Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hello, My Love, Can You Bail Me Out of Jail?

Donna-Lane and I have often joked - when we're contemplating doing something particularly foolish - that her daughter Llara may not have sufficient command of French to bail us out of jail.

D-L, how do you feel about a 7-hour train ride from Geneva to bail me out of the Argeles-sur-mer pokey?

On my way to the beach, some flowers caught my eye. So I decided to take photos of "things on my way to the beach" and share them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/rick.adams.39589/photos).

When I passed the Nationale Gendarmerie (federal police) station, I crossed the street to get a better sun angle on the tri-color sign, flag and interesting curved architecture of the building.

But as I turned to resume my trek to the beach, two gendarmes called out for me to stop. They wanted to know what I was doing. When I explained, they said it was not permitted to take photos of the station. Oops. Parlez anglais? I said I was only photographing the signage, and showed them in the viewfinder the photos I had taken. The detective-looking older officer decided my close-up photos were okay, that I wasn't showing anything that might help some bad guys attack their station, and I was free to go.

Whew!

I had no ID on me except a business card and about 25-30 Euros. Didn't even have Donna-Lane's phone numbers in Switzerland, which I carry in my wallet, which I left back at the studio.

One of the main characters in D-L's murder mysteries is the Chief of Police of Argeles, Roger, Annie's on-again / off-again fiance. However, since D-L's already published Murder in Argeles, I'm not sure my almost "research" on their fingerprinting process and the interior of the local jail cells would be of much value to her.

It sure felt good to get to the beach.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Look Up

I suspect most people are like me when walking - eyes either on the ground, lest you trip over something, or straight ahead.

Try looking up sometime. There's a whole 'nother world above your head.

I was in Perpignan on business today, and will return next week with Barbara so she can renew her carte de sejour (residency permit). The website for the Prefecture said their office had moved, and Barbara, Lydia and I were all having difficulty locating the new place on Google Earth. (Last time I went to Perpignan without writing down directions in advance, I drove around town for more than an hour trying to find the Hertz drop-off.)

The website said the Prefecture office was now located in Hotel d'Ortaffa. But the nearest place with that name on Google was miles away in another town.
 
I decided to try to find it by driving the streets of downtown Perpignan - narrow, twisty, mostly one-way streets with barely room to get one car through. Found the castillet with no problem (note the red-and-yellow Catalan flag) along the flower-lined canal that bisects the city. But could not get to the parallel street one block over from the canal - Rue Lazare Escarguel - because a large section around the castle is a pedestrian-only shopping area.

So I parked in my favorite underground garage - the one with easy access back to the main route to Argeles - and set out on foot.
I found the street I needed by semi-accident (the way I find most things), not far from the local pigeons' best friend, Francois Arago.

Rue Escarguel is barely more than an alley, but they've put government offices and hotels in stranger places. No sign of either, and all the sidewalk cafes were making me hungry.

Almost to the end of the street / alley, there were some government-looking signs on a corner building. Worked my way up the side street - sometimes locations are 'approximations,' as 'in the direction of' - but alas, it wasn't the place.

At the end of the side street, I turned around to head back to Rue Escarguel. Smack in front of me, like a rising colossus, was a most impressive facade. Above the top floor, chiseled in stone in huge letters - PREFECTURE.
All I had to do was look up. (Although from the narrow Rue Escarguel, next to the building, I probably could not have seen the sign.)

Mission not quite finished. The wide doors beneath the facade were barred and locked tight. Still needed to find an entrance.

Around the corner, another very old ornamental facade - the (former) Hotel d'Ortaffa! And inside, the offices Barbara needs to stamp her ticket.
 
To reward our good fortune (we can proceed directly to the Prefecture next week with no wasted steps), I had lunch ... and some chocolate ice cream ... at one of the sidewalk cafes near the canal. Got a good table where I could people-watch ... toddlers splashing through the ground-level mini-fountains, pigeons scuttling away from dogs, seniors checking out the posted menu.

