Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday

One of the many waterfalls in the Parc National des Pyrénées, Hautes- Pyrénées, France

After a hike in the summer heat, a waterfall like this is a refreshing vista. (Well I guess, it is quite a welcome sight whatever the season is *winks*). The sound of the gushing water is enough to take away one’s weariness and thirst. Cooling your face and neck with the fresh mountain water is like seeing an oasis after days in the desert. It might seem like an exaggeration, but I find waterfalls to have a mesmerizing effect (at least, on me), pulling me into a reverie of water nymphs, babbling water, chattering rocks and whispering trees.

see my other wordless wednesdays
see other wordless wednesday participants

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday in an Abbey

The Abbey of Saint Marie in Souillac, Lot department, France

Souillac is a town in the Lot department, a few kilometers from the border separating Lot and Dordogne (also known by its old name, Perigord). Due to its location, Souillac is a practical base for visiting Perigord noir (Black Perigord --- one of the four areas of Dordogne), the Causses (limestone plateaus) of Gramat and Martle in the Quercy region (of which Lot department is a part), and of course the beautiful Dordogne Valley with its medieval towns and castles dotting the cliffs overlooking the river Dordogne.

The town has a 12th century abbey, that of Saint Marie with a Byzantine-inspired façade. From the church square, one has a vantage point in viewing the pentagonal apsidioles (small apses connected to the transept) and its narrow arched windows. It was so peaceful here when we visited (maybe because it was a Sunday and it wasn’t yet the tourist season) --- in the square, all you can hear is the cooing of pigeons and the occasional rustling of leaves as a soft breeze pass as you admire these wonderful architectural legacy. I believe time, rather than diminishing its humbling effect on men, has heightened the sensation --- for the abbey has withstood and continues to withstand the vagaries of the centuries.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Off To Greener Pastures

A herd of sheep migrating to higher areas to pasture in (taken in the Quercy region)

Transhumance is the movement of livestock from lower altitudes to higher ones during summer and vice-versa during winter. If you’ll visit mountainous regions in France like the Alps, the Pyrénées and the Massif Central during late Spring until early Autumn, you’ll witness herds of livestock hitting the road as they make their way to the mountains to pasture (although it s declining in the latter two areas). It is such a wonderful sight, seeing cows, sheep, goats and the likes “parading” on the road, with their bells tinkling, a shout here and there by the herdsman, and the occasional yelping of patous (Pyrenean mountain dogs) as they try to keep the troop in line. Even if they create traffic, I don’t mind it for it is such a pleasant sight to see. I’m very tempted to touch a sheep or goat, but I’m afraid the dogs might not like it --- the patous are very protective of their “family”. So I just content myself with watching them as they bleat and moo to the rhythm of their hooves as they march to greener pastures... literally :).

Friday, July 18, 2008

In Pursuit of Dreams

In pursuing our dreams and happiness, may we not forget that the journey is as important as the goal itself. In fact, I believe, we spend most of our time in the act of trying to achieve it than when we reach our aim. And if we open our eyes throughout this odyssey, we will learn more about our aspirations --- whether they are what we really want; know more our self --- not only about what we can/will and can’t/won’t do but also our capacity/willingness to abandon our principles and values for the sake of our supposed dreams; understand life better --- that it is not an static end goal but rather composed of day-to-day acts and experiences which shape our character.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

One of the towers of Château de Sully-sur-Loire reflected on the moat

Which is the reflection and which is the real image? Nope, I didn’t use Photoshop (I don’t even have it) or other graphics editing program (except of course to compress the image and insert my name on the bottom part). All I did is to point my camera and click, the rest is the work of the landscape itself :).

see my other wordless wednesdays
see other wordless wednesday participants

Monday, July 14, 2008

Valley of Castles

Detail of the ceiling of the Salle des Etats Generaux (Hall of the Estates General) of Blois Castle

I've always been fascinated by castles (possibly from the fairy tale stories I've read as a child) and the Loire Valley region is famous for its royal and seigneurial châteaux (castles) with several of them still inhabited. Being the "seat" of power of French rulers and influential lords, these historical edifices played a role in shaping the history of France. So putting together history and my interest in castles, I’d like to give you a short overview of the Loire Valley area as a small tribute to the cultural richness of France.

Val de Loire (Loire Valley) can be roughly divided into five areas --- the Orléanais, the Berry, the Blésois, the Touraine and the Anjou regions. Well, the Orleanais region was ruled by the Capetian Dynasty for several centuries, home to several seigneurial (feudal) châteaux and the setting of Joan of Arc’s heroic feat that made France win the Hundred Years War. Next to it, along the Loire River, is the Blesois section where more than 600 castles (whether big or small) are located like the royal châteaux of Blois with its four wings from different periods and Chambord which is the most famous for its size, symmetry, rich decoration, and of course the well-known helical openwork staircase. In the south of these two areas is the Berry district (not strictly part of the Loire Valley but whose history is closely related to the kings of France) which acted as the border between the English and the French territories during the Hundred Years War and the home region of Jacques Coeur, the successful and influential but doomed French merchant. The Touraine sector is laced by three rivers --- Cher, Indre and Vienne where many beautiful châteaux were built along or over one of these rivers. Two of the most popular are Chenonceau which straddles the river Cher and Villandry with its magnificent garden. And as the Loire River nears the Atlantic, we enter the Anjou section where you can find the tallest castle of the Loire Valley (Brissac Castle) and the largest tapestry in the world (Castle of Angers) among other things. (source: Guide Jaune: Châteaux de la Loire du Reader’s Digest, 1997)

I won’t be able to write here everything about these castles because there are a lot of interesting things to be said. I believe each château deserves an entry or two, and still, I think it won’t be enough. Suffice it to say that Loire Valley is rich not only in architecturally worthy monuments but also in history. We don’t have high mountains or deep canyons; our region is even far from the sea, but I believe the rolling landscape and the sweeping countryside with its charming towns and splendid castles more than make-up for the lack of white sandy (or rocky) beaches and high-altitude air.

