Sweating through the Mediterranean

So, a little late, but almost exactly a week ago we returned from two weeks in France and Italy, sweating our way through the heat wave which has nothing to do with global warming.

A quick recap: Two nights in Paris. Aimee left me here to go wandering through the best wineries in the world. I wandered the streets to find my favorite fois gras restaurant Chez Grisette, where it was hot enough that my disgustingly, deliciously fat canard melted right there on the plate in front of me. Having over fatified, and overdrunk, I swore to myself grumpily I would walk all the way home through the hot streets; an hour and a half, and literally bleeding besandaled feet later, arrived. Note to self: moderation in some contexts is good.

Next to Lez Eyzies de Tayac, a little town in the Dordogne region that subsists on selling fois gras and tourists wanting to see paleolithic cave drawings. Limestone cliffs rise out of river valleys here, and ever since the sloped-forehead days folks have been clambering down and expanding erosion ridges into full-fledged caves, building wooden walls and doors, and generally creating hobbit holes with a view. Weird and otherworldly place, but better outside Lez Eyzies, which is a little like those midwest roadside towns that exist solely for tourists.

Best moment: Biking along the Dordogne, after stumbling on a bustling market in St. Cyprian, where I bought a knife, a melon and a sausage. Eating lunch by the side of the road, and then seeing crazy castle on the horizon, looming over the valley like … well, a castle that looms over a valley. Turned out to be Beynac, where Richard da Lion-Hearted hung out while fighting the French, and where they recently filmed Joan of Arc. Beautiful, stark, and frightening if you use that as a touchstone for their contemporary values.

Next a few days in Loches, a medieval village in the Loire Valley. Notable mostly for huddling in my tent during a massive thunderstorm, and sitting by the shade of a ruined roman bridge spanning a meandering little stream, reading my Russell and cursing the sun which made too hot to ride, eat, or think.

Train to Italy. I meet Aimee in Montecastelli, a 13th century monastary turned olive plantation, guesthouse, and hub of a wine distribution company. A brief foray into wine tasting for me; I am not yet professional enough to spit, so I become quickly happy, woozy, one of these. Maybe both. Lovely food, lots of wine people.

Train to Naples. A town best illustrated by our first dinner on Piazza Dante, where kids ride scooters around at top speed, or run around if they’re too young (too young means under 4). A lovely little ringleted girl, dark haired and mischievious, sees a couple leave the table near us. She corralls her three-year-old sidekick. They run to the table and steal everything off it, from salt shakers to napkins. She walks happily around the plaza holding a napkin in front of her as a dress. The boy shows the salt shaker proudly to an older boy, who promptly takes it and begins saling him with it. Life is rough there, intense and overpoweringly crowded; the rolling hills of Tuscany are replaced by narrow streets and laundry hanging everywhere, a complete disregard for traffic laws, and everybody looking for an angle to survive at all times. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, particularly in 100 degree heat.

Finally a few days in Rome, where we wandered through parks, ate marvelous pasta, and fed my horrific Ancient Rome jones. I want to hang with Cicero and Marcus Aurelius. They are worth studying; if only because seeing a republic descend into military tyranny is a lesson that’s worth having close at hand today.

Now back in Berlin. We find it strange to come “home” to a place where we don’t speak the language well. But it’s blessedly cool here, and we are happy to be back after all.


  1. And here I thought we were living a slightly glamorous life, meeting at an o.k. wine bar every Monday night after B’s fiction class to discuss writing and books and drink red stuff and eat melty cheese. I don’t envy you the sweat, but I do the melty duck fat and Roman ruins and salt bandits. Sigh.

  2. I bet it’s pate that is causing global warming.

    totally enjoyed reading this. you make the heat monumental, and the dead Romans turn in the air at your thought.

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