Monthly Archives: January 2009

More class issues

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by Mike

Today’s Route

Waiting for Azure in the airport I saw three guys my age in suits go up the stairs and into a bar to pass the time. While I certainly don’t consider myself poor, I know that I’ll never be a part of their world – the world where you drop 6 Euros for a scotch because that’s what you do with your friends. At the time I was sitting at a table outside a cafe writing in my journal, hoping they wouldn’t kick me out because I couldn’t bring myself to pay 3 Euros for a muffin.

Earlier in the day I was parking the scooter and a homeless woman asked relentlessly for money. She said if I gave her money then nothing would happen to my scooter. I thought, “Is this woman threatening me?” then “If she is, could she even pull it off?” I doubted it and didn’t give her any money.

To be wandering dirty through France with a mohawk put me in my place pretty quick among the almost-homeless, as a guy that people in bakeries watch out of the corners of their eyes. I identify much more with the gardeners and the janitors than I do with the guys in suits even though I feel I’m being deceptive doing it. I mean, I grew up in Bellevue and have a degree in polisci… I feel like I was born in a suit world and am kinda posing as a laborer. But it feels strange to know that even if I know this, nobody else in France does (and I wonder to what extent the people in my life do). My identity in France is only the clothes I’m wearing and how I style my hair, really. If I went and bought a suit and shaved the hawk, I could walk with those guys. But I find I like laborers more, they have less to lose and less to prove. If you can even split the world into laborers and businesspeople. Maybe you can.

We live very well. And even though I consider 6 Euros way too much to pay for a drink we live luxuriously in other parts of our lives – we have a lot of time. We’re cheap, but we have a lot of time. After being in Colombia, it would be grotesque to actually consider myself poor, but here on the French Riviera I feel poor, I feel other people consider me poor. If being tossed around the social classes doesn’t make travel valuable, I don’t know what does.

We went to Juan-les-Pins today and despite still being on the modern coast, we saw the ancient human pastime of old people gossiping. In this case they were playing Boules, as they do all over Europe. You toss a little ball, then each player has two chances to get his or her bigger ball closest.

No huge insights today – we started the day by running some errands (we got panniers for the sides of the scooter, we found the best price for a ferry to Corsica, and we got in contact with a farm where we can wwoof) then made our way to Juan-les-Pins for the afternoon. J-les-P, as the kids might call it, is a well-off area of the coast where we walked and window shopped and even took in the sun for a few minutes. There were people on the beach with their shirts off and even a few swimming.

Amendment – I wish I’d saved this blog for the next day or at least rewritten it a couple times to clarify what I meant.
I don’t feel poor. What I feel is that I’m looked at as if I’m poor, and even that could be as much in my head as it is on the street. In Colombia, as we wrote, people literally crossed the street to beg from us, restaurant hosts would go out of their way to invite us in, specifically us, because we’re white.

The experience in France is on the other side of the spectrum, where restaurant hosts might hope we don’t come in because we don’t throw our money around, we split courses (including mains), we get the cheapest thing on the menu and we don’t get expensive bottles of wine if we get wine at all. Azure and I are travelers, and while we’re not poor, we’re certainly cheap. Next to the middle-upper class travelers and businesspeople who order whatever they want, we appear poor. But wealth is relative.

Traveling alone, the mohawk temporarily makes me an Other. My anxieties about my relative fiscal status are influenced by seeing how people have responded to my appearance with apprehension. I don’t feel “poor,” I feel “other,” though here in the South it hasn’t been nearly the oddity it was from Paris to Albi. I still, after all these years, am working to disconnect my ideas of social acceptability from ideas of fiscal success. I understand that being fiscally unsuccessful is acceptable, but in this post I revealed that I unconsciously link being an “Other” with fiscal failure.

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Making maps

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Gourdon, France

Today’s Route

by Mike

Azure came with an itinerary – we were going to visit this town called Gourdon that she’d randomly picked on the map and then she discovered that the pictures showed a beautiful hill town high above Nice. It was in Seattle that she did all this. After a flight to London (thanks Ellen!) and then another flight to Nice we got on the scooter and made that abstract itinerary turn into real smells and wind on the face.

The town was gorgeous – in the picture above the paraglider is sailing over Gourdon – but when we got there for lunch we discovered that a loaf of banana bread was NINE Euros. Fuck that. We weren’t about to discover the cost of an actual meal. So we went down to a town we’d passed 10 minutes earlier and had Paella and a “sandwich” for lunch. Go to the flickr site and you’ll see what they called a “sandwich.”

We continued on to one of my favorite towns so far, Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a stunning medieval town that feels strongly Mediterranean where some of the actual Mediterranean cities (like Nice) are lacking. We ran into some women who were taking olive branches into their houses to burn for heat. It’s small enough that people seem to know each other, but big enough that there seems to be a population living there that isn’t reliant on tourism. Maybe the perfect town? Who knows. Most of the pictures above are from Tourrettes-sur-Loup. I think we’ll end up back there. Kim and Adam know the charms of this place.

When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a cartographer – a map maker. I remember specifically in 3rd grade being able to draw all 50 states and a few foreign countries. I had a “what’s there?” wonder about the lines on paper that must have actually existed as real places with smells of smoke or herbs and people whose experiences of life were just different.

In Bellevue in 2001 a friend’s dad drew a map on a little sheet of paper and the next week I flew to London, then went by train to Paris, then Nice, then by boat to Corsica, by bus down the east coast of the island to a little town on the side of the highway and then I walked 5km down to a town by the sea. From there I walked up a hill, took a left and I reached a front door that was somehow exactly where the little sheet of paper said it would be. Halfway around the world. I was sweating furiously because it was the hottest day of the year and I was carrying a suitcase. I remember seeing moths on the walls and there were dogs jumping up and snapping at the moths.

