Monday, January 30, 2012

The Way

I've been fascinated with pilgrimage since my first visit to Conques in 2009. You may remember reading some of my blog posts about Conques and my adventures as a 'pilgrim imposter' there. The Way...called the "Chemin St. Jacques de Compostela" here in the Lot....runs from Figeac to Cajarc on the causse above Cadrieu. Occasionally pilgrims opt for a more scenic route along the river and pass right under my windows.This Way leads from Le Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Juan-Pied-de-Port where it crosses the border into Spain. There it is called the Camino, its final destination Santiago and the Cathedral of St. John. I would love to do the entire walk; in reality, I may have to settle for parts of it. Lots of people do just that...walk different pieces of the pilgrimage as they have time.

So when my friend, Karen, emailed me about a movie about pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain, I was immediately intrigued. Called "The Way," it is the work of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. It had limited release in the States (not a Hollywood block-buster full of sex, violence and car chases!), but it is available on DVD, so I ordered it from Amazon. I watched it this weekend and am inspired, once again, to walk The Way. It's the story of an American man (Martin Sheen) who travels to St. Juan  to claim his son's body. Daniel (Emilio Estevez) was just beginning his pilgrimage walk when he was caught by a storm in the Pyrenees and killed. His father, Tom, decides to walk pilgrimage in his son's place, and the story proceeds from there. As he walks through Spain, Tom is befriended by three fellow pilgrims, each, like Tom, with his own reasons for walking. I've provided the trailer for you. It's a wonderful movie, well-acted with gorgeous cinematography. If you get a chance, watch "The Way."

Thank you, YouTube!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Protecting the Village Heritage

A handful of us met last evening at the Mairie. First order of business was to form an association for the protection du patrimoine. I admire the French because they work hard to retain and preserve their historic and cultural heritage; this is the purpose of our association. In France, an association can be formed with as few as three people. Once you are officially recognized, it's possible for the association to apply for government money to restore and preserve historic buildings and cultural activities. While the church isn't falling down, it is an old structure that needs some tender loving care. Our association has made it our first priority, but other village sites such as the lavoir are also part of our mission.  Christiane drew up a letter that will be hand-delivered to everyone in the village's mailbox stating our intent and asking for their support...either with their presence or their ideas. We also scheduled our next meeting for March 2.

The church badly needs the peeling plaster scraped from its interior walls. I figure even if I can't speak French (Christiane had to translate for me most of what was discussed at the meeting), I can provide manual labor. So, scraping plaster will be our first big project. I'll update you as we progress with additional photos and perhaps some historical information about the church itself. I'm glad to be able to give back something to this village that has welcomed me so warmly!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crotte de chien**

After enjoying a lovely lunch at le President this week, my friends and I wandered through medieval Cajarc. We were surprised to see this new development tucked away in a corner of an alley way. Someone has installed an area for dog pooping! If you've ever visited Paris or read much about that beautiful city, you know that dog poop is a big issue there. More people are beginning to be responsible about cleaning up after their dogs, but you still have to watch where you walk. In the medieval sections of old villages, it's a problem as well. Hardly any of the old stone houses here have yards; there are no doggie parks in town, so where do you take your dog? Someone has provided an answer.
As we wandered a little further, we saw this sign posted in someone's tiny flower bed. Essentially it says 'dog pooping is forbidden here under penalty of a fine.'
I think this guy sitting up in the window sill above the flowers may have had something to do with the 'interdiction.'

**crotte de chien=dog droppings

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Traveling upriver on the D86 from Ambeyrac, the next village you come to is Balaguier-d'Olt. In the old Occitan language Olt is the name for the Lot River. Thus, this village is Balaguier on the Lot. You frequently see town name signs here written in both French and Occitan. At one time all of southern France spoke the old Occitan language as well as parts of Italy and Spain. The bell tower from this beautiful Romanesque church dates from the 12th century. Unfortunately, the church was locked; I wanted to see the 12th century altar carved in sandstone that is inside. Maybe another day! The church grounds also contain the war dead memorial you can see in front and the village cemetery which is to the right of the church.

Standing on the steps of the church, this is the view back down into the village...
You can barely discern a cross and some ruins on top of the hill. I tried my zoom and got this...
Ah...another reason for a return trip to this pretty village!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Camboulan is a tiny commune 2 kilometers from Ambeyrac. It's governed by the Ambeyrac Mairie. Its last official census was in 1800; there were 290 souls living here then. I can tell you that there are far fewer here today! As in every French village I've visited, this one has its own church and its commemorative plaque honoring its enfants morts pour la France.  When I drove through the village, I saw a total of two people and one dog wandering the main rue. There are no business establishments nor is there a school. If Belgian refugees settled in this village, they must have been taken in by relatives or perhaps were hired to work on some of the outlying farms. Otherwise there would have been no way for them to support themselves. With the severe shortage of gas during the war, there also would not have been transportation for them to get to other, bigger villages for work. Again with no concrete information, this is pure speculation. I continue to search...

