I followed the Carson Beal rule — no more than two nights as a guest in any one spot — and caught a train heading south. I had 10 days left on my Eurail pass, and wished to make my own Tour de France, albeit sans bike. Paris ⇒ Orléans ⇒ Limoges ⇒ Toulous ⇒ Narbonne ⇒ España. From Paris to Barcelona is 666 miles and 9 plus hours. I had time to revisit, so I did. Slept on train to Spanish border at Portbou, but did not cross over till next day — something about changing the axle widths on the train. The tracks in Spain are wider Compare 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2/3 in) in Spain to 4 ft 8 1/2 in (1,435 mm) in France. than the tracks in France.

Paris :: Liberty does not storm the Bastille. In 1830, she stormed the barricades. She tried again in 1832, but was mowed down. Later, it made a great opera and a billion bucks. This year (2013), a young female enthusiast of conspiracy theories scrawled, in the lower right corner of Liberty, AE911. AE911 was a code word for a website that promotes conspiracy theories about how big government scapegoated Al-Qaeda in 911. You have heard it before: it wasn't Bin Laden's boys it was that evil Dick Cheney gang. (Dick Cheney may be evil, but he is not likely that evil. He does support gay rights, you know.) Then she was hauled away, her liberty denied, and a barricade installed to protect Liberty against future enthusiasts. What is it that makes a conspiracy theory enthusiast as fanatical as other fanatics who actually blow up stuff? All fanatics seem deeply afraid of being rendered powerless by a larger unknown power — a power that will ultimately destroy their liberty — the THEY. In actuality, THEY is not a small contingent of secretive old men, but more like Heidegger's THEY — the THEY that's out there somewhere, but very much in here also — the THEY of us all, conspiring together to pasteurize and homogenize us into one gigantic anonymous blob that ends all individuality. Now, that's a scary movie!

Orléans :: Another brash young maid in 1429 heard voices telling her to storm the walls of Orleans. So she did. As I write this, it is May 30th. Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake 582 years ago on May 30th. In later times, another mad maid named Katrina stormed the walls of a newer Orleans, but she has no statue erected in her honor. Everyone else's statue she blew away. History is made by doing manly things: warring, kinging, exploring, discovering, creating, destroying... There is not much history in birthing and nursing, cooking and cleaning, sewing and sowing, and so forth. If you are a young woman who wants her name in the paper, then you must sing and dance, or give millions to the poor. But maids doing maidenly things won't make history till history's remade. Thought: so this is what a novel Novels can only exist where our inner life has value — where there is an observer observing a spiritual transformation. is — history 5D History records events in space and time, and is therefore 4 dimensional. Novels record situations which occur not only in space and time, but also in a subject's mind — the 5th dimension. — a form that Murasaki Shikibu invented, Jane Austen extended, and Virginia Woolf perfected? The intimate side of reality that history cannot know? Fact versus fiction — which is truer? Novels can only exist where our inner life has value — where there is an observer observing a spiritual transformation.

Vierzon :: While Robin Hood was cohabiting Sherwood Forest with his merry men, his King Richard was burning down the town. Vierzon pacifists of WWI sculpted an anti-war monument, but it did not fend off the Germans in WWII, nor the subsequent Allied bombing raid. England has not been kind to this little town. Does pacifism work? Maybe not for the pacifists, but maybe for their descendents if they had any before they pacified. For example, in Christians versus Lions, the Christians lost, but their descendents conquered the world. Famous pacifists include Jesus Himself, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Tank Man of Tiananmen Square. Although, on second thought, Tank Man may have only been complaining about trying to cross a busy street with a heavy load of groceries.

Châteauroux :: Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, duchesse de Châteauroux (1717 — 1744), was the youngest and prettiest of the five famous de Nesle sisters, four of whom would become the mistress of King Louis XV of France. (One escaped to a convent before she was added to Louis' list.) Each sister was made a Duchess of something, but it is not likely that any ever visited their duchy. They were too busy at court courting. Obviously, there were different standards of pretty in those days. Unlike today, prettiest usually meant fattest. The fatter you were, the more likely you were to churn out litters of offspring, thereby immortalizing the old man's family name for infinite posterity. Or so it was believed. Skinny girls meant hungry girls. And hungry girls did not possess a fat dowry. Ah, for the good old days. They just don't make 'em like they use to.

