Pedometer for a year

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.

January

A small group of us took a drive down to Gruissan, to walk along the salt flats, eat a picnic lunch on the beach, keep an eye out for flamingos, and visit the fishermen’s cabins. With the beaches almost entirely deserted, the sculptures made of sand and wind are left untouched and ready to be found by a camera.

February

The Répudre Aqueduct along the Canal du Midi.

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.

A flood marker that stands on the aqueduct, noting two floods that must have been terrifying, given that this aqueduct stands about 20 feet (6 meters) above the river, and the flood lines indicate over two feet MORE of water depth.

March

The Canal de Jonction was completed in 1789; it connects the Aude River to the Canal du Midi. While we were walking, my friend’s dog slipped into the canal, and the current began carrying him downstream a little more quickly than I would have guessed. I was certain that I’d be diving in to try to catch him, but he figured out how to paddle his way toward the bank and scampered out. Put a scare into all of us, especially the dog!

April

Being in a lockdown meant a lot of solitary walks, and I’m lucky to live in a village that’s surrounded by countryside that offers an abundance of trails. This spot is hidden in the trees near a well-used trail. The dry-stack wall, like so many others in this region, is probably between 300 and 400 years old. Many of these walls have a tiny shelter built into them—called a capitelle around here—and this wall is no exception. What is different, though, is that the capitelle here is not in the middle of the wall, as is more common, but forms the end of the wall.
This past spring, we had an abundance of these small, beautiful purple orchids (orchis purpuris). See the tiny green spider?

May

A lovely wild rose, seen in the garrigue.
A bee doing its thing on lavender blooms near my house.

June

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.

The central dome of Église Sainte Marie in Rieux, with a column capital carved 900 years ago by the Master of Cabestany.
An exquisite column capital carved by the Master of Cabestany, dating to very early in the 12th century.

July

A quintessential Parisian café, La Marquise.

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.

A father-son moment at a Wallace Fountain near the Parc de Belleville in Paris. I’m not sure why this fountain is blue; most of them retain their original deep green color. The fountains are named for the British man who had the idea and donated the funds to install them, Sir Richard Wallace, with the first fountains arriving in 1872. History tells us there was a perfect storm at the time: the Franco-Prussian War had left Paris in tatters, and it was said that wine was cheaper than water because the city’s water supply had been damaged in the war; alcoholism was a scourge. The Paris Commune, a revolt by the working class, only added to the misery, and disease was rampant. The population desperately needed safe drinking water. Wallace originally designed and funded 50 fountains, which proved so popular that more fountains arrived in later years. They are made of cast iron, and they used to be equipped with two cups attached with chains. To this day, these fountains, seen all over Paris, provide safe, clean drinking water to anyone in need of it.
Many of the bakeries in Paris are in their original location, and they’ve preserved the beautiful late 19th-century paintings that appear on both interior and exterior surfaces. This beauty is to be found at my favorite Paris bakery, Du Pain et des Idées, near Canal St-Martin. The space has housed a bakery since 1875.

August

We set out one hot August day to walk through the forest to a church perched on the side of a steep, narrow valley, Église de Saint-Jean de Dieuvaille (also known as Église du Trou). It’s located near Gimios, a hamlet where lives someone with a wonderful sense of humor. The street sign above basically translates to “Unnamed Street.”
Apparently Gimios sees a lot of visitors who ask how to find the church in the valley, and the locals decided to name the road to indicate their answer. “C’est par là” translates to “It’s this way.” I applaud this sign and the humor that created it.

September

For this year’s Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), my friend Sarah invited me to join a group in her town of Azille to visit another little gem of 12th-century architecture, Chapelle de Vaissière, which is on private property and closed to the public. It is in remarkable condition, and boasts a double nave and the tall rounded arches of the period. The final touch was provided by a group of nuns who did some hauntingly beautiful Gregorian chanting for us. We left feeling so grateful for the opportunity to visit this hidden beauty.

October

The waterfalls at Saut du Loup (Les Cascades du Saut du Loup), on the River Loup in the Alpes-Maritimes region.

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.

“Green Rivers” seen on the trunk of a palm tree in the Val Rameh-Menton Botanical Gardens in Menton.
This charming door is delightful enough, but knowing that the building dates to the year 1060 makes it even cooler. This is in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

November

Autumn colors on a quiet river path just outside of my village.
And right next to the path above is this inviting swimming hole. As I stood here on a quiet November day, I could easily hear the excited summertime shrieks of kids swinging from the tree and splashing in the water.

December

I couldn’t walk much in December, but that didn’t stop me from baking. Here, a walnut tart made with my homemade salted caramel sauce.
On a crisp December evening in Bize, a lovely sunset over the Cesse River.

January

On a hike in the hills north of town, the clouds put on a dramatic show for us.
Thinking about last year’s visit to the beach at Gruissan, we returned this past weekend, but the wind was howling too much to enjoy a hike. As we drove along the coast, we saw this flamingo in a shallow ditch next to the road, and he didn’t seem to be disturbed by our presence. I felt like I’d been sprinkled with fairy dust, as I’ve never been so close to such a bird in the wild; I stood five feet away. It was a magic moment, and for me, the perfect way to usher in a new year.

4 thoughts on “Pedometer for a year”

  1. Lovely, Lynne. What a beautiful reminder that this crazy year also had so much beauty and possibility. Would be lovely to back through my photos of this year and just see what I see. Thanks for the journey.
    Bobbie Martin

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