Sunday, July 31, 2011

sur le pont d"Avignon

Another early up and at ‘em – we had to check out by 6:00 am. This group is a dream. Everyone was ready to go at 5:55, well most of them (HEATHER) and we bid a fine farewell to our friends at the Ajiel, possibly stealing some bread rolls and Nutella surreptitiously to eat on the train. Catching the train was a little crunch – the metros don’t run really frequently until about 8, but we all made it aboard the TGV to Avignon.
I’ve never brought any of the groups to Avignon, a city in Southern France just miles from the Mediterranean. We went this year for the Avignon Festival, which I’m hoping to book a UVU performance into next year. This was a research trip, though nobody complained about spending a couple of days in the south of France. The Avignon festival is one of the largest theatre performing festivals in the world, second only to Edinburgh, where we’re headed in a month.

Avignon is incredible. The old city is surrounded by a Roman Wall, and inside feels like Italy and Greece and, as Robbie put it, “the French Quarter of Disneyland.” The streets are narrow and feel aimless, but you don’t mind wandering aimlessly because every corner reveals a little bistro, a yogurt shop, or a band of wandering circus performers on horses (more on them later.)

We had lunch first because everyone was starving from the long train ride. So after eating at a place that starts with an M and rhymes with HackDonalds we felt in the mood to explore. Within minutes we were at the top of the Palace of the Popes, where several popes lived from the 1300's to the mid-15th century. There is a beautiful garden there that looks out over the Rhone River and has a spectacular view of the famous Pont D’Avignon bridge. The sun was out but there was a wonderful breeze and it was kind of heaven. Everyone crashed under a tree, but only fell asleep after Greg suggested the ladies play the “imagination game” (everyone imagines something and nobody talks.) I explored the town a little on my own, eventually winding down old staircases until I got to the bridge, and remembered the ‘Sur l’pont d’Avignon” song and my beautiful daughter Phoebe who sings it.

For dinner we found a place called Art & Gourmet in the middle of a beautiful series of winding back alleys. We were attracted to it at first because someone was sitting at a table outside dressed like a ninja turtle. Why would you not want to eat there? We approached the staff and a young man told us to go away – they didn’t feel like making any more food. Was he kidding? He was not. I showed him that we were a party of fifteen and asked if he would like our money. I was really nice about it. He said he did not. But then a young lady stepped in and sat us. So then this really surly new guy comes over and takes our order, and it was like Eeyore’s birthday. Until I made it my goal to make friends with the guy who had refused us. And it only took a few minutes before I had a new buddy. He came and talked with us and joked and helped me translate something and was, in the end, a really cool guy. The entire staff seemed to lighten up. This is because we are so magical and charismatic; mostly me.

I think I mentioned a Pony Circus show? Yes. We got tickets to that. It’s a no brainer. On our way to it we ran into some missionaries, who we surprised by singing “Called to Serve” while they were crossing a street. They were a bit shocked to see a gaggle of Mormons, but relieved to see friendly faces and hear the language of home. I remember that feeling. One was from Vegas, and another was from Orem. One of them, I can’t remember which, was named Meservy. If you know their families – tell them they are healthy and happy and have strange accents.

So this pony show was awesome. It was actually a circus where people rode horses in a circle and did crazy stunts. It was held in a large tent just off the banks of the river, and we had to cross on the free ferry to get there and walk a little into the woods. It was a little mind game: you felt like you were going back in time. Somehow a family of riding circus performers feels a little 1930’s or something. Anyway, we enjoyed the show. There were a lot of dangerous things they did, and a lady who spun way up high on a rope, and a live band, and cool lighting, and ponies, ponies, and more ponies! (And by that I mean horses. But there was one pony, who made a loop halfway through the show while a lady played a kazoo.)

We ended the night on a ferris wheel, which also seems a little depression-era, and I forgot that ferris wheels are kind of scary. They make rickety noises and they swing a lot when you get to the top. But they are also fun, and make for great photo ops unless your Android takes terrible pictures at night. But maybe it was better to put the camera down and just enjoy an ancient city, lit up for the evening. So that's what I did.