Nolan Travels -- Happy trails from Lewis & Betty Nolan
Nolan Getaways – 2001
To Nashville for Cancer Society Lobbying
Feb. 20, 2001 – To Nashville
I drove from Memphis to Nashville in my Ford Taurus station wagon to spend the day lobbying members of the Tennessee Legislature on behalf of the American Cancer Society, which I served as a director of the Memphis unit. Much of the activity was at the Sheraton Hotel, where I used to stay (when it was a Hyatt Regency adjacent to Legislative Plaza) during my frequent trips to Nashville. The trips were usually on behalf of my employer, Schering-Plough, and also the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, which I served as chairman of the Government Affairs Review Committee.
I got up early for the 200-mile drive, rising at 6:20 a.m. The only stop I made on Interstate 40 was at Waverly, Tenn., near the Tennessee River, where I stopped for a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin sandwich.
My goal was to advocate that the Legislature enact necessary leadership and legislation to ensure that Tennessee spends most of its huge, Tobacco Lawsuit settlement money on health education, cancer prevention and similar programs. My belief was that all these programs could be paid for by the estimated $350 million settlement between state government and giant tobacco companies which had caused so much harm to Tennessee citizens.
The Cancer Society’s last-ditch lobbying efforts in Nashville came in the face of some high-flying plans by many legislators to divert the tobacco money to other uses than health. I talked up the American Cancer Society “wish list” to most members of the Legislature who hail from Shelby County, notably my pal and important committee chairman John Ford. I also saw David Fox of the McNeely Fox Piggot PR firm, Dave Goetz of the Tennessee Association of Business, Paula Wade and Rich Locker, both of The Commercial Appeal newspaper, and other familiar faces from my pre-retirement days.
All the visiting and lobbying work made for a long but enjoyable and hopefully productive day, which seemed to be appreciated by the ACS staff and others. I departed Nashville late in the day for the tiring drive back to Memphis and arrived back home about 7:30 p.m.
To Gulf Shores for Golf and Sailing on Perdido Key
April 6-15, 2001 – To Gulf Shores, AL
Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores in our Taurus station wagon to haul down to our condo on the beach a new microwave oven and a vacuum cleaner. We were very pleased upon our arrival to see what a good job a painter had done in our unit for $1,100. All the walls and ceilings now have fresh, white paint. That, combined with a new sofa bed, easy chair, bedspread comforter and the appliances we brought has the place looking the best it has in our 15 years of ownership.
The exterior Gulf Village building complex has fresh exterior paint as well, in retro South Beach, FL, colors of salmon and teal that were chosen by a committee of the Owners Association. Those dated colors would not have been our choice. But I concede that concrete patchwork throughout the development and new aluminum doors for our condo and others add a lot of value.
However, the improvements have yet to result in any “offers” for our unit from prospective buyers. Our agent, Glen Kaiser of Kaiser Realty, has been advertising our one-bedroom unit at $72,500, a price we think is a good one for property on such a beautiful beach even though it is one of the older ones on West Beach Blvd. We are very much aware of the fact that a new, high-rise condo building just to the east of our development is nearly finished, making our Gulf Village look in comparison “out-of-date.”
The weather we had for a 10-day stay was the best we’ve ever had during our four annual visits here over the last 15 or so years. High temperatures were in the mid-80s every day. There was no rain. Betty enjoyed sunning on the beach in front of our building and I had a good time on the golf course at the nearby Alabama State Park. I shot 18-hole scores of 93, 95 and 85. The 85 was one of my best scores at the Park in more than a decade of play on its very good golf course.
That low score came on our last day of the stay, a Saturday when I hit 11 fairways, 6 greens and made 6 pars. I took only 35 putts and didn’t take a single three-putt, which was an outstanding day of putting for me and may be the only time I’ve ever putted an entire round in or below regulation. What made the putting especially memorable was the fact that 13 of my initial putts on the various holes were 20 or more feet from the cup. Only 2 initial putts were under 10 feet. I dropped quite a few 4-to-6 footers, a feat that is rare for me.
We ate out three evenings during our stay. Two of our meals were at the Original Oyster House (Betty got sick after the first dinner, possibly from eating something bad from the self-serve salad bar). We also had lunch there with Marty and Marge Pendleton, two longtime friends who formerly lived in Memphis and who now live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and drove over to see us.
Betty and I had a very fine, late lunch at the Wolf Bay Lodge after we enjoyed a three-hour, sailing excursion around Perdido Key. The 53-foot sloop we were on was the Daedal us. The wind was nice and steady and the cloudy skies kept me from getting sunburned. Captain Fred told us he had built the boat many years ago in San Francisco. He seemed to be an interesting character.
We cooked quite a bit of Royal Red Shrimp plus regular shrimp for etoufee in the condo. Also, I made some delicious Flounder Amandine after buying the fresh catch at a new fish market on Highway 59.
During our stay, I did a tiny bit of writing on my screenplay “Blood.” I also did a moderate amount of walking on the beach in front of our condo building. But on this trip, we didn’t take our bikes due to our time being squeezed and the need for mechanic service on our well-used, trusty 10-speeds.
I purchased a pair of Rockport leather boat shoes and also some Reebok walking shoes at the 130-store mall up Highway 59 at Foley, AL.
All in all, it was a great trip and stay in Gulf Shores. However, the drive back to Memphis was mostly through rain and I came down with a sore throat the next day.
To Old Waverly With Pals to Shoot a Hot 83
May 10, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly in my Ford Taurus station wagon with former Schering-Plough work associates and good friends Curtis Downs, Mike Pietrangelo and Dave Wells. We had close to ideal weather and course conditions for a great day of golf.
I shot what for me was an outstanding day on a tough course, an 83 (39 on the front 9 holes and 44 on the back 9). I hit 8 fairways, 9 greens and took only 38 total putts. In all, I scored 2 birdies, 6 pars and 3 double bogeys. Curtis struggled all day but managed a 91. Mike had a 117 but loved the course. Dave’s miss-hits (2 went in the water on one hole) gave him an 80 and won him the Nassau bet with me and Curtis. It was a terrific day.
