Friday, August 21, 2009

Castles for Sale - Sold

You don't need to be the Queen of England to live in a castle - just rich or very lucky. Not all castles are national landmarks; many are private property. On several occasions, I've trekked up to the gates of a castle and found the entrance interdit - prohibited. This is slightly annoying after hiking up a long winding drive. I don't understand why they can't post the sign at the base of the hill.

These private chateaux are often much better maintained than those open to the public. The two most impressive personal castles that I've seen so far around Chusclan are le chateau de Jonquier and le chateau de Montfaucon.

Chateau de Montfaucon
chateau de Jonqier

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12th Century Churches

By the 1100s , France was pulling out of the dark ages. Anarchy was being replaced by the feudal system. While grossly unfair to the common man, people could feel relatively safe under the protection of their local castellian. At least these noblemen were beholden to god, and as such, commissioned the construction of countless abbeys to assuage their transgressions. Given recent victories over the Moors in Spain and the conquering of Jerusalem in 1098, the Christian God seemed powerful indeed and the more ecclesiastical in your city, the better.

Riding through the French countryside, I was at first impressed by the 800-year-old edifices that I encountered. But now, I realize they are common place. It is still amazing that these churches have survived the elements and social and political upheavals. Many religious structures were defaced during the French Revolutions, for example. So, while most villages can lay claim to a 12th century abbey, the condition of these structures varies greatly.

The abbeys of St. Etienne des Sorts and Venéjan are case studies for this difference. Both churches are perched on the highest points overlooking the villages. However, the abbey of St. Etienne is crumbling into a pile of rock. It's even sadder to see that kids have painted graffiti on the remaining stone walls. In Venéjan, the ancient church stands proudly at the apex of a well planned hillside park that even features an open-air amphitheater and a historic windmill. On the day I visited, the church was locked, but the fact that it still has four walls and lockable doors signifies it's victory over time.

IMG_3892.JPG picture0060

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Laundry Day

One of my duties as "house husband" is the laundry. My wife seems to revel in the notion that this will be my responsibility exclusively for the remaining 5 months of our stay in France. Honestly, it's not all that bad. My only fear is that I'll destroy one of her shirts.


Our old-school washing machine has 15 different settings. Even Mary Ann admits that she doesn't understand what all the options are for. Once you set the dial and close the door, that's it. You cannot stop mid-cycle and change your mind. As such, we've been afraid of using any setting other than #4 - delicate colors. The washing cycle seems to take forever, I'm guessing 90 minutes. I think our machine at home could do a load in 15 minutes. What gives? I don't think the clothes are coming out 6-times cleaner.

clothes line

We don't have a dryer, but given the hot arid climate, I'm happy to use the clothesline. I've developed an organized system of grouping the articles of clothing. Socks on the lowest lines, then underwear, then shorts and finally shirts. I only use the very top line when hanging towels and linens. There are even some clothespins that I prefer to use for different purposes. Call me OCD, but I think it's just how an engineer does the laundry.
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Parcours de Santé

European explorers may have never found the Fountain of Youth in the New World, but the French continue their search. The French are hypochondriacs. Even though our village doesn't have a corner grocer, it does have a pharmacy. It's also no wonder that there is little complaint about the use of social taxes to fund the national healthcare system. In fact, the French system is labeled the best in the world. One of the highest life expectancies seems to back up the assertion.

Lately, however, it has become more common to see overweight french men and women. This has rallied health advocates to take action. Television commercials for snack food and soft drinks now carry a scrolling warning to consume in moderation - reminiscent of packaging laws for cigarettes. Many cities are also promoting exercise. Several of the small towns in our region recently installed parcours de santé.

These courses instruct users on a series of exercises. I walked the one in St. Etienne des Sorts last week. I was particularly amused by one sign post in particular. The lower righ graphic seems to remind people not to forget to take a dump during their workout.


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Monday, August 17, 2009

1000 A.D.

I recently finished reading the book "Millennium," by Tom Holland. It chronicles the history of Europe from the slow decline of the Roman Empire up through the conquering of Jerusalem by Crusaders in 1098. From start to finish, I was riveted by the complex tangle of power, faith and tradition and how it all affected the outcome of history.

The author makes the argument that a host of noblemen and religious leaders made monumental decisions believing that the thousandth year of Christ's birth (or resurrection) would usher in the end of days. In the book's forward, parallels are drawn between modern doomsday proclamations including the hype surrounding the unimpressive Millennium bug. Might our own leaders in this decade have meddled in foreign affairs believing that our medieval ancestors were just off by a multiple of two.

