Friday, April 29, 2011

Exploring

After the road crew finished Thursday afternoon, I decided to explore a bit and see what they had accomplished in the 'mystery' structure. I took this photo standing on the road from the same place as yesterday's photo. Looking down into the big, open area, you can see the ash left from the burn pile as well as the door. This area and the area beyond the top of the wall were piled high with cut branches and dead vines; they're all gone now! The stone work is beautiful. I'd say the walls are at least 10 feet high.
I walked down into the cleaned up area and took the above four photos. The arch supports the road where I was standing when I took the first photo. You can clearly see two separate shelf areas built into the enclosed arch. You can also see openings in the stone where water runs. When Laury and I were down here last fall, water was rushing thru all the low openings and the floor was a big pool of water. The arch isn't entirely closed in and thru an opening, I could see the village lavoir on the other side of the road. You can see from the various heights of the openings in the stone that there are times when this stone basin is deep in water. That water  flows into the lavoir from some of the openings in the stone; from others it flows alongside the lavoir. All is eventually directed via stone aquaducts under the main road and into the river. I've only just begun to explore; there's more to come. Right now, though, it's time to walk up to Jean's and watch the Royal wedding!



Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keeping the Village Neat and Tidy

While I heard the buzzing early, it wasn't until I walked the dogs about 9am yesterday morning that I realized the 'boys' were at it again...keeping the village neat and tidy. For the second time this spring, they've been here cutting the grass along the village rues and in the public areas. This time they were clearing and burning some brush and branches as well. They were a crew of three, all decked out in reflective shocking green ( mandatory in France for all work along a roadside, even our tiny village roads. Motorists are required to carry it in their vehicles as well. You can be fined if the gendarme doesn't find a reflective vest or coat in your backseat!). They also wear a hard hat with a protective face shield, boots and heavy gloves. Must get really hot under all that gear! No wonder they start early in the day. BTW...8am is early in a French village! The French verb, debroussailler, means to clear, as in to clear terrain. The equipment they use is a d√©broussailleuse,and is like a weed-eater on steriods. It straps onto their bodies to make it easier to carry; I think they're pretty heavy

In front of Christiane's house and the Chateau
Along the hillside by the church
This man is burning brush cut last year. He's down in a large stone structure that nestles between the road and the foot of the Chateau. It's very large, taller than a man, circular-shaped with a door. At one time, it probably had a roof. It's a bit of a mystery. Jean thinks it was an icehouse for the Chateau. I think it's too big to be just that. Plus it has some stone openings that flow with water when it rains. I think it may have been part of a cistern system for the Chateau. Maybe once all the brush is cleared and burned, we can solve the mystery. Anyone out there who knows about medieval Templar strongholds, I'm open to suggestions!

Architectural Styles

The historic walk around Figeac is an exploration of architectural styles from the 9th century Eglise St.-Sauveur to the 19th-20th century buildings commemorating Figeac's favorite son, Jean-Francois Champollion, translator of the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone. It's a walk that takes you from the city ramparts high on a hill down the zig-zagging staircase onto main street and to the River Cele. It's easy to imagine other feet from other centuries trodding these same cobblestone rues and climbing these same staircases. History haunts every tiny square and lingers in every corner and crevice of the old city. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pilgrims Welcome Here


I intentionally didn't include this door in yesterday's photo collage because I thought it deserved its own blog post. While the brilliant blue door and lintel are certainly eye-catching, they are not what drew my attention to this doorway. Can you guess what did? If you said to yourself  'I'll bet it has something to do with pilgrims," you'd be right! See the hiking boots and the shell above the entrance? Those are symbols that pilgrims are welcome here. Sure enough, this is a hostel for those walking the chemin, the way of St. Jacques to Santiago de Compostela. Tucked away on one of the tiny ruelles of old town, it's not easy to find...not sure I could find it again! But I know it's a welcome sight for those who need a bed for the night and a place to rest weary feet.





