De Witt Stetten

My earliest memory of going to ‘the city,’  Manhattan, was to visit my godparents, Alice and De Witt Stetten.  They were best friends of my mother and father and I was lucky to have arrived a girl, otherwise I would be sporting the monniker, De Witt, today.  I prefer Alice.

They lived on Central Park, one of the large apartments built just after World War I, the great war to end all wars.  The city was growing by leaps and bounds and it was chic to overlook Central Park with its lush greenery, winding paths and hidden treasures, lakes, statues and meadows.

The apartment was as large, if not larger, than our big house in Mamaroneck.  I remember best the living room—almost cavernous with a grand piano in one corner.  I never heard anyone play it.  Maybe someone did once, there was a son, DeWitt, a daughter, Margaret, perhaps one of them took lessons as a child.

On the piano was my favorite piece in the whole apartment, a sculpture of Uncle De Witt’s hands, by some famous sculptor of the day.  Just the hands to less than an inch of wrist.  In repose, one hand lightly over the other.  It was done in marble, a light color, lighter than skin but only slightly.  There was a delicacy, a gentleness in the pose, the veins prominent on the top and visible as shadows when the light hit a certain way.

The adults would be on the other side of the room laughing, having a cocktail or a cup of tea, chatting about whatever nonsense adults chatted about.  I wore a plaid pleated skirt, white blouse and navy jacket, white socks and black patent leather sally-pumps.

I sat on the piano bench and stared at the sculpture.  My blonde hair was to my shoulders with the top piece twirled and twisted into a bun.  The center of the bun was left open, a convenient coliseum home for my pet turtle, George, who spent most of his life living there.  At least when I was on the move.  If I had to go, George went with me.  Seven year olds can be very demanding.

My mother knew how to keep me quiet and well mannered, several books always did the trick.  I learned to read at an early age and was happiest with my nose in a book. But I wasn’t interested in the books, George and I were fixated on the hands.

The fingers were long and tapered, but there was a strength that seemed to glow around them.  I could imagine them doing wondrous things, and in fact, that was what attracted the artist to them.  Uncle DeWitt was a renown surgeon. I sat on the piano bench and marveled at how one man could fix people and how another could make a piece of marble into a representation of something so life-like, so human.  Neither George nor I knew how it was done.  But I appreciated the skills thinking as only a child can, that they were both a kind of magic.

Mexican Patio Concert

The sliding glass door opens to my patio. Dog beds scatter the cracked stone floor while leaves skitter across, stopping only for a detour around a chair, a table, anything in their way.

Seconds ago rude birds intruded on the mornings silence in cacophony almost painful to the ears. Now it’s quiet. Cat on the prowl? The birds have no respect for the four small patio dogs, knowing their jumping skills are limited to the dining room table when no one is looking to guard a cake left in the middle, a wedge cut out perfectly for a snout to forage in.
There once was a Jack Russell Terrier on the patio who, in his youth, could snag a bird mid-flight, faster than an eye could blink he’d have a grin on his doggy face and feathers out each side of his mouth. He’s long gone, beyond bird memory, and when he was on this patio he was too old for bird-snagging, slow with arthritis and half blind with age.

No, must be a cat on the prowl.
The school across the street is quiet. No singing, no children’s voices lilting “Frere Jacques” over the fence and across the street. Quiet. Where have the birds gone?
A car passes in the street. One of those non-bird-catching dogs jumps on a tarp protecting the outdoor loveseat. It’s plastic creaks and crumples in complaint. Somewhere close, maybe a block or so away, a loud bang breaks the silence left by birds. Backfire? Firecracker? Gunshot? Neighbor dogs bark up and down the fraccionamiento, but the patio dogs are silent. They save their voices for skateboarders. The bang must be too far away, outside their zone to protect.
An electric saw rumbles nearby. Could be home repair. Maybe a new roof to brave the winter rains? Maybe a new house bringing a new family to a once empty lot. New dogs to join the Hound Chorale as they stake their verbal claim.
But cats challenge both birds and dogs in the contest of who or what makes the most noise. Late at night, on the verge of sleep, lights out and two patio dogs snuggled close, the howling, yowling, crying, screeching begins. Generally close—outside my bedroom window. For some reason unknown to me, my corner attracts skateboarders and fornicating cats. The skateboarders own the day, the cats the night. Thankfully, the dogs remain respectfully quiet when the cats sing. Perhaps they are jealous or maybe enjoy vicariously the thrill of mating. Perhaps they don’t give a fig about cats.
One day we had a feral kitten in the bushes. It was thrown there by someone. To feed the dogs? Maybe they thought with four dogs one cat wouldn’t be noticed?
Two days, two friends, many scratches and several cat traps later this three-quarter pound angry soul was out of the planter and into a home where it was appreciated. Neither the dogs nor I appreciate cats. It was cute, as kittens can be. No thanks.
Still no birds. An occasional car. Children’s voices chatter far in the distance. A loudspeaker on a truck chants its presence in and out of hearing. The saw quiets.

My coffee cup is empty. Time to take a shower. No patio concert to miss.

Colors of a Room

Today I sat in the living room at home in Mexico. I’ve been working for the last week to repaint most of the downstairs.  Today I spent putting things away I wanted to keep and making a pile to go to the Cruz Roja, Mexican Red Cross, thrift shop.  The Cruz Roja pile is not as large as I want it to be, but there are certain things I can’t bring myself to pitch out.  Things with memories of people long gone from the earth but still populating my brain.  The ashes of Tom, my Jack Russell Terrier who traveled the world with me for over seventeen years.   I keep meaning to put him somewhere, but since I’m never sure how long I’ll be someplace, I don’t seem to want to let go of him.  What if I move?  Will he be lonely?  Shall I put him on the hillside overlooking the ocean next to my husband?  At least then they’ll be together.

So I sat in the living room and looked around.  Really looked around, seeing everything in different places and with new colors. No point in writing a memoir, anyone with two eyes and half a brain could tell all about me just from sitting there.  Each wall is a different color.   I don’t care for rooms painted with a sameness, all walls one color, one choice to be surrounded by.  Not for me at all.  I like variety.  Had four husbands, uncounted lovers.  Lovely men, at least for the most part.  Most have died.  One lives on, now over ninety and still going strong.  I’m still here and don’t seem to be going any place soon.

The wall next to the street is yellow.  Not even one color yellow, but several, glazed, rubbed on by hand with care, circular directions, never up and down, no straight lines.  Layer upon layer of yellows piled one on top of the other, each one shining with it’s own power and glow.  When you enter the room that’s what you see—yellows.  Sun.  Light. Open.

