Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Return to Abnormal

Summer is officially over for us. Today we said A la Prochain to a couple of dear friends who were heading home to the States, and tomorrow we'll express A Bientot to another couple who are departing their second home in Argèles sur Mer. They are among about 120 unique individuals from 20 nationalities whom we have had the pleasure of their company over the past few months.

We'll stay on in ASM for a couple more weeks, then hop a high-speed train for a conference in Madrid, before heading home to Geneva for the better part of the winter.

For us, settling into what might be a "normal" routine is decidedly abnormal. It's rare that we've spent an entire month in one place.

There are too many interesting people to visit and places to see. Add in writing-related research, and we're frequently on the move.

Our travel has slowed down some the past year since Sherlock joined our household. For both D-L and I to go somewhere, we need to recruit Sherlock sitters to keep him out of serious trouble for the duration. Taking him with us is not an ideal option - the poor pup gets carsick almost every time.

Staying home more will not be less interesting. We bought an annual MuseePass and plan to visit many of the Swiss museums in the coming year. I will be taking some intensive French courses in order to reach the mandatory levels for applying for Swiss citizenship. And there are always new golf courses to discover.

We'll keep in touch with friends via Facebook and email, of course, and when we next see them in Switzerland, France, or elsewhere, we'll pick up right where we left off. For us, that's what's normal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Thousand Years of History in One Morning

One of the Argèles angels in front of the church tower,
which has been used for storing tax money, holding prisoners,
as a bell tower and watchtower.
Some of our group climbed to the top.

This is a dueling blog: Donna-Lane's version can be found at
Angels, witches, pirates, kings, soldiers, merchants, refugees, the poor and the wealthy … Argèles sur Mer has had it all across the millenium the village has existed.

Today we took Jean-Marc's historical tour of ASM with several English-speaking friends from Denmark, Sweden, the UK, and US. Normally, J-M conducts the tour in French, and he expressed lack of confidence in his English, but he did a superb job.
It was two hours-plus of non-stop fascination with the place we call our second home, so some of the highlights:

> The founder of the Kingdom of Majorca (parts of what is now the south of France and the Balearic Islands), Jacques the Conqueror, split the land between two of his sons, Peter and James, who proceeded to fight each other for the next 72 years.
> A special design on top of some cheminees was designed to ward off witches. This is the only one left in Argèles. (If Catalan beliefs about witches interest you, here's a link -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_mythology_about_witches)

Jean-Marc in front of the oldest marked house in the village - completed in 1400.
It's just a few doors down the street from us (rue de la Liberte).
> In early ASM, the 13th century, they fortified the village with high stone walls, watchtowers, and  three gates. At one point they were attacked with catapults, so they built their own on top of the west-facing wall. In it's first attempt, the rock went straight up, then straight down, destroying the weapon, part of the wall, and several soldiers. (Sounds like they used the lowest bidder.)
Both our "Warrenpeace"flat and D-L's "Nest" are inside the old walled city.
> After fortifying the village, and thanks to a low-tax policy, Argèles sur Mer quintupled in size from about 300 inhabitants to 1500.

> Revenue derived from three primary sources: 1) a special iron from nearby Canigou mountain, 2) luxury textiles, and 3) wine. Today, there are still vineyards aplenty, but the most money comes from tourism - which did not begin until the end of the 19th century when some wealthy folks established our beautiful sand beach.

> The village church, Eglise Notre-Dame del Prat, a blend of Roman and Gothic styles, is filled with statues and paintings, many of them with their own curious histories, famous individuals, and restorations. The large flat stone inside the entrance door is a pre-restoration altar, placed over the grave, probably of a former priest.
> We learned about building techniques from the Middle Ages through the 19th century; how the original village was probably situated on a nearby mountain, both because the now-beach area was a swamp and to better defend marauding pirates; the monk who showed the French a relatively unknown path through the Pyrenees (enabling them to overpower the Aragon soldiers, who were focused on drinking and dice games); and the original name of the Massane Watchtower, which even most native Catalans no longer remember.

The tour just scratched the surface of this fascinating place, and re-kindled a sense of wonder in this village we love. More research is definitely called for.

Midway through the tour, Matthieu, co-proprietor of L'Hostalet, the best little hotel in this part of France (http://hostalet.fr/?lang=en), invited the group to their breakfast room at the conclusion of the history lesson. We were surprised to be joined by some other friends, who brought delicious pastries of figs, nuts, cheese and honey to go with our coffee.

What a perfect way to end the social season.