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Controversies – Author Stephanie C. Fox’s Blog

Welcome!

This blog discusses the issues that are dealt with in my books:

Women’s issues and feminism, politics, ecosystems collapse, human overpopulation, history/herstory, Asperger’s/autism and Aspie voices, banksters and hedge fundsters and their role in economic meltdowns, honeybee colony collapse, people in fiction, Hawai‘i, Kuwait and other nations in the Middle East, cats, and travel.

Controversial issues and statements will not be avoided. They make life interesting and worth pondering.

Articles and websites are shared here, with my thoughts on them.

Enjoy perusing it all.

If you would like to support me and my work, please buy one of my books. Sales links for them appear on this site in many posts, and on each page.

And…if you enjoy my books, please write a review on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or wherever else you find them.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

Stephanie C. Fox, J.D.

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An Aqueduct, Lavender, and Smile Candy – We Went to the South of France!

We toured the South of France, up the Rhône River, on a Viking River Cruise ship, the Heimdal. (All of the Viking River Cruise ships are named for Norse gods and goddesses.)

This is the website for Viking River Cruises: https://www.vikingrivercruises.com/

 

To get there, we flew via Air Canada on 3 flights to Marseilles, where a Viking representative met us with a car and drove us and our luggage (2 small carry-on bags) an hour away to our ship. We were exhausted, but I took out my small Larousse dictionary and conversed with the driver until we both fell asleep. Fortunately, soon after eating a wonderful lunch aboard the ship, the crew let us into our room – an hour and a half early – so we could sleep until the life-jacket drill 5 hours later. That did the trick – we were ready to enjoy life.

Who is “we”? It is my mother and I. At last, she got to see more of France than just a couple of days while passing through it to someplace else. I had been there with my French class (to Paris for a week, and then to Provence for a week), and again as a summer exchange student (to Toulouse), and again as a college student (for a weekend in Paris with my class).

This was different: it was France for fun, complete with food tourism, history tourism, archaeology tourism, shopping tourism, and a chance to remember how to speak French and improve what I knew.

The cruise lasted for one week, going up the river, visiting the following places in the following order: Avignon, Pont du Gard, Arles, Viviers, Tournon-sur-Rhône, Vienne, Lyon, the Abbey of Cluny, and finally, the Chateau des Fléchères. We could track the position of the ship on the river via television screens in every room and common area, which had a Viking River Cruises logo in its exact location.

This meant excursions by bus and walking tours. There were plenty of other excursions to sign up for, such as a Beaujolais wine and cheese tour, a Taste of Lyon tour, a town of Pérouges tour, and so on, but as their scheduled times overlapped, we couldn’t do everything.

I thought of this as the Nae-Née trip, because in Book 2 of the Nae-Née series, I wrote a trip up the Rhône River and on to Lake Geneva for my characters. It is called Vaccine: The Cull – Nae-Née Wasn’t Enough. In it, sea level has risen sufficiently that, instead of going via the Saône River, a tributary which branches northeast off of the Rhône, they took a more clandestine and slightly circuitous route along the Isère River to get to Lake Geneva. (This would not work in reality. I checked with the ship’s second captain, who spoke English fluently. However, in fiction, anything is possible.) Anyway…there it is: I have worked my books into this post!

We enjoyed the food immensely. A chef oversaw a staff of 8 to produce a wonderful breakfast bar and delectable French meals, plus a dessert bar on the Aquavit Terrace one afternoon, plus a Provence Night for dinner on one evening, served buffet style. Otherwise, we ate in the dining room at tables for six or eight, meeting different people almost every time. Well, sometimes we sat with people we had met previously, just because we liked each other.

   

The people we met were from the United States (most of them), Canada, and Australia. That is in order from most to least. There were 182 passengers plus 56 crewmembers. We got to know as many of both as we could, because that’s the fun of traveling (among other things). I should add that I was the youngest passenger on this trip; most of them were retired people. The age demographic was one aspect to note. Another was race: we were almost all white, except for 2 Asian-American women and one Asian-American man, all of whom had white spouses.

I went on this trip ready to interact and network, armed with lots of business cards, which list my books on the back. Why not? People took them with interest, and I collected a few, too, one of which was from a retired teacher and children’s book author. Her husband was a retired art teacher and artist with curly hair and a beard. He could have played one in a movie, too.

We met political liberals, conservatives, and neutrals. I had no intention of living in a political hidey-hole on this trip. Simply meeting people of different political persuasions than my own liberal one does not necessitate an argument over politics. This was, after all, a vacation. I just wanted to meet people and learn about their lives and thoughts.

That is what many of them seemed to want, too, though when we encountered liberals, we couldn’t help but hit it off and enjoy chatting more. That’s not odd, though.

With the conservatives, we had two memorable encounters. One was with a retired, widowed, brigadier navy general from New Orleans, Louisiana and his divorced, same-age-group girlfriend. That was the first evening.

It was she who brought up politics – though introducing myself and answering their questions about my books may have triggered this. She is against abortion, Catholic, and a Republican. He is a Republican. I did not conceal my leanings; I merely stated them. Having taken each other’s measure, we declined to spend the entire meal discussing politics, though she did attempt to spend part of it telling me off for my leanings. I wasn’t sold, of course.

We saw them repeatedly on tours, and did not talk about politics again. Instead, we talked about the fun we were having…except when she climbed one level up the tier of the ancient Roman arena in Arles, slipped, and scraped a huge piece of skin off the base of her hand. She was okay; she cleaned that up later, on the ship. My mother, a nurse, offered to help, but no – declined. It wasn’t that dire, apparently.

The next evening, we sat with some other people for dinner. To our surprise, another mother and daughter were traveling together, and they were related to a Spanish teacher at MacDuffie, the private high school I had attended! I studied French, however, so I only knew who this teacher is. It was one of those things where you simply don’t get to know someone because your schedule directs you elsewhere in life.

Also, we met a nice couple of liberals and their friends – well, one woman had voted for Trump and now had voter’s remorse, but the others had voted for Hillary. The husband, a large, bespectacled, round guy with a goatee, roared with delight when he found out that I love to watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert as an antidote to all that is going on politically – he does, too!

