Friday, April 14, 2017

Settling Back in Saint-Jean-de-Védas

Although I didn't arrange the transportation until a week out, I knew while in Venice and Munich that I'd soon be headed back to Montpellier. And despite this prior knowledge, it still felt a bit surreal to arrive at Gare St. Roch and step out into the sunny, familiar streets—like I'd hacked time and jumped back to a prior chapter in life.

A fifteen-minute car ride later and we were back in Saint-Jean-de-Védas at the Rius residence, where I felt right at home.

French Eats

Damien's mom made paella on my second or third day—what luck!

That first weekend she also made beignets à la citrouille—her mom's recipe—with chocolat chaud:

Damien and I tried out a burger place one afternoon in town.

I got to eat practically all of my Montpellier favorites while staying with the Rius clan: crêpes + galettes, tielle, fried eggplant, and cheese after every meal (Camembert, chèvre, Roquefort).

La Garrigue

I don't think I've written about the garrigue here yet, but it's a landscape all around the region, which you can get to by walking just five minutes from Damien's parents' house.

Juliet from Languedoc Wine Tales defines a "garrigue" as a "Mediterranean scrubland which is made up of low growing, bushy plants including holm oak, juniper, broom and wild herbs such as rosemary and thyme."

So one afternoon while Damien was out and about working on his uncle's motorcycle or buying parts or whatnot, and while the children his mom watches at the home were napping, I walked through part of the garrigue and eventually sat to paint. This time I did no pencil or pen beforehand, straight to the watercolors:

While walking through the small forested part, I spotted lots of wild asparagus, as I'd learned to identify while farming in Dozza weeks earlier. It's all over!

Here's what the leaves look like:

The asparagus stalks actually come from the roots, so it won't be connected to the leaves. Once you find the "fuzzy"-looking plant part, then you scan the nearby soil for an asparagus stalk stemming up.

We walked in the garrigue several other times during my stay, to walk Papi (Damien's grandpa)'s new dog, Friska.

Papi has trouble walking, so the energetic hunting dog only gets long walks when Damien comes over to visit. On one of my last days we went over to remove a tick from Friska, then walked once more to the garrigue where she gets to run loose!

Fitzpatrick's Pub

I only went into town (Montpellier) in the evening once to see some familiar faces at the Thursday night English/French language exchange.


This past Saturday, without prior plans to do so, Damien suggested we do accrobranche—an adventure park in the forest. He knew that doing a ropes course was another item still unchecked on my life list, and this was somewhat like that. (And so nearby, too! I never knew!)

Regular adult entrance was just under 25 euros, which for me was definitely worth the experience. (Yay for spending on experiences, by the way! Here's looking at you, dear compass.)

After putting our bag in a locker, we were each given a harness to put on—seen hanging below.

I wasn't exactly sure what all of the straps were for, but I put my feet through the two loops I found. When the worker guy came back over, he let me know I had one—no, I'd managed to put both loops on twisted! Hah, I had a good laugh and the guy helped me step out then back into them the right way and got both of us strapped up.

Next we put on helmets and sat down to watch a quick safety video, then did a quick mini-course "test" with a worker nearby, so they could make sure we understood how to safely get around on the courses.

So there are two clips hanging off of your waist: a Mousqueton (carabiner) and a Zaza (I don't know the translation of this, but below is an image of two from the site... it's a solid metal loop with a small opening—no parts slide open like a carabiner):

So to start a course—which you do on your own, no workers posted at each course or anything—you first slide the Zaza up the cord and over the metal plate (pictured above), then clip your carabiner behind. You keep dragging both along the cord until you get to the next metal plate, at which turn the Zaza and slide it over, then re-clip the carabiner to the other side of the metal plate. So the carabiner you reattach behind the Zaza every time you slide the Zaza over a metal plate.

On our second course perhaps, all of a sudden the cord went up a rock wall. It was partway up that wall, when I couldn't figure out how the heck I'd ever get up to the next plate, when I realized you can't just turn around and go back. Your Zaza can't be removed from the cord, you have to get to the end. And often there are others farther back on the course, so even if you wanted to get off, they would have to go all the way back in the building so you could be unattached to the course. Can you picture how it works?