Limoges :: The scenes on the front and lid of this chasse are episodes from the martyrdom of St. Valerie, daughter of the Roman governor of Aquitaine and patron saintess of Limoges. On the left, the proconsul Junius Silanus condemns Valerie to death as Hortarius the executioner constrains her. Her execution takes place on the right, witnessed by a group of spectators clustered in a doorway. On the lid above, the decapitated saint walks aided by an angel. Kneeling at the altar, she offers St. Martial her head. Hallelujah, a miracle! St. Martial was one of 7 missionaries sent out by Pope Fabian around 250 AD to convert the heathen Gauls, including Valerie, to the Roman papacy. Julius Caesar had previously converted them three centuries before to the Roman pantheon. Fifteen centuries later, missionaries of the Enlightenment converted them to atheism. So what was in the box?

Brive-la-Gaillarde :: Today, it's just called Brive for brevity. Its Labenche Museum contains the portraits of many saints hung on the wall like moose in hunting lodges — perhaps the result of the many religious wars fought in this area during the 16th century. Labenche has it all — the bones of a saint, stories spun in threads, a pot some ancients boiled water in, or did worse in, a woman whittled in wood, a taxonomist's stuffed ferret, fossilized fish, Debussy's piano, antique accordions, butterfly wings fading in the light, a 1493 incunable whatever that is ... Every town cherishes something from the past that someone from somewhere will want to see no matter who thinks it's just junk. Knowing this gives me high hopes that out there somewhere is a museum petit (ok — maybe just a pawn shop) that will provide a sanctuary for my petit artistry. Those 18 planetarium boxes, which I call A Knight's Tour, may yet find a permanent home in some basement of some small town, thereby avoiding the oblivion of the landfill. Come to think of it, however, the future museums of the world are our landfills. Musée Labenche has even more stuff; but, alas, I did not attend. I preferred the pâtisseries. Yum...

Rocamadour :: As legend has it, in the first century AD, Virgin Mother Mary had a servant named Saint Amadour who sailed on a raft with his wife Saint Veronica from Palestine to France where he met Saint Martial who lived 200 years later. In Rock Amadour, he carved out of a high hill a sanctuary where he then carved out of wood the Black Madonna, a relic that still draws pilgrims from all around. Saint Amadour was/is ubiquitous (a word I love to hear). Was he a hermit, the Bishop of Auxerre, or a saint down in Portugal? He's everywhere. And why not? All of us have a dire need to believe in something, or else, as William James pointed out, why would we get out of bed in the morning? Magic is the sugar of beliefs. We salivate for magic. I personally prefer David Copperfield's techno versions. Are they any less magical if they are not religious? Is any magic not religious? Did Charles Dickens Wasn't Dr. Charles Dickens chairman of my doctoral dissertation? We are everywhere reincarnated. realize the wizard he created?

Figeac :: In 1822, Jean-François Champollion deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone. Since he was born here in Figeac, a museum had to be built here in his honor. Right? It's all very logical. Anything to make a tourist stop for awhile. In the Place des Écritures (i.e., Writing Place), Joseph Kosuth replicated a giant copy of the Rosetta Stone. How? There is some magic herein. From Edgar Poe's Goldbug to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, from I Ching to Kabbalah, from Caesar's cipher to credit cards, love those secret codes.
I ♥ Enigma.