Another day, we met a couple from Daytona Beach, Florida. The wife was a microbiologist who worked in the hospital there, identifying pathogens. The husband worked for a food corporation. This was their first trip to Europe. We saw him often during the trip. He liked to go around chatting with different people. She liked to sleep late, so we saw her less often. We weren’t there to sleep, despite my habit of sleeping late when at home. Not on a special trip, I don’t! I don’t want to waste my chance to see or do or eat or drink anything.

At lunch the next day, we sat with some people I had chatted up in the stairwell seating area just before the dining room doors had opened. They proved to be Trump-supporting, Catholics who had lived in the Chicago area for most of their lives and retired to Naples, Florida. They were part of a group of 26 people from Naples who were traveling with their priest, one Father O’Something. (If that doesn’t tip you off that I didn’t seek him out, nothing will! He was pointed out to me, however, and he seemed nice.) Among the people at lunch that day were a retired banker who, judging by their level of comfort, may have attained bankster status during his career, his non-career wife, whose name, for the purposes of this account shall be Jenny, plus another couple, the wife of which had worked in real estate. She had a flawless pastel pink manicure and matching lipstick.

At lunch, it was Jenny and the bankster who held my attention. Several things happened during that meal. First, the bankster, who was seated next to me, was disclosed to be coming down with a cold. Damn! On vacation, right next to me, possibly infecting me and my mother via an airborne microbe… He dropped his menu, I picked it up for him just to be polite, and then raced off to the bathroom to wash my hands with soap and warm water, all the while doubting that that would get me off the hook. My mother had me sit next to him just to avoid the microbes – as if that would be any guarantee. Nice try, nurse, but we came back with a mild, annoying cough each. Oh well…

This lunch wasn’t finished providing interest, however. I settled into my seat and ordered the soup and some other items, as did all of us except the bankster, who insisted upon eating a burger and frites (fries). No soup for him, even though it was a wonderful vegetable purée that would have made him feel good. There’s no logic with some eaters! Every lunch and dinner featured a delectable puréed soup, and I had them all.

My cards were brought out, and with that, my political leanings and blog were revealed. With a devilish gleam in my eye, I observed what came next. Jenny announced that she was never, ever going to watch any of Matt Damon’s work again because of his rendition of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Saturday Night Live. Meryl Streep’s remark at the Oscars about how she didn’t know what people were going to watch if they took that attitude came back to mind. I was like, “Really?”

Jenny seemed on the point of lighting into me about politics when her bankster husband shut her down, telling her not to get into it. She heeded his advice. I just watched. Really, revealing ourselves for what we were was enough for me. This was a vacation, not a fight, and a fight would achieve absolutely nothing.

Then something else happened: Jenny commented on the fact that wine was part of the offerings at every lunch and dinner, one red, one white, but she was disappointed to say that she could never enjoy it because it gave her headaches. I glanced up from my food, picked up my glass of French red wine, and said, “Actually, you can, because the French don’t use insecticides. That’s what causes the headaches.” With that, I took a sip of wine.

I had no idea that I had made any impression on her about anything at that moment, but she took a liking to me. She became very cheerful every time she saw me, greeted me, and a couple of days later, she found me at the computers and informed me that she was having a wonderful time enjoying the wine on this trip!

That was gratifying. My mother had just come to find me, and she heard the whole thing.

Across from the computers is a library and reading area. Passengers may take any book for the duration of the cruise as long as they put them back by the end of it.

We also met some political neutrals, as I mentioned earlier. One group included a retired pair of wine dealers from New Hampshire, along with the husband’s sister, who had been widowed last year after 50 years of marriage and 4 or 5 kids. She was morbid about it, and her brother and sister-in-law had exhorted her to come on this trip rather than stay home and mope alone. She was enjoying herself, though she stayed aboard for most of the excursions, reading murder mysteries. A single, retired nurse whom they did not know, who was traveling alone, found that she liked to read the same sorts of stories, so they ended up eating most meals together. We ended up making friends with the wine dealer couple and exchanging e-mail addresses.

Another evening, we met two liberal couples from Wisconsin, including a biology professor and a social worker. They can’t abide Scott Walker, their governor. Once I knew that, I told them that Scott Walker reminds me of Buffalo Bill in The Green Mile – the monster who murdered the twin girls, which was the crime that the good guy, the healer-telepath named John Coffey, was executed for. They liked that comparison. The retired biology professor also enjoyed finding out about the French equivalent of the CDC, which is in Lyon. More on that later.

Most of this blog post will be a photograph gallery that shows the delights of this trip from here on. You will be able to see the ship Heimdal, the food, the 12 locks that we rose up through and out of, the places and sites that we visited, and some shops. I shall not identify the people who went on the trip, however. They were just trying to enjoy a vacation, not to be tracked.


Cruising on the Heimdal, Food Tourism, and Site-Seeing

I might as well describe the ship. If I didn’t, and I were the reader, I would be disappointed. The ship was anything but a disappointment – it was awesome!

It had beautiful staterooms, with compact, wood-paneled bathrooms and flat-screen televisions, a safe, a closet, and, if you had an above-water-level room, a sliding-glass door. Ours had a French balcony. The cleaning people worked like magicians, in and out as we ate breakfast. We would come back and find fresh supplies of towels, lotions, and shampoos waiting for us.

For a lot more money, you could have a little terrace with 2 chairs and a table, but that seemed excessive. We saw one when our ship was double-parked once with another Viking ship. Our room was perfect. The crew lived below, in the stern half of the ship. The other half had staterooms with a minimal view. The most expensive rooms were on the top level. However, the walkway was right above those, and it was announced that there was a rule: no walking on it between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. The reason why is obvious: sleeping with footsteps above you is difficult!

We enjoyed our room very much, and the bathroom. The shower water heated up immediately, and the water drained through a rectangular slat in its wood floor.

The amenities were fun; we watched a movie that takes place in Provence, called A Good Year (we had seen it before, but so what?), and told the wine dealers about it. They hadn’t seen it before! The wife was excited when I described it to her, and watched it soon after. It is based on a book by Peter Mayle, who lived in Provence.