I've blogged about pilgrims before at Musings From Red Bell Farm and Dona Nobis Pacem. There's even a story at Musings about my misadventures of being a pilgrim imposter for a night in 2009. Figeac is on the Via Podenesis, the pilgrims' path that starts in Le Puy and ends many, many miles later at Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the bones of St. Jacques (St. James) are buried and venerated. Each year thousands of people become pilgrims, walking all or part of the Way. This chemin also goes through Conques...my very favorite pilgrimage village. My dream is to  walk the Way. Who knows...some day I may be a pilgrim checking into this hostel ready to put down my walking sticks, pull off my boots, and relish the peace and quiet of old Figeac for the night.

Doors and Windows and Half-Timbered Houses

I couldn't help myself....I just kept taking photo after photo of doors and windows and the half-timbered houses of Figeac!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Details of Figeac

It would be fun to walk the historic loop of Figeac with you. Unless you come visit me, that's not going to happen. So, I'll share some of the things that caught my camera's attention as I strolled the cobblestoned rues, climbed the stairways and gazed in wonder at all the beauty surrounding me. This collage showcases some of the architectual details in stone on view around the old city.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Morning



Morning dawns. The tomb is empty.

Light from dark. Hope from despair.

Joy from sorrow. New life from death.

Resurrection.

His throne awaits at the right hand of our Father.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!






Photo: St. Etienne Cathedral, Cahors, France March 2, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Day in Figeac

The reason for my trip to Figeac on Thursday was to pick up my photos for the vernissage chez Laury this August. As I got ready to walk to the bus stop to catch the 10am bus, the thought crossed my mind that the photos, while promised for today, might not be ready to pick up until afternoon. In one of my other lives as a flight nurse, we had a motto: if you think of something, that's probably a good sign that you should go with your gut and do it! However, I didn't listen to myself and sure enough, when I arrived at Le Cadre Bleu in Old Figeac, they weren't ready. "Return this afternoon, after lunch," she said, "we re-open at 2:30pm". Which meant that the next bus I could take home wouldn't be until 5:10pm. That's a whole day to pass in Figeac or make a whole other trip; I elected to stay in town. You already know that I ate a yummy lunch. I spent the rest of the time doing a walking loop of the historic architecture in the 9th century centre ville. The Office of Tourism had a map in English, and all I needed to do was follow the Keys to Figeac, numbered and pointing the way to some awesome old buildings. I took so many photos that I filled up my memory card long before I ran out of images! Which means, of course, another day in Figeac.

These are the two photos that were responsible for a long, hot day in town. They are printed on canvas and stretched over a wooden frame much like an oil painting.  I'm pleased with how they turned out. I hung them up on the wall of the cave to get a feel for how they'll look on the night of the vernissage. I won't be here to celebrate all the art, but, my photos will represent my spirit in the Lot these past few months.

This day could have been a real misadventure, but it turned out to be very enjoyable. As I sat on the terrace at La Cazelle sipping a beer while I waited for the bus, I reflected on all the beauty I had seen that day. Certainly worth being hot and sweaty and having just a couple of tiny blisters!

Click on the vernissage links to see blogposts about previous galley nights at the Chatette.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lunch Under a Canopy of Lavender

Are you sick of wisteria yet? I hope not, because I want to tell you about my lunch yesterday sitting under a canopy of lovely lavender wisteria. When I unexpectedly found myself in Figeac over the lunch hour, my first thought was to eat at La Cazelle, Laury's bus stop hang-out. I walked all the way back there only to find that the plat du jour was choucroute, that German-inspired Alsatian dish of sauerkraut, sausages and potatoes. Now, I love choucroute, but I made the mistake of eating it one time in Paris and spent the rest of the afternoon so uncomfortable that I could barely enjoy my stroll through the Left Bank. No! no sauerkraut for me. So, I walked back to Old Town and ate here at the Restaurant Del Portel on rue Orbatadial. Laury and I tried to eat here one Saturday, but without a reservation, they could not seat us. No problem getting a table on a Thursday, tho, so I elected to sit here outside on the terrace shaded by wisteria.

