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Visions of Sunsets and Boats on the Mediterranean Sea

Sunset in Cassis

Sunset at Les Lecques near Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer

La Cadiere sur Mer

Another view of the sunset at Les Lecques near Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer

Ile du Petit Gaou near Six-Fours-les-Plages

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Views From The Remnants of Le Chateau de Giens

In the VAR department of Provence there is a little village called Giens or Presqu’ile de Giens. At one time a chateau stood atop the village, but barely anything is left now. The villagers have turned the area into a beautiful little garden and what still remains offers the most spectacular views.

To one side are the Mediterranean and the iles-de-Porquerolles.

Directly on the other side are an inlet, where kite surfing and parasailing reign supreme, and a view of the surrounding hills of Provence.

The little garden is quaint and lovely, and this time of year the flowers are all in bloom.

It is neatly manicured and also houses an artist’ shop. The artist happened to be holding an exposition on this day. His does beautiful artwork, by the way. If his shop is open, feel free to browse. He allows pictures to be taken, as well.

Just above his art work that was hanging on the stone wall, you will find a plaque giving details of what transpired during history to this chateau.

To see the views you must access some steps to a balcony (which I assume was probably the ground floor of the chateau). On a clear day, the views are exceptional and this day happened to be fairly good weather wise. From this point you can also see the entire garden.

It such a peaceful place and I always enjoy seeing people out and about appreciating the beauty that these little villages have to offer. I also appreciate it when these little villages value their history enough to keep it alive for others to share and enjoy.

Vacation Weekend at La Feria in Arles- Day 3-Horse Show, More Bullfights and Dancing in the Street

Thanks to going to bed much earlier on Sunday night, we were all able to get up and make it out of the house on time for our morning bullfight. I was still tired but somehow when you know you’re going to do something exciting, you just manage to get yourself up and going no matter what it takes or how you feel. You push the limit cuz you know it’s worth it.

This particular bullfight was preceded by a show of the horses on which the matadors were going to ride during the event. The corrida we were going to see this day was quite a bit different than the one we saw on Sunday. Today was the day that the matador showed off not only his skills as a bullfighter, but also the grace, skills and beauty of his horses. The people really came out for this one. We even got to hear some bands play for us while waiting to enter the arena.

Here’s a glimpse of the show of horses.

I have no idea how these horses were trained to do some of these moves, but it was wonderful. I especially loved the horse at the end of the video that did a prance and waved his head back and forth. Amazing!

After the show of horses it was time for the day’s event of bullfighting. Today we had brought Tinki with us. We thought that she would at least like to watch the horses. The bullfighting was altogether a different story, though, and once the end came I had her sit down and not watch. I actually had her lay her head on my shoulder and shielded her eyes a few times if I saw that the end for the bull was going to be in view.

Here’s a video of one of the events. Again, as with my last post, the killing of the bull is not in the video.

Now, for those of you who are ardent bullfight lovers, have grown up in the south-east of France or in Spain, you might think I was being silly with regards to my daughter, but for the average American, bullfighting is not exactly a sport of choice. I actually think many Americas would be up in arms about this sport which is probably why it hasn’t taken off there. Now, yes, there are animal lovers in France, of course. We’ve all seen the French with their dogs or cats, but every other animal on the planet is fair game and not worth coddling over. Let’s face it, meat eaters win out here and it makes no different what meat that may be.

We Americans, in general, think that every animal out there is a potential pet and totally adorable (regardless of what animal it is) and shame to anyone who would hurt any of these creatures. We bring our children up all sheltered about where the food comes from and how it gets to the table. Let’s face it, we’re mostly animal lovers with a capital A! I’m guilty of this as well and of course, brought my children up this way. So that being said and my daughter an ardent animal lover with a capital A, I did what most mothers would do and said, “Don’t watch”.  Boy did I get some weird stares from the French! Here I was surrounded by families with small children all watching these bulls get annihilated one after the other and they were all cheering for a good fight, kids included. That’s just how it is here. Now, I’ve been told that there are rules and regulations which must be adhered to at all times during the bullfight but heck if I could figure out what they were.

