Sunday, June 14, 2009

Home and Garden (French Edition)

Check out these digs! But before you start to presume too much about our financial status, know that we're just renting out the 1st floor apartment. Our landlords, the Bérards, have a beautiful home. Our apartment is modestly furnished, but it's everything we need.

My only complaint is that for all the sun in southern France, the garden unit is a bit dark. All the more reason to go outside. Mr. and Mme. Bérard spend a lot of time outside tending to their garden. Their effort does bear fruit, and they frequently will bring fresh produce to us. We've really lucked out!
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Monday, June 8, 2009

Everything is older everything is newer

That's the European paradox. A Gothic church might be across the street from a modern art museum. The trains run faster, but life moves at a slower pace. The strange mix of old and new is most apparent in the larger cities. Lyons is the second largest city in France and is the nearest international airport to our small village in Chusclan. We toured the city on my last day before returning to Chicago. Click here for more photos of Lyons.
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Where not to learn how to drive a stick.

Automatic transmission technology really hasn't reached Europe yet. As such, it's incredibly expensive to rent an automatic. Just days before departing for France, Mary Ann decided to take a two-hour crash course on driving a stick shift. Three weeks later she was expertly navigating the steep winding road following the Gorges de L'Ardeche in our Citroen C2. Keep in mind that the sub-compact C2 can go 0 to 60 mph in 15 seconds. My parents riding lawnmower probably has more horsepower.

I don't know how much Mary Ann was able to enjoy the view, but I was surprised by the beauty of the gorge. The most astounding natural phenomena is a natural arch that bridges over the river at one point. We'll have to make another trip back to canoe through the canyon. Click here for more photos of the Gorges de L'Ardeche.
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Resilient Structures

Even in these technologically advanced times, the massive Roman structures of the first century impress. Perhaps the Romans' most astounding feats were related to their ability to move water. After the fall of the Empire, it would take Western Civilization a thousand years match the Roman understanding of hydrology and sanitation. One important aqueduct of southern France brought fresh spring water nearly 50km from northern highlands to Nîmes. On the way the ancient engineers had to build a 300 yard long bridge over the Gardon River.

In the middle ages, the Pont du Gard served as a pedestrian bridge across the river bed. At one point in history, the middle level of arches were chiseled back to provide a wider platform for horse cart traffic. Fortunately, the bridge has survived that defacement and centuries of forceful river surges. Making the story of its original engineering even more incredible is the fact that it was constructed without the use of mortar. Click here for more photos of the Pont du Gard.
Water carried across the Pont du Gard helped Nîmes become a thriving city, large enough to warrant its own amphitheater for gladiatorial entertainment. Remarkably, the amphitheater of Nîmes is still used today for entertainment. On the day we visited, the stadium was packed to watch bull fighting. Later this summer we may be able to catch Franz Ferdinand in concert there. Click here for more photos of Nîmes.
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Ancient History

Southern France is a dreamland for history buffs. A steep 5km hike up the hills behind our apartment will bring you to the remains of a 13th century castle. High on a rocky bluff, it once stood watch over the local bishop's lands. Now, it's the perfect place to view the surrounding vineyards. View more photos of my photos of Le Chateau de Gicon at Flickr.

On the opposite side of the Ceze River valley, you can find the ruins of a Roman town that claimed the surrounding lands long before the Catholic Church. The plateu is appropriately named Camp du Cesar. Foundations for the city's forum and temple are still visible, but the most impressive structure is a round tower tought to be the largest such Roman tower in Southern France. View more photos of my photos of Camp du Cesar at Flickr.
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Our apartment is in the small town of Chusclan. The village and surrounding area is known for producing fruity red and rosé wines of exceptional quality. Some of the local grapes are descended from vintages brought to the region by the Romans. There are about a dozen vigerons, or small local wine producers, that offer daily tastings within walking distance from our apartment.

The village couldn't have more than 800 residents, including those living on the hills outside the historic city walls. Despite its size, the city is apparently quite vibrant. Children can usually be heard playing in the streets and there's always a crowd at the local sports bar. Two major events during my first week in the village included a petanque (like bocci ball) tournament and pottery exhibition. Even the mayor was in attendence!

See more of my photos of Chusclan at Flickr
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What's in a name?

The Mistral winds blow through the Rhone River valley in southern France. Likewise, I'll be taking up temporary residence in the villages of the southern Cote du Rhone. While Mary Ann (my wife) works to pay the bills as a French to English translator, I'm looking forward to exploring this rural region of France. This blog will describe my daily adventures in Southern France.

Learn more about the Mistral wind on
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.