Cahors :: Cahors' bankers were infamous in medieval times — they charged interest on their loans. The church said this was a sin. Tell that to my banker. Dante's Inferno (XI.50) condemned Cahors alongside Sodom. Thus, the association of Cahors with the Devil. Nostradamus studied here. Cahors' main showpiece is the 14th century triple-turreted Pont Valentré — The Devil Bridge. The bridge's architect pledged his soul to the devil for help with the construction. If you squint, you can see a tiny devil sitting high up on the middle tower contemplating mischief. Lying at the foot of the devilish bridge is the Garden of Inebriation — a vineyard for the black wine of Cahors. Cahors has 29 secret gardens blooming with symbolic cures. For example, since walnut kernels look like brains, they are good for curing headaches. In 1317, the Garden of Witches and Dragons provided the Bishop of Cahors with a potent potient to poison the Pope. He was subsequently burnt at the stake for necromancy and an abuse of alliteration. You could say that Cahors is deeply rooted in magic.

Villefranche-de-Rouergue :: There are many Villefranches in France. On the night of 16/17 September 1943, while the 13th SS Division was training in Villefranche-de-Rouergue in France, a group of pro-Partisan soldiers, led by Muslim and Catholic junior officers from the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian), staged a mutiny within the Pioneer battalion. They were not successful, but they did provide the most exciting event to occur in this sleepy town since Catholics fought Muslims in the middle ages. How does one group make another fight for their cause? What if black men, brown men, and red men all fought a war for pink men? How much longer would pink men dominate the other colors? Didn't that happen in ancient Rome? Any where else you can think of?

Cordes :: Cordes originated as a resettlement of people caught up in the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century where Catholics fought Cathars. Cathars believed there was a good God and a bad Devil — pretty much what the Catholics believed, but the Cathars somehow believed it differently, differently enough that the Pope of the day started a crusade against them. The Cathars lost and the Cordesians won new land grants to grow their wine and inebriate themselves against subtle theological distinctions. Have you tried wine with chocolate? Cordes has one of the few chocolate museums anywhere except maybe at Hershey's or Nestle's. The accompanying image is a model of the town of Cordes made completely of chocolat. In 1993, Cordes renamed itself Cordes-sur-Ciel to reflect its heavenly high on chocolate and wine. A better name might be Choco-sur-Ciel.

Montauban :: The Musée Ingres, on the site of a castle of the Counts of Toulouse and once the residence of the bishops of Montauban, stands at the east end of the Pont Vieux bridge. It is the largest museum of Ingres paintings in the world comprising most of the work of Jean Ingres whose birth in Montauban is commemorated by an elaborate monument. Hover on monument image, see Ingres' painting depicting King Louis XIII in Montauban's Notre Dame Cathedral petitioning Mother Mary's help to destroy the wicked Protestant Huguenots. (Those Dame cathedrals are everywhere.) Ingres is an impressive draftsman and craftsman. Mostly, he impressed the French aristocracy. However, he is a little too slick for those of us who prefer Impressionism. But, hey, there is nothing wrong with the classical style.

Gaillac :: French wine originated in the 6th century BC, with the colonization of southern Gaul by Greek settlers. Since then, southern France has been conquered and colonized by Aquitanians, Iberians, Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Franks, and Arabs. Any surprise they needed their wine? The typical Frenchman and Frenchwoman annually consume of 58.2 liters of the fermented grape. French kids down it like Kool-Aid. Throughout the millennia, folks in these parts must have been sloshed out of their minds for most of their lives. Is this the raison d'être for most of their warring ways? Perhaps Jesus and his disciples drank a sweeter wine. Californians have given the Frenchies some competition in wine making, but Californians mostly prefer being sloshed by cannabis. When the Gauls were run out of France, they settled in Ireland and kept on drinking. Did that red hair originate with red wine? Does a Celt speak Gaelic?

Toulouse :: Toulouse has been invaded by every tribe in Europe: Aquitanians, Iberians, Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Huns, Merovingians, Arabs, Carolingians, Magyars, Cathars, English, Protestants, Germans, Tourists. The image on the hover, depicts Clovis the Frank whomping up on the Visigoths and running them off to Spain where they could fight the Muslims. Pèire Godolin was a poet in the Occitan language, commonly called Provençal, the Latin derived romance language of the Cathars. When the Cathars were defeated by the Catholic Franks, the language died away, somewhat like Gaelic died away when Englishmen arrived in Ireland — still there, but everyone eventually speaks the conqueror's language. M. Godolin has a monument and a fountain dedicated to him at Woodrow Wilson Place in Toulouse. Those who can read Occitan say that he wrote lovely poetry, although he himself was not so pretty.

