Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween in Lacoste

Halloween has come to Lacoste this weekend. Tonight is the final night of the festivities, with a costume party and dance sponsored by the village. Myself, I think I'll have a better time here in the Mac lab than they, but hey, I suppose it takes all kinds. Other events this weekend included a haunted house and trick-or-treating by the area kids on Sunday evening and a pumpkin carving contest on Saturday. I hear it all went well.

I wasn't planning on doing much myself this weekend, and skipped the trip into Apt by the animation group on Saturday morning, but I ended up going to Apt that afternoon anyway when Christine Wacta, one of the architecture teachers, recruited me to drive a van of students into town for art supplies. Well, I needed some stuff anyway myself, and I wanted the chance to drive one of the vans at least once while I was here, so I didn't mind. Other than that, I really didn't do much. I've still been fighting a chest cold over the past week and a half, and it came back with a vengeance yesterday and today. I often sit in on the drawing in motion class for drawing practice, but I skipped out on it today to get some more rest. Hopefully I'll feel better as the week progresses.

Devon shows off what may be the most frightening costume of the bunch; Lacoste

The SCAD-Lacoste library is decorated for Halloween

Friday, October 28, 2005

Another week in review...

On Monday we woke up encased in fog...After it burned off by 9 AM, the animation class went to Cavaillon for market day. Never quite sure whether it's a good idea or not to go on market day; there are no shortage of interesting people and things to see and draw at the markets, but the problem is finding a spot to just sit and draw. The other extreme is a place like Goult on a non-market day (Wednesday, in this case) where it is so quiet that sitting at a café it's hard just finding something interesting to draw that you haven't already drawn. Anyway...On Tuesday the Treasures of Provence class went to the former ochre pigment and dye factory at Roussillon. Since I've been into the town twice already, it was very interesting to see some background on the industry that made the town famous. Roussillon sits on part of the world's largest exposed area of ochre in the world; it's interesting to see, but the red earth and pine trees made it not that much different from where I grew up in southern Alabama and northwest Florida. Our tour guide pointed out that there is a large ochre factory in Georgia, so I wonder if the red dirt in the southeast is all due to ochre as well or if it is some other red pigment. I'll have to look into that sometime. On Thursday, the Treasures class drove to the ruins of Fort de Buoux, a hilltop fortress town that has been inhabited since neolithic times and reached its zenith in the 16th century before being dismantled by Louis XIV, shortly after he had revoked the Edict of Nantes which had ended the earlier Religious Wars and granted tolerance and peace to the Protestants in the area. It was quite impressive; hard to imagine anyone actually trying to lay siege to the place.

This week we also had a visitor, Michael Turoff (sp?), who works in Britain now as a animation and visual effects supervising producer, or something like that. He shared stories of his experience in the industry and clips of some of the pieces he's worked on, the most famous of which perhaps was the movie Joe's Apartment while he was working at Blue Sky Studios (which went on to produce Ice Age and Robots.) It was very interesting hearing about his experiences as well as some of his passion, ideas, and suggestions about independent and student animation. Another highlight of the week was photography teacher Steve Aishman (who studied and worked as an astrophysicist before teaching at SCAD) sharing some of his work followed by a brief talk about some of the constellations and their stories from different cultures.

This weekend the school has been invaded by Halloween; they are planning numerous activities such as a pumpkin carving contest, haunted house, and costume dance (the latter actually sponsored by the village; odd, since no one else in France celebrates Halloween, just something they picked up from the students here.) Since I don't really celebrate Halloween (because of its pagan history as well as modern fascination with death,) I'm just going to make myself scarce, maybe catch up on my homework and take a nap.

The view out my window in Lacoste on Monday morning

A water pump used in the ochre separation process; Roussillon

Our tour guide explains the basins used to dry the ochre; Roussillon

Inside the ochre grinding mill; Roussillon

A pile of ochre along with some shipping bags addressed to Bamako in Mali, Africa (which caught my eye because I used to work with a girl at IBM who was from Bamako)

A demonstration of how to mix ochre pigment to make various types of paint; Roussillon

One of the students tries out some of the hand-mixed paints; Roussillon

Misty morning in the Luberon valley; view from Lacoste

Drew sketches in Goult

Watchtower at Fort de Buoux

Flower; Fort de Buoux

Michelle surveys the view from Fort de Buoux

Dr. Williams walks further up the hill at Fort de Buoux

Mossy wall; Fort de Buoux

Dr. Williams examines some loose stones in the ruins of a Romanesque-Gothic church; Fort de Buoux

Alison stands atop a ruined wall of the church at Fort de Buoux

Silos (for storing grain?); Fort de Buoux

I'm upside down! Fort de Buoux

Fort de Buoux

Nearby cave; Fort de Buoux

The "hidden stairway"; Fort de Buoux

The largest cliff overhang in Provence, formerly the site of a cemetary for the now-extinct village of St. Germaine; Fort de Buoux

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rallye de France

Edit 2005-10-28: Ok, finally got around to adding a write-up to go with the photos...

