Monday, February 24, 2014

Loc Dieu and Mona...Who?

Abbey Loc Dieu
With the recent release of the Hollywood film, "The Monuments Men," I've been thinking a lot about art and World War II. Which naturally led me to think about a 12th century Cistercian monastery near here. You don't see the connection? Let me tell you the story...

The Abbey Loc Dieu, founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, sits at the corner of three Rouergue departments: the Lot, the Aveyron, and the Tarn-and-Garonne. It's the oldest monastery in the area.As is typical of Cistercian monasteries, it is far off the beaten track, isolated and hidden, but with easy access to both water and agricultural land.
Where Mona Lisa smiled for a few months in 1940

In 1939 its isolation brought it to the attention of the administrators of the Louvre. Already they were beginning to crate up and move some of the priceless art housed there in anticipation of the war with Germany. Some found its way to the Loire valley chateaus, but in 1940 when Hitler's 'Phony War' ended with German troops rolling into Belgium and eastern France, the curators of the Louvre began their packing in earnest. The Loire Valley was still too close to Paris for comfort, so they hurriedly devised a plan to transport 3500 works of priceless art further south. The roads were a mess as thousands fled Paris and everything was in short supply. They requisitioned the biggest trucks they could find to transport such huge works of art as 'The Wedding Feast at Cana' by Veronese which measures 33 feet by 23 feet! One large truck hauled nothing but gasoline to fuel the others in the convoy. 3120 paintings and sculptures arrived here at the Abbey Loc Dieu between 5 and 17 June 1940 among them the world famous 'Mona Lisa,' who made the trip in her own personal car! Not only did the church house the artwork, but also the over 250 people who arrived with it to care for the pieces. Many lived in the old monks' quarters which had become an elegant manor house over the centuries, while others were housed in the nearby villages of Memer and Valhouries.
After WWII, trenches were dug around the foundation of the buildings to drain away standing water and alleviate the dampness problem inside.
Alas, Mona's visit to the monastery lasted only a few months. It was determined that both the church and manor house were too damp for the paintings. No one wanted to risk damage to them even though the monastery seemed like the perfect hiding place. Everything was re-packed and moved. The 'Mona Lisa' went to nearby Montauban for the duration of the war. But she hasn't been forgotten in Loc Dieu. One room in the manor house is dedicated to her and her brief stay at the Abbey. She is undoubtedly the Abbey's most famous visitor!
The room dedicated to all things Mona Lisa
I'll be back in my next blog post to tell you more about the history of the Abbey and its beautiful park.

If you are interested in learning more about how art from the Louvre was transported and hidden during WWII, here are links to two excellent sources: "The Rape of Europa" a scholarly book detailing Hitler's war on "degenerate" art and the theft of thousands of pieces of art during the German occupation, and "Rescuing da Vinci" a book of fascinating photographs of the art from the Louvre being crated, transported and hidden.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Magic Number is Eleven

This is the closest I could come to 11 from my numbers archive!
This is an election year for all the communes in France. I've linked to a Wikipedia entry about communes if you're interested in their history and how they govern, but I'll tell you that they are the lowest level of government in France with no real equivalent in the United States. My tiny village of Cadrieu is a commune; so is Paris! my village there must be 11 elected council members to govern the commune. Elections are held every 6 years and every time the village holds its collective breath. Will there be enough candidates on the official 'list' for election day? If not, Cadrieu will be absorbed into Cajarc and lose its political identity forever. Up until last week, it wasn't clear if anyone would step forward and stand for the 5 vacant positions. But I'm happy to report that the list has been filled and Cadrieu has once again dodged the bullet of political anonymity. What's even better is that half the new recruits are young. (i.e. under retirement age!) That means that Yannick and Didier will be joined by Raoul, Bertrand and Jacques' son whose name I can't remember, as the young blood on the council. What they lack in experience, they make up for in energy. And by working with older members they are gaining valuable experience for running the village in the future.

Jacques has agreed to take on the role of Mayor. This is always a touchy subject. While it's not an official rule, tradition has it that the Mayor must be 'from the village' or born here. Outsiders/newcomers are welcome to sit on the council, but the Mayor must be 'old village'. If he or she can trace their family back a few generations here and is a farmer, it's even better.

