Light and Ramonville (dimanche, 24 Juillet, 2011)

I begin to understand why artists talk about light with such reverence.  Provence is fabled for its light: A destination for artists and for sun-worshippers, en general.  Toulouse is in the Midi-Pyrenees, which is immediately west of Provence and definitely southern France.  So the light in Toulouse can be pretty spectacular, too.  Evenings are really the best time to watch the light.  It is clear and soft and the change from early evening to late is a constantly evolving show.  There’s a big, old (built before Columbus sailed) church visible from my balcony.  Around 8:00 p.m., it is white-washed by the sun.  By 8:30, it radiates a rose color, as does the city (hence the nickname “pink city” although I prefer the untranslated “ville rose”).  By 9:00, the sun is low enough that the buildings are in shadow, but the cumulus clouds are lit up – textured whites on top, blue-grays and pinks on the bottom.  It will stay like that for another 30 minutes or so and be twilight around 9:30.  But the most amazing light I think I’ve ever seen was on a short evening trip from Ayron to Poitiers two weeks ago.  It was about 9:30 p.m. (sunset was closer to 10:00 2 weeks ago) and we were driving through the countryside, fields of mowed grain around us.  The area is in a bad drought this year and about two-thirds of the fields were harvested and had turned to the yellow-brown associated with Fall.  There were huge rolls of baled hay dotting the fields – probably 12 feet in diameter.  The sun was so low in the sky that the bales each threw a shadow as much as three times the diameter of the bale.  The fields absolutely glowed with soft yellow light, partly the color of the sun and partly the color of the dried fields.  Spell-binding.  Wish I had a good camera available (and knew how to use it).  Sorry that my words can’t convey.

Unfortunately, today (Sunday) is cloudy with occasional brief, light showers.  In fact, that’s been the weather pattern for the last 10 days or so.  The benefit is that the temperature is cool – in the 50’s in the morning and no higher than the 70’s by après-midi.  Of course, the downside is that it does get dreary.  Nevertheless, people make it to the farmer’s markets on Sunday morning, rain or shine.  So that was this morning’s diversion.  The market I go to is 6 or 7 minutes walk and it is large.  It is laid out around a church, Saint Aubin, and has around 50 stalls.  It has everything: Meat stands, cheese stands, bread stands, books, DVDs, clothes, shoes, bedding, and on and on.  I bought my usual – du pain et du fromage.  Malheureusement, I was forced to do some pointing today.  Two of my exchanges stayed in French; one was reduced to pointing when asked which particular loaf of bread I had in mind; and one was reduced to pointing and English (she initiated it when she incorrectly perceived me to not understand the amount).

I actually arrived at an awkward time, although I knew that would be the case.  The university’s last teaching session ended a couple of weeks ago so the university has turned very quiet this week.  It just officially closed on Friday and won’t reopen until the last week of August.  The result is that I’m not really meeting anyone now.  Unfortunately, that gives me very little opportunity to practice French.  I saw Julie for a total of about 5 hours last week and Franck for lunch one day with Julie.  So this is definitely contributing to my lack of progress with the language.

I’m on my own this weekend and the weekend started off badly.  Specifically, I stayed home on Friday to receive my “Freebox” (i.e., internet, phone, TV package).  UPS was supposed to come sometime between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.  Of course, the delivery arrived at 4:45, so I was stuck in my apartment all day.  OK, unpack the equipment and see if you can make sense of the French directions.  Evidently, not.  I was supposed to hook up the box that controls the internet and phone first.  Didn’t work.  Still doesn’t work.  I don’t know if the problem is the equipment, or the phone connection, or errors on my part following directions.  OK, a little set back but I’m totally dependent on Julie to help me communicate with the communications company. 

The failure with the internet hookup was a bit demoralizing because I was hopeful that I would be able to phone home or Skype.  I decided that I needed to do something different to get my mind off of my frustrations so I decided I’d go on an adventure Saturday morning.  Julie had mentioned that the town of Ramonville at the end of the Metro line has a nice section of the Canal du Midi that even reached to the Mediterranean.  She then had second thoughts about that suggestion, saying it was too long a walk.  “Oh, yeah, we’ll see about that.”  I caught the metro to Ramonville and got off sometime before 9:30.  The metro station is right at the intersection of a couple of highways, so it wasn’t the most appealing start to my walk.  But I found a map and gradually got oriented.  Off I went to search for the canal.  A half mile up the highway, then cross towards the sports complex.  Take a wrong turn and walk a half mile until the error becomes apparent.  Reverse direction and take the path to your right and – voila! – a bridge over a canal with nice walking and bike paths on both sides.  Cross the bridge, choose a direction and walk.  And walk.  And walk.  Here’s a town.  Oh, it’s the penultimate stop on my metro line.  That means I’m headed away from the Mediterranean.  And I haven’t seen another bridge since the first one I’ve crossed, which puts me on the wrong side of the canal if I should choose to head back to the metro.  Given I’m 2 miles into my journey and the Mediterranean was too far to walk BEFORE walking a couple of miles in the wrong direction, that goal is terminated.  And, besides, the view along the canal is pretty but unvarying.  I’ve had enough exercise so I make the decision to head back to Toulouse.  I scramble around the fencing and over the construction to get to the overpass on the highway I’ve reached so that I can get to the other side of the canal and avoid having to retrace my steps and overshoot the nearest turn off to the metro station.  I’m back to the apartment around noon and ready for a nap.  Then some French lessons, followed by some statistical analyses I’ve been slogging through, followed by dinner, then a walk to le Place du Wilson to sit on a bench by the fountain and watch the people.  A little walking around after that helped me fill in an important gap in my cognitive map of my general neighborhood.  I also ran into a group of American college students headed – boisterously -- in the opposite direction.  A rude shock to my state of mind at that moment.

And on that note: A bientot!