Back to Old Waverly for an 86 Round
June 1, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly in the Taurus station wagon by myself for a good day of golf. The careful grass cutting for the previous week’s Mississippi Amateur Tournament followed by several rainy days resulted in stands of very high rough in parts of the course. In places the grass was 5 or 6 inches tall. That made for some tight fairways.
My putter started out hot, with 3 one-putts on the front 9 for a good score of 40. But my putter turned cold on the back side, with my score reaching 46 after an abysmal 6 three-putts.
My conclusion is that my short game needs a lot of practice, which unfortunately has been a casualty of the closing of Galloway Golf Course near my home in Memphis for a lengthy and much needed renovation.
Rhone River Cruise in France from Tournon, Part 3
June 18 - July 3, 2001
Speedy Jumps to Trip Segments:
Part 1: Memphis to Paris, Sights of Paris
By LEWIS NOLAN
June 26, 2001, Tuesday, 7 a.m. - In Tournon
We awoke in the beautiful town of Tournon in the Ardeche region of France, having arrived about 3 a.m. We had already decided to pass on the optional ride on an old-time, narrow gauge train to the Doux Valley Gorges and slept later than usual. Our tour director, Katell Le Bourdonnec, had located a bike rental shop a short walk from the quay and we were looking forward to pedaling around and exploring the medieval town of Tournon. Oddly, Katell (our candidate for France's "Marianne" symbol of a charming young woman) told us she had been asked to locate many places for boat passengers; but we were the first who wanted bike rental shops. We attributed that to the age of most passengers, the busy schedule of activities and unwillingness of some to step outside the security that comes from being in a large group in a strange land and a strange tongue. There were 56 who took the train excursion and who ended up being dirtied by soot from the smoke belching steam locomotive.
Tournon's claim to fame is the production of St. Joseph Wine, a Cotes-de-Rhone appellation that I'm not familiar with but has supposedly been famous for centuries. The town's bike lanes alongside busy streets and the Rhone River make it a great place to cycle. We rented our bikes at Cycles Mallarte, owned by Jean-Marc Mallarte. I got the idea from the quality of the equipment he sold and the number of customers who looked like very serious riders, that Jean-Marc is probably a onetime famous cyclist. He has his own website at www.mallarte.com. His English seemed to be no better than my French, but with sign language we managed to communicate. Betty and I rented two mountain bikes in reasonable condition for 100 francs - about $5 each for half a day. That was cheap compared to what we had paid elsewhere.
f When we returned the bikes a couple of hours later, we bought a souvenir bike cap for me and some cycling socks for our son. Jean-Marc amazed us with his kindness by giving us a gift of two plastic water bottles imprinted with his store's logo.
We pedaled around Tournon (pop. 10,000) and saw the castle and a school for neatly dressed adolescents that was still in session. We rode down the extremely narrow and twisting streets lined with shops and along the river promenade. I happened to be wearing a yellow golf shirt that day and enjoyed telling some of our cruise-mates that I hoped to be recruited for the upcoming Tour de France. Sadly for the French team, they missed their chance and another American, Lance Armstrong, won for the third straight time.
The vineyards around Tournon have been cultivated for 2,000 years. The town carries the name of the ducal family who founded it sometime before 814. Tournon was part of the Kingdom of Burgundy and Provence before it was incorporated into the kingdom of France in 1318. Tournon's castle is perched 100 feet up on a rocky peak near the river's edge. The castle was built pre-15th Century and was much later turned into a prison that functioned until 1926. It now houses a museum, which we did not visit. We will always remember Tournon for two things. One was the great bike ride. The other was an exquisitely beautiful and delicious Rum Baba bought in a patisserie on the Town Square. The pastry was swimming in a paper container of rum, the real kind.
We sailed from Tournon about 1 p.m., headed downstream to Viviers and Provence. After an excellent lunch of fish and chips, Betty and I took the tour of the kitchen. The chef, an Austrian who previously worked seven years in Denver, CO, has four assistants and a shiny, stainless steel, commercial kitchen with two walk-in freezers. The kitchen is below the restaurant floor so the food servers must carry the plates up and down broad, carpeted steps.
I quickly learned from the beleaguered chef why the fish dishes I've had at dinner every day have been so tasteless. French law forbids the boat (and presumably other commercial restaurants) from freezing any fresh fish. So all the fish the boat buys - with the curious exception of salmon - is frozen. Typically, a week's supply of food is bought at a time and delivered to the ship in Avignon. Pre-mixed, frozen dough is among the purchases, but the ship's convection ovens bake it fresh every day. Given the supply pattern that contravenes every chef's desire to buy fresh foods every day, I think the food was remarkably good under the circumstances.
From time to time, the chef can buy certain fresh foods at other stops if supplies run low. But the menus are planned at Grand Circle's headquarters in Switzerland. It seems unfair that the reputation of the ship's chef is so dependent on the menu variety and the quality of ingredients over which has so little control. We didn't know it at the time of the tour, but the chef must have known he was in big trouble since the kitchen atmosphere during our tour seemed strained and a bit tense.
June 26, 2001, Tuesday, 6 p.m. - In Viviers
We were finishing an early dinner when we docked at Viviers, just as several recreational boaters were securing their craft in a small, adjacent marina. Dining room service was terrible that evening. Our table and a couple of others didn't get served until nearly everybody else in the dining room had finished. There is a rumor afoot that a Grand Circle executive was coming in to deal with staffers who were not doing their jobs properly. Gossip and bad news travels fast on a ship and the speculation was that the chef's head might roll.
Viviers (pronounced viv-ee-yay, as in "hooray") is a medieval village that has withstood the ravages of architectural progress. The old part of the village, said to be one of the best preserved in France, rises sharply up a very steep hillside.
The steep grade likely made the upper town easier to defend when it was built several hundred years ago. But the difficulty of ascending the cobblestone-lined lanes caused about half our walking party of 70 to give it up before we reached the top, where fortress walls once protected a monastic order. Our guide was not aware of any attacking force successfully climbing almost straight up 200 or so feet from the side facing the river to the plateau's top and breaching the stone walls.