Small as it is, this village has a chateau....Chateau de Camboulan. I've provided you a link to their website. Click on the drawing at the bottom of the page that appears, and you will go to the website with additional photos. It's in French, sorry!
I think I may plan an overnight here at some point. Maybe the proprietor knows some of the local history?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Little Bit of Ambeyrac

While I search for more information about the Belgian refugees honored in this village and in Camboulan, I thought you might like to see what each village looks like. I took this photo in December. The big tree in front of the Ambeyrac Mairie was all decked out for Christmas. The Mairie was built in 1895, but parts of the church (the nave and the choir) right next door date from the 12th century. The lateral chapels were added in the 15th century with various renovations taking place over the years following. Mention of a church in Ambeyrac, however, was made by Pepin I of Aquitaine in correspondence dated August 23, 838. We're talking really old!  In 1878, the church cemetery which was situated between the church and where the Mairie is now was moved to accommodate a road. I think moving a cemetery would be extremely difficult and not much fun!

This is the most recent addition to the church. Dated 1998 it commemorates those villagers who died during WWII...their names are across the bottom. If you look closely, you'll see that the stained glass window depicts fallen soldiers on a battlefield...a rather unusual  theme for a church window.

All the villages that sit below the causse have to have some way to deal with water running off the top and down to the river. Here in Ambeyrac there are little rock aqueducts that channel the water through the village safely to the river. You frequently see water collecting structures like this one in French villages.Village women would come here to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. If the village had a lavoir, clothes would be washed there. Each time I've been to Ambeyrac water has been running. The sound of it splashing, trickling, and rushing is better than music!
I leave you with some cheery blue shutters as I leave Ambeyrac. Next stop: Camboulan.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Refugees in Ambeyrac

Translation: tribute/recognition of the Belgian refugees of the population of Ambeyrac and Camboulan.
July 21, 1940

This plaque is on an exterior wall of the Ambeyrac church. Partially obscured by a big old bush, it was hard to photograph it as I had to pull the bush out of the way with one hand and take the photo with the other. Lucie isn't tall enough to help. I can't help but link this clue with the Croix des Belges a few kilometers away on the top of the causse. As I attempted to do online research about Belgian refugees during WWII, I came across a very interesting blog entry here at First Vine. It's a touching story of a man's father who re-connected last year with a small village in SW France where his family took refuge during WWII. Austrian Jews, they fled Vienna when Hitler took over Austria and went to Belgium thinking they would be safe there. Despite a non-agression treaty with Belgium, Hitler invaded that country in May 1940. Thousands of Belgian citizens and Jewish refugees from other countries fled Belgium for France where they thought they would once again be safe. A Paris re-settlement office sent this family to Herault, a small village in the Languedoc which is only a couple hours drive from here. The blog's author, Tom Natan, reported that researching his father's story was very difficult as there is almost no information available regarding this area during WWII.

I took a chance that Mr. Natan would be nice enough to respond and sent him an email asking for any resources he might point me to that might provide additional information about Belgian refugees in my area. I reeived an immediate response which I'll share with you in my next post. In the meantime, I'd urge you to click on the First Vine link above and read the Natan family story.

The Ambeyrac church is on the right. The plaque is behind that big green bush!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Another Clue

The mystery of the Belgian Cross continues to unfold here at the village church in Ambeyrac. What I have to show you is actually on the church wall below this very cool sundial. You can regularly see sundials in little villages throughout the region if you look quickly as you drive by. This one has obviously been re-done since it was first created in 1850. If you look closely, you'll be able to tell exactly what time I snapped this image. It's interesting that it has been built up on one side to catch the sun's rays at exactly the proper angle. I guess that was easier than reconstructing the wall of the church! I"ll share the Ambeyrac clue to the mystery with you in my next blog post. Until then, here's another photo to fire up your imagination....

