Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Roussillon, Provence, France

Roussillon (but a few kilometers from Apt) is yet another of the hilltop towns that is officially designated as one of Provence's "Plus beaux villages". This small medieval village is located in a beautiful forest from which great cliffs of seemingly pure ocre suddenly appear. These hills have been mined for their marvelous red soil and minerals since Roman times, and there is ample evidence indicating that people lived in this area long before Romans arrived. It is only natural that the village itself is permeated with stone and cement structures having varying shades of ocre. Even the seemingly white altar steps in the ancient village church have flecks of ocre.

These pictures show the village streets and neighbouring valley in the overcast lighting of a late afternoon in late May. Reaching the castle at the highpoint of the village required a bit of a climb, but reaching anything required climbing or descending. Looking over the red rooftops, one sees the forest stretching for miles until the soil finally becomes suitable for cultivating the region's famous wines.

[Click here for pictures of Roussillon on another posting.]

Salon international des Initiatives de Paix, Paris

The Third International Exhibition on Peace Initiatives (3e Salon international des Initiatives de Paix) was held this past weekend (May 30-June 1, 2008) in Paris at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. The exhibition was spread over three floors, offering talks, workshops and about 180 booths with books, posters and opportunities to converse with people representing the many organizations. The themes were as varied as society itself. Some groups are devoting serious time and energy to encouraging us to be at peace with the environment, others are promoting such things as peace and reconciliation with family members, helping students deal with bullying at school, or discovering how peace can be promoted through excellent art or superb cartooning. There were also organizations concerned with justice, peace and nonviolence at the national and international levels, asking us to think seriously about disarmament, the abolition of war and fighting, and about finding ways to get governments to decrease expenditures on military hardware and weapons. Several groups focused on the increasingly severe refugee crisis resulting from war, political turmoil, changes in the environment, and natural disasters. Still other groups are thinking about economic injustices which lead to conflict rather than promote peaceful living.
One of my special interests is how the church (and religion generally) can contribute to the promotion of peace, both within local society and internationally. It was encouraging to see considerable attention being given to these initiatives, whether through individual denominations (e.g., Catholics, Quakers or the Centre Mennonite de Paris), through groups co-sponsored by various churches/denominations interested in ecumenical discussions, or by groups of individuals from within churches (the Franciscan Family or the European group interested in ‘Church and Peace’). Other displays called attention to conflicts in specific geographic areas, such as Israel/Palestine or Rwanda.
There is considerable interest in the promotion of peace through the public schools in Paris (or at least quite a few teachers took the time and energy to bring their classes), so it was wonderful seeing hundreds of orderly high school and junior high school students wandering through the exhibitions, taking part in impromptu theatre in the aisles, watching a puppet show on the history of the atom bomb, or sitting in small groups while their teachers led them through their reflections about what they had just learned about peace initiatives. If only this sort of education could be introduced with the same intensity in North America.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Lourmarin, Provence, France

Every time I think about another little hill village in or near the Luberon, I want to call it my favourite one. Lourmarin is utterly charming, home for about 1,100 residents, and the resting place for Albert Camus. But since Peter Mayle is now reportedly living here, I suspect it will become increasingly busy with English-speaking tourists. We went for the Friday market, which is one of the best in the area. It stretched for blocks and had none of the cheap trinkets or clothing found in too many Parisian markets. This seemed to be upscale, like the village itself.

Asparagus was looking superb, but we did not have access to a kitchen, and I was surprised to see garlic being sold before the stalks had withered. Since garlic is crucial to so many Provencale dishes, I guess they like to get the season started as quickly as possible. One vendor had an array of large bowls of ground spices, reminded me that we were in a part of France that has been profoundly influenced by Mediterranean cooking.

The village is surrounded by an old wall, which has (if I sensed things correctly) another lower wall just outside. One is able to walk between these two walls, one that is very high (formerly protecting the village) and one that is the more traditional garden height. A number of my pictures were taken while walking on this very special walkway. My little G9 is always in my pocket and served me well for these shots. I tried to capture a sense of the claustrophobia I experienced when crouching to get under the thick stone buttresses which went over the walk way.