Price: $9.99
Price: $15.95

That wasn’t all that we could see on our room’s television. We could watch the news. The choices were: CNN, Fox News (I insisted that we NOT watch it!), CNBC, and BBC News.

We watched CNN and the BBC News. The History Channel and various Viking River Cruise videos were available, too.

Also, we could look up the weather, the day’s menu for each meal, and watch a required video about safety about the ship. We did all of that.

Just below the television was a set of outlets which offered voltage options for appliances from either North America or Europe. This was great, because I could keep the batteries for my camera charged. I had a Nikon camera with me, which I had separated into 3 zip-lock bags in my suitcase (the camera body in one, the lens in another, and the battery with its charger in another). Next to that was a different sort of charger, one that held 2 tourist listening devices. They worked by hanging the red cloth cord, which said “Viking River Cruises” in white on it, over our heads, plugging a long, thin, black cord into the side and putting the earpiece at the other end into one’s ear, and then going out to meet a guide, assigned at the front desk by a card that identified which group we were to be in for any given tour, such as “2E”. When we met our guide, she or he would hold the pointed end of the device up to a lollypop-shaped sign that said “2E”. The device would vibrate, and then the light around the +/- sign would glow purple. After that, when the guide spoke, it was clear and perfect…unless the guide walked around the corner of a stone wall. Solution: keep up with the guide!

 

There was a rule that the ship had for keeping informed as to which passengers were and were not aboard the ship: take cards with our names and room numbers on them with us, and turn them in at the desk upon arrival. They went into a beautiful wooden drawer with numbered slots. We kept our room keys at all times. These were beautiful plastic cards with images of river views, to be passed over a computerized lock for entry, and then inserted into a slot inside the room to keep the lights on. To darken the room for sleeping, just take the card out.

 

The front desk was an elaborate, attractive affair, and the staff who worked it were experts, armed with maps of each place we visited. If they didn’t know the answer to a specific question, they would research in the office behind the desk. I returned the favor when I found information, sharing it so that they could use it for future guests. Gorgeous tall floral arrangements graced the corner of the front desk. The shop was across from it. Rest rooms for all were just behind that, plus more on the level above.

Upon leaving the ship, we were seen off by the maitre d’, who gave out bottled water (I know, plastic = bad) and, if it was raining, huge, red, Viking-logo-printed cane umbrellas. When we returned from an on-shore excursion, we would be greeted by the chef and maitre d’, who handed us delicious drinks. These included mulled wine and hot chocolate with rum, which came in large paper cups, or currant juice with vodka, which came in shot glasses with the Viking logo. They were different each time. Below, from left to right, are our French 1st captain, the chef, a passenger, the maitre d’, another passenger, and the cruise director – a hilarious British guy who said he could work as a stand-up comic for a second career. He definitely could!

The ship had 2 captains: one was the boss, and he was French, and the other was the 2nd captain. He was Hungarian. The Hungarian one could speak fluent English, and he gave a lecture and question-and-answer session about the workings of the ship one afternoon.

That was another feature of the trip: afternoon lectures. Our excursion planner, a French woman named Alexandra, gave several of these, including one on how to speak French and to interact with French people in shops (don’t pronounce the “s” on plural words, and say “Bonjour!” to shop people and others before starting to talk with them about ANYTHING else), and another on the region of Provence. Avignon and Arles are in Provence. The other cities we visited were in other regions of France, including Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. One excursion even had us driven an hour north into Bourgogne – that’s Burgundy, in English.

And then there was the fabulous, wonderful food tourism!

Breakfast meant that we ate smoked salmon eggs Benedict, blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, French toast (called pain perdue, which means “lost bread”, in French), made-to-order omelets, and Viking muesli from the breakfast bar. That last item was more like finely ground, cold oatmeal with berries in it, and it was good. There was French yoghurt with raspberry sauce, too.

Lunch and dinner had some mundane options for those who did not care for food adventures. I wondered why people would travel to places where they didn’t want to eat the local cuisine.

I wanted France partly because of the food. That’s part of the experience, after all, so there’s no point in going unless the cuisine is to be appreciated along with the tours.

The left side of the menu, however, contained the food adventures, and I went for them repeatedly. So did my mother. So did most of the passengers. Most. Not all. Sigh.

I wondered who would not want garlic soup, butternut squash soup, pea soup, scallops with soft radishes, asparagus, and potato purée, coq au vin, rack of lamb with herb butter, chocolate lava cake, chocolate mousse, or pears poached in wine, but I didn’t ask. I just enjoyed the food.

For Provence Night, the chef had arranged buffet tables all over the dining room: cheeses, olives, pickled garlic cloves, sausages (I skipped those), salads, fish, bouillabaisse, smoked salmon with fresh dill, and a beautiful array of desserts.

 

  

  

As if that weren’t enough, the cruise director and the excursion director dressed in Renaissance costumes and went smiling and joking around the room.


Avignon

Camille – historic interpreter for Avignon.

Camille was the historic interpreter who guided us into and through the walled city of Avignon, home for 68 years during the 14th century to 7 or 9 popes, depending upon which version of history you adhere to. She showed us the papal palace, of course, but also les halles (the food markets), the town square, the opera house, the hôtel de ville (that’s the city hall), a parfumerie, and a clock tower in which the figures fight with each other every time the bells chime. Their names are Jacques and Jacotte, and they preside over the Place de l’Horloge (the Clock Square).

In the papal palace, we saw a model of it, a courtyard that had been added to over the course of the palace’s occupation, a tower with the bell that was rung whenever a conclave of cardinals chose a new pope (they didn’t use black and then white smoke to indicate their choice back then – they simply rang the bell when the decision was made), and a golden statue of the Virgin Mary presiding over the premises.

 

 

There were huge touch-screens in several of the palace rooms, which Camille used to show us how the palace looked when it was occupied 8 centuries ago. CGI artists had created many of the images, and they had done a fabulous job. We saw the cedar ceiling, newly restored, in the papal banquet hall, and a CGI rendition of its original painted artwork depicting a blue sky with stars. We saw the papal bedchamber, the grande cuisine, and dressoir area of the banquet hall where food was heated and plated before being served, and we went into the kitchen (grande cuisine) to stand where the cooking fire had been and look straight up at the hole where the smoke had wafted up and away.

