Much has been written about seeing 2020 fully in the rearview mirror, and I don’t have much new to add, which has left me pondering just what to do with this January blog post.
As the year was lurching to a close, I spent close to six weeks not being able to walk much, and since walking is my primary exercise, I was eager to get my feet back onto the trail. That happened a few weeks ago, and I’ve been racking up the kilometers as much as time and weather permit. On one such walk, it occurred to me that I could tell a story of 2020 through some of my walks of the past year.
So I invite you to join me on a trip back in time to January of 2020, and we’ll walk together through the days and the seasons. Here, you won’t find viruses or politics or wildfires or protests. I offer some quiet walks, and a few things I saw along the way.
Our town social club has a weekly hike, and one day in February we walked along a stretch of the Canal du Midi, designed and built by Pierre-Paul Riquet from 1666 to 1681. The canal was an incredible feat of engineering as well as a display of civic perseverance. We walked along a stretch that includes the section above, which looks rather unremarkable until you stand there and someone explains what it took to make this bit happen.
The entire canal—240 kilometers—took about 15 years to build. There are several places where the canal is elevated and runs along an aqueduct that is built over a stream or river. The Répudre Aqueduct, shown here, was the first one built on the Canal du Midi; it is 90 meters long, took two years to build, failed, and had to be rebuilt.
The aqueduct forms a narrow hook, and it’s built above the Répudre River. From where I stood to make the photograph above, the river runs left-to-right about 50 meters in front of me, and again, the river is running below this canal.
One day in June, we packed a picnic lunch and passed a lovely day touring a few of the medieval churches in Occitanie. Pictured here is my favorite, the sublime Église Sainte Marie, built at the beginning of the 12th century. The architect was likely a man whose name is lost to history, but his work is so remarkable that he is known as the Master of Cabestany (Cabestany is a village near Perpignan, south of here).
The Master is known primarily for his sculptures, which have a distinct style and show terrific craftsmanship. The first time I saw his work, I had never heard of him; I was visiting the lovely abbey of Sant’Antimo in southern Tuscany, and while there, I photographed a few column capitals. It wasn’t until coming to this corner of France many years later that I was able to match my photographs to the sculptor. His work may be found in a swath that runs from Tuscany, through the south of France, and into northern Spain, but the majority is seen in the area around Perpignan and his native Cabestany.
The church of Sainte Marie is the only heptagonal church in France, and probably in the world. It is a stunning little treasure, with a central dome of perfect accoustics, and several sculptures by the Master. The church has been altered many times over the years; one such change repurposed the entry porch into a space for the pipe organ. Thus, the smaller side entrance pictured above became the main entrance to the church; a tall person has to duck his head to get inside.
In July, I decided to take a little trip to Paris to see how it looked without masses of tourists. (You can read my whole blog post about that trip here.) The weather was absolutely perfect, the streets were quiet, and I walked a lot.
In October, I drove east to visit friends in Provence. First I stayed a few nights in Valbonne, and visited with friends Wanda and Dom. They gave me a splendid tour of an area they enjoy, which included a stop for lunch at the gorgeous waterfalls of Saut du Loup. We drove, and stopped to look, and drove, and stopped to look, and we talked a lot. Back home, wine was drunk. It was a dandy visit.
My next stop was with Sophie and François in Nice. In addition to some wonderful meals and long visits with friends, we also took a day trip to Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
Given the year we had, it was a real gift to be able to spend time with people I hold so dear. It was a trip brimming with the warm Provençal sun, great conviviality, delicious food, and a lot of smiles.