Monday, October 29, 2012

Getting Ready for Toussaint

Thursday is Toussaint/All Saint's Day, the national holiday when the French honor their dead. Chrysanthemums are the designated cemetery flower, and the sidewalk in front of the local florist is packed with potted varieties in every color. Even the grocery stores are selling them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

La Rentree*

School is back in session in my favorite Cajarc window!

*la rentree: literally 'at the return.' In France where everyone goes on holiday for the whole month of August, la rentree means back to work, back to school.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Foreign Encounters

Blogging has blessed me with some amazing contacts. My first 'blog friend,' Laury, got me here to Cadrieu. Another 'blog friend,' Vanessa, provided me with information to make this tiny dream come true...I've been published! Vanessa belongs to Writer's Abroad, an ex-pat writing group that publishes an annual anthology of poetry, short stories and non-ficiton written by other ex-pats. This year's theme is Foreign Encounters.The call for submissions went out this spring, and I submitted a piece that was selected for publication. While orginally written as a piece of 'slam poetry,' my entry entitled "Jet Contrails" was published as a very short work of fiction after I re-worked it a bit. I think I was channeling my inner Hemingway when I conceived the idea of encounters aboard a flight bound for Barcelona whose contrail I could see from my sunroom window early one morning. The anthology is available now at Lulu. All proceeds from its sale will go to provide books to children in third world countries. Here's what Lulu says about the book:
"An encounter can be a chance meeting, a planned get-together or even a confrontation. This collection of stories, non-fiction and poems features a variety of foreign encounters: with family, friends, lovers, animals, cultures, or just with one`s own prejudices and preconceptions. All proceeds from the sale of Foreign Encounters will be donated to Books Abroad."
All the authors in this anthology are ex-pats or former ex-pats who live all around the world. All the work of submitting stories, editing, and publishing was done on-line. But here's the really fun part. Vanessa, who has two pieces in this year's anthology, is hosting a book launch party on November 10th! There are 7 contributors living in our general area who will be present.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of Foreign Encounters, just click on any of the Lulu links, and you'll be taken directly to the order page. If you are somewhere other than France, scroll down to the very bottom of the page. There you'll find a place to select your country of preference. You can then use that currency for purchase. Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Friends

I drove Laury, Dali and Sammie Cat to the Toulouse airport very early yesterday morning. Laury has made the very difficult decision to close up the Chatette and return to her house in New Orleans for an undetermined length of time. Money and concerns for Dali's health were among the reasons for doing this. It wasn't an easy decision, nor one quickly made. She'll work there, and Dali can live out the rest of her life by Laury's side. Struggling with the logistics of the trip....morning traffic, parking, finding a cart for luggage and Dali's travel crate, checking in, negotiating all the regulations in French, etc. etc. occupied both of us. Suddenly, it was a quick hug and off Laury went through security! I meant to say a proper goodbye, maybe even snap a photo of the 'family' as they left. It's doubtful that I'll ever see Dali again unless I visit her in New Orleans (which might not be a bad idea, actually!). At 14 her life is coming to a close. As with my 91-yr-old father, I cherish each moment and know each goodbye could be the last. And while I anticipate seeing Laury next year sometime when she comes back to visit the Chatette, saying goodbye is still difficult. I didn't have a chance to do it properly, but maybe in the end, that's okay. It saved both of us a lot of tears! A bientot, my friend!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Fruit

Fall fruit from yesterday's afternoon market in Cajarc. Quince, greengage plums and an interesting, almost-brown-skinned apple.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Bit of Sibling Bonding

My brother, Jim.
I just returned from three weeks in the States where I finished up some business with my house and visited family. And where I had the 'opportunity' to do a bit of sibling bonding with my brother, Jim. It's a long story; let's just say that when your 91-year-old father comes up with a project for the kids, it's really hard to say no. Even when building a storage shed isn't exactly on your agenda for the weekend! Jim and I made the trip to Lowe's, found the perfect shed, bought it and headed home. The advertising propaganda said the assembly could be completed in 90 minutes. Right! We should have been suspicious of that claim when the forklift dropped the huge box into the bed of Jim's trusty pickup. I'm not sure who could assemble the thing in 90 minutes, but it sure wasn't us. It took all  Saturday afternoon and part of Sunday to get it completed.

Putting up the walls was the easy part.

Jim did all the hard work and most of the cursing. I helped as I could, but it really needed another guy...someone stronger, taller and less wimpy than me, especially when we put on the roof.  We laughed a lot, drank a little beer and listened to tunes. It was sibling bonding at its best despite the fact that we really would have rather been doing something more fun. The only thing missing was our brother, Walt, to make it a complete family project.
Doesn't look like it should be that hard, does it?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Prayers to the Virgin for a safe pilgrimage.
Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont church in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St. Jean Pied-de-Port

As a potential pilgrim, I knew I had to stop at St. Jean Pied-de-Port as we traveled through the Pays Basque. This is where the Spanish portion of the chemin begins. Many pilgrims start their pilgrimage here. Pilgrims arriving from the French part of the Way often stop and rest here before beginning the arduous climb over the Pyrenees into Spain. There is evidence of pilgrims everywhere.