I stayed in Aix-en-Provence after the SCAD-Lacoste day trip to leave for Corsica to watch part of the World Rally Championship Rallye de France / Tour de Corse. I had reservations for the overnight ferries there and back Friday and Saturday from Marseille, so I took the train from Aix down to Marseille. Unfortunately, this was the one day trip that they didn't make plans to make a stop afterward at the train station, but hey, whatever. It wasn't too bad of a walk from Cézanne's studio. When I got to Marseille, I had to walk through kind of a bad part of town, where all the homeless people were hanging out with trash all over the place, but I guess the bad parts of town in Europe still aren't nearly as dangerous as the same kind of places back in the States. Anyway I found the ferry without too much trouble. It was a nice ride; the ferry is more like a cruise ship with a huge garage bay for cars. The base fare for the ferry doesn't even include a seat, which I wasn't particularly relishing on a 10+ hour overnight ride, but you can also pay 7 € for a comfy armchair, and increasing prices for increasingly nicer cabins. I chose to pay a 12 € supplement for a bed in a four-bunk shared room, which I recommend as the best deal for anyone else choosing to travel by ferry, unless you want the privacy of a non-shared room (but you'll pay for the added comfort, rest assured.) The room was comfy enough, certainly far roomier than the overnight trains I've experienced.

We arrived at 7 AM in Ajaccio on Corsica, and I stepped off the ferry surrounded by the trucks from all the rally teams. Apparently the service area is there stretched out along the port, I guess it's convenient and has plenty of space. I had a quick breakfast at a café then went to go find my rental car that I had reserved. I ended up with a Peugeot 307 turbo diesel, which was a lot more fun to drive than I was expecting. The engine was powerful enough, not the punch-in-the-chest throw-you-back-in-your-seat horsepower of my Subaru WRX, but it had gobs of torque everywhere in the tachometer, and the steering was very precise (perhaps even more so than my WRX, now that it's clocked over 70,000 miles on the original and now very tired suspension.) I was originally going to watch the first few cars on special stage 5 then high-tail it over to SS6 and stay around there for SS8, but I was running late so I decided not to chance it and go straight to 6. The whole experience was not much different than spectating a rally in the US; drive 45 minutes out to some small cow-town, then walk half a mile into the woods and wait an hour or two for a bunch of cars to come by. The age/race demographics of the spectators looked a lot like US rally fans, mostly twenty-something local French guys, a few thirty-something guys with their families, even a few rabid packs of Italians and Spanish fanatics that kinda reminded me of the Polish and Irish contingents back in the States. The cars didn't seem that much faster than the top US cars/drivers. Maybe a few seconds faster over several miles; but you're not going to notice that watching them come through 2 corners. Some of the privateer WRC and Super 1600 drivers attacked the corners more aggressively than the factory WRC cars; maybe they weren't as fast but they looked like they were wringing a little more out of the cars. Well, Sebastian Loeb (Citroën) looked (and was) fast; he set a record by being the first driver to ever set fastest time on every single stage in a World Rally (I picked a good one to attend!) The whole experience was not very different from a US rally, other than the tarmac surface, but then there are some tarmac stages in the US.

The real difference was the media circus spectacle that was the service area; it was unreal how much these factory teams spend on rally. I thought that in the US, Subaru and especially Mitsubishi were spending a lot on their team, but that was petty lunch money in comparison to the WRC teams. Even seeing the coverage on Speed, I was overwhelmed at the setups they brought with them. Every team built essentially a small self-sufficient village, complete with a restaurant for their crew. Not a little kiosk with a couple picnic tables, mind you, I'm talking a 200-seat enclosed building with bar and table service. BP Ford looked like they were outlaying the most money this year, with 4 cars, but it was hard to judge amidst the sea of tractor trailers. It makes me kinda wish I had skipped the second stage and just come back to watch the activity there, since that's what really made the WRC what it was compared to even the US national rallies (most of the show was over by the time I took my rental car back to the airport and took the bus back into town to catch the ferry.) Unfortunately I'm used to being a little more included in the US, either as a competitor or service crew or snagging the occasional press pass, so it was a little frustrating to be treated like another annoying spectator with a wall between us and them, but hey, whatever. Some other time, maybe I could go find the bars where everyone was hanging out afterward and swap war stories, but that's for another time I guess.

All in all, a fun experience, would have liked to stay longer but my schedule wouldn't allow it. One year I'll make it to a full rally, the Rally of Mexico looks great and cheap, and I've got my eye on the Rally New Zealand as well...

I got progressively sicker throughout the weekend, coming back on Sunday morning was almost an endurance marathon...I discovered, to my dismay, that there are no more trains going into Apt. By this time I was feeling poorly and in no mood to figure out another nearby train stop then a bus toward Lacoste, so I just took the TGV back to Avignon and rode the bus to Lumieres like the previous weekend. Normally I would walk the last few kilometers, but I really wasn't feeling well so I called my animation professor who drove down to pick me up and took me back to Lacoste (in time for Sunday morning brunch!)

