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Hello again! Here’s a little glimpse of what I got up to during the first bit of my European vacation, in southwest France.

Headquarters, near Aubeterre-sur-Dronne:

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Me, outstanding in the field (of sunflowers next door):

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Essential equipment (granted the water only came up to my chest, but combined with a very tall Campari and soda, it was the refreshingest thing around). And it was HOT — 37C or so, humid as heck, and no appreciable decrease in night-time temperatures. A couple of nights I considered sleeping in the pool, but was concerned about meeting up with the resident viper. (As my Dad pointed out, when it’s warm enough for them to move, they’ll get out of the way, but when it’s dark and cool, not so much.)

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Aubeterre, tiny, but chock-full of interesting sights:

Looking across to the Chateau (privé, alas, so not visitable)

Looking across to the Château (privé, alas, so not visitable)

The charming Dutchman who ran the rent-a-vintage-Citroen operation.

The charming Dutchman who ran the rent-a-vintage-Citroën operation

 

Detail of a capitol, Church of St. Jacques (Romanesque)

Detail of a capital, Church of Saint-Jacques (12th c.)

Street scene near St. Jacques

Street view near Saint-Jacques

The underground church of St. Jean (12 c.).

The underground church of Saint-Jean (12 c.).

Some of our day trips in the area:

Barbezieux, 19th C. commercial propaganda still visible -- the ground floor still houses a clothing store.

Barbezieux, 19th c. commercial propaganda still visible — the ground floor still houses a clothing store.

 

Shelling beans on the stoop, Barbezieux

Shelling beans on the stoop, Barbezieux

Blanzac-Porcheresse

Blanzac-Porcheresse

 

Fresco (detail) in Saint-Arthémy  (12th c.), Blanzac-Porcheresse.

Fresco (detail) in Saint-Arthémy (12th c.), Blanzac-Porcheresse.

Sainte Jeanne d'Arc, Saint-Arthémy church, Blanzac-Porcheresse

Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, Saint-Arthémy church, Blanzac-Porcheresse

 

Cressac, Templar Chapel (12th c.)

Cressac, Templar Chapel (12th c.)

Cressac, fresco (detail) in the Templar Chapel (12th c.)

Cressac, fresco (detail) in the Templar Chapel (12th c.)

Condéon, windmill (restored, 19th c.)

Condéon, windmill (restored, 19th c.)

Chillac, Saint-Sulpice fortified church

Chillac, Saint-Sulpice fortified church (12th c.)

Château de Chillac (private, and guarded by a large but not that fierce-looking toutou)

Château de Chillac (private, and guarded by a large but not that fierce-looking toutou), 15th c.

 

Berneuil, Notre-Dame

Berneuil, Notre-Dame (12th c.)

The sweetest toutou ever! En Berneuil

The sweetest toutou ever! En Berneuil

Passirac, Saint-Pierre church (11th c.)

Passirac, Saint-Pierre church (11th c.)

Gravestone, Saint-Pierre church, Passirac

Gravestone, Saint-Pierre church, Passirac

Cognac, Château François 1er

Cognac, Château François 1er

Cognac, on the banks of the Charente. The Porte Saint-Jacques is on the right.

Cognac, on the banks of the Charente. The Porte Saint-Jacques is on the right.

Cognac, 18th c. graffiti, left by Irish prisoners taken during the Seven Years' (French and Indian) War. They were held in the Chateau where Francis I was born, in a hall designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Cognac, 18th c. graffiti, left by Irish prisoners taken during the Seven Years’ (French and Indian) War. They were held in the Château where François Ier was born, in a gallery designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Voeuil-et-Giget, Romanesque church w/ 19th c. excrescence

Voeuil-et-Giget, Romanesque church w/ 19th c. excrescence (see Périgueux, below, for more details on the origin of this carbuncle)

Minou en Voeuil-et-Giget

Minou en Voeuil-et-Giget

 

Dad's candidate for the ugliest church in France (Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens), Allemans

Dad’s candidate for the ugliest church in France (the Romanesque, Gothic, 19th c. excrescence-laden Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens), Allemans

Périgueux, Cathedral of St Front. The 19th c. towers are the work of Paul Abadie, who was the architect of Sacre Coeur de Montmartre, Paris. These onion-dome doodads were stuck onto perfectly good Romanesque churches throughout the Périgord and Charente.

Périgueux, Cathedral of St Front. The 19th c. towers are the work of Paul Abadie, who was the architect of Sacre Coeur de Montmartre, Paris. These onion-dome doodads were stuck onto perfectly good Romanesque churches throughout the Périgord, Dordogne, and Charente. It was a genuine fad.