The tile mosaiac depicts Figeac in its medieval hey-day when it was a trade, as well as a religious, center. The warm spring day lured many other diners to the terrace, and soon it was filled with folks enjoying the pleasant environment and the yummy good food. I opted for the menu du jour, salad, main dish, dessert and coffee, for 16 euros. The salad was greens and leaves of purple and white endive topped with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onion slices and strips of thinly sliced duck. The main plat consisted of barbequed chicken, mixed veggies and frites...the French make the BEST fries! I thought having barbeque in France might be a bit risky, but it was delicious. Three fat chicken legs drenched in a thick sauce...very good barbeque taste laced with smoky paprika. Dessert was a sliver of poppy seed cake napped with raspberry coulis and a dollop of whipped cream. I ate well and left a happy camper!
I leave you with another taste of wisteria.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wisteria Magic

It's been a really long day...one which I unexpectedly spent in Figeac. You'll hear more about this little misadventure in upcoming blog posts, but tonight before I curl up with a glass of wine and a book, I have to share this stunning wisteria that graciously allowed me to take its picture this afternoon. This is only about half of the vine that covered a long fence. Is it not the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? J'adore la glycine. (I adore wisteria!)



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tending the Vines

Almost every house in the village boasts of some kind of vegetable garden. It might be a tiny plot outside the back door or just a few big pots planted with kitchen herbs. Most folks have something a bit more extensive. Christiane and Jean-Paul showed me their potager this week. They have raspberry vines, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, and potatoes. The tomato plants will go in soon. Christiane also has various herbs around the garden...thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano. A lot of people also have a row or two of grape vines. There's a tiny vineyard by Jean's house and another of her neighbors has a half dozen vines in their front yard. This old gentleman has six rows of vines tucked between a field of rape and another big plot of savoy cabbage and leeks that went to market every Saturday this winter. Six long rows that have to be hand-tended every day. He was hoeing weeds this morning. He'd hoe a bit, then lean on his hoe to rest, slowly walking his vines. Will he make his own wine this fall? Will he sell his grapes to a wine co-op?

French Wildflowers

I'm always surprised when I see columbine planted in people's gardens. I know it as a beautifully delicate Rocky Mountain wildfllower from my treks through the wilderness.
French Jack-in-the-Pulpit?
Anyone know the French names for these flowers?
And if you know what the French call a 'muskrat,' I've got another story to tell....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Soiree Paella

Last night was the village's annual spring dinner. This year the menu was paella. Close to 60 adults and children enjoyed an evening of food and fun. This is the paella pan before the rice was added. The paella-master stirs the short rib-sausage-chicken-mussel-shrimp-langoustine-spice mixture over an open flame for an hour or so with a long wooden paddle, then covers it with foil and lets it simmer for another hour. The bar kept folks busy while the chef worked his magic. Soon after I took this photo, he dumped in a big washpan full of rice followed by an even bigger washpan full of broth. Simmering and stirring for another half hour or so until the rice was fluffy, he completed the dish...more than enough to feed the crowd. We munched on a choice of salad makings...diced beets, shredded carrots, shredded celeriac, hard-boiled eggs, cold mixed vegetable dressed either with a balsamic vinegarette or a garlicky mustard mayonnaise...bread and wine while we waited for the paella. Soon everyone was up to their elbows in juicy-- and messy--seafood and chicken pieces. Bottles of red wine, rose, and water, baskets of bread lined the long tables. A feast to welcome spring! Paella was followed by a cheese plate and then with a dish of ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and half a peach. While the adults ate, the kids danced to pop music on the sound system. Soon a few of the moms (and grandmoms...Christiane was out there with her grands!) started dancing with the children. There were even a couple of dads who joined in with their little boys teaching them those boy dance moves that little guys are shy to try by themselves. As it neared midnight, the littlest party-ers were beginning to droop. People packed up their baskets, gathered coats and children, and began to drift home. A quick clean-up...many hands make light work...and another successful village party was history.

