Monday, August 31, 2015


Integrating concrete
With the beauty of four seasons.
Kurobe Gorge.

On the turntable:

Saturday, August 29, 2015


Step by step
Up the Nakasendo
Through nature's many moods.

On the turntable: The Stranglers, "The Very Best of The Stranglers"

Friday, August 28, 2015


Weathered journeyman
Rests his heavy feet
Atop the pass.

On the turntable: Holly Cole Trio, "Don't Smoke in Bed"

Monday, August 24, 2015


What was once young and green,
Begins to bend toward the earth,
To which it will soon return.

On the turntable: Stump, "A Fierce Pancake"  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Papers: Francoise Sagan

"Art must take reality by surprise. It takes those moments which are for us merely a moment, plus a moment, plus another moment, and arbitrarily transforms them into a special series of moments held together by a major emotion."

On the turntable:  "Putumayo Presents Paris Cafe"

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Sunday Papers: Honore de Balzac

"Our happiness, dear friend, will always fit between the soles of our feet and the crown of our head."

On the turntable:  "Putumayo Presents Mediterranean"
On the nighttable:  Peter Mayle, "A Year in Provence"

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Sur la Route: Sud

I looked over the long rolling expanse of neatly trimmed grass, caring not a whit that it was now a golf course.  I was alone on the veranda of the Chateaux d'Augerville , allowing the coffee to bring heat into my body, surprised at the morning chill.  Above me, the soft light brought color into the trees.  

The sleepiness of this Sunday morning carried me along, as did the car through the open farmlands that would have been at home in the American Midwest.  I had a quick ironic smile as I passed through the village of Dimancheville, where little moved but the birds.  I imagined the Catholic inhabitants sitting idly in their homes, living the mantra of "never on Sunday."

The land stretched on, then began to rise and take on additional color.  This was Burgundy again, and the tendrils of vineyards looked ready to reclaim all before them.  (And metaphorically that might be true.)  Only the chapels and abbeys stood safe, perched as they were at the great heights of the hilltops.  We chose to take the backroads on this our return journey, bringing us into closer contact with the landscape.  At this closer range, we were charmed with the region's beauty, and began to talk excitedly of a return visit to deepen our acquaintance.  

As for tonight, we'd stay at the Chateaux d'Ige, nestled deep in a valley outside Mâcon.  Our room was atop the spiraling stone staircase in the turret of this old fortress, though the view from our window showed little to protect outside of seemingly infinite rows of that tantalizing grape.  The bells in the church tower began to chime, as if counting down toward a time when we could try out some of the region's famed Pouilly Fuisse. Most of our waking hours, we passed outdoors,  either reading out on the lawn, or dining beside a Japanese garden that was more Monet than Mirei.  

The following morning we took a brief drive through Mâcon, impressed with the line-up of buildings along its river. Within the spiderweb of narrow streets we found the famous Maison de Bois built entirely of wood, and within its roots we grabbed a take away coffee for the short drive to Lyon.

The caffeine began to rush through our systems as the traffic did just the opposite.  Moments after entering the auto-route, we came to a complete halt due an accident up ahead.  We tuned into traffic information on the radio, and at each repeat mention of the snarl, the number of kilometers blocked up was increased by three.  This was the main north-south artery in the country, and as such, France had had a stroke.  As if mocking the situation, just to our left, the Saône flowed cheerily on. 

We arrived in Lyon 90 minutes later than planned for our meeting with my old college friend roommate.   An incidental Facebook post a few days before had alerted my friend Derek to the fact that I was in Europe, and we soon realized that we'd both be in Lyon on the same day.  He didn't mind our late arrival, being both jet-lagged and aiming for a low-key day since he would be representing the U.S. in the decathlon at the World Masters Athletics competition over the next few days.  As it was, it was nice to spend a couple of hours together, strolling the lesser streets of the old city, catching up on eight years.  

It took LYL and I a little bit of time to escape Lyon's clutches, and once free, we made our way toward the Alps.  We paralleled them awhile before turning directly in after realizing that we'd chosen the wrong auto-route south.  It was a fortuitous mistake as the detour would take us through some spectacular scenery, including an incredible descent down a series of serpentine turns that dropped us a thousand meters down the mountain face.  The valleys which followed brought further delight, and it was easy to imagine that Napoleon too had been equally impressed by the Vercours landscape during his return from exile along these same roads.  Though the man may have had other things on his mind at the time. 