The bullfight is a sport of passion here in Provence much like soccer. The French come out in droves to see this event a few times a year and the matadors are admired like they’re gods. This is a sport that is deeply rooted and has a long history here. Who am I to change that and I wouldn’t want to. Even though a bullfight is not my event of choice, I do respect that it is a cultural event for this area.

That being said, I do confess that Dude and I were always rooting for the bull. We sort of felt like he was the underdog in this whole thing. Besides, it seemed as if everyone else was rooting for the matador so why not help the little guy out, right?? We did have two choice moments where the underdog made our day and boy did Dude and I cheer. The best was when during the second bullfight the bull actually said (yes SAID) that he’d had enough of this and he jumped the fence! Literally jump it and started running around and scaring people in the bottom row!

It was awesome and boy did Dude and I yell and cheer. I tell you it was super exciting. I figured they should have stopped the bullfight right then and there and let that brave bull go. He deserved it, but it was not to be. He had to go back in the arena and finish out the bullfight.

During both the events on Sunday and Monday I got to thinking about how I really felt about the bullfights. I did say I would give my take on it, so here goes. Mind you, I have no intention of protesting, no intention of not ever seeing a bullfight again or telling people to stop spending money on the sport. No way, this is just how I think it goes in my mind.

So, I came to figure that this is not really a fair fight in my opinion. The lovers of the sport will say yes it is (remember there are rules here) but if you really think about it, the cards are very much stacked against the bull and completely in favor of the matador (in this type of bullfight anyway), especially when the matador is on horseback. So here go my reasons for thinking this:

1)      The taureau has only his horns (big deal, he has to have something to defend himself with, sheesh).

2)      There are individual stages throughout each bullfight and at the end of each stage the matador was able to leave the arena and come back on a fresh horse that was totally raring to go and not tired at all. The same horse didn’t fight the whole time. How is this fair, the taureau was the same taureau? He couldn’t go out and have another taureau go take his place so he could rest up.

3)      The matador is usually higher than the taureau so he is able to get a clear approach on the attack and almost always from the top.

4)      There are these little alcoves in the arena that the matadors can run and hide behind to protect himself if need be. The taureau has nowhere to hide. He is always out in the open and given nowhere in which he can run to safety.

5)      There are times when 4 or 5 matadors are in the arena trying to confuse the taureau, why can’t there be 4 or 5 taureaux in the arena to confuse the matador? Come on matador, give us a real show!

6)      The matador can stop and take a break if he needs to, the taureau can’t say, “Wait folks, hold on, I need a quick drink and a break to get back up to speed. I’ll be right back, K”.

7)      If the matador gets hurt, the fight stops and the guy is taken out of the arena for treatment. Nothing happens when the taureau gets hurt, that’s part of the game. You aren’t going to see a fight stop for the taureau to get some medical treatment.

8)      The matador can reason. He can watch the taureau’s actions and manipulate the taureau to turning to his weaker side. He can make the taureau do a great many things just by knowing and studying the nature of the animal. The taureau cannot reason, he is doing what comes by nature. He doesn’t know what the intentions of the matador are therefore he plays along. Animals cannot reason, that is what sets man apart from them.

So there you have it. Some of the reasons why I think this is not a fair fight. I do feel bad for the taureaux since they didn’t ask to be in the arena. They were enlisted, they are not volunteers. So that’s why I have to root for them.

Anyway, like I said, I’m not out to change the way of thinking on bullfights or anything, it’s just my opinion.

Since there were several events that day, Tinki and I watched a few then we headed off to take a look at the renovation of the arena. I wanted to get some good shots of the work that had been done. I can’t believe how great the arena looks. The city has done a nice job of cleaning it up.

I was also able to take some photos of the surrounding city from the view point of the arena.

After the event we all headed over to the American Bar (yup-you read that right). It seems that a friend of a friend owns this place and we had reservations for a late lunch. Here we are all hanging out enjoying the fact that the sun actually came out that day!

As before, Patrick and Jean-Claude busted out their guitars and played for us and anyone else who would listen. They also serenaded some police officers who seemed to enjoy the music.