A spectacular view of the village's red tile roofs, the Rhone and the valley awaits those who make the climb to the summit. Also awaiting is the Cathedral of St. Vincent, which was consecrated in 1119 and still serves residents of the upper village. With dusk falling by the time we reached it, the Gothic and Romanesque building was closed.
Some of the stucco-like buildings of the upper town beneath the hilltop have been occupied since the 15th Century. A few sport TV satellite dishes from their rooftops. Living in those cramped, hillside quarters had no appeal to us. The steep, twisting streets built for passage in medieval times are 8 or so feet wide. The buildings are 3 and 4 stories high, contain no air conditioning and few modern conveniences.
There are no gardens or even grass, only occasional window boxes of the ever-present, red geraniums. Just a view of your neighbors' gray walls and windows left open to catch a cooling breeze is all that most offer. The contrasts in height and the brightness of the red tile roofs made for a picturesque sight. But I thought that living there would only be a step or two above living in a cell at California’s Folsum Prison.
The well-worn cobblestones on the steep streets must be treacherous in times of snow or ice. But the lower town, built on the river plain in more modern times, looks to be quite livable for those who like very small towns.
It was nearly dark by the time our walking party arrived back at the boat. We were asleep when the boat pulled out of Viviers at 3 a.m. and headed deeper into the heart of Provence, to Avignon.
July 27, 2001, Wednesday - In Avignon
We arrived at Avignon at breakfast time and were quickly captivated by the beauty of the place. It was one of the most important cities in Europe and seat of the Papacy for most of the 14th Century. It is now the capital of the Provence Region and is in the Vacluse District. Our clear-voiced tour director, Katell, led the crew and passengers who wanted to sing in a delightful rendition of the children's song, "Sur la Pont d'Avignon." Afterwards all passengers were presented with certificates attesting they had passed the famous, fallen-down bridge over the Rhone.
The Pont St.-Benezet was built following a heavenly vision of the shepherd Benezet in 1177 who commanded that the bridge be built across the mighty Rhone River. It once had 22 graceful arches. In 1226, the big bridge was destroyed - for the first time - when the army of Louis VIII attacked Avignon to oust the followers of the heretical Albigensian theology. It was subsequently rebuilt and badly damaged or destroyed several times. The bridge was reduced to its present 4 arches by severe flooding in 1669.
Avignon's main claim to fame is Le Palais Des Papes, the papal palace. It was built in stages following the acceptance by Pope Clement V of France of Philip the Fair's invitation to relocate the papal court from Rome to Avignon.
Some church scholars refer to the move as the later day "Babylonian Captivity." Avignon was the seat of Western Christianity during the stewardship of Popes Clement V (1309), Jean XXII (1316), Benoit XII (1334), Clement VI (1348), Innocent VI (1352), Urbain V (1362), Gregoire XI (1370), Clement VII (1378) and Benoit XIII (1394-1409).
The last two Avignon popes served during the Grand Schism, when competing claimants to Peter's Seat were also serving in Rome. The schism ended in 1417 with the Council of Constance and universally accepted election of Martin V, who kept Rome as his headquarters. Avignon remained under papal control until 1791, when it returned to France at the time of the Revolution.
Avignon enjoyed a building spree during its eight decades of hosting nine popes and their large staffs. There was a magnificent, fortified palace built behind massive walls to protect the pope from rival factions within the church as well as France's enemies. Also, there were many structures required to support the Holy See and to provide living quarters and services for ecclesiastical officials, their servants and various hangers-on.
rated a Cathedral. That resulted in Avignon having 14 beautiful
Cathedrals - a number far beyond the one or two a city of that size
would normally have.
But today, Avignon is a cultural and visual delight. It was Betty's No. 1 favorite of the trip and my No. 2 (after Arles). It is famous today for its "Papalines," a confectionary delicacy made with sugar and liqueur. Wine fanciers around the world salute it for Chateuneuf-du-pape, a red wine produced from grapes grown in nearby vineyards and sold in the Palace gift shop at prices far below those in Memphis. We enjoyed walking around the Palace walls and lush gardens.
A self-guided, audiocassette tour of the Pope’s palace was good. We saw where the Popes had hidden their treasure under large stones in the room where they had donned their papal robes. We also saw several frescoes that partly escaped the looting and rampaging of the French Revolutionaries. We were told that only two of the nine French Popes had been buried in Avignon. But the 300-year-old remains of those two were dug up and thrown into the Rhone River during the spasm of anger against the nobility that gripped France during the Revolution of the late 1700s. "Vive l'Empereur!" the same revolutionaries would shout a few years later when Napoleon assumed far greater power than the French kings ever had.
We enjoyed walking around the ancient town and admiring its old churches, convents and other structures. Avignon's town center just outside the Palace walls has a gaily-decorated carousel. Near it was a cart selling inexpensive, hand-made jewelry featuring tiny flowers of Provence encased in clear resin. Betty bought a couple of bracelets and started a small run (to the delight of a shopkeeper) when she showed them to our fellow passengers.
We also found a tiny shop on a side street that sold the brightly colored fabrics of Provence (yellows, greens and blues, with the stress on sunflower yellow). The proprietor and his wife made the fabric into napkins, placemats, tablecloths, potholders, baby apparel and other useful items. Betty bought a bunch of gifts there, sent some fellow passengers to the shop and then returned later to buy more. The proprietor was so pleased with his surge in business from Betty's "PR" that he presented her with several items at no charge. Some made terrific gifts and others now grace our table at home in Memphis.
We walked back to the ship to have lunch and to drop off our purchases. We had a delicious meal of onion soup and salad, the happy result of what we learned had been that morning's sad shakeup of the kitchen staff. The Swiss-based, corporate chef of Grand Circle was now in charge of the kitchen until a replacement for the discharged Austrian chef could be hired. There was a cheese tasting aboard ship that afternoon and later a fine evening meal that included steak and salmon. We again passed on the entertainment in the lounge that evening. We also missed the previous night's amateur show by the crew that included the display by one young man of a "full Monty."
