We’re breaking records for the second year in a row for cold and wet. Even us Seattleites are getting testy. The trees are doing their best, though, to cheer us up and keep us oxygenated–cherry trees, pear trees all in bloom, chestnuts coming on, rhodies and azaleas, camellias, daphne,and all the bulbs soldiering on…and here’s a peek at our backyard.
A long time ago a writer friend of mine gave me a tiny cloth pouch filled with tiny amulets and magic seeds which she said would ward off writer’s block. I recently had cause to explore the pouch in more detail. One of the items is a minuscule wooden box painted yellow with red and green swirls. It’s shaped like a coffin and it holds six very tiny people dolls, each dressed differently, each with faces painted in slightly different expressions.
Folded into the box is an explanation of them, in English and Spanish, telling me that these are Guatemalan Worry People. Apparently the Mayans in Guatemala (then or now, we don’t know) would tell their worries to little dolls like these, and then put them under their pillows at night. “By morning the worry people have taken their worries away.”
(I should also add that this is the first time I’ve used my laptop as a camera–more practice is clearly required.)
Sunny day, cheerful atmosphere, creative signs, 150,000 women, men and children (about 20% men, I’d say), zero arrests! We took up the entire 3.6 mile route from beginning to end. So many people it took almost an hour for me to go the one block from the Judkins Park gathering site to the first marching street. A wonderful site during that part: two bald eagles circling overhead in the blue sky.
Let the photos tell the story:
The last two weeks of April saw us driving the coast roads, with a dip into the interior, of the old Yugoslavia. People still use that term, but seem glad of their new countries. The terrible 1991-5 war amongst them that created those countries is still very much with them. This part of the world reminds us of Sicily—a land in the middle of vicious contests between neighboring empires for thousands of years. The Slavic region was the battleground between the Venetians and the Ottomans ever since the collapse of the Roman empire. And of course the Romans wreaked their own havoc during their heyday here.
We started in Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage walled town on the coast of southern Croatia. Sunny, shiny cream-colored limestone everywhere, this is a walled city with no industry at all other than tourism. The Adriatic sparkles and is clear for fathoms, the air is blue and soft. As we were there early in the season, it was not too crowded, but it apparently gets like Disneyland in the summer. Its ancient stone streets, walls and squares were the site of many Game of Thrones scenes, and there are the trinket stores to prove it. (Game of Thrones also turned up in the labyrinthine basements of Diocletian’s palace in Split, just up the coast, where we stayed later. Meaningless to us, as we never watched the shows.) This photo is from our walk up the hills to the east of the city. You can see much of the wall around it–which obviously provided no protection from the incoming shelling in 1991.
We were told not to do too much overland walking though, as there are still unexploded landmines about. Several churches and other buildings in Dubrovnik (and the other towns we visited) still had pock marks from artillery fire. Dubrovnik was shelled from the hills to its east, causing much damage and lots of fires. Most of the red tile roofs in the city are new.
From Dubrovnik we headed north (on wonderful roads—both countries seem to be investing a lot in infrastructure), crossing the border into Slovenia, and driving up to Ljubljana (stopping in Portoroz and taking a little walk to the neighboring town of Piran). Slovenians are very proud of their EU membership—they are on the euro, as opposed to Croatia, which remains on its kuna.
Ljubljana, the only town we stayed in that was not on the Adriatic, is a bustling, charming student-filled, café-based town along a winding river. Full of the usual grandiose churches, busy open squares, pastry shops, farmers’ markets and lovely green spaces, we found it a bit like a smaller Lyon. Huge banners fluttered on buildings proclaiming that Ljubljana had been voted Europe’s Greenest City for 2016.
There’s the required castle-on-a-hill too, which we found in every tiny town we saw here. These castles, fortresses and churches often doubled for each other’s functions at different times over the centuries. Basically, the middle ages was a very paranoid time.
Then back to the coast and south. We met our friends from Berlin in Split and traveled with them along the Adriatic coast through Trogir, Sibenik, Zadar, Pag, and Senj, and then onto the Istrian peninsula to Kamenjak national park at the tip and an overnight in Rovinj. From there we took the ferry to Venice, which is where we are for this last month of the trip.
Our days in Split were spent in a tiny hotel chiseled into the walls of Diocletian’s Palace. Amazing to see how people use and re-use the materials of the past. Diocletian ruled the Roman empire for a while in the 300 AD period. He was born in Croatia, and came back here to retire in this palace. He is famous for torturing Christians and for creating the tetrarchy—government by four people, not just one, because Rome had gotten so far-flung, etc.