Camille surprised us in the papal palace with her beautiful soprano voice, singing “Ave Maria” to demonstrate the acoustics of the music room. This room was full of museum exhibits. That was the last part of the palace that we saw before the gift shop, which was in two rooms, located down some steep staircases, which had railings (very important, at least to me!). In that shop, I saw wine, olive oil, lavender, herbes de Provence, figurines, and music for sale, among other things. I looked at the music in my first experience of timed shopping, not wanting to miss either the chance to shop or the next part of the tour.

Camille did give us some time to peruse the wares and buy something, and I wanted to bring my father, an Episcopalian heretic who goes to church only for the music, something from the famous papal palace. I looked at the choices and settled on some medieval party music, because I was unsure about his collection. (It turns out that his collection, though it includes religious music, is from a few centuries later in time, so I need not have been concerned about a duplicate purchase!) This is what I bought, and when he saw it, my Aspie father’s face lit up in a rare show of delight. (We Aspies tend to have flat affects, so this was a noteworthy event. It also meant that the CD was a big hit!) We have listened to it, and it’s great!

Out on the streets of Avignon, Camille continued to entertain us. She told us the medieval tale of a sad queen and a kind confectionery chef. This queen never smiled. She must have been homesick. Or maybe her husband wasn’t nice. Whatever was wrong, the chef was determined to make her smile. So, he created a delectable treat for her made of honey, ground almonds, orange zest, and marzipan. He presented it to her and waited as she tasted it. Her face lit up with a smile at last! From then on, the chef cut it in the shape of a smile, and it is a signature candy of Provence. The next day, I found some and bought it. The women in the shop heard me recounting the tale to my mother as we found it, and gave me a taste. I smiled, of course.

After showing us several more places in the city, Camille told us how to get back to the place where we had entered it. From there, we would see our ship across the street. Also, along the way, we would find Fragonard, a family-owned and run parfumerie that I had spotted shortly after we had entered the city. I wanted to go back there. We found it easily, and then I found a scent I liked.

 

On the way out of the city, I paused to photograph one of the metal plates in the paving stones. It depicts the keys to the city, which the popes held.


Pont du Gard

Jérèmie – Pont du Gard guide.

Jérèmie was our guide to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pont du Gard. A pont is a bridge, and the Gard is a river. Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct, built between 40 and 60 A.D., with no mortar. The water ran through the top level. In the 19th century, a passageway was added on one side. It’s still there, but is open only to foot traffic today (and that’s a good thing).

The site includes a visitor center with a short movie that explains how the aqueduct worked, and detailed exhibits of archaeological artefacts in the lower level. We were treated to a lecture by our guide about thermal baths and how they were engineered, complete with cutaway looks at remains of some. Lead pipes were used, which is really the only drawback to Roman water delivery infrastructure. A sewage draining system was part of their ancient cities, and the bathhouses had everything that a modern health club offers, including exercise classes, baths, toilets (with no privacy other than sex segregation), and mosaic murals of women in outfits that resemble bikinis as they play an athletic game.

 

When Jérèmie was satisfied that his lecture had included enough data, he led us up into the afternoon daylight, through the mulberry trees that lined the outdoor atrium, and off toward the aqueduct itself. As we walked, he pointed out an olive tree that has been alive since A.D. 908. It was given to the site when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

Jérèmie led us right up to the aqueduct, paused to talk on the side with the 19th century walkway, and then brought us around to the right and down a short path.

And then we looked up and saw it, presiding in its glory over the Gard (or Gardon) River.

We could smell the river below, and even glimpse some fish swimming in it. A flat riverbank of small gray pebbles ran up to the water, and some people were sunning themselves on a blanket. Others were swimming, and we even saw a canoe. If we wanted to walk the 80 steps down, we could go and take a closer look. I was not about to drag my mother down 80 steps or have her wait for me at the top, however, so we went back up the short hill to watch the 15-minute movie about the aqueduct.

It was well worth the trip to see this.


Arles

Catherine – Arles guide.

Arles (don’t pronounce that “s”!) is where the Dutch impressionist Vincent van Gogh spent his most prolific period (over 300 paintings). The yellow house where he stayed with post-impressionist Paul Gaugin is gone now, but the hospital where he stayed remains. It’s not a hospital now, however. It is a garden for the public, a museum, a shop, and there is a little cafe.

Any point of interest in the city of Arles that has something to do with Vincent van Gogh is marked in the paving stones with a metal plate and an outline of him carrying his work materials.

Our guide, Catherine, talked to us a bit about the artist. She said that he likely had a combination of bipolar disorder and epilepsy, hence the fits, rages, and hospitalizations. Several years ago, the CBS magazine show 60 Minutes did a story on him, one which I mention from time to time, in which it told the story of his death. This is it:

The life and death of Vincent van Gogh | New revelations about Vincent van Gogh’s death suggest that the troubled Dutch painter may not have killed himself after all

He did not commit suicide, and he likely had Asperger’s. He was accidentally shot by some stupid, wealthy, irresponsible young men who were fooling around with a shotgun as he walked back at the end of the day from a wheat field where he had spent the day painting. The barrel of the gun was too long for him to have been able to both reach the trigger and shoot himself with it. He lied to the police to save them from trouble, and said he would be easily believed due to his reputation for depression and difficulty earning a living. The lie worked, and when one of their friends (not the shooter, but perhaps a witness) was an old man, he talked. As an Aspie myself, I won’t let this go. The evidence does make it a plausible story. And just because van Gogh had problems, that didn’t necessarily make him suicidal.

Catherine showed us the hospital where van Gogh stayed, and the Cafe de Nuit, where he created one of his most famous paintings. She disclosed that he never ate there, as the food wasn’t very good! A new owner has it now, and has chosen a name that is as similar to the painting as possible.