Taverna, Corsica, the town where I watched stage six of the Rallye de France

One of the many helicopters flying around overhead; I think this was the "official" one

Harri Rovanpera / Risto Pietilainen (Mitsubishi); Rallye de France

(?) Dani Sola / Xavier Amigo (BP Ford); Rallye de France

Stephane Sarrazin / Denis Giraudet (Subaru); Rallye de France

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (Citroën); Rallye de France

José Micheli / Marina Mattei (Toyota Corolla); Rallye de France

The apparently now-abandoned Café Floride (Florida) in Taverna, Corsica

Spectators wait for the start of special stage 8; Rallye de France

A pretty sky; Rallye de France

Xavier Pons / Carlos Del Barrio (OMV Ford); Rallye de France

(?) (BP Ford); Rallye de France

Petter Solberg / Philip Mills (Subaru); Rallye de France

Overnight parc fermé at the Ajaccio port; Rallye de France

"Temporary" restaurant set up by the BP Ford team

Sunday, October 23, 2005


On Friday we loaded up two buses again and drove to Aix-en-Provence. Aix-en-Provence dates back to Roman times and is now most notable for being the nearly lifelong home (born and died there) of 19th century Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (some would call him a post-impressionist, though.) Apparently there are (or were) thermal springs in the area, which made it very appealing to the Romans (they loved their baths,) but I didn't see any while I was there.

We had a "moment" when the road was under construction and we were forced to take a déviation (detour), encountering a tiny little one-lane bridge located right on a turn in the road, but our skillful bus driver saw the crack of daylight between the guardrail and the bus and squeezed through. Once we got there, we had a little bit of a different experience than the rest of the day trips in that there wasn't much of a set itinerary; we were supposed to go along with the professor from our classes (closest to our major, for those with multiple professors) and do those assignment(s). I soon realized that, as usual, I had quite different intentions than the rest of the animation students, and I had forgotten my lunch on my dorm bed anyway, so I made a preemptive ditch before they had a chance to ditch me when I wasn't looking and got a focaccia sandwich at an inexpensive, nearby pizza stand that seemed popular with the locals. After this, I stopped at the sidewalk café of an Irish pub and had a café and sketched people for a couple hours.

After this, I wandered around the town a little, stopping at a pharmacy to pick up some drugs for my developing cough. The most interesting part of my visit was the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral. This was perhaps the most eclectic church I've been to, the bulk being Gothic but containing elements from Roman times all the way to the twentieth century. The Cloister (the smallest in Provence) was perhaps the most interesting part; we were fortunate to be let in on a 10-minute tour around the space given by a nice young lady who, discovering nearly everyone spoke English, gave the tour in her somewhat limited English (she had to pause every couple sentences to ask one of the others, a bilingual British man, the English word of something in French.) From what I could understand (and limited research on the web), the space itself dates all the way back to the 1st c. AD and was part of a Roman house. Later on (5th c.?), Christians began using it as a church and built it into what it is today. The baptistery has Renaissance columns now but the octagonal base dates back to the 5th century. And to top it off, the Gothic nave was furnished with a bizarre modern 20th c. altar and chairs.

After meeting everyone back at 3:30, we headed over to see Cézanne's studio. This was perhaps the highlight of the day, having the chance to see not only where he painted most of his famous paintings but also many of the actual objects from his still-life paintings. It was very insightful to see how meticulous and deliberate he was in every aspect of his painting process, beginning with the location and design of his studio, such as northern windows for the best light, etc.

Lighting was miserable again, but hey, whatever...

Cours Mirabeau; Aix-en-Provence

Eglise St-Jean de Malte; Aix-en-Provence

Statue in front of the Palais du Justice; Aix-en-Provence

Window of some significant 18 c. historical building (Hotel d'Albertas, I think.) An elderly lady saw me taking a photo and tried telling me about it, but all I could gather from her with my limited French was the approximate date of construction. Aix-en-Provence

Fountain in front of the same building; Aix-en-Provence

Statue adorning a doorway (Hotel Boyer de Fonscolombe, perhaps?); Aix-en-Provence

Underwater stones of a fountain; Aix-en-Provence

Fountain; Aix-en-Provence

I found out later from Dr. Williams (who also took a photo of the same sign) that this sign was apparently part of a famous ad campaign in the early 20th c.

Saint-Sauveur Cathedral; Aix-en-Provence

Baptistery of Saint-Sauveur Cathedral; Aix-en-Provence

View toward main nave (gothic) of Saint-Sauveur Cathedral; Aix-en-Provence

Cloister of Saint-Sauveur Cathedral; Aix-en-Provence

Column detail of cloister of Saint-Sauveur Cathedral; Aix-en-Provence

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Catching up on the rest of the week...