By mixing quotations from historic texts with archeological records, the story is told from the perspective of those who lived in these chaotic times. Many of the surviving accounts come from the priesthood, no doubt due to much better literacy rates.

We learn that the church, at the turn of the millennium, was undergoing a serious attempt to reduce simony (the taking of bribes) and liberate itself from the monarchy who cared little for the eternal souls of the common man. Led by the example of thriving monasteries, this is also when the church began cracking down on married priests. Mandatory mass on Sundays was also introduced. People who preferred to worship on their own or who became vegetarians were labeled heretics. Strangely, many hermits continued to be revered despite their heretical tendencies.

The church was ultimately unsuccessful in ushering in meaningful reforms (see the reformation). And in the effort to strengthen the Papacy, so that it did not need to rely on the might of a king or Emperor, a monster was created. To protect its southern flank from Saracen pirates, the Pope authorized a fighting force of Normans to invade Sicily. Although these mercenaries would refuse to leave their recently conquered lands, the power play was repeated in England, where the Pope authorized William the Conqueror on his famous campaign. Finally, similar actions by the Papacy eventually led to the First Crusade.

These historic events are explained in such detail that you can imagine the time and places no matter your current location.
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The Provençal Colorado

Growing up in the Midwest, you kinda get the impression that the world must be one great big plain with alternating fields of corn and alfalfa. Eventually, geography class and family vacations debunk the myth, but still the thought that it takes hundreds of miles for the landscape to gradually change persists. I doubt that kids growing up in the South of France share that outlook. Irregular stone outcroppings seem to appear after each bend in the road. Rivers cut narrow gorges and fall over gentle cascades. Even the soil itself seems to undergo a natural transformation from place to place.

This weekend's adventure to the village of Rustrel emphasized this geographic diversity. We drove about an hour and a half east into the Vaucluse department. South of the Mont Ventoux massif and near the large Provençal city of Apt, you will find a geologic oddity that locals have named Le Colorado Provençal.


Within the Lubéron national park, three trails allow visitors to explore a surreal world of ochre colored sand dunes and rock formations. Until recently, the reddish-yellowish earth pigment was mined to color pottery and clothing. Judging by the state of my tennis shoes, I can attest to this use as a coloring agent.

On the day that we arrived, the temperature was about 100ºF. Unfortunately, due to the high temperatures and dry conditions, the park service closed the two longer routes. Given the heat, though, this probably saved us from a long miserable hike. As it was, Roxy needed a cool-down break about half-way through the loop, aptly named "le Sahara." Without any though to self-conservation, she joyfully bounded up and down the narrow rocky ledges until she was overcome by the midday sun.

View more of my photos of Le Colorado Provençal on Flickr.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dancing at the Pont du Gard

Last night we went to the Pont du Gard for a night of music and dancing - not exactly the events that you would think of taking place at a 2,000 year-old aqueduct. However, it seemed like a really good chance to explore some nightlife while seeing the stone edifice in a whole new light, literally.

We arrived just after 9:00. The DJ tent, on the right bank of the Gardon River, was already pumping out some heavy base. I had to wonder of the reverberations would cause some minutely weird reaction in the masonry and bring down the bridge, after centuries of rushing water, high winds and amateur re-engineering had failed to do so. It was a decidedly surreal sight to see the DJ table with neon lights and a smoke machine positioned in front of the Pont. Not surprising, the party hadn't quite taken off and the "dance floor" only had a few people with arms crossed.


We moved on to the other side of the river just in time to hear a tango band. I had assumed that they were going to exclusively play South American dancing standards, but the play list varied considerably, including Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers) and a very strange comedic Italian song. Unfortunately, the music was badly mixed so that the violin and piano could hardly be heard over incessant bongos and cha-chas. The trumpet/trombone player was also a disappointment - woodwinds can switch instruments mid-song, brass cannot.

The night continued to cool off and so did the bands' energy. Walking along the promenade, we saw several wine vendors. 1.50€ for a glass or 4.10€ for a whole bottle, I don't know what we were thinking when we walked away only with two small plastic glasses. To warm up a little, we also ordered some fries. As is common in Europe, they were served with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Something about the combination seems to work so much better on this side of the Atlantic.