Carcassonne :: Carcassonne became famous for its role in the Albigensian Crusades, when the city was a stronghold of Occitan Cathars. In August 1209, the crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. The accompanying medieval photoshopping shows its citizens being exiled. Where did they go? What happened to them? Did they eventually become good Catholics or bad Huguenots? Or maybe they gave up religion altogether? History shows that it is healthier to pretend you belong to the majority religion and go about your paganism in private. Every successful politician knows how. Cathars, on the other hand, believed in a perfection which the body could not know. Thus, they discouraged sex, even in marriage. But you don't need to discourage sex in marriage; marriage all by itself discourages sex in marriage.

Narbonne :: Around 118 BC, surviving members of Julius Caesar's 10th Legion were deeded lands in the area that today is called Narbonne. Located on the Via Domitia, it was the first Roman road in Gaul; built when the colony began, it connected Italy to Spain. Narbonne Cathedral is a building project frozen in time, for the cathedral —one of the tallest in France— was never finished. The completed cathedral would have required demolishing the city wall. The 14th century also brought the plague and a host of reasons for retaining the 5th-century, pre-Visigothic walls. Yet the choir, side chapels, sacristry, and courtyard remain intact, and the cathedral, although no longer the seat of a bishop or archbishop, remains the primary place of worship for the Roman Catholic population of the city; and, more lucratively, it's a major tourist attraction.

Peyrepertuse :: Peyrepertuse is an abandoned fortress located high in the French Pyrénées. It stands 800m high. In the Occitan language, Peyrepertuse means Pierced Rock. The lower part of the castle was built by Aragon kings in the 11th Century and the higher part by Louis IX in the 13th. From 1209 to 1229, it served as a Cathar haven and stronghold, but was handed over to French forces without a battle in 1240. For Cathars, God was pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. This contradicts the Holy Trinity which believes that Jesus is God incarnate. Since Catharians hung out in the town of Albi, they were also called Albigensians. Pope Innocent III called them other unkinder names because Cathars preached against clerical immorality. As we know, all good Catholics need to feel guilty about something. The elimination of immorality would also eliminate the need for a Catholic church, and all other churches as well.

Perpignan :: Perpignan is best known for its sieges, the first in 1542 and a repeat performance in 1642. The 1542 siege took place between a large French army commanded by Henry, Dauphin of France, and the Spanish garrison at Perpignan. The Spaniards resisted until the arrival of the Spanish army under Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, encouraged the French army to withdraw. The siege was a costly defeat for Francis I of France, the same king that attended Leonardo's death bed. One hundred years later in 1642, Louis XIII of France besieged Perpignan again. This time the Spanish failed, once by land and once by sea, to relieve the city. The governor surrendered the city on September 9th because most of its citizens had starved to death. Only 500 Spaniards survived. Today we besiege entire countries for many years before we withdraw after eliminating their surplus populations.

Port-Vendres :: The Romans called it Portus Veneris after the goddess Venus. The obelisk Perhaps a V-shaped design would be more appropriate for a goddess. in Port-Vendres was erected in 1783 to commemorate the independence of the USA which was supported by France, and declared at the Treaty of Versailles that same year. Charles De Wailly, architect and painter to Louis XVI king of France, and cousin to the four mistresses of Louis XV, directed the construction of the 98 feet high marble obelisk. That's 30 meters tall in French. A slightly older, still independent, but falling apart, United States of America decided in 1848 to keep up with the Jeanneses by commissioning an obelisk for George Washington more than 5 times taller. In 1888, it was finally opened at 555+ feet tall. The French countered this tallness immediately in 1889 with their Eiffel Tower at 1063 feet / 324 meters tall. This one-ups-manship ended when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai dwarfed them all at 2717 feet / 828 meters. King Louis, as most of us remember from those Marie Antoinette movies, eventually underwent the guillotine during the French Revolution for Independence — another example of orchestrating your own demise.

