Jamie – 18 September 2011
She didn’t kill us. In fact Jane our GPS navigator did a grand job in getting us from Uzes, France to Belforte, Radicondoli, Italy. Probably just trying to lull us into a false sense of security before she sends us the wrong way down an autostrade in a few weeks time.
The last few days have been a lot of fun. On Wednesday last week the Piedon Family Circus stopped for a day in Uzes. This is a true family circus where the five family members do all the acts themselves – assisted by a dog, a cat and a goat. It has been a while since I have been to a circus that included animals and while I am generally against the concept there seemed to be a lot of animal love going on in that tent (in a healthy kind of way).
The goat understood that it was expected to climb onto each of the tables which were being successively placed underneath her, and which got progressively smaller and smaller. In the end, drawing upon all her mountain goat instincts, she was somehow standing on a table that clearly belonged in a doll house and was about twelve tables off the ground.
The cat was much smarter. She emerged from her box in the middle of the ring, saw the flaming hoop she was supposed to jump through, and bolted out of the tent. Initially I thought it was part of the act – it certainly got a laugh – but the knowing looks between mother and son confirmed that pussy had gone “off-piste” and a slightly unprepared daughter was ushered out to do her hoola-hoop tricks. We were honoured with ringside seats and got to pet each of the animals, apart from the cat who was long gone. Three hours after the show the big top was down and the circus had moved onto the next village. What an amazing life.
On Thursday we drove an hour to Avignon, a much larger city but still with beautiful buildings, cobbled laneways, interesting shops and ice-cream to die for. It is also famous
for having a very impressive bridge which doesn’t quite make it to the other side of the Rhone river which it (almost) spans. I never learnt French but Bec assures me that anyone who did at school has a song (‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon‘) about that bridge drummed into their heads. She sang it for us all as we stood next to the bridge.
Apart from Bec’s singing, our children’s Avignon highlight was a butcher we found in one of the food halls. Butchers in France typically sell their meat somewhat “less processed” that their Australian counterparts. Heads are usually still attached to chickens, ducks, rabbits and even the odd boar. It kind of fills in the “missing link” between little lamb-ikins and those yummy chops that appear on our plate. I’m sure it has some people thinking about becoming a vegetarian. Not me. And apparently not our children, which is a relief.
Anyway, this butcher had a great sense of humour and upon hearing we were from “L’Australie” he proceeded to put on a short “puppet show” involving a skinless rabbit and a partially feathered chook. For the sake of this impromptu play he called the rabbit a “kangawoo” and the chook “le Coq”. In what was apparently a taste of what is to come in the current Rugby World Cup the Coq proceeded to do violent and unmentionable things to the Kangawoo. It was great theatre, being performed with enormous laughter from a man who reminded me of Obelix, minus his menhir.
That afternoon we returned to Uzes and joined our lovely friend Suzy Loret, at her invitation, for a very magical picnic down by the nearby river. We were joined by her daughter Poppy and a visiting friend Annie. Suzy and Annie had cooked the most amazing feast including quails, prawns, quail eggs, beautiful salads, dips and wine. Suzy had also come prepared for an egg and spoon race, an egg tossing competition, and one of those races to eat an apple on the end of a string. It was so much fun – we didn’t want that night to end, and it was such a special way to finish our time in Uzes.
The next morning we packed the car and set off for Italy. We decided to break the ten hour drive with a night in Genova. It was really just a hotel stopover and we didn’t see anything of the city. We are very much “back in the saddle” as far as driving goes. Jane helped us navigate the 130kph motorways and frequent tolling stations, while the built-in DVD player made for a very peaceful trip in so far as the second row of cars seats was concerned.
Yesterday we left Genova and decided to stop for lunch in Pisa which was on our route. It was a hot day but we enjoyed walking around the leaning tower and taking very touristy shots of us holding the tower up. The locals must just shake their heads at the hundreds of people who each day discover this “clever photo”. It was a two hour queue to climb the tower so we gave that a miss. I’ve done it before and Foster (the only child old enough to be allowed to climb) was unconvinced of the merits of climbing such a seriously compromised structure. I have to say, notwithstanding it has been in its current condition for 850 years (give or take some restorative work 20 years ago), I share some of his concerns. It is a serious lean!
Knowing our destination lacked a supermarket, or shop of any kind really, we did a big food shop in Pisa and then told Jane to take us to the small town of Belforte in Tuscany, some 90 minutes away. The countryside became progressively more “Tuscan” as we drove – rolling green and brown hills, tall narrow pines, patch-worked fields of harvested crops, and a regular series of medieval stone townships built precariously on the top of many of the nearby peaks.
We arrived at Torre Di Belforte, our home for the next two weeks, in the late afternoon. It is an amazing three-story stone house built on the edge of the Belforte township and has uninterrupted views out over the surrounding valleys and forests. As with our house in Uzes, it is another rare example of the house living up to (and in many ways surpassing) the photos we had seen on the web which got us so excited in the first place.
We are also very excited at the prospect of having some friends and family visit us while we are here. Our good friends the Brooms (another Carey school family) are visiting this week and next week my sister Jo and her family are staying for a few nights. We are all looking forward to catching up with great friends from home, especially as they both have similarly aged children.