During the night, the ship pulled briefly away from the quay so another riverboat could be properly berthed. The passengers on the German boat had to walk across our topside deck to get to shore, the only time we had alongside moorings. I was impressed with the German vessel's topside equipment that included exercise bicycles.
June 28, 2001, Thursday - In Arles
We were still asleep when the M/S Ravel quietly pulled away from the quay at 4:30 a.m. The ship headed downstream for the last stop at the town of Arles, in the marshy region in the South of France called The Camargue. It was amazing how silently the ship ran, with absolutely no motion. Although longer than a football field, the vessel's wake is only a fraction of the broad-shouldered wake left by commercial towboats on the Mississippi River. On the narrower, upper reaches of the Soane River, the smallish but relentless wake created a suction effect on the shoreline, pulling the water first back then releasing it in a wave of energy that washed back ashore.
We arrived at Arles about 8 a.m. and were greeted by the Mistral, the brisk wind that blows across the Mediterranean from North Africa. The wind was stiff enough for small whitecaps to form in the broad Rhone River. The wind speed was probably
20-mph with higher gusts. The stone quay where we moored was close to the old Roman ruins, which are surrounded by shops that cater to tourists. A few steps away from the mooring is a city park, where retirees and other men who perhaps have the day off gather to play petanque, a French game that is played with fist-sized steel balls and is a sort of a cross between bowling and shuffleboard.
Arles was my favorite place of the trip. Indeed, its appeal for me surpassed the fascinating places we visited a decade earlier in France’s Brittany, the Loire Valley and even Normandy and its battlefield beaches. Seven of its structures - some dating back 2,000 years - are on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Monuments. The Greeks settled Arles as early as 6 BC. Under the Romans it became one of the most important settlements of Gaul, providing grain for most of the Western Empire. Julius Caesar established it in the 1st Century as a colony for former members of the Roman Legion, much like the upstream town of Vienne.
Not far from Marseilles and less than 20 miles from the Mediterranean, Arles quickly became a crucial river port and shipbuilding center for the Romans. The Emperor Constantine (the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity) built a palace in Arles; the ruins of his gigantic bathhouse still stand. For a few years at the end of the 4th Century, Arles was the capital of Gaul, Britain and Spain.
Arles has one of
the largest surviving amphitheaters in France, built in 90 AD to
accommodate 26,000 for gladiator fights and other spectacles. The arena
is 136 meters long, 107 meters
A Roman amphitheater is nothing more than an elaborate staging area, ingeniously designed to allow fast, safe and easy movement of both spectators and wild beasts. The one at Arles has 10 levels, linked by an elaborate system of circular galleries, stairways and horizontal passageways. Under the dirt floor of the arena were a multitude
of walls and beams in the basement, which provided space required for the machinery and scenery used in the spectacle.
It was the site of combats paid for by rich individuals or municipal magistrates, whose careers sometimes depended on such acts of generosity. They would hire somebody like Marcus Julius Olympius, an agent for a troupe of gladiators whose funeral steele still survives in Arles. Each troupe had several categories of fighters, distinguished by their costumes and weapons. They would be as equally matched as possible and usually fight to the death.
Some troupe members were criminals or captives condemned to death or hard labor; those who survived five years were released. But more often, the gladiator troupes consisted of volunteers attracted by the prize money, glory and danger. The parallels between the gladiators and their 20th Century counterparts of the boxing rings and football stadiums are frequently noted.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arles amphitheater was gradually transformed into a medieval fortress. A little town was built within its walls, including a public square in the center of the arena and a chapel that housed the relics of St. Genest, a local martyr. But starting in the neoclassical age of the 18th Century, there was a series of initiatives to do away with the encroaching housing and other buildings. By 1830, the arena was again in use - for bullfighting.
Today, restoration continues. The structure has been patched in places and bleacher-like, steel and wood seats have been installed over some of the limestone slabs where Romans once sat and cheered. Noted bullfighters now draw the cheers and crowds to their bloody work. It is remarkable that the arena is still the site of bloodsports after 2,000 years. The dirt here has absorbed a lot of blood and the limestone has seen a lot of death. My first thought was repugnance at the "modernization" of the ancient amphitheater. But upon reflection, its present use is practical, produces revenue and probably ensures local support for preservation of the magnificent structure.
We spent more than an hour happily exploring the arena and its warren of galleries and stone chambers. Nearby are the ruins of a smaller structure that hasn't been nearly as well preserved, the Roman Theater that once seated 10,000. A single column rises above the ruins to give an idea of the grandeur the structure once held. There is a small section of modern,
bleacher seats overlooking the ancient, stone stage that points to its occasional use. Chunks of broken columns and frieze repose on the grass in ragged rows. The comfort facility on the site is a porta-potty like structure that contains the only Turkish toilet I've seen with running water. Thankfully, this was the only facility of that outmoded style I saw on this trip.
Also nearby are the ruins of Constantine's Baths. Still visible are the ends of clay pipes that once provided hot water from the basement stoves. Again and again, I marveled at how such hallmarks of a long-gone civilization have at least partly survived the ravages of man, weather and time.
Equally awe-inspiring are the remarkably well preserved St. Trophime Cathedral and Cloister buildings. These stone structures were built in the 11th and 12th Centuries, blending Gothic and Romanesque architecture. Their floors are of well-worn, pavement slabs. Their walls are decorated with stained glass and huge tapestries picturing Biblical scenes. The atmosphere within is cool, dim and quiet - imparting a wonderful sense of peace and presence of God.
Behind some very old, jail-like iron bars inside the Cathedral is a collection of several dozen reliquaries. Each is about the size of a breadbox and contains one or more body parts of early Christian Saints. Among them are St. Sebastian and St. Trophime. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sebastian is believed to have been killed about 288 BC in Rome during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian.
"According to legend, he was born in Gaul, went to Rome and joined the army of the Emperor Carinus, later becoming a captain under Diocletian. When it was discovered that Sebastian was a Christian who had converted many soldiers, he was ordered to be killed by arrows. The archers left him for dead, but a Christian widow nursed him back to health. He then presented himself before Diocletian, who condemned him to death by beating. Another pious woman, who dreamed that Sebastian told her to bury his remains near the catacombs, found his body, thrown into a sewer. His relics are believed to be in the basilica of St. Sebastiano on the Appian Way, to which many pilgrims were attracted in the Middle Ages. Sebastian's martyrdom was a favorite subject of Renaissance artists.” . .the saint is usually shown as a handsome youth pierced by arrows."
