There will be no 2016 retrospective from me. Instead here are a few photos of shoppers at Montpellier's Arceaux Market managing to match the products or stalls they are standing at, their enthusiasm for the sea, fresh pasta, and penicillium literally worn on their sleeves, in perfect harmony with the objects of their gustatory desires.


One of my resolutions for 2017 is to bring my better camera to the market and get over my inhibitions about taking photographs of people. Asking permission and making apologies will be good French practice.

Bon courage and good luck in the new year, everyone!

Palais des Papes

We had enough fun in Nîmes that we've dedicated ourselves to trying some kind of weekend day trip every two weeks or so. On December 10, we piled back into our trusty little wagon for Part III of our World Heritage Tour and headed to Avignon, in Provence, and its famous Palais des Papes.

Why not every weekend? It's not that anyone in my family is averse to sightseeing, it's that being étrangers (foreigners), even well-connected and privileged étrangers, in France is exhausting, especially for our kids, and some regularly scheduled downtime or unscheduled time turns out to be critical. The deal, more or less, is this: our kids get one weekend of laying around in their pyjamas reading books and playing Minecraft and Sims or local activities and, most of all, not sitting in a car, and the other weekend we drive to some World Heritage Site (for real!) while listening to a Hunger Games audiobook (in French) with a guarantee of a gôuter.

Avignon's Palais des Papes did not disappoint!


Outside the Palais des Papes, Avignon

You can read all about the Palace elsewhere. Suffice it to say that 6 Roman Catholic popes held office here in the 14th century and poured a ton of gold into making it the largest Gothic palace of Europe. It's pretty awesome if you're into castles and fortresses. Extensive rennovation has made it easy to see much of the interior and there are quality exhibits throughout. You can even visit the room in which the popes hoarded their treasure, a windowless room with floorboards (stones, in fact) that were pulled up to add or remove sacks of gold and silver extracted from the faithful.


Porte of the Palais des Papes

The rooftop café was closed, but that wasn't a big deal because there were several in the square below and we got our gôuter: crêpes nutella, citron, and caramel made fresh in front of our eyes just as they should be.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet, the "pont" in the song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon," was close and we walked there next. It's not a huge bridge and doesn't even completely span this branch of the Rhône, but it has character and affords nice views of the river and palace.


Literally sur le pont d'Avignon

Avignon had a nice feel about it. There's a sizeable pedestrian center that was packed with Christmas shoppers. We did some shopping ourselves and I saw some attractive restaurants. We'll be returning to next summer to check out Avignon's renowned performing arts festival.

Day Trip to Nîmes

The Saturday day before my 20 km race, the four of us (I, Ruth, our two daughters) drove north and east "up" the A9 to Nîmes to do a bit of sight-seeing. Nîmes is less than an hour from Montpellier and has several well-preserved monuments from its Gallo-Roman past. I visited in 2012 and have been pitching the idea of another visit to my family for months. Part of my pitch was this episode of "C'est pas sorcier": Pont du Gard et Arènes de Nîmes : L'architecture gallo-romaine. I wish we'd known about "C'est pas sorcier" before we arrived. France 3 has uploaded all of its 550+ episodes to Youtube and they'll be a great resource for us when we get back to Colorado. English Wikipedia translates the title as "It's not rocket science," but "It's not magic" is better in the context of the show, which features technical models and scientific explanations.

There are 42 kilometers on the A9 autoroute between Montpellier Est and Nîmes Ouest. It's 3 lanes in either direction with one toll plaza on the A9 east of Montpellier and one at the Nîmes exit. We picked up a ticket leaving Montpellier and paid €7 (if I recall) when entering Nîmes. Freeway driving in the South of France is pretty much like driving in the US. The maximum posted speed limit is a bit higher than in Colorado, but we don't see many drivers exceeding it like they do on the Front Range. I've read that photo radar and steep fines have been implemented to curtail speeding on the autoroute. French drivers are less erratic than Colorado drivers and I feel like we're somewhat safer on the A9 than we are on I-25.

On this trip, as on the others during our séjour, we're driving a 2005 Opel Meriva. It's turning out to be an adequate car. It seats 5, handles fairly well, and gets great mileage. When it was new, its engine generated 85 hp, about a third of our Honda Odyssey's output. We're one of the slower cars on the autoroute, holding down the right lane with the Citroën C3s and the Renault Clios.