Then, right before food was served, Nicole, who is a friend of Patrick’s and works at the American Bar, came out to give us all “the bise” and say bonjour. Patrick talked her into dancing while he and Jean-Claude played a song. So here she is Flamenco dancing in the street while a crowd gathered around to watch.

Man, I better start taking lessons so I’m ready for next year!

Dancing and music over we proceeded to have lunch and what was on the menu??? Taureau, of course. Dude, Tinki and myself stayed on the veggie plan since we don’t eat taureau. It was cool, though, cuz for dessert we got ice cream and cheese (together).

After fine food, dancing and music it was time for me, Dude and Tinki to head home. There was another bullfight at 5pm, but we didn’t have tickets for that one and we had a long way to go to get home. After stopping back by Patrick and Toni’s house to get our stuff we were off. We managed to arrive home around 9pm so that wasn’t too bad. We were, none the less, totally exhausted from our weekend, but in a good way.

The dancing, singing and food are enough to call me back again. Fete, fete, fete….Oleeee!

Vacation Weekend at La Feria in Arles- Day 2 Bullfights and Partying

Day two for us at La Feria started out a bit rough. Since none of us went to sleep before 3am we had a difficult time getting up in the morning.

After several hours of moseying around the house all glassy eyed we finally all managed to get ready and take our leave.

We were headed today, first off, to the house of another friend of Toni and Patrick’s. We were all meeting for a late afternoon lunch before going to the bullfights.

We arrived at the house around 1:30pm and right away were greeted by everyone doing what I call “the bise”. This is that famous kissing the cheeks of everyone when saying hello or good-bye in France. The more people there are, the longer it takes and even longer in the Camargue region since in this region it is three bisous instead of two! After what seemed to amount to 10 minutes per person in my family, bisous dispensed, we were offered some salty snacks and drinks as appetizers. The French love their aperitif and salty snacks to get the stomach juices flowing. I was up for the salty snacks of chips, nuts and the like, but as usual, abstained from the drinks. One of the aperitifs they serve in this region is a Pastis and the French in the south are all about it. It is a very, very sweet liquor that is anise flavored and served in a small glass. Attention to those who haven’t tried it and would like to. It is about 90 proof and pulls quite a punch if you’re not use to it. Dude tried it, but decided it was not for him. It was much too sweet for his liking. I guess he doesn’t have enough French in him 🙂

We sat and conversed for a while as people continued to show up. I can’t remember how many there actually were at this party but I did quite a lot of “the bise” and the house was full. We continued to chat with both people we knew from our prior outing the night before (and from our last visit with Toni and Patrick) and we struck up conversations with people we were just meeting for the first time. The cool thing for my family is that with the exception of Toni and her son Spencer, who was in France for a visit; all conversations for the entire weekend were in French! Lucky for us only one or two of the people that Toni and Patrick know speaks English so we were forced all weekend to practice our French. Note to expats: spend a lot of time with non-English speakers. It definitely improves your French.

Well, what would be a party be if there was no music? In the Camargue, it would be dull. Every time Toni and Patrick get together with their friends it’s all about music and food. Hmmm, I could get use to this.

Patrick and his friend Jean-Claude are amazing guitar players and singers and when all the gang gets together the parties last for hours with music, singing, and food.

Here are Patrick and Jean-Claude entertaining us. Jean-Claude is on the left with the guitar and Patrick is on the right with the guitar. The blond lady in the video is Toni and sitting next to her is her son Spencer. Dude is in the blue shirt sitting the middle of Jean-Claude and Patrick and Tinki is on the right of Patrick.

We also got to hear their friend Marie-Jo sing. She’s an absolutely fantastic singer and she also plays the guitar. Unfortunately, since we were at a party and there were a lot of people, conversation was going on at the same time so there are parts where it’s difficult to hear her beautiful voice. Here’s a picture of us together.

She is in a traditional dress of the region. Do I look hung over from the night before? I think I do and I didn’t even drink! I believe that for me, 3am bedtimes are no bueno.

Here she is singing.

