Monday, March 16, 2015

Stop the virtual world, I want to get off....sometimes...


How can we NOT feel overwhelmed?

I made a New Year's Resolution this year, and feel I have kept it well enough to give a positive status report.

As odd as it may seem after picking up this blog again, I decided, in 2015, to softly yet significantly disconnect from the virtual world.

A lot is being written about mindful computer use and dealing with computer overload, so plenty of professional lifehackers have plenty to say about the topic. 

As for little old me, I was finding my numerous online "obligations" both stress and guilt-inducing. 

So, how could I continue to reap the benefits of the Web's offerings, without making social media site stops just another checkpoint on my daily to-do list?

I won't bore you with all the details of how I tweaked Facebook and Twitter, but basically this is how I achieved -- for now -- a more tranquilly connected life.

1. I turned off almost all of my smartphone notifications. And suddenly, having a smartphone feels fun again. (Granted, I have a job that allows me to do this.)

2. I unfollowed over 1,000 people/entities on Twitter. I don't actually use Twitter that much, but when I do, I want to at least recognize a few familiar faces on my feed.

3. I forced myself to stop drifting to Facebook as my default distraction zone. It is amazing how much I can accomplish there in 10 to 15 minutes a day -- in other words: enough.

4. I unsubscribed from a ton of email subscriptions and lists. And to tell the truth, I can't name one of them.

5. I gave up on keeping up. I don't set myself impossible goals in other aspects of my life; why should Internet be any different?

Through the above, I have started feeling more of what I used to feel about the Web: a sense of wonder and discovery.

What about you? Have you done anything to tame the Internet overload beast?

Feature Image sourced under Creative Commons Attribution license from Deviant Art.




Wednesday, March 11, 2015

20 minutes in Espalion


Espalion reflecting in the Lot river

Spring finally sprang this weekend, which made me want to get out and go anywhere and everywhere.

On Sunday, besides taking a nice hike on the nature paths around my house, I made a lightening-quick visit to nearby Espalion: population about 4,300.

Espalion is one of Aveyron's larger villages, or smaller towns, and every time I head north to it, I tell myself I should go more often.



Unique indeed....

Espalion has plenty of personality. It is home to a most unusual museum, Le Musée du Scaphandre, which somehow sounds much better in French than "The Diving Suit Museum."

I'm not sure if it's the only diving suit museum in the world, but I would bet that it's the only one housed in a church.

So why is this off-beat museum here? 

According to Wikipedia: Benoît Rouquayrol was born on June 13, 1826, at Espalion... In 1864, with the help of the French Navy lieutenant Auguste Denayrouze (also of Aveyron), Rouquayrol created the first diving suit. This diving suit won the gold medal at the 1867 World's Fair, and drew the attention of author Jules Verne. Verne included the diving suit in his fictional depiction of a contemporary submarine voyage, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Rouquayrol died on November 14, 1875 at Rodez, Aveyron, France.
So that is how we have ended up with a diving suit museum in Aveyron. 
I've been there before, but I think it is time for a new visit once the museum opens for the tourist season.


Aveyron or Provence? 

Much like Rodez, Espalion does not display an overwhelming degree of architectural unity. 


Definitely Aveyron -- not Provence

But I find this fascinating, and would like to know of the history behind the many different architectural styles of the area.


A cool book shop

There is a lovely little bookshop in Espalion and, given the problems independent booksellers are having here -- as everywhere -- I vowed to come back on a Saturday and buy a few paper books. 



A new word for me...

Boulangerie, sandwicherie, boucherie, crêperie...I thought I knew every word ending in -erie for a French food establishment. 

How could I have missed "Tarterie"? 

This looks like another good reason to go back to Espalion on a Saturday...


Sunday, March 01, 2015

A few glimpses of Rodez: new and old


Striking view from the inside of the new Musée Soulages

Last weekend I got to play the tour guide to a friend of ours from Montpellier who barely knows Rodez. 

I'm proud to say that despite the glacial winds, she was duly impressed. 

I wish I had taken more photos, but I didn't want to slow her down with that. 

Other than in the museum, I also didn't want to take my gloves off.

We did two full afternoons of full-mode Rodez exploration, starting on Saturday with the Musée Soulages and tea at Café Bras. Even though "Soulages," as it is fondly called here, will soon have been open for a year, I still can't quite believe, even when I just walk past it, that Rodez is home to such a splendid modern art museum.


The cathedral bell tower in all its splendor

We moved on from the museum to the cathedral. Going up the stairway of the évêché is one of those things I only do if accompanied by a visitor, so the above is a view of the cathedral I had rather forgotten about. 

My friend was surprised that we could just wander into the Bishop's palace courtyard as we pleased, and it struck me that the cathedral has absolutely no surveillance either, at least at this time of year. 

