Dwight Peck's personal website

Winter 2005-2006

Short breaks from poring over the newspapers as the Bushies implode

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Dijon in the off-season

The off-season rates are better, the weather isn't, but it's worth it without the crowds.

Look up Dijon on Google and you'll find:
1. mustard
2. a city in France
3. a recipe for broiled flounder
4. a recipe for a chicken salad sandwich
5. a recipe for apricot chicken
We're focusing on number 2.

Nicely checked into the Hotel Philippe Le Bon on 21 October 2005, we gaze out upon the neighborhood in anticipation . . .

Oh, this is going to be a NICE town!

We're in the very old (15th century) and lovely Hotel Philippe Le Bon on the rue Ste Anne on the very edge of the Historic Old Town. Traveling companion Kristin has a genius for finding these places on the Web -- moderate prices, heavy-duty historical ambience, an experience in itself. The attached "Wine-lovers" restaurant was exceptionally superb for a one-off, but way out of this respondent's normal price range, so on succeeding evenings we walked up the street to the kebab stand.

At this point, in early evening, whilst looking for the falafel stand, we're catching up on the brochures, to the effect that Philippe Le Bon, or "the Good" (1396-1467), was the Duke of Burgundy for much of the 15th century (1419-1467), and more or less made the ancient Roman Divio into the capital of the Bourgogne or Burgundy region.

The Old LeBon himself, with his cute haircut, seems to have got more interested in conquering the Netherlands and may not have spent much time here, but we're all the better for his attention, because the Dijon old town is a wonder.

(Phil's son, Charles the Bold, by the way, is the Burgundian Duke who tried to conquer western Switzerland and got his butt handed to him in 1476.)

A lot of these overhanging half-timbered buildings date from the mid-12th to the 15th centuries, so when photographing their captivating historic lines we tend to edge on over to the far side of the street, just in case.

The cathedral of Notre Dame, completed in about 1240, dominates this part of the old city, but it's far from the only game in town in the "ville aux cent clochers", the city of a hundred bell-towers.

An amazing array of very sad faces across the front of the church. These are not the original gargoyles; the story is told that one of the original gargoyles fell off and snuffed a moneylender who was passing below. The other moneylenders banded together and persuaded the authorities to remove all the rest, and the present figures were only added in 1881. Source for that: http://dijoon.free.fr/bestof/notre-dame.htm.

Kristin (green jacket) checking out some pre-breakfast bargains in the market. (The sole drawback of the Hotel Philippe Le Bon is that breakfast costs €13 extra, so we'll be much happier with a croissant in the bar-café in the market. The one next to the kebab stand.)

That's the Jacquemart family sitting up there on the clock -- the guy with the pipe adorned the belfrey in Courtrai, Belgium, until a Burgundian duke crated him up and brought him to Dijon in 1382. Mom on the right (Jacqueline) was added in the 1600s, the young lad Jacquelinet was added in 1716, and little Jacquelinette came along in 1881.

Studies in the complicated verticality of the Notre-Dame.

Just behind the cathedral de Notre-Dame, a fine little restaurant just up the stairs behind Kristin (green jacket), who's memorizing the menu to come back in the evening.

Half-timbered buildings near the cathedral.

The gargoyles were at the head end of the cathedral. This is its butt.

Coming soon: a 15th century house with all the mod cons.

All of the Dijon old town has been lovingly restored and, at least in the off season, it is a perfect joy to wander through, looking for a kiosk that carries the International Herald Tribune. Only Superman could have managed all this skilled restoration in a reasonable time frame.

Oh, there's Superman now. And a Red Indian.

This is the former Place Royale in front of the Dukes' Palace, now called the Place de la Libération since you know when. And these folks seem to be about as liberated as we'd like to find in broad daylight on the high street.

Here, in fact, are the Blues Brothers, preparing to drop their trousers. (The human carrot at the top of this page was unwisely encouraging these guys at the time.)

The Place de la Libération, with the ducal palace behind, and the Blues Brothers dropping their trousers for the start of the race. The man in the foreground is wearing a stylish white garbage bag. One common feature of Volks marathons is the ubiquitous plastic garbage bag, which warms one but can be doffed and discarded when the starting gun sounds.

More than once this narrator has responded to the starting gun in the Morat-to-Fribourg running race by wading kneedeep with 2000 other age-group runners through black plastic garbage bags for five minutes before reaching the starting line and passing out of the medieval city gate.

Several convicts, a colorful tiger, and a man wearing balloons are viewed from the first floor windows of the exceptionally wonderful Musée des Beaux-Arts next door.

The starting gun sounds, and the Vikings are off.

Great stuff in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, especially Burgundian stuff, naturally, from the heyday of the late 15th century. Here's Jesus regretting everything in one of an imaginative series of passion week paintings featuring local residents all looking like hideous warty bestial freaks.

Terrible luck so far

This gentleman sits in the courtyard between the palace and the museum and plays his ukelele, whilst his son plays with the cobblestones. From time to time, he moves to another bench, and the kid comes along and finds new cobblestones to play with.

The market around the Grande Halle du Marché, which is just out of sight to the left but ugly.

Downtown congestion

Brave kids on the bungeymobile in the Place de la Libération. Nearly every seven-year-old was able to do the triple somersault after a half-minute's practice.

The view to the west from the Philippe-le-Bon tower of the Ducal Palace, said to be 316 steps to the top but a more careful count during our visit in October 2005 revealed that there are really more than 7,000 of them.

(Many of Dijon's outlying suburbs were missed in the present visit, but got pretty well crisped in the ethnic Sarkozy-riots in the banlieues shortly after we'd vacated the area. We were mainly interested in the historic old town anyway.)

Notre-Dame, next door, from the top end.

The Place de la Libération some 7,000 steps below, with the bungeymobile on the left, the pony rides in the centre, and the bouncey castle on the right. Superman, the Blues Brothers, and the Vikings are halfway to the next town by now.

Rooftops, with the two towers of Saint-Bénigne (93 meters high!) just right of center. That's a 13th-century modernism built up after the 6th century church fell down -- the old crypt's still there, and probably many an ugly tale could be told about it.

St. Benignus, by the way, after whom that church was named, was a 2nd century "Asiatic priest" who labored long in Burgundy knocking on doors and accosting people (the Lignones, they were called then) on the streetcorners trying to convince them to become Christians, sort of like early Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormon teams in their cheap suits and sacred underpants. (The medieval story of Benignus' miracles turned out to have been ripped from the exploits of some other Christian guy in Turkey. But never mind.)

A chilly October day to be posing bronzely out in the piazza with no clothes on.

Kristin says goodbye to the Philippe Le Bon and heads for home. Or for Besançon, in fact.

Those interested in the very recommendable Hotel Philippe Le Bon can consult its own Web site http://www.hotelphilippelebon.com/.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 25 January 2006, revised 6 February 2008, 14 December 2014.

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