Catherine also showed us the city’s ancient Roman sites, which include an arena. At one time, she said, the interior was completely full of houses, as the city walls did not yet exist. The people were using the arena itself as walls for security. Eventually, long after the medieval walls were no longer necessary, the arena was emptied of these houses and used for bullfights. It still is.

While we were there, Catherine took out a book of images in plastic pages. It contained the sites as rendered by artists, showing how they looked in Roman times. She also had some images of Arlésienne girls in traditional gowns and ribbons. They compete to represent their city, she told us, and the most beautiful and most intelligent is chosen. A brain is required, of course, to talk about the history and culture of Arles. I found some postcards with that artist’s work later and bought them to show in this blog post.

We came out of the arena and saw shops that sold sweet-smelling sachets of lavender – “lavande” in French – and then came to a wall with a fence after walking a bit farther. We looked in at the ruins of the outdoor theater. Actors and actresses were killed after the performances as part of the entertainment, unlike in Greek performances, she informed us. Lovely…not!

We were shown the city hall and a few other sites, too, plus some shopping areas. The best lavender store there is called Le Chateau du Bois, Catherine said.

It smelled wonderful in there, and we shopped in it.

After that, I went looking for some smile candy and found a wonderful confectionerie.

After all that, we went to the town center to meet another guide, who walked us back to our bus. Arles is south of Avignon, where we started. Overnight, the boat had gone south to the vicinity of Arles, and then headed back to Avignon while we toured Arles, so the bus drove us back there. After that, it moved north during the night.


Viviers

Josette – guide for the town of Viviers.

Our next stop was in the town of Viviers, which was full of lovely, hand-lain, cobblestone streets and hills. At some point during the 20th century, they were torn up so that the infrastructure below – drainpipes for sewers, etc. – could be rebuilt. Then the stones were painstakingly relaid. They go in multiple directions, which provides traction during the rain. It was raining, so we experienced this with our guide instructing us as to how to take advantage of it.

At the top was the oldest section, inhabited by only 23 people, our guide told us.

Her name was Josette, and she was 70 years old. She was a retired high school teacher of German, and she lived in a town nearby.

About those 23 people who live at the top of the hill in Viviers: they are not priests. They are descendants of the homes’ original owners, and many live alone.

The rest of the people in Viviers crowd into the other buildings. Josette led us down the main street from the quai, which was lined with a variety of sycamore tree that was planted by Napoleon’s troops all over the South of France to provide shade. These trees have a beautiful tri-colored bark. When the river floods, their trunks get submerged, but they recover and live on.

We walked all around Viviers in the rain, and we saw a Renaissance house that the city’s tax collector built. It had beautiful carved faces on its facade.

Josette told us how it was paid for: with the tax money that the fool collected. Eventually, the king’s officials got him and executed him. Some people are idiots, it seems!

She stood in a doorway to show us some low ledges on either side. These were for laying a board across. Homes doubled up as shops in the past, and shopkeepers would lay their wares on the boards just outside their front doors.

We went up and up to the top of the city, so that we could look out at views of the city, the valley below (a nuclear power plant was in the distance), and the area where Josette lives (she pointed it out to us).

After that, she led us into the cathedral, which she said looks a lot like Notre Dame de Paris, only on a smaller scale.

Then we headed down again to a private courtyard with an ancient well, where Josette was delighted to find that her best friend, another guide for another group from our ship, and a resident of Viviers who had a key, had left it unlocked for us. We looked inside at the former water source for the residents of the houses at the top of Viviers. It was rainwater. Now they drink and wash and cook with water delivered by pipes.

We went down the hill, chatting with Josette, and I noticed some small posts on the edges of the sidewalks. These were everywhere we went, not just in Viviers. I asked what purpose they served, and was told that they exist to keep cars off of the sidewalks. French drivers will go up onto sidewalks to get around each other or to park otherwise, depriving pedestrians of the space if not deterred by these posts. The ones in Viviers were painted red.

We enjoyed meeting Josette and learning what she had to teach us, and told her so as we thanked her before heading back to the Heimdal. Swans were swimming nearby.


Tournon-sur-Rhône

Sophie – guide for the town of Tournon-sur-Rhône.

Our next stop was Tournon-sur-Rhône (“sur” means “on”). This was our view the evening before our tour of the city:

Sophie took us around the city, showing us a school, a church built into rock, a bridge, and lecturing as we went along.

Next, she took us for a train ride. That was a short bus ride away. As we rode along, I asked about cemeteries, because the lecture was showing a growing population on finite land. Where did they put the corpses? Did they bury them, cremate them, what? The answer was that most people choose a burial in a cemetery, but it is for a period of only 30 years. An additional 30-year term may be rented if there are relatives to visit and tend the grave. Otherwise…she did not know, but would have the answer for me later in the day. The answer turned out to be relocation to a mass grave, thus unmarked. Only the famous get to lie in place undisturbed, it seems. I would rather just be cremated and get it over with! Cheaper, easier, and space-saving… I thanked her for her research. The guides were impressive with their knowledge and with their determination to fill in any gaps, and no question seemed wrong or silly to them.

The train was an antique one that had been used by farmers to move their goods down a mountain. We were to ride in the 10th car and see the engine turned around at either end.

We got in, settled into the seats, and the train chugged slowly out of the station. The views were nice. We saw an old mill on a dam, and a bridge.

Suddenly, the train came to a halt. Something was blocking the tracks. How would we get back if the train’s engine couldn’t detach and move to the back car as planned?

No problem. It pushed us backwards. We hadn’t gone very far. It turned out that a huge rock had fallen onto the tracks during the night, and would have to be removed later.

We got back on the bus, unperturbed, and rode off to collect 4 hikers and their guide, with Sophie lecturing about wines and rare vintages. Along the way, we saw a Valrhona chocolate factory.

Valrhona is some of the best chocolate in the world. When I worked at Williams-Sonoma, we sold it. If a bar fell to the floor and broke inside its wrapper, it was gleefully marked out of stock and “sacrificed to the tasting goddesses,” as our supervisor phrased it. Sophie appreciated that sentiment.


Vienne

Phillippe – guide for Vienne.