Immediately after Tango closed their set, we heard what sounded like drum line. Pushing through the quickly growing crowd, we saw an eclectic band of musicians, some dressed in kilts, dancing frenetically to their own rhythm. I initially labeled them gypsies, though this is probably inaccurate, since the term does have a deep social and cultural meaning in Europe. It was more likely that they were college students. Their show included intricate drum routines and rehearsed melodies played on high pitched kazoo-like wind instruments. The instrument was about the size of a recorder, but we could see the performers changing reeds that looked similar to that of an oboe.


The guy playing the shaker stole the show, shown here as just a blur. At first, his performance style appeared to be similar to suffering some kind of seizure, but when we realized how fast all of the songs were played, we could understand that he needed to put his whole body into the effort to keep up. At one point, he was gyrating in double-time with the shaker in his left hand and a huge tambourine in his right. The energy of the gypsies totally eclipsed the other music venues.

We had a great time. Free music at a great venue under a starry sky; it was the perfect weekend soirée.
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When Walmart moved into my town back home, it pretty much killed our struggling downtown retailers. How is it then, that French cities are able to have the best of both worlds. Don't be fooled by the vibrant markets and the lovely pedestrian shopping streets, France is the land of the hypermarché.


We do most of our shopping at Carrefour, one of at least three major supermarkets in Bagnols-sur-Cèze. It's just like Meijer. In addition having a fully stocked grocery, they also sell clothing, home goods and even electronics. The only thing we haven't been able to find in teriyaki sauce (that's another story).

The prices are absolutely competitive with individual retailers. Store-brand goods are an especially good deal. How about a 1/3 lb Roquefort cheese slice for about 1€? That would cost about $10 in the States. And as I mentioned in a previous blog, there are discount stores that are even cheaper. The French are bargain shoppers.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

What is 40 km?

It's about 25 miles. Or about 2 hours biking at a steady pace. Or just long enough to travel past:
  • a nuclear research facility - Marcoule

  • a hydro-electric power station
    Hydro Plant Rhone

  • a village surrounded by an 18th century levee - Caderousse

  • a tunnel through a mountain for the TGV bullet train
    TGV tunnel

  • a private chateau - Montfaucon
    Chateau de Montfaucon

  • a strip mine

  • vineyards as far as you can see
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Typical Email

From: Ken Maschke
Subject: My day so far
To: "MASCHKE Mary Ann (EXT)"
Date: Friday, August 14, 2009, 8:19 AM

Sorry I haven't been answering your emails.

I got lost in the Gicon and was out for 3 hours. Biked to St. Etienne des Sorts, high winds going up the Rhone. Checked out a 12th century church there. Then tried to find my way to the chateau de Jonquier. Cut through some fields and peddled up a steep road just to find out it was private property. Tried to head over the gicon and find the trails I usually take. Saw a red marked trail, ignored my own rule: never take a trail marked red. Half hour later after pushing my bike up a rocky mountain trail and through thorny weeds. I ended up exactly where I started. Followed a stream bed, back to St. Etienne, much to my dismay. Then biked all the way back. Oh, and I fell once, not sure if my camera survived.

Will check out your links after I shower.

--Note: Camera did NOT survive--

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

La Carte au Trésor

My only must-see TV show is La Carte au Trésor. It's a reality show very similar in premise to the Amazing Race. Teams run around the French countryside looking for clues, solving riddles and enduring physical challenges. Although the show is of course exclusively in French, this format makes it easier to follow than say a legal drama.

The real star of the show is la campagne francaise. In between tasks, the contestants are escorted around the given region by helicopters. This results in some fantastic areal shots of chateaux, gorges, forests and quaint villages. On this past week's show, they even explored a Nazi bunker and rocket launching pad, la Coupole. The architecture is, I think, best described as retro-futuristic-concrete-military-monolith.

We believe the show is heavily sponsored by travel bureaus. It lasts at least 2 hours, without commercial interruption and must be wildly expensive to produce given the use of at least three helicopters and sometimes remote filming locations. The only paid TV personalities are the show's hosts, but the random villagers that are encountered on the streets give the best performances. Frequently a gaggle of children and pets will start running with the contestants, and it's usually the mayor's responsibility to explain the locally inspired riddles.

The contests only stand to win a grand prize of 10,000€ for their efforts. The runners-up only go home with the Nintendo DS home game. Still, they all seem elated at these prospects.