This is the paella before the rice was added. I had never eaten paella before, so this was a new food experience for me. I loved it! Christiane says she makes it sometimes, but obviously it takes a lot of time, so it's not on her dinner menu often. I'd like to try it sometime.

At one point during the evening I looked around the room at all the happy, chattering, eating and drinking French folks and said to Christiane, "I think I'm the only non-French person here!" She surveyed the room and replied, "Yes, you are!" Yet, I couldn't have felt more at home or more comfortable!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Trying Again...

Did you miss the wisteria background?? That's okay, really...it didn't work. Too busy. So, after fiddling around and learning 'way more that I ever thought I'd want to know about exporting photos, I managed to get this one to export in a better size. It still doesn't fill the whole space, but it's better. This is a photo of the reflection of the causse in the Lot last fall. I loved how beautiful the river looked this day...like a watercolor painting. So, I'm going to try this one as a background for awhile. I like that it represents my life here these past few months. Let me know how you like it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wisteria Background

If you were a reader of 'Musings From Red Bell Farm,' you already know that I'm a fan of wisteria. I used a photo that I took in Provence for the banner of that blog. This is a photo I took of Laury's wisteria that is growing along the wall of her front yard. I managed to get it on my blog template as a custom background, but I'm not able to get it to fill the entire space, thus the 'tile' effect. I played around with the link colors as well. I'm not sure this is the final product; I'm going to live with awhile and see how I like it. Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lunch With The Girls

Pauline (on the left) is here for a week from London. She invited Jean and me up for lunch yesterday. Not only did we enjoy a wonderful lunch...salad, bread, wine and a cheese/apple plate for dessert, the view wasn't too shabby either.
Looking downriver...that's the roof of the Chatette you see.

Looking upriver towards Montbrun.
I'm always curious about new foods; Pauline served a platter of several possible salad toppings. One new to me was celeriac remoulade. It comes pre-packaged in France and is definitely something I'll serve myself. Tres yummy!

For more opinion about celery and celeriac than you really want to know, and for photos of the remoulade being made, click over to David Lebovitz's blogpost here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Philatelist's Paradise

La Poste, (the French postal system) like many other post offices throughout the world, has discovered a great money-making idea...selling their beautiful stamps to collectors, i.e. philatelists. And the stamps are, indeed, beautiful! Here in France you can buy them at your local la Poste, but there is often a narrow window of availability, and it's easy to miss out. Laury was looking for these stamps particularly and none of our local Postes still had them. I checked out the Boutique on la Poste's website and voila! here they are. I'm not a true collector (although I do have an old stamp collection stashed away in a closet at home), but I love beautiful stamps, so 41 euros later, I've helped support the French mail system. To be honest, I did buy two sheets of these cute Paris stamps for Laury along with two sheets for me. I'll keep one and the other is destined to be a gift for my friend, Marie, who is an avid collector of French stamps.




Laury passed along a link to a David Lebovitz blog post about these French regional food stamps. As soon as I saw them, I knew I needed a set of these as well,.
These stamps come 12 to a carnet (booklet). There are three menus represented: menu du terroir, menu vegetarien, and menu de fete. Each stamp of the menu depicts a typical entree, a plat principal, a fromage or a dessert. There is also a recipe for one of the dishes shown. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these beautiful and informative stamps, but I'm mulling over an idea for little hostess gifts using them. Which means I'll have to buy another set of them...at least. I'm hooked! You?

If you're interested in buying French stamps online, you can go to the website as I did: Click here. Yes, it's in French. My homepage is Google which will translate it for me..perhaps your homepage will as well?
If that's more than you can handle, I did find a smaller selection of French stamps at a California online stamp company. Click here for that website.

Monday, April 11, 2011

White Asparagus

Christiane and I bought white asparagus from one of our Cadrieu farmers at Saturday's market in Cajarc. Trimmed and peeled, steamed and drizzled with a little melted butter...yum!
A new favorite French food.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back and Front: Part 2--The Front

While the world on the backside of the Chatette is quiet, rooted and still, as I lean out one of the  front windows, the world becomes one of constant change and movement. The road, the river, and just across the valley, the farmers working in their fields bring this side of the house alive with a different kind of energy...the energy of action, of travel, of getting it done....whatever 'done' is!