Our next stop was the city of Vienne, which had (you guessed it!) a cathedral and more ancient Roman ruins. Oddly, I was not at all bored by it. Each guide and each site yielded some new and fascinating information. I was in my element. By now, I had told several of the guides, including Camille and Sophie, that I had worked as a historic interpreter in the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Houses in Hartford, Connecticut. The major difference was that it was far more difficult for me to actually lose a tourist! A minor difference was that I had to make sure that no one touched anything. These guides could allow us to sit on, lean, and touch many things.

Phillippe took us through a park first, where he showed us an unearthed, ancient Roman road.

The road had a foot-stone for pedestrian traffic – just one was left – and wheel tracks.

When we had all looked at that, we moved on to see the cathedral.

The priest who was traveling with us turned on the lights in one part of the cathedral. He wasn’t wearing a habit at any time on the trip, but we all knew who he was. I was amused to think of what might happen if the resident priest were to appear. Surely, another member of the same organization couldn’t be faulted for showing off the premises in what was literally and figuratively a better light. But, no challenger appeared, so we just enjoyed the better-lit view.

Phillippe pointed out that some of the stained glass windows had modern patterns, and said that they dated from the 1950s. They were replacements due to damage during World War II. The windows that hadn’t been ruined, which were a little more than half of them, had their original figures of stained glass. I liked those better, but what can you do? Damn all wars…

Next on the itinerary was a Roman temple from the time of Augustus, the 1st emperor. It stood in a square next to metal sculpture of a cow, courtesy of the Yoplait corporation.

  

Next: a Roman park and sewer system, exposed by archaeologists.

We went up the hill to see a mural of people from many points in time participating in the same theatrical production, then walked back down again through a rose garden.

The roses were still in bloom, and I smelled and photographed 2 of the blossoms. Their scents were sweet, even in late October.

We headed for the city hall, passing a 900+-year-old building along the way. Since the U.S. doesn’t have any structures that are that old, I had to photograph it.

At the hôtel de ville, we boarded a trolley that took us to the top of the city.

Once up there, Phillipe pointed out the Roman amphitheater, which we could see by looking straight down.

There was also an old church. We went inside to look around and hear a tale of some children seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary. Its door had beautiful ironwork.

It was still raining, and that was the end of our tour of Vienne.


Cruising Up the River and a Wheelhouse Tour

We got a break from touring as the Heimdal moved up the Rhône River, and a tour of the wheelhouse. There were some more locks to go into, rise up through, and come out of.

It was fascinating to see the details, and to notice the huge building that housed the engineers and the mechanisms that controlled the locks.

Later on, we were invited to go up to the wheelhouse in small groups to meet the captains and see everything, so we did. Look carefully at the wheelhouse as it is fully raised. It can be lowered with hydraulic gear so that only the windows are above the deck. The reason for this is to fit under low bridges.

The Hungarian captain talked to us a lot, and listened to my question about the river routes. He was very nice, and very blunt and to the point, which I liked. The answer is that my furtive route only works in fiction, but that’s okay, because it’s fiction. The French captain was equally nice – he just couldn’t talk to us in English. It wasn’t surprising that the Hungarian one knew English, as did the waitstaff, who hailed from the Greek island of Samos, Bulgaria, and Romania. What could they do with those languages but stay home? And they did not want to stay home. They wanted jobs elsewhere. Perhaps they needed jobs elsewhere, with too few of them at home. One waiter worked as a waiter at home when he wasn’t on the ship.

We said thank you to the captains and went back to the lounge.


Lyon

Isabelle – guide for the city of Lyon.

On a rainy morning in Lyon, our guide, Isabelle, introduced herself with a lovely smile and took us to see the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which presides over the city from a high hill.

Struggling with raindrops on my camera lens and a huge, red, Viking River Cruises umbrella perched awkwardly on my shoulder, I managed to get a few good photographs of it before going in.

Once inside, the art show could begin. Art was how the church had communicated scripture to the illiterate masses. If a person can’t read, they can always relate to pictures.

We saw plenty of pictures in paintings, murals, mosaics, sculptures, stained glass, and tapestries. It was all very beautiful. One of the nice Catholic women from the Naples, Florida contingent who knew that I was an atheist approached with a sly smile as I clicked the shutter repeatedly and said, “How do you like all this religion?” I gave her a devilish grin back and said, with enthusiasm, “It’s art! And culture! And history!” She didn’t push for more. I gathered more images in peace.

Isabelle talked for a while, then led us outside to look at the view, and at a panorama of the city. She pointed out the financial district, the shopping area, the political center, and more.

I asked her about the French equivalent of the CDC – the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. My reason for doing so was that I had read in a book – part of my research in writing the Nae-Née series – about this. Therefore, I knew that the 2 CDC authors of it had advised a French billionaire on how to get one for France. That billionaire was from Lyon, and he wanted it for his city. Already, our guide had told us that Lyon aimed to rival Paris for every feature, though on a smaller scale. “P4!” she said, almost immediately. “Pathogen 4.”

Here is the book I read:

The facility is complete, and in a huge, modern complex south of the main city area. Isabelle included this in her lecture when the bus moved on.

But first…I lost track of my mother! I went to the bus and looked. No Mommy. I ran back to the cathedral. No Mommy. I returned to bus, pausing to speak to Alexandra (whose name I always gave its French pronunciation to!). She hadn’t seen her. I waited anxiously, wondering if I ought to abandon the tour. Finally, my mother appeared – last of all. She had gone down into the crypt with her iPhone and lost track of time, then come up and hurried back to the bus to join us. Crisis over. She was raised Catholic, but isn’t religious. The delay wasn’t about that. It was about photography. Here are the images she took:

  

Next stop: a building covered with murals that depicted famous Lyonnais people, including Master Chef Paul Bocuse, who had died in January of 2018.

Our next stop, however, was one that I had been waiting for since I first looked it up from my desk at home in Connecticut: the streets that included historic passageways, patisseries, and a museum shop dedicated to the marionette, or puppet, of Lyon: Guignol.

