Honeymoon
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St. Christol and her Delightful Neighbors  
 
Here is the adorable B & B home of Monique in the sweet village called St. Christol, just north of Montpellier  (www.StChristol.com).  We rewarded ourselves with the luxury of staying in a comfortable setting for two nights one more time.  What a special place.  By the time we left, we had all become such comrades that I left her a copy of my poetry book and she gave us a bottle of wine from the vineyard that stretches beyond her terrace.  Here it is in it’s early spring state (no grapes).  As you can see, we had clear skies and wonderful winds that played hide & seek with my hair.

Monique

The Vineyard

Entry Way

Our Room

Me And Jess
We had the downstairs to ourselves.  The bay doors to our right are the same ones from the inside where I am flipping through one of her books from a great art collection.  The village was so quaint, no one other than Monique spoke English, even the dogs barked in French. 
 
This would seem to be our fullest day of culture and adventure yet, as we set out early to visit some fabulous sites to the North East.  Our first stop was a Cemeterie in the next town over.  It gives you a feel for the heritage, for the men lost in wars and the woman who survived them 70 years.  We gained a sense of the town’s religious piety and strength and beauty in this walled cemetery where we uprighted a number of vessels that held flowers.

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Then after a brief rolled-down-window chat with these draft horses, we were “on the road again” – full speed.   
 
We pulled a U-ie, after I spied a pattissierie (pastry sweets) and boulangerie (bakery).  Aran dropped me off for parking illegally seemed impossible to avoid.  When I later turned to his whistle, there he was with a wonderful rose in hand.  He was smiling more about his successful venture with the French, armed with only English, ingenuity and gestures.  At the sweet bakery shop we picked up cookies with molasses, some with pine nuts, cream puffs, a loaf of wheat olive bread, two mini-quiches and a plain baguette as only the French can perfect (soft and light on the inside, but brilliantly firm to scrape up goat cheese or camembert and olive tapinade onto the crust for a perfect bites.  Okay, still Aran’s turn to drive today.

Aran Driving
We fell into a giant market in the town of Lunel.  The town was much smaller than Aix, but their one market seemed the size of Aix’s three combined.  Aran bought me a lovely apron in this market.  Here we saw everything from Musicians, ducks and rabbits to women’s brassieres and trees bearing grapefruits.  Later we find out from Monique that Lunel is a rough and unpleasant town except for the Sunday Market; on that day everyone comes from miles and miles to spend the day shopping, visiting and playing.

Duckies 1

Duckies 2

Jessica And The Rose
It was too cold to carry the rose in my hands through market, so I zippered it up in my coat and leaned down to sniff often.  Such a happy day!  Before leaving Lunel, we stepped into a tiny grocer shop and bought a rotisserie chicken and some fresh fromage de chevre (goat cheese).  Poulet (chicken) in France are rarely frozen.  They come fresh from market, alive until they are put in the bag.  I know that sounds gruesome, but that means ours was fresh, sweet, marinate well and came with flavorful carrots, potatoes, leeks and onions all basted together.  The smell put some pressure on Aran to pull over to the first picturesque place.  We drove to the end of this old country road where this house stood lined with blossoming irises and a running stream.  True France.  Beauty to appreciate everywhere.  Nature embellished and embraced, not separated.  What a gourmet picnic lunch. What a view.  What a honeymoon.

Farmhouse
And that was all before noon! 
 
We drove by Nimes, another ex-Roman stronghold that proudly fills it’s ancient coliseum annually with bulls from the Camargue as well.  None of these little cities seem obtrusive to the landscape. I think a lot of these little towns look like a god sprinkled some French bread crumbs on a tall hill and they became houses and shops.  No high buildings except for a church or two from a distance.  But Nimes was pretty large in comparison.  It’s god just played with all of his food, because Nimes spread out too far from her peak, and had some tall modern buildings as well as the old to see from a distance.   
 
After Nimes, we crossed back over the Rhone river from tiny Tarascon to enter beautiful Beaucaire that possessed Les Aigles de Beaucaire (the Eagels of Beaucaire). And here is where life fell in love with us all over again.

Aran And Jess

Beaucaiere

Eagle 2

Eagle 1

Aran And The Reflection

Eagle 3

Eagle 4

Eagle 5

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Four falconers and four types of birds released and flying, soaring, playing in the intense winds above us, around us, so near to us.  This eagle flew right over our heads and landing just behind us in the trees.  What a spectacle, what a rush, what a gift to see them enjoying the wind, the open sky, the flavor and essence of spring coming.

Hawk

Little Birdy

Bird Home

Crowd And Owl

Owl Landing

Vulture

Raptors On Stage

Waddling White Vulture

Vulture On Legs

Vulture Walking
Between shows we scaled the three-sided tower… some of you have heard this before… Only two days before our arrival, this 12th century castle with 30 raptors re-opened its gates for daily performances of Eagles, Hawks, Vultures and Owls that freely soar above our heads and the castle ramparts.  Close your eyes and warm yourself with one hand on the sun-drenched, tawny, hand-hewn rocks that make up the castle wall; use your other to feel the winds that blow from three different directions up the mountain, over the ancient castle walls, and around the tall tower; and hear the screech of the Eagles of Beaucaire as they effortlessly fly above the wall and hit the winds dead-on with prowess and aviator’s delight. Imagine their unrivaled flight against forces as determined as their very own as it must have looked 5, 6, 7, and 8 centuries ago.  Yes, adrenaline was all about us in the air. 
 
Between shows, Aran and I entered the belly of the high tower and climbed up it’s lungs.  We scaled dark circle after dark circle towards the door that opened to the top.  We stepped upon stones with gibbous moon dips in them all from centuries of suitors.  Once in the sky atop the three-walled tower I felt as if I were trying to win back my sea legs, for the winds whipped hard at the three-sided tower preventing you from truly stabilizing.  After drinking deep from the incredible French landscape that fell off into the edges of the world about us, Aran called my name over the shrieking winds.  He had pulled one of the pressed bouquet petals from his sketch book to drop off the side.  But before I could join him in releasing it to the fates, the wind plucked it from him, leaving him with nothing but a tiny bit of petal clamped between his thumb and finger.  I turned and watched the freed petal flutter, rise, fall, and disappear like a bird, loping in the sky playground.  Wow! 
 
You already know our love was a bit special, but here’s another one to chalk up to “what is meant to be, will be.”  Over an hour later, after another performance by the four brave falconers’ and their incredible birds, we left the castle walls and began our descent down the mountain, through the gardens, and down many (I mean MANY) sets of stone steps.  Nearing the gates at the foot of the castle, I froze mid-step, between stone paver and the soft earth below it, for tucked under a pocket-sized pebble, was a vivid rose petal.  I gasped.  Aran stopped.  We both looked at each other and then incredulously at the petal.  It couldn’t be. Of all the ways to traverse down the ramparts, of all the places the wind should have blown the petal, … it landed directly before our step.

Eagles Of Beaucaiere

Aran Looking At Camera
(we need a photo of that petal from your watercolor kit).
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