And, once in awhile, I'd look up - admiring the fascinating architecture, the wrought iron balconies, the workmen removing scaffolding from a rooftop, stately pine trees with bunches of yellow flowers nestled near the splay of their peaks, and yet another beautiful blue sky over this piece of paradise.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leader of the (Paper) Pack

Okay, I have to admit it. Donna-Lane is right. I'm not just a paper hound; I'm a whole kennel. (Which is somewhat better than I used to be - I was more like the entire national SPCA!)

I have probably wasted more time in my life moving papers around, looking through semi-random stacks trying to find that document that I knew I saved for just the right moment. Which is rather silly - when I could instead be wasting time reading Facebook posts and other web surfing, right?

D-L left me ... well, for a few days. She went up to Geneva to see various people, and I still have things to do in ASM this week. Like organizing my papers.

The photo above is the before. The photo below is the after, and is to assure D-L that I have not totally destroyed her almost-always neat Nest.

Now that I'm (temporarily) organized - everything in colored folders with elastic bands to hold it all in - I'm sure I won't be able to find a thing.

The next challenge, made somewhat easier by the new orderliness, is to decide which folders to take on the train to Geneva and which subset of those to take on my upcoming flights to the UK and US ... since I'll be working in all three places. I'm always pushing the airline luggage weight limits, primarily because of paper.

I know, I know ... I should scan my documents and keep them on a hard drive. (Don't need a backup; the NSA is doing that for me.) But scanning/filing takes time ... and an organized file folder system on the computer, which has also always eluded me.

The good news is that I rarely, rarely, rarely ever lose an important document. It may take me a couple days to find it, but I know it's in there somewhere!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Annoyances

I don't get terribly upset at most things, but I do occasionally get annoyed. Drivers who drive too fast through narrow streets with people close by. Homeowners who leave their automatic sprinklers on after the first freeze and create a sheet of ice in the road. Golfers who take practice putts after they've holed out on a green while other players are waiting to hit back down the fairway.

Today's annoyances are plastic bottles and flies.

The bottles - 3 or 4 or them - are on the roofs of houses opposite the windows in D-L's top floor studio. I suspect they were tossed there by inconsiderate tenants or guests thereof from one of the floors below or an adjacent building. The plastic kinda mucks up the otherwise lovely view of the terra cotta tile roofs. One of these days, if I can figure out how to rig a long-enough stick (at least 20 feet), I'll see if I can dislodge the bottles - hopefully when there's no one on the street below.

Flies are more temporary annoyances because I long ago developed a technique for swatting them. The fly pictured above had the misfortune of flitting around the computer and table where I am working. He and his buddies around here are pretty quick ... but still no match for my technique.

As I was positioning him in better light for the photograph, I noticed he was not quite dead. Defiant little twit. I could swear he gave me the 'finger.'

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

When Petite Cougar learned that D-L was taking the train up to Geneva, she announced, "I'm going with you."

Scoob's last-known location was near Geneva, where the two-timing pooch was seen cavorting with a certain lady leopard.

Advice to SD: you can crawl, but you can't hide ...

Ruh-roh ...
 

Hercules' Lover, Pirates, and an Independent Spirit

Legend has it that Argeles-sur-mer's name is taken from a beautiful lover of the Greek mythological hero Hercules, who abandoned her on these shores by the Med. In fact, the area was originally inhabited by prehistoric man, based on dolmen tombs in the nearby Alberes mountains which are a few thousand years old.

The written history of the commune began in 897 - 12 centuries ago - and the current Southern Gothic church with its 33-metre bell tower, which dominates the high point of the village, was built in the 14th century, most likely atop the remains of an earlier church.

I especially like the Argeles motto, rendered in Catalan as qui s'hi acosta te reposta, translated 'Meddle and smart for it.' Reminds me of 'Don't mess with Texas' and the American revolutionary theme 'Don't tread on me.' Indeed, Argeles rebelled against French occupation (the area was originally part of Spain) and in WWII had a rigorous resistance movement against the Nazis. I like that type of independent spirit.

Argeles was once fortified to defend against marauding pirates and sometimes neighboring cities, and some of the original stone walls remain today.

