Sunday, October 11, 2009

Troubadors, le Sidobre and the River of Rocks

Last Wednesday, M, D and I drove up to le Sidobre, an area east of Castres (22 miles/ 35 km from Soreze). On the way up, we stopped off in Burlats, the site of the court of the fair Adelaide of Béziers from ~1170-1199, a significant center for trobadors (troubadors) -- composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350).

In the area of le Sidobre 300 million years ago, molten magma was trapped several kilometers under the Hercynian Range of mountains. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, this range once "extended through western Europe for more than 1,860 miles (3,000 km), from Portugal, Ireland, and England in the west through Spain, France (Brittany, Massif Central, Vosges, and Corsica), and Germany (Black Forest, Harz) to the Czech Republic in the Bohemian Massif."

Over the intervening millennia, the mountains eroded to the point that, today, in this area of France, only the Massif Central, the Montagne Noire, and the Sidobre remain. During the period of the erosion, the magma was brought to the surface and cooled to form crystalline rock composed of mica, quartz, and feldspar -- granite.

Simply put, you could say that le Sidobre is a block of granite measuring 6.2 miles (10 km) in length, width and depth. The visible surface was cracked, while below the rock remains a solid mass. Runoff from rainfall, drainage and infiltration created a constant flow of water through the surface cracks and carved the boulders into remarkable shapes.

We walked up to Saut de la Truit (Trout's Leap), had lunch at Lac de Merle (Blackbird's Lake),

Lac de Merle

were dwarfed by the Peyro Clabado (Nailed Rock) and le Roc de l'Oi (Goose Rock)

and, my particular favorite, walked through le Chaos de la Roquette(the River of Rocks).

What a way to put things in perspective!

Thanks to Derek for sharing his camera when my battery died and for the use of some of his pictures in this post.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Le coeur vivant de la Cité

On my past visits to this corner of France, I have never spent much time in the center of Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France, after Paris, Marseille and Lyon, so yesterday my Soreze friend M showed me some of her favorite sights in the "living heart of the city".

Though construction on the original building to house the regional government in the center of Toulouse was started in 1190, the
current façade of Le Capitole (the Town Hall, above), built of the distinctive pink Toulousian brick, dates from 1750. Inside we visited les salles Gervais, des Illustres et Henri-Martin to view the walls and ceilings painted by Paul Gervais, Benjamin Constant and others, and Henri Martin (impressionist stylist) respectively.
Then we walked a few blocks over to Les Jacobins, church and cloister. The church is an amazing space with 92-foot-high ribbed vaults supported by “palmiers”, single columns whose ribs fan out resembling a palm-tree. The church was part of the former monastery of the Dominicans, an order founded in 1235 to fight the Cathar religion. It is the site of the final resting place of the remains of St Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican priest, theologian and influential philosopher of the 13th century.

As we walked back through the city to the metro station, the students from the University of Toulouse, first established in 1229 and the second largest in France after Paris, were out enjoying the sun.

I felt like I'd just started to get to know la Cité. I'll have to find the time to make the short drive from Soreze again soon.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vernissage de notre amie Anne Subercaseaux

Another event on the list of activities this past weekend was the vernissage of one of the ExP ladies of whom I had heard for some years, but only met this year, Anne Subercaseaux.

A vernissage is the name given to the opening of an art exhibit, usually a reception with the artist(s). According to the fr.wikipédia, calling this type of reception a vernissage (literally a varnishing) derives from the past practice of painters to lacquer their paintings after they were already hung for exhibit at the Salons of Paris, before the general public was allowed in.
The poster (l'affiche), above ( for the inauguration of the joint residence of the artists in Soreze) lists the three women taking part in the exhibit at the Atelier du Pont Vaillant, Catherine Huppey and Josée Catalo as well as Anne. Each one has a strong style very different from the others.

Above, Josée Catalo on the left with her sculpture center and Anne Subercaseaux, far right.

Josée's child's head sculpture with two of Anne's paintings from her
series "Reflections on Crossing" to the right of the sculpture.

More of Anne's "Reflections on Crossing" paintings with Josée's smaller sculptures in the front.

Catherine Huppey left and her paintings, right and below.

It was superb to see the powerful works of these three women on display together in one artful space here in our petit village.

Une autre partie de notre week-end culturel en France profond.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Les Journees du Patrimoine

Les Journees du Patrimoine were this past weekend -- the weekend every year during which everyone is encouraged to get out and get in touch with their history. It started in France but has been renamed "Les Journées Européennes du Patrimoine" and has spread to 49 countries.

Historic buildings which are usually closed to the public are opened up and tours are given and, in some locations, re-enactments of historic events are done in costume. G, N and I drove up to the Chateau Montgey, about 14km or a 20 minute drive from Soreze. We were given the tour of the outer walls, the courtyard, the chapel and the great hall, portions of which were built in the 12th, 13th and 17th century, by the daughter of the house.
There's a good picture of a model of the Chateau Montgey and a bit of the history here.

Back home, it was great to see Soreze teeming with families and children of all ages out to see the historical sights here in the village: l' Abbaye-Ecole, le clocher Saint-Martin, l'oppidum de Berniquaut.

But we had a vernissage to attend. More on that tomorrow.


Films, des châteaux, des tableaux, oh my!