It was fun visiting these tiny towns, each with its own high point to boast about, each with its ancient church (9th century in Zadar, made with bits of the Roman buildings the finally-free Christians had gleefully taken down), busy town square, tiny streets, wonderful ringing church bells and lovely harbor. Zadar is famous for a wind organ that creates music from the waves and wind under the sea wall. .
Senj is famous for an incredibly high wind called “bora” that sweeps down from the Velebit Mountains behind it into a slot that intensifies it right at the town. We can testify to its ferocity. We also took a little walk into those mountains and encountered SNOW!
As for food, needless to say most of it is fresh seafood. Both countries are proud of their growing wine industry as well. We found the reds better than the whites—neither are grown in enough volume to be exported much. Chatting in one wine store, we learned that Grgich Hills, the superb Napa winery, is owned and run by the Croatian Mr. Grgich, who has also returned to Croatia to start a winery there. Croatia is also very proud of native son Nicola Tesla—every town seemed to have a street named after him.
A few more pics:
Leaving Lyon we made a quick ten day swing around a part of the UK we had meant to visit in January, but didn’t. We started by train from London to Burgh Island, not too far from Plymouth. Burgh Island is one of those islands that exist as an island only at high tide, like Mont San Michel and St. Michael’s Mount. There is a hotel there that has been kept in its original art deco 1930s style, down to no TVs and big clunky telephones in the rooms. The hotel has been the set for several TV shows and movies of that era—old Poirots for instance. Each room is named after someone who has stayed there: Agatha Christie, Noel Coward…we stayed in the Josephine Baker room.
You have to dress formally for dinner. We went for our 34th anniversary all tuxed and long-gowned and had a great time.
Then we went to St Ives near the western tip of Cornwall for 3 days. Loved it! Charming, artsy seaside town made famous by the luminescent sea-toned light loved by artists and sculptors. Also Virginia Woolf’s family went there—all made famous in her book To The Lighthouse. We were able to take several long walks along the SW Coast Path in both directions from the town. The weather was breezy and in the low 60s, but that doesn’t stop the Brits from enjoying their beaches.
We also went out to St Michael’s Mount one day, which is near Penzance, on the south side of the Cornwall peninsula (St. Ives is on the north side). Interesting walk around and up the island. It’s quite different from Mont San Michel, although it was founded by monks from there. It’s smaller than its French counterpart, and has been a privately owned house for about a thousand years, managed today partly by the family and partly by the National Trust. We timed our visit to be able to walk out at low tide, and then took the boat back.
On our way north to Devon and Somerset we went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d read about this place for years in British gardening magazines…a large garden that fell to weeds and was totally lost after World War I when the gardeners joined the military and were mostly killed, along with the family who lived there. Probably something that happened to lots of country-house gardens, but here, the garden was rediscovered by some botanists and has been brought back to life. The most interesting part is what the owners have done to research and commemorate the lost gardeners, local handymen, all young and killed in the terrible mud and trenches of France. A couple years ago, to honor the 100th anniversary of WWI, sculptors made lifesize ice statues of the men and put them around the garden in the evening, and they all slowly melted over the night and next day. Today’s gardeners and local artists are making living statue today:
A quick visit to Coleridge’s cottage in the Quantock hills got us on our way to northern Somerset, where we stayed in Minehead, a small town on the coast of Bristol Bay, just south of Wales, and on the eastern edge of Exmoor National Park.
We walked a couple of miles to the mediaeval village of Dunster and its attendant castle, excellently run by the National Trust. The Trust has put a lot of effort into making its holdings accessible and fun for families—at Dunster the grand Lady’s dressing room was a real dress-up room for kids, with clothes to try on and play in.
One of the drawing rooms was open for all to sit on the furniture, play cards, do puzzles, read newspapers, just as if you were a guest there. This library was NOT one of those rooms:
I loved the sign on an old quilt on one of the beds: so much nicer than simply “Don’t Touch.” It said: “This quilt is almost 200 years old and very fragile. Please help us to look after it by trying not to touch it.”
We also were able to walk a bit of the SW Coast Path, which starts here. It was breezy and rainy, perfect for rainbows. On our walks and drives we noticed lots of solar panel farms and lots of wind turbines, many more such installations than you see in the U.S.
Then off to Wales! Northern Wales in fact. While most people were chasing warmer weather, we were heading increasingly north (we didn’t see fully leafed out trees until this week when we finally arrived in Milan.) In Wales we stayed at a country house in Llandudno owned by the National Trust and run by a hotel company. It was quite elegant and the views were spectacular, looking over the waterway that separates mainland Wales from Anglesey at Conwy Castle, and the snow-dusted Snowdonia mountains.