There was a brief dark interlude that is only beginning to be talked about openly - 100,000 refugees (the retirada) fled the fascist Franco during the Spanish civil war in 1939, but were confined by the French to wretched conditions on the beach in concentration camp style. Not unlike the Japanese concentration camp in western America nor the squalid refugee camps today in the Middle East, Africa ...

One hundred twenty years ago, the Argeles population was 3300. But there's been a 'boom' since - and now there are about 10,000 permanent locals. That's an influx of about 50 people a year. Perhaps 10-15 of today's residents are American expats, the majority married to Europeans.

There are larger places nearby, such as Perpignan, and more 'lively' tourist villages, such as Collioure. But I've not found any with the everyone-knows-everyone ambience of Argeles. The varied pace during the year of quiet winters contrasted with the waves of summer vacationers.

Love the history. The old stone buildings. The narrow streets. The ringing of the church bells on the quarter-hours. The twice-weekly marches with vendors peddling food, clothing, trinkets, even a kind of live 'infomercial' demonstrating a new floor mop. The outdoor cafes where you can watch everyone walk by, or where friends impromptu pull up a chair to chat and have a cup of tea. The fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The little train station which enables access to just about anywhere in Europe. The red-and-yellow Catalan flags that outnumber the French red-white-blue. The Monday evening dances in the square.

Argeles-sur-mer is not for everyone. But those who choose to live here, full or part-time, adore the place.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back in the Swing of Things

First time playing golf in France. Discovered I can still hit it straight once in awhile. (Actually got to hitting it pretty consistently pure after loosening up.)

Didn't actually play a round. Too busy to do that right now, and the course is quite crowded with visiting vacationers.

But I managed to spend some time on the well-appointed range at Saint-Cyprien Golf Resort, about 10 km from Argeles-sur-mer. The course itself looks quite nice. 27 holes about a mile from the Med, but it winds around an inland bay, so plenty of water to be wary of. Pretty flat, and they allow walking, so I'll have to get a lightweight bag to carry. Walking is absolutely the best way to play golf.

Had a pleasant chat with the resort development director, James, a Scot from St. Andrews, so no language issues there.

Looking forward to playing in November when we get back here after some travel in Switzerland, the UK, the US, and Canada.

Maybe even check out some tournaments in the region if I can get into a periodic practice routine.

I do, however, need to retrieve one of my long putters from storage in Texas. Since it won't fit in my luggage, I'll probably break the shaft and get it re-shafted here at the pro shop.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pique-nique

Serona ham, duck sausage, pasta salad, tuna salad, baguettes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and a little champagne. Typical French picnic with friends P&P and Barbara ... in a shady spot next to a 100-acre lake in the shadow of the Pyrenees, not far from Le Boulou.
After the obligatory hour wait after lunch, some of us swam, some waded, Philippe snorkled. There were a wide variety of other activities available, especially for kids - a labyrinth of rope bridges and other climbing apparatus in the trees, a zip line that finished in the shallow end of the water, bounce-house type inflatables for diving, pedal boats, kayaks, and electric-powered skimmers. On an adjacent lake they offered a new attraction - wakeboarding - except the surfers are propelled by a line suspended overhead around the entire lake perimeter. Will have to try that next time (line was rather long on a long holiday weekend Sunday).
Then we retired to P&P's condo in the village, where they've added a rooftop balcony with a spectacular view. The mountains in the distance represent the border between France and Spain. Below is the horseshoe bend and broad waterfall of Le Tech river, which winds its way from the top of the mountains to the west and feeds into The Med near Argeles-sur-mer's plage nord.
A few metres down the road is the church, parts of which were originally constructed in Roman times.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Creative Canvas

We acquired a unique work of art this morning - a sculpture by one of Donna-Lane's many Argeles artist friends, Miloud, who is originally from North Africa. At a glance, it looks like a flower in a pot. It's actually a dried and partially split palm frond, used as the canvas for four separate works of art.
One side of the 'front' of the sculpture depicts the village of Argeles-sur-mer, where we live, including the church bell tower, which is the visual touchstone for navigating around the streets, as well as the source of familiar quarter-hour chimes and hourly intonation, one ring for each hour (who needs a clock?).
On the other side of the 'front' is the beach and clock tower at Collioure, a popular tourist resort just to the south.
The 'back' shows the sardane, the traditional Catalan dance of the region, as well as a native cactus plant.