Also, it never ceases to amaze me how few tourists one finds in Notre Dame de Rodez, despite its undeniable grandeur. We ran into only four other people inside -- quite a contrast to the teeming museum galleries.

I hope the many tourists coming into town to visit the Soulages museum aren't missing out on the city's huge and somewhat eerie cathedral. 


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TJ Tuesday: Waiting for spring


Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

I've neglected this blog the past week and a half, but I have been busy with other, very human, things. And good ones at that.

On the weather side, we are still experiencing snow flurries. 

In fact, this morning, I drove to work under pretty heavy snow. But although we are still shivering when we go out, it is not quite cold enough for the snow to stick.

Soon the calendar will turn to March and I will definitely be in "waiting for spring" mode. 

I imagine many of you are feeling the same...


Saturday, February 14, 2015

St. Martin de Cormières -- another find on the back roads of Aveyron


What's wrong with this picture?

Last week's visit to the snow-covered Lévézou area was not without a magical discovery: the St. Martin de Cormières church, a historical monument that is part of the community of Le Vibal.

I don't know why a telescopic crane had to be sitting next to it right at this time, but I guess machines have to live somewhere too.


Not a cathedral, but still...the work, the work

Although considered a small church, it is still quite imposing. We often hear about "the cathedral builders," but as I contemplated this more modest structure, I gave a thought to the efforts needed to build it in the XVth century. 

How long did it take? Were lives lost? Did the laborers work even through the glacial winter?


Once again, locked doors

I truly wasn't expecting the doors to be open, but I wish they had been; photos of the church here promise a magical and manicured interior.

  
Could this be the key? Certainly not...

Feeling like an intruder in the sleepy, snowy hamlet, I stole a quick photo of the cross on the village square. Only now, as I post the photo, do I notice the key on it. 

What could that symbolize? 

So much to think about....


A church definitely worth seeing in the winter

I suppose tourists are very rare here in the dead of winter -- and I even have to wonder about the summer, as nothing but the sign on the main road indicated the presence of this classified historic monument. 

I have a feeling I'll be back.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Train Tripping out of Rodez


Gare de Rodez, 6:15

Brive-la-Gaillarde is about a two and a half hour drive from Rodez, and when I had to go there for work recently, my manager was surprised that I requested to travel by train. 

She assured me there would be a work car available for me. But between driving alone for five hours and -- for once --  being able to take a train with schedules that actually worked out with my professional obligations, the choice was easy.

First, I could read or work on the train, which I told her.

Second, I'm not that crazy about driving five hours alone, mainly in the dark, in the dead of winter, which I also mentioned.

Finally, I'm a secret train/train station geek...which got left out of the conversation.


In motion in Corrèze

A lot of my American friends imagine that in this very specific place they call "Europe," people are always taking trains and that you can get about anywhere on them. This is not necessarily true in France, and certainly not true in much of the South of France.

From Rodez, you can take the train to Toulouse via Albi; you can take it to Paris by way of Brive-la-Gaillarde; and there are a few stray trains to Millau that I have never heard of anyone taking.  And that is about it. 

The trains stop in various towns and villages along the way, but these aren't necessarily places tourists or inhabitants regularly go.

Of course from Toulouse, Brive, or Paris you can move on to other cities, but that often means pretty long trips -- so most of my friends and acquaintances are in the habit of driving or, if routes and finances permit, flying around France.


Just a weird shot of the sort of weird place you can only see from a train

I often read articles about cutbacks in train services from French town X to French city Y, and I know the cherished Rodez-Paris/Paris-Rodez night train, which allows us to optimize our weekends in la Capitale, is under recurring threats -- although it is usually packed when I'm on it.

But the SNCF seems to be making efforts to combine services to make more cities accessible. For example, when I first moved here, it was nearly impossible to get from Rodez to Lyon -- a 4-hour drive -- by train. 

Now, by taking a regional train to Millau, a bus to Montpellier, and then hopping on the TGV, it can be done in 6 hours -- something I actually might consider.

At any rate, I hope I continue to have chances to take the train in France: for the photo opportunities, and also to kindle my memories of Europass days.

  

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Choosing the road to winter


It all started with a cancelled plane.

Lest you think that all I do is wander around the back roads of Aveyron because that is, well, all there is to do here, listen up!

Today I had a highly cultural afternoon planned. The famous American artist Jim Dine, who has works displayed in the excellent temporary exhibit currently at the Musée Soulages, was going to be giving a conference in Rodez -- and I was going to go.

But his Paris-Rodez flight was cancelled, apparently for mechanical reasons, and I ended up in Rodez with nothing but a tad bit of shopping to do.

So, I had some exploration time. But where to go?