Food was served up and it was the most delicious stuff, ever! Pasta salad, rice (not your ordinary rice, either, but all kinds of custom made rice mixed with special goodies and flavors in it), meat, lamb, bread and of course, wine. Dude ate the lamb (which had been cooked slowly for 7 hours) and said it was absolutely wonderful. Here, in the south, they keep serving up the food, too! When you’re full and don’t want anymore, they take your plate away and bring it back piled with more food. Don’t ever say no to more food at someone’s house here. It does no good. They want to be sure you are happy and feed even if you’re full to the point of bursting. It’s all a part of their wonderful “southern hospitality”.

We were suppose to leave around 4pm to get to the bullfights, but the French time schedule is quite different that the American time schedule which for the most part innerves us Americans who are very time conscience. Toni kept trying to get everyone to leave at which Patrick’s response was, “In 10 minutes.” Now is that French ten minutes, cuz in that case that’s an American’s one hour! No kidding.

Of course time moved on and about 30 minutes later we asked again, “Are we almost ready to leave?” The response this time was, “In 5 more minutes”. Wait a second. Thirty minutes ago it was stated that we were leaving in 10 minutes and now it’s another 5 ?? Tinki just looked at us and said, “It’s a different time every time you ask! How do they ever manage to get anything done around here?!” Ahh, from the mouths of babes.

It’s so true and living in the south of France you just have to get use to it. They march to the beat of a different time table and there’s nothing you can do about it. I swear no one even owns a clock here, cuz it wouldn’t do any good anyway!

Before leaving it was some final farewell dances and singing. Sheesh, life is harsh here, isn’t it?! 🙂

Finally we were all set to go and made sure visits to the potty were in order before heading to Arles. I snapped a couple of shots of the hostess’s bathroom since I thought it was so cool. It was super small but very nicely done with a beautiful blue paint, posters of bullfights and the smallest sink I have ever seen with a strange looking soap holder (a bit erotic looking in my opinion, but hey, anything goes here, right??).

Of we headed to the center of Arles for our very first bullfight. We were warned ahead of time about bullfights since this was our first. For many people they can’t really stomach it so Toni and her friends warned us and asked us if we would be okay with it. Some areas were a bit crowded while others had no quite got up to speed, yet.

It was starting to get a bit crowded in front of the arena as people started to show up for the bullfight.

Here’s Patrick as we entered the arena. Oleeee!

Here are some of the photos of the bullfight. I didn’t take any of the actual killing of the bull since I don’t think that’s photo worthy for me, but the interaction between the bull and the matador was interesting to see. In my next post, about our third day in Arles, I will have more info on the bullfights and my ideas and thoughts about the sport.

All together we saw 4 bullfights on this day. There were 6 scheduled but we missed the first two thanks to the “French 15 minutes which is really and hour” time frame. It turned out fine for us, though, since I think 4 was enough. Tinki didn’t come with us to the bullfight. She went off with Spencer and Patrick’s daughter Celia into town. We met up with them later.

Around 8:30ish the bullfight was over and we headed out of the arena to meet up with some of Toni and Patrick’s friends and the kids. We headed off to take a look at the entertainment for the kiddies.

Tinki tried her hand at shooting balloons and actually won herself a little stuffed animal.

Then she decided that was such tough work that she needed a waffle with a ton of Chantilly (whipped cream) on top.

Patrick opted for the mother of all mother’s with a giant sized cotton candy (Barbe de Papa as they call it in French).

After walking through town, off we went to go find some food. Don’t you just love how we have dessert BEFORE the food! We tried to make it to another Bodega or restaurant, but unfortunately every place we looked at or tried was full. We settled on a little hole-in-the-wall place that served Turkish food. Tinki and I had a chicken sandwich drenched in onions, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo with, of course, the fries INSIDE the sandwich (I’ll never get over that). Dude had an omelet with eggs, lettuce, tomatoes all wrapped in a crepe with, you got it, fries inside! Too funny. Everything was super delicious and we just stood on the side of the street munching away and people watching.

After our meal, we took off once more to the Andalusia (remember this place from my last post). It’s the cathedral turned into a dance hall. We wanted to check out the dances this night and also get involved in some of the action.