I can understand the enthusiasm. I've recently been on my own quest for Maps of Treasures. Located nearby some local monoliths are artfully crafted stone tables bearing an inlaid map of the region on their surface. They remind me of the kind of maps at the beginning of a fantasy novel or found within a video game instruction book. I was fascinated by my first discovery but have since found two more - le chateau de gicon, Laudun and the Rhône hydro-electric plant. I know there are more out there. The quest is on.

carte au tresor laudun.JPGcarte au tresor le chateau de gicon.JPGcarte au tresor usine hydroelectrique.JPG

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Public Enemies

The Biograph Theater and (adjoining businesses...Image via Wikipedia

It's a bit ironic that the first movie that I've gone to in France was filmed primarily in Chicago. In fact, the climax of Public Enemies occurs at the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park, less than a mile from my condo. Spoiler alert: that is the site of John Dillenger's final apprehension and assassination. I first learned about Dillenger's fate on Lincoln Avenue on the Gangster Tour of Chicgo.

The movie, starring Johnny Depp, portrays the final years of Dillenger's life in true Hollywood style. Make the criminal the romantic lead; smudge the time line; and add a few extra rounds of ammunition to the gun battles. Disappointingly, the movie fails to explain the public following of John Dillenger as a Depression era Robin Hood.

Public Enemies Film MovieImage by louisvolant via Flickr

The public was informed of Dillenger's exploits via news reels that were played before motion pictures. In a time when few had money to deposit in banks, the robberies were rooted on as a chance to "take it to the man." Some legends claim that Dillenger never hurt a bystander and that he was especially kind with women. It was difficult to tell whether the movie was trying to depict the chivalric bank robber or the gritty reality. In trying to have it both ways, we never could figure out our "hero's" motivations.

Perhaps the confusion was a result of the picture being dubbed over in French. I had a very difficult time understanding the conversations. Even Mary Ann admitted that it was hard to follow because of all the slang. Idioms are notoriously difficult to translate, and sometimes sound ridiculous to non-natives.

I tried to follow by judging the tone of voice and the context clues. In doing so, I was really disappointed by the choice of the actor who dubbed Johnny Depp's character. Depp is known for his subtleties and unique portrayals, but the French voice 0ver was classic bombastic action hero. I guess I'll have to wait for the DVD to judge the performance.
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bazar Land


For some reason, the name of this store really cracks me up. It's a discount home goods chain - about half a step up from the dollar store. There are actually lots of discount stores like this in Bagnols-sur-Cèze. The French definitely know how to bargain shop. Adjacent to this store is Netto, a discount grocery store. We stumbled upon this strip mall, nostalgic for the Netto that used to be on our street corner in Denmark. I'm sad to report that the French Netto did not meet our Netto expectations.
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Big Band Bollène

One of the great joys of life in France is randomly finding yourself in a local festival or concert. Last night, we just happened to be in the city of Bolléne to watch a movie. Upon exiting, we found ourselves in the middle of a free big band concert. So we sat down at a cafè in the main city square and listened to the performance.

The band was dressed in G.I. attire to add authenticity. Costumes are not usually a good sign, but almost immediately, we recognized that this band had chops. After a song or two to warm up, the trumpet section was wailing on notes above the staff. The two main soloists, seated on either side of the section, were especially good. The heavy-set guy, had great tone and very good range, though he seemed new to the band - repeatedly missing queues to stand up and do horn swings. Since all the songs were well known standards, he had no problem keeping up musically.

The band was sometimes joined by a singer whose English accent was passable for an American native. They played for close to two hours, a marathon for the brass section. You could hear the fatigue in the later songs, and those high notes weren't quite as clean. In all, however, it was a great performance. At times, I could imagine myself at a USO concert in 1945, in the heart of a recently liberated French city. The kind of connection to history that I feel here is really incredible.
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Melon Politics

Slices of melonImage via Wikipedia

Today, André took me into town to pick up some melons. The tasty fruit is pretty much the same as a cantaloupe, although the outer rind is slightly different than what I'm used to back home.

Apparently, the mayor is the chief supplier of melons for the village. He sells the fruit from the back garage of his home. It takes a local's inside knowledge to find this stand. The simple "Vente" sign a block away, adjacent to the school, is hardly going to draw in the tourists. Besides, the mayor's melon stand is only open for one hour, between 11:00 and noon.

We arrived just before close. The melons had been picked through pretty thoroughly, although we could see that some of the best specimens had been reserved for regular customers. The mayor seemed disappointed by his latest crop. They were ripening too small. I'm not sure, but I think there was some discussion about the drought. Since the mayor couldn't offer André a quality melon, he instead picked out about a dozen small ones and said we could take them for free.