Isabelle took us into a historic neighborhood with beautiful, tall buildings that were made of stone and had wooden doors. This was a residential street, and she told us to be discreet as we went through a passageway called a traboule. “By that you mean don’t make a lot of noise?” I asked, just to make sure I understood her. (I will never speak the language of neurotypicals, and I don’t care. I shall stick with the blunt precision and Aspies are comfortable with. Insert grin here.) She answered “yes” without seeming in the least bit perturbed by that question, and rang a doorbell.

We followed her in, walked quietly down the pink passageway past people’s apartments – hence the reason to not be noisy – and stopped in an open area.

Isabelle talked for a while, telling us that, during the Nazi Occupation of Lyon, traboules came in handy for the French Resistance. People could slip in and out of streets and lose their pursuers.

We had been warned to guard our passports and money from Romany people, also known as gypsies. They are Europe’s nomads, and their culture has always been quite at odds with that of the settled majority. A couple of people stood waiting on the edge of our group – strangers. I had my raincoat covering everything, so I was fine. But we later heard that they took a guy’s money and passport when they finally walked through, going out the way we had come in!

Isabelle led us all out, none of us yet aware of the theft. Damn them, different culture or no!

We came out onto one of the streets that was ideal for shopping in Lyon. It was the Rue Saint Jean.

Perhaps that’s when that guy on our tour noticed that he suddenly didn’t have any money…

Isabelle showed us the signature sweet of Lyon at the bakery to our immediate right: it is a pink praline over almonds. We saw some on a loaf of bread in the window.

But it was the Disagn Cardelli store that I wanted to visit. Isabelle walked toward it, worrying that it might not be open, but then said she saw its lights on. She scared me for a moment!

The shop was amazing. As Hallowe’en was fast approaching, there were also beautiful witches for sale, but I ignored them. It was the Guignol marionettes that caught my attention.

Guignol represents the textile industry of France. He is a silk worker. His puppet shows provide social, political, and economic commentary.

The cast of the shows include Guignol, his wife/fiancée/girlfriend Madelon, a gendarme, a cobbler, and a thief. That’s what Guignol’s stick is for: hitting the burglar.

All was quiet – no one seemed to be around. The door was wide open, however, so I went in, snapping photos, until I heard a woman say, “Pas de photos dans ici, s’il vous plait.”

I immediately switched the camera off and put the lens cap on, and she seemed satisfied. I gave her a slight smile of greeting and said, “Bonjour.” Then I turned to look at the marionettes.

Almost in front of me was the perfect Guignol: he had a red bow tie, purple eyeshadow with green, and a lovely outfit with brass buttons. I pulled him off of his rack and placed him on the counter. The woman asked if it was a gift or for me. I should have said it was a gift, so that she would have wrapped it up, but I didn’t think of doing that. My mother is the savvy shopper, not me!

Here is what I ended up with:

I was thrilled nonetheless.

My mother wanted some herbes de Provence to make sachets with, so Isabelle led us into a grocery store for that.

We had just enough time to visit a cafe to use its rest room with our group and enjoy a cafe au lait before boarding the bus to go back to our ship.

Our bus drove us past the city’s courthouse in the rain, an enormous, majestic edifice with 24 Corinthian columns. I was determined to get a photograph of it as we passed by it.

We had plenty of time to eat lunch and get organized before our next tour.


The Abbey of Cluny

Jean – historic interpreter for the excursion to the Abbey of Cluny.

I had read about the Abbey of Cluny in my research for Nae-Née when I wanted to learn how people took care of their needs without all of the modern, pollution-heavy technology that we rely on today. This is the book that it appeared in, in the chapter about monastic life:

The Abbey of Cluny is an hour north of Lyon, in Burgundy. Nine of us made the trip in the light rain. The last bit of the trip was behind a student driver.

Our guide was Jean. He works as a historic interpreter in a museum in Lyon during the months when Viking River Cruises shuts down (December through March). He was excellent. He had researched the abbey and monastic life in depth, and his lecture took us through the entire life of a particular monk, from childhood to old age, plus full details on what he could and could not do at all times, and why.

When we arrived, we walked up a street, through another, and around to the front door of the ruins of the abbey.

 

The abbey used to include a huge cathedral plus extensive grounds with living space for the monks, stables for their animals, storage rooms for their supplies, and wine-making and food preparation facilities. It was known throughout Europe as the place for aristocratic families to send one son each. Most of the time, there were around 200 monks, but at its peak there were over 400 of them. At the time of the French Revolution, they lost the protection of the king (due the guillotining of the king), plus the Vatican wanted more control over the monks. With no place to be, the abbey shut down, and the townspeople cannibalized the place for building materials for their homes, much as had happened with many an ancient Roman site.

Inside, we found ourselves in a gift shop, where I later got some souvenirs for my aunt and uncle.

I noticed Jean talking with the guy behind the counter, and Jean didn’t seem any too pleased. It turned out that the rest rooms were out of order, and the guy hadn’t called our ship to say so.

Apparently, his boss had worried that we might not come to visit if we knew that! Jean demanded that other arrangements be made, and we were allowed to use the facility in the cafe next door.

But about the abbey…this model in wood and metal shows the cathedral section as it was. The metal parts are all that remain now.

This other model shows the extent of the original complex:

Here and there were some areas covered by heavy plexiglass:

Jean got right to work telling us  all about the place and taking us around to see everything.

He walked us all around the remains of the cathedral, which was eerily empty and stripped off all ornament. It was just bare shapes, like a giant model of itself.

Then he took us into the abbot’s chamber. Only those who were highly literate were allowed in here, because that would enable them to figure out the order in which to read the story that the 12 faces in the room told. The bearded ones were to be read first, and the last apostle to be read was the young-looking one, who had no beard.

The room also had its own fireplace, plus another, smaller one in a little room off to the side that had no light in it. I took out a small flashlight and tricked my camera into photographing it.

Next, Jean showed us to a courtyard that was back out and through the cathedral we had seen earlier, where he concluded the tour by lecturing about the life cycle of just one monk.

Giving him a name and personality, complete with homesickness as a little boy, made it seem more real.

The boy was beaten – not too often – just enough to make him let go of the outside world.

He gradually rose to greater power and privilege with age, until he became an elderly, incontinent man.

