Sundays are quiet in Uzes. Most of the stores are closed in town and, except for flea market-style shopping along the streets, there’s not much going on. It was the perfect time to pick on Geoffrey.
Geoffrey is my good friend in Uzes. He’s been here through thick and thin, helping me adjust to my new world. He’s also the unpredictable character you’ve grown to love in earlier posts.
Due to The Golden Girls’ adventures, Geoffrey’s stories have taken a backseat.
He’s back! Yet recently, in a less enthusiastic form.
You see, over the past few days, Geoffrey and I have been indulging in a sort of contest. A “pity party”, if you will.
“Who can gripe the most.”
As hard as it might be to believe, and as perfect as living a dream may seem, there are “down” days. Fortunately for me, like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore, when I’m down, Geoffrey’s perky. When he’s on the “low” side of the see-saw, I’m on the “high” side.
Last Sunday’s a perfect example. After several days of not hearing from Geoffrey, I rang him up to see if he was still alive. From the sound of his voice, which is usually cheerful, I could tell he was “alive” but far from “lively.”
After our “Bonjour”s, I asked, a bit sarcastically, “Comment allez-vous ?”
“C’est Bien,” he replied. “Et vous”, he said in very sing-song tone. Not his always jovial, laughing voice.
“Ok, Geoffrey,” I barked. “This bad mood of yours has got to quit. It’s gone on quite long enough.”
Before he could reply I ordered: “I’m going out to Carrefour to do some shopping. Mustang Sally and I are coming to pick you up.”
I could hear noise in the background which meant he wasn’t at home. “Where are you”, I asked, as if he owed me an answer.
“I’m at the little bar at the Esplanade'” he said. “Having a pastis with Nicholae,” he added. “You can come by and pick me up if you’d like.”
“I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” I said.
The Esplanade is a small, sparsely shaded park in the center of Uzes that is between the city’s post office and the regional bus station. The park is most often used on Saturdays for various market vendors’ booths. Occasionally its the site of gypsy carnivals. During the week you’ll find locals and tourists sitting on the few benches that are around the perimeter.
The “little bar” is on the street corner across from the Esplanade. It’s mostly a “hangout” for the town’s “idle” older men who seem to be unemployed. They are there all hours of the day.
I stopped at the “little bar” with Mustang Sally just as Geoffrey was finishing up his drink. It was close to thirty minutes after we had talked. He saw me and quickly gulped down the last of his pastis. While getting in the passenger side of the car, a man at the bar called out to him. He said Sally had a flat tire.
“Oh crap!” said Geoffrey. “Something else to ruin my day.”
“We can fix it at the service station at Carrefour,” I exclaimed.
Geoffrey checked to see if we had enough air in the tire to get the short distance out of town, then jumped in the car.
As we headed down the road, my travel companion was silent. I decided I’d try to cheer up “Old Grumpy” with a joke he’d told me a few days before, even though I’m terrible at telling jokes.
I took a breath and started: “I’m sorry I’m late,” I said.
“No problem,” Geoffrey replied glumly.
“I told you I’d pick you up in fifteen minutes,” I added.
“Yes you did,” said Geoffrey. “It’s OK.”
“I would have been here on time,” I continued, hoping he wouldn’t catch on and ruin the punchline.
Taking a breath, I looked at him from the drivers seat with my most serious face and stated: “Well then, you didn’t have to call back every half an hour to remind me.”
Geoffrey looked at me. His face lit up. He chuckled. Then he let out that familiar belly laugh. He was going to be OK.
Sunday in Uzes
As our sour moods were lifting we arrived at Carrefour only to find it, too, was closed. Shopping would have to wait. We could; however, use the air pump to fill Sally’s tire. It was at the service station adjacent to the front of the store.
While Geoffrey was showing me how to put air in the tire, I asked: “Want to go see the horses at Les Haras’ stables when we’re done? You said you wanted to take me there.”
“Great idea,” said Geoffrey, obviously happy that I had thought of something he actually wanted to do.
Les Haras Nationaux is a French national riding academy and champion stud farm. It is one of a dozen or so regulated facilities of its kind in France.
The institutionalization of horse breeding for military, farming, leisure and competition purposes in France traces back as early as the time of Charlemagne.
In 1665 the King’s Council of Louis XIV established what was to become “royal standards” and control for stud farming in France. In 1715 requirements for breeding the “Haras du Pin” or “royal stud” were strictly enforced throughout the country.
These days the French Ministry of Agriculture manages the activities of “Haras du Pin” breeders. The ministry’s responsibilities are to insure the blood lines of quality horses bred in France, and to regulate and oversee services for breeders and horse lovers.
These are some of the studs we found hanging out in their stalls, waiting for a “roll in the hay” with the mares who were primping themselves in separate quarters.
The “white” horses are the famous “Camargue” breed, originally found only in the swampy, Camargue region in the south of France. Their origins go back, some say, to the Paleolithic period more than 17,000 years ago. Through time they have been bred with other breeds, especially Arabians,
“This genetic combination permits these brawny animals to withstand the region’s bleak, cold winters and intensely hot summers. They are so strong it is said they are able to canter through mud up to their bellies!” (White Horses of France’s Camargue)
Below is the layout of Les Haras Nationaux outside Uzes.
Vallee D’eure Uzes
After a trompe around the stud farm at Les Haras Nationaux, the Sunday afternoon was still too beautiful to leave behind. We headed to the park at Vallee D’eure on the other side of Uzes.
It was my first time at the park, although I’ve passed the turn off on the way to San Quentin La Poterie several times. Once down the road we drove close to the rocky hill that I had viewed from the distance. Rock climbers are particularly fond of this spot and they are allowed to set up camp in the park.
Geoffrey says people who have no yards or terraces where they live spend their Sundays here.
In addition to the hill for rock climbing, the park’s other attraction is its spring: the source of water for the Gard River that flows beneath the famous landmark, Pont du Gard.
During Roman times the spring fed the Pont du Gard aqueduct and delivered water along the miles and miles of Roman-built conduits to the city of Nimes (“Colony of Nemausus”).
Today, while Pont du Gard draws millions of tourists yearly, the spring that started it all is barely noticed. The origins of the aqueduct — as old as the stone facade of the Pont du Gard — is close to ruins.
Beside the spring, Geoffrey got on his “bandstand”
With his loudest voice he proclaimed to me, and everyone else within hearing distance, that it is “scandalous” the way the French government is neglecting the ancient structure.
For my entertainment and, perhaps, for distribution to the UNESCO World Heritage Center, I put together this “public service announcement” regarding the plight of the Pont du Gard’s most important monument.
Swans and Otters on Parade
While Geoffrey continued ranting about the “Scandal of Pont du Gard”, I busied myself watching swans who were gathered in the stream that ran around the edge of the park grounds.
“Chase the otter” seemed to be the game of the day.