Sunday, June 30, 2013

day's end

With le mistral singing in the trees.

petanque -- I

Damien, Stephanie, Manelle, Linda.

In addition to incredible gardens, fields, dog house, chicken coup, patios, yards, etc., the mas has a petanque court.  (Petanque: the French version of bocce [or, peut-être, bocce is the Italian version of petanque] that uses metal boules instead of wood.)   The court (50 feet long, eight feet wide) is in disrepair (leaves, pine straw, branches,  etc.,) so you and Damien give it a good raking/cleaning.  The whole group comes out to play: Linda (la mère de Damien), Stephanie (friend, from GB), and Manelle (cousin, from Algeria).  You've played the game for a while, but never on actual French soil, as they say, and you win every game (team and individual).  Totally bad form, because 1)  The host should  always win at least one game and, 2)  Manelle had never played before, and 3) See # 1. Gracious even in defeat, Damien invites you to have dinner with the family again.  They are the best!  Merci beaucoup. 

Double cupping petanque, and your first-ever taste of pastis.

Linda fires off a shot.

the view from your window (the mas)

outside the mas

Très belle.


Le gardien du mas; mastiff de race pure. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

cafe de la fontaine

 Pour diner, Maussane, FR, 23:00.


At some point during the day, having discerned that Damien is a young man of some smarts and experience, you discuss the possibility/availability of some l'herbe verte.  Ever the excellent host, he thinks a few seconds, nods, and says that indeed, he can work that out.  This afternoon.  He has a friend in Marseilles . . .

So on a beautiful Saturday you head into the freaking bowels of Marseilles in your crappy Renault: streets so narrow only one car can barely squeeze through; people of all ages, races and nationalities on the sidewalks and streets hustling, doing their Saturday routine; tourists; open air markets of every stripe; mafioso, blocking off entire streets with their cars; etc.  You see an Arab guy in the traditional flat, close-fitting hat and long robe, wearing a camo jacket on top and bright red Nike's down below.  "Do NOT take your wallet out of your pocket," are Damien's clipped, well-chosen words to you; you obey and grip your backpack a little more tightly.

You wander around a bit, not knowing the exact building the Friend lives in.  You end up at a heavy wooden door and are buzzed in.  You feel like you've entered a darkened chambered nautilus and climb the circular staircase to the fourth floor apartment; you are let in by a young medical student you will call E.  She shares the apartment with a guy who is sitting at a table in the middle of the living room with the apparatus to root about a dozen clippings avec la mere.  He, and the guy friend next to him who is assisting, nod and say hello in French.  You exchange pleasantries; she speaks l'anglaise un peu.  Finally the product is presented; it smells and looks right, and you offer to share.  E says no (she has an exam Mardi and she has to study -- quelle discipline!), but the roommate and his assistant say yes, so you roll one, and they are surprised/shocked to see you don't cut it avec le tabac.   The product (from Spain) proves to be of, uh, high quality.  You give a bit back to E for her efforts, along with 115 Euros, make some more small talk and finally leave so she can study.  Everyone is happy, très heureux.  

Merci Damien et E!

après-midi au mas, fontvieille

repas du samedi midi

But before Fontvieille, you have lunch in Arles, the largest town close to your house.  It is Saturday and there is a huge street festival going on: clothes, food of every kind, trinkets, schwag galore.  You buy some olives and at Damien’s urging the vendor plucks a clove of garlic the size of an almond from some oil and gives it to you.  He tells you to eat it.  The whole thing.  So you do in one crunchy, garlicky-sweet, gentle-tasting bite.  Yum.

You go to a plaza for lunch.  You want to eat at the place displaying a pan full of paella it took at least three strong Frenchmen to carry outside.   Damien, however, has a problem with all the flies swarming around the rice and seafood, so we go to the next place over.  For some reason he suggests the burger as my first French meal in a French restaurant in France.  “It’s a good place to start,” he says, as you wonder why you should try a hamburger -- how this is going to be better than almost any burger in the states?  It comes with a little salad and fries and is . . . totally average.  Also, the ketchup is runny.  Vive le Heinz. 


A beautiful first morning in France: sunny, clear and the temperature will rise only into the low 80s during the day.