Here are some kids enjoying the dancing.

We watched for a while and then Toni, Patrick, myself, Dude, Marie-Jo and her friend all jumped on the dance floor and boy oh boy did we have fun. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos or videos of us dancing CUZ we were all dancing!

We left just before midnight. We had an early start the next day so Toni and I vowed that we wouldn’t stay out as late as we did the night before. Off we went back towards their house and past a few police checkpoints. On this night, I actually had to go through two of them. The first time around the police officer asked me if I had anything to drink. Since I said no, truthfully, he let me pass sans breathalyzer test. The second checkpoint proved not to be so lucky for me. They made me take the test but I passed with flying colors. See, I said I told the first guy truthfully. Apparently he didn’t call his buddy up ahead to tell them that I was an honest person.

Finally we made it home around 12:30am-ish and off to bed I went. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day. Fete, Fete, Fete….Oleee!

Vacation Weekend at La Feria in Arles–Day 1

This past weekend we packed up and went to Arles for La Feria. This fete or “party” is probably the most important of all fetes in the region. It last for four days and consists of bullfights, food, alcohol, dancing and hanging out with family and friends. When I say four days, it means four days, non-stop since this party lasts continuously throughout the weekend.

La Feria of 2012 was the first that my family had ever been to. We were lucky enough to have been invited to it by our good friends Toni and Patrick (remember them-the angels that saved us last November when we were drowning is sewage). They live in the Camargue which is about 20 minutes from Arles and when we went to visit them a few weeks ago they invited us to go party with them over Easter weekend at La Feria.

Even though La Feria started on Friday, our first day wasn’t until Saturday. We arrived in Arles around 4pm, just in time to meet and greet Toni and Patrick and their friends and then it was off to the town center which is where all the fun happens. Everyone was on their way to the bullfight that evening, but since we didn’t have tickets for this particular event my family took the time to stroll around Arles, eat and take photos.

The day happened to be cold and rainy, but it didn’t dampen our spirits at all. The town was abuzz with people everywhere eating, drinking and partying. With as crazy as this event can get, it really is about family and friends getting together and enjoying themselves. There are so many things to do and see. For the kids there are a million different carnival rides, food galore and they even sit in on the bullfights.

During the few hours my family walked through town, I was able to snap some shots (which was a bit tough sometimes since there were so many people around). I don’t know about you, but I like to have my photos “people free” for the most part unless I want a specific photo of someone or I want to show how crowded a place is. In the case of this particular day, I was really hoping for some “people free” photos! I did get lucky for the most part so I can’t complain.

After making our way across town, we came upon all sorts of food vendors. I tell you, there wasn’t anything a person was not able to find here. There were all sorts of varieties of food and goodies to make anyone’s mouth water and the best part was that not everyone had to eat at the same place. It was one of those things were you walk up, order, and walk away eating the food! We even found a place to buy American hot dogs (whatever that means!)

My family ended up eating some chicken sandwiches with fries on top (they love putting the fries in the sandwiches here in France) and then off we went to go and see the ruins of the ancient theatre.

The theatre was amazing and I took plenty of photos to savor the moment. It wasn’t open for visiting on this day, but you can purchase tickets to see it and take a tour. We settled for gazing at it over the fence. It is a beautiful place which was constructed around the 1st century B.C. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t get close enough to the ruins to touch them. I wanted so badly to do so and kept trying around every corner I could, but to no avail. For those of you who have been reading my posts for a while know that I have to touch every old stone, ruin, building, etc that I possibly can. It just gives me chills to do so. I guess I will have to make it a point to go back for the tour and sneak in a quick caress of the ancient stones!

After touring around the theatre we passed by an old church which has a small court yard off to the side.

From this area you can gaze out over the city and on a clear day, even see the Cevannes Mountains. On this particular day, since it was cloudy and stormy, we didn’t get to see the Cevannes but were able to see the ruins of the castle at Beaucaire which is not far from Arles. We also met the most charming, old French man who chatted with us for about 30 minutes. That story will definitely be in an upcoming post.