How some of his bones found their way to Arles - deep in the heart of his birthplace of Gaul - might be explained by further reading.
Britannica is silent on St. Trophime, but a brochure from the medieval cloister adjacent to St. Trophime Cathedral says he was the first bishop of Arles. It also says that in the 9th Century, the cult of St. Trophime blurred the bishop with the Apostle Paul's disciple of the same name. The cult promoted the belief that the saint
was close to Christ and evangelized Provence and that he replaced St. Steven as the protector of Arles in the 12th Century. While the relics of both Trophime and Sebastian are on display, the setting is a place of worship and not a museum. As the saying goes, "with faith, no explanations are necessary. Without faith, none will suffice." However, I wish I could have talked to an English-speaking Priest or other authority about the Saints and their relics.
Some of the reliquaries appear to be plated with gold and some appear to be made of bronze. Some have small windows so the faithful can see the bones within. It was creepy but very interesting to see these relics that have been kept for so many centuries, providing a once-living continuum between Christians separated by nearly 2,000 years. A guide told one tour group that in the Middle Ages, desiccated corpses of several saints that had been dead for centuries were suspended on ropes high above the alter. On special days, the corpses would be lowered for the faithful to view.
The adjacent St. Trophime Cloister claims to be one of the most beautiful in this country of beautiful cloisters. Its quiet, covered walkways are well worn and surround a volley-ball-court sized, square of manicured grass, which on the day of our visit attracted four students of college age. Dark and gloomy befitting of the age, the walkway's outboard columns of carved limestone depict half-sized, religious figures.
The inboard walls are carved to depict religious scenes of both the old and new Testaments. Built to house the clerical canons/rectors of the cathedral in the 11th Century, the Cloister was intended to provide a communal life of prayer. However, there is no evidence that an appreciable number of the wealthy monks gave up their private residences in favor of dormitory-style living.
By the 12th Century, Arles had become the second largest city in Provence, with a population of 15,000-to-20,000. In theory, it was the capital of the "Kingdom of Arles" and a hotbed of building activity by the Orders of the Knights Hospitalier and the Knights Templar. But in the 13th Century, Arles began to decline in importance as the counts of Provence abandoned the city in favor of Aix. Over the next century,
the papacy established its headquarters upstream at Avignon and the horrors of the Black Death started the disease's deadly sweep across Europe. It wasn't until 1390 that work on the Cloisters' southern and eastern galleries was complete.
Outside the entrance to the Cloisters is a sunny square that on this day served as a workplace for an artist, who painted while on his knees. His efforts provided an interesting, modern-day counterpoint to the art of the medieval and Roman builders. But while he attracted dozens of tourists to patiently stand and watch him work in the heat, my preference favored the shady cool of the Cloisters and Cathedral.
Arles was the home for a time of the great pre-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. A museum in his honor is near the amphitheater. The outskirts of town is the site of a bridge that formed the subject of one of his greatest paintings, "The Bridge at Arles." The hot yellows, blues and greens of the vegetation and sky of Provence are reflected in the fabrics and burned into the paintings of Van Gogh.
Betty purchased some additional fabric and also a tiny, handcrafted Nativity set at a shop near the amphitheater. The inch-high, hand-painted, baked clay figurines of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus were made in the shop for about half of the price of similar ones sold at gift stores. Betty also bought neckties for me and our son, Casey, that were patterned after Van Gogh's "Starry Night."
After we had pretty well covered the main shopping areas and explored the Roman structures of Arles, we headed back to the boat after a long day in the hot sun and wind of Provence. But we noticed that the tour staff was serving an awful-tasting French drink called "pastis" and teaching some of the passengers how to play petanque at the park near the ship. I couldn't resist learning to play the game of skill. Tour director Gerard of Belgium explained how the game is played with three, fist-sized, steel balls. The idea is to get your ball closer to the "pig" (a plastic or rubber ball the size of a golf ball that is tossed 6-to-10 meters away from the players' throwing line) than the ball of your opponent. It's OK to toss your heavy ball at your opponent's ball to knock it away. In individual play, the first to reach 13 points win. It's more complicated with team play.
With a full day of riding on a bus facing us, we retired soon after a good dinner. We were sorry that the cruise portion of our trip had come to end. It was a great ride and we had a wonderful time, learned a lot and had some terrific experiences.
Hot Day at Old Waverly, But Lukewarm Golf
July 19, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly with my good friend and golfing buddy Curtis Downs in his Lexus. It was a very hot day, with the temperature near 100 degrees. It was soon obvious that both of our golf games were rusty from the lack of regular play.
I managed to shoot a 91 and he an 88, but it was a struggle. We were about the only members playing the course this day because of the extreme heat. It was good that we could drive the carts onto the fairways because I doubt we could have lasted 18 holes had we been restricted to the cart paths. Notwithstanding the oppressive heat, it was fun playing golf with Curtis again.
‘Hoaxacane Barry’ scares but passes Gulf Shores
July 28 – Aug. 10, 2001 – To Gulf Shores, AL
Betty and I drove from our Memphis home to Gulf Shores in our Ford Taurus with our bikes strapped onto the back of the station wagon. It was a rainy Saturday for the 450-mile drive.
Upon arrival we enjoyed a delicious meal of fried oysters at The Spot. We were pleased to see that our condo looked the best it has ever looked, thanks to our remodeling work done last Spring. There is a new sofa bed couch and an easy chair in the living room. There is fresh paint on both the interior of our condo and exterior of our building. A municipal beach improvement project has resulted in an additional 75-to-100 yards of sand to the width of the beach in front of our building. Since the sand was pumped off the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, there are small pieces of broken shells everywhere.
The new, upscale high-rise condo building to the east of our building is now occupied.