If you've seen the Emilio Estevez movie, "The Way," you may recognize this bridge. It appears at the beginning of Tom Avery's (Martin Sheen) pilgrimage as he departs the city carrying his son's ashes. If you haven't seen it, you can read about it here in the blog review that I did some months ago.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Roadside Attractions in Basque Country

As we traveled through this beautiful landscape, we were frequently entertained...
by cows on the road with their bicycling shepherdess...
jai-alai courts...
shops offering regional 'goodies' like Basque cake.
colorful cafes and fascinating facades...
and soft cow eyes watching us.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eaux Bonnes

While there is evidence of human habitation in Eaux Bonnes dating from the Bronze Age, this little village was in its hey-day during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its hotels and apartments hosted such dignitaries as the Empress Eugenie who came here then to 'take the waters' in the thermal baths.. The buildings look very Parisian, and Edith and I could tell that it was at one time a beautiful and bustling village. When we visited, however, it was mostly shuttered and crumbling. Such a shame! The thermal baths are still open, though, as well as a few of the accommodations such as this one.

The casino is closed although part of it remains open as an art gallery for local artists and a cultural center. I spoke with the man responsible for an incredible collection of area butterflies and insects on display there. He told me that the full time winter population of this pretty village is only 50 people.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Music From the Heart

I fell in love with Basque music and specifically this song from one of the CD's I bought in Espelette. Erramun Martikorena has the purest voice I've ever heard! The song brings tears to my eyes.

Here's a translation of the haunting lyrics. It's from Google translate, so isn't perfect, but you get the drift that this is a lament for a fallen friend.

Upon the death of Xalbador

There was a friend, be strong and sensitive
transfigured by the wings of poetry
by to have arisen from a deep inner feeling. A singer who traveled places, transitions of solitude had taught in the pain to weave words modestly from the incorruptible truth of his inner being. (Chorus) Where are you, in which pasture shepherd of Urepel  ? thou hast fled to the flanks of the mountain, to the aftermath that remain in the memory. (Repeat) You released the song by demolishing the barriers eagerly seeking freedom beyond ties and limitations of the body. transforming your last breath in to the deeper into a violent cry of unfathomable truths that can not never be expressed. Where are you ...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I've been intrigued with Espelette pepper ever since I moved to France. I've found it for sale at my local grocery store, but at over 6 euros for a tiny jar, I've hesitated to buy it. So, I decided that one stop on our exploration of the Pays Basque would be the little village of Espelette where the peppers come from. As you can see from the strings of peppers hanging on this hotel facade, the beautiful red peppers are big business here. I bought a jar of pepper flakes, one of pepper jelly, and another of hot pepper paste. I especially love the has a smoky-sweet pepper taste with enough heat to make it interesting. And yes, the pepper was cheaper here at its source!

Unfortunately, it began to rain while we were visiting the village shops making us cut our explorations short. But not before I visited the music shop. A CD of the lovely Basque music was playing as I entered. I asked the proprietor if he could recommend a CD of typical Basque music as I frequently buy music as a souvenir of my tourist travels. He actually offered two, and I bought them both! One is by a group of local musicians; the other is a compilation of traditional Basque songs by various famous Basque singers. I loved talking with store's owner who shared that he speaks 5 different languages: French, English, Spanish, Basque and Portuguese. Which put me totally to shame. Why is it that most Americans are lucky if they can speak good English, much less another language??

Interested in what Basque music sounds like? I'll be posting a YouTube video of one of my favorite songs next time.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Basque Cemetery

The first thing you notice in a Basque cemetery are the unusual headstones...round and to me, very Celtic-looking.
The next thing you notice are the unusual symbols and writing on the headstones. In this area signs are written in both French and Basque. The symbol seen on this headstone is a Basque cross. Other designs are symbolic of the person, his life, and his profession.
Even the more traditionally shaped crosses carry Basque symbols.
And then you become aware that instead of the ceramic and silk flowers you see in other cemeteries, this one is full of fresh flowers. Living potted plants cover the graves with lots of other flowers actually planted in the ground around them.
The flowers on Jean-Pierre's grave were especially beautiful.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Beautiful Funeral

As Edith and I climbed the road up to the Church of the Assumption, it was hard to miss the fact that cars were parked bumper to bumper all the way up and parking was full in the square in front of the church entrance. Bells tolled, and we could see people standing on the porch. We took a seat on a stone bench outside the church yard. A funeral was in progress, and everyone from the village and the surrounding area must have been in attendance. The large church could hold between 200-300 people, and it was standing room only inside. As we sat and listened, we were treated to the most wonderful singing! The entire congregation sang Basque songs in beautiful harmony. The priest gave the homily/eulogy for the departed...a man named Jean-Pierre...also in Basque.Again, beautiful chorale singing and the bells tolled. I know it sounds strange, but attending this funeral as respectful observers was the highlight of our visit to Bidarray! I became immediately intrigued with Basque music.
As the service drew to a close, Edith and I moved to the cafe across the street and ordered a glass of wine. Sitting there, we watched as people filed out of the church. First came the choir, singing as they descended the exterior steps from the balcony. They were followed by a long line of men carrying flowers, and then by the rest of the mourners. The flowers were laid on the previously marked grave site in the church cemetery. Curiously, it appeared that well over three-quarters of the mourners were men. Jean-Pierre's grave was so covered by flowers that the inscription couldn't be read. I would love to know who he was, as he was obviously a beloved member of the community to draw such a big crowd. And why so many men??

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Church of the Assumption

Our focus during our overnight stay in Bidarray was this unique church and its surrounding Basque cemetery. Built in the 12th century, the church was 'modernized' during the 1600's. In an area dotted with white houses trimmed in either red or green shutters, the church's rosy stone topped by the ochre walls makes an interesting visual statement...

as does this interesting bell tower and porch which reminded me a lot of the faux facades of buildings constructed in the western towns of the American frontier in the 1800's.
There was a funeral in progress when we arrived at the church, but Edith and I were able to enter after it was over. We were blown away by the bright orange vaults and ribs overhead! Very different from anything I've seen before. I'll tell you more about the funeral and cemetery in my next blog post