After breakfast, you return to Nimes (pop. 150,000), this time in Damien's Audi ("I hate French cars, he says, German are the best.").  It's a 30-minute drive, and he has offered to drive you there.  There is a little trouble finding the UCar dealer, but finally, there it is.  Why Eurocar can not get a loaner car to Arles and they have to send you to another company in a city 20 miles away is, you suppose, one of les mystères de provence to which you will never have access.  Damien is pissed because they give you a tiny, piece of shit Renault, not a bigger Mercedes like you had, and also, it is not an automatique.  You don't care; you have wheels.  On the return trip there is a credit card problem at the toll booth.  Even though you've told AMEX and Visa you were going to be in France, and they said no problem, there is.  The toll booth machine injests the card and spits it back out, but instead of reading to information on the strip on the back of the card, it reads a small, gold fingernail-sized patch on the front of the card.  Apparently, only Europeans have this on their card, so after trying both cards repeatedly (as traffic backs up behind you, the lame American) Damien, who was waiting for you to catch up to him, runs up to the machine and gives it his card, and boom, pas problem, you're on your way back to Fontvieille.


vendredi soir

Damien was kind enough to invite you his mas (a restored French farmhouse from the 16th - 17th century; it belonged to the church at the time which owned all the land around it) to dinner with his family after your long day Friday.  Around a sturdy French farm table that seated five there was Linda (sa mere), a shy seventeen year old cousin, Manelle, from Algeria, and a family  friend, Stephanie, a student from Great Britain with a big Brit accent.  Le dîner était simple was simplement: roasted pork, sliced tomatoes and mozzerela, and a salad.  There was, bien sur, du vin et du l'eau, and après dîner cheese and fruit.  C'était bon, and his family was especially welcoming.  It was la fin parfaite, especially after such a long day. 

Avant le dîner avec deux tasses.

Friday, June 28, 2013

quelle journee!

The connection to Arles goes well, however, you have to schlep everything a half mile because the Eurocar pick-up is on the other side of la gare.  Valerie is very helpful -- she puts up with your French -- and speaks English tres bien.  You've got directions, a nice Mercedes (a small model not available in the US), and you're just 10 minutes away from the end of a long day, a trip across the pond and votre nouvelle maison for two weeks.

BAM!  On a very narrow country road -- two small cars can barely squeak by each other -- you pull a little too much to the side as another car approaches, hit a crease in the asphalt, and BANG!: flat tire.  Quel dommage!  You call Damien, your host/landlord and he's there in five minutes.  He's immediately on the phone with Eurocar, doing the heavy lifting, explaining the situation in a way that would be impossible for you.  Nothing to be done now, so you leave the car on the side of the road with a note for the tow truck guy to call  when he gets there.  You and Damien go to your mas (an old, restored farmhouse -- a term used only in Provence), which totally lives up to the pics you saw online, and hang out for a while.  He is young, engaging, sympathetic, speaks English tres bien, and is great to be with.  In true Provencal fashion, it takes wrecker-guy (big head, short hair, stocky, 40-something, slight rounding of the belly, shorts,  gruff -- in other words a Man's Man tow-truck-guy from central casting) twice as long to get there as he originally said.  After much hemming and hawing, circling the car, muttering to himself, investigating parts of the car that have nothing to do with the tire, etc. (he did everything but kick the tire), he says the only thing to do is to take it to his lot.  So you and Damien climb in the truck and go to his place.  

Why?  Qui sait?!?  Who knows?!?  

Ou, en Anglais: WTF?!?  

There is nothing to be done; he can't (or won't) fix the flat; and you'll have to drive to Nimes (!) tomorrow to get une véhicule de remplacement.  Why you had to go all the way to his place and then take a cab back to Damien's just for that is one of les mystères de Provence.

So, you get back to the mas as the sun is setting and the shadows are lengthening across the freshly cut hay field.  Damien will give you a ride tomorrow to Nimes (30 minutes away).  He has also invited you to have dinner with his family ce soir.  There is nothing else to be done about the car, and life is pretty good, considering, so it seems appropriate that the one thing left to do is break open the duty-free Maker's you brought along and toast the evening with him.



After a compellingly diner horribles of braised quail and pasta (c'était "la suggestion du jour" dans le menu) you sleep a few hours on the plane (merci, Xanax).  You see gray skies and wet runways as you land at CDG.  Customs is a breeze: aside from showing your passport à un fonctionnaire (no searches, no dogs, no T-S-fucking-A, you walk right to the baggage claim.  Your bag is out immediatement, you score some euros at the cash machine, observe several uniformed soldiers patrolling avec armes automatiques, enjoy the crush and swirl of new languages, appearances, customs, smells, etc., and easily find la gare.

 La gare a CDG.

La gare a Nimes.

