France de Jour. Abridged, if you can imagine.

Due to the degree of difficulty involved in typing on a touch screen while on the road, it’s been frustratingly slow to compose any regular reports regarding whereabouts and activities. However, now that I’m on a machine let me see if I can do some (a great deal of) catching up.

Let me note:
When I say ‘we’ in reference to decisions made, let me make it clear that typically that excludes me. For the most part I did my best to take a literal back seat to the direction and advising of the journey. This in effect Created the journey, it amplified the adventure. Sometimes for good and sometimes for the worse, it certainly excluded me from understanding much of what I was seeing. But I did enjoy the privilege of viewing the French scape with wide eyes and a blatantly blank perspective and of course zero liability.

According to my notes it seems that Mom and Andrew arrived last on Friday the 17th and then I arrived the following Saturday, the 18th, though I can’t be sure the French calendar system is the same, the natives are quite aloof and speak a unique tongue that sounds nothing like mine own. Though I’m learning. Oui!

Our fist adventure started the night of my arrival at the Walkers, can you imagine? They were throwing a party with a number of friends that went well into the night and at some point along the way the Air France luggage delivery man arrived with my baggage and then stayed for a couple of rounds and an introduction to each party guest, quite delightful indeed. Yet somewhat more influential to our trip, we were introduced to a local friend and generously invited to go mushroom hunting the following day with one of the guests. Of course, we said “Oui!”

The following morning we put on our quiet-injun-moccasins, armed ourselves with pocket knives and drove off to meet the rest of the party. We were shown pictures of the prey, a Death Trumpet.. quite appealing eh? Essentially these were black/dark purple trumpet like mushrooms which poked out of the leaves around the moist bases of trees. Charged up, we drove to the trail and began our walk into the woods. A soft wood, full of orange and green, with lots of light and well defined trails. No bad wolf out here, so we thought. Along the way we passed many other types of fungi, most of which we picked and the proudly presented to our host with the question, “This one?” He would reply, “no” and then re-describe the mushroom again. After a while he just stopped answering us and walked ahead of the group. Perhaps he would think twice about inviting strangers. Then, as to inflict us with a bit of fear we passed a hunter and his dog, Whiskey, and the group stood a bit taller and talked a bit louder as none of us were wearing bright orange. I’d guess his sobriety was top prey this early in his morning.

We had climbed a couple of hills and scavenged a couple of valleys when our host indicated that we were Now in mushroom country. All the other trail did not produce the Death Trumpet, but NOW we could really start looking. Embarrassed we had wasted time until now we all put our heads down and went separate ways. At this point, anyone who has read Micahel Pollands “Omnivore’s Dilemma” could super impose his description upon us.

At this point it seemed that most of us were quite tired of the hunching hunt and were more interested in sitting and playing with leaves or exploring the green moss that grew on just about everything. Sitting down to have a look at an interesting stump of leaves, moss, grass, and general French muck we so often see piled and re-piled in the movies, I discovered a small black fungus and next to it another. Hot Damn! I Found em! Initially they were about the size of my little finger, but once I adjusted, or ‘got my eyes on,’ there were quite a few. I think I was sitting on some. Up to the size of two thumbs. Two whole thumbs!

At this discovery I hailed the group and the hunt was back on again. Soon enough Morgan found one, then Angela, Mom, then Andrew. We were certainly keeping up. In fact, while the locals were the experts, the Americans excelled at identifying a majority of the fun-guys littered in the forest (Andrew, of course finding the mother load at the end of the day). Five or so hours after we had parked we walked back to the cars. Thirty minutes after we all got to the cars, the rescue party finally found Mom and we could get on our way back to our hosts flat to enjoy each other’s company with shoes off. In the end our spoils all ended up in a delicious meal which our hosts cooked up; sharing with us buckets full of juices, liquors, and food stuffs. It was a great start to the whole trip.