Nimes is the capital of the Gard (number 30, alphabetically, of France's 96 départements) department, as Montpellier is for the Hérault (34). The Nîmes metro is 250,000 people, about the size of Fort Collins, Loveland, and satellite towns. Nîmes is further from the shore, more in the hills, than Montpellier. Outside the historic center of Nîmes are orchards, suburban sprawl, and struggling zones à urbaniser en priorité (ZUP). On Avenue Kennedy we passed between Valdegour and Pissevin, largely immigrant neighborhoods where unemployment approaches 45% and services and shops have withdrawn. It's a bad situation poised to become worse; a rightward-moving France doesn't seem likely to undo the racial and ethnic segregation in smaller cities like Nîmes and Montpellier.

We parked our car in a large pay lot (seasonal music included) near the Jardins de la Fontaine and walked to the center from there. Our first stop was for fast food, pasta in cartons for the kids, on one of the pedestrian shopping streets, fully decorated for Christmas, and then we went directly to the Arènes de Nîmes, the Roman amphitheatre. At lunchtime on the last Saturday in November there is no waiting in line to get in like there is in summer.

On my one previous visit to Nimes, I lost my wallet in Montpellier's train station (whether by pickpocket or absent mindedness, I'll never know) and had only my return ticket and the change in my pocket, nowhere near the price of admission to the amphitheatre. This then was my first time inside and I was very impressed. Constructed around AD 70, it seats almost 17,000 and is still used today for corrida (bullfighting) and music festivals.


Arènes de Nîmes

The sandy piste of the arena, was as they say in France, exceptionally open on the day of our visit.


Combat on the sand of the arena

The Maison Carrée was once a temple on the forum of Gallo-Roman Nemausus (as Nîmes was called). It still stands 2014 years later and has been recently restored. There's a small movie theater inside that shows a short historical drama set in the century before the completion of the amphitheatre. It was a little hokey, but our kids enjoyed it and got a sense of what joining the Roman Empire meant for the tribe of Gauls settled around Nemausus: security, international trade, and measurable prosperity.

Our final, and favorite, stop was at the Jardins de la Fontaine, a spacious park established at a spring and Roman nymphaeum. Almost 4.5 kilometers of passages and galleries have been found in the karstic network upstream of the spring by spéléologues (spelunkers) since the 1950s.


Fountains of the Jardin de la Fontaine, Nîmes

From the terraces and fountains, footpaths and stairs zig and zag up the hill to the Tour Magne on top. It was too late to get into the tour, but we had a great view of the sunset from its base.


Tour Magne

We all agreed that the park alone was worth the drive. There's a lot to see and do there, including terrains de pétanque (boules), a manège (carrousel), and pony rides.

In Barcelona

At the end of October my family, plus Ruth's Mom and sister, spent a long weekend in Barcelona. We went by train. The French and Spanish national railways, SNCF and Renfe, jointly run a line between Paris and Barcelona. 4 to 7 (in summer) round trips are made between these major cities every day. Over 2 million passengers made the journey in 2015.

Montpellier is midway between Paris and Barcelona and there is a long stretch of old track before and beyond Montpellier. 155 kilometers of new faster track between Montpellier and Perpignan following the route of the A9 motorway has been proposed to be built before 2025. The existing route is much closer to the Mediterranean, and traverses the many coastal lagoons. It's every bit as scenic and wonderful as it is slow: chugging along narrow causeways between blue water and sky, surrounded by oyster beds and flamingos and windsurfers.


Étang de Campignol

I'm not the only one who finds this region so picturesque: there's a train photography site with many shots taken around Port-la-Nouvelle.

Between Perpignan and Barcelona is new, high speed track and the 8 kilometer Perthus tunnel through the Pyrenées. At 280 kph it's only 15 mins to Figueres, another 15 to Girona, then 30 to Barcelona. The train ducks into a tunnel in the suburbs and parks underground at the Barcelona Sants station. There are no tracks above ground at the station and you can walk away from it in any direction. After checking out the huge metal dragon and slide at the Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, we walked toward Avinguda del Paral·lel.

Barcelona is a big city. My kids were taken aback at first. They'd been to Los Angeles in the spring, which is bigger, but not so urbanized. The solid blocks of 7-8 floor buildings took a little getting used to.


Avinguda del Paral·lel

I was immediately impressed by Barcelona's generous sidewalks and crosswalks. It felt safe to walk in central Barcelona. More than safe, even, it felt right to walk. Walking is a first-class activity. I can't think of another city where I've had quite the same feeling.