Bicycling the old Napoleon road seemed to be a popular summer pastime, and I too could see myself strolling these 300+ kilometers, as the River Durance brought me within nodding distance of a series of picturesque towns lined up between Sisteron and Digne.   It was due to the combination of such beauty and my growing fatigue that we decided to stop over for the night and enjoy the drive for another day.  We found an old silkworm farm to put us up, grabbing the last room at short notice though sadly on a day when its famous chef had a night off.  A meal had a short drive away proved to be sufficient, and before long we drifted to well-deserved sleep beneath a bizarre choice of wallpaper that depicted a 1940s Manhattan skyline.

I awoke to the last efforts of a morning rainfall, which ceased the moment we entered Provence, as befitting the season.  The heat never led up as we climbed and climbed, twisting and winding through the Gorges of Verdon.  A village in the middle was perfectly placed for lunch, then we were back into the hills again, through villages and town of no known fame, yet each one absolutely perfect.   They were sleepy in the midday, making even a coffee stop a formidable task. And at 4 p.m. they awoke again, and at 4:05, freshly caffeinated, so did I.   

The roads grew smaller and smaller, until we were alone on the road, shaded by the increasing olive and fruit groves.   The asphalt dropped away with the centuries to eventually become a dirt path, until it too thinned to enter a familiar gate that drew us in.  

On the turntable: "Groovy Instrumentals"
On the nighttable:  Francoise Sagan,  "Bonjour Tristesse"

Friday, August 07, 2015

Sur la Route: Nord

They've fenced in Antoine St. Exupery's airfield.  I came past on a summer's evening last year, on the way to a memorable meal at Auberge La Môle (Though in Provence, all meals are memorable).  The new stone wall would not have contained the wandering spirit of St. Ex, which often took flight from the dirt strip beyond, a spirit eventually lost to the waters just south of here.  As for my own wandering spirit, it would have to find satisfisfaction in keeping between the lines of a road stretching itself east along the Côte d'Azur.

The twisting road unwound itself at the old Greek trading post of Hyéres, the olive trees falling away as the auto-route took me through a landscape reminiscent of the work of Ansel Adams and Georgia O'Keeffe, rocky arid mounts rising toward the flawless blue sky of July, though here ancient fortified villages have replaced the stone spires.  Cezanne found great delight in this earth, in Montagne Ste-Victoire in particular, at whose foot lies the grave of Picasso, a man greatly inspired by his predecessor. 

Amidst this dry landscape there were fountains, drawing from the same spring that the Romans had used to soothe their battle-wounds.  The picturesque city/town of Aix-en-Provence has grown up around them, water gushing from each square, interconnected by narrow lanes choked today with the pressing bodies of tourists.  They meandered and dawdled, their steps taking them in unpredictable arcs, bisected by the lightning-fast straight courses traced by instrument-laden buskers moving as if late for work.  We escaped them and the heat for a meal in a small bistro, cooling our heels upon the colored tile.  Afterwards, LYL led me around the twisting maze of the city where she once attended university.   All roads lead to the Cours Mirabeau, where we sat for a coffee in the Deux Garçons, myself imaging what native sons Cezanne and Zola would have talked about when they took their positions beneath large, intricately framed mirrors.  Probably commenting on the passersby, as did we.    

The location of our hotel above the Cours Mirabelle ensured a poor night's sleep, mostly by the street cleaning crews at work in the soft light of daybreak.  But it also created a pleasant opportunity for a tourist-free retracing of steps through the city at dawn.  Afterwards,  we drove into the greener and more fertile rolling of hills that is the Rhône Valley.  It was the dreaded first weekend of the month-long summer holiday, and it seemed like all of France was on the move.  Or not, as the snail-pace of the auto-route allowed us a bit too much time to ponder the ugly architecture of the up-and-coming Confluence, where the Rhône and the Saône joined together after caressing the contours of Lyon.  It was refreshing to walk these streets at a pace slightly quicker than which we had driven, in a proper French city, along broad boulevards framed by tall 17th and 18th Century facades whose glassy street level floors were devoted to 21st Century capitalism.