Just a quick summary of the week since I've been back...Monday we went back to Roussillon for some sketching. That evening, we watched a bunch of Chuck Jones Looney Toons shorts. Tuesday, can't remember what we did for animation class. In the Treasures of Provence class, the remaining students who hadn't given their presentations for Paris yet, did so, then because of limited time we went to nearby Ménerbes. That night the school showed an excellent French film named Amélie (well, that's the shortened American name.) It rained Tuesday night for the first time in several weeks, only the second time since we've been here (unless you count the very brief shower right as we arrived, which I don't.) Wednesday, due in part to the inclimate weather but mostly because we had no vans available, we stayed in Lacoste. That night Dr. Williams gave a lecture on the development of the Virtual Historic Savannah Project, a project which he spearheaded to create a three-dimentional "virtual" model of downtown Savannah for the web. Check it out, it takes a bit of time to load but well worth the wait. And then today, Finn MacEoin, the school's gardener, took us on a "back door" tour of his town of residence, Lourmarin. He had a story to tell about nearly everything we walked by. And that's the whirlwind summary of my week so far.

Tomorrow we head to Aix-en-Provence, lifelong home of Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. And I won't be coming back with the rest of the group this time; I'm taking a train to Marseilles then a ferry to Corsica to watch the 14th round of the World Rally Championship, the all-asphalt fast-and-furious Rallye de France / Tour de Corse. I've wanted for a long time to catch a World Rally in person, and I'm not going to miss the chance to see it now practically in my back yard, even if only for one of the three days. One day I'll make it to the Rally New Zealand, but for now I'll be cheering them on in Corsica.

A group of Spanish tourists take a photo in front of Roussillon

Charlie and Richmond attempt to puzzle out a solar clock in Roussillon

Ochre cliffs in Roussillon

A door in Roussillon

A group of horseback riders leave their mounts for a stop at a cafe in Roussillon

Weathered sign; Ménerbes

Old Citroen; Ménerbes

Renaissance archway; Ménerbes

Luberon valley, view from Lacoste

Finn MacEoin gives a tour of Lourmarin to the animation students

Children's street graffiti shares the road with an old Citroen; Lourmarin

Animation students walk down the Jewish quarter of Lourmarin

Window; Lourmarin

Chateau de Lourmarin


Memorial statue; Lourmarin

Fountain; Lourmarin

Prof. Larry Lauria shows off his very large baguette; Lourmarin

Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey

SCAD students Alison and Michelle take notes at the Abbey de Sénanque

Our tour guide explains something in excruciating detail—in French, of course; Monks' dormitory, Abbey de Sénanque

Cloister, Abbey de Sénanque

Nathan and Dr. Williams take photos in the cloister of Abbey de Sénanque

Abbey de Sénanque

Lavender fields, cypress trees, and hillside forest; Abbey de Sénanque

Lavender fields of the Abbey de Sénanque from above


F-Sa, Oct. 14-15

On Friday morning we took a train to Venice (Venezia). Of course, this was the one time we got up early for the 8:30 train...which was full. The next wasn't leaving until 10:30, so we were stuck waiting for a while. And to make matters worse, our train ended up leaving Florence an hour and a half late, on top of that. So, after the three hour train ride, we once again arrived at our destination significantly later than anticipated. I'm starting to learn my lessons for when I travel more in the future. Anyway, it was a little harder to find an inexpensive hotel here; most were full, or cost more than I was willing to pay. We ended up taking separate beds in a nearby hotel that also rented beds dorm-style like a hostel. Less than ideal, but at least it was a bit less expensive. That afternoon we went to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a building owned by a brotherhood of laymen who were dedicated to helping the needy and whose prestigious list of members included the great Venetian Renaissance painter Tintoretto. In fact, the building's major attraction now is the fact that both floors of the building are decorated floor to ceiling—including the ceiling itself—with paintings by Tintoretto himself. It was fascinating to see this large collection in its original setting, unlike the often eclectic collections seen in museums. There were also a small handful of paintings by other significant Venetian painters including, I think, Giorgione. After this, we mostly just walked around the city, had dinner and gelato (of course!), and eventually went back to the hotel. The most interesting event of the evening was watching a young joyrider ripping around the canals in a speedboat. Kids elsewhere have sports cars, the Venetians have boats. It's a different world over there...

In the morning we left our luggage at the hotel early and walked out to explore a little more. We went to the Piazza San Marco and visited the Basilica, which was interesting but, most importantly, free admission. I sat around and sketched a while, then after a stop by a market for food to eat for lunch and dinner we headed back to the train station. We had to travel back to Florence, since we couldn't get a night train to Paris from Venice but we found one in Florence. I rode back with Stacey to Paris since I still had seven days left on my rail pass and knew I probably wouldn't be using it constantly on my nine or so days of travel at the end of the quarter.

In the morning, I caught a high-speed TGV back to Avignon while Stacey took a bus and RER metro back to Charles de Gaulle airport. My trip went fairly uneventfully, other than leaving a few minutes late then having some problems or something with the train on the way and arriving in Avignon a bit over an hour late (at least I was comfy and cozy in first class). Fortunately I caught the last bus headed to Apt for a while (the next was almost three hours later.) I got off at Lumieres, and although I had to walk about 7 km uphill with a 40 or 50 lb. pack on my back, it wasn't all THAT bad. I guess I could have tried to hitch a ride on the last leg, but hey, whatever. Stacey, on the other hand, wasn't quite so lucky...she was flying standby, and ended up getting bumped twice and spent two more days in Paris. However, God answered her prayers and she didn't have to spend a dime. A rich couple on business or something gave her a night in the Marriott (a $300 room!!) and paid her meals and train tickets and insisted she come with them while they visited the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. The next night, some missionaries offered her a place to stay and home-cooked meals at a nearby missionary home. Yeah, she was suffering all right...But eventually she did make it back to Savannah.