Visiting châteaux might seem like a laid-back activity to some. But if you think of the time and effort you spend walking around the castle and its grounds/gardens and having to absorb the beauty and the history of the paintings, tapestries, furniture and the castle itself, I believe it’s not really an easy pursuit as it appears to be. Well, I’m not here to convince those who aren’t interested in this kind of recreation. As they say, each to his own. All I can say is that visiting these castles and gardens is like going back in time and reliving a certain period in history where modern knowledge is not yet available, and still, towns flourished, long-lasting infrastructures were built, and valuable works of art from small hand-painted porcelains to meters of hand-woven tapestries were created.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

One of My Favorite Things

No more classes, no more books, no more teachers, dirty looks!
Summertime… Summertime…

- Bugs Bunny in Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over (1980)(TV)

During my younger years (and even up to now) whenever I think of summer, I cannot help but remember the above lines of Bugs Bunny. As a kid, I was even tempted to do a cartwheel while reciting it. For most of us, especially for young people, summertime means vacation. Maybe not vacation as in going to far-away places with white sand beach and inviting blue sea, but at least a break from the usual routine. You can stay-up late because you can wake up late *giggles*, no need to rush from one task to another (or one place to another), and have the time to do things you don’t usually have time for during a normal working (or school) day --- like reading *grins*.

Well, July did not start well here. It was rainy half of the time, gray and windy for the rest. We did have some burst of sunshine only to be easily dissipated by the fast moving ominous dark clouds which usually brings rain. But it wasn’t that bad, because first, I had a respite from my pollen allergy (its very uncomfortable sneezing every few seconds and a runny nose to boot). And second, I was able to do one of my favorite activities --- reading *wide grin*. So far, I’m into Robert Ludlum novels these days. I believe one of the best ways to spend a rainy afternoon is to be snug in your easy chair or bed (or in whatever comfortable and cozy place/position, for that matter) with a book in hand while listening to the pitter-patter of the rain *sigh*. And maybe, with some cookies within reach as it sometimes difficult to stop reading, especially when the plot becomes thicker and more and more complex.

Reading is a pleasure for me, but since I find it hard not to finish the story in one sitting, it can “interfere” with my daily chores… or rather my household tasks hampers my reading *giggles*. Good thing we have summer. Everybody and everything seems to relax a bit, and there’s a silent agreement about having a lull from the mad rush of everyday life. In other words, we are given a moment to laze around, even for just a little while. And I can spend some time reading novels. For those who are wondering what Ludlum book I’ve burrowed my nose into, they are The Scarletti Inheritance, The Road to Gandolfo, The Aquitaine Progression, The Bourne Trilogy (and if asked which I like more, the movies or the books, I’d say both are quite engrossing in their own ways and deserve to be viewed/read based on their own merits) and three Covert-One series written by other authors but are said to be based on Ludlum’s unpublished notes --- The Hades Factor, The Cassandra Compact and The Paris Option.

Well, it seems that our spell of wet, gloomy weather has passed. The sun has resumed its place in the sky since this morning --- which is good, for tomorrow is the National Day here and it would be very disappointing to see the fireworks display and other sky exhibitions with rain pouring down. And I guess, it’s also time to set aside my reading now and resume my usual routine. Oh, it doesn’t mean I would totally stop reading… it’s just that I will refrain now from spending most of my time in the worlds created by novelists. With a forecast of sunny days ahead, it would be nice to spend some time outdoors. Better take advantage of dry, warm weather because soon, it’s going to be cold again and I’ll be cooped up, wrapped in layers cloth *grins*.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday

the natural arch and “needle” of Aval cliff, Etretat, Seine-Maritime, France

The town of Etretat in the Normandy region is not only known for its pebbled beach but also for this natural arch and the towering “needle” against the deep blue sea. The view is so breathtaking that it is the subject of several impressionist paintings by Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. We visited the place about four years ago and it left me speechless. A one-hour walk on top of the Aval cliffs will take you to this point (where the photo is taken), an ideal spot to have a panoramic view of the Manneporte arch on the left, the Amont cliffs on the far right and in front of you, this spectacular work of nature. This is also where one of Arsène Lupin’s adventures --- L'Aiguille Creuse (The Hollow Needle) took place. And in the 2004 film by Jean-Paul Salomé entitled with the name of this gentleman thief --- Arsène Lupin, the treasures of the kings of France are buried here. And I believe the story line of the movie added more allure and enigma to the place.

Well, whether the treasures are here or not, this striking view is already a great and priceless gem. But wouldn’t it be more exciting to visit the place with a treasure map? I guess it would be one thrilling venture. Now I feel giddy *grins*.

see my other wordless wednesdays
see other wordless wednesday participants