Saturday, March 20, 2010

Update: Roman ruins

Ellen, Margaret and Phil went to a presentation about the archeological work on the Roman ruins discovered in Place Monfort. The presentation was given by the lead archeologist and the mayor. (I was at the crèche.)

The archeologist announced that the equipment that I saw last week had been brought in to conduct a “sondage” – a sampling of the ruins that rest below the surface of the present town. We have heard from a variety of sources that the current town is built on top of the Roman ruins. We also heard that there are probably many more walls/remains to discover but most are below the current layout of the city. Our French professor told Ellen, Phil and Margaret that one wall of her basement is a Roman wall…

The backhoes had created holes – somewhat at random – across the parking lot to determine what rests below the surface and whether the city could proceed with its plans to change the area around the big fountain.

The team of archeologists had worked for almost a week clearing the holes and scraping and brushing the walls that they had found.

The lead archeologist announced that the dig had uncovered what was a large basin for holding water during the Roman times. He added that it was not a major find nor did it hold much promise for uncovering valuable artifacts. His team had discussed whether they should attempt to make the site visible from the surface using glass or thick plastic but decided that the exposure would ultimately do more damage from moisture condensation and mold.

The result? On Friday, the backhoes were back refilling the holes with dirt and sand. It appears that the city’s plans to change the square will proceed.Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Romans and Vaison la Romaine

Add to Google Reader or HomepageThis story has two parts but the parts are connected by 2000 years – give or take a century or two.

The first part starts in the hills near Mt. Ventoux, between the villages of Beaumont du Ventoux and Ste. Margarite about 20 km southeast of Vaison. High above the Gorges du Maupas are the quarries from which the Romans cut the stones that built Vaison la Romaine.

We went there with Phil and Margaret for a walk/picnic. They parked the car beside the small stream in the Gorges and we walked up to the site of the quarry along the road that the Romans had built for transporting the stones from the site. One can still see rocks in the roadway that have ruts worn into them as a result of the carts and their heavy loads. Because the incline is fairly steep, there are also places where one sees the striations cut into the rocks to improve human or beast of burden traction. The quarry is immense and, even after 2000 years, one can get a sense of the work that was done at the site.

Side note: I know nothing about the etymology of words, but I find it interesting that the French words for career and quarry are the samecarrière.

The second part of the story comes from Place Monfort in Vaison la Romaine. The city had planned to change the traffic patterns and create a park in front of the cafés and bars that line the north side of the center of town. A few days ago, the city closed half of the parking lot and brought in the back hoes and started tearing up the area around the fountain. They worked about one half day…

Gone are the back hoes. The big equipment has been replaced by a team of archeologists who are working with hand tools and brushes because the back hoes had uncovered more Roman ruins about two feet below the surface of the parking lot – probably some of the stones from the quarry are buried in the parking lot.  I don’t know what will happen to the city’s plans, but clearly the city’s plans have been put on hold… 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Au Revoir

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I love the way French women say « Au Revoir » when they are ending a conversation on the phone. It is sort of a breathy, lilt-in-the-voice way of saying good bye that makes me feel like they enjoyed talking with me and are hoping to speak again soon.

I generally fear phone conversations in French because I have to be VERY attentive and listen to the words carefully and then respond – on occasion I can actually respond intelligently – on other occasions the caller will cask me to repeat the sentence (usually because my response was not a sentence). In person to person conversations, I know that I get a lot of cues from watching the face and body language of the person with whom I am speaking. None of that is available – unless you are using Skype with a webcam – when you are talking on the phone.

The way French women say “Au Revoir” on the phone seems to be pretty much a universal phenomenon. Whether the woman is older than I or younger than I, from Vaison or from Paris, the lilt seems to be the same…

Women say “Au Revoir” VERY differently in person-to-person situations. Maybe it is the situations – I most often see women across the counter of a grocery or a shop. It is more matter of fact – more friendly than “Have a nice day” sounds in the US but just a few degrees from warm. Sort of like the difference between kissing a loved one and kissing your aunt…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dining in France: What Restaurant Should We Try Next?

Add to Google Reader or Homepage“Well, I can no longer say that I’ve never had a bad meal in France! “

This was Ellen’s pronouncement as we left a small vegetarian restaurant – and she was right: the vegetables were over-cooked and without the advantage of herbs, the cauliflower sauce was gummy, the pasta was bland and there was nothing memorable about the food or the presentation. I could have sucked on old tennis shoes with more flavor. It made me think of the contrast of how wonderful were the vegetarian meals we had in Cairo over the Christmas holidays where they know how to use spices and herbs to enhance flavors.

Our friend Cindy pointed out that no one in the restaurant was overweight – an observation that was easy to comprehend because no one would have wanted to  “clean the plate.” It was a waste of time to have spent a meal there but we had walked out to the “lunch only” restaurant called “Auberge de la Brocante” and it was “complet” (sold out). Since we passed the veggie restaurant on our way back, I agreed that we stop there when Ellen said she had always wondered how the food there was so we decided to try it. . . It turned out to be a BIG mistake--BIG. We all agreed on that. (My bad!)

In contrast to this disappointing experience, we went to La Lyriste  in Vaison la Romaine for Ellen’s birthday and chef Benoit created another menu that was superb. After amuses bouches of hummus and olive tapenade, we had an entrée of his foie gras with salade frisée and a crème brulée . The main dish was salmon with sesame seeds en brochette and shredded fennel in an orange sauce. Cheeses came from the Vaison cheese shop – the best of which was the Reblochon. Dessert was a parfait of pear mousse, chocolate mousse and a final layer of pear mousse and pear chunks.

Happy birthday, Ellen.

SNOW - Encore

Ellen’s good friend Cindy left the snow and grey of Michigan and came to spend a week with us. So far, she has discovered how mean the Mistral winds can be and today, on March 7, she has been served a healthy portion of snow – approximately five inches of “Lake effect-type” snow. Meanwhile, the temperatures in Michigan are higher than here and the “spring thaw” of Lansing appears to be in full swing. As our Lansing neighbor Jeff commented a while ago: “It's 30 degrees, the sun is blazing, and folks are coatless and drivin' w/ the windows open. Must be mid-Michigan! “

Welcome to Provence, Cindy!

[IMG_1333.JPG] From the “So what?” department: It was two months ago (January 8) that we had 20 cm of snow in Vaison la Romaine.

On Wednesday when she arrived I told Cindy that she and I would need to get pictures of the almond tree blossoms to post at this blog. Now, the blossoms are covered with snow and since they are so white/light pink, it will be a while before they are visible again (if they dare open their petals ever again). Before it snowed, she did get to see the Roman ruins, the medieval village, the olives of Nyons (at Huilerie Richard) and, today, a French dog show in Valence.

We may be an ocean away from the US, but I can now report that dog shows are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. Dog shows are held in large, poorly ventilated buildings into which the organizers try to make space for too many show rings. Then the people come – dog lovers all – and squeeze into the spaces between the owners, the breeders and the plethora of dogs.

I thought it would be fun to take Ellen to the dog show. It has been almost five months since we had Smokey and Braise visiting us and Ellen has been missing our deerhounds. So, we drove to Valence to the dog show at which there were NO deerhounds! But, we got to spend time with the wolfhounds and the Ibizan hounds and, in small measure, Ellen got her dog fix.Add to Google Reader or Homepage