Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What have we ear?

Well we have arrived and almost immediately the excitement has begun with lots of bits of interesting pottery from all over the place including South Arabia and Nubia as well as Egypt. Our wood specialist has found some ebony fragments and most exciting of all we have a new and apparently un opened cave! COOOOO. Apprently it smells very musty!

In my little ceramic corner of the world I have thousands of bits of big storage jar and also this very odd looking thing which might come from a jar called a Bes vase showing the face of the god Bes. He was popular with ordinary people and though to ward off evil. Mind you I only have one this bit which might or might not be an ear...erk.

Lots of other interesting little problems are occupying me so this is all for now, but as you can see the weather is great and the sky is blue watch this space for more about the cave. It could be very exciting. It takes ages to upload pictures so please be patient if there aren't many.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A new post hmmm. This blog seems to be a lot about France and not much about Egypt so here is an update just in case you were wondering what had happened to the archaeology. Season opens on 28th December and will run for about three weeks. We will begin by processing the buckets left over from 2007. These are likely to contain a lot of big bits of storage jar but I am holding out hope that there might be a bit more Cretan cup lurking in the bottom of a bucket. Well, we will see what transpires. How exciting. Our Cretan pottery is one of the oldest pieces ever found in Egypt...hoorah.

As for the picture, well I hope to be doing a bit of snorkeling and diving in my time off. At a balmy 28 Celsius it should be just right for a bit of relaxation after work.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Grand Day Out

Almost our last day so a la Wallace and Grommet we decided to have day out instead of being sensible and starting the packing. We have been promising ourselves a visit to the Chateau Colombier near Rodez; so after breakfast in St Antonin off we went. It was an amazing experience. They have a Medieval zoo and the Chateau itself looks like a film set inside and out. According to the information it has been in the same family for 30 generations and at least since the 12th century. A lot of work has gone into making it a fascinating place to visit.

The Kitchen has been reconstructed and there were all kinds of herbs and plants on display so the smell was headily wonderful. Look at that fireplace, just right for roasting a pig.

I definitely think this looks as if it should have come from the set of Lord of the Rings or similar.
Any minute now a trumpet will sound and someone will declare that their Lord is without. Without what? I can't help asking. There certainly is a lot of history round here even if it is rather modern. (Only a little Egyptologist's joke.)

This, however, was no joke. Have you ever been this close to a lion? Fortunately it was asleep, just like a great big Amelie. To be honest there was also a thick double pane of glass between us, still it was an impressive sight. We also saw bears, wolves, deer and other more domestic animals all associated with Medieval imagery. We especially liked the brown cows which come from this area. They still had their large and formidable looking horns and each one had a wonderful bongly bell with a different note.

It was obviously bears' snooze time. Never mind being a Medieval icon! Check out those paws.

Finally a view of the Chateau and the formal garden which contained a lot of medicinal plants as well as roses from Damascus which were originally brought to France in the Medieval period by returning crusaders. They had a wonderful scent. All I can say it that it was much better that rotten old packing. Tomorrow, however, we shall pay for our profligacy but not until we have been out to lunch. It's a tough life!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Showers and Lightning

One of Spike's favourite occupations is