We were glad to learn that a potential deal between a developer and our owners’ association that would have replaced our building to make way for a large high-rise has collapsed. The July 14 owners’ meeting, we were told, surfaced a good bit of anger among attendees about the actual plan presented by the developer since it bore little resemblance to earlier discussion.
So any possible sale and redevelopment of Gulf Village is back to square one, I was happy to learn. It looks like we will be able to keep our unit since even the discussed prices that developers are willing to pay for the right to tear down the building and build anew are much too low to be realistic.
On one important point, there is universal agreement. Our location on West Beach Blvd. Is terrific, with 200 feet of waterfront land on the Gulf of Mexico. The beach is wide and beautiful and the slope into the water quite gentle. Importantly for me, our condo will be fully paid for this November 26 with the 15-year loan I took out entirely paid off. Our building offers sufficient covered parking for all the owners and plenty of room on the beach to accommodate all owners and guests with plenty of elbowroom.
However, our unit has only a side view of the Gulf from its porch. I’d prefer having a view of the beach from the condo’s windows. But I still question whether it’s worth another $100,000 I’d have to pay with for a comparable unit with a frontal view. Given the lack of reasonable offers for my unit, my answer is probably “no.”
We cooked fish or shrimp in our tiny kitchen area most evenings of our stay. The only exceptions were two dinners out at our favorite restaurant, The Spot. There were times that we cooked taco salad on one evening and heated up a frozen pizza on another evening. Especially good was Emeril’s recipe for Flounder Almandine modified for Flounder fillets.
Betty and I took a couple of fairly long bicycle rides two times and walked on the beach and along West Beach Blvd. several times. I played golf at the State Park course 4 times, shooting 88, 87, 94 and 88. The last round was schizo, with a blistering 39 on the front 9 holes and a sorry 49 on the back side. Overall, my golf drives were pretty good and my putting was very good. But my mid and short iron play was erratic – pointing to my lack of practice play back home.
We took a day to drive north on Highway 59 to Foley, AL, where I spent some time in the satellite Courthouse checking the deed to our condo and the lien on it recorded 15 years ago by previous owner A.C. Carter, who financed the balance of our purchase once we made him a hefty down payment.
While in Foley we did a little shopping at the big outlet mall there. My main goal of the trip – to complete the writing of a travelogue about our spring trip to France – was half accomplished already.
During periods when I was inside the condo writing the travelogue, Betty was enjoying sunning on the beach in front of our building. Not nearly as many vacationers are cavorting in the gentle surf as they were a few years ago. That is because of the recent shark attack near Pensacola 100 or so miles east of Gulf Shores. Anxiety about the safety of the shoreline swimming was further heightened by a shark attack on a training triathletes in front of the Pink Pony Pub a mile and a half down the beach to the west.
After many years of no reported shark attacks, the widely circulated reports of two ugly shark incidents had resulted in virtually all swimmers staying very close to shore. There were a fair number of tourists on the beach during the first week of our stay, but by the middle of the second week of our vacation most had pretty well disappeared. Schools in Alabama opened early this year, putting an end to a big chunk of the vacationing market for beach time.
On Sunday, August 5, Tropical Storm Barry was prowling the Gulf of Mexico with 70 mph winds. Hurricane warnings and watches were issued for much of the coast from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana. It seemed that local and network TV went berserk with scare stories. Many tourists not already affected by the early school openings cut short their vacations and headed home early. There were massive traffic tie-ups on Interstate 10, which runs close to the Gulf coastline.
Betty and I decided to stay put unless the police or other authorities ordered us to evacuate. We were glad we stayed because Barry turned out to be a wimp and not anywhere like the magnitude of the hurricane the TV weathermen had been warning about. Winds were only 40 mph when Barry came ashore at Panama City, FL. By the time it hit Gulf Shores, the storm brought only a little light rain and some average wind. We called it “Hoaxacane Barry.”
We learned the Alabama State Park at Gulf Shores had over-reacted and made all the campers leave on Sunday.
On Monday, August 6, traffic on West Beach Blvd. was almost non-existent. We walked to The Spot and enjoyed a drink in the mostly empty restaurant.
Two days later, on Wednesday, we had some great shrimp gumbo at the Wolf Bay Lodge. We decided to make the long drive to Memphis on Friday, August 10, so that Betty could have two full days at home before starting the school year teaching culinary arts at Northside High School. The early return would give us plenty of time to pick up Dickens, our pet greyhound, from the boarding kennel at the West Memphis dog track.
However, the aftermath of wimpy Hurricane Barry produced some terrible, torrential rainfall around Jackson, Miss., which appreciably slowed our trip home. It took 8 hours and 10 minutes, roughly 30 minutes more than it normally does. Notwithstanding the crummy drive home, our two-week vacation in Gulf Shores was a good one, relaxing and productive.
Best Round of Year at Old Waverly Golf Club
Aug. 28, 2001 – To Starkville, MS and Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Starkville, MS, and then to nearby Old Waverly by myself in my Ford Taurus station wagon. I had wanted to do a little shopping at Starkville, home of my alma mater of long ago, Mississippi State University. I purchased some distinctive Red Muscatine grape jelly and two bricks of delicious cheddar cheese made at the university and also some tee shirts. I tried to see one of my favorite professors, Dr. Clyde Williams. But Clyde – who taught me in several excellent English classes before I graduated in 1968 - was out of his office this day, so I proceeded to drive 15 or so miles to West Point, MS and its famous Old Waverly Golf Club.
Despite it being late August, it was a nice day and there was nobody immediately behind me on the golf course until Hole No. 18. I got off to a slow start, shooting a 44 on the front 9. But I had a very good back 9, shooting a 39 for a total round of 83. That was the best round I’d shot this year, despite having to take 36 putts and scoring a triple bogey on one hole. I managed to score 1 birdie, 7 pars and only 9 bogeys (1 stroke over par). I hit 7 fairways and 8 greens in regulation.
My conclusion was that I should go by myself more often now that the workload of my usual playing partner and fellow member Curtis Downs of Memphis makes his availability for golf somewhat rare these days.