Miloud's creative expression will make a superb addition to the already wonderful collection in the space I rent as my office - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2013/06/living-in-art-gallery.html.

A work of art is especially meaningful when you know the artist and how dedicated he is to his craft.

By the way, Miloud has won numerous awards across the years. Talent and hard work do sometimes get recognized.

Friday, August 16, 2013

MedRise

What an idyllic morning ...

Watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean from a front-row seat on the broad beach at Argeles Plage.

There's a sequence of photos on my FB timeline: facebook.com/rick.adams.39589

D-L's version can be read at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/08/magic-morning.html

We had talked about going to the beach all week but hadn't yet made it there. Despite a late evening, we awoke early, and Donna-Lane pointed at the skylight: "It's still dark." I said, "Let's go watch the sunrise." She readily agreed, we pulled on our bathing suits, grabbed the cameras and keys, found Barbara's car in the library lot, and covered the 5 or 6 kilometres to the beach parking in a few minutes.

At 6 in the morning, there weren't many other people around (though the sand would be elbow-to-elbow by afternoon). There were a few joggers and cyclists, and they increased in number with each hour.

We practically had the beachfront to ourselves, except for a couple of young couples who were clearly coupling on their beach towels (sorry, no photos). And some kids who splashed out to a floating dock about 50 metres offshore.
When we arrived, the horizon was a dark blue and gray with streaks of pink. Gradually the pink hues increased, the blues high in the sky became brighter and more vivid. Then Jonathan Steroid Seagull flew past and landed behind us in search of anything the metal detector men had missed.
As we turned around, the sun was making its grand entrance.
How does it get any better than lying next to your âmes-soeurs on a near-private beach, listening to the waves crash against the shoreline, welcoming another beautiful day in a petite paradise in the south of France?
We eventually decided to stroll down the promenade toward Argeles Port in search of something to eat. Along the way there was an amazing photo exhibition depicting whales, dolphins, turtles, and other marine life in the region.
The port was just awakening - people getting their boats ready to sail or cruise, amateur scuba divers donning their gear and listening to their instructor's guidance.
We found an open boulangerie at the far end of the port, and enjoyed a fresh-baked croissant, juice, and tea as we watched the promenade steadily wake up.
After breakfast, we wandered back along the beach, now quite alive with umbrella-packing fathers, teens and tweens racing for the water, ski-doos racing parallel to the shoreline, parasailers soaring behind power boats, and more joggers, walkers, and cyclists. An occasional dog. And three ferrets.
This would be a great vacation ... but what's even better -- we live here!

Life is good.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scooby and Cougar - Secret Photos

Scoob has gone back up to Geneva, leaving a heartbroken Petite Cougar behind in Argeles-sur-mer, where she refuses to leave the bookshelf and just 'mews' all day in a most mournful manner.

While cleaning up the ground-floor apartment, though, we came across a USB stick with an encrypted folder.

So we took the stick to our local hacker, and she revealed the contents of the file ... photos of SD and PC in bed!

Obviously their last evening together in Argeles.

Cougar has been listening very carefully to D-L and Rick's travel plans; perhaps she has ideas of stowing away on the train to Switzerland for one last fling before Scooby flies away to the States forever.
 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dancing Under the Stars

video
For the second evening in as many, we went dancing in the square. The video is but a small sample of the fun to be had - young, old, and in-between ... graceful and polished or couples with four left feet ... doesn't matter. We dance, talk, drink, talk, dance some more, and enjoy the relatively carefree life in a small village on a warm summer evening with just enough of a cooling breeze.