As you travel south, the skies begin to lighten.  Countryside rolls by: near Paris, sweeping fields of hay, both verdant green and harvested bronze; then rocky hillsides, small villages, rivers, etc., until you arrive at Nimes.  You step off the train, manhandling your luggage down the steep narrow steps of the train.  You give a hand to the American woman woman-handling her suitcase down the steps and she says thanks.  She and her husband are dressed in all-white, and they walk up and greet a guy wearing jeans and a Zildjian (cymbals) t-shirt.  The accents are definitely southern, and it turns out "the guy" is . . . Butch Trucks.  Yes, that Butch Trucks.  Le monde est petit.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

dans l'avion

So you board the plane 45 minutes early.  You usually fly Delta; Air France is their partner.  The flight attendants greet you in French (je pense que c'est normal), but you don't realize you're on a French plane until noticing the electric panel to plug in whatever device you have; it's European (all your adapters are in your checked luggage.  Clay texts:  "When you step on Air France, you're in France."   So you sit in your first class seat for 45 minutes, and are offered nothing to drink.  Zero.  Rien.  Zilch.  Seriously?  Les Francaise?  You assume drinking a few shots before takeoff would be de rigueur . . . ah, mai non.  A few minutes before takeoff you are served small glasses of water and orange juice; just what you want instead of a bourbon/ginger.

For dinner, you decide to let D&D be your guide (see above), and order "le suggestion du jour" from the menu:  braised quail with red wine sauce and tagliatelle with parsley butter.  The smell and taste and savoir faire of precisely prepared French cuisine -- not shitty American airplane "food" -- dance in your mind: frankly you're expecting something good.  Well, Shirley-you-jest, because frankly,  and with all due respect, il aspiré francais penis.  The wine, however and when-ever it came (not soon enough) was good.   Apres diner you ask about how to log in to wi-fi.  A quizzical look de l'hotesse de 'lair, and, fnally understanding, she says:  " il n'y a pas de wifi."   Serieusement?!?  So you decide to take a Xanax and wake up en Paris.  Bonsoir.

p.s.  You love the bird in the distance in the opening pic: "wings a mile long."


You’ve been practicing your French for a month; you try to instinctively remember the differences between je veu, je vu, je va, je vais and je voudrais

You’ve gotten someone to pick up your mail and water the plants.  Your grass is cut and your gutters are newly clean.

You had that pesky tooth filled (it still hurts).  (“You don’t want to get over there and have to deal with a damn French dentist who can’t speak English,” said your dentist.) 

You’ve packed your boules, ready to play petanque where it started, wondering how you’ll measure up to les indigenes. 

You have power converters, ipod, passport, les cartes de credit, a few restaurant recommendations.  You have car and train reservations nailed down (merci, Reba!).

You’ve read A Year in Provence.  

You discover "prelude" is in fact a French word.

Finally, sitting on Air France flight 681 at Hartsfield/Jackson (“Once you step on that plane, you’re in France,” said a friend), you can relax: if you didn’t pack it, plan it or prepare for it, you ain’t got it.  You'll be gone for a month.

Après soixante ans, you’re on your way to France -- spécifiquement Provence -- pour la première fois.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Phil Lesh & Friends 
June Rambles 
Terrapin Crossroads 
San Rafael, CA 

Phil Lesh 
Stanley Jordan 
Neal Casal 
Jon Graboff 
Cody Dickinson 
Rob Barraco 

Set I 
Jam > Bertha rb 
Ship of Fools nc 
Tennessee Jed rb 
Peggy-O pl 
Doin' That Rag rb 
New Speedway Boogie nc 

Set II 
Viola Lee Blues> pl nc rb 
Jam > The Wheel> pl nc rb 
Other One Jam > Dark Star> pl 
Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Inst.) sj 
Lady With A Fan >nc 
Terrapin Station pl nc rb 
Help On The Way > rb 
Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower pl 

Donor Rap 
Encore : Brokedown Palace rb


epistemic closure zone

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Phil Lesh & Friends 
June Rambles 
Terrapin Crossroads 
San Rafael, CA 

Phil Lesh 
Stanley Jordan 
Neal Casal 
Jon Graboff 
Cody Dickinson 
Rob Barraco 

Set 1 (7:33pm - 8:33pm) 
Jam > 
After Midnight (RB) 
Across the Universe (NC) 
Sitting on Top of the World (RB) 
Mission in the Rain (NC) 
Crazy Fingers (RB) > 
Mason's Children (PL, RB, NC) 

Set 2: (9:10pm - ?:??) 
China Cat Sunflower (RB) > 
Jam > 
St. Stephen (PL, RB, NC) > 
Jam > 
Jam > 
St. Stephen (PL, RB, NC) > 
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (NC) > 
The Other One 
What's Going On (instrumental) 
I Know You Rider 

Rosalee McFall 

thank you steve parish