The wall with the books, DVDs, vases and memorabilia is painted green.  Light, spring, green tea, delicate sprouts, everything growing.  Not too many layers here, a bit of glaze just there…and there; enough to give it texture.  I don’t much like flat either. 

Facing the green and branching off the yellow is the piece de resistance…pinky color.  It was hard to get just the exact hue, a touch of white, a soupcon of marigold, a bit of peony, a cup or so of glaze, all mixed together to go over a base coat of the softest lightest blush, the color of innocence, youth, first love,  the blush on a virgin’s cheeks. Layer upon layer tenderly rubbed in to give depth, the feeling of age, experience, knowledge.  No bubble gum pink for me.  Not a chance.

The wall of the dining room behind the large mirror is mellow lavender, the color of lilacs outside my childhood bedroom window.  Their tiny flowers foretold the coming of spring, their sweet fragrance reminding me life was moving on and cycling along.  Another year passing.  Time to grow tall, time to learn, time to be strong.

Yellow again climbs the stairs to my room, but a lighter color, subtle, cheerful but not boisterous.  The color of a winter sun, warm, but no longer hot.  It warms to the corner and then melts into blue, light, delicate, like the soft blue green color of new ice in the pond in Mamaroneck where I grew up.  Where we skated in the winters and cooked jimmies over an open fire until they were black outside and hot and soft and potato-fragrant inside.  Where we sat around on rocks, still in our skates, holding the steaming potato in our hands, impatient to get at the good stuff inside, but reluctant to give up the warmth of the charred black skins.

In my house there are posters on the walls, and paintings, and a drawing by a friend of a laughing man.  Posters from the time I was filming a television series in Spain at the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

The Eiffel Tower and sidewalk cafes in France hang side by side with Flamenco dancers and flowers painted by a 1960’s New York artist, name long forgotten.  Canals in Venice, streets in Puerto Rico, women in Labadee, the South of France, our home in Spain.  A menu from a castle in Italy turned into a restaurant that rehabilitates drug addicts.  A large rose diptych I bought to greet my husband when he came into this house for the first time.  He always sent roses to greet me in lonely hotel rooms when I traveled the world for business.  I sit and look around and can fill in the blanks, the people, some friends, some not so friendly.  All colors of the rainbow each with their own memory writ on walls and my mind.

I never liked to stay in one place.  I was never a good wife or mother, too much to see in the world, too many places, too much to do. Shpilkas, that’s what I’ve been accused of.  It’s Yiddish for ants-in-the-pants.   I’ve never been attached to a house, a place, a town, or a city, only people.  The things around me that are important to me move with me and I’m at home wherever I am.  Only my last husband understood; he was very much the same.  Perhaps I should wish I’d been better at those domestic parts of life, but it’s far too late.  There are no do-overs in life.  We all do what we were born to do, we tread those paths that send their siren call to our ears, and if we don’t follow those sweet voices, we might end up regretting it all our lives.

As I sit in my room in Mexico, amid colors, layers and memories. . . I’m content.  But maybe, just maybe, I’ll add a dash of brilliant red someplace.  There’s always time to stir things up a bit.Image

Day 4 Barcelona In The Sun

The alarm clock went off, I think, but I didn’t hear it. Jet lag and angst got the better of me. Carli slept in too but by eleven AM we had eaten breakfast, dressed and were on our way out the door. The sun was brilliant and drying off the last of the puddles left from the day before.
Carli had been studying the bus and metro diagrams on the map she bought. Between the two of us we figured out how to get to the tourist bus line we had spotted through the rain. They offered a two day ticket with the ability to get on and off the bus at any of their stops, take the time to look around and get on the next bus at no extra charge. A good deal. We toured around all afternoon and got a feel for the city and where we were.
It was interesting to learn some of the history of the city through listening to an eloquent female British voice who was clear in her explanations. In the past I’ve taken tours where the voice coming through the earphones was so garbled or spoke the language so poorly I had no idea what they were talking about. Not the case with Barcelona Tourist Bus orange and green lines. It saved our feet and took us through all the neighborhoods we had seen on the internet when looking for an apartment. At most of the stops there were small cafes or bars where you could use the facilities for the price of a beer or soda and a couple of tapas.
The different neighborhoods are fascinating, some old in the original part of the city. Many of the houses on the main streets of Passig Gracia and Las Ramblas are opulent in an upper 5th Avenue Manhattan way of original owners vying for most prestige by having the fanciest house. On Passig Gracia the styles range from Gaudi masterpieces through every architectural style known to man from the 18th century through the present. The area of Barcelonetta, originally an ancient fishing village, appealed to me with it’s narrow streets and smaller homes. The scale was comfortable, homey and gave the feeling of a true neighborhood. Carli is attached to the area where our apartment is located and I have to agree with its accessibility. It’s a neighborhood with bars, restaurants, bakeries and tiny convenience stores packed with everything under the sun. After four days we are already buddies with the Indian family who run the closest mom and pop market and the nice young man at the telephone store.
Taking the tour bus has allowed us to decide which areas appealed most to us and where we want to go back and poke around some more.
There is a big flea market we’ve targeted and a leather factory outlet. After all, we need something to go with our new shoes.
We stopped briefly at Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. And it truly is breathtaking. We were too tired to go inside, it will have to wait for another day.
It happened to be my birthday, so Carli took me for dinner at the highly touted Pudu Can Manel by the harbor. Supposedly the place to go for paella. The first course arrived, a typical Spanish salad of lettuce, chunks of fresh tuna, hard boiled eggs, carrots, and succulent garden tomatoes. The next course was seafood paella filled with rice and hidden shrimp, calamari and some mystery seafood that is probably better left unknown. I found it disappointing. It was tasty but rather dry. Dessert was a flan out of a package.
But the place was just the sort I remembered, like our “local” favorite seafood restaurant in Fuenterrabia (now Hondarribia to satisfy the Basque). Sparkling white tablecloths and shining glassware, walls wooden and graced with pictures of owners going back to the 1800’s, service brusque and competent, all typical of Spain’s myriad of old style seafood eateries. It was a very pleasant evening all in all, and the fact that it was capped off by an ice cold shot of peach liquor was icing on my birthday cake.