 

Périgueux, Vesunna Tower (Roman, 1-2 c.)

Périgueux, Vesunna Tower (Roman, 1-2 c.)

Périgueux, Place de Navarre

Périgueux, street view near Place de Navarre

 

Minettes en Périgueux

Minettes en Périgueux

 

Brantôme, Benedictine abbey

Brantôme, Benedictine abbey, founded by Charlemagne in the 8th c. Current building dates from the 15th c. It sits next to a canal that the monks dug to keep themselves apart from the townspeople! (Interesting to note that the original monastery was sacked by Vikings who had managed to sail up the Dronne from the Atlantic. They were everywhere!)

Water jousting, Brantôme

Water jousting, Brantôme

Escargot in the garden after a rainstorm -- too beautiful to eat. (Plus you can't make a meal out of just one.)

Escargot in the garden after a rainstorm — too beautiful to eat. (Plus you can’t make a meal out of just one.)

Another escargot who was much too pretty to eat.

Another escargot who was much too pretty to eat.

 

Next up: Bordeaux (hic)

 

 

 

The photo club I joined earlier this spring made a day trip on Saturday to Campo de Criptana, in the heart of La Mancha. Yes, this is where Don Quixote tilted at windmills. On the drive from Madrid, we saw lots of the modern ones, too, though the car was going too fast to get a good shot of them. The mills in the village are much, much more cooperative.

Missing: El Ingenioso Hidalgo

The weather, however, was not all that cooperative. It was cool, very windy (the better to show the why of the windmills, I guess), and it rained on and off. Not much fun schlepping an umbrella around along with the camera. But at the end of the day, just as we were leaving, the sun was low enough to shine past the clouds, and a few brighter shots were to be had.

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You have to do some climbing to get up to the top of the hill where the windmills live. This was the easier option (for those on foot, as we were).

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This was the harder option — the view is also less inspiring. But it was nice to look down on!

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The blue you see at the base of the houses is supposed to keep the evil spirits away! (Also keeps the dust off the whitewash…)

We had a chance to visit a “casa cueva” that had been turned into a bar. A bit dank, and a lot noisy…but knowing how hot it gets in La Mancha in the summer, you could imagine what a relief it would be to have a cool, dark place to slink off to.

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And a good drink was had by all!

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The weekend in Oviedo was wonderful — with lots of new sights and people, and marginally cooler weather. We drove up from Madrid on Friday afternoon, and had managed to get all of 40 minutes away when the engine temp light came on. It was 102F outside, we were climbing a long grade, and the air conditioning was on, so it’s not surprising that the poor Yaris protested. To be on the safe side, we switched the a/c off. And left it off for four more hours. It was too late and we were too tired to do anything when we got in to town but collapse. (Though I ate a plateful of octopus first. Yum!)

Rialto, home of the Moscovita

On Saturday, Mr. Pants suggested breakfast at Rialto, home of many delicious and slightly frightening sweet treats (e.g., carbayones, which are puff-pastry shells filled with ground almond and sweet wine paste and covered with a cinnamon glaze). I had a croissant — carbayones are NOT breakfast food! It was one of the best I’ve eaten lately, made with real butter. On the way out, I picked up some of their famous candies, called “Moscovitas,” for certain people to be visited later this month.

Rialto’s tea-room is just the way it’s always been.

After breakfast, Mr. Pants went for a run, and I took my camera for a walk around town. First stop, Plaza de la Escandalera, to see the pipers and dancers who plague grace Oviedo on the weekends.

The junior piper is about 10 — probably had a chanter in his hands right after birth!

Oviedo is part of the Celtic region of Spain, and its musical tradition has a lot in common with Brittany, Ireland, and Scotland. That includes pipes, and lots of them. They were everywhere!

These guys were all over the center of town — I ran into them three times!

After my bagpipe fix, I headed for the Cathedral. There was a group of dancers in the plaza, who, when I got there, were patiently posing for photos with a large group of tourists. Finally, they got down to business!

This way…

And that…

Those costume are nearly all wool — and it was 90F! Talk about dedication to preserving the folkways… I was so enthralled by the dancing that I forgot to take any pictures of the Cathedral. Fortunately, I found my way back later.

The spire is unbelievably lacy… and so beautiful against the blue sky.

I also wandered through the Fontán area, where the market is. In addition to the wrought-iron structure built at the end of the 19th century, on Saturdays there are vendors outside. You can get pretty much anything.

From fresh veggies…

…to unmentionables!

By this point, Mr. Pants had run and showered, and it was time for an aperitivo in the shade. I’d already found a likely spot, where he met me for a beer. Oviedo is on the Camino de Santiago, and we saw plenty of pilgrims. There was a couple doing the Camino at the table next to us. They looked happy to be sitting down!

