It’s full-on summer now – no escaping it. Outdoor concerts abound, including the famous Aix Festival. Before setting off for England, we treated ourselves to a quintessential French dinner in the courtyard of “La Salle à Manger” in Salon de Provence.
After dinner we enjoyed an evening of world music by the group Lo’Jo in the courtyard of the 9th century Château de l’Empéri in Salon. The ubiquitous swallows of summer evenings were there to enjoy the music also. At the very first note one flew just above the performers’ heads to enter its nest in a small hole in the ancient column just by the stage, its privileged place to enjoy the concert.
I first heard Lo’Jo perform at Unity Church in San Luis Obispo ten years ago or more, introduced by some folks who had spent a year in France, like we are, and were captivated by their eclectic style of french- african- arab- and spanish-language, rhythms, culture and poetry. They didn’t disappoint – even though we’re all older now.
The next day we found ourselves on the Aix-TGV, in what’s known as a “quiet car”, making our way north to Lille. What a pleasure to watch the countryside and towns of France roll by. Everyone spoke in whispers; even the baby a few rows back cooed quietly. A very large boxer-bulldog rested his head on his owner’s knee: “sage chien.” Here and there the muffled murmurs in italian, french, spanish and british accents all mixed together.
Passing through the French farmland, made familiar by previous trips on the TGV, allowed me to mark our place in time in our year in France. In our early days in France, the grape vines were turning their sweetness to autumn flame. Now they are just setting their green fruit. Brilliant yellow fields of mustard that marked our spring trips to Paris have been transformed by mid-summer sun to tournesols/ sunflowers. Dazzling lavender is just ripe for cutting; and the first harvest of grain lies perfectly reposed in tidy rounds across the fields.
Changing trains to the Eurostar in Lille, we passed under the English Channel to London. (I find it a little unnerving to travel all that way under water.) There we hopped a cab to the next station to take another fast train across the mid-section of England to Liverpool, where we picked up a car and drove about 40 miles up the west coast to the little town of Southport, the scene of the British Senior Open Golf Championship for which Ken hoped to qualify. All of this took us about 10 hours of travel, door-to-door.
Southport is an old town that has seen better days. Its economy subsists on “the care industry.” One of the largest old buildings was a former hospital and convalescent center, now turned into condos, while the “patients” are in smaller “homes” throughout town.
The Southport pier hosts attractions for young and old, and is a gathering place for motorcyclists.
We settled into our home-away-from home, Edendale House, and were well looked after by our host, John.
And despite the warnings about proper dress code, and men-only clubhouses that we had seen in the information about the golf clubs where Ken was to play, we were both greeted cordially and with interest by everyone we encountered, both at the courses and in the towns.
To get a good feel for the links course at Southport & Ainsdale, Ken reserved a local caddy for his practice and qualifying rounds. Tim, the caddy, and Ken spent many hours together on the S&A course. Tim’s main tips for success were: “Just hit the ball where I tell you to” and “Just don’t go into the bunkers.” Tim was pleased to see that Ken could follow his advice most of the time.
While they were on the course practicing, I explored the town of Ainsdale and the local cemetery.
On qualifying day, the “Starter” was still trying to figure out how to say Ken’s last name as he teed up his ball for his first shot.
Later, in the shade overlooking the 18th green, I was able to give him some help on pronunciation, and hear his stories of playing this course for 35 years, as we watched Ken and his group finish up their round.
Having walked the course with Ken and Tim the first day of practice, I can tell you it was very difficult, and the heat wave didn’t help course conditions. Links courses don’t leave much room for error, testing golfers’ precision, accuracy and patience. About 126 golfers entered the Qualifying round. After a play-off among several golfers that lasted almost until dark, the 13 lowest-score golfers finally made it into the tournament that would begin four days later. Ken was happy that he had played well, that his score was about in the middle of the pack of mostly professional golfers, and that he had enjoyed the experience immensely.
In this part of the English coast the tides run out some five miles, leaving behind dangerous quicksand, and unfortunately, polluted sand and waters. Near Liverpool, at Crosby beach, there is an extraordinary installation of sculptures by Antony Gormly called “Another Place.” Ken and I were captivated. It was almost sunset and the tide was coming in quickly when we were there. We were able to see the water begin to cover the “men” standing, gazing into the distance.
With time on our hands and an aversion to continuing to face the nightmare of English driving – on the left, with manual shift with the left hand – I put out the suggestion: Let’s go to Paris! And so we did.For three days we had a total change of pace, ‘though the weather continued to be extremely hot. We strolled through the Jardin des Plantes, lunched in the shade at Luxembourg Gardens, and attended a “spectacle” created, directed and performed by William Kentridge called “Refuse the Hour.” It was in a small theater attached to the Comédie Française at the Palais Royale. It was magical, philosophical, a chamber opera with south African origins. I loved it.
We were almost the first in the door at the Centre Pompidou one morning where we were captivated by the vistas of Paris across sculpture ponds. I was happy to see two more works of Chagall there.
But the highlight of our time in Paris, aside from the charming garden of the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles where we stayed, was the Musée de Quai Branly. It seems impossible to describe the experience of this museum. The outside is a “living wall.”
For a brief rest stop we had ice cream on the terrasse with the Eiffel tower looking directly down on us. Inside the museum we were led by design of the pathways within the museum on a journey through time and worlds of culture and art of the peoples of Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The half-light and earth tones of walls and floors led us deep into centuries of statues, totems, textiles, paintings, and 10,000 musical instruments preserved for their unique contributions. We were lost in time and other worlds.
The “modern” art that we witnessed in the morning at the Pompidou, seemed redundant and unimaginative when experienced next to the “living art” of the Quai Branly. It seemed to both of us that the “masters” represented in the Pompidou were yearning and striving for what was already present, to be witnessed at the Branly www.quaibranly.fr.
The heat wave that we found in England and Paris was gripping Aix with full force when we returned. But within a few days the region was struck by violent thunderstorms that cleared and freshened the air. Welcome news from our friend Jan that she was able to book her flight and receive her passport to arrive in Paris August 5. Hurray! A great excuse to run up to Paris again to meet her, then jump over by train to the heart of the French Alps to meet Ken for a few days tromping in the mountains. What a life!
We’re never too busy or too far away to receive and enjoy your emails. As usual, a reminder that you can see these photos best on the main webpage (www.karenmerriam.com) and by clicking twice to enlarge them.
Bisous to all.
Karen and Ken