LAX to Barcelona…Hopefully

Carli and I are on a jaunt to Barcelona for a week in a rented apartment and then pick up The Liberty of the Seas to cruise for fourteen days. We stop at Cartagena, Malaga, Seville and then on to Las Canarias  to visit Tenerife and Las Palmas before crossing the Atlantic to Ft. Lauderdale.
Our start is inauspicious. Our plane is more than an hour and a half late leaving Los Angeles. Immediately it’s obvious we’ll miss our connections from Madrid to Barcelona. Carli is booked in Business Class and I’m in the cheap seats so we are both sent to hang out in the First Class/Business Traveler’s lounge. Pretty cool, it’s a nice place with surprisingly good food and very pleasant attendants. After stuffing ourselves on Beef Bourguignon, cheeses and drinks, they call our flight.
Did I say we are traveling with a dog? Carli brought Baby, her companion/service dog.
Baby is a Chorgi, a Chihuahua-Corgi mix for you non-dog people. He’s about as mellow as they come and takes all adversity with aplomb. There is something about his big upright Corgi ears and greenish yellow eyes that instantly captivate everyone who meets him. He’s a true gentleman who looks up and submits graciously to ear rubs, neck scratches and compliments
Carli travels airports in a wheelchair.  She’s piled high with Baby, his bed, bags, coat, carry-ons, and I’m schlepping along with a cart filled with our two carry-on bags, handbag, raincoats, neck pillow, books, computer…like that.

Almost at our gate, the cart I’m pushing falls backwards on me. The cart and I end up in a not-so-loving embrace as we sprawl ass over teakettle onto the marble floor. Ignominious. Embarrassed. Slightly in shock. I don’t seem to know how to get my various parts working well enough to get back up. Two men run to my rescue and manage to haul my unhelpful body upright. It must have been akin to trying to right a tipped cow. I thank them profusely. Did I say embarrassed? I limp my way along to the plane, bleeding a bit from one hand and decidedly sore in yet undiscovered places. Ouch!
Carli is delighted to see me moving. She watched the fall in horror and later tells me she thought we were off to the emergency room instead of on the plane.
I’m still groggy as an air hostess leads me to my seat where I paw around in my carry-on bag to find a book and instead find a fistful of some gucky stuff covering the interior contents of the bag. Some unknown thing has managed to squish itself out of its prior confinement when I fell on it. Very bad show indeed!
Face cream? No, too clear looking. Looks more like snot but clearer and cooler.
The Argon oil I bought at the book fair last week and just had to bring along? No, not oily enough.
I have nothing to clean the stuff off with, no tissues, not paper towels. I think of KY jelly. I know I certainly didn’t bring any of that.  Through the crowd of eager passengers streaming aboard, I plead for papers towels and the Air Hostess passes along a handful of napkins. That’ll work.
I wipe off Frommer’s “Barcelona,” Dorling Kindersly’s “Spain” and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Steering The Craft.” My computer case and handbag are covered with sticky goo and I’m stifling the urge to run off the plane and forget about the whole trip. Obviously Mercury is in retrograde and this is not the time to travel.
In my frantic muddling about in the goop in my bag, my seeking hand attaches to a very goopy baggie and there is the culprit—a tube of hair gel, colorless, thank the powers in the universe, that has no bottom. My landing on it must have blown it out, the force making sure that every object in the carry-on was thoroughly covered with the goop, yes, goop. Only slightly relieved I know it had no oil in and should wash off leaving no stain. A small comfort.
The ensuing flight is long. Cramped. Boring. Everything I managed to bruise in the fall starts to ache. My fingers hurt and my palm turns an alarming shade of blue; shortly the sore fingers considerately start to match. My friend Patria, who likes everything coordinated,would approve.
When I went to get out of my seat, my knee refuses to obey without some intense mental prodding. When it does move, it hurts like hell. One way to avoid the pain is to sleep, which I do for most of the trip.
In Madrid, we have a short time to make the next flight to Barcelona, missing the one we arranged for, of course. We are the last off the plane as Carli has to wait for her wheel chair attendant who turns out to be an adorable young guy who takes very seriously his job of herding old ladies around airports. He’s determined to get us to Barcelona and hassles the connection desk to get us on the next flight.  It’s leaving in a few minutes. Running across the airport does little for my knee but we make the flight, stumble to our seats, the plane leaves the walkway to stop dead after rolling a few feet.  We sit on the tarmac for close to an hour and I’m way back somewhere jammed in the middle seat. I don’t care. Next stop Barcelona. Trip over.
In Barcelona we claim three of our four checked bags; my large bag is the missing one.  Of course.  With all my clothes. For Barcelona. For a two week cruise. At the airport they said the suitcase would arrive the next morning. The baggage department fills out a claim form, they take the address where we are staying from our apartment confirmation which I underline and hand to the woman taking the information. She gives me a number to call to check on the bags arrival.
One of the first things on my list is to get a disposable rechargeable cell phone. By the time we reach the apartment it’s too late and all the stores are closed. The next day is Sunday. Have to wait until Monday. That will pose a problem as the woman at the baggage department is intent on insisting that I give her a contact phone number. I tell her we  intend to get one. In the meantime, I figure I can rely on my computer and Skype.
We arrive at the apartment and are met by someone from the agency. The apartment is suitable but very oddly arranged with bizarre hallways, strange nooks one tiny bathroom, one normal one. Someone with not much design sense had a fling at the remodel. Oh well. We move in. I connect to the internet and call the baggage claim number to find out if the errant suitcase has arrived in Barcelona. The woman on the line tells me it’s arrived and will be delivered in the morning to the address I left.
The shower is not easy to crawl into but it feels wonderful after being in the same clothes for more than twenty four hours. I check out what’s in the small suitcase. One short and one long sleeve tee-shirt. Underwear. Two pairs of jeans. One is the wrong pair. I thought it was the comfortable pair when I packed it. Turned out it was the tight pair. Curses! I have makeup, medicine, toothbrush and toothpaste paste. I’ll survive. But I won’t look smart on the cruise in tight jeans and ugly sandals I wear for Tai Chi and walking. I mean really ugly. The kind you wear and hope your jeans or yoga pants hide them if you have to wear them in public. Comfortable, I’ll give them that…not great to wear on the cruise formal nights.
The next day the suitcase doesn’t arrive, but after half-dozen frantic calls, someone tells me that they had delivered it and it was accepted.  Where?  Who accepted it?  She gives me the address.  Down the street at the wrong number! She gives me the name, a boutique hotel.  I call, they have it and can I come and pick it up?  I’m so relieved I’m effusive with thanks both over the phone and when I walk a block to pick the suitcase up.

Carli and I celebrate by shopping for new shoes and letting out a sigh of relief.  I know she didn’t want to listen to me complain about my missing case all the way across the Atlantic!

Corsica – Reflections II

It’s taking a while for Corsica to settle into my subconscious.  Sort of like Thanksgiving dinner digesting over several hours as it settles.

There were a few things I learned about myself on this trip that were as important to me as all the research I did.  Perhaps even more important.

Limits were something I never thought about before.  Whatever I wanted to do, I did.  It never occurred to me I couldn’t do something.  Now, I’m old, and for the first time I realized there are things that might be beyond my capability.  Like climbing a mountain.