Mushroom Group

If day one was the present highlight, and possible medal winner for the trip, day two had to be an identifier for the worst possible day of the trip. -er perhaps that’s a little harsh. We kicked ourselves out of bed early the second day and made our way to a common tourist attraction, Gorge de Fier. Here we found the park closed for the winter so decided to take at least an enjoyable walk around the park. On our return we found a smashed window and flat tire. Fortunately it was someone else’s car. Unfortunately it happened to be the car we rented from someone else. Damn!

In the spirit of our upbringing (or gender role) Andrew and I had the spare on quickly and after some photos we drove on. Our next step came when trying to figure out our next step. From here the next two days of story becomes one you might watch in high speed with a deep cowboy voice overdubbed giving a brief explanation.

“Well, see here’s when them’s Mizells, as they call ’em, went running round. Round and round about, talking gibberish with jus’ abouts every person thems could then see. Startin’ with their Bon-Jurs and endin’ with a Or-Vwa or two. Police diee-rected them to military and military to po-lice, repair men promptly sent them across the street to some other cow-town fill station. This was a whole brand of mess you couldn’t imagine there dreamin up on your stormiest of days. But in the end a tall handsome man, speakin their language set their ponies right and before dust at dusk could be seen none more they were back at the Walkers with a brand spankin’ new trolley in the drive pickin’ and a hollerin’ like the damnest of days had never touched them.” (Copyright 2008 John Mizell)

…. With things sorted out we resumed our schedule of no plans and yielded to Charley and his out door plans. We primed our selves with a short day hike (which included a short bit of misdirection) and the following day put on the big boots and saddled up to go Big! The hike was visible from the house. If we looked straight across the lake and then pushed the binoculars up about thirty degrees there was a house on the side of what seemed to be a shear cliff. We were going to drive a majority of the altitude to the trail head, however that still left the ‘shear’ part of the trail to be climbed.

When we arrived at the trail head we were parked at a pasture below the cliff walls and the stunningly green grass, I believe, tricked our senses into thinking we were somewhere in the Sierras of California. Clearly we weren’t. About thirty steps up the ‘hill’ I was curious how such a place could be created in all it’s majesty and grandeur, further I was Very curious where all the oxygen had gone. That accompanied with a look back over your shoulder indicated the California pretense quite false. The view all around us made for frequent justified breaks. In no time we had made the short hike to the top where the house sat overlooking the lake. We ate lunch and rested a bit more and then in a significantly shorter amount of time descended back to the cars where we each sank into the seats thankful to have invented such a thing as ‘chair.’ (Let me note that Charley didn’t participate in the frequent breaks or lack of oxygen. As an avid outdoors man and cyclist he had absolutely NO trouble at all. In fact he pointed out one of his regular cycling roads we could see going up and over these mountains.)

The following day the Walkers drove to Italy and we down to Avignon where we spent the next two days getting lost. Aside from our trip south from Geneva this was the most driving we’d done. So now we had a chance to really ‘participate’ in the culture of France, raise questions and have them rapidly answered. like…

Traffic? The majority of France uses the circle to manage intersections. For the most part, the circles seem to work quite well. I think for a moment that perhaps this is because of the synergy of the other drivers being polite, the motorcycles Crazy, and the cops absolutely vacant. Yet this land is not without want and this seemingly utopian land crumbles with my naiveté. Due to less order comes a subtle desire for structure, if it’s possible to differentiate between the two and so come the honks, glares, passes, engine noises, and other leading signs of aggravation and road rage. Five o’clock and road work, both inherently provoking, create the standstill and at that comes the sound of the city and so France looses it’s quaint curb apeal and becomes yet another ‘place’. Traffic answered.

On our way south we made a number of short stops in picturesque villages and towns, as well as a visits to a bicycle & motorbike museum, olive oil ‘factory,’ the village/region of Chateaunuff de Paup to steel some grape seeds, a gigantic hardware store where we got to see all the things “we don’t have in America” followed by a disciplinary stop at McDonnalds (just about the same). But really most of the time we were completely lost, or at least in the wrong lane of traffic. I bided my time in the back seat as Andrew and Mom pulled their hair out. All such Good fun!