We heard a lot more Welsh spoken, by people of all ages, here than we had on a previous visit years ago. We laughed when our google maps GPS lady gave up and started spelling the road and town names instead of pronouncing them.
While here, we got quite an education about the middle ages and castle building. They were dark days indeed, cold and full of awful battles with axes and swords and boiling oil, and the women having baby after baby, mostly all dying. Two of the castles we visited, Conwy and Caernarfon, were run by the Welsh National Trust, so the signage and descriptions included lots of digs at the Brits.
Bodnant Gardens is a spectacular garden in lovely spring bloom—amazing hellebores and grassy fields of daffodils…on the roadsides everywhere these two weeks were spreading clumps of lovely pale lemon sherbet primroses.
Took the train from Liverpool (dropped off the car at the John Lennon International Airport) to London and then on to Milan. Train was run by Virgin—practice for us, I guess, for Alaska Air’s latest acquisition.
Lyonnais citizens are a very fit people. We frequently see runners along the riverside walks (all four of them, running up and down both sides of the Rhone and Soane rivers) and up and down the many outdoor flights of stairs. Lyon indeed is a living, breathing Stairmaster machine. I tried to find a count of all the stairways that run like arteries and veins up and down the hillsides of our neighborhood the Croix-Rousse, as well as the pentes or hillside slopes in Vieux Lyon and Presque-Iles. Some are narrow and steep, walled on both sides, like chutes. Others are wider and some even have shops and people’s front doors leading off both sides. There must be well over a hundred separate stairways, each one between 150 and 400+ steps apiece.
The stairways are used by everyone—old people going slowly with canes, little kids, teenagers, shoppers and whole families. I tried many times to get a good photograph that conveyed the steepness and the length of the stairways, but never succeeded. The pictures never depict the stairs as steep or long as they really are.
As we leave Lyon, we definitely want to come back. It’s friendly, accessible, inexpensive, and just so gosh darn French!
Here’s a few last minute random observations:
Scooters! After walking, this is the preferred means of transport for both adults and children here. Scooters have improved since my childhood. They are metal, and they fold up and have tiny brakes on the back wheel that are activated when you push down on the top of the wheel with your back foot. You often see grown-ups carrying their folded scooters up or down the stairs.
Our last week, we finally checked out two of the main museums in the city: the fabric museum (the Musee des Tissus) and the Gallo-Roman museum.
Lyon is known for its history of silk weaving and dyeing—the Croix-Rousse neighborhood where we’ve lived the last 2 months was the heart of the silk weavers in the 16th-19th centuries. They were called canuts and there are streets and bars named after them. Our ancient apartment building was a canut building—very tall ceilings with the cross rafters just like in the engraving of Jacquard attached. They needed such tall ceilings to accommodate the Jacquard loom. Nowadays they’ve squeezed lofts into parts of them—we have little stairs up and down and can’t stand up straight in parts of our place.
Jacquard invented his loom here, which basically destroyed the handwoven industry—much labor upheaval, but the skills and trade have survived. Hermes scarves are produced in the Lyon suburbs. Lyon is quite a needlewoman’s town—lots of shops full of buttons and ribbons and yarn and fabric, more than you’d see in most towns this size.
The museum has a huge collection of tapestries and weavings and dresses from the past hundreds of years—many exhibited in the various Expositions in Paris and London in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the explanations on the wall (all in French) I gathered that the whole industry wouldn’t have existed without the money and taste of the French royalty, and then Napoleon as well.
I think I’ve mentioned Lyon’s role in Roman Gaul—it was the capitol of the Roman France, a large city with multiple amphitheaters busy with theatrical productions, gladiator battles, martyrdom of Christians and so on; amazing public and private buildings; perfect Roman roads and Roman plumbing; mosaic floors; shops; trade in all directions and cemeteries.
Buying a bunch of tulips from our local florist to give to the staff at our favorite neighborhood bouchon on our last evening there, I said that the flowers were much larger than the usual tulips I see. The florist said yes, French tulips were indeed larger than the usual Dutch tulips. Indeed they were. Anyone else heard or noticed this?
A few last random photos:
We left France in the midst of a transportation strike. Vive la France!
One of the reasons we are taking this extended trip is to be able to take side trips to places that interest us, but never make into a week or two’s visit. In March we made two trips out of Lyon, one to Lausanne Switzerland and one to Marrakech.
Quick! What country is Marrakech in? Where is it? What do you know about it beyond the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song?