I learned I can walk for almost eight hours a day, and on dicey terrain.  There was a price to be paid the next day in pain: hips, back, a bit in the knees.  But I couldn’t climb to the top of a mountain.

My traveling buddy, Melinda, and I took off on what we thought, according to the guide book, was a thirty minute walk to visit a prehistoric site in the mountains.  A walk was specified.  We were dressed accordingly.  Melinda had on flat pumps from Clark’s; I had on a pair of slip-on sneaker type shoes.  We were bejeweled, decorative scarves flung jauntily around our necks, wore raincoats and handbags were slung across our chests.  I had a hat.  We didn’t have hiking boots, walking sticks for balance, ropes, pitons, water…whatever.

I parked the car where indicated and we, in our fractured French, asked two workmen where the Neolithic sites were.  They pointed over their shoulders.  An hour later we were still far from the top of the mountain.  The track went straight up over roughly carved boulders, washed out gullys, scrub roots pushing out of the soil in odd places.  It drizzled for a few minutes and then stopped.  My lovely looking and stylish raincoat that called to me enticingly in Marshalls turned out to be so polyester rich it was akin to wearing a plastic leaf bags.  When I took it off, the inside of the coat dripped water.

Melinda stopped to humor me.  I stopped to catch my breath and gain enough strength in my knees to continue.  And we did.  Up.  And up some more.  I turned to look back and nothing was recognizable below other than a sea of green bushes and shrubs.  We were way up there.  I looked up the track.  We were finally past mid mountain.  I sat down for a minute or two and wiped the sweat off my neck.  I could do this, couldn’t I?

The track continued up in a straight line.  Don’t these bloody Corsicans know about winding around the mountain to get to the top? 

Another twenty minutes and we were at the putative top.  There was a fairly level spot we traversed and then, damn, there was another peak.  Melinda took off and I was behind her, for a while.  Then I knew with a certainty.  I was not making it to the top.  We were really close, but it was not my Everest to conquer.  Melinda wanted to attempt the top.  I sat on a rock.  Off she went.  I contemplated the fact that I was old, less mobile than I had once been.  And I looked down.  Damn, I’d climbed a helluva distance!

Melinda was still up there and the sounds of her climbing stopped.  I took off my coat, hat, handbag and scarf, bright red, mind you, and piled them on a rock next to me.  The drizzle had given way to bright sun.  I rolled up my raincoat and hat, put them in the center of the large scarf with my handbag and rolled them all up into a neat package that looked like a red boa constrictor trying to digest a medium sized pig.  Then I slung the scarf over one shoulder with the pig part in the back and tied a knot in the center of my chest. A few shakes and adjustments and I was off to continue climbing without the hat causing sweat to run into my eyes, the raincoat cum plastic bag collecting water, and the handbag flapping against my hip or falling to the front to trip me when I bent over.

Fifteen minutes more of straight up, the track became narrower.  Melinda was nowhere in sight. And there it was in front of me.  A shear rock face.  The only way up was using both hands and feet to scale that pink rock.  It beckoned.  I quailed.  I sat and contemplated it.  The smell of the maquis was strong, the immortelle was drowning out the sweet jasmine. There was no way around.  And then I learned a second thing.  I learned fear.  What if I fell?  What if I broke my hip there on the mountain?  How on earth would I get down?  There was no one on the mountain other than Melinda and me.  The only people who knew we were there were the two workmen at the bottom.  They had probably already forgotten about the two crazy women with the bad English-accented French.

And then I made a plan.  I could do that very well.  If need be, I could rescue Melinda.  I would go down the mountain, hanging on to the brush and the stone wall meandering alongside the track.  It would take me a while and I would go very slow so as not to fall.  Every rock would be tested for balance so it wouldn’t pitch me over. I could find the local gendarmerie and have them send out a search party equipped with something to bring her down off the mountain if she was injured.  I knew I could rescue my friend if I had to, not by muscling her down on my back, but by brainpower and perseverance.  Those skills weren’t marred by old age and lack of mobility.

A little while later I heard scuffling sounds and small rocks falling down the track.  I yelled.  Melinda answered.  I breathed.  A few minutes later she appeared.  She had made it to the top of the mountain and was triumphant on her return with photos of the ancient village perched at the top of the crest.  It was all there on her camera – walls, entryways, room demarcations.  It had been waiting for her to capture it with modern digital media.  She knew I wanted the photos to write about and she didn’t want to let me down.  I was grateful and shared her joy in her conquest of the mountain.

On our slow and careful way down, I kept remembering my skiing days and the skier’s mantra “you always get hurt on the last run down the mountain.”  It’s the one where you say to yourself, this is my last run, it’s the end of the day and I’m going to quit after this one.  I had paid attention to the old lesson and quit while I was ahead.

As we reached the bottom of the mountain and wound our way through the backyards on the path to our car, I found thanks along the way.  I was thankful for doing Tai Chi three hours a week that allowed me to climb as far as I did.  I was thankful Melinda not only made it to the top but also that she came down safely. I thought for a moment I would have liked to see the village myself, but then I was thankful I had a good friend who had been able to see it, bring me back photos, and do it with no harm. But most of all I was thankful for being alive and able to do as much as I did.

The next day we walked almost eight hard hours to see four different prehistoric sites.  The terrain was more or less level, especially considering the adventure of the day before.  What we saw was astounding, hundreds of the stantari of Corsica and one of the huge burial dolmens.  I put my hand on an 8000 year old carved figure and felt a shiver and a thrill.  We think of all the accomplishments of modern man, but will they survive 8000 years?

So I realized I was also thankful for never giving up, good genes, taking my vitamins and exercising regularly, quiting smoking, and all those myriad decisions I made in the course of my life that coalesced to permit me to touch this ancient man’s accomplishment.

Thank you Alice.

Corsica – Reflections

Corsica – Reflections



This is the first time I’ve sat down to write since I returned from Corsica.  The island is like that, it takes time to absorb all its beauty and mysteries.

I often think of the maquis.  It certainly represents Corsica.  My first reaction on driving through it was: “What’s that funny smell?”  Something just out of reach but with a definite musky quality, a hint of berries, perhaps a lemony touch, an under layer of honeysuckle or jasmine, and a soupçon of acrid eucalyptus – almost but not quite.  It’s indefinable. I thought that maquis was a certain plant and kept trying to identify it.  Turns out it’s an ecosystem of a whole area, rather like a savannah, or the plains. Some horticulturist, me.  My knowledge is limited to things like “tree,” “flower,” or “bush.”

The maquis is so representative of Corsica that Napoleon is reputed to have said when landing on Elba, “I can smell my home from here.”