Monday, January 16, 2012

Croix des Belges

There are so many tantilizing tidbits of history around here. This spot is up on the causse directly across from my house. It's the Croix des Belges, a cross erected to honor Belgians who fled here as Belgium was invaded by the Nazis. At least that's what I think it commemorates! I've been told stories about Belgian prisoners of war being executed here. There's a mysterious plaque on the side of a village church honoring Belgians who settled there during WWII. After searching the internet and asking local folks, I'm still not sure about the story. And being insatiably curious, I want to know that story! Who were these Belgians? Why were they here? Nazi troops did occupy Figeac during the war...did they have prisoners that they executed here? One of my French friends asked me 'Why do you want to know these stories?' Like I said.... I'm just curious, and I like to know about how people connect to one another. Stories connect us. I've got a lead on answers to my questions. If I get more information, I'll post it here!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


"Leche-vitrines" is a great French phrase that translates literally into 'licking windows.' But what it really means is 'window shopping.' I've seen a few store windows that truly made me want to lick them! Chocolate shops in Paris, for example or fancy patisseries like Lauduree. This window in Cajarc never fails to catch my eye. I always park near it even when I'm going to market on the other side of Cajarc. I love to walk by and 'lick' the window. I have no idea what's behind the colorful window whose display changes routinely. It looks like a shop window, yet there is no shop. It's definitely not someone's home. If it's a studio or atelier, there's no indication of that either. All I know is the window is always fanciful and fun, full of bright colors and interesting objects. I took these photos in December when the window's theme was puppets. It absolutely delighted the child in me! I think this guy looks like Napoleon, don't you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saut de la Mounine**

Do you remember this photo from my December post about Saujac? It's part of some fading paintings on a long-closed epicerie in the village. I promised to tell you about this monk and his monkey. Here's the story...

Once upon a time, in the 15th century actually, a monk named Cidoine set off on pilgrimage from Conques with his pet monkey (called mounine in the local patois) and a goat. As he walked along the edge of the causse (just above where Saujac is now), he tripped and fell over the edge. His belt caught on a tree saving him and his monkey. As he hung there, he spotted a cave and decided that this was a sign that they should stay right they did. This hermit monk in his cave became quite the local celebrity with frequent visitors who brought him food and sought his advice One visitor was Ghislaine, the 16 year old daughter of Ogier, Lord of Montbrun, a fortified village directly across the Lot river facing Cidoine's cave. Another frequent visitor was Renaud, the son of Ogier's fierce rival. You can guess what happened...yes, Ghislaine and Renaud fell in love. When Lord Ogier found out, he screamed a curse..."I swear by the devil,I'd rather you jumped off that monk's rock than marry the son of my rival!"

Montbrun as seen from the monk's rock. Lord Ogier's castle is the large square building at the top of the village

Ghislaine was distraught. She went to Cidoine and asked him what she should do. He told her on the day that her father went out hunting to come to his rock with her best dress. When she arrived, he dressed his old, blind monkey in it and flung him off the rock. Lord Ogier saw his daughter's brilliant red dress as the monkey plunged to the valley below. Thinking his daughter had jumped to her death and full of remorse, he recanted his oath and ran along the Lot to find Cidoine who then revealed the deception. Jubliant, Lord Ogier embraced his daughter and blessed her union with Renaud. They were married in the Montbrun castle, their fathers reconciled, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except the monkey who was unavailable for comment.
**Jump of Mouine.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Little Flower

There's been a saint living with us since early December...Saint Therese, the Little Flower of Jesus. She actually belongs to Laury and was her Christmas gift from her folks. Because Laury's in Holland, Saint Therese was delivered here. Laury told me open her box and set her out...who wants to keep a saint hidden away? So she's been sitting on my kitchen trolley watching over my santons for the holidays. She'll stay there until Laury returns in February. Laury calls her 'Merci Lady' because she always lights a candle to her when she visits one of the many churches around us. St. Therese is in all of them; she co-shares the Patron Saint of France honors with St. Joan of Arc. You can even light a votive candle with her image on it. Both Laury and I have been known to pay our 2 euros for the candle and then slip it in our pocket to bring home. That way we can say 'thank you' without going to church. St. Therese is very beautiful, and you always see her holding flowers. Her faith was simple: She felt she was a little person doing little acts of love, living a simple, Christ-filled life. It's a pleasure having her as a house guest!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

French Healthcare Continued

I waited and waited. Four people came in after I arrived, and I began to worry. While each person before me seemed to go in their proper place in line, I know the French are notorious for not queueing well. Your place in line is merely a suggestion; often there is no line, just a gaggle of people with at least one or two people elbowing their way up to be first in the door. This is the fifth difference from American healthcare. No one would dare push ahead of someone else to see the doctor sooner! As the wait grew longer, the few of us left to be seen grew restless. I eyed the competition and decided one of the two old ladies would be who might try to jump my place in line. When my turn came, I arose and walked towards the doctor's open door. Who should budge in front of me, but the old man sitting in corner! Giving me a glaring 'don't you dare challenge me' look over his shoulder, he pushed in front of me. I merely shrugged and told the doctor "It's okay!" As soon as the door closed, the old ladies began chattering about his rudeness and saying it was my turn, not his. I repeated "It's okay!" as I chuckled to myself.

