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I offer my one and only unpublished travelogue with a twist for your reading pleasure. It was a six week journey so I'll post a few pages each day. It's fun, it’s serious, it's goofy, it's. . .
Saturday, October 16
Yesterday morning, we spent the entire morning searching out the best Geits De’France(Chambra with a kitchen) to suit our needs. It was again time to stop moving and rest for a few days. Of course, "suit our needs" meant everything had to be perfect; view overlooking a high mountain lake, maybe a solitary cabin at the end of the road and no barking dogs.
We got a Geits pamphlet from the tourist office in Bagneres-de-Luchon and started systematically going down the list.
The first --as luck would have it-- was at the end of the road and not next to a high mountain lake, but close enough to walk. It was one of the most pristine high mountain valleys I have ever seen. A small glacial river meandered down the middle of a narrow pastoral valley connecting two opposing granite mountains that rose at a sixty-degree angle for five thousand feet. The lush grasses looked like a lawn. The trees sprinkled the sides in huge clumps with large outcropping of dark gray rock jutting out from the mother mountain. To top it off, it was October and the trees were dressed in full autumn colors.
If there was a heaven, I believe the forty-five minutes we spent in that canyon was what I would want heaven to be. Years ago, I found myself in Yosemite when no one was in the valley. I’ve experienced the east side of the Sierra Nevada’s, that drops almost vertically from twelve thousand feet to the Owen’s Valley floor in less than a few miles. I have seen the abyss of the Grand Canyon, but I have never seen anything so mystical, so inspirational and so uncluttered of people and buildings. There was a small farm at the mouth of the canyon, the Chambres Geits we had been looking for --closed until next summer by the way-- and a small cabin buried in the woods higher up the creek.
We will be going back to hike further into that canyon later, but the job was to find a place to stay, so in utter disappointment, we continued.
We spent the entire day looking and not finding anything even close to an appropriate Geits de’ France to stay in. The search took us through exquisite country and into ancient hamlets precariously perched on the sides of steep mountainous ledges. Although it was beautiful country that wound through switch-backed single lane roads, squeezed through village streets made for a horse and rider, the search was frustrating and exhausting. By four in the afternoon, we gave up and drove off the hill into town, a Mecca for the ski-crazed part of the French population. There wasn’t any snow yet, so the city was virtually empty.
Out of exhaustive desperation, we checked out a few sleaze bag hotels and finally found a nice little room off the main street in a quiet little corner of town for 165 francs($33.)
After reluctantly unpacking and getting settled into a room that was a far cry from our prime choice, we walked into the main part of town for something to eat. When we strolled by the plaza --there was a central plaza in every French town-- we noticed some young musicians setting up sound equipment that looked big enough to blow away all of the old people sitting around the square.
We found a creperie a half-block from the square and listened to the sound checks and tuning while we ate. I was ready to bolt the minute they started playing the thumping rage music popular these days, but to my delight they began by playing a Dixieland jazz piece. We were surprised that we had to travel half way around the world to hear American jazz. After dinner, we sauntered over and during the next two hours listened to the young people play traditional Basque, Spanish and French music. When the lead singer wasn’t singing, the mike was open for whoever wanted to grab it and sing the song. A number of people stepped up and belted out like professionals, obviously old well know tunes. Many people sang along and there was always at least five or six couples doing some kind of traditional dancing.
Except for the original five musicians who set up and carried the tune, nothing that evening was planned. Everyone got out there and sang, danced or clapped along as the spirit of the moment grabbed them.
Each song, though well-known by the crowd of a hundred, I had never heard. The songs were fresh and sweet, leaping across borders and through wide stretches of time.
The most amazing part of the entire scenario was when the band finished playing at dusk, they didn’t try to promote their latest CD or pass the hat, either one of which I’m sure would have been very successful. I myself was ready to buy a CD or donate richly for their time. They simply thanked the crowd, ended with a French favorite and began packing up.
The crowd clapped respectfully then reluctantly dispersed and that was it.
I got the feeling that every Friday night that kind of thing happened, maybe not music or the same band, but some kind of event that brought the community together. I also got that it had been going on for a long, long time.
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Copyright Feb. 2011 Nik C. Colyer All rights reserved.