So, it looks like the formal vote the end of March is just a formality for Cadrieu. We know who will win, and we actually know all the candidates...they're our neighbors! I love local politics, don't you??

Thursday, February 20, 2014

TV'd Up!

I gave up my TV in 2009 before I spent the month of September in France. I really haven't missed it much. I can watch DVDs on my computer and entertain myself with internet news, TED talks, and YouTube videos. I read a lot as well. However, I decided this winter that it would be nice to watch a little TV during the long, dark evenings. Greg loaned me a Sky box (for British TV) that he doesn't use and I bought a simple flat screen TV and no-frills DVD player on Amazon. After weeks of waiting and rain delays, everything is finally completed. I'm TV'd up!

I get some channels from the UK (one that shows a lot of American sit-coms like "The Big Bang Theory" and "Rules of Engagement") and after hooking up a portable antenna I found here in the house, I also receive some French stations. And wouldn't you know it...after buying a TV from Amazon, I won an almost identical one on the tombola drawing at the village Telethon in December! Within days, I went from no TV to two.

The program you see in the photo is "Time Team." A group of British archaeologists wander the UK excavating interesting sites. This show was about a 12th century nunnery built on the grounds of a 19th century estate. In fact, two of the interior walls of the existing manor house were part of the medieval church that stood on this spot 500 years ago. Just my cup of tea!
Seal of the medieval nunnery

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Grey Days

If someone asked me to describe this winter, I'd say simply "wet and grey." Almost every day, it's been the same...rain, low clouds and fog, drizzle, grey skies. I'm doing some reading about Celtic spirituality in preparation for my trip to western Ireland the end of August. In a book by J. Philip Newell, I found a poem/prayer by George MacLeod, founder of the modern-day Iona community. Here's an excerpt that seems particularly significant given all these grey days...

Show to us the glory in the grey.
Awake for us Thy presence in the very storm
till all our joys are seen as Thee
and all our trivial tasks emerge as priestly sacraments
in the universal temple of Thy love.

(George MacLeod, The Whole Earth Shall Cry Glory)

Find some glory in the grey. Enjoy your Sunday!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Taking advantage of a day without rain (finally), I grabbed my new camera and set out for some photo practice. I blogged yesterday about my destination, St-Cirq-Lapopie. On the way there, I stopped here across the river from the little village of Larnagol. Although the sky was still blue, high, thin veils of clouds were beginning to form. What I noticed when I put these images on the computer was that those clouds lent very diffuse light to my photos...they reminded me of old-fashioned, hand-tinted photo postcards. I don't think I've ever managed to capture this kind of light with my old camera. It was an unexpected surprise with my new one!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Off Season in St. Cirq

St-Cirq-Lapopie is one the most beautiful villages in France. In the summer it's literally teeming with tourists. If you want to see its pretty medieval streets this empty, go in February! Of course, nothing's open, but you can wander and take photos to your heart's content.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Lavender Door

Last Monday when I was out and about taking photos of waterfalls and snowdrops, I stopped in the small village of Felines to photograph the church. I thought the lavender door was unusual. Not sure if it was this color originally or if it has faded over the years to this pretty color. Today a fellow blogger posted a photo on FB that she took in Paris of a purple and green door. You can check out her lovely blog full of the Paris photos here: Paris Thru My Lens. Her photo reminded me to post this. Thanks, Virginia!

Friday, February 7, 2014


I practiced taking photos with my new camera this morning when Lucie and I walked. It was gray and cloudy, so I didn't come up with really brilliant shots. It was more about learning where all the buttons are and when to push what. I have it set up in AV mode just like my old camera. I'll shoot in this until I get a little quicker, then try to learn what other things I can do with this lovely camera. Like shoot in RAW. What the heck is that?? Looks like a steep learning curve for this old dog trying to learn new tricks!!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Happiness is...