This is definitely not the road to Marcillac

I basically had two choices: driving towards spring, or savoring the end of winter.

The road to Marcillac tempted me, as Le Vallon is always a bit warmer. 

It was 37°F in Rodez; logically it would be over 40° in Marcillac. And after the 2 weeks we have had, even 41°F sounded positively balmy.


Some serious snow had clearly been going on here

But then again, despite our two weeks of cold and ice, Rodez and my home village had actually accumulated only a few puny inches of snow. So I hadn't really braved the elements

I decided to take the colder option and head up the Col d'Aujol, a small pass only about 20 minutes from Rodez, but also about 200 meters higher. 

Around here, when it has been snowing, 200 meters usually makes a lot of difference, and today was no exception. 


Bushes under a blanket

The road was clear and dry, but as soon as I got above 700 meters, everything around me was a quiet winter wonderland. 

I regret missing many photo opportunities because there was simply no place to park. Snowdrifts were blocking the roadsides, and the few smaller roads heading off the main one didn't promise the best driving conditions. 

(In fact, they didn't even promise that I would have enough traction in my snow tires to make it home, so I played it safe.)


Snow like cotton balls, a reminder that spring is around the corner

At the entrance to one hamlet, though, I found an ice-free parking area, and was able to commit this day to my photographic memory: the day that the famous American artist Jim Dine couldn't take his flight from Paris to Rodez. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Into the woods


After a harrowing drive up, I didn't walk too far down this trail

We live across the highway (N88) from a large forest called "Les Palanges." Even when the girls were younger, though, we seldom drove up there to take walks, although there are many lovely trails.

Last Sunday, the sun came out and melted away the slight snowfall we had had the day before. Roads in our village were dry and clear, and I thought it might be fun to toodle over into the Palanges -- just a few miles away -- and see what the snow situation was.


The snow cover was underwhelming

Without a thought to what the roads might be like, I drove down from our house in Gages-le-Haut, crossed the highway, and blithely headed up the "route d'Agen," a back road that goes up and over part of the Palanges forest and into another village -- Agen, obviously enough if you understand French road names.

Within minutes, all traces of sun were hidden by the trees, and I found myself driving on sheer compact snow and ice, with no choice but to move upward and onwards.

My husband had just told me my snow tires were still fine. I would soon find out.

I grit my teeth, kept up my speed as if nothing were wrong, and made it to the visitor-friendly parking area at the top of the road without a slip.

Phew.



I had started this adventure a bit late

I poked around a bit and decided I would need to come back here soon, perhaps with my husband because, icy roads notwithstanding, the Palanges have always been a bit scary to me. 


Peace and quiet -- and no ice -- on the drive back

Needless to say, I took the sunnier option for driving back, heading down towards Agen rather than testing my tires again.

One of these days, I'm sure my explorations will get me into trouble -- but fortunately, last Sunday was not that day. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Further explorations: L'Eglise de St. Martin de Limouze


L'Eglise de St. Martin de Limouze, a gem of a church about 5 miles from Rodez

My wanderings are accumulating, and I will certainly need to be including more photos if I ever want to "catch up."

To pick up somewhat of a story line, these are all photos from the unforgettable day of January 7, 2014, when I went out exploring in what seemed like the most peaceful of worlds, and came back to work to a chilling reminder that even France is not that peaceful.

When I visited the site, there was a man parked in the church parking lot, seemingly doing nothing. Perhaps he was glued to his radio. 


No public entrance at random hours

Blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world, my main concern was whether this church just might be open.

No such luck, as is the case with most small churches in Aveyron these days. 



This must be a tourist site, however...

The edifice seems to be on a tourist route and ready to greet visitors in several languages, but January must not be the right time.



I'm ashamed to say I don't know what this is...
(PS: I do now -- see comments!)

So I contented myself with a walk around the grounds, and taking a look at the church from all sides and all angles.



The light was lovely that day...

The church is referenced on the official regional historical register website, and some photos of the interior are shown there.

This is a place I will go back to.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TJ Tuesday -- Finding color amid the drab


Photo courtesy of Thierry Jouanneteau

I'm not all that sorry to say I fell off the NaBloPoMo bandwagon. Because what I can say is that posting to this blog for 13 days straight was a major accomplishment after 4 years of very sketchy blogging here

So I am back to the rhythm that has worked for me since picking up again in November: a short TJ Tuesday or Travel Tuesday, plus one (hopefully) longer post at some point during the week, most likely over the weekend when I have time to sit down and think about it.

So this Tuesday features another photo by my husband. I'm not sure where he took it, but it would appear to be somewhere not that far from Rodez. 

As you can see, some hillsides around here can be on the drab side. 

But I love the way the corn brightens up this photo.