Before last night's fete, Donna-Lane and I practiced a bit in the confined space of the Nest - some waltz steps and tango ... based on internet videos. Turns out our best number was the Twist.

More on D-L's blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/08/dancing-in-square.html.
 
A few minutes before 11, the fireworks started, and half or more of the dancers rushed off to watch.

The walk home was all of two short blocks.
 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tempest Under a Teapot

You might call it my 'Darth Water' mask. It's what Darth Vader's helmet would look like if he left it on the stove.

It's actually the bottom of what used to be D-L's electric teapot. Which I tried to use to heat up water for tea. Except I placed the teapot on the stove burner - instead of its own electric burner base.

About the time I went to pour the hot water into my teacup, I smelled something burning. And when I lifted the teapot off the burner, the plastic on the bottom started dripping toward the floor like tar returning to Labrea. Once on the floor, it quickly cooled itself into a very interesting new shape.

I wonder if I could frame it and sell it as abstract art? (Might earn enough to buy D-L a new teapot.)
Donna-Lane's version of the event is on her blog at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2013/08/art-is-in-eye-of-beholder.html.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ribbons and Rings

My radiant bride, Donna-Lane
For one of the rare times in my life, I am struggling for the words to describe my thoughts and feelings.

We were married Saturday, Donna-Lane and Rick. I could not be happier ... did not know it was possible to be this happy!
We chose for our ceremony the medieval rite of 'hand-fasting' in which three ribbons - silver, gold, and platinum - were tied around both our hands to symbolize our commitment to each other. Accordingly, we dressed in medieval-style outfits. D-L looked stunning in a dress made by her friend Barbara and a corona des fleurs in her hair. Presiding was 'Father' Robbert Auer, who resembled an ancient priest.

We also exchanged matching silver rings.

Yes, I choked up when I tried to say my vows to Donna-Lane, even though I had rehearsed them numerous times. I cannot express how much she truly means to me without getting emotional. I did finally get through the vows, including a little francais at the end.

The ceremony, which we wrote together, was simple. The reception feast was amazing, catered by La Noisette. And we marvelled at the support from friends - a very international group: French, Swiss, Danish, English, Scottish, Syrian, South African, American - some walked, others drove, took long-distance trains, a few flew thousands of miles to be with us ... from both the East and West Coasts of the US.

We ate. We drank. We talked. Pierre Bernard, who is first chair for a major Swiss orchestra, played the cello. We danced a little. Cut the cake. Took pictures. Drank and talked some more. All routine for weddings. Yet this was very special because of the people who were there. It was a testament to Donna-Lane, really, and the loving friendships she has nurtured in so many ways across the years.  
 
I am indeed a lucky, lucky man to have found my âmes-soeur, my soul-mate ... 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Scooby Marathon

Scoob and Petite Cougar are starting to get serious about each other, so she asked him about his background - you know, what kind of work he did, did he have any family, were there any other females in his life ...

So SD fired up Rick's laptop and showed her some of his videos.

Turns out he's a big international acting star! Who knew? They even sell stuffed versions of him!

They watched Scooby Doo re-runs for hours until they fell asleep in each other's arms.

But time is running very, very short. Donna-Lane and Rick's wedding is today, and Scoob's mistress is threatening to take him back to Geneva ... then to the United States in a couple weeks. So after tomorrow (Sunday), SD and PC may never see each other again.

(Oh yeah, the big surprise? Someone caught Scoob sneaking back into the ground-floor apartment after Thursday's play time ... but Scooby and Cougar aren't telling his mistress that anyone knows about them sneaking out. He offered the mystery person a part in the next movie he shoots in Paris.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Play Time!

Pssst! Scooby! PSSSST! Are you there?

Little Cougar?

Yessss, it's me. Over here - by the patio.

Scooby Doo loped out onto the patio of the ground-floor apartment where his mistress had left him for the day (she went to the beach). But he didn't see anyone.

Up Here! Above you.

SD turned his floppy neck upward, and there was his little love muffin, peering over the railing. The patio had no roof.

Climb up! It's time to play!

