Saturday, August 30, 2014

From Bourbon Street to Las Rambles Part Three: Weekend in Hossegor, Crossing the Pyrenees with Benjamin

Benjamin and the beach at Hossegar. 

Hossegor is a beach town in south-western France, just north of
Biarritz. With teaming waves, some see it as one of the best surfing spots anywhere. Unlike Nice, there’s lovely lush sand.  Instead of rocks. It would be surprising weekend on a space that felt like a transplant from California.

Months ago, Caroline booked us a room at Motel des Landes, Benesse-Maremne,
for a beach weekend in Hossegor from
Sat Aug/2/2014 - Mon Aug/4/2014.

The drive down from Bordeaux was like any beach trip weekend drive, full of traffic.  But everyone seemed in good spirits.
Some listened to music; others horsed around.  We saw one car full of  makeshift art, which looked like it was going to the Burning
Man Festival.  I asked them
Where they were going.  “To the Boom Festival,” they explained.

We got to Hossegor and grabbed a quick snack, at a burger spot called Jacks, which looked every
bit like a Southern California shake shack, with a Gallic flair, including beer, cool paintings, and
surf magazines full of photos of big wave surfers.

Goofy charactors at Jack's surf shack in Hossegor. 

During lunch, Bill Talen, aka Reverend Billy and I had a phone conversation while the food was on the way.
He described a crazy street action they'd organized the previous weekend. The story struck with me, even if i was far away from it, as he explained on facebook:


We thought we were singing outside of a warehouse in New Jersey, on the outskirts of Princeton University, where the trustees of the New
York Public Library (investment bankers, slumlords and socialites) had secretly shipped over 2,000,000 books from the 42nd Street Library.
And the books ARE there, but something monstrous is there with them...

So we thought New Yorkers should know where their books went, and how these rich people want to turn one of the world's great libraries into some kind of
gigantic starbucks with computers and bad coffee for everyone... So we rented a van and took a thousand of our personal books in suitcases and made this little
stonehenge circle of books on the lawn outside the warehouse and we began to sing. Security officials came out to talk to us immediately and Savitri did a great
 job stalling them with all kinds of talk.

About 6 minutes into her conversation she suddenly gasped and screamed, "Get the books! Let's go! Back to the van!" In record time we werer fleeing in our rents-van.
Why? It turns out that this storage facility with our stolen books in it is a part of a larger building which is a federal laboratory where they are developing the H-Bomb.
This is the Princeton Plasma Physic Laboratory. We are on the James Forrestal Campus - he was Sec. of the Navy or something... There are fusion chambers in this place
 maintained at 20,000 degrees Fahrenheit. We are on high security Pentagon property and federal marshals are on the way. The story of "Our Books And the H-Bomb" will continue next week.

Getting off the phone, we enjoyed lunch and made our way to the water. 

The beach felt like Huntington Beach, with French graffiti and a few trees which reminded
Me of Carmel California.  

We spent the rest of the day hanging out playing and swimming.

Waves before they broke on the beach, sometimes, jumping up ten feet with the waves.  Heading toward the beach, sometimes diving up, sometimes below them, sometimes through them or them
through me, in the case of a couple which pulled me with the them, sending me hurling like laundry in the
drying, my neck cricking and cracking onto the beach.
My neck aching, as I crawled off the beach.  Maybe it was time to be a little bit more careful.  

Steve, one of my oldest friends hosted us, with Annette and their kids.  Fresh from Brooklyn,
they’re just the most recent of any number of US friends to go to make a life for themselves in Europe,
where the life seems more amenable, longer vacations, easier access to culture and food, etc.

"Joy, love, passion," number two screamed in her homage to Room with a View, one of our favorite movies of the summer. 

We went to the market for fish and enjoyed a momentous beach day, reflecting on having so little to worry
 about.  Enjoying a life reset button I have not had for decades since my like extended period in Europe a
quarter century ago. So we talked about all that’s changed since Steve and I met in California in 1992, moved
 to New York, fell into jobs, careers, kids, marriage and the ways things come and go, friends meander
with time, foods on the menu of living disappear as we make more of the entree. 

"The Pyrenees or bust," the girls declared on the beach, pointing toward the mountains.  But not before a final day on the beach in the South of France.

The next morning we packed up and headed out. Steve drove with us, dropping us off.   On the way, we were thinking  of Benjamin, whose crossing from Paris to Spain to elude the Nazis and closing borders
sent him into despair.  The border between Spain and France closed.  He ran out of hope, out of energy for the
 the fight. Before his flight, he sent a copy of his last manuscript to Gretel Adorno.
After France’s capitulation, he fled Paris in June of 1940, but not before leaving another copy with George
Bataille, who left his copy in the Biblioteque Nationale.  Fleeing to Spain, he worried that borders had been
 closed .  He penned a note to his traveling companions on September 25th, 1940.  

“In a hopeless situation I have no other choice but to finish it in a small village in the Pyrenees in a small
      village where no one knows me my life comes to an end.”

 That night, he ingested cyanide pills, and died just hours before they opened the borders once again. 
Sometimes you just have to keep on fighting, even when it seems all possibilities for escape have closed. 

Benjamin seemed to be with us throughout so much of our trip, coming from all sorts of directions.  
As one point, one of the peer reviewers for a book in the works suggested I go back to some of Benjamin's 
struggles as a frame of reference.  That seems as though it is already happening. 

in between the ugliness of things, beach weekends and hikes beckon.  

So we drove to Bayone, crossed the Pyrenees, and made our way to Spain, where I’ve tried to go for decades,
but never quite made it.  Last time I was close I decided to travel to Berlin instead, having an adventure in
Northern Europe, the weekend of the August coup against Gorbachev back in 1991. 

I remember those days of traveling through Europe on trains, of friends I met along the way, of reading the
Death of Artenio Cruz on the train from Rome to Florence, and my mind opening up to the world of history,
of magic realism, and Cervantez, chasing windmills.

So we said goodbye to Steve. And we wandered through Irun. Who knows when or where  we’ll see him
again, maybe New York, maybe France or Peru? Maybe Machu Picchu?

Looked at the lazy streets, enjoying just being, living, winding our way through the streets,
wondering where life might take us or might have taken us if we’d been born here.

Number two wrote a wonderful journal entry about our travels as we waited for our train. 

Looked at the streets, so familiar from the movies, the scenes, taking in an ice cream and a
 stroll with our backpacks, light enough for a walk, greeting pilgrims with backpacks along  the way,
and finally back to the train station, where kids hang out and smoke and write in their journals as they
always have.The trains here could take you anywhere you could want to go – to China, Stalingrad, to
Prague, anywhere you want to go, noted Caroline.  Its just part of the European trip experience,
hanging out in a train station on the way from here to somewhere else, waiting
for the 3:55 to Pamploma and the next day's hike, along the Camino de Santiago.

Carline explained.

In my early 20's I fell in love with the writings of Walter Benjamin. As an homage to the man I was going to adopt two cats and call them respectively "Walter" and "Benjamin". I did get a cat and named it Walter, despite the female gender. I loved that cat who lived with me for 13 years many moves and a few boyfriends. I never did mange to get a second cat and name it Benjmain...until, of course, my Benjamin Shepard came around. Funny how the universe works. It really was something to travel through a region of France/Spain full of beauty and great sadness. RIP Walter Benjamin.

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