Simanaitis Says

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I WAS LEAFING through one of my old travel books, Cook’s Traveller’s Handbook Riviera and Pyrenees, 1923, and its descriptions prompted memories of my own travels more than 60 years later. I didn’t have this Cook’s with me during my adventures, so its tidbits today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2 are new.

Vienne Haute Cuisine. The handbook describes a Paris-to-Marseille itinerary that includes Vienne, France, about 290 miles south-southeast of Paris, just south of Lyon. “Vienne,” Cook’s writes, “is one of the most ancient towns in France. It is mentioned by Caesar, by Ausonius, and by Martial, and contains some interesting Roman remains.”

This Vienne pyramid, likely part of a larger structure, dates from c. 40 B.C.

Just down the street from a Roman ediface is Hotel La Pyramide, one of the high points of French cuisine. As described here at SimanaitisSays, Fernand Point was the father of nouvelle cuisine. “Rather than routinely following the grand cuisine of the legendary Auguste Escoffier,” I learned, “he chose to let simplicity and the goodness of ingredients guide his improvisations.”

Ma Gastronomie, by Fernand Point, translated and adapted by Frank Kulla & Patricia Shannon Kulla, Lyceum Books, 1974.

Avignon’s Famous Bridge. About 120 miles south of Vienne, almost to the coast and Marseille, Cook’s says “the spires of Avignon and the lofty towers of the Papal Palace come into view.”

The Palace des Papes, notes Cook’s, was constructed between 1335 and 1364, during the reign of four of the seven Popes who resided in Avignon from 1309 to 1376. In 1377, Pope Gregory XI reestablished the papacy in Rome.

Long before I ever knew of this errant papacy, I knew Avignon from my elementary school French lessons. We all sang “Sur le Pont d’Avignon/L’on y danse, l’on y danse./Sur le Pont d’Avignon/L’on y danse, tout le rond.”

Le Pont d’Avignon today. Image from

Cook’s says, “To gain access to the Pont St. Bénézet, the subject of the well-known song, apply to the concierge (gratuity) who lives at the side of the bridge on the Quai de la Ligne, and through whose house it is necessary to pass.”

Additional French in Tarascon. I’ve never been to Tarascon, 15 miles southeast of Avignon. However, through French class, I knew a guy who lived there: Tartarin. Cook’s knows him too: “Alphonse Daudet has made the name of this town famous by his novel “Tartarin of Tarascon.”

I personally have never possessed any hunting instinct, and I was comforted to learn that “cap hunter” Tartarin was content in telling stories of hunting, throwing his cap in the air, and shooting at it.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we arrive on the Riviera, have a Nice day, and learn how to lose money at roulette. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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