When I arrived in the fall, the farmers across the Lot were busy cutting and baling hay and harvesting their crops. All day long I could hear and see their tractors and trucks 'getting it done'...bringing in the crops and readying the land for winter. During the cold winter months, their tractors were busy again moving big bales of hay. I could hear chain saws buzzing as they cut wood for their fireplaces. As the weather has warmed to spring, tractors have been plowing, disking and planting. Lots of labor-intensive activity as long, mounded rows are hand-planted and covered with plastic to keep the soil warm and hasten crop production. More 'getting it done' to insure income for the year.


Cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, Lance Armstrong wannabes in lycra, camping cars and caravans (motorhomes and travel trailers), the occasional pilgrim walking the river route...the world travels beneath my window. Literally...the house sits right on the road! When buses and big trucks pass, their whoosh rattles the windows and momentarily stops conversation. From around 5am til a bit after dark, travelers rush from here to there...getting the trip done and taking care of business.

But it's the river that brings never-ceasing movement....flowing and changing almost minute by minute. It's fascinating to watch it reflect the sunlight or shiver with a breeze. After a rain, it runs fast, sometimes muddy. Light dances on it in the early morning. When the wind blows upstream, it looks as if it's flowing backwards. Occasionally a fish will jump creating ever-widening circles of ripples. One warm day last fall a speed boat with a water-skier attached roared by right in front of the house; that's a 'no no' on this part of the river, but c'est la vie, as they say here! And before the road, the river was a highway for transporting people and goods to market...'getting it done' the old -fashioned way.
See the river flow? Watch the dancing diamonds! Did you catch the church bell chiming the half hour?

Back to front; quiet, still, unchanging to movement, action and busy-ness; each side of the Chatette reflects what has shaped this land for thousands of years. Stone and water; still and moving; stability and change, letting it be and getting it done.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Back and Front: Part I--The-Back

As I sat on the terrace and nibbled a lunch of cheese, bread and sliced apples, a phrase ran through my mind that we used to repeat a lot in my family...'life doesn't get much better than this.' The sun was warm, so warm, in fact, that I moved my chair into the shade...who'd have thought in January that I would ever say that? I drank in the peace and soft quiet beyond the terrace wall. Sitting in my chair, I gazed to my left, picked up my camera and 'click.' Here are the limestone cliffs covered with scrub and blooming wild things that scent the air with sweetness. The birds love this place; I hear them squawking and trilling, squabbling and loving from before dawn to 'way after dark. And when the birds go to bed, the bats come out, swooping and snagging dinner on the wing. Laury will be happy to know that the butterflies are back, as well. I can see them flitting from flower to flower.

Looking straight ahead, Laury's barn and its tiny garden fill my camera's viewfinder.
And looking up, there's my neighbor, the Chateau, standing guard over the old village... protecting and claiming this piece of the river valley as its own.
Not too shabby for lunch time views, eh?

This is the back of the Chatette, then, solid and rooted, peaceful. It gives me a feeling of quiet stability. I feel enveloped in a sense of timelessness and of things unchanged for hundreds of years. As I think about this, I'm reminded that the other side of the Chatette tells quite a different story and has quite a different feel.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2...the front.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Birch Trees

I love birch trees, so it's been fun to watch the one in Laury's front yard transition through the seasons. It sparkled with little golden leaves last fall...
It provided a simple frame for a beautiful winter sunrise...
and now it's coming to life in the warm spring sun.
 Tiny green leaves dot the long, graceful branches while soft catkins drip from the ends. My totally frustrated non-artistic self longs to be able to paint them. I see them in a dreamy watercolor a la Monet; I see them on beautiful silk drapes framing the windows of a sunny green and white dining room; I see them as a spun-gold necklace caressing a long, slender neck.
Couldn't I please be reincarnated as an artist next time around?