30 July 2009

Guest blogger -- Kate

The title of this post is slightly inaccurate. I've simply asked Kate's permission to paste a recent e-mail of hers here--minus a few of the many sand photos she took for her father and plus a couple of commas. Right now she's in San Diego, Robert's hometown, having the best vacation of her life.

Remember, all friends and family -- you should consider the invitation open to provide me with similar material. I'm particularly partial to weddings, trips, reunions, and new babies.

Hey Mom and Dad,

First a couple of pictures from the Moroccan meal I promised to send. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed it... [Kate's specialty is Moroccan cuisine--she'll spend hours shopping for and chopping the ingredients]

So . . . the first day involved a nightmare at Philadelphia airport. Made our flight by about 5 minutes. We then went to meet his friends Jimbo and Rebecca and went out to the lake. Sadly didn't get any pictures of Robert waist deep in the water and on the back of a waverunner with me.

Today headed out to the DESERT. The topography here is amazing — couldn't get pictures of some of the bigger rocks — mainly landed on corners in the road where I didn't feel like stopping. Just to give you an idea though. I'm sure when we talk you can explain it all to me, Dad . . . .

And right next to all this was the dirt hills with no rocks . . . .

Here are the dunes that we finally arrived at— the Imperial Dunes. This is the area where I got a sample as there was a break in the fence. Man, I can walk on blacktop in bare feet but have never felt it like I did here. It was 112 degrees today.

The Mexican side of the desert. Yes, we went through three checkpoints on the drive there and back.

Luckily however on the way back we got off at another stop Robert noticed and it turned out to be the park entrance. The dunes are also known as Buttercup, which is popular for dirt biking in more temperate times of the year. Somewhere the friend you met on your trip might know.

And I'm sure you also know, Dad, that this was where the desert scenes in Return of the Jedi were filmed. We were lucky enough to come upon three avid fans taking pictures. Sadly they had already started to get derobed by the time I snapped them, but it was a storm trooper — not sure — and maybe Princess Leia in a certain outfit. Unfortunately not the bikini top one for you, Dad . . . .

I could barely see the actual screen of my camera so not all came out great, but here are some more. [a few photos edited out]

And the actual sand is collected. Yes, I was a little hot by the time we had gone up a bit.

The smaller light colored car in the distance is ours. Got upgraded to a Chevy Malibu. Not the best on gas but a very comfortable ride and it has a stereo I can play my ipod through. Very nice . . . .

Some more scenery from the way back.

And a picture of the samples we collected. Color from the picture is not accurate — it is a little lighter. We did observe however that the stuff we collected at the edge was much finer in general and had fewer dark pieces. I assume that makes sense as it is the lighter stuff that drifts farther and the darker is probably made of a heaver material.

Oh what a daddy's girl I am, as Robert says.

Well we are back off to Poway to meet some of his friends tonight. Got to meet his sister this afternoon and she is incredibly nice. We might go on a 12-mile hike the day that I have after Robert flies out for Depeche Mode.

Anyway — hope you guys are doing well. I did mail off the package to you for London so hopefully it makes it.

Kate xxxxxxx

29 July 2009

Another symptom of arenophilia

Michael's sand-grain-inspired watercolors from this Laroque sojourn:

28 July 2009


This trip was inspired by a bottle of extremely good 2002 Cornèlianum Michael found on his wine rack, bought long enough ago that we couldn't remember which supermarket it came from. No answer for it but to seek out the source. The domaine itself didn't offer tastings, but the cooperative in town did.

As we drove north, we passed acres of orchards—nectarines in this snap:

The home of a wealthy property owner, surrounded by the family orchards:

Decidedly less enviable, part of the long line of shanties where migrant workers live during the fruit-picking season. At least the ramshackle shelters were under plane trees similar to those in the bottom photo. Supposedly these were planted throughout France by the order of Napoleon to provide shade for his soldiers as they marched along country roads.

After one map reading mistake on my part, Michael found his wine at the Corneilla cooperative, sipping the 2003 sample while two locals purchased their vin ordinaire en vrac, at a dispenser that looks like a gasoline pump.