I think this is what you call keeping the constituents happy in a small town.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chorégies d'Orange

Earlier this week, Mary Ann and I returned to the Roman theater in Orange to see a musical performance by the French National Orchestra. We heard Moussorgski's Pictures at an Exposition, a Rachmaninov piano concerto and a selection from Tchaikovski's 1812 overture. It's hard to say what was more impressive, the theater or the music.

I'm continually amazed that these Roman edifices are still used for their original purposes 2000 years later. So, I thought I would try to put myself in the position of a Roman attending one of the earliest performances at the Theatre d'Orange.

-- begin dream sequence --

On a breezy summer day in A.D. 60, a Roman merchant was hastily deconstructing his vegetable stall in the city of Orange. It had been a busy day at the market and his mind was elsewhere. Today would be his first opportunity to catch a play at the recently opened theater.

It was the talk of the town. Even the hard-to-impress Gauls had described the edifice with a magical reverence. The theater dwarfed the other buildings in town. It so loomed over the adjacent temple that some of the lower castes whispered that the Cesar must be more powerful than the gods. Who else could command the hillside to spew forth rock and stone in such order to create the massive stage wall?

The merchant simply couldn't miss this opportunity to marvel from within the theater walls. He was looking toward the opportunity to mingle with his peers and possibly hurl an insult or two at the senators seated in the front rows. The theater was known to be the best venue for judging your place in society. There were no entrance fees for citizens of Orange, but seating was strictly enforced by class. However, all were welcome at the theater. Women could sit with their husbands. And even the slaves could peer into the theater from the ridge just above the last formal seating rows.

Getting to your seat in time meant leaving the house early. When the final call to start the program sounded, the merchant did not want to be left queuing outside. As it was, he would have a difficult time getting around town, since the streets around the theater would be restricted to theater-goers. If he was early, on the other hand, there would be an opportunity to relax and have a drink at one of the many cafés in the area.

Half an hour before the show, the merchant and his wife arrived at the gates of the theater. Not yet accomplished enough to warrant a seat in the lower bowl, they ascended the steps to the upper balconies. The steps were steep, slowing older patrons - some had to rest half way up. Bounding up the final step and entering through the vomitorium the merchant was rewarded with a breathtaking view.

Gazing into the stands from across the stage was the visage of the Emperor. His statue clearly signaled that this theater was a product of Rome. Flanking the doppelganger to each side were elaborate colonnades and false balconies, comprising the stage wall. The two front corners of the theater were stabilized by masonry towers. The merchant could imagine the actors preparing for the show in these wings. Over head, long cloth banners spanned the length of the theater providing welcome shade from the hot sun.

To be continued... (maybe)

View more of my photos of Orange at flickr.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Going Postal

La posteImage by Guillaume Brialon via Flickr

Today's visit to La Poste should have been simple. I just needed to mail some checks to my US bank for deposit. Mary Ann even helped me practice what to saw at the window. After announcing "je voudrais envoyer des cheques aux étas unis," it was all down hill.

My troubles started innocently: I didn't know synonyms for "envelope." Then things got more complex as the teller explained the difference between regular mail and the 2-day express. Since the checks were time sensitive, the 2-day express sounded like a good idea. I filled out the address, but left blank the telephone number. This turned out to be a mistake.

I was informed that the number was mandatory. I tried to explain that the bank didn't really have a number that the post office could call. OK, but what about my number. Oh no, I couldn't remember than either. We turned off all our American cell phones in favor of a local number. I haven't committed that to memory yet.

As this conversation become more complex, I understood less and less. Eventually the teller asked if any of her colleagues spoke English. I was in luck. The other lady tried to explain the situation to me and, after some back and forth, realized that we could look up my landlord's number in the phone book. That seemed to resolve the entire situation - much better than me having to call the post office back with the numbers; I can only imagine how well that would have gone over the phone.

Finally, it was time to pay. Cinquante seis Euro. It didn't register at first. 56€, that's outrageous. However, by this point, I didn't want to go back and restart the whole process. I guess I should consider that the cost of a French lesson.
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Dinner time in France is typically well after 7:00. Lunch is still taken around noon. How do they make it that long? Although snacking is generally discouraged, having an apértif with some small dishes is ingrained in the culture.

French pastisImage via Wikipedia

Apértif drinks are listed separately on the menu, so you don't make the mistake of ordering a digestif (after dinner drink). Mary Ann prefers a kir made with white wine and crème de cassis. Pastis, an anis flavored drink served with equal part water, is really growing on me. You should have your apértif with sliced baguette topped with tapenade (olive paste, yuck), paté (the best use I've seen for liver) or cured sausage (just beware of the organic farmers and their real intestine casing).