After a bit of prodding and nudging, I found out the most representative and common plant of the maquis is the immortelle.  It’s very small yellow flowers are dried in bunches for decoration and the myriad of other uses it’s put to.  Oils distilled from its essence are reputed to have curative powers for everything from wrinkles to skin problems, bug bites, burns and most of the things we use the aloe plant for.  Honey from the maquis is very dark, strong and rich.  It bears the pungency of immortelle, and it’s a flavor that takes some getting used to.

Melinda, my travel mate, and I drove, windows wide open, through the maquis to get to and from St. Florent on a spectacular sunny day.  We wanted to inhale the goodness of the air – a bit of salt as we neared the sea, a sun-on-the-mountain-rocks scent, and overlying everything, the maquis.  We often stopped the car, got out and sniffed the foliage.  Some places were sweet, others musky and then almost acidic.  Pine enters into the mix in some places.  Then there was a sweet overlay of something like jasmine Melinda said.  This morning I walked outside my door in Mexico and saw a vine that looked similar with tiny white flowers, impossibly small and fragile.  I sniffed it.  Nothing.  I realized I missed the maquis and was sad for a few moments.  Corsica does that to you.

The national flag of Corsica is white with a black Moors head adorned by a white bandanna.  Now the Corsicans aren’t Moorish and they aren’t black so it’s a bit odd.  There are several stories about how it was chosen.  They all include Moorish pirates and one even has a captured Corsican damsel spirited away by a dashing pirate who ends up beheaded for his trouble.  Another story is similar but no damsel.  Seems a captain of a band of Moorish pirates was going up and down the Corsican coast pillaging all the small villages, raping and capturing the women and making a through nuisance of themselves.  The Corsicans got together and made sure that when the pirates next landed they were greeted by a band of angry men and not just an undefended village.  The captain’s head ended up decorating the tip of a stake as a warning to all pirates that the Corsicans are not to be taken lightly.  It’s alleged to be his head on the flag.

Located between France and Italy,Corsica has always been a great hopping off point with beautiful harbors,  plenty of fresh water and sandy beaches.  The coast boasts a plain that slopes inland to high mountains, streams and lakes, and gentle valleys.  The mountains are inhospitable, granite in grey and oranges, steep and covered with prickly vegetation.  The island is an obvious prize for anyone who could grab it.  The first settlers of Corsica date back over ten thousand years.  Settlements and early man sites date back eight thousand years to stone villages and “casteddu” or walled settlements on top of the mountains.  The Phoenicians, Etruscans, Romans, Genoese, French, Venetians, British, Saracens and anyone else with a boat and a strong desire have tried to take over the island.  Nelson lost an eye in a battle for Corsica.  He was lucky it wasn’t the rest of his head with the way the Corsicans fight.

The French own the island now.  The Corsicans are not at all pleased with them.  Since being part of France, the Corsican separatist movement has never stopped.  There is a mystical Corsican Brotherhood that is part religious, part political and works behind the guise of the Catholic Church to attain freedom.  The FLNC is the overt political movement and its signs are everywhere.  As a nod to Corsican culture, road and street signs, village names, directions, are in French on the top of the sign and Corsican on the bottom.  The top references are then spray-painted or crossed out, frequently shot out, leaving the Corsican designation to remain.  Corsican’s don’t give up easily.  They keep their language within the families, and in the small towns.  Grudgingly, they all speak French too.

So, the way I see it, the Moor’s head is a great symbol for Corsica.  It certainly says loud and clear, “Don’t fuck with Corsica!”

As Americans, we were very nicely treated by everyone we met.  We later found out that of the hundred and fifty thousand annual tourists that visit each year, only about six thousand are Americans.  It was obvious we spoke accented French and were immediately asked if we were English.  My white hair and blue eyes are a dead give-away.  When we said we were Americans from California, the locals were very interested and wanted to know right away how Obama was doing.  We were there just after the Congressional elections, and they asked if he was badly hurt by the results.  When I asked one of the questioners why the interest, he came up with the old saw, “When America has a cold, Europe sneezes.”  They all universally hated Bush and were relieved to have Obama in office.

In a way, the interest in America was surprising.  Corsica is a small island, only about one hundred and fifty miles long by fifty miles wide.  Families are the most important part of the Corsican culture, and the closeness of families is a value.  It’s hard to get too far away in an area that small.  Tiny villages cling precariously to the mountainsides.  The streets are narrow and are two way with no possibility of having two cars side by side, so someone has to give way.  Every journey up a mountain is a heart pounder in a small stick shift auto.  Sometimes I was climbing in first gear and praying the car could make it.  It wasn’t always a sure thing.  I guess if you really wanted to get away you could just move to the next mountain.

Sitting at a table in a small village overlooking the mountain range in front to the ocean on the side is a truly spiritual experience.  You realize that the fog wreathing the shoulders of the mountain is actually fog, not smog.  It’s white.  There is nothing to pollute the air.  You can see for miles when the sun has burned off the morning fog.  As you inhale, your lungs thank you.  This is what it was like to breathe hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago.  No wonder the people of Corsica are so engaged with keeping their island pure.  They have enough civilization.  There is satellite television, high speed internet and cell phones everywhere.  They don’t need high rise buildings crowding the beaches and holiday camps filling up the maquis with hikers.

One of the places in the world where evidence of Early Man is everywhere, Corsica is an island of menhirs and dolmens.  Dolmens are large constructions made of several very large stones put together in the form of a building, thought to be used originally as ossuaries or bone vaults.  The menhirs are carved stones  representing gods, soldiers, protectors – no one knows.  Their purpose is lost in time.  Called “stantari” on the island, they are in alignments, all facing the same directions, no matter where located.  Archeologists study them, but have no real idea of their purpose.  Perhaps the menhirs might be protection because some of them bear representations of arms.  I think Melinda has the right idea.  She noted they were carved and placed in their lines at a time when man was occupied with survival. How to feed themselves and their families was their prime concern.  She was astounded by the passion and time required to take these people from their fight to survive to make these arrays of figures, numbering in the thousands over the entire island.  It says something very telling about the Corsican spirit.

The stantari stand guard on the island as they have for thousands of years.  If you want to see the alignments you have to pay the price of trekking up mountains and through the maquis on heavily rutted dirt tracks.  We went after the rains and forded huge deep  puddles as well.

The stantari remain pure and sure in the respect accorded them.  No idiots dare to carve or spray paint their initials on the stout stone surfaces.  Lichen and fungus grow on the stones, but only the wind and rain have dared mar them.  Over the centuries, t he Corsicans have moved some of the stantari in front of churches, civil buildings and town squares Perhaps it is their warning not to push at the Corsican spirit too much.  The stantari are Corsican, and like the flag, represent the mentality of the island.