Anyway, I eventually made it—and at the end it was really cool to know I'd gotten past several spots that had been difficult for me. I thought this Zaza/cord system would be a nice metaphor for something—the fact that you can't quit, you must go forwards. You can stop and take your time, gain courage or reconsider your footing—as I had to do for different spots throughout the afternoon—but eventually you're going to overcome and get through it. It might not be pretty, you might have a rush of adrenaline, but you'll get to the other side.

Another difficult spot for me, for example, were the five swing squares pictured below.

So to get from one side to the other, you had to step off the platform up in the tree and sit on the first hanging square—which moves a ton in all directions, of course, since it's suspended by those two green cords. Then, sitting on this small, moving square, you have to lift your legs up high enough to get them over the next square and pull it close with your knees.

Now, perhaps this isn't too difficult for most people, but I have very tight hamstrings. Whether I blame it on the spinal fusion, genetics, or my lack of stretching, this makes it dang hard to pick up my legs high enough to get them over the next square.

The first one took the longest time, but one by one, little by little, I made my way across! Later on that same course there were several zip lines in a row, from up in one tree to another. Very fun and thrilling!

Here's Damien on the "Extreme" course—the most difficult level—which I gladly did not attempt. (You need mad arm strength to get through that one.)

There were three main levels: Green, blue, and red. We started with both of the greens (which very much had challenging parts for me, I couldn't believe this was the "easiest"!), then did all four blue courses (intermediate), and then I watched Damien do that extreme course.

When he got to the end, we were both surprised that it was already 6 p.m.! We'd gotten there at 2, and they close at 7, but many courses advise that the last person begins them an hour before close. So Damien did one last course, a red one, before we left.

It was such a fun afternoon activity! It was the right amount of physical challenge, movement, and adrenaline; outside; plus you really had to concentrate so as not to fall off of boards or ropes while up in the tree portions of each course. (If you're in the Montpellier region, here's the park we went to.)

Balade en moto

On Sunday afternoon, around 4 p.m., we left for a balade en moto. We went to Lac du Salagou, where I'd been once before in 2015 when I was living in Montpellier taking that French course.

We were out walking for less than 5 minutes there, then it was back aboard the motorcycle! We stopped just once more on the ride, near this cool rocky area:

I didn't realize I was going to look so unenthused in this photo, though it's not too far off from my thoughts at the time. The views were beautiful on the ride that afternoon, but I would have enjoyed them much more had I been on bicycle or foot.


Finally, in addition to painting at Parc du Peyrou the first weekend for April's Moment Catcher's challenge and later sketching at the garrigue, one afternoon (after eating galettes—savory crêpes) I painted a card featuring that day's lunch and the previous weekend's donut treats.

I also did two more watercolor cards for friends, but don't have pictures.

Then on Friday of my final weekend, Damien's mom showed me a placemat of Winnie the Pooh characters and asked if she thought I could paint it larger. She'd bought this large, glass frame to hang in the wall of the bedroom where her three daycare toddlers nap, and thought that might be a good image.

Challenge accepted! Damien and I took the tram into Montpellier to buy a large piece of watercolor paper from an art store. Then back at the house, I got right to work, first sketching each of the four characters in pencil. Initially, I thought this project would take several days of the weekend—and since I was leaving on Monday I wanted to be sure and finish.

But I actually finished it later that same night, and the next day we put it into the frame:

It was fun to be stretched to try a new type of drawing/painting, and a different size as well. (This is the biggest watercolor I've done so far!) It's getting easier and easier to say yes the moment these opportunities present themselves. I know the doubts and feeling "not ready" will always be there when it's something I've never done before—but those voices keep getting even quieter and quieter, as I know such challenges are fantastic learning opportunities. I'm quite pleased with the result, too—I wasn't expecting that much. Hope the kiddos like it!

And thus concluded my stay in Saint-Jean-de-Védas. On Monday I boarded a bus just after 9 p.m.—just as I'd done last fall. This one was also headed to Madrid and would also arrive 14 hours later. But the difference in this bus ride, however, is that I was emotionally at peace and not a pile of tears as I was last fall!

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