I'm in Venice!

Carnavale masks in a shop window; Venice

Two gondoliers shoot the breeze waiting for customers; Venice

Gondolas; Venice

Grand Canal; Venice

Canal; Venice

Street scene; Venice

Gondolas; Venice

Grand Canal; Venice

Grand Canal; Venice

Workers unload boxes off a boat; Grand Canal, Venice

Carnavale masks in a store window; Venice

Piazza San Marco; Venice

Pigeons in the Piazza San Marco; Venice

A young boy chases pigeons in the Piazza San Marco; Venice

A young boy shows off his new friends in the Piazza San Marco; Venice

View of Campo San Giorgio from the Piazza San Marco; Venice


W-F Oct 12-14...We got into town later than anticipated again, around 4. We were assaulted by offers of hotel rooms for rent at the train station, but our guidebook explicitly warned that many of these guys weren't legitimate and highly recommended avoiding them. We walked a little ways across town to a hotel that was recommended in the guide book, and fortunately they had a room open. We decided to spend the next full day there so that we could at least see a few sights before moving on. After this, since most of the other sights were closing up soon, we climbed up the campanile of the cathedral and got some great views of the city, including Il Duomo ("the dome.") We left right as they closed at seven, and went to eat at a very good trattoria (also recommended by the guidebook), followed by gelato at Vivoli, which (again) the guidebook recommended and, in fact, claims it is the best gelato in all of Italy. Well, it was very good, so I guess I can't argue with the assessment. We strolled around a little afterward, including stopping by the Orsanmichelle, a former granary for which numerous statues were commissioned by the various trade guilds in the city during the Renaissance and placed in alcoves around the building. Some of the more important statues have been replaced over time, but there are still several significant originals there as well.

The next day we got up early and went first to the Accademia to see Michaelangelo's David, which was impressive, but I'm of the opinion that it's a fair bit overrated. He certainly has more significant works, as far as I'm concerned, like his Moses for Pope Julius II's tomb and some of his Roman architecture. What I found even more interesting were the four unfinished dying slaves, part of the same tomb project and sister statues to the two finished dying slaves in the Louvre. I found it very interesting to see his works-in-progress and comparing them to the finished ones in the Louvre. There wasn't really much more of note here. After this was the Uffizi museum, a rather impressive collection of Roman and Renaissance art packaged in a rather less-than-impressive experience. For starters, we didn't place reservations several days in advance (!), so we waited in line for well over an hour. Then, the main exhibit I really wanted to see, the large collection of Renaissance drawings and sketches, appeared to be closed even though I couldn't see any such notice on the "closures" sign out front. The museum was crowded, and really didn't promote browsing the way the Louvre does so well. And to top it off, the most important paintings which had recently been restored, such as Botticelli's Birth of Venus, were placed behind 1/4+ inch-thick glass which not only made the painting hard to see from the reflections, but completely washed out the saturation of the colors and gave it a faint but sickly green hue. They should have just left the stupid paintings unrestored. The whole experience was just extremely disappointing. After that, we had a little time left and went to the science museum, which had a fascinating collection of 16-19th century scientific apparatus, including some of Galileo's instruments, not to mention his embalmed middle finger, and a series of wax sculptures depicting childbirth which of course Stacey found fascinating but I thought was rather disturbing. Unfortunately, we went in with only about 40 minutes to closing, so we didn't have a long time to stay and linger over the exhibits, but I definately recommend this museum as a refreshing change from the high culture of all the Renaissance art that, well, don't get me wrong, it's great and all, but you can only take so much of it at once. We had pizza at an Irish restaurant and some more gelato before retiring for the evening.

Birds atop a door frame on the Medici Chapel; Florence, Italy

Stacey pauses while climbing the 400+ steps of the campanile (bell tower) of the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore; Florence, Italy

Il Duomo ("The Dome") of the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore, Filippo Brunelleschi's great architectural legacy; Florence, Italy

Carriage drivers await customers in front of the baptistery of the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore, one of the pinnacles of early Renaissance architecture; Florence, Italy

A pigeon finds a convenient perch atop one of the statues at the Orsanmichelle; Florence, Italy

Street vendors sell leather jackets and purses in front of the Medici Chapel; Florence, Italy

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cinque Terre

Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 10-12...