Cerbère :: In 1864, Spain and France planned a rail link between their two countries. An international tunnel opened in 1876, tracks were laid in 1877, and a station opened in 1878. Different track widths in Spain and France required moving all passengers and packages to a different train. Whew! A hundred years later when I passed through, the axle widths on each car were changed automatically, and I could sleep through the change without moving from my comfy spot. So I did. In the early months of 1939, however, most of Cerbère's passersby did not arrive by train. Nearly half a million refugees fleeing General Franco flooded over the border at Col-des-Balistras/Belitres Pass into Cerbère. A monument of photos now marks the crest of Belitres Pass, where you can see both Portbou in Spain and Cerbère in France. How loverly!

PortBou :: According to my passport, I entered Spain at Portbou, probably early morning before sunrise. Walter Benjamin arrived some 35 years earlier. Benjamin was a German Jew, a Marxist, and an influential literary critic and translator. He believed that an appreciation of myth would revitalize civilization. Hitler also believed this, but his myths were those of Viking gods — not quite what Benjamin had in mind. In 1940, with the Nazis hot on his trail, Benjamin overdosed on morphine in Portbou. For him, death was preferable to a concentration camp. If you have got to go, Portbou is a lovely spot to go from. On a cliffside overlooking the sea, there is a monument in his honor. On his gravestone is inscribed a quote from his last essay — There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. Should we take advice from a dead man?

Figueres :: Well, Hello, Dali! So nice if I had stopped to say Goodbye... The Salvador Dalí Museum was once a theatre where young Sal showed off his artworks. However, during the Spanish Civil War, General Franco's airforce flattened the theatre with the same gusto that demolished Guernica. Apparently, Franco did not love Dalí as much as Dalí. In 1974, Dalí reopened the restored theatre as a museum dedicated to himself. The collection includes Dalí paintings, Dalí sculptures, Dalí collages, Dalí machinery, a Dalí living-room with Dalí furniture looking like Mae West when viewed through a keyhole. It is difficult to dislike Dalí's perverted narcissism; he did it so well. He's everyone's guilty pleasure. Dalí is buried in a crypt in the Teatre-Museu basement. Millennia from now, someone will dig him up and display him like King Tut, and so Dalí's dream of immortality will be fulfilled. Tut-tut. Ciaou!

Girona :: The Jews of Girona have been ruled by all the tribes that once ruled Catalonia: Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Franks, Catalons, Spaniards, Napoleon, and Spain again. In 1492, while Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Catalonia. The Arab Moor Muslims adored Jews back then and provided them sanctuary in southern Spain, which did not last long. Eventually Jews and Arabs both landed in Morocco and set up a successful film industry — to quote Bogie, Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. On the north side of old Girona is Montjuïc or, in medieval Catalan, Jew Hill. Lots of Jews are buried here believing their Messiah will one day raise them up whole in body. Will these golem zombies then take revenge on all the other tribes?

Barcelona :: Some say Barcelona was founded by the mythological Hercules. Others say it was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Carthaginian named Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, who named the city Barcino. Which would you like to believe? The Romans moved in about 15 BC, the Visigoths in the early 5th century, the Arabs in the early 8th, the Carolingians in 801 AD, General Franco in 1939, and I in 1975. In 1794, two French astronomers, Delambre and Méchain, measured the meridian arc distance from the Dunkerque Belfry to Montjuïc Castle. From this measurement, they calculated the distance between the North Pole and the Equator. The metre was then defined as one ten millionth of that distance. However, they miscalculated by a fifth of a millimeter. Today, we define the meter as 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red emission line in the electro-magnetic spectrum of the krypton-86 atom in a vacuum. What's this in miles per gallon? Whew!

From Paris to Barcelona is 1,152,000 meters, and every one was a battlefield.