Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Trail angels

This woman and her child live in St. Julia de Bec, France. I don’t know their names or their story, except on Wednesday they were my trail angels.
To long-distance hikers, trail angels can be life-savers or just someone who makes the sojourn more comfortable so you can make that summit or even get back home.
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.
Oui, merci.
She filled a glass of water. I finished it in three gulps. Then she filled my bottles.
Fruit? she asked
S’il vous plaĆ®t.
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.
I’ve encountered trail angels hiking in Appalachia, like the elderly guy who parks his pickup along a road that splits a trail to pass out oranges and water to hikers, or the local couple who drops you off at a hotel in town.
Now, it’s good to know they’re an international phenomenon.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What's in a name

We live in Quillan, France. It's  a lovely village of about 3,400 through which the Aude River runs fast enough through downtown for competitive kayaking training. 

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.
In the western U.S. there are the Grand Tetons, which arguably was named by a (probably lonely) French explorer and in French means "large teats or nipples." Could not Petit Tetons have been more appropriate for the range around Quillan? Perhaps not. What symbol would you have then put  on the coat of arms?
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.