Cross-posted from Asia Times
Call it a subterranean, non-homesick, non-bluesy investigation into the economic malaise of Club Med nations; the pauperization of the European middle class; the advance of the extreme right; and the looming prospect of an economic NATO. All within the framework of exceedingly cool family quality time. And subversively enough, with both laptop and mobile turned off.
Does God drink Bandol?
We were fortunate enough to catch the inaugural week of the Van Gogh Foundation in Arles -- with its remarkable entrance portal inscribed with Van Gogh's enlarged signature; its suspended garden of colored mirrors; and a crack exhibition on the master's chromatic evolution up to the frenetic 15 months he lived in Arles. A few minutes contemplating La Maison Jaune (1888) is an intimation of immortality, revealing what exceptionalism is really all about.
And then the crossing to the Grand Canyon of Verdon -- the most American of European canyons, attacked on different angles from both the north and south rim, including a trek along the old Roman trail and a close encounter with the jagged, chaotic, ghostly rock silhouettes of Les Cadieres (chairs, in Provencal) -- the Verdon's answer to the Twin Towers. Call it a quirky Provencal take on Osama and al-Zawahiri trekking the Hindu Kush.
As we descended from the Col de Leques, the owner of a mountainside cafe told us he had just opened for the whole season, lasting until mid-September. But here, in early April, the Verdon was bathed in silent glory, except for the occasional badass biker.
Then -- as in Godard's Pierrot Le Fou -- a dash towards La Mediterrane. First stop in Front National-controlled Toulon -- so proper, so regimented, so fearful even of non-immigrant skateboarders, yet displaying a monster NATO cargo ship in full regalia.
It's impossible to have a plateau de moules in mid-afternoon at the port, but at the Ah-Ha Chinese restaurant there are Verdon canyons of food are available around the clock, which once again goes to show how Asia's entrepreneurial drive has left Europe in the dust.
Cue to a Platonic banquet at the venerable Auberge Du Port in Bandol -- orgiastic bouillabaisse paired with the best local wine, which would be a close match between Bastide de la Ciselette and Domaine de Terrebrune. None of these infidel liquid marvels, by the way, have been touched by globalization.
Then the dreaded moment reared its ugly head -- at Sanary-sur-Mer, where Huxley wrote Brave New World at his Villa Huley and Thomas Mann held court in the Chemin de la Colline. Brecht in fact might have sung anti-Hitler songs out of a table at Le Nautique; so after debating with Nick the comparative merits of Beneteau sailing boats, I finally decided to stop with all that Brechtian distancing and walked to the nearby kiosk to buy the papers, order a cafe au lait, and turn on the mobile.
Not impressed is an understatement. One week off the grid, and the same sarabande of paranoia, frenetic pivoting and monochromatic exceptionalism. Yet, there it was, like a pearl at the bottom of the turquoise Mediterranean, buried in the info-avalanche: the definitive news of the week, perhaps the year, perhaps the decade.
Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller had met with China National Petroleum Corporation chairman Zhou Jiping in Beijing on Wednesday. They were on their way to sign the 30-year, mega-contract deal to supply China with Siberian natural gas "as soon as possible." Probably on May 20, when Putin goes to Beijing.
Now this is the genuine article. Pipelineistan meets the strategic partnership Russia-China, as solidified in the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with the tantalizing prospect of pricing/payment bypassing the petrodollar, otherwise known as the "thermonuclear option." Ukraine, compared to this, is a mere sideshow.
Welcome to the Brussels rat-o-drome
It was on the road from the Mediterranean back to Arles via Aix-en-Provence that it hit me like an Obama drone. This whole trip was after all about the sublime chevre wrapped up in chestnut leaves in Banon, those "rose petal" bottles of wine; in Bandol, artisan producers and season mountain folks spelling out their fears in village markets and unpretentious chateaux. This was all about economic NATO.