Finally, it was my turn. Difference number six: I began my visit sitting with the doctor at his desk while he hand wrote my demographic information and health history on a sheet of paper. No electronic record keeping here. No insistence that he copy my insurance card. I merely told him I didn't have French healthcare insurance, and we moved on.

I was directed to the exam room and told to take off my clothes, but leave my underwear on. As I tried to pull the folded paper sheet over myself, the doctor took it from me and said 'No, no Madame, That's for your feet.' Gulp...difference seven: the French are so very unself-conscious about their bodies. No covering up allowed! After a thorough exam of my knee, heart and lungs, the doctor prounounced the problem a very inflammed joint which 'we will treat first with medicine.' He said I might need an injection into the joint in the future, but for now, we'll start simply. Yay! No torn ligament, no torn meniscus, I don't need a knee replacement. I will walk again!

Difference eight: as he wrote out my instructions and medication names for the pharmacy, he presented me his bill....23 euros. He's a one-man show...receptionist, physician and billing department. I went straight to the pharmacy and bought my drugs. Even with a new, high-powered prescription anit-inflammatory drug, I only paid 31 euros. So for a total of 54 euros, I'm on my way to recovery.

Still not able to climb mountains or even take the dogs for a long walk, but I can feel and see the improvement. I've survived my first adventure in the French healthcare system. Best of all, I really liked the doctor and asked him to be my physician, so I'm all set for any further problems.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Adventure of French Healthcare

I started having problems with my left knee last summer at camp...a little stiffness, some pain, difficulty kneeling. Nothing to really get excited about. But the past 4 weeks, 'nothing' became a big 'something.' When I had to turn down 3 different invitations to celebrate New Year's Eve because the pain and stiffness in that knee made even hobbling around hard, I decided I better do something more than popping ibuprofen and propping up my knee on a pillow. I asked my friend, Greg, for a physician recommendation, and the adventure began. different is healthcare here! First difference: I called the number listed for my new physician. It rang and rang; no answer. Not even that annoying message like you get in the States. You know the one--'if this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911. If you've reached this recording, our office is closed. Push 1 if you need a prescription refill. Push 2 if you have a billing question. Push 3 if you want to make an appointment and maybe someone will call you back.' Perhaps I called the wrong number? Maybe the office wasn't open yet? I tried again. Second difference: the physician himself answered the phone! Where's his receptionist, I wondered? In my very best French, I introduced myself and said I would like to make an appointment with the doctor. He rattled something off in French, then again in English. 'You come this afternoon between 2:30pm and 4:30pm. I'll see you. If you make an appointment, it will be next week." Oh, okay. I called Greg and asked about this. Seems like the doctor has open clinic hours every afternoon. He advised me to get there right at 2:30pm to avoid a long wait. Armed with a book just in case, I arrived at 2:20pm; the waiting area was already full! Third difference: there was no receptionist, no 'take-a-number-and-have-a seat sign. Everyone just seemed to know where their place in line was, so I made a point to look at everyone already there, so I'd know when it was my turn. The fourth difference quickly became evident: there was no paperwork to fill out. I opened my book, began to read, and waited....

Come back tomorrow to read the rest of the story and discover the rest of the differences between American and French healthcare. Did I finally see the doctor? Did he want a copy of an insurance card? Who budged in line and did it cause a problem? Will I need a total knee replacement?

Monday, January 2, 2012


Have you broken your first New Year's resolution yet? Yeah, thought so! I gave up making resolutions years ago in favor of making birthday goals instead. I usually ended up not reaching those either! A couple of years ago I was challenged by a blog that I read regularly (Abbey of the Arts) to pick a word that resonates for me and that will define the upcoming year. I decided to try this instead of making promises that were so hard to keep. My 2010 word was Pilgrim; in 2011 it was Conviviality.This year's winner: Explore! Kind of a no-brainer since I'm already itching to get out and poke around the French countryside here in the Lot. But Explore can cover a myriad of topics, not just travel. I intend to Explore food and wine, the arts, history, spirituality, personal relationships, business ideas, and music to name just a few. One thing I like about the word Explore is that it gives me permission to just try things...I don't have to become an expert or even like what I'm doing, I just have to be open and give it a go, as my Brit friends would say. I'm adding Explore to my list of topics for this blog in order to track my progress. The best explorers, you know, always document their discoveries.You might wonder what this photo of my house (it's the little one, in case you wondered) and the Lot have to do with exploring. This is the starting point and this is where we're going....
There's a whole big world out there waiting to be explored!