At that point, he was banned from the cathedral, but nursed by the other monks, with every attention and plenty of books to read.

That concluded the tour, and he led us out to the cafe.

He told us to enjoy the shop and meet at the bus in half an hour.

The walk back was easy, and we soon found our bus.


Out on Our Own in Lyon

Before heading out in search of a suitcase and a papeterie – that’s a paper shop – I talked to Ana at the front desk. She made a tiny blue ink dot in the spot where the Printemps department store was located, and Alexandra had told me to just ask people about the papeterie. I also went upstairs to the computers and checked Google Maps in satellite view mode to plot our route, because we were going on foot. We would be visiting the peninsula of the city, which the French call the presque’ile, meaning “almost island”.

My mother wondered what I was doing. She came and found me doing it.

I told her that I was plotting our exact route and would be carrying the map in my pocket to save time and not get us lost.

We were too early just after breakfast anyway – malls don’t open until 10 a.m., I pointed out to her. She relaxed a bit.

Shortly before that time, we headed out of the ship. It had stopped raining, and the sky was clearing up at last.

I did not bring my camera, so we used her iPhone on whatever caught our interest.

The first site to do that was just across the street: the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3. It teaches arts and humanities.

I love that architectural style.

We crossed the Pont de l’Université. That’s a rooster at the top of that metal bridge sculpture. Roosters are a theme in the South of France.

We walked right up to the huge, colored, stainless steel sculpture done in 2003 by a South Korean artist from Seoul of lots of flowers. It looks like a balloon of them.

From there, we headed for the Place Bellecour to see the huge ego-statue of Le Roi-Soleil, Louis XIV, the Sun King, on his horse.

From there, we headed north until we saw the Place des Jacobins, which, despite the fact that it commemorates the French Revolution of 1789, was a modern pool of a monument.

Just a little farther north, and we came to Printemps. That name means “Spring” – the season.

We took the escalator to the 3rd floor, going past the rez-de-chaussée (ground floor), then the 1st and 2nd floors. My mother noted that.

I used the rest room and discovered that the toilets are accessible by a 50-centime coin only. A woman came out and I went in, however, not needing the coin. Sinks with soap and hand dryers were outside of that little locked room. There were several toilet rooms, but no one else was around.

After a bit of a hassle, we had a new black suitcase on wheels. We went back down to the street level and headed back.

Along way, we began to wonder if we could find a papeterie, so I approached a Lyonnaise woman and said, “Bonjour!” to her. She said it back, and waited for me to ask her something. I asked about a papeterie, and produced the piece of paper I had brought with me that described an Exacompta journal. My friend wanted a French one, not an English one, with French maps. (Otherwise, she could have just gone online at home, but that wouldn’t have been very interesting.) We had been to a few other stores in other cities with no luck. Lyon was big enough to find what I was after, the people on the Heimdal had assured me.

Sure enough, the woman pointed out a librairie with a blue sign – that’s a bookstore. (A bibliothèque is a library.) After a bit of searching, plus going to the basement level by mistake, we found what I was looking for on the ground floor and I bought it.

That felt good – everything on our list was done. We headed back to the ship for lunch. We were headed out on our last tour after that.

We got some nice images on my mother’s iPhone along the way from across the river. The Olympic swimming pools with their underwater views into the river were straight across from us – plus, there was a swan in the river.

Despite my mother’s worries about time, we were back with plenty to spare.


The Chateau des Fléchères

Sophie – guide for the Chateau des Fléchères.

For our final tour of the trip, we were signed up to visit a Huguenot chateau. The Huguenots, our guide Sophie told us, were French Calvinists. (I knew that, but it is silly to expect my every reader to know it, so I’m working that fact in.) A group of historic preservation enthusiasts – 3 French men – have bought it and fixed it up. They also have another! They have been working on it for years, and it will never be finished, but that’s the fun of it for them.

The weather was clear and sunny for this tour, which helped a lot, because the grounds were part of the attraction.

Sophie brought us to the front gate, and began to tell us about the place. It was originally built in the 1600s. It had a moat, which is now mostly empty, and contains benign items such as clear water, frogs, and lily pads.

Sophie showed us the outside and told us that the chateau was usually closed on Tuesdays, but that it had been opened just for us. With that, she led us through the drawbridge…

…and into the courtyard for a magnificent sight:

The chateau was beautiful – like something right out of a French fairy tale.

The stone plaque over the door had lost some of its inscription, but the sundial clock, divided into 2 parts on either wing of the chateau, were fine.

 

Sophie showed us how the roofing tiles were being restored, with dark blue paint. It was a slow, expensive process:

The side sections were done, and the middle still remained to be done.

We went inside, and were told that flash photography was allowed – just don’t ask who is in the artwork, because most of it is not original to the house. It was assembled by the current owners. Everything is a period piece, but originals cannot be had due to the chaos of the French Revolution.

Inside, we saw two hallways, one straight ahead, and another to the right. We went forward, into the one with the red curtains.

We went into the drawing room, which was to the left.

We were told to sit anywhere but on the center sofa, as it was a fragile antique.

There were many rooms to see. The dining room has a secret door in the corner, for servants to bring in the food.

The owners eat in here every day, Sophie told us, but they bring in their own food.

 

We looked out the back windows, and continued on to the next rooms.

 

Upstairs we saw a restored bedroom for the lord and lady, and her boudoir, which meant the room where she had her lovers visit her.

That was not unusual in a time of arranged marriages, often with a much-older husband whom she did not choose. A political alliance is not romantic.

Today it’s a dressing room, not such a racy thing!

We saw the Huguenot King Henri IV’s portrait in another room:

 

We left the Henri IV bedroom for a different one, which was set up as a dining room.

We continued on into a large upstairs drawing room.

There were bedrooms again…

…followed by an office.

Then it was time to go back downstairs to the first drawing room we had seen, where the owner of the chateau met us and served a traditional Lyonnais tart with pink almond praline on top, plus champagne, or orange juice, or mimosas.

We had a question-and-answer session with him, translated by Sophie.

After that, we were invited to see the grounds, out back, and down in front, plus the cuisine, which was under the chateau.