I had to get up very early in Paris yesterday to catch my train, which left at 6 am. I awoke at 4 am, probably a half hour earlier than necessary, and before 5 I was in the Gare du Nord train station waiting for the first regional train to take me to the Gare de Lyon, from where the bullet train left for Nîmes. Just as I arrived at the station, the train started boarding.
When I arrived at the hostel here in Nîmes, I saw a hunched-over old man sitting at at a table working a puzzle and with a package of cigarette papers and another of tobacco in front of him on the table. It had to be Dave! It was Dave! I last saw Dave, and Englishman who lives here at the hostel, in 2004. I came again a few years later, but I was told he had returned to England to live there on his retirement. Apparently that wasn’t a permanent move.
In the afternoon, Alex showed up. He is an Englishman who has lived at and worked at the hostel since he was a youth. Now his beard and hair are turning gray, but he’s still as lively as ever.
The following picture was taken here at the Nîmes youth hostel on Christmas Eve 2003. Because of Dave’s banjo picking, I thought of it as a country Christmas. Dave is the bearded gentleman playing the banjo and wearing the big red Christmas hat, of course. The two women to the right of him worked at the hostel cleaning rooms and lived here. The others are hostelers. I am not in the picture, because I was behind the camera, and Alex isn’t there, because he was behind me working at the desk. Jean-Luc had the evening off work and was probably celebrating elsewhere.
Dave used to sleep in a tent in the hostel grounds and move into a bed in one of the hostel dorms in the winter. He would spend his days playing a guitar and singing in the narrow streets of the old part of town to make a few euros. Then he went back to England, where Alex told me he was able to get a pension. I believe he is living from that pension now, because as he sits at a table next to mine, he has neither his guitar or his banjo with him. Here is a picture of him as he looks now. I don’t believe he remembers me, but I certainly remember him.
(The picture displays normally on the edit page of my blog, but for some reason it is turned sideways on the blog itself. I have tried various fixes, but so far I haven’t been able to make it display correctly.)
Nîmes was once a Roman village, and remnants of Roman constructions still remain. The following picture is of what’s left of the canal system that the Romans left behind. The Romans constructed an aqueduct to carry water to the town and a distribution point to send it to various parts of the settlement. I don’t think that the fountain in the canal in the picture below is a Roman construction, however. I doubt if the Romans had electric pumps.
The signature Roman building in Nîmes is the Maison Carrée or Square Building shown below at the end of the street. The first time I saw the building it was empty and filthy inside, but in later years the city seemed to realize that the building is an important tourist attraction. It was cleaned up and turned into a small museum.
More impressive, however, is the old Roman arena, which functions today as a bull-fighting ring. Bull fighting is moderately popular in southern France, but unlike in Spain, the bull is not killed at the end of the fight. During bull-fighting season you can see men on horseback outside the arena dress much as American cowboys dressed in the Old West.
Today I will try to get some more pictures of town. The ones I took yesterday were all taken while I was walking from the train station to the hostel, which is located outside of town on top of a low but quite steep hill. The guy I got a map from in the Tourist Office thought I was nuts to even think of walking to the hostel and tried to convince me to take a bus.
One thing I like about being out of Paris is that away from Paris, few people speak English well, which give me a chance to practice my French. I still have problems understanding unless people speak slowly, however. I can say what I need to say and ask the questions that I need to ask.