Monday, November 16, 2009

The Hairdryer's behind the Chainsaw! Part 2

As usual our car was packed with lots of stuff -- In addition to the usual suitcases there were tools, food, wine, bags of sundries such as shoes, make-up and so on. When we left I had put my essentials where I could reach them -- taking care to stay clear of Neil's greasy tools. But in the course of taking out our overnight cases things got moved about. As I was about to drift off to sleep yet again in Sommieres, I suddenly realized that the bag with my hairdryer, was now behind the chainsaw. You realize, of course, that this piece of equipment is difficult to pack tidily. Not only does it hamper neat organization of a packed estate car/station wagon, but it is quite heavy, very dirty and not easily moved around -- at least by me!

in the morning, I gave up all thought of washing my hair, scrunched it up under my pink Route 66 baseball cap and we headed for Nimes, the first stop on our intinerary which had been terribly slashed as we realized that we were too short of time to be able to include either Avignon or the Grand Canyon of Verdon. And I had already given up going to Orange. In her book The Road from the Past, Ina Cato had written a wonderful account of seeing the Roman triumphal arch that had been built to commemorate the victory of Julius Caesar over the Gauls. Her poignant description on the enslaved Gauls in the carvings on the eastern wall meant that I really wanted to see them for myself. Alas! and Alack! this must wait for another day ...

I had briefly been to Nimes sometime in the mid 90's. It was in August and the traffic was so terrible that we gave up all thoughts of trying to park, let alone trying to find a hotel and slunk our way to the outskirts and one of the chain hotels found all over French outskirts -- It was a hot evening and our boys enjoyed far more the long dip in the swimming pool than they would have Roman ruins. And I learned the secret of serving Provencal Rose -- very cold and in frosted wine glasses! Now in the September of 2009 on a bright sunny Saturday we returned, sans boys! But first a quick stop in a supermarket bakery for some croissant and bread. Very good it was, too.

A quick reconnoitre around the center and we found the Maison Carre -- unfortunately trussed up in scaffolding, but nevertheless for this lover of Roman ruins a lovely sight. It was fairly early in the day and accordingly we benefited in being able to find a convenient parking place by the canal and a block or so away from our first destination. I climbed the steps onto the ancient portico thinking about the thousands of years that had passed since its construction by Agrippa in 19 BC. It is miraculous that it should have survived so intact. As magnificent as the building is in its present setting, I was disappointed to discover upon entering a modern cubicle and people selling tickets to a movie being shown inside the temple. I have since learned that the inside is very small and without decoration, so perhaps I'm happier not having paid my money to enter.

Nimes was very busy and around the temple a band was busily setting up and we got the impression that there might be some kind of festival brewing. As indeed there was ...

But our next destination was to find the Roman Ampitheatre, which I understood to be still in use. First, though we had to figure where it was and this is where navigational expertise broke down slightly. But the good thing was we had a nice tour around the old city as we wended our way away from our ultimate destination.

It became more and more apparent that there was something major going on in the city of Nimes that
day. In particular I remember a kind of jazz band dressed all in pink wandering around the streets singing their hearts out. In our search for the old Roman structure we kept coming upon them entertaining the growing throngs. Finally, in desperation we looked at our plan of the city and soon figured out we'd gone in the opposite direction and headed back down the street we had been going up. Aha! The market place and the market stalls were out.

More and more people and a real celebratory air was developing around us as the Amphitheatre came into view. Wow! It is huge. On the day we could hear the cheers and shouts of the crowd coming from within. It took several minutes before wound ourselves around to the entrance. We saw some horses and assumed, wrongly, that there was a horse show going on. Then I saw a butcher's van and assumed, again wrongly, that this was in case a horse had to be put down, the butcher was there to prepare it for the local super market ...

Sometimes I cannot fathom my own stupidity. I had read about Nimes many times. I knew that it was one of the few places in Europe outside of Spain that had bullfighting. The cheers we'd heard were for the kill! We did not get to go inside. I'll just have to go back there again some day! In the meantime, I have been to Verona to the opera! We left the bullfighting arena and made our way up another avenue with lots of cafes and special tables being set up for whatever Nimes was celebrating. There were lots of bands, lots of music -- a perfect day for a French festival. But we did not linger. Now it was time to leave and to head for the Pont du Gard.

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