Give me my scallop shell of quiet, my staff of faith to walk upon, my scrip of faith, immortal diet, my bottle of salvation, my gown of glory, hope’s true gauge, and thus I’ll take my pilgrimage. (Walter Raleigh)

From our first stop, we went on to a different place for fried sardines (bocartes) topped with fried Serrano ham. I fell on them like a ravening beast, hence no photo.

Hurrah for the blue linen dress!

Mr. Pants took over the camera and posed me in the little street where he was born. That’s the blue linen Hot Patterns shift dress I made and pretty much live in. I whipped a second one up right before we left, and managed to get it into the suitcase. (Stay tuned for the reveal.)

After lunch and a long nap, we drove to the beach to visit my friend Mar, who has a summer house in a village called La Isla. We poked around and hiked along the headland before having a much-appreciated G and T on Mar’s terrace. As so often happens on the Rhode Island side of the Atlantic, the fog had rolled in and cooled things down.

Thirsty!

Then it was back to Oviedo for dinner and into bed, since there was plenty planned for Sunday…

I’ve got lots of things crossed off my to do/to find in storage list, and am culling through summer clothes and table linens. There is a big pile of things to give to Big Sisters, there are a few (but far fewer than in the past) sentimental items that have gone back into storage, and there’s the “I think I’m taking it” pile, which needs a second going-over.

But the biggest challenge has been finding cotton trousers in khaki, grey, black, and white. Yesterday, I went to the local Posh Mall — it has a Nordstrom — where I started by looking at Talbots, but something (probably my tax bill) kept me from purchasing basic polished cotton trousers for $89. Plus I’m still broken up with them over the demise of size 18 in their stores.

Then I saw that Ann Taylor was having a 40% off sale so I went and had a look, again swallowing my principles, as they don’t stock 16 OR 18 in their stores. I ordered white and khaki crops in 16 and 18, planning to return the ones that don’t fit. They came today, but even before I got the shipping notice last night I’d decided to send them back and get something less expensive. Think Chez Target or Vieux Navy.

The thing is, the polished cotton trousers being peddled by all of these retailers are essentially the SAME. Same weight fabric, same styles, same figure-type variations, lengths, and leg width. And a $60 price spread.

It went pretty well. I got khaki and grey at ON and black at Target, with the bonus* of a very cute and well constructed jacket. All four of these items cost around $100, with discounts and such. The britches that were eluding me were the white ones. After looking and looking, I decided that I’d keep the pair from two summers ago that are still in good shape. I’m too tired to keep hunting.

The question still on my mind is how much I’m going to alter them. They’re too long — but do I want to morph them into ankle pants? Slim the legs down a little? I’m going to wait to decide until I get to Madrid, since I’m feeling rather surfeited with so much retail activity, and feel dangerously close to making nutso decisions about what I can’t live without in Madrid. (Exhibit A: Toast tongs)

Many of the sewing projects are as yet unsewn. The ones that are uncut are going to Madrid that way. The skirt and top I’ve cut out will be finished, as will the pillows and plastic bag caddy. And I’m going to be packing a box with some patterns and sewing things that I don’t want to fit in my suitcase. (Those things are HEAVY!) I’ll do a test-pack tomorrow and see how it looks. Please be warned that there is not going to be anything “capsule” about this wardrobe.

*Notice I didn’t say “added bonus.” I love “added bonus” about as much as I love “general consensus.” I worshiped at the altar of Strunk and White for the whole of my journalism program. How do y’all feel about “added bonus”?

"We are not kidding! Don't even think about falling down here."

Another London image…

As I mentioned in a comment over at Pseu’s place, one of the reasons I’ve got a 28″ suitcase is so that I don’t have to be so strict with myself about which shoes and bags I pack. One of the clunkier pairs of shoes will get worn, of course. (And because I’ve got a 22″ carry-on, a few pair of flats and an easy-to-pack bag may make it in with the electronics…just to balance the weight out a little bit.) Here’s what’s on the shoe list as of today (some of these are ancient, so links are to reasonable facsimilies):

Thank goodness scarves don’t weigh much. Jewelry? I don’t know yet…and it all goes in the carry-on, anyway.

Tune in tomorrow for the “bag list.”

Really! Details on the Canada Adventure early next week. (The internet connections in our hotels were not up to posting while in situ, alas.)

Fetching, ain't it?

Since today is cold, foggy, and windy, it seems like a good afternoon to revisit sunny Avila. I thought I’d take y’all along for a stroll.

