Beyond The Côte d'Azur

La Rochelle is a bustling port full of artisans.  We made friends with Giselle of "Zotto" who presented us with an array of glass-blown jewelry to adorn necklaces, bracelets, earings and hair clips.  There was sense of enthusiasm about her that was catching.  She chatted away about the lengthy process of blowing glass through a long flute in her workshop, whilst holding up her treasures to the light
 "Look, see how they reflect the light and change colour, working with nature...have you seen anything like this before"? she enquired hastily
"No, not at all" we responded 
"Yes" she confirmed in local French "they are unique. The French would say that they have seen these before, but they haven`t".
        We smiled at her proud enthusiasm for her own work.  Giselle, who looked as if she could be in retirement, but had a youthful energy of teenager, told us how she collaborated with her husband, "but he is firey, we are both firey and sometimes we clash, but at other times" she gestured to the delicately laid out spread before her "Our combined fire creates such exquisite jewels".  We nodded in agreement and left adorning one of her gems and throughout the day, remarked at how well it caught the light and further electrified its blues.
   We had arrived into La Rochelle by Yélo a solar powered boat that takes locals and tourists twice a day from a nearby port: Le Minimes.  We passed seemingly seldom used yachts that bob upon calm waters. A refreshing way to arrive, we parked the car, avoiding weekend traffic into the center of La Rochelle. Furthermore, you get a clear view of the old port entering in between two 14th century  defensive towers, Tour de la Chaine and Tour St. Nicholas.  Once used to protect the harbour at night by a large chain raised up between them, the towers now welcome you into the bay.  The 15th century Tour de la Lanterne can be seen standing majestically that is the only medieval light house still standing.  Inside graffiti is carved into the walls by pirates.  The 17th century style sailing ships and teams mooring ropes onto the jetty, are a reminder of days when the French traveled from the nearby port of Rochefort to Boston on the Hermione (a replica of this gigantic ship is being built in Rochefort since 1997 and is due finish next year) in 1789 led by the Marquis de Lafayfette to enter the American revolution to fight against the British. Long voyages across the Atlantic meant people were separated for months, sometimes years at a time on foreign waters and distant lands with no communication except the odd letter, so far apart.   Meditatively gazing at the tall, white, right angled sails oddly triggers memories of trigonometry equations as well.  Before I sink off into other dimensions I hear passers by chat about the nearby Aritsan's world market, so go back to explore the varied array of stalls and the rest of the bustling port.
    The rest of the town is mostly preserved from the 16th and 17th centuries and property prices are shooting up as Parisians recognise the increasing tackiness of St. Tropez and head for this chic yet still bohemian port.  Finding a place for lunch, we go to less well-know side of the port along the Cours de Dames.  At a Spanish tapas bar over paella, two musicians with a Banjo and guitar play "Hotel California". Struck by their sound that is both rugged and sophisticated, interlacing different rhythms and harmonies seemingly from Spain, France, Algeria, I get talking to them and discover that Rafel is a traveling musician based in Spanish speaking islands off the coast of Africa.  In Paris, Salzburg, London and now La Rochelle I often hear buskers that catch my attention.  The idea to bring these musicians into the Grand Halls, such as the Royal Albert Hall, Grosse Festspielehaus or Salle Pleyel with other talented, but not over hyped musicians has been playing back in my mind often, especially at times like these. During the summer months he travels and calls up musicians in each country and brings them together to play with him.  So that his music is simultaneously from foreign lands and yet locally significant and recognisable.
    Meandering back through the charming narrow streets, sometimes graffiti-ed or completely painted, we are greeted by a jovial street performer in bright orange who entices, yet doesn`t succeed for us to be part of his performance.  Nevertheless, another willing participant steadily holds his ladder as he performs tricks with matching orange spinning wooden spools to an ever increasing crowd.  
     Back at the main old port as the sun tentatively begins it´s dip into the ocean, colourful non-nuclear families as well as couples, walk arm in arm and hold hands, feel the warm wind and late summer sun on their skin.  Relaxed and ambient, with not a hint of prentention, people are relaxed to feel collectively, yet individually themselves. Perhaps this is why, compared with many spoiled ports along the Côte d'Azur, La Rochelle & l'Ile de Ré are fast becoming a raison d'etre.