My birthday passed. I went to the cinema to see the latest Tarantino film, and in the evening I went for a drink with someone. Did this happen? It happened!

She studies literature, she reads philosophy, she talks about utopias, and I feel like I understand her.

Putting aside the looming burden of my end-of-year dissertation, I’ve had a worryingly carefree couple of weeks. Moving daily between Jericho and the Social Sciences Library, back to living in a very small world. Spending my time reading and writing, with occasional breaks for a romantic cycle ride or an evening out with folk music. When I was forced by circumstances to return to Oxford, I wasn’t too happy about it, and now I’m starting to dread the point when I have to move back to Leicester.

While I’ve been in Jericho, Walton street has been blocked off by roadworks near Worcester college. All other streets connecting onto Woodstock road are one-way alleys, and so the whole district has been turned into a cul-de-sac.

map of jericho

Unlike a traditional cul-de-sac, the isolation only applies to cars. Without a car you can go through the Radcliffe Observatory, both ways up Little Clarendon Street, west onto the canal, and through the roadworks. Pedestrians tentatively walk in the road, bicycles circulate freely, and I hope there are some urban transport planners taking notes on this situation. If it drags on long enough to coincide with St. Giles’ Fair, all routes going north from the train station would be cut off.

I went to Salies-de-Béarn for a week with family. We went cycling out to Puyoô; here we are along the route de Castelongue into Lahontan.

We had hoped to find a cafe or a bakery when passing through Lahontan, the village was eerily empty and everything was shut.

village_bike

The high contrast in this photo doesn’t just come from bad photography - the harsh sunlight cast these sharp, black shadows through the streets.

We passed the large pork factory between Lahontan and Bellocq.

factory

There have been some changes to Salies since I was last there. The town was flooded quite badly last year, here’s Papé showing where the water level got up to.

flood_level

There were a few places which got washed away.

  • The newsagents replaced by a whole foods shop. The inside looks like it’s been enlarged, or there’s more space now that it isn’t stuffed with magazines. The noticeboard where the adverts used to go is still attached to the outside of the building.
  • The electronics shop has been replaced by a shop which sells crafts and ‘quirky objects.’
  • The bakery at the bottom of rue St Martin has shut down. I still remember how that bakery smelled.
  • Secours populaire replaced by a second-hand clothing shop.
  • The bicycle shop has been replaced by a fancy new-built house.
  • The butchers on the square has been replaced by a shop which sells (expensive) regional specialities.

Not all of those changes were a consequence of the floods, I might just be more attentive to it now that I study gentrification.

I used to think of Salies as a bubble, and while it wasn’t an especially remote place, it suffered from bad transport links and relative obscurity. The town had a feeling of permanence to it, you always saw the same people, and their bakeries, butchers and newsagents were part of the town. Now that they’re gone it’s not quite the same place anymore.

Another day we went up the Col de l’Aubisque - Matthieu and Peter ran, Christine and me walked. It was a race, and everyone was racing except for me, I walked from Laruns to the Col (14km distance + 1.5km ascent) in 3 hours 26 minutes.

It’s the sort of challenge you could accomplish easily with an extra hour or two, the difficulty comes when you start stretching your stamina: maintaining a brisk pace, on a constant uphill climb, without stopping, for an extended period. I was exhausted by the time I reached the top.

Here’s Laruns, with the mountains in the background.

laruns

And me at the pass, with other much more impressive mountains in the background.

pierre_mountains

Here’s Matthieu, sitting on the ground and looking at his phone.

matthieu_sitting

He had some energy left after his run, so he came down the route to meet me and we walked the last 500m together. There were ice baths at the top, for cooling your legs after the long climb. I had a refreshing dip in the wheelie bins full of icy water.

ice_bath

We were in Salies at the same time as the G7 meeting in Biarritz. Morning news shows the city in lockdown, thousands of police officers and soldiers bussed in to establish a secure perimeter. Behind the police lines, all assemblies are banned, and access is controlled by checkpoints. There was an overnight raid on a protest camp, and the presenter notes that the camp was dispersed with tear gas, alongside blurry images of armoured police creeping across fields.

Police occupied the city, there to prevent any potential incidents of terrorism, but the very operation was a show of force, a provocation. Police vans were lined up in a parking lot in Salies, and on our way up to Toulouse we saw them all retreating back to their home regions. Meanwhile the protesters were a national embarassment, making France look bad on the international stage, they were non-patriotic. I still find something uncomfortable about this. Everyone is so concerned about le Pen and the rise of the far-right, but you don’t see what’s right in front of you.

On the last full day in France, we cycled to Castagnède. Here’s Matthieu on his bike.

mathieu_bike

We stopped in the Belle Auberge.

castagnede_bar

Afterwards we went to the cinema to see Wonderland, on my insistence that it was worth watching. The film is an Alice-in-Wonderland adventure, a trip through a secret world, and it meanders all over the place. The story is also also mixed in with different tropes, high-fantasy landscapes, the conflict between magic/nature and technology/industry, along with recurring Japanese symbols such as cats or men in top hats. There’s also a moral which comes through in the ending, which makes it feel a bit like a fable.

While I was in the town library I went to check out their comics selection. Here are some press cartoons by Jacques Faizant, this one was published on 22nd July 1974.

peasantry

This one was published on 3rd May 1976, just after the dissapointing PCP election result after the Carnation Revolution. It shows the differences in political strategy between Álvaro Cunhal and the leading Eurocommunist figures.

viva cunhal

It goes to show how significant the major European communist parties were in their heyday. The names of their leaders were recognisable in the national press and their positions subject to light-hearted critique. Meanwhile today that strip comes off as an extremely narrow joke, only understood by people who are specifically interested in the history.

Also, for the couple of vector images in this post, I’ve been using SVGOMG for compression. I don’t know what the file size/rendering performance balance is like on these, and I’m probably too picky about performance.

We left for Toulouse-Blagnac airport on Tuesday morning.

pierre_outside_house

On the take-off, we got a good view of Toulouse from the plane window.

toulouse