First, while you’re thinking about that, Lausanne was a visit made especially wonderful because we traveled with Tess and Ken, who had speaking and meeting engagements at two of the universities there. (Lucky them, getting to write off the trip.) Lausanne is EXPENSIVE! About twice the price for everything compared with Lyon. Even so, we took lovely walks along Lake Geneva admiring swans and the snow draped Alps, wandered through the steeply terraced vineyards between Lausanne and Montreux, visited an ancient castle and, most interesting, went to the Art Brut art museum and to CERN.
Art Brut was named and founded by artist Jean Dubuffet and includes paintings, sculptures and textile works “produced by self-taught creators firmly entrenched outside the mainstream, harboring a rebellious spirit and impervious to collective norms and values. These include psychiatric hospital patients, prisoners, eccentrics, loners and outcasts.” In other words, if you ever took an art class, you can’t have your work in this museum. It was fascinating. Lots of wildly imaginative works rendered in obsessive detail. No photography was allowed.
CERN, in suburban Geneva, is of course the home of the Large Hadron Collider. (I also wanted to visit the home of the ill-fated League of Nations in Geneva, but we didn’t have time.) Our tour was led by an engineer who could answer some, but not all, of our group’s questions. CERN is not a new facility or project, but has been around since 1954. It’s a collection of particle accelerators (which accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light) and incredibly sensitive and fast detectors that record the results of the collisions of those speeding protons and their debris. That data is then made available to scientists around the world. CERN is a data producer; they are not designers of the hypotheses or data analyzers (beyond the analysis needed to guarantee the accuracy of their data).
One piece of the tour included the question: why do we do this when there are so many more humanitarian and urgent issues? Their answer:
OK, on to sunnier climes. Or should I say Sunni—which Morocco is. But not initially an Arab country—Morocco’s history goes back to Paleolithic times, and their native peoples are Berbers. Arabs arrived later; Berbers are still a strong group, centering in the mountainous interior. (Their DNA is related to the Saami peoples of northern Finland and Norway). Thousand year old Marrakech, known as the Red City for the color of its walls and buildings, is about an hour away from the Atlas Mountains—we spent a day on the slopes of the Atlas mountains, walking among several Berber villages.
France took over Morocco in 1912 and held it until 1956. Most Moroccans speak Arab, Berber, French and some English. One odd thing the French did was make Mosques off-limits to non-Muslims. So while non-Muslims can visit mosques in Egypt or Turkey or Jordan, they cannot do so in Morocco.
Here are some photos of Marrakech. There really are snake charmers in the city square!
And acrobats and story tellers and palm readers, all among the vegetable sellers and silversmiths and leather workers and textile shops. The crowds are endless; donkeys are a common means of travel, being slowly edged out by dangerously speedy motorcycles. Much work is being done to repair the crumbling palaces and gardens. It felt wrong that they let us walk on their beautiful ancient tiled floors; I felt guilty that we were wearing down their heritage…
Interim photos on two topics: 1) Lyon’s wonderful tradition of frescoes and murals on large and small building walls; and 2) Political posters around town (hint: les Lyonnais are not focused on Drumph). Also, can’t not have a photo of food.
Murals and Frescoes
There are so many of these–big, small, painterly, more graffiti-like, funny, lovely. It’s a treat to walk around the discover them.
There are many more, but enough for now.
I think I’ve posted a few of these already, but here’s three more: one on European politics, one on women’s rights and one on the refugees.
Lyon has a tag line “onlyLyon.” You clever readers will quickly realize that “only” is an anagram of “Lyon.” Peter and I are becoming quite the Lyonaises (French speakers must ignore my inability to match person and tense, s’il vous plait). It’s very fun to try to speak French when we feel like it, and to throw ourselves on the good-humored mercy of the locals when we don’t.
Friends at home have asked, “how do you spend your days?” probably thinking that 6 months of this is possibly a tad too long not to get boring, or to remain pleasant to each other, let alone sane. So here’s the deal. First of all, it takes a fairly significant degree of time and fun to get to know a new neighborhood and a new apartment. Where’s the post office? How is the heat controlled? Where are the cash machines? Can we make the shower work better? How does the washing machine work? Why are the locks on the doors so weird? How do we pay for a bus ride? What is all this strange stuff in the grocery store? What do they call baking soda? That looks good, but what are rognons anyway? When are the stores usually open/closed? Do people cross against the light or not? And so on…
We’ve both become relatively late risers, so the first part of the day is just swanning around in our PJs, drinking our caffeine of choice, reading email etc., pouring over maps and deciding what to do/where to go today, eat in or out for dinner (8 pm is the absolute earliest any place wants to see you), do laundry, stuff like that. Laundry is a relatively big part of our lives, as we have to do it fairly often since we didn’t bring much, and also because the machines here have a pretty small load capacity and take forever.