Cold and raining as we drive back north I stopped to note the Alps.

The Alps, to understate, are grandiose. It’s a meadowed valley or a pastured plain defined by a stand of trees or a fence line and as I saw it a road. Beyond the pleasant cruiser bike trails however forests of national parks fill in and abruptly rise. Upward, up, high up, up beyond sense. These mountains fill in every horizon feasible and leave you lonely when they don’t.

Just above, the clouds are equally exotic. Rain clouds are a standard sort. Big, full, all encompassing, visually non-stimulating, and generally unexciting. However, mountain clouds, the kind that sneak and slither, creep and wither, and the ones that simply whistle the day away with you, are the real gems of the sky. The precious pieces, deliciously engaging morsels, the most elegant robe ever tailored to accompany and complement the eloquence of the peaks themselves. On a clear day they are the fingers of the hand wrapped around the profound arrogance of earth protecting from the terrible yearning of man in the most absurd contest of ego. Another may seep over a wooded ridge as moss makes a dutiful attempt to overcome the sunny side of a stone; as horses would attempt to stampede down and across a western plain. So much to it’s success that it spills back the other way once the valley filled. … if you can imagine I suppose.

The mountains keep you directed and content, they are your companion along the drive. A while later your mind drifts and your eyes follow the river edge, corn stalks and grape vines follow your tracks and smoke from a chimney or nuclear power plant maintain your sense of humanity. Then you remember your ever present companions and lift your gaze to find them gone. A dreadful feeling engulfs your sense of duty, of responsibility, revisiting your thoughts of casual camaraderie. You turned your back for one moment and they were gone, lost forever. In their place a cold grey blanket. Fog, rain, clouds. Shadows dance in your teary vision as you pan feebly. Finally a small dark peak shows in a corner of the sky. In another moment the white or red cliffs slice through the etherous fill. A terraced green step seems to keep pace with your peripherals and then as it came it departs. Your left with the embarrassment of I’ll conceived fear and rectification. It doesn’t take long before your at ease again. You see the river again and begin to follow it along the road…

We’re back in Annecy and after a bit of a read, we fall asleep. After a nice bike ride into town and back again in the cold bitter rain today, I’m pooped and enjoying some Tea and a crumble thing mom made. My pants are in the drier. I’m writing this story, spell checking and what not. One look around the room says, “I think that concludes this long winded soliloquy of mine.” Thanks for listening.

John Patrick Mizell
(edit and forward as appropriate)

Photos should soon be pasted online here:

Google Earth Locations:

Now were back at Annecy – on Route de Avolliones, below the word Avolliones toward the water with the big lawn.,+France&sll=32.227832,-110.943784&sspn=0.692378,1.455688&g=Tucson,+AZ&ie=UTF8&ll=45.864597,6.14404&spn=0.008906,0.022745&t=h&z=16

The Hike – we started at the end of the white road and then went up and around to the top of the shadow shown in the photo moving down along the the right side – a brown trail shows up a bit.,+France&sll=32.227832,-110.943784&sspn=0.692378,1.455688&g=Tucson,+AZ&ie=UTF8&t=h&ll=45.828889,6.271133&spn=0.008911,0.022745&z=16

Our hotel in Avenonon was on Impasse Monvoish-Autard – just about where the I of Impasse is on the map. The white building with the courtyard.,+France&sll=32.227832,-110.943784&sspn=0.692378,1.455688&g=Tucson,+AZ&ie=UTF8&ll=43.940243,4.80683&spn=0.004604,0.011373&t=h&z=17

Pictures Attached:
1. A fantastic spice apothecary
2. Mushrooms close up
3. Hiking down (looking at this photo you can see the Walker’s home. Just above the buoy in the water there is a ‘white’ harbor. From here move along the shore to the right and you’ll see a chapel spike (large in comparison to other white specks). Now move down to the water line and at the second white spec there we are. Easy, right?)
4. Airplane Bike at the museum
5. Grapes ‘borrowed’ from Chateaunuff de Paup

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