Wednesday, July 25, 2018
I was in the middle of a 19.8-mile round-trip from Quillan to 2,600-foot Mazuby, known locally as "the elephants" because of its hump topography, when I ran out of water. It was 91 degrees under a cloudless sky.
No problem. I had planned to refuel in nearby St. Julia. However, I had forgotten to check for restaurants, bars or stores there before setting off. Walking through the small village I came across the woman and asked where I could buy water and food.
No place near, she said.
Le Tour Mazuby? she asked.
Eau? She made the motion of drinking from a glass.
Non, I said pointing to empty bottles.
She motioned me to come inside her home. She pulled out two store-bought bottled waters, one with bubbles and one without. I didn’t want to take water she bought.
Tap, she said.
She filled a glass of water. I finished it in three gulps. Then she filled my bottles.
Fruit? she asked
S’il vous plaît.
She handed me two peaches and a banana.
I left her a few euros for her kindness over her protestations. Like in the U.S., Good Samaritans in France don't expect payment. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I gave a couple of merci beaucoups, waved and left. Only down the trail did I realized I hadn't asked their names.
The peaches were the sweetest I’ve ever had.
Now, it’s good to know they’re an international phenomenon.
Friday, July 13, 2018
It sits in an amphitheater of the Pyrenees foothills. It's an hour from the Spanish border. Each July and August is packed with festivals, fairs, car and cycling races. In 1929 it was the rugby champion of France.
The main industry used to be Formica, now tourism is closing in. That's due in big part to 10 percent of the 3,500 occupants being Brits, Americans, Australians and a few other English-speaking cousins.
A favorite sport is petanque, a French form of boules or lawn bowling where you toss a hollow metal ball overhand to get as as close as possible to a small target ball, a cochonnet (piglet). It's the French version of Italian bocce in which you roll underhand a larger, solid wood or resin ball on a smooth surface to get as close to the target. A petanque tournament is held each year in Quillan.
So why is a bowling ball and three pins similar to bowling alley pins on Quillan's coat of arms, instead of petanque balls and a cochonnet?
In French, quille is bowling, a game that's been played in Europe for hundreds of years, including in Quillan whose name was first mentioned in the 12th century, according to the village's official website. Back then variations of bowling consisted of three or more pins and small wooden balls depending on where the game was played.
Still, why bowling pins and balls and not petanque balls?
Ah, let us return to the Pyrenees, a big attraction here. The mountain range was created by the movement of the African continent, which left behind numerous pointed, sharp peaks in the Quillan area. According to several sources the peaks resembled the tall bins used in lawn bowling.
|Three quilles in Quillan |
as seen from L'Amour Vert.
I expect to receive a blistering comment from a town native that my research was in error.
"Non, c'est faux. Idiot!"
Actually, the point could be considered moot since the village has since adopted a stylized symbol, right, that more accurately features one of the area's main attribute. Those are mountains, just to be clear. I assme.
Friday, May 18, 2018
The men were separated and taken to six sheds and barns. The 500 women and children were taken to the village church.
The men were machine-gunned, shot in the legs first to prevent them from fleeing. Those who showed signs of life were shot point-blank. The Germans covered the bodies with wood and straw and set it afire, while those not yet dead screamed in agony. Several men escaped in the smoke and flames.
|A building where men were executed.|
Soldiers then went to the church, where the women thought they and the children might be released. Instead, two soldiers lit a poisonous device and hurried out the doors, which they locked behind them. The troops shot women and children who tried to escape or hide, including a boy and girl later found in the confessional. Only one woman escaped, by jumping nine feet out a window. None of the 246 children survived. The only child in the village to live was a refugee boy who knew to flee when the soldiers first arrived.
Before leaving, the Germans torched the church, barns, sheds and most every building.
|The church where the women and 246 children died.|
|The school for girls.|
Walking the streets of Oradour where at one tick of the clock were filled with the peaceful sounds of ordinary life on a warm June afternoon, of men and women chatting or going about their work and children playing after school, and the next transformed into a silent tomb, was overwhelming.
About 30 residents avoided death by fleeing when the Germans arrived or being away from the village. Six unfortunate young people who happened to bicycle through the village while the Germans were there were were seized and killed.
|Entire families were killed.|
The officer who ordered the massacre and many soldiers who partcipated were killed in the Battle of Normandy.
Surprisingly, several German and Alsatian troops (the latter from the Alsace region of France at the German border) convicted in the 1950s and sentenced to death or prison terms, were later pardoned.