Lyon is a city of about a half million people today, but greater Lyon has about 2 million. It sits in between and on both sides of the Rhone and the Saone rivers. There are lovely embankments and walk and bike ways on both sides of both rivers, both of which are now running fast and several feet over their usual levels—swollen from rains further north, which have been pretty unrelenting this winter.
Lyon was a the capital of Roman Gaul for about three hundred years—there are 2 large amphitheaters here, one with a beautifully intact mosaic floor. The city collapsed when the aqueducts broke and the city was left without water. In the middle ages, Lyon became a center of silk weaving. It has a large medieval and renaissance section, called Vieux Lyon with many well-preserved buildings. Often the buildings were built right next to each other, with no alley or street in between, so they built interior passageways, called traboules, that run through the buildings from one street to another. The Germans had trouble figuring them out. Still in use, very cool. We took an architectural walk through the area that was very helpful. The city’s buildings were always built of the surrounding plentiful stone, never of wood, so no terrible fires like occurred in many other cities in mediaeval/renaissance times.
Our Croix-Rousse neighborhood is no longer a center of worker protest, it’s a hip area with lots of families. Teenagers hang out in the evenings and in the daytime the parks are full of little kids and their parents. Amazingly, they all speak flawless French.
The Lumiere brothers invented moving pictures here in 1895. One thing we’ve noticed about restaurants here is that they all have decent lighting! Everyone can read the menu and see their food without turning on their iphones!
Food: can’t stop talking about it. Learned that our neighborhood market has 400 vendors and runs every day 6am-1pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed only on Mondays. Incroyable! Tres magnifique! Those little French radishes with the white tips! French carrots! Leeks and endive galore. Tiny potatoes. Truly, no end of good veggies. Plus cheese, olives, bread, wine, nuts, meats and fishes. Plus our streets are full of fromageries, patisseries, boulongeries, boucheries and a chocolate place about every 10 meters. Plus regular grocery stores, just in case… On the restaurant side, Peter’s had the best tripe and the best calf’s liver he’s ever had in his life.
I’ve also been having fun photographing political posters and various graffiti and frescos around town. That’ll be in the next note—sorry, hadn’t realized this one had gone on so long.
One last photo from a new building in town, a sort of Frank Gehry wannabe. Terrific museum on the inside (like MOHAI in Seattle) but a bit angular and reptilian on the outside.
Our Lyon apartment hangs off the side of a plateau, some 300 steps up from the Rhone river, in a part of town that used to be the home/worksites of the silk workers, which was the town’s main industry for several hundred of its two thousand year history. As with the textile industry in England and elsewhere, the introduction of steam power and automated looms caused much dislocation, unemployment and worker protest. Our neighborhood is called Croix-Rousse and was a center of such protest. Today there are other reasons to protest. Here is a photo of a café where we ate lunch a few days ago.
We’ve spent the first week finding our neighborhood boulangeries, patisseries, epiceries, charcuteries, chocolatiers, and poissonniers. Also bistros. Lyon considers itself the center of French cuisine, as it is the home of Paul Bocuse. (why are my notes so often focused on food ??) Our Croix-Rousse neighborhood has a farmers market six days a week—today it was full of endive, parsnips, eggplant, many kinds of potatoes, apples, olives, cheese, wine, breads, leeks, fish and Spanish tangerines.
However, we’ve only been here a few days because we spent a long weekend in Heidelberg visiting friends from Peter’s German Microsoft projects. They live in the Pfalz wine district of Germany, quite close to the French border. We took several lovely walks in the vineyards (mostly Riesling—quite dry and wonderful, and inexpensive too) and the hills around them. German food, need I say more, is very pork and potato based. Also cabbage.
Learned and saw a few things about the plight of the refugees. Actually, mostly didn’t see. There are several million of them in Germany, mostly living in stadiums and gyms and such—sounds like New Orleans after Katrina. Obviously the first step for them is to learn German—our friends say that many people are volunteering to teach them. But, interestingly, the refugees are not allowed to get a job for 3 years ! This seems like a recipe for disaster.
In the various train stations and airports we transited we saw fairly light security—very young policemen and army people with variably large and small weapons sauntering around. But not as many or as alert-looking and dangerous as I would have expected.
This past weekend was Carnival, which for some reason they celebrate in Heidelberg. Costume balls, etc. But people were told not to dress as cowboys or pirates—no weapons allowed.
One very fun thing : we saw several of these in our drives and walks. The Germans have renovated their unused city water towers as apartments. Here is one you can see from the backyard of one of the friends we visited.