~river of absinthe~

February 24th, 2008

Perhaps I was too glib when the ostrich bit me. In retrospect it seems a harbinger of much that was to follow.


This weekend we explored the Loue Valley, following along the winding Doubs river that runs from Switzerland to France. The Loue river was discovered to be a tributary of the Doubs when in 1901 lightening struck the nearby Pernod plant, dumping one million liters into the Doub but both rivers ran with milky, anis-scented apéritiv…


Our destination was the Franche-Comté region, including the captial, Besançon, and the many little towns along the way–Mérey-sous-Montrond, Ornans, Lods, and Pontarlier.

We met a shy baby lamb, saw sheep, chickens, horses, cows, and one unhappy ostrich. Plus some lovely stone buildings with old advertisements painted on the side.


The Grand Bois de Mérey-sous-Montrond (above), is an enchanted and fragile eco-system of lichen and limestone, riddled with deep, cavernous sinkholes that appear to reach to the center of the earth.

In Ornans—the birth place of Gustave Courbet–we had an afternoon brunch of champagne and fresh trout au bleu.

Besançon was once a lovely village and still has many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, but it is sadly now a bizarre mix of high-priced boutiques, squatting youth with dogs and drums, and the stringy-haired poet-drug dealers who prey on them.

dig the Belle Époque meets 1940s steam-ship cafeteria interior of the Café du Commerce…

like learning a new word, now I see this classic tile work everywhere, even the church from my balcony–I love the colors and zigzag patterns.

Of note is an astronomical clock built in 1860 by Auguste-Lucien Vérité and tucked in the belfry of the cathedral of Saint-Jean. It features seventy dials that read such things as the local time, height of the tides, and sunrise and sunset of places over the world. It also has twenty-one automata; all this is driven by a mechanism consisting of more than 30,000 pieces.


We’ve begun to think perhaps this is simply not the region of France for us—neither cosmopolitan nor really rural, it settles somewhere in the middle. So on to Plan B, which involved driving to Burgundy, and dinner in Dijon.

you find Marys and crucifixes everywhere, in the middle of seeming nowhere.

Driving back in the pitch black darkness through endless roundabouts, we got absurdly lost. Blame it on Nick Cave. As we trundled along we were enchanted by a radio interview where the DJ asked questions in French, Cave answered in English, and in between they played the new album Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! Pop! Culture! We are so starved!

The album reimagines the allegory of Lazarus (raised from the dead by Jesus) by way of Harry Houdini, whose notorious debunking of spiritualists who were cashing in on the vulnerably bereaved always seemed like too much protesting to me.

The title song asks, “What do we really know of the dead, and who actually cares?”

poster-child advocate of the dead, or just a meddlesome bad seed (in a bad sweater)?

Cave says, “Ever since I can remember hearing the Lazarus story, when I was a kid back in church, it gave me the creeps, to be honest. I couldn’t help but wonder how Lazarus felt about it (being raised from the dead).”

I have been wondering the same thing about Lilly as I construe “her story,” though the story I tell is as much my own as anything. To do it, I raise her from the dead everyday. I spose it’s just what I do, or have aimed to do, for a real long time: spirit raising.

The Standard Dictionary contains the verb “houdinize,” meaning “to release or extricate (from confinement, bonds, or the like), as by wriggling out.” This is my desire, to wriggle out one spirit, one page at a time.


2 Responses to “~river of absinthe~”

  1. Terry says:

    I’m sorry to hear that Besancon has lost its charm. I quite liked it in 1985 but then it was the first French town I’d ever seen and I had just spent 3 days driving around Bavaria and northern Switzerland.

  2. kim says:

    you know Terry, what you said later is exactly so–every town has something to recommend it, and all are something to see simply for the lack of war damage.
    i think we have been discouraged by an over-arching theme of commerce, the starbucks and equivalent signs of so-called globalization…no doubt it will pass (or won’t!)

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