I've been jonesin' for a new camera as long ago as early 2009 when I bought my current one. I almost upgraded then to a DSLR, but decided the little Canon PowerShot SX110 IS met my needs better at that time. I wanted something small and lightweight that I could stick in a pocket or my purse when I traveled. It took fine photos; I can only say good things about it.

But still I yearned for an upgrade. I loved my old Canon 35mm film camera with interchangeable lenses. I wanted something comparable, so I could kick my photography up a notch. After looking at prices for entry level DSLR's, though, I'd pretty much decided it wasn't worth spending that much money on a hobby. Two things changed my mind. The first was that within the past two weeks, I've been asked by two different people if they could use my photos for publication. Hmmm...maybe this is more than just a hobby? And then Monday afternoon as I was photographing those beautiful snowdrops, I suddenly got a 'lens error' message on my LED screen. Ever since then my PowerShot makes a clicking noise every time I turn it on or off. Very ominous. I decided that was a definite sign, came home and ordered what I think will be my 'forever' camera...this gorgeous Canon EOS 600D with an 18-135mm lens. I am beyond thrilled with it. Haven't take a photo yet, but just holding it in my hand feels great!

Only negative is...none of the four instruction books that came with it are in English! Time to get out the French dictionary.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Waterfalls and Snowdrops

I felt like a kid let out of detention yesterday! After days and days of rain, clouds, fog, and mist, I awoke to clear blue skies yesterday morning. Finally a day to enjoy the outside...yippee! I threw a pair of jeans, my boots and my camera into the car when I left for Caylus to attend our biweekly worship service. After the service and  the obligatory coffee and cookies, I drove up the Bonnette Valley. (And yes, that was me you might have seen changing her pants by the roadside. I've become so French..I figure if the guys can pee on the roadside, I can change into my jeans!) My goal was the waterfall you see here. With all the rain, I knew it must be huge, and I wasn't disappointed. It was thundering! I was 'misted' even standing on the road to take these photos.

It's almost hard to believe that by summer, the waterfall will become not more than trickle and that children will swim and splash in this pool.

My second stop was along the Seye River at the Abbey Beaulieu. I knew from FB reports by a friend that the area across the river from the Abbey was rich in snowdrops. She was absolutely right...
There were thousands of the tiny white flowers blanketing the ground under the trees.
Aren't they pretty?
It's a good thing I went when I did. By evening it was raining....again.

Flowers aren't the only interesting things at the Abbey. Check this post out.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The West Wing

I haven't had a TV since 2010. Actually, that's just been fixed, but that story is for another day. I've spent the past few years doing a lot of reading and watching DVD's on my laptop in the evening. Even before I gave up my TV, I didn't watch a lot of network stuff; I was kind of addicted to HGTV. So when my friends Maggie and Bill very generously offered to let me borrow their DVD collection of the entire "The West Wing" series, I really didn't know what a treat I was in for.

Watching the series, sometimes two or three episodes a night, in its entirety, straight through was a unique experience in television viewing. I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know...the series was absolutely superb! The writing was flawless, the dialogue snappy and real. The political and world issues tackled in every episode are as timely today as they were when the series aired from 1999-2006, maybe even more so And the show was a lesson in civics for me. I found myself more than once logging onto the Internet to get answers. When's the last time you thought about things like cloture, the rules of the filibuster, and who is in the line of Presidential succession after the VP and Speaker of the House?? Watching as I did, I really became immersed in the characters which were very well developed. I feel as if I became friends with them all especially CJ, Josh, Donna, and Toby. Even some weeks after finishing season 7, I find myself wondering if Danny and CJ are happy in California, if Josh and Donna are making their complicated relationship work, and whether Jed and Abby Bartlet are surviving retirement and each other! And don't even get me started on Jimmy Smits...oh la la!

One surprising thing I noticed in this series was the music. I don't remember ever being so drawn into music in a TV dramatic series. I've shared the final scene of the final episode of season 3 here. This is the song that first drew my attention to how effectively music was used to enhance the drama. Maybe I noticed because I cried all the through these last 5 minutes of the program!

If you're interested in other music from the series, here is a link to the site I used to purchase and download various songs to a playlist on my computer.