On To Ajaccio

November 11, 2010

We have finally made it to Ajaccio, our last stop in Corsica.  We’re at the Best Western and love the big room, all the nice amenities and excellent service – at the best rate so far!  We love American style hotels!!  That’s not to knock the other places we’ve stayed.  We spent three nights in Devil Village and enjoyed the big Labradors that slept in the entrance, the Corsican service and the big room.  It’s just different, that’s all.

We set off from Sartene this morning in sunshine.  It was tempting to try and go back to trek through the sites in Pianu di Levie but we kept remembering the ladies at the Museum warning us about people who slipped on the wet rocks and mud and decided we’d be pushing our luck.

It’s only 57 kilometers to Ajaccio from Sartene, but we spent the whole day getting there.  There is the nice auto route that takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Nahhhh.

We took the road less traveled and wound around every mountain between the two cities on the coast route.  That took us about eight hours including a lunch stop at Olmetto, a small village north of Propriano.  This was an event in and of itself.  I’d say more than 90 percent of the restaurants are closed, especially those in the resort areas near the beach.  This time we lucked out.  The restaurant was cheerful with its bright yellow paint, huge windows filled with sunshine, flowers everywhere.  It was filled, every table, and every spot in the parking lot.  That was a good sign.  We had a lovely lunch, expensive as everything is now for us poor Americans, but it was good.

Lunch was a consolation prize since we’d been disappointed at Filatosa.  We stopped to give one last try to get in.  Arriving there, a Jack Russell Terrier was very pleased to see us and lavish in his welcome.  That was it.  Two more cars pulled up, also trying to get in to see the stentari and other artifacts.  We explained  there was a telephone number to call and perhaps with eight people they’d let us in to have a look around.  One of the men pulled out his phone and tried, but no luck. We all left very disappointed.  It seemed to be a fabulous place to visit as we could see the stone figures when we hung over a fence.  It was so close to the entrance.  It would’ve been the only site not requiring a long trek to see.  Damn!

We patted the Jack Russell one more time and left.  Then we were on the hunt for an ancient ruined castle and a church filled with wonderful frescos.  Struck out again after spending hours winding around country roads and up and down mountains.  After going back and forth over the same road sometimes four times, we gave up.  We think we might have found one entrance, but the entrance was another muddy and rutted dirt road and we had no idea how far we’d have to take it.  It’s clear; to get to some of the sites you really need a 4-wheel drive with big wheels.  The little putt-putt we have was straining to get up most of the hills in first gear.  There’s no way to take it over the dirt roads with puddles who knows how deep.

So, when we saw an open restaurant there was no way to stop the car from pulling into the parking lot.  If a car could have its tongue out and panting, ours was.  It almost heaved a sigh of relief when I turned off the key.

After lunch, it was on the road again and up and down the mountains.  By the time we arrived in Ajaccio I was sick and tired of shifting and driving.  Thank you Best Western for giving us such a nice room.

Looking at my camera, I hardly took any photos today.  Same old mountains, same old ocean, same old rocks.  It’s funny; by now we’ve gotten into the swing of things, the rhythm of Corsica.  And just when it’s about time to leave.  Tomorrow we have the day to snoop around Ajaccio, re-pack our suitcases and relax a little bit before heading back to mainland France.  We’re taking the overnight Corsican Ferry Saturday night, arriving in Toulon Sunday AM and will drive towards Nice and spend the night someplace close to the airport.  We leave on Monday afternoon, spend the night in Madrid, then back to LAX.

We have probably been gone too long.  Melinda just walked into our room and it took her ten minutes to realize that I was watching CNN in English.  It’s the first time we’ve been able to get it so it’s a real treat .

Wow, it’s funny how time is viewed on a trip like this.  It seems like we have been gone forever on one hand, and we’re not really ready to get home.  Then, on the other hand it seems to have flashed by so quickly and there is so much left to see.  But we miss all our friends and the dogs.  We are really dog-deprived…and I can’t wait to play bridge and see everyone!!!


Pianu di Levie & the Musee Departmentale

November 10, 2010

We are still in the Devil Village, and it sure looks ominous again today.  Yesterday we had sun most of the time, today is the reverse, it’s either raining or grey and foggy.  Once in a while the sun peeks out for a few minutes to tease us and then ducks back behind the clouds.

Everything is so high here, the villages are either above cloud level or the clouds hit so the villages are right in the middle of them.  I’m sitting now looking out the window at five ranges of mountains in the distance.  There are clouds sitting on the top of almost every other one.  They are those dark clouds filled with rain and they blow into Corsica from the west.  From my vantage point I can watch the weather go by rapidly as the winds take the clouds from mountain top to mountain top.

This morning it was raining like mad and the forecast was for thunder and lightning.  We planned to go to Levie, a small town in the area known as the Alta Rocca – you know, “high rocks.”  Nearby is the Pianu de Levie, or the Plain of Levie, an area known for its prehistoric sites.  The sites are the Casteddu di Cucuruzzu which was inhabited by Bronze Age hunters and farmers, and the Capula, another site dating from the Bronze Age, and it’s castle.  Sadly, both of the areas were closed, but we could have walked around the wall to get in. We contemplated it until we went to the local Museum at Levie, where the ladies told us it was not a good idea as it was very dangerous in wet weather, and it was certainly wet and getting wetter by the minute.  I had visions of falling into big puddles again, but the women said the stones and mud were very slippery and there was no one to come and get us in case of accident.  We looked at each other, there had been no one to come and get us the last two days either, but there had been no rain and it was not really slippery.  Slippery is the one word that will convince me not to do something.  I value my hips at this point in my life and don’t want to break anything.  Slippery – not good!

The museum was a real find.  It concentrates on prehistory and contained vast amounts of information on the local early man habitations, the vegetation, animals, type of housing, rock formations, history of the area, and artifacts from the local digs.  One of the most interesting graphs was on the formation of the Island of Corsica. Geologists credit the island as being part of the Iberian Peninsula that broke off and later turned around.  It appears that Corsica and Sardinia were one piece, a micro-continent as they phrased it, that also broke apart several millennia after it separated from the mainland.  We had wondered what part of the continent it came from, but would never have guessed that.  Geologists are able to make the determination from examination of the soils and layers.

Traces of mans’ habitation on the Island date back 8500 years.  The two villages and castles that we were unable to visit are dated to the Bronze and later Iron Ages.  The museum had wonderful displays of pottery, arrowheads, tools, basket making, jewelry and ornamentation that had been found in the burial sites and debris around the villages.  We spent almost three hours in the museum, and actually were there until they closed and threw us out.  The women were most helpful and pleasant about making sure our experience was perfect.  It’s a new museum and well arranged, informative and easy to maneuver through.