The night train to Torino (Turin) was an interesting experience...When we got to our couchette (a cabin with six bunks) we found another young American couple; I think their names were Wes and Jessica. They were headed to the Cinque Terre, just like us, but they were getting off at Milan to catch a train there, while my plan was to continue to Torino and take progressively more regional trains to Genova (Genoa), then La Spezia, then Vernazza in the Cinque Terre. We chatted with them for a while, trying to look very unpleasant to any passers-by without reservations so they would try another cabin, but eventually a guy from Afghanistan who didn't speak much English came and sat in with us. Soon the conductor came by to collect our tickets and passports, but for some reason the guy didn't have his passport. The Italian conductor informed him curtly that the border police were going to want to speak with him when we got to Italy. Now, I'm not one to make quick judgments about someone based on their ethnicity, but an Afghani with no passport, well, I thought for sure at that point we were going to blow up in the middle of the night and kept eyeing the duffel bag he was holding close on his lap. But, the guy seemed nice enough, and obviously I'm still here now, writing this entry; he seemed pretty nervous, not in the way a crazed maniac would seem nervous but the way a tourist from a questionable country who lost his passport and didn't want to get thrown in an Italian jail would seem nervous. At any rate, he apparently couldn't sleep after that and left the cabin sometime in the middle of the night, so no idea what happened to him. The bunks were very small and rather uncomfortable, especially considering they were made of vinyl so the tiny sheets wouldn't stay in place any time you moved around, and the train ride was a bit bumpy at times, but somehow I got a fair night's sleep so I can't complain too much.

I forget exactly how we got to the Cinque Terre at that point...I think we had tickets that went all the way to Genova (with the transfer at Torino), then we discovered that the same train to Genova continued on to La Spezia so we just bought additional tickets to continue on. It was a rather lovely ride through the hills of Tuscany, occasinally running along the Mediterranean. In La Spezia, we caught the regional train that runs around every 20-30 minutes up the towns of the Cinque Terre and back. Just out of La Spezia we plunged into a long tunnel, then suddenly back out into daylight and some spectacular ocean scenery. Here in the Cinque Terre, a 5-mile strip of rocky coastline that has been designated an Italian national park, there are five towns (cinque terre literally means "five lands") built on the hills and banned from any new construction, maintaining their historic quaint charm. At around 3 P.M. maybe (a little later than I was hoping, but hey, OK) we got off at the northernmost town of the five, Monterosso. We didn't have to look too hard for a room; a lady came up to us as we were coming out of the train station and told us that she could take us to one of the four rooms that her colleague, a local real estate agent, rented out. Normally I would be wary of such a proposition (in fact, our guide book expressly warns against the mass practice of it in Florence), but our guide book mentioned that over half the available rooms in the Cinque Terre were private apartments (thanks to the lack of hotel developments) and she pointed out a poster in the station advertising their real estate business. We went with her to see the room, and halfway there she saw the owner, Cornado Valenzio, and passed us off to him, and we liked the room and it was a good price so we just stayed there. Both the lady and man gave us the "grand tour" of Monterosso as we walked in, pointing out every detail along the way. We dropped our bags off then headed back out.

We explored Monterosso a little and took a short walk on the only public beach in the Cinque Terre. I was hoping to get some light hiking in, but it was getting kinda dark. We took the train down to Corniglia, the middle town, and started walking to the two southern towns, but maybe a third to half the way there we ran into a section with lots of fencing and signs that said some of the path had washed out, so we turned around and went back. We rode the train further down, I think to Manarola, and walked up to a small playground overlooking the sea and ate our picnic dinner that we had bought in the tiny grocery store back in Monterosso.

The next morning we walked up above Monterosso to a small Renaissance church whose claim to fame was a Van Dyke painting, The Crucifixion. Now, ironically, I was passing over Van Dyke paintings left and right in the Louvre to get to the more significant ones that I wanted to see, but, hey, I guess it's all relative. After this, we headed back to La Spezia to try and get a train to Firenze (Florence.)

Stacey settles in to her couchette bunk

Monterosso, Italy

A large rock on the beach in Monterosso, Italy

A hill town in the Cinque Terre (Manarola?)

Sunset over the Mediterranean; Corniglia, Italy

Night in Cinque Terre (Manarola?)

Night-time still life in Cinque Terre (Manarola?)

Night in Cinque Terre (Manarola?)

Sunrise in Monterosso

Beach in Monterosso

Our "hotel" owner waves farewell as he rides by on his bike

Monday, October 17, 2005

Paris, part II

Saturday...We went with the other animation students to the Army Museum which, in addition to being the site of Napoleon's tomb, has wings devoted to French uniforms, weapons, and other paraphernalia from roughly Louis XIII to Napolean (including some nifty late medieval suits of armor), WWI (closed for renovation), and WWII. The WWII exhibit, I thought, was one of the highlights of the whole Paris trip. The collection of uniforms they have is amazing, as well as a few tanks and many guns and other military accoutrements. After this, Stacey and I parted ways with the others and went to the Louvre, since they had gone the day before and we hadn't yet been. Unfortunately, we only had time to go through the Italian and French Renaissance paintings (one floor of one wing of the Louvre; the place is mind-bogglingly huge), so I decided to come back and spend the day on Monday since we would be staying an extra night anyway for the concert at the Opera House.