After unpacking we wandered past all the pintxos bars on Calle Blai to Bar Seco, on a more peaceful corner at the foot of Montjuïc. Ruth's sister has been working and traveling in Latin America all her adult life and speaks Spanish very well, so we had no obstacles to getting properly fed in Barcelona. My kids are deeply skeptical about European food at the moment and ate almost nothing on this trip other than papas bravas and green salads. Happily, Bar Seco did both of these very well. It also had a good selection of local craft beers, including a hoppy one, La Pirata Viakrucis.

The following day was a busy one. We walked from our apartment up to Avinguada Miramar and rode the telefèric to Castell de Montjuïc, the infamous citadel on the hill overlooking the port and city. Many communists and Catalan activists suffered and died within its walls. On October 15, 1940, the President of Catalunya, Lluís Companys, was shot dead by the Franco regime in the moat of the castle. From Wikipedia: "Companys is the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed." It was sobering to consider the Spanish Civil War and the Franco's dictatorship at the end of October and even more so today.

Afterwards, we rode the funicular and metro to the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí's extraordinary basilica. My brief experience with the Barcelona metro was a positive one. It's clean and runs properly and is easy to navigate. There's a stop right at the church.


View from the metro exit

The Sagrada Família has an enormous amount of stained glass and the light inside is over the top. The colors of the rainbow are everywhere.


Organ pipes in the Sagrada Familia

We went up the towers and got some great views from above. I've read that the 45 degree building cuts at block corners, which turn intersections into large diamond shaped plazas, are required urban design elements in Barcelona.


One of the illes that characterizes the Eixample district

That evening, we ate at Taps Bar, a cozy place decorated with mid-century antiques. I had sardines, which I ordered at every opportunity, and snails (caragol in Catalan) for the first time, in a delicious sauce of ham, chorizo, tomato, garlic, paprika, thyme, and black pepper. People eat a few different species of snails here in southwest Europe, the shells of the ones I ate suggest that they were Cornu aspersum.


Caragol in spicy Catalan sauce

Saturday morning we took a bus to Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum. The Barri Gotic has a medieval character not unlike Montpellier's centre ville, its tiny cobbled squares connected by narrow alleys.


On Twitter I made the mistake of calling Sobrasada "spreadable chorizo"

Afterwards we wandered around the Parc de la Ciutadella for a while and rented a little barque to paddle around a pond. Multiple late nights caught up with us a bit at this point. While, Ruth and her Mom took the kids back to the apartment for naps, Ruth's sister and I did a quick tour of other sites like the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, la Rambla, and the Casa Batlló.


Casa Batlló has one Barcelona's most photographed fireplaces

We all met up for dinner in the Eixample district at a restaurant named Vinitus. My favorite tapa dish here was baked salt cod with a sauce of tomatoes and honey. By the time we left, people were lining up halfway down the block to get in. Fortunately, they were getting cocktail service in line.

The almost uniform excellence of food and service in Barcelona is uncanny. It's also uncanny how a restaurant like Vinitus can be simultaneously chic, affordable, and family friendly. In France or the United States, you generally have to pick two of these three qualities. A bonus: wines in a Catalan restaurant, especially local wines, cost not much more than the price of a dish. I'm still not over this!

Sunday I went on a long training run along the boardwalk next to the Mediterranean, through the renovated port (which reminded me very much of San Francisco's Embarcadero), and back up and over Montjuïc. If I'd done more homework before the trip, I would have known that there was a huge 10k race in El Raval that morning. I saw runners gathering near the port as I passed.

At noon we walked uphill to the Fundació Joan Miró and toured the museum. I found myself thinking a lot about how Miró remained motivated and able to do creative work through such troubled times in Spain and Catalunya. Recommendations, if you have any, for biographies of mid-20th century Catalan artists, writers, and designers are very welcome. As impressive as the museum, in my opinion, are the botanical gardens around around them.

For our last night out in Barcelona, we went back to Calle Blai for pintxos and drinks before La Fíbula, an Arabic restaurant, opened. Pintxo is Basque for "thorn" and refers to the pointy wooden stick used to pin some savory ingredient – sausage, fish, roasted vegetables, etc. – to a slice of baguette. My kids picked out pintxos of chips and guacamole (no, really!). If I recall, the reason why I don't have a picture is that my phone was dying. Sadly for them, it turned out to be the infamous green pea guacamole. I was too hungry to be picky, and gobbled them along with a pair of spicy sausage pintxos and a large Estrella Damm. La Fíbula was good, of course, my only regret being that I ate way too many honey and rose water-drenched deserts.