By the time I was informed, they were seven days into the schedule of the Culture & Cultures Internationa Film Festival organized by Denis Piel and projected at venues in Soreze, Revel and Lampault. And yet I managed to see five of the films shown over the remaining eight days -- L'Amant by Jean-Jacques Annaud - Fr, Looking for Pallidin by Andrzej Krakowski - USA, Breaking Upwards by Daryl Wein - USA, Boatman by Gianfranco Rosi - It, and Love is Blind by Denis Piel - Fr/Aus. The interesting subject matter and quality of these films made me sorry that I hadn't caught more of the fifty-five films shown during the festival.

Last Saturday the festival wrapped with a gala dinner at the home, Chateau PADIES, of the festival founders, Denis Piel and Elaine Merkus. The festivities started with a showing, in a tent down by the pool, of a short documentary on the history and mission of the chateau.

The PADIES great white Pyrenees dog led us up to the chateau for apertif and dinner in the grand hall.
As stated at the film festival site online "CCiff, both a Film forum and Film Festival - is a unique platform committed to intercultural exchange and dialogue. The program is designed to immerse audiences and participants in...intercultural experience through screenings of substantial documentary and fiction films of excellence coupled with extensive dialogues..." The dinner served this objective very well. It was a gathering of local French and ExP residents, artists, filmmakers, volunteers working in the organic gardens of the chateau through the WWOOF program and at the film festival... and an interesting dialogue was had over dinner by all.

Amazing what a rich cultural life we have out here in the far countryside of France!
More on that in the next post.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Les Petits Villages

Here in the village on the other side, the weather is temperate, the food and company good. Last night G threw a birthday bash thé buffet for her visiting friend N, with J, A and me as invitees. It was an intimate expat event here in the center of our southern French village, Soreze.

This morning, four American ExP ladies were off to the vide grenier ("empty the attic") sale in Massaguel (population ~400), a village five times smaller than Soreze (pop. ~2,100). Half the fun of running out to the vide greniers is getting familiar with the villagettes hidden in the surrounding countryside here, following one of the many black and white signs that point off into the fields which you've wondered about as you passed on the country road, and finding another small community gathered around a tiny church and café et bar.

We brought back our choice items and took Gwen (one of the ExP ladies) back to Durfort (pop. 270), the aincient village just over the hill from Soreze, known for centuries for metal work powered by the river Sor, which sends its tendrils through the village.

G kindly invited us in to see her house, La Cascade, so named for the little waterfall which spills through the sluice gate in the stream facing the back of the house.

Behind the house is a lovely terrace overlooking the stream.

Just below, on the stream bank, a green figuier stood dipping its roots, drinking deeply and plumping its fruit to bursting.

Warm ripe figs, indeed!

Thanks to all the ladies for sharing.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Daughter D'lish

I've been lucky in having a sumptuous visit from my daughter Deva this summer. She came out from Brooklyn at the end of July and will be here, with her little dog Boo, staying at my house in the Burg until I leave for France on Sept 9 and even after I come back in October, as she's decided to stay around California for awhile.

We went up to LC's for berry picking at the patch down the road

and made a very berry pie.

Dee and Boo got to come to the B'day dessert buffet that the Scrambled Eggs, my writers group, threw for me in my own backyard.

Then the Dear Daughter took me out to the Ravenous Cafe for a birthday dinner. We rode there on our bikes. As we were going out the back way to saddle up for the ride home, three gentlemen at the backyard bar offered us a nightcap (we declined) and sang a chorus of Happy Birthday.

And we spent four relaxing days together at our favorite cabins on the Eel River...
but those are pictures for another day.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

WillBe Writers Camp

Just back from the northlands of Washington state and from ten days of writing, reading, listening at the Whidbey Writers Workshop. I had the working camera, so I promised my traveling companion LC that I would post some pictures starting today.

Strait of Juan de Fuca

One evening after dinner at the workshop, LC, CW and I walked up to the lighthouse at Camp Casey and along the bluff looking out onto the strait just before dusk. Wikipedia tells us: "The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a large body of water about 95 miles (153 km) long forming the principal outlet for the Georgia Strait and Puget Sound, connecting both to the Pacific Ocean. It provides part of the international boundary between the United States and Canada." Here's a map to put it into context.

With the wide blue waterscape spread out before us, it seemed like we were walking along the edge of the world.

It has been a long summer vacation from ye blogge. I will try to fill you in with pictures over the next week or so.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Day in the River of Time

We've been having lovely summer weather, which means not too hot since our first spate of 100-105°F days a couple of weeks ago. My friends P and C and I planned an evening get together at P's house on the Russian River, since it was hot enough to get in the water. The evening hours are our favorite time, since by that time most of the beer drinkin', canoe paddlin', water splashin' types have gone home and the river reverts to the ownership of the local folks, the fish and the fowl.
P swims all the time, so she is first in the water. C and I follow a bit more slowly. The water level is down this year, already at August levels due to low rainfall and water management policies. There is a small channel deep enough for floating and swimming that persists at our swimming spot. We slip in and and float down river to the point, then turn and pull against the weak current to our entry point. The warm air moves cooly against our skin as we scrabble over the gravel to our warm towels on the bank.

After a tasty potluck dinner in P's yard watching the light change on the face of the river, we move inside for fruit and ice cream, tea and a look at what the near future might bring. It is in these small rituals that our long friendship is tended and nurtured.

I give thanks for Dear Friends near and far.

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