Our favorite was the Dame de Bonifacio, a woman’s skeleton dated at around 6570 BC.  She is the oldest remains found in Corsica and was probably around 35 years old when she died.  Her skeleton was in almost perfect condition, and modern archeologists were able to determine her medical history.  She had been crippled from several accidents, and they think she died from septicemia because of tooth infections.  She was buried with nothing next to her, no jewelry, ornamentation, pottery or food.  But someone had kept her alive for a long life for her times, and in spite of her deformities. We sat with her for quite a while, wondering what her life had been like about 8500 years ago. It felt like we were keeping her company for a bit.

There was another woman’s skeletal remains, slightly more modern.  She had been younger when she died, about eighteen or nineteen, and the museum dubbed her a coquette, sort of a modern day play-girl.  She was buried with a lot of jewelry and ornamentation – think of the Neolithic need-to-have for the girl on the town.  She had so many artifacts with her they thought she must have been well loved.

The drive up to Levie and the Museum was hair-raising.  The road is a secondary and very narrow, the drop sheer on one side and the mountain looming straight up on the other.  I had the car in second gear almost all the way, and it groaned and coughed up the steep grade.  Every so often there were supports on the outside, but most of the way it was inches away from a plunge down to nowhere visible.  The problem was if I was on the outside, all the cars on the inside were going over the lines on my side instead of hugging the wall like I did when lucky enough to be able too.  And they pass on curves in the rain and fog! We were never sure some idiot wasn’t about to come barreling around a blind curve straight at us.  I heaved a sigh of relief when we hit the pastures and the main roads.

We were disappointed to not be able to visit the villages and castles, but decided we weren’t going to push our luck.  Yesterday was so spectacular it was worth the whole trip by itself!

As an aside, the women in the museum told us that the priests had referred to the Neolithic villages as places where the devils lived.  Not surprising as they surely knew the villagers had been pagans and therefore to be disparaged at all cost.  It’s interesting how the Corsicans responded.  Over the years, some of the Stantari were moved, as symbols of Corsican culture, in front of local churches.  Others were part of the local lore.  One story is that farmers would turn the figures around in a belief that the turning would move the farmers fortunes around.  Needless to say, the church was not too pleased with this.  There are antidotes about a farmer turning a Stantari around.  A year later the farmer came back and complained to the Stantari that nothing had happened to him.  The Stantari is reputed to have replied, “Of course not stupid, you came back here.”

Back to Sartene, it was 2:30 and of course, nothing was opened.  We went into several pizza joints to be told there was no food, we hit a couple of bars and were greeted by stony eyed men in groups drinking.  We know where we’re not wanted.   Just as we were about to get into the car and go back to the hotel to throw ourselves on the mercy of the management for food, I spotted a light on down the street.  I figure if they have a light on they want someone to know they’re open.  Right?  It was a restaurant and they greeted us with open arms.  Well, they looked more or less pleased to see us and told us they had food.  And they did, and it was delicious.  Melinda wanted to take some of her left-over saucisson back to the hotel for the huge Labrador and they laughed and said “Hahaha, a Doggie-Bag.”  She then laughed and told them it was for the dog at the Las Roccas Hotel.  The owner then nodded sagely, “The big tan one?”  he asked.

When Melinda said that was the one, he laughed again.  “We all know him in town, he walks all over the old city to visit every restaurant.”  No wonder he’s a giant dog.  I thought it might have been he was mixed with a Mastiff, but no, he’s just smart.

The most important of the places we wanted to visit is Filitosa, and I just called to see if we could get in.  The answer was “No!”  I weaseled that we had come all the way from Los Angeles, California.  The answer was still “No!”

Melinda’s response was simple, “We’ll just have to come back in the spring like we planned originally so we can see Filitosa, and then we can catch Casteddu di Cucuruzzu and the Capula site too.”

Tomorrow we’re off to Ajaccio.  I hope we have Internet service there too.

Menhirs and Dolmens

November 9, 2010

Today was the one I’ve been waiting for and it exceeded my expectations!  As I sit here writing, everything that could – hurts.  My back, my butt, my legs, my feet are all screaming in pain and I’ve never felt better.

We did it.  In the morning we spent three and a half hours hiking in the plain after a storm.  The locale was about ten minutes south of the Devil Village.  We started out with a little trepidation since we had breakfast watching rain clouds come and go over the valley below the village.  We kept seeing sun teasing out from a distance and it looked like the clouds were being pushed away from us.

Our goal was a series of three Neolithic sites called the Megaliths of Cauria.  We followed directions and arrived as promised at a road that was not negotiable by car.  We parked in the area provided and took off on foot.  There were little signs indicating the Stentari and we followed down a sandy road with ruts that could eat a medium large SUV, 4-wheel drive or not.  We dodged puddles when possible, and one was so large I rolled up my pants, took off my shoes and tried to walk through until I found myself up to my ankle in squishy mud.  Then I kept to the edges where it was not so deep or soft.

Yuck!  My feet were muddy, sandy and my sox were toast.  I cleaned off as best I could and trekked along.  There had been a car of four French people in the parking and we all took off together.   After my foot debacle (the rest went around in the bushes and over a barbed wire), the French people were quite a bit ahead of us. About a half hour of walking later we came to a little sign pointing to “Site” and we followed it through a field where a cow and a bull were grazing but paying no attention to us.  By now the clouds had disappeared and the sun was out in full force.

We came up to a small clearing fenced off by a wire fence and there was our first sighting of the menhirs.  Menhirs are standing stones from about six and a half feet high to about three feet generally thought to be representations of men.  There were about eight or ten of them, different sizes, and lined up in the sun.  Faces and weaponry were clearly indicated on several.  A couple of them had the design of swords.  No one knows who put them there, or exactly when they were made, but it is thought the first settlement was 5700 years ago and the stones date from at least 4500 years ago.  There is much discussion as to their purpose, religious, protection or whatever?  No one knows.  They’re placed in certain designs in relation to the sun so they might be part of a sun worship cult.  The cows watched us as we photographed the stones.  It was amazing the stones have lasted so long and still showed the details so clearly.  Perhaps their placement in the sun has saved them as there is no fungus or moss growing on them.  We appreciated the lack of garbage, debris or defacement in the area.  It appears the French have much more respect for their heritage.  How nice to see something not defaced by some morons’ initials spray painted on!

As we walked around the site there was another discreet green arrow pointing to the “dolmen.”  We walked for another half hour and on the top of a little mound all by itself was the dolmen, a monument built of large stones.  This one was thought to be used for funeral purposes as an ossuary with belongings  of the deceased.  All those were removed over the centuries.  The construction was of six very large flat stones, two on each of three sides, the fourth side open and one very large stone on top.  It was constructed mainly of rose granite.  The top stone looked as if it had cracked over the centuries, but the rest of it was in perfect shape.  It’s dated as Bronze Age and is thought to have been in use through the late Middle Ages.  From the look of the stones in relation to the ground, it appeared to have always been on a slightly raised piece of earth.