After that, it was off to meet up with our friends who were exiting the bullfight. While we were waiting for some others to arrive in front of the arena, I was able to take a photo of one of the matadors exiting as well, who had been hoisted up on someone’s shoulder and paraded down the steps. The crowd was cheering and clapping so I gathered he was an excellent bullfighter and had put on a good show.

There were crowds of people waiting around the arena and I caught this guy dressed up in what I gathered as his party wig.

Once every one met up, it was off to a Bodega for dinner. A Bodega is a place you go in town that is normally a car garage or some kind of store throughout the year, but during La Feria they magically transform into a restaurant/bar/dance hall. It’s crazy and there were Bodegas everywhere. The one we went to had these wonderful paintings on the walls of bullfights and La Ferias in the past. They served up Sangria, bread, salads, chicken and rice and paella. I had the chicken and rice because I don’t eat any type of fish. I also abstained from the Sangria since 1) I don’t drink and 2) I was the designated driver that night. Let me tell ya, Pepsi goes just as good with chicken and rice as Sangria does so I didn’t feel all that bad.

The food was terrific, the music was very loud and very Spanish and festive. All in all the 2 plus hours we spent at the Bodega was pretty good.

Once dinner was over it was off to The Andalusia. This is an old cathedral which is transformed during La Feria into a grand dance hall. Inside are large screen televisions showing past bullfights, music and speakers set up on either end of the cathedral, lasers and lighting and posters. The floor is separated into two areas with large pieces of wood laid on the ground on which people dance the traditional dances like the Flamenco, the Tango, and the Cha Cha. They will even play Gypsy music to dance to. Everyone young and old can come and go as they please. There is no charge and people just come dressed as they are, although some do come decked out in traditional dress.  You can stand around and watch for hours while people do these traditional dances. You can even join in if you know how to do the dances. I don’t so I was content to watch everyone else and it was just wonderful! The tradition and history of the region really comes alive on this weekend every year!

Here are some of the videos I took of the dances.

After a few hours of all this fun, it was time to take our leave. It was getting pretty late and we had another busy day coming up the next day. It ended up being quite a feat to get back to our car. Around every corner and down practically every street there was a party going on. We actually got caught being herded like cattle at one point because this one area was so crowded that we could barely make it through! The music was so loud and everyone was out in the street having a great time. As we “tried” to get through and stay all together, I started to get the giggles and then couldn’t stop laughing! Then I was hopping around and dancing like a crazy person and I didn’t even have anything to drink! It was so much fun!

When we finally made it out of the city center and were heading towards our car, we happened upon two guys who were completely drunk and one had fallen down in the street! The funniest part about it was that he had an éclair that he was finishing eating and he just stayed there, laying down in the street while eating it! We were all dying laughing because he wouldn’t get up. He clearly wasn’t hurt in the least bit and he was completely happy to stay there and finish his éclair! Just like a true Frenchman, never let anything get in the way of a good dessert! Then our friend Patrick was trying to help him up and give him his jacket and then they started singing together while Patrick’s friend Christian (who by the way is a total riot and one of the most jolliest people I have ever met) started to serenade him with Patrick’s guitar! So there all of us were, myself, Dude, Tinki, our friends Toni and Patrick, their friends Christian and Claudine and these two guys in the middle of the street singing, laughing, and playing guitar. It was hilarious and we all couldn’t stop laughing. We must have been amusing ourselves for about 20 minutes or so before we could finally be on our way again towards our car. Boy, what a night.

As we headed back towards Toni and Patrick’s house, I got stopped by the “police nationale” for a breathalyzer test. Fair warning for those of you who would like to go to La Feria in the future, you must have a designated driver since every, single exit out of the city has police checkpoints ready to stop each and every car. Of course I passed with flying colors since Pepsi and water aren’t too detrimental.

When we finally arrived back at our friend’s house it was 3am! I hadn’t realized what party animals we were. Shame on Tinki and her 15 year old self for not keeping her parents in line 🙂

So off to bed we went very quickly since we were headed back to Arles the next day for some more fun. Fete, Fete, Fete!!! Oleee!!

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