We’re just north of Corsica now and we’ll probably be heading there at some point to fill in different lines on the island.

Something I’ve been loving about having the scooter is that I’m seeing places in a different way. Like instead of making the world smaller the scooter is expanding it adding new dimensions to places I’ve been.

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Azure shot some video from the back

I’ve been singing this song – “Salvador Sanchez” by Sun Kil Moon – for 2 weeks now in my head.

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The Azure has landed

Mediterranean coast near Cannes

She’s safe, sound and sleeping.

It was another beautiful day here at the cote d’Azure. I went and bought a helmet for her then picked her up at the airport. She rode on back for our trip back into the city and we wandered around a while. Nice is a dynamic place, but we’ve been here plenty, we’re hanging out and catching up before we’ll move on to smaller towns.

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Sentier de la Doue

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by Mike

I’m so exhausted. I just arrived in Nice and have ridden over 1500km in the 10 days since I left Paris. Only a few of the days did I get to really spend playing, the rest were spent pushing to get here to meet Azure tomorrow, thank god, I’m ready to touch another person again. I rode through that storm in SW France that caused so much damage, I rode through snowy farmland and mountains and now the beautiful Provencial sun.

One of my favorite experiences was on the Indre River, south of the Loire, where I found a town called Courcay. It’s in a very thick little valley, so small it feels like it was personalized for this town, and in fact the town barely fits – its main road runs a hard zig zag up the West bank and all the buildings on that road are kinda piled on top of each other. As was the common practice, Courcay was built around an intimidating 12th century church that looks as much like a fortress as it does a place of celebration. Maybe not much celebrating went on back then. Maybe more did, I don’t know. The church doesn’t have many windows, anyway, but I love the design, it gets the job done.

Behind the church I saw signs that said, “Sentier de la Doue –>,” so I followed, not knowing what the two important words meant. I was interested in finding the Sentier, whatever it was. The street dead ended after 500m and another sign pointed down the forested riverbank, “Sentier de la Doue.” There was a trail that I assumed lead to the Sentier so I started walking. It was cold and achey and wet in a Pacific Northwest forest kind of way, so I felt right at home walking there. I walked for 5 or 10 minutes and didn’t see any other signs for the Sentier, but the trail was getting interesting – when you poke around rivers in France there’s always the potential for finding something ancient or hidden or quaint or tasty, I’m always excited to find secrets from the past that had been left in the woods.

The trail got thinner, then some stuff appeared on the left – behind wooden fences were a bunch of caves carved into the cliffs. There would be one, then a fence, then another cave, then another fence, and so on, it went on for 10 minutes. I think they might have been caves for storing wine or tools… I don’t know what, really, it could have been anything. Why would people cordon off caves? It seemed like maybe each family from the town had its own, but that’s total speculation. And if so, why so far from town?

Finally I came to a cave where the fence was knocked down and it looked like it hadn’t been in use. I climbed up the wet grass and went inside – it was big enough for a bunch of people to sit and drink, and in fact there was a ring of stones for a firepit. Not much else, but you could probably sleep there. I didn’t.

Back down on the trail I’d forgotten about finding the Sentier and just continued walking, enjoying the potential of each turn. The cliff and the trail pulled up side-by-side right where a spring was gushing from the rocks. The water was clear and very very cold. I finally came to an old property called the “Moulin de la Doue,” which I think means “Mill of the Doue” (Doue still being the mysterious word) and there was this cool grotto against the cliff – a little overhang of rock with a pool of freshwater underneath, and the pool practically glowed green from what looked like underwater ferns.

There was nobody at the mill, and I followed the path a little farther to a dead end. I walked back to my bike never having found the Sentier but loving the walk anyway. When I got back I looked up the words in my dictionary – the Sentier I was looking for, it means, “path.” Sentier de la Doue means “Path of the Gifted.”

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About that storm

Map

A fierce storm from the Atlantic Ocean hit southwestern France and northern Spain over the weekend, leaving at least 15 people dead and one million homes without power.

With torrential rains and winds approaching 175 kilometres an hour, the storm was described by weather forecasters as the region’s worst in a decade. [CBC]

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Made it to Nice!

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Today’s Route

The last two weeks have absolutely thrashed me between the miserable cold and the beauty of this country. I’m physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and Azure comes in tomorrow and we’re going to get a hotel room and hopefully just lay around for two days. I’m ready to turn off my brain for a while.

If I lived every day like this I’d age fast but live forever. Every day feels like ten and I’ll often think back on a place and wonder when I went through there, and it had been the day before, but hundreds of kilometers back. I’d seen so much in between that the memory had been shaken loose already.

For the last week it’s been literally good day, bad day, good day, bad day, depending on the weather. If Azure weren’t meeting me in Nice I’d have stopped in places for the rainy days and wandered the town, but I had to get here so I pushed through the cold, wet, windy, ugly days. On the scooter, the goodness or badness of a day is multiplied.

Today was the best day yet, though, stunning from start to finish, from Aix-en-Provence (which I really liked) through Provence, through the mountains to the coast. Then I drove up the famous coast from St. Raphael to Cannes, Antibes and finally Nice. It was long, but I’m so happy to be here.

Route of the first two weeks. I’ve driven over 1500 km since leaving Paris. Still in one piece. It’s been so much more difficult than I could have imagined.

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