Your guide Rubi on the Plaza de Santa Teresa - the famous wall is in the far background

Avila’s most striking architectural feature is its intact defensive wall, which was built between the 11th and 14th century. It is made of a beautiful golden stone, which is especially lovely when set off by the blue, blue Castillian sky. Much of the stone was taken from older structures, including a Roman necropolis and aqueduct — even millstones were pressed into service. Proto-recycling for teh win!

Sitting in the sun with your back to the stone is a good way to warm frozen bones.

Avila was home to two great mystic thinkers, or as I like to imagine them “wackos for the Lord,” Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross. As is still the case with many Spanish women, St. Teresa was not one to take prisoners. She is quoted as having said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” St. John of the Cross, by far the gentler of the two sainted companions, was as much an introvert as Teresa was an extrovert. His spiritual life was unusually rich even for his time, and he is considered by many to be one of  the finest poets ever to write in Spanish, though he composed relatively little — no more than 2500 poems in his lifetime.

Mabel and Little G with the Convent of Santa Teresa in the background

Since the climate in Avila is harsh, with bitter winters and hot, hot summers, spring and fall are the times to visit. We had great weather, and even had coffee in a plaza, which also let Little G burn off some steam. She loved sitting at the “big girls’ table” us, but running around was higher on her agenda.

Please do not caffeinate the baby!

We also visited Cathedral Square (though it was too cold inside the church for a long visit), where we amused ourselves taking pictures of lions* fore and aft, and lions doing strange things.

Lion smile

Lion booty

Why are you licking the column, you silly kitties?

"I'm not a lion, but I play one on the portico of the Cathedral."

*OK, I know that last guy’s a Wild Man, not a lion. But doesn’t it look like he’s wearing a very snazzy pair of Kitty Pants?

As is mandatory when visiting any place at all in Spain, we had a great lunch. Steak, in fact, as Avila is beef country. If you’re ever in town, drop by this casa de comidas. It’s across from the main portico of the Cathedral, and well worth climbing a flight of stairs with a rambunctious toddler in her stroller.

Oh, and first course? Octopus with "patatas revolconas." Drool.

Below are two more vignettes of Avila in the spring. The stone beast grazing under the flowering plum is a replica of one of the Celtiberian “Toros de Guisando.” Did you know that parts of Spain — mostly in the North — have Celtic roots? It’s true! They even have the bagpipes (gaitas) to prove it.

Bull or pig?

Bicycles may be for summer, but scooters are for spring.

It was a good day. We had a great drive home through the mountains, passing fields of cattle (including frolicking calves), and singing along to the mega-kids-mix CD I’d made for Little G. Who was conked out in the back seat, natch.

The local beauty spot

When I lived in Spain during the 80′s, I was often asked by friends and family in the States what I was doing. The answer — that I was working, and going to the movies, and spending time with my friends — never seemed to satisfy them. Not that I never went to any museums or monuments, but I wasn’t on a visit. I was home.

I love being “at home,” rather than “on tour,” in Spain — since I’m still feeling a bit puny, it’s especially nice to not be subject to a strong need to go, do, see. Today, I’m hanging out with my dear friend Mabel (that’s mah-BEL, not MAY-bel), doing laundry. Later, we’ll have lunch and watch our soap. Then a nap (for me), and some errands in the nearby monumental village, though we won’t be visiting the monument (see above). It’s the pharmacy we’re headed to. And probably a coffee and a pastry.

Yesterday and the day before I pushed myself to get in to town to see friends, and boy did I notice by the time I got home last night — I fell into bed and didn’t stir until about 10:00 this morning.

But it’s not all domesticity and pottering por aqui. We’re planning a girls-day-out tomorrow, when the weather is supposed to warm up (to 70F/22C!) and the sun will come out. I’ll take lots of pics, so y’all be sure to drop by!

Everything except the weather. It’s rainy, and on the cool side — def a boots-plus-jeans- kind of day. Assuming that I get around to getting out of my jammies at some point.

Last night, Mr. Pants and I went off to my favorite local bar for tortilla de patata (made to order!) and a big glass of Verdejo for me (beer for him). The best part was the welcome from Montse, who was grinning so hard I thought she’d hurt herself. And the hug — it always surprises me how hard these teensy Spanish women can hug you. It’s nice to have a place to come home to like that!

I’m taking it easy this morning, drinking coffee and reading. Mr. Pants — after a gentle reminder from me — made my coffee, but since there were no oranges, there was no juice. Of course, it has been eight months since we’ve seen each other and the routines need to re-establishing. (I’ve made a start on my end, too. He got his first daily hand massage yesterday.)

Hm. Just had a phone call and a lunch invitation. May have to get dressed after all.

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