Sunday, we went out to Versailles. First we made a visit to the restored stables, where we saw an equestrian show which included some horseback fencing, then we walked through the chateau. Unfortunately, the Hall of Mirrors was under renovation so only a small section of it was open. After walking out onto the terrace overlooking the gardens, we headed back into Paris. Since we had some time before the concert, we went back to the Musee d'Orsay to see some of the exhibits that got skipped on our previous visit (i.e., nearly all of them.) Some of the best pieces in the museum were the Rodin sculptures (which actually we did see the other time,) the art nouveau furniture, and a 20 foot long cross-sectioned model of the Opera House, which we had heard Dr. Williams talk about previously and were soon going to visit, so it was all the more interesting. I'm not a big fan of Impressionist painters, but hey, if that's your thing, the Orsay is full of them. I did like Degas' pastels. After dinner, we went to the chamber music show, which was a touch long for me (especially in our tiny little seats way up so high), but it was a great experience to see the extravagant interior of the building, particularly the upstairs foyer which is very similar to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (better than the part of it I saw, in my opinion, though I'll admit I was a touch bitter about not getting to see all of it.) Afterward, we made a quick trip out on the metro to see the Eiffel Tower at night. By the way, I now dislike the C line very much; if you can avoid it, try to find another metro or bus line to get where you need to go, because the C trains are much less frequent (e.g., 20-30 minutes between trains.)

On Monday we went back to the Louvre, and managed to at least breeze through nearly all of it in 5 hours (though not really spending the time I would have liked on any of it.) Except, of course, for the one part I really meant to go see that I had missed last time, the Renaissance drawings at the back of the paintings wing. I should have gone there first. Well, live and learn, I suppose. The exhibit with the highest Cool-O-Meter (TM) rating was probably the Egyptian animal mummies. They made sarcophagi for almost anything, including beetles! But there was plenty more all over the museum to interest anyone. That night, we caught a night train to Torino, Italy, to head to the Cinque Terre the next day.

Les Invalides, now the tomb of Napoleon; Paris

Napoleon's tomb; Les Invalides, Paris

Notre-Dame cathedral; Paris

View of the Louvre from inside the pyramid entrance; Paris

Street snack vendor in front of the Louvre; Paris

A line of tour buses; Versailles

Inside the Paris Opera House during a chamber music show

Entrance stairway of the Paris Opera House

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Stacey poses in front of a sphinx in the Louvre

Mummified cat in the Louvre

Winged bull of Sargon III, Louvre

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Paris, part I

We did such an insane amount of stuff in Paris that I'm sure I'll leave off something, but here goes...On Thursday, after arriving at the Gare de Lyon we walked the 30 minutes or so to the hotel and dropped off our baggage. Stacey was already there; she was quite proud of herself for making it from the airport to the hotel by herself. We started looking for a bite to eat, but somehow we didn't quite get anything before joining up with everyone else to do a walking tour of the main sights of the city. With everyone together, the group was nearly two blocks long. The light was really bad this day for photos, I should point out. After a stop in the cathedral St. Cluny or something, we walked to the Notre Dame (which, somehow, I never got around to actually going inside the whole time we were there) then by the Palais du Justice next to St. Chappelle cathedral, perhaps the best archetypal Gothic church in Europe. We walked by the "new bridge," the Pont Neuf (which, ironically, is now the oldest bridge in the city), which, by the way, was showcased in The Bourne Identity. We crossed the bridge to the Louvre, then down the Champs d'Elysses past Place de la Concorde, former home of the infamous guillotine and now home of the Obelisk of Luxor (an authentic Egyptian obelisk which was imported by Napolean,) and then on to the Arc de Triomphe, after which we were released to go nurse our aching feet. After a metro ride and dinner back in the Latin district, Stacey and I crashed back at the hotel.

Friday morning the animation students visited Gobelins art school, where the director of the animation program talked at great length about the school (but it was all fascinating to us!) then gave us a tour of the facility. At this point Stacey and I left the others and rushed over to the Musee d'Orsay, where we met up with my Treasures of Provence class. The original idea was that each student in the class had chosen one significant example of art or architecture in Paris, then we would all visit the object together while the student gave a 5-10 minute presentation. We soon realized that this idea was going to be a disaster. After nearly an hour of futilely searching the, er, "unique" layout of the museum for various paintings, scupltures, and photographs (of which two students' choices were discovered to no longer be in the permanent collection,) we did manage to find my Cezanne painting, Apples and Oranges, but I hadn't said more than two sentences before a museum guard came along and ordered us to disperse because we had no group badge. I ended up giving my presentation later, on a pedestrian bridge outside the museum (which was itself the subject of a presentation by another student.) Frustrated after this experience, we walked up to the, um, I forget off the top of my head but I think it's the Piazza Colonna where there's a giant column based on the Column of Trajan. The Ritz, which is one of Paris' most exclusive hotels and is located in the square, gained notoriety a few years back as the last place visited by Princess Diana and her boyfriend before her fatal car accident. We continued on up the street to the Opera House and went into the lobby, but we were disappointed yet again to find that the rest of the building was being closed off just as we arrived, so we were unable to see the rest of the building. However, Dr. Williams and some of the students (including me) did decide to buy tickets to a chamber music performance on Sunday night, most buying the 5€ seats in the nosebleed section to maintain the spirit of the Opera House as a "Versailles for the common masses." At this point, the group had slowly dwindled away to almost nothing, so Stacey and I and a couple others were treated to private "lectures" by Profs. Williams and Abraham about the buildings we were seeing. We accompanied them and Nathan (architectural history) back to the Latin district and visited another cathedral (St. Severin?); I enjoyed following the three of them because they were so fascinated with everything they saw that I was much more appreciative of what I was seeing.