With some difficulty and much determination, Scoob clambered up the rubber plant, which reached almost to the top. Petite Cougar grabbed his paw with her nails to help him the final step. Ouch! Scooby exclaimed.

Sorry. It's the only way I can hold onto something as big as you.

They were then able to slide down a vine on the backside of the upstairs patio, and off they bounced together ... down Rue de la Liberte, turning at Rue de la Republique (not busy today, as there was no marché), over the rise, then across the long footbridge which spanned a dry river.

They had arrived at the boules fields, where men, women and children were playing an ancient and simple game with three large balls and one small target ball. Scooby and Cougar chose a court on the far side so as not to disturb the other players, some of whom clearly regarding them as amateurs because they didn't have the shiny silver balls like the other groups.

No matter. They had great fun.

But it was getting a bit warm in the sun, especially since they couldn't remove their fur coats. So they ambled back to D-L's nest, paw in paw. 

Weeks before, when she had been left alone in Argeles, PC had spotted some little table tennis paddles - just their size - a net and a white ball.

Cougar was far more nimble and beat Scoob every time. He's certainly no Roger Federer. One game, PC let him win so he wouldn't get discouraged and quite playing. Scooby said she only won most of the time because she crowded the net so much.
They thought about trying some other 'games,' since they were alone, but it was getting late in the afternoon and SD's mistress would probably be back from the beach soon. So they put away the paddles and boules set, right where they'd found them so no one would know they'd ever used them. Then Scooby worked his way back down the rubber plant into the still-locked ground-floor apartment only two doors down the street ... only to walk into a big surprise!

Details soon ...

Scooby Goes to Market

Mmmmmmmm .... fresh raspberries and strawberries!
Scooby Doo tagged along with Donna-Lane and Rick to the marché Wednesday. The marché is an open-air street market with hundreds of small stands set up by local farmers with fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, and meats ... as well as very low-cost clothing (mostly pour femmes), jewelry, handbags, belts, bedding, toys, crafts, etc.

They close down the three main streets in the village of Argeles-sur-mer, and as you can see they are jammed with people, especially during July and August when the population expands from 10,000 locals to 100,000 vacationers.

The marché here is every Wednesday and Saturday. Other towns throughout France have them on different days. 

Scoob was concerned that one or more of all those jostling people might inadvertently bump D-L's face, still healing from the operation, so he insisted on being held on her right side - that way his soft body would absorb any wayward elbow.


On the way back from the ATM, Scooby caught the eye of an unfriendly scruffy black dog. SD tried to show him a couple of tricks to lighten the mood - like rolling over on his back and looking at Blackie upside down. But the mutt just barked all the louder.

Maybe he was jealous that he was on a leash and Scoob was not.

Scooby also checked out the rack of postcards. If he decides to stay in Europe with Petite Cougar, he'll want to send a card to Llara from time to time after she has moved back to the States. (PC didn't join the journey to the marché - she stayed back in the Nest - see D-L's blog: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2013/08/scooby-goes-to-marche.html) 
The British Brownie Lady was not there (dang) and the new boulangerie had no chocolate eclairs (do they not know Inspecteur Rick is back in town?), but it was rather late in the morning so perhaps the touristes had gobbled them up early.

On the other hand, there were plenty of rotisserie chickens to choose from. So Scooby picked one out, and the nice man ladeled plenty of extra broth into the bag. Add some of the fresh beans, tomatoes, and little potatoes, and it was going to be a wonderful farm-to-table lunch.
Fun morning, but SD missed PC a lot, and it was nice to get back and nuzzle her furry face again.

Life is good in Europe ...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Scooby's 1st Music Video

Scooby wanted to go to the marche Wednesday morning to see all the interesting people filling the streets of centreville. (Petite Cougar decided to sleep in - "too many dogs," she'd said, "even though they are on leashes.")

On the corner of the main intersection of Rue de la Republique and Avenue de la Liberation, a pair of brass musicians were entertaining the tourists.

Scooby asked if he could join the jam session - et voila, SD's 1st music video.

video
More from the marche in the next blog.