The Germans either denied involvement in the attack or said it was retaliation because the village was a hotbed of French Resistance activity. Historians said if the latter excuse was the case, the Germans likely attacked the wrong village. Another French village, Oradour-sur-Vayres, was an important Resistance center.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
We spent what we in the U.S. call VE Day on Tuesday with folks in the French village of Loubillé. Here it’s Victory in France.
In Paris, it involves a huge parade down the Champs Élysée. In Loubillé, population 400, about a score or more of villagers walked 2 kilometers out of town to a memorial at the edge of some woods. Here German troops executed three men on July 24, 1944. They were members of the French Resistance formed after France surrendered early in the war.
Mairie (Mayor) Gérard Collet read an account of the incident. The men had been captured elsewhere. The truck carrying them stopped in the woods, where they were shot and left to lie where they fell.
Collet also played an anthem of the Resistance:
"... tonight the enemy will know the price of blood and tears ...Take the rifles, the machine gun, the grenades out of the straws."
France’s Vichy government surrendered in part to spare the country a repeat of the horror from WWI when its military lost 1.4 million killed.
In WWII, the French army lost 210,000 killed. The number includes 68,000 freedom fighter deaths. More than 390,000 French civilians were killed by the fighting or executions.
The U.S. suffered 420,000 military deaths and 12,000 civilians killed, mostly merchant seamen.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
For 40 years I've kept my opinions to myself as a professional journalist. I never let them influence a story and I never joined a protest, until now. I retired from my last newspaper job in December and on Saturday took part in my first demonstration, March For Our Lives.
|Me and some guy with something in common|
at Saturday's march in Aix-en-Provence.
If we do, I'll still be a taxpaying American, still concerned with what happens in my homeland, in part because I have three grown children facing gun violence, outrageous health-insurance costs, cuts on environmental protections and politicians demonizing a free press when it doesn't kiss their ass. So obviously I'm a liberal. I like to say center-left.
I bit my tongue when unreasonable gun enthusiasts called the newspaper to complain about gun control "nuts." I listened to their arguments, discussed both sides with them and hoped that they at least had found a sounding board for their opinion. It's a proud tradition of newspapers, or should be.
I no longer have such professional constraints.
I support banning all semiautomatic rifles. You want to have one, join the military, where one day you might get to use that gun for its sole purpose, to kill many enemy troops. Hopefully it will be in the defense of democracy and the country.
Or go rip off as many rounds as you want at a firing range. Just leave the gun there when you're done. I understand the thrill. I attended an FBI citizens academy where firing a Thompson machine gun and a semiautomatic rifle were the highlights.
You want it for home security? A handgun or shotgun is ample protection.
You have some crazy theory of government troops taking your gun during a military coup? Good luck with that pea shooter against a tank. This isn't 1776.
Have a handgun, shotgun, hunting rifle with a five-round magazine if you want. There's no practical reason for a civilian to have an AR-15 with a 30- or 60-round magazine or similar weapon. And don't hide behind the Second Amendment. The luxury of allowing these killing machines has cost us too many dead children and concert-goers.
This mid-term election, you vote for your gun-rights candidate and I'll vote for my gun-control candidate.
That's how we solve these issues in a democracy.
If you win, I'll be out there protesting. If I win, I'll expect the same from you, my fellow American.
Friday, March 23, 2018
|Chalkboard ad outside Marseille restaurant.|
"Du moment" is the new "du jour,"
or "today's special."
|Paulita with almost-daily baguette.|
Saturday, March 17, 2018
I retired in December and we decided to spend this year living in France. If we want to make it permanent, we'll buy a house here next year.
We've rented a home in the small village of Quillan in the southwest of the country in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
|Sunrise over the mountains around Quillan.|
A big plus, though, is that the housing prices in Quillan are within our budget. Perfect, I thought. I could definitely live here.
Then some friends let us stay at their condo in the Atlantic beach town of Chatelaillon-Plage south of La Rochelle. It's an ocean-front apartment with a terrace.
|Sunset on the Atlantic at Chatelaillon-Plage.|
When I was younger I always thought it would be cool to live in a waterfront tourist town. Even when I was older, the traffic and tourist hassles were worth living close to the water.
Then I saw the prices of homes in Chatelaillon-Plage. Reality check. They are way out of our reach, and the same probably is true of any beachfront home in France, or even St. Pete.
Maybe we can find a less expensive place close to a beach in a less touristy area where there are ample amenities like restaurants, markets, wine shops and patisseries. Getting an idea of our priorities?
We have the rest of the year to decide whether France will be our new home, and where.
Right now, the mountains are calling. But who knows?