Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We hiked up the hill from the parking lot to the site of an oppidum—Oppidum D’Esérune—a hilltop settlement from the ancient Mediterranean world. It was a nice spot, at one time inhabited by more than 10,000 people c. 300 B.C. We were moving up from the Neolithic.

I'm sure the whole South of France and Mediterranean coast is littered with such sites, many of them now cities and villages (and even small countries!), many of them unexcavated. This one had walls and foundations unearthed and a nice museum of the Gallo/Roman artifacts they'd found. One of my favorite French words is quotidien(ne)(s), and there was lots of that, along with more fancy stuff too. And I love how wherever you walk, if you look down, there are all sorts of pot shards under your feet.

Okay, so they are open every day and it was the off season, or low season, and I don’t think this is the case during the summer, but when we got there at about 11am they pointed to a sign of "closing times" which said: 12:00am and 5:00pm. Now this was not the usual, less ambiguous, French 24 hr clock and Greg and I got caught up in the 12am thing. Did not compute. So they only close? At midnight? Then I noticed another sign with "opening times" so apparently they open too.

What they were trying to tell us is that we only had about an hour until the first closing time, which turned out to be noon, not midnight. And then the next opening time was 2pm. Okay, we went ahead and bought our tickets and enjoyed the sites and museum.

At the gift shop, Kadin bought a new Asterix book, and near the end of our visit, while we were looking at the rooms and walls of the old artisans buildings outside, he sat down to read his book. We moved on about 10 meters to look at an old road with the ruts from the chariot wheels still visible, took our time, read the sign, then we moved on another 10 or 20 meters to see grain storage silos and houses, etc. We went over a little rise, heading out farther towards the cemetery, at which point we encountered some donkeys and thought it was time we turn back, retrieve Kadin, and head out.

A man was walking very quickly towards us with a walkie talkie. It was still about 15 minutes before the first closing time, but maybe they were clearing out the back part of the site first?

He approached us and asked us something about our daughter being lost. Our daughter? Lost? There was no daughter, there was no lost. Once again: did not compute. Did he mean our son who had chosen to stay about 100 meters behind and read his book? We were not looking like the brightest bulbs on the planet.

So we returned with the man and found his female colleague with another walkie talkie and Kadin. Not sure how distressed Kadin had been. The French word “criée” was used, but this can also mean to call out. He seemed happy enough now. We left the park and as we slowly ambled down the winding road towards our car, another car with the three employees passed us as they went out for their two hour lunch.

And to us this was strange. In America, the employees would just bring a sandwich and take turns managing the gate. But here, anything less than a hot, two-hour lunch is considered barbaric. Perhaps once you get used to it, it’s a tradition that is hard to give up. I mean, you wouldn’t want to be associated with these clueless outsiders who can’t read simple times on signs and loose their children at the drop of a hat.

We eventually head down and look for a picnic spot along the Canal du Midi, a beautiful canal that runs from Toulouse to Sète and is now high on my list of places to boat and/or bike along. You can’t go far around here (Languedoc) without hitting a great site, great food, great wine….languid? Yes!

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