Another sign directed us to more of the standing stones and we walked for another half hour to a quiet grove that held dozens of menhirs of all sizes from two and a half through almost seven feet tall.    These were supposed to have been placed in three stages and are dated older than the first set we had visited.  In the shade and cool damp of the grove of trees where these stand, they have picked up another skin of mould, lichen and moss that have erased or hidden the details clearly visible on the others.  But it was stunning nevertheless.  We were able to walk freely among the stones and touch them.  Putting your hand on something that was made over four thousand years ago has a certain odd feeling.  You make a connection to a people we know nothing about, but still, their work has remained for you to touch and see.  If you could only touch their thoughts by touching the stones they carved.

We got back to the car with little incident other than the cow and bull taking a bit more interest in us when we left the grove, but the big boss decided we weren’t going to steal his chestnuts as we walked past them and away.  One of Melinda’s feet slipped into the big puddle on the way back but I managed to navigate it with shoes on this time.  She had another pair of shoes in the car so she could change and not have a wet f eet all day.

It was late for lunch and we realized we had been hiking through the field for over three and a half hours.  I hate hiking.  I never would go hiking when I was much younger.  But it was worth it.

On the way to the site we passed nothing that looked like a place to eat, so we went down the road to Tizzano, a lovely small seaside village.  Nothing was open but we watched the edge of the storm that passed earlier, pound its force on the beach, rocks and small marina of Tizzanno.  We ate some cookies we found in the car and scrounged up a few nuts and raisins at the bottom of a bag.  France is very shirty about eating times.  Lunch is twelve to two and if you’re late, too bad for you.  We missed lunch so we went on fortified by expectations.   Our next stop was to be the Alignment of Palaggiu.  It was only a few minutes back from Tizzano, we had passed the entrance and it was filled with very large granite boulders.  Not very enticing.

We pulled into the entrance, parked the car and looked over the rocks.  There was a road, rutted and pitted from the rains.  This one would have eaten a tank from the looks of it.  Melinda cheerfully announced that the alignment was only a kilometer and a quarter ahead.  I had no sox, feet stuffed in closed shoes with mud and sand between my toes.  The sun was shining brightly.  Like hot.  The sign out front announced “Private Property” and I thought the large rocks shouted their own message.  Loud and clear.

Melinda was much more pragmatic.  “Look, if they didn’t want us to come, why is it marked on all the maps and guide books?”  There is a definite logic to that.

We locked up the car, slid around the rocks and started off up the road.  Did I say I hate hiking?  This time I left my coat, long red scarf and denim hat in the car.  I had schlepped them all morning and they kept getting in my way once the sun came out.

We walked up the hill, down the hill, over the flat area, around several large puddles left from the morning’s rains.  At the top of a hill we came to a very large house and I was worried we were trespassing on someone’s driveway.  Then we realized the house had no roof.  It was ruined and deserted on the top of a hill with a spectacular view of the valley and out to the sea.  Yikes!

The road went down steeply from the house and all I could think of was having to climb back up.  By then nothing hurt anymore, it had all gone numb.  I couldn’t feel my feet, my hips or my back, that is except once in a while when a spasm would hit.  Luckily not very often.

Then we came to a long stretch over flat land.  I heard dogs barking.  There were shots in the distance.  Hunters?  Then Melinda said, “What do you think those big footprints are from?”

I had been looking at them too.  Very large four toed prints in the wet sand in front of us.  Hummm, I thought they were left by a giant Labrador with a hunter.  I was trying not to think about it.

Melinda insisted.  “There are chestnuts all over; could they be from wild pigs?”

“No, I don’t think so.  I think they are from a big dog, hopefully with someone who will keep them busy.”  I had thought of the sanglier too, but then remembered they had cloven hooves.  At least we didn’t have to worry about a wild pig jumping at us from the woods.  We were in the middle of nowhere, no people around for miles, other than those hunters I kept thinking about.

After about another half hour, I said to Melinda, “I’m about done in.  I don’t think I can go on much longer.  I keep thinking about having to go back and the hills.  Did I say I really hate hiking?

“Look, we got this far, we can’t quit now, let’s just go around the next bend in the trail and see what’s what.  Don’t give up because it’s been uphill both ways.”

I had seen some likely looking stones up a very high hill and over from where we were standing.  There was no way…all I could do was groan.

Melinda when on ahead a short way and yelled, “Come on, we’re here!” And we were.  Or at least we were at a clearing with two short stone columns off to the left.  The trail went straight.

“Which way do you think we go?  Straight or what?” Melinda said.

I pointed to something on the ground.  There was a large stick, looks like a handle to a rake or something, and some thoughtful person had placed a green metal angle in front making an arrow pointing at the pillars.  Also, someone had scratched “menhirs” on a totally rusted  sign.  We were there and just a few seconds after we walked through the pillars we were in another world.

According to the books there are 246 menhirs in this alignment, the largest ever found.  We didn’t count them, we marveled at them instead.  They were in all sizes from tiny ones under two feet to large ones well over eight feet tall.  They were standing, leaning, flat on the ground.  Every place we looked there were menhirs hiding in the maquis.  Melinda pointed out there were a lot that were narrowed at the bottom as if they were tapered on purpose to be inserted in the ground.

There were larger stones that looked like they may have been there for a grotto or a small altar, and some even appeared to have been carved.

We walked among these treasures left to by…who?  I photographed my hand on one of them.  It was a stunning connection to people who lived from four thousand to six thousand years ago.

These were in a grove on the lowlands and were subjected to damp and shade.  Many of their details were obscured by fungi growing over them in orange, white and green spots.   But here they were, a few miles from the Stentari we had seen in the morning, and they were facing in similar directions and again, an alignment.  Were they at war with each other or had they been created by the same people?

Melinda touched one on them and said something very profound.  “I wish I knew what they represented.  They were made with great passion by people long ago.  Just think, they had to survive, feed their families, but these stones were so important to them they put everything else aside to build these images.  And now, all those years later here we are and the images survived.  And we don’t know what they mean.”

I turned and looked at the stones, over a hundred of them clearly in sight, and built with an unbelievable cost in human energy and passion.  Here they were, clearly standing so far into the future it had to be unimaginable to their creators.  And here we are touching them, looking at them.  Trying to fathom, through the lichen, fungus, mold and time what the message was that these mystery peoples worked so hard to leave for us.  And we will probably never know.  How sad is that?