We headed over to the Italian Alps for a little skiing over New Years, with yellow vests tucked neatly into the door pocket, in order to show solidarity with the gilets jaunes, should they create havoc at the border. The route followed the French Riviera before entering Liguria, then crossed back into France again not long after turning north.
The hill towns along the way were stunning, their alliances shifting back and forth between the two countries over the centuries. The town closest to the Piemonte border, Tende, had been Italian as late as 1947. The spiky ruins of towers above the town gave it its attractive look, and I hope for a summer visit in order to hike up to the remains of the chain of forts that I saw while skiing.
Our longest visit was to Saorge, a true medieval village built in odd angles, with lanes crisscrossed by bridges of arched brick. LYL said the village was not just sleepy, but fully asleep. The only life we saw was an old cat who acted as guide of sorts, leading us up the labyrinthian lanes to the sunny square out in front of the church. A pair of old residents was watching their grandchild, whose toys were spilling out from a house at one side. My own daughter picked her up as a new friend, allowing me a moment to enter the church itself.
It was a beautiful example of Baroque, over four hundred years old, its high arched ceiling painting a lovely shade of sky-blue, and broken here and there by detailed paintings. What I most appreciated was its lived-in look, with cement patches overlaying cracks and other damaged bits, with little regard to keeping any sentiment about the history. The church had aged just as it had, which was refreshing after all the overly restored UNESCO monuments I've been seeing during the last few years of travels. The top of a plinth had collapsed completely in the far back corner, and I decided to exit before more fell on me.
There was a small bar-tabac near where the car was parked, just beginning to come to life as the clock nudged noon. We stepped in for a quick café to recharge us for the remaining hour's drive to a lunch date down in seaside Ventimiglia. As I was explaining a few things to Sora, the owner chimed in in amazingly good English, free of any "zees" and "zats," surprising for a Frenchman his age. He was a pleasant fellow to chat with, obviously intelligent, and someone I suspected was on friendly terms with books. And I left wishing that I had gotten to know him a little better, musing how these brief and random encounters with people on the road give little hint of the rich and complicated lives left unseen.
On the nighttable W. Somerset Maugham, "Collected Short Stories, Vol. 4"
On the turntable: Johnny Winter, "And Live"