Notre-Dame cathedral

Dr. Williams talks about the Notre-Dame cathedral

A motorcyclist drives on the sidewalk past a fashion model photo/video shoot. Just another day on the streets of Paris...

Stacey and I at the Louvre; Paris

I'm at the Louvre; Paris

Prof. Larry Lauria at the Louvre; Paris

Detail of the statuary atop the Arc du Carousel in front of the Louvre, Paris

Obelisk of Luxor with the Eiffel Tower in the hazy distance; Place de la Concorde, Paris

Park alongside the Champs d'Elysees; Paris (yes, that's fellow SCAD student Paul waaay in the distance)

A different view than the standard postcard shot of the Arc de Triomphe; Paris

A group of veterans prepares for a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe; Paris

Front view of the Paris Opera House exterior; Paris

Back in Lacoste...

Just a quick note to say I made it back in time for classes (with a little to spare!) After Paris, Stacey and I went on a whirlwind tour of northern Italy. We saw the Cinque Terre, Florence, and Venice. We were hoping for Rome as well, but we left Paris a day late and continued to fall further behind schedule so we scratched it and decided to spend a bit more time in Florence so we could actually see some of the sights.

It'll take me a while to get the photos up, so don't hold your breath...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Leaving for Paris tomorrow

No photos today...We'll be heading out to Paris bright and early tomorrow morning, riding the TGV from Avignon and arriving in Paris sometime around noon. The students have various activites planned for about half the time until Sunday at noon, after which we're free for a week. My wife, Stacey, should be somewhere on the way to Paris now, meeting us at the Hotel Le Home Latin, in the heart of the Latin district, where the school is staying for the weekend. Some activities we have planned are the Musée d'Orsay, the Musée du Louvre (of course!), and the Gobelins school of art, probably the best animation school in Europe and perhaps the world.

During the break week the students are scattering to the far corners of the earth...Stacey and I are planning to go to Italy right now, but I've heard news of a strike there starting Oct. 9 (the day we're supposed to leave) which will affect transportation for at least 48 hours, so we might have to change our plans. We'll see...

Be back on October 16...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Russell Crowe and Rousillon

Yesterday the talk of the school was that the Ridley Scott film A Good Year (based on the novel by Peter Mayle) starring Russell Crowe was in town filming down by the Café de France. After breakfast I wandered down and, sure enough, the film crew was out and I watched them film a scene where Russell Crowe impatiently drives through town in a green SMART car behind some slow cyclists. Unfortunately, I still had one more drawing to do for homework before class started, so I left to do that. We didn't go anywhere in class, just critiqued each others' drawings. After dinner, we watched a DVD of the winners from the 2004 Annecy Animation Film Festival, which Larry Lauria attended (as well as this year's) and considers to be the best animation festival in the world. The DVD also contained the bumper shorts created by the amazingly talented students at the Gobelins art school in Paris, which we will be visiting this weekend.

This morning we headed to Roussillon to do some sketching and research. Roussillon was the source of most of the world's ochre pigment for many years (and perhaps still is, I wouldn't know) due to the local deep red earth, and most of the buildings are painted a rich red hue, giving the town a distinction amongst the hill towns of Provence. Then for a change, in the Treasures of Provence class we stayed inside and planned our itinerary for Paris this weekend and viewed slides of the history of Paris and some of its major buildings.

Morning sun highlights the rooftops of Lacoste


Ochre cliffs in Roussillon

An interesting wall in Roussillon

Shop exterior in Roussillon

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Saturday afternoon walk, and Saignon

Yesterday I decided to go for a walk, so after brunch I started walking to the north on the path to the mountain that another student, Paul, was telling me about. I was originally going to walk to the top of the mountain, then west along the ridge and down to Bonnieux, then back to Lacoste. However, after a rigorous walk to the top, I discovered a paved road that was a virtual pedestrian superhighway; I must have seen well over a hundred people walking up and down, little girls riding their bikes with training wheels, etc. I turned and walked about 300 meters to the west where I discovered a parking lot where they had all driven up and parked. Apparently the cedar forest at the top is designated as a national park. I didn't want to walk down the road and couldn't find a promising trail, so I gave up and walked back down the way I came. I should have kept going, though, because I talked to Paul later and he said that after walking along the road a ways there's another trail that cuts off and goes back down to Bonnieux. Maybe next time...

Today after brunch the animation students all drove into Apt to hunt down some sort of what we thought was an animation festival. We never found anything, so we decided to drive up the hill to the small town of Saignon, which overlooks Apt. There was an interesting rock formation to climb up, as well as a 12C Romanesque church.

Clock tower, Lacoste

Château de Sade, Lacoste

Rooftop statue, Apt

Animation students walk under an arch, Apt

Animation students (plus two) in the Basilica St. Anne, Apt

View from the rocher de Saignon