Ruth's Mom and sister headed back to Seattle on Monday and the rest of us went back to Montpellier on a train full of French families.

Before this trip, my experience in Spain was one afternoon at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres and another at State of the Map in Girona. I'm so glad we made the time to visit Barcelona. Clearly, there's so much more to this city than we could see in 4 days. I'd love to go back.

Apologies if I've mixed up Spanish and Catalan street and place names here. I'm new to these languages and am not always sure which is which.

20km de Montpellier

Yesterday I ran in the 33rd 20 km de Montpellier, the race I've been training for the past 12 weeks. Once again I had the bad luck of having a cold and mild sinus infection on race day and fell short of my goal. I was aiming for under an hour and 40 minutes, which would have been in the top third, but finished in 1:45:19, the 660th of 1320 finishers. The race départ was at the bottom of the Rue de la Loge in Montpellier's center and we ran from there out to my neighborhood in Aiguelonge, to the northwest suburbs, and then back to the arrivé on the Place de la Comédie. It was a hilly course and we hit all the passes in the north and northwest districts of the city: Pioch de Boutonnet, Montmaur, Plan des 4 Seigneurs, Hauts de Massane, and Malbosc. I'm exaggerating a bit when I call these passes, they're all small climbs of less than 70 meters. Except for a small rise near the finish up to the Arc de Triomphe, the last 4 kilometers were downhill and I was pleased to have enough energy to run the final two in 9 minutes. I moved up about 50 places in the last 4 km.

This time of year the weather can be cold and wet, but it was perfectly sunny and mild for this edition of the race. One thing that seems to bedevil the race, from reports on the web in previous years, is traffic control. By the time I was running through the Alco and Cévennes districts on the way to the finish, impatient drivers were forcing their way past the course marshals and one had to be heads up at intersections. Police came to intervene at Avenue de la Gaillarde and Rue de las Sorbes where the situation was particularly bad, but could have been used elsewhere.

After the race, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the kitchen making and eating our delayed Thanksgiving dinner. I'm super thankful for my family's support this fall, I couldn't have put in all the training time without their backing. Thank you, Ruth, Arabelle, and Beatrice!

It's 16 weeks now to the Montpellier Marathon and I'm trying to figure out either a training plan that will give me a little downtime or a different race for the spring.


Welp. The 2016 presidential election was an utter disaster. In large enough numbers in key states, Americans threw a tantrum and voted for machismo, racism, and kleptocracy. I think the situation now looks worse than it did two weeks ago. We've got an abusive president-elect with a history of self-dealing and other cons who indicates that the sleaze will continue unabated and he's advised by a pack of wingnuts, climate deniers, internet trolls, and neo-nazis. Surrogates of our president-elect are on news programs floating insane ideas like a national registry of Muslims and internment camps. I'm very concerned for the safety of my Black, Latino, LGBT, immigrant, female, Muslim, and Jewish friends and family in such an abnormal political climate. Don't tell me that this is normal, that nothing has really changed, or no one is more at risk today unless you're ready for an earful. If you're a Trump voter who insists that you're not a racist or bigot, I insist that you prove it by speaking out and standing up against atrocities when the time comes.


I hope you've had the chance to vote early by mail, like I have, like we all should be able to do. But if not, please do take the time to vote on Tuesday and bring a friend or two. I'm sure almost all of us know people who feel frustrated about the system or less than passionate about the candidates or complacent about a Clinton victory (which I'm counting on!) and who might stay home on election day. Put some pressure on them, remind younger friends how much they'll regret letting bitter old white men further dictate their future, drive or carry them to the polls if need be. I think John Scalzi really nails it here:

Basically lots of people would love it if you didn’t vote. Disappoint them.

Disappoint the misogynists. Disappoint the bigots. Disappoint the literal racists and fascists backing Trump in this election. Vote!

Trail des Calades

Last Sunday, the 16th, I ran in the 3rd edition of Trail des Calades, a 16.5 km trail run in the hills north of Montpellier. I downloaded my track from Runkeeper, converted it to GeoJSON, uploaded it to my Mapbox account (disclaimer: I work for Mapbox), and styled it in Studio for the map below. It's fun to see how much has changed since the last time I blogged a running map. It's all WebGL now, with changeable perspective, and the style editing is super slick. I particularly appreciated how the Mapbox editor suggests reuse of elements that already exist in the Outdoors style.

