Venus & Ulysses 2004

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06/24/2004: "Vive la France!!!"

We're in Orleans now. I'm so happy to be in France -- it's just so civilized. We've been having meals which are much cheaper than Ireland and England and much better. We bought cheese and cherries at a farmer's market. The only lame thing about it is that they charge to use the toilets at Mont St. Michel.

Anyway, when I last posted, we'd just arrived in southern England, and had missed being at Stonehenge on the solstice. Specifically, we'd missed being at the gigantic free-for-all all-night rave with probably way too many people and way too loud music and general crowdedness. Theoretically it would have been nice to watch the sun rise over the heel stone between the middle arch, but I don't know how a few thousand people would have all been able to do that at the same time. It would have been one of the only times to get inside the stone circle, but there would have been so many other people there that photos would have been worthless anyway.

We went there the next afternoon, just after work crews finished cleaning up the mess made the night before, hauling away various fences and barricades and portapotties. We watched at least six vans full of policemen leave. We saw it as normal tourists do, getting about 20 feet away from the outside of the circle. It's actually quite tiny, especially compared to the massive Pyramids -- the scene in Spinal Tap wasn't that much of an exaggeration.

The thing you do at such places is take photos of tourists listening to the commentary on their rented audio tour devices. The expressions are similar to television watching.

Then we checked out the Salisbury cathedral. The best part about English cathedrals is that they always have soldiers buried there whose activities in various far flung parts of the empire are delicately alluded to; and this grounds you in a real sense of why those expensive and artistic cathedrals are there, rather than the labor having been uselessly expended on a livable lifestyle for the various conquered inferior peoples.

The next day we saw the Cerne Abbas giant, a large drawing of a naked figure carved into a chalk hillside in Dorset. It's early neo-paganism, the thing probably isn't more than a few hundred years old but it attempts a neolithic style. You can google its image I expect or wait till we get back and show you the tea towel we bought. All tea towels should feature 50 meter naked men with clubs. Then we went for a walk along the Dorset coast -- we saw some fossils in the cliffside, and then we got totally soaked as the drizzle turned into an actual rain.

The rain continued.

The following morning we arrived at the ferry terminal ready for our 7:30 hydrofoil which crosses the English Channel in 2.5 hours. It had been cancelled because of 40 mph winds (force 8 winds in the English system) so we had to take the 12:30 conventional ferry instead (which crosses in 4 hours). Except that instead of arriving at 5:45 local time, it arrived at 7:15, 15 minutes after it was possible to pick up our rental car. We had to cancel our reservation in St. Malo, and find a hotel in Cherbourg -- the first twelve I called were completely full but the 13th actually still had two rooms available. I guess 13 was the lucky number.

Today we drove to Mont St. Michel. Somebody who does real estate needs to stage that place, put in a couple of sofas and some family pictures and of course a TV cabinet with one of those cardboard TVs because the place is completely empty, and it's not even in ruins! Ruination is like furniture, it's something to look at, this place looks like the Benedictines just got evicted and rented a $19.95 a day truck and left. (Note to future tourists: When you pass the post office, go up the unmarked stairs to your right, you will avoid the tourist junk gauntlet. I mean it's a gauntlet according to the guidebooks, it certainly doesn't seem like a gauntlet to somebody who's been touring in the middle east lately, or Mexico, or Broadway in SF even.)

Then we drove to Orleans, where we ate in a 1-Michelin-star restaurant having its 43 euro prix fixe menu which included half a bottle (each) of wine. A pretty stellar meal for 91 euro total. (There's a French law that all hotel and restaurant prices have to include service, so you don't have to tip.) Raspberries four ways for dessert. Lamb so tender you could sip it through a straw, I'm not even kidding, they brought a steak knife with it but what for ??? Dr. Atkins would appreciate the sandwich shaped items which were marinated celeriac between slabs of duck liver. Who needs bread? except the bread here is worth the trip.

You're probably all upset about your gas prices in excess of $2 per gallon. The prices in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East were pretty similar. In Ireland and France, they're just under $5, and in England, they were well over $6, so don't complain.

Tomorrow we drive on to Lyon, the cuisine capital of France, the cuisine capital of the world. Now we'll go look for our Formule 1, the budget hotel chain of France, and see if it's better than Motel 6. Maybe it will have in room powdered wine or something.

Ray and