrimage site.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Greetings from Campagne-sur-Aude

We spent Tuesday in the land of the Cathars, beginning at the Cité de Carcassonne which was a center of the religion that was the target of the Albigensian Crusades. We toured the incredible restored walled city, which maintains some of the earliest Roman features in its largely medieval fortress, and visited the Museum of the Inquisition before having lunch in one of the cafés that now occupy the old stone buildings. Then we drove to Rennes-les-Bains, a town founded over the hot springs along the river Sals, which feeds into the Aude. This town and Rennes-le-Chateau are connected with legends concerning Mary Magdalene and the Templar treasure, and we visited the latter as well, though the Bérenger Saunière museum with its links to the Merovingians, the Cathars, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, and Mary Magdalene was not open, though we got to see several Cathar ruins in the nearby mountains. Now we're in Campagne-sur-Aude so that in the morning we can visit Montsegur, where the Cathars made their last stand.

Outside the walled city gate with the new statue of the legendary Dame Carcas...

...and inside with the historic version of which the new one is a copy.

The Inquisition museum has many examples of torture, hangings, beheadings, burnings...

...and forms of punishment that stuck around long after the Crusades and Inquisition itself.

Pigeons have taken up residence inside the basilica within the walls of Carcassonne.

Many of the tourist shops in the old city would be at home at a Renaissance faire!

These are the remains of the ancient Roman baths at Rennes-les-Bains...

And this is the Magdalene Tower in Rennes-le-Chateau.