With the wine in the back of the car, we crossed the Têt (the rivière of the town name) so that Michael could collect some sand from old river terraces shown on his geological map of the region. While Michael filled his plastic bags here and later at the modern river banks, I found a few samples rather larger than sand grains for our garden. A great way to satisfy my acquisitive urges—we have room for them and they're free!

We also chanced upon a large ruined house (and attached outbuildings), no doubt abandoned when the road was enlarged to a few feet from its front door. Michael wandered in the surrounding vineyard (see grape photo) while I took some snaps of the house so that you, Dad, could admire its sound construction.

On the way home, we went through Thuir, home to this traditional townhouse, photographed through its imposing gate:

From there it was a quick stop at a supermarket and back home for lunch. This is the table in our outside dining room set for dinner, but you get the idea.

I've been posting photos of the terrace, but the view from the other side of the house is also to be treasured. Here's a dawn shot, where I couldn't capture the actual colors. It was the sun that was red, not the surrounding clouds.

Last, two photos Michael took from our balcony of le coucher—rather than le lever— du soleil. This sunrise/sunset motif reminded me of the song from "Fiddler on the Roof " (and of the Richard Linklater films where Julie Delpy is so like my niece Emily--but that's another story), so I thought I'd see if I could get the lyrics in French. No luck there, but I did find a youtube video. My listening comprehension isn't up to it, but others of you may be able to provide a better transcript than what appears on the site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw7g8cUzVlk.

27 July 2009


Two days before we're back in London, so I'll cram a couple more posts in between continuing leaf removal and fin-des-vacances tidying. Myrna, you once wrote when our kids were little that you were measuring life in loads of wash not Prufrockian coffee spoons. My equivalent is big bags of garden rubbish--not that I can really claim to be overtaxing myself.

Last Tuesday we rubbernecked at new exhibition at the modern art museum in Céret. It was a poster we spotted in Collioure for a Soutine exhibition there in autumn 2000 (9 yrs ago! -- shame on me: why isn't my French better??) that really led to our buying a property in this part of the world. Until then we had just been satisfying Michael's itch to see Cathar castles. But when we chanced upon this gem of a museum in a gem of a town, we started thinking that it might be nice to spend rather more than ten days here. Although Céret itself turned out to be too expensive, we've never regretted our compromise purchase. That's the nice thing about houses: even if they drop in value, you've had lots of pleasure from them, unlike--shudder--stocks.

When we took Jean-François and Brigitte out for dinner at a new little restaurant, Crystal, in their hometown of Elne, they told us about "Un siècle du paysages sublimés," Céret landscapes from 1909-2009, the "exposition actuelle" (another "faux ami" or "false friend"--"actuel/le" means "current," not "actual") at Musée d'art moderne de Céret. Lucky they did, because we weren't planning on a Céret visit this trip, and, splendid though it is, we would have been hugely frustrated only to be able to buy the catalogue the next time we were there.

Chaïm Soutine is the artist most associated with Céret (with Catalan Picasso a close second), but his weren't the only compelling landscapes on show. Paintings by Dufy, in contrast to Soutine's tormented trees and oppressively leaning houses, were airy and light confections; André Masson's work was completely different from the abstracts with sand & glue that we'd seen at MOMA; we discovered painters we'd never come across before like Manolo Hugué, André Eulry, Jean Capdeville . . . the list is long and it's no wonder the catalogue weighs a ton.

Here's a sampling, in roughly chronological order:


Masson (catalogue cover)

Masson again

Capdeville (photo of placemat we bought--this was
one image from an array that formed a meadow scene)

Vincent Bioulès

Next, some photos of the town today:

People do live here, of course . . .

. . . and shop in stores like Les fantaisies de Céret, that aren't even within spitting distance of Parisian chic:

Kate and other guests we've taken to Céret will appreciate the poignancy of this sign. It was posted on our favorite mineral shop, by the charmingly alcoholic Monsieur Vargas. Usually we can track him down at Bar Picasso but, for the time being anyway, he's given up on the pretext of keeping to anything resembling normal business hours and is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 to 12.