Round of 85 at Old Waverly with Lessons Learned
Oct. 2, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly by myself on a beautiful, sunny day with the high temperature expected to rise into the mid-80s. My agenda for the day was to take a lesson from head pro Chris Jester and to play a round using what I hoped to be new or improved skills.
After my lesson, I had the great golf course nearly to myself and I played all 18 holes in the fast time of 2 hours and 35 minutes after playing through one foursome and a single walker.
I shot a good 41 on the front 9 holes and a 44 on the back side of the course for a total score of 85. That was a good score for me, especially because I four-putted on Hole No. 15 and missed several putts of 3 or 4 feet. A new grip on the club taught me by Chris helped me keep my drives in the fairway – a needed improvement.
I kept up with my statistics and was glad that I was able to hit 10 fairways and 6 greens in regulation. I took a total of 36 putts (the average for an accomplished golfer) and made 7 pars and 9 bogeys. I had 2 double bogeys, which while not good it is not fatal for a decent score. I was pleased with the best sand play I can remember, putting 3 shots near the hole from a distance of about 30 feet.
Lessons learned included:
Dreadful ‘94’ at Old Waverly with Curtis Downs
Oct. 24, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly with my golf buddy Curtis Downs in my Ford Taurus station wagon on a day that looked like rain might be possible. However, the skies cleared and it turned into a nice day with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s.
The greens had been fertilized and a blue chemical used as a “marker,” which resulted in us having stained fingers, stained clubs and stained golf balls. We both had dreadful days, which is unusual because one of us usually plays well if the partner is struggling.
Curtis shot a score even higher than my 94, which is highly unusual for him. He lost 4 balls off the No. 13 tee, a rarity I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. But the company and refreshments at the clubhouse after the round were both good as always.
Scenic Fall Drive Through Arkansas Ozarks
Oct. 27 – 28, 2001 – To Mountain View and Harrison, AR
Betty and I spent the weekend driving through the beautiful Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas after dropping our pet greyhound, Dickens, off at the race track boarding kennel in West Memphis. We gassed up at the major crossroads for interstate truckers (at a $1.05 per gallon compared to $1.24 at the Exxon station near our home in Memphis) before heading east on northwest Arkansas Highway 14 off Interstate 55 north of West Memphis.
It was a scenic route we took that was suggested in our State Farm Insurance roadmap book. We drove through many harvested cotton fields on the way to Marked Tree, AR and then Newport, AR. It was indeed a scenic display of farmland and scrub timber that was a different route we used to take when we did a lot of camping near Mountain View, AR 20 or so years ago.
But we got on our familiar route once we reached Batesville, AR, and continued on Arkansas 14 to Mountain View, where traffic was quite busy due to the annual Pinto Bean Festival there. We briefly stopped at the Ozark Folk Center’s gift shop just outside Mountain View, where we bought a hand-crafted, wooden truck for little Luke Drewry’s coming birthday. He is the youngest child of our next-door neighbors, Troy and Rachel Drewry.
We were pleased that we made such good time to the Folk Center – mainly due to our foresight in packing a tasty lunch of chicken sandwiches that we could eat in the car. We made it to town in time for samples of free beans and cornbread during the festival, to listen to mountain music and to watch the outhouse races – where runners push wooden relief structures. We had a beautiful fall day, with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the 50s. The trees at Crowley’s Ridge in the lower Ozarks were as colorful as we had ever seen during our years of faithful fall camping in the area. Tree leaves were in many shades of reds and yellows.
We took a side trip to the nearby town of Calico Rock, AR, where we learned that the excursion train we had ridden there a couple of years ago had gone out of business last November. While in the vicinity, we stopped at the familiar Sylamore Creek Campground, which is adjacent to the Holiday Inn Travel Park near the White River. We spent a lot of weekends in our pop-up Apache Camper there in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was still working at The Commercial Appeal.
It was nice to see that the area is still rugged and just as beautiful as we remember it, with clear water, fist-sized stones lining the creek and its banks. Today, one can rent a comfortable cabin at the site where once there was only scrub land. We also took a short detour to stop at the Visitor Center at Blanchard Springs Caverns, a paradise of underground formations we toured several times years ago.
We continued to drive north on Highway 14 to near the Arkansas-Missouri state lines border not far from Branson, home of a lot of live country music joints. Then we picked up one of the state’s proudest highways, “Scenic 7” and dropped down to the town of Harrison, where we stayed at a Comfort Inn.
In Harrison, we had a decent dinner at the nearby Dixie Café and checked into the motel by 6 p.m. With the change to Central Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time coming at 2 a.m., we had the luxury of an extra hour of sleep that night before heading back on our driving tour on Sunday.
After the complimentary, cold breakfast at the motel, we checked out before 9 a.m. and headed south on Scenic 7. We drove down the twisting and sometimes steep roadway and saw the most beautiful part of the Ozarks, stopping several times at overlooks to take photos of the mountains’ “Grand Canyon” and the Buffalo River.
We got on Interstate 40 at Russellville and proceeded east for several hours at 70 mph to retrieve Dickens from the boarding kennel in West Memphis. We missed the “Halloween Party” at the kennel, but made it home by 5 p.m. It was a good trip.
To Old Waverly for Lesson Under The Trees
Nov. 13, 2001 – To Old Waverly Golf Club, West Point, MS
I drove to Old Waverly by myself in the Ford Taurus station wagon to take a follow-up lesson from head pro Chris Jester for shots made “under the trees.” I was in need of some professional help due to my too-frequent, erratic drives that leak out of the fairways and into the woods.
He taught me to mainly use a 7 iron for low shots aimed to pass through big gaps in the timber. It was a good day for a lesson, with temperatures in the 70s. The course played slow due to greens aeration underway that followed a Presidents Tournament the previous weekend.
Nonetheless, I played solo and completed 18 holes in just under 3 hours. I shot a 46 on the front 9 and 48 on the back 9, for a total of 94. Not bad, thanks to the lesson. But not very good either.
Gulf Shores Golf Is So-So but Weather Is Nice
Nov. 20 – 25, 2001 – To Gulf Shores, AL
Betty and I drove to Gulf Shores in her Mustang Sally, leaving our home in Memphis at 3 p.m. once she got home from Northside High School where she teaches culinary arts. I had been to the dentist that morning and was traveling with a temporary crown installed that morning over a molar on my upper right jaw.