Apéro with the Bérards usually turns into a two hour event. Madame periodically retreats into the house to produce another extravagant dish or homemade liqoure. By the time we've finished the Apéro, we're stuffed with food and stumbling to the apartment. The ritual is quintessentially French and one that we've begun to adopt into our daily routine (sans the drunken stupor... usually).
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Jazz Night in Chusclan

The tiny village that we live in constantly sponsoring events. First, Mary Ann went on the bull wrangling expedition sponsored by the bull club (that's a literal translation). Then there was the pottery exhibition. Unfortunately, we missed the summer festival. Every Friday is boules night. However, the best event so far was a live outdoor jazz concert.

On one warm summer night, a French jazz quartet played for close to two hours. The setting was great - right in front of the old church. The group covered many American jazz standards and also played some original pieces. Apparently, the singer is somewhat renown. I imagined that Mme. Monique Zuppardi was trying to rejuvenate her career by playing the Côte du Rhone Villages tour.

Her singing didn't do much for me. The English songs, in particular, seemed a bit off. I couldn't get past her noticeable French accent. In everyday speech, we tend to pronounce consonants with much more emphasis than other Romance language. However, in song, things get smoothed out. I think this is the phenomena that makes Ozzy Osborne seem coherent while singing. Anyway, the jazz vocalist was hitting those consonants with gusto to the detriment of the melody.

When the singer stepped aside for her mid-song smoke breaks (I'm not kidding), the musicianship of the band was on display. The bass was steady but didn't quite click on the solos. The drummer kept a good beat and added some extra flourishes that you knew weren't written in the music. But the star of the show was the piano player. He consistently laid down wonderful interesting melodies. Each piano break was a pleasure to experience.

Young-looking by jazz musician standards, I like to think that he was working his way up the ladder by riding the coat tales of aging stars. A little cyber-stalking brought me to his MySpace page. Apparently Lionel Dandine is "friends" with Herbie Hancock and counts Earth Wind and Fire among his influences. He is worth checking out if you're in Marseille or Morocco this summer.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009


The Pax Romana, or Peace of Rome, encompassed two remarkable centuries of western history. From 27 B.C. to about 180 A.D., Rome consolidated its power within borders that included the entire Mediterranean region and extended as far north as the British Isles. It's thought that citizens could travel from Alexandria to Paris using the same currency throughout the trip and expect to find public servants speaking the same Latin language. At the same time, Roman architects and engineers were perfecting the art of city planning and constructing monumental population centers throughout the empire.

Roman influence penetrated well into the heart of France. In a relatively short time, the Gauls of southern France adopted Roman customs and began to flock to Roman cities. Vaison-la-Romaine was one such urban center. Located in the shadow of Mt. Ventoux, it seemed an unlikely site for a large roman settlement to me. However, it is home to one of the largest Roman archeological sites in France. A complete commercial center, a hillside theater, a bath-house and several huge residences can be seen among the ruins.

Most of the buildings' facades have long since deteriorated away, but the foundation walls and a series of (perhaps) reconstructed columns allow visitors to imagine the experience of walking through a Roman city. Walking along a street in the commercial district, you can visualize the merchants peddling their wares from their appointed stalls. Entering through one portal, visitors would have been greeted by a statue of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce. Continuing on through the interior courtyard, you might have seen where the daily cost of goods was negotiated - an ancient stock market of sorts.

The other side of town was home to the wealthiest Roman citizens. Their mini-palaces sprawled over multiple city blocks and often featured private gardens and baths. The servants and family lucky enough to live with such a patron could enjoy running water and state-of-the-art plumbing. Conveniently, these wealthy and politically connected residents lived closest to the city's theater.

Over time, however, the strength of the empire ebbed, under constant pressure from foes on all borders. In the ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, villagers moved into more defensible walled cities. Vaison-la-Romaine is also home to a walled medieval village. Standing tall on the highest rock outcropping within the city is an imposing citadel. Narrow cobble-stone streets wind gradually up to the masonry fortress.

It's likely that much of the stone used to build the medieval city was mined from the ruins of the Roman structures. Excavations around the edge of a nearby church clearly show that Roman fluted column sections were used to create foundations for the church walls. The practice of recycling building materials is age old. It's clear that the medieval residents of the city has no qualms about historic preservation. However, later generations can be glad that they weren't more efficient in mining the Roman city.

View more of my photos of Vaison-la-Romaine on Flickr.
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Creative Commons License
This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.