22 June 2008

Too Many Popes

Did I promise to say something about my sightseeing in Avignon? Do you really want to hear it? OK--the number one attraction is the Palace of the Popes, the residence of the papacy during the so-called Babylonian Captivity of the Church in the 14th century. At this time, the Holy Roman Empire was constantly fighting with the Church over the so-called Investiture Controversy (sleeping yet?), that is, over who had the right to control the Church (and appoint bishops) within a given kingdom, the king or the Pope. At one point, Rome and the Papal States became overly threatened by the Empire, so the Papal Court moved to Avignon, which it owned. Meanwhile, the Empire appointed its own Popes in Rome while the Antipopes (no joke) ruled in what is now France. At one point, there were even *three* Popes, which is, in my opinion, just too many Popes. These days, the palace is monumental and beautiful but also empty. So I was glad to go there and soak up the ambience, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone else given the admission price.

For a change of scenery, after visiting the palace, I hiked across the Rhone (ah, the Rhone Valley, home to my beloved Syrah) to a little village called Villeneuve, once the entrance to France coming from Papacy-dominated Avignon and environs. There's a castle there I figured I might as well check out since, basically, I could. It was empty, too. And a bee stung me.

OK, forget all the rest. In the evening, I met up with my Avignon hosts, Stephane and Claire, who informed me that they would be going down to the sea for a beach party the following day and that I was invited. I'm going to say no to that? We were joined by their friends Timothee and Max, two of the nicest people, French or otherwise, I've ever met. I like the French! You bigoted Americans don't know what you're missing. I know they seem standoffish at first, but once they figure out that you're not going to bite their heads off and shove bullshit down their exposed, gaping throats, they become the sweetest people you'll ever meet other than the Japanese (which they remind me of a little). Actually, we didn't go to the beach with Stephane and Claire. They left early to set up the generator and sound system (cool, eh?). Timothee, Max, and I were picked up and driven down the shore instead by Francois (I don't know if I am spelling these names correctly, nor where the accents or hooks go), another sweetest guy I've ever met. At the beach itself, I can't say I felt the most welcomed in my life, even though most of the youths there spoke English. It's funny how an ample supply of beer and wine makes that irrelevant, though. And, yet again, I found myself dancing into the early hours of the morning--at two parties, actually, since I crashed the one next door when we ran out of beer (and met another couchsurfer there!). How do these things keep happening to me? At one point, during a moment of particularly high excitement, I jumped onto Max (a tall guy) who happily followed up by swinging me around in circles until I felt pukey. Things died down around 3 am, and it was then that I realized I had nowhere to sleep; everyone else had brought tents. Stephane had lent me a sleeping bag, however, and I prudently purchased a foam mat at the (mouth watering) hypermarket we'd visited the night before, so I curled up and passed out happily in the music tent.

Waking early, Francois, Timothee, Max, and I dirtily trundled our way back to Avignon, where I had to egress from Stephane and Claire's (most awesome I've ever seen, old city) apartment due to mechanical troubles with someone's van at the party, an early morning the next day for Stephane and Claire, etc. So tonight I am once again (gasp!) *paying* for accommodation at the local hostel. It's so crude that some people actually expect you to pay money to stay with them, wouldn't you say?

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