Montpellier is on the interior edge of the coastal plain. The countryside north of the city is rolling hills dotted with limestone outcrops, all of it covered with live oak woodlands or vineyards. The Trail des Calades made a rugged loop through this landscape, starting and finishing in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Cuculles. There was a short triangular loop through the cobbled streets of town after the start, in order to settle the pack, and then it was singletrack or jeep roads the rest of the way, counter-clockwise from the town up to the base of the Pic Saint-Loup prominence, and back. I'm not in great running form yet and didn't want to risk breaking an ankle or anything else with my 20k 4 weeks away, so I took it fairly easy, even stopping to take some photos. My time was 2:08:01. The winning time was 1:22:36!


Parking at the entrance of the town

The weather was overcast and cool, but not cold. I went with no jacket and no water, planning to drink 2 cups at the mid-way station, and this worked out very well. In hotter or colder weather I might have geared up more like my fellow runners.


At the départ

Something like 320 people signed up for the race and 291 of us finished. The race was very well organized and staffed. There were bathrooms, and coffee! Course marshals, many of them pompiers (firefighters), were out at trail crossroads. We had a moment of silence before the start in memory of Jérémy Beier, one of their comrades who died fighting a wildfire in August.


En route

I stopped to take a photo at a mellow, wooded spot in the second half of the course, which was generally very steep and rocky or muddy. It was a very challenging and fun course, part scramble and part run. I'm looking forward to another race like this one.

Blog Makeover

The feature I need most in a static site generator right now is incremental builds. Regenerating the hundreds of existing posts on my site has become a barrier to posting often. I'm trying Nikola and am satisfied so far. With each new post there are still a number of files to be regenerated – the index page and feed, pages and feeds for tags I've used – but the write, preview, publish cycle feels much faster.

Syndication feeds for the tags I use is a feature I gave up in 2013 when I quit blogging on Zope, but they're back thanks to Nikola. See https://sgillies.net/tags/rasterio.html and https://sgillies.net/tags/rasterio.atom for example.

I'm using "work" and "life" tags to make it easier to subscribe to posts that are mainly about programming and spatial data processing or posts that are mainly about food, running, and being a temporary resident of France. This doesn't mean that I'm making my work feed a safe space for people who don't want to hear about workplace diversity, climate change, and politics or that there won't be any posts about maps and computing in my lifestyle feed.

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope the changes work for you, too.

Running in Montpellier

Cooler and wetter weather has returned to Montpellier. City forests and natural areas which have been closed all summer because of fire danger have reopened. This steel door at the southwest corner of Montpellier's Zoo Lunaret has been shut all summer, but is now open from 9 to 19.


Emergency exit no. 11

I took the photos for this post with my G4 on a morning run around the Zoo at the end of September.

Bois de Montmaur, the wooded park on the outcrop west of the Zoo is open for business. It's a great place to go for short hill repeats and is just big enough (27 hectares, or 66 acres) to provide the illusion of being in the oak woodland (called the garrigue here) outside the city.


Bois de Montmaur

Directly north of the bois and zoo is the Agropolis International campus. Behind its cluster of buildings, next to the Lez (Montpellier's primary river), is a stretch of pleasantly quiet and shady foot trail.


Agropolis single track

Beyond a canoe and kayak park the trail enters the Réserve Naturelle de Lunaret and tiptoes along a section of short cliffs above the river. The cable hints at how slippery the mossy limestone can be during the rainy season, and while the Lez is low now, you wouldn't want to fall in after one of the episodes (cévenols) of torrential rain that can happen in fall.


Réserve Naturelle de Lunaret

After a kilometer of rough conditions, the trail opens up again near the southwest corner of the zoo. These parasol pines (Pinus pinea, the tree that gives pine nuts) are just on the other side of the green steel door I showed at the top of this post.


Parasol pines

I've been enjoying running the streets and paths of Montpellier, but I'm very happy to have easy access to dirt trails and nature again. I'm not alone in this feeling; I shared every stretch of this loop with other runners, some of them obviously radiating with pleasure.

On October 16 I'm going to do the Trail des Calades, a 16km trail run at the foot of the Pic St-Loup. It's the 3rd edition of this event and looks like it'll be a bit like the Black Squirrel, but shorter and steeper. There are one or two races like this within an hour's drive of Montpellier almost every weekend. I'm using it as training for the 20km road race in Montpellier on November 27 and don't have any ambitions other than to finish without getting injured and enjoy some fresh air and good company.