Lyon is both famous and infamous for the deliciousness of its food, and our steps seemed to take us from table to table.  In between we wandered gingerly over the cobblestones of the old town, where the tourists were protected by machine-gun toting soldiers whose armored bodies looked as if they have arrived from a century all their own.  We left all of them when we crossed over to an affordable-looking artistic quarter marked by a series of murals standing above the river.  Beyond the photogenic Robert Bresson primary school to Place de la Comedie, marked by a grand fountain designed by Bartholdi, looking nearly as grand as the Statue of Liberty that he had designed a decade earlier.    As we were admiring her waters, we were politely asked to step back so that a film crew could shoot what might go on to be the latest hit in Bollywood. 

That evening we ate in a culinary school set up by renowned chef Paul Bocuse, housed conveniently on the ground floor of our hotel facing the Place Bellecour.  As I sat at my window-side table, I noticed that I was drawing a fair bit of attention from passersby, who would either stare, or give me a thumbs up.  This would be repeated throughout our travels over the next few days, making me begin to wonder what French celebrity they were mistaking me for.  

Another early start, from one wine producing region to another.  But Burgundy would wait for another day, and before long its vineyard studded hills would flatten out as we drew closer to Paris.  We would stop fifty kilometers short, at Fontainebleau, to stretch our legs amongst the Chateau's 1900 rooms.  Napoleon and Louis XIV had slept here, in one or two of them, built over a series of centuries.  Whomever the Emperor, he must have had a hard time sleeping beneath the busy patterns of wood, and stone, and tapestry.  After two decades amongst the Zen aesthetic of Japan, I found it all headache inducing after awhile.  So the chateau's vast open grounds were a relief and a delight, a series of simple demarcated right angles looking quite...Zen.    

We ourselves slept at another Chateau that night, preempted by a stop at the midway point between them for a party which had served as the catalyst for the entire road trip.  LYL's friend was holding the party for her daughter's 40th birthday, and as the light was softening from the day, we found ourselves on the lawn of an old longére French house which stretched across what would be a full city block.  We sipped from glasses of vin blanc while listening to a guitar driven chamber orchestra playing through their repertoire of 1950s light jazz.  A quintet of Moroccans served up an assembly line couscous, as a lamb spun lazily over an open fire behind.  As our host had once been an Ambassador, we were in a rather colorful and diverse crowd of expats from whatever their country of origin.  No one was where they had once belonged, as if a jigsaw puzzle had been spilled across the grass.  I had the best of conversations, I had the worst of conversations, and after one too many of the latter,  LYL discreetly pulled me away in the direction of the car. 

Not long afterward we pulled up before our chateau, our shadows elongating toward its well-lit facade.  I half imagined that it truly was ours, with the staff waiting inside to bid us goodnight and to count down the hours until the first coffee of dawn.    

On the turntable:  "Colors of the World"
On the nighttable:  Colette, "Break of Day"

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Fragments of France

(I began this fragment back in July, intending to contrast it with mornings spent England later in the trip.  The passage of quiet days in those respective countrysides apparently lulled me into forgetfulness.) 

Slow quiet simmering days book-ended by strong coffee and delicate rosé.  The morning was the only time that the heat was down.  Evening too I suppose, but by then I was too wilted to do much.

In France at the height of summer I was reminded once again of how civilized daylight savings time is, in that you can arise at a reasonably late hour when the day is still cool, and in the evening enjoy long meals outdoors as the clock ticks toward double-digits.  My frustration built once again at the  stubborn refusal of Japan to adopt it, forcing us all indoors at the peak of our energy, until four a.m. rolls around, and we find ourselves yet again awake in a pool of our own sweat.

In that villa above the village of La Môle, the days passed in near carbon copies of each other.  As is my usual habit, I'd still rise with the sun, but here that usually meant around seven.  LYL would need another hour or so of sleep, so I'd pass the time with a book and a cup out on the terrace, until I'd go back inside to wake her.  

On the turntable: "Cafe del Mar, Vol. 9"

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday Papers: John Hillaby

"News, somebody pointed out, is literature in a hurry."

On the turntable, "The Rough Guide to Italy"
On the nighttable:  Collette, "Break of Day"