We dropped our pet greyhound, Dickens, off at the boarding kennel at the West Memphis, AR dog track and had pleasant weather for our 450-mile drive. There were clear skies, temperatures in the 60s and only moderate traffic this Thanksgiving week. We made the trip in just under 7 ½ hours, good time for us.
I played golf twice at the State Park course in Gulf Shores. I was driving well both days, but as is too often the case, my short irons, chips and putting were terrible.
The first day out on the course, on Wednesday Nov. 21, it took me 42 putts to get around. Unfortunately, that worse-than-normal putting orgy included six three-putt greens. The abysmal putting was a shame because I hit 10 fairways and 5 greens but still only managed to make 5 pars for a round total of 92 (47 on the front 9 and 45 on the back 9). With regulation driving and just decent putting, it could have been a very good day.
My second day of golf came on Friday, Nov. 23, when I returned to the State Park course and played a little better. I shot a good score of 43 on the front 9, followed by shooting a so-so 47 on the back 9 for a total score of 90. I did manage to hit 6 fairways, 5 greens and take only 38 putts and ended up with 4 pars. My shots with a 1 iron failed twice and I’m thinking it may be time to retire the difficult-to-master club.
While I played golf, Betty enjoyed shopping at the big factory outlet mall up the road at Foley, AL for some Christmas presents for friends and family. That evening we enjoyed some excellent shrimp and pre-cooked turkey at the condo. We had brought the turkey from Memphis.
In all, we ate out two very good dinners at The Spot restaurant. One evening we hosted Darlene Drewey and her friend Vicki from Louisiana. Darlene is the very nice mother of our next-door neighbor back home, Troy Drewry. We also had several nice, long walks on the mostly deserted beach in front of our condo. The temperatures reached 80 degrees on most days and skies were generally sunny during the day.
We purchased a quantity of lump crab meat on our last day in Gulf Shores so we could take it home on what turned out to be an uneventful drive home of less than 8 hours.
Dickens Becomes ‘Beach Friendly’ at Gulf Shores
Dec. 26, 2001 – Jan. 2, 2002 – To Gulf Shores, AL
Betty and I dropped off our son Casey at the Memphis airport so he could fly back to Santa Barbara, CA after a delightful, four-day visit home with his parents in Memphis. We took our pet greyhound with us for the first time on this trip made in our Ford Taurus station wagon.
All in all, the dog made the ride just fine. He lay down on his green pad for most of the drive, rising up on all 4 legs to look out the windows every time I hit the brakes or changed lanes. The drive took 8 ¼ hours because of extra stops to accommodate Dickens and our spending more time at each stop so he could do his business.
But it was a pleasant drive to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico during what is just about our favorite time of year there, when the crowds are gone, the beaches mostly clear and the restaurants not so busy. The weather for the drive was warm enough that I came out of my wool, Pendleton shirt at Richland, MS, on the outskirts of Jackson and made the second half of the drive wearing a light, cotton sweater.
We cooked Royal Red shrimp for an excellent dinner in our condo, which looked very good and just like it was when we left after spending Thanksgiving on the beach at Gulf Shores.
Dickens quickly adjusted to his much more confined life in the condo than at home in Memphis, where we have a fairly large home and a big back yard. But it took a lot of walking with Betty and her coaxing him to get him used to “doing his business” while on a leash. Betty would carry with her a trowel and plastic bag to scoop up the dog’s waste and dispose of it in a Dempster Dumpster. Dogs are prohibited from walking on the beach so he usually does “his business” along the side of the road or on the grass in front of our development.
On Thursday, Nov. 27, we enjoyed a takeout dinner from The Spot. The next day I played 9 holes of golf at the State Park course, about all I could manage in a light and cool rain. I only hit 4 fairways and 3 greens and took 2 three-putts. Despite the unusually poor play with my short irons, my new Christmas 3 Wood from Casey (a Taylor made club) worked well.
I played much better on the next day, a Saturday, with much of the thanks for that due to a sunny and mild day with the high temperature near 60. The day’s playing statistics included:
My score for the round was a good 41 on the front 9 and an average 46 on the back 9 for a solid 87, which was not bad considering I suffered a mental breakdown when I foolishly tried to “backhand” a 12-inch putt and missed it. I also was penalized by a physical breakdown on Hole No. 15 when I felt a twinge of pain in my right knee while swinging my driver on the tee. The shooting pain resulted in a loose grip and slipped club. The ball shanked left behind some trees. I ended up with a triple bogey on the hole. I did play with two nice guys from Atlanta. One, name of Don, sells sunscreen chemicals to my company, Schering-Plough HealthCare Products, and is used in manufacturing Coppertone.
That evening, I cooked Emeril’s recipe for grouper fish, which turned out to be an excellent dish.
The next day, a Sunday, was unusually cold. We walked Dickens in his winter coat about 2.5 miles, when the weather turned even colder. That evening we cooked some so-so jambalaya with fresh shrimp. The next evening Betty cooked her delicious chili, which was perfect for the cold weather. New Year’s Eve turned out to be colder yet, so rather than brave a beach walk in the cold wind I repaired to the municipal Civic Center’s fitness center. I worked out on a stationery bike and the weights.
That afternoon I watched some bowl football games and went to bed at 11 p.m. So much for the year-end celebration. But we did enjoy a bottle of champagne with an excellent dinner of Red Snapper Vera Cruz, served with salsa.
It was rainy and cold most of New Year’s Day so we stayed inside the condo to watch SEC football teams play in the bowl games. Especially fun to watch was the Tennessee Vols whipping Michigan. That evening, we broiled fresh tuna steaks with slices of pineapple.
The next day, January 2, a Wednesday, we checked on the road conditions and decided to cut our stay a little short and drive back home. We made it in just under 8 hours despite hitting a patch of sleet north of Mobile. We saw a lot of ice on the trees and a light dusting of snow along the roads and on roofs of farmhouses. However, the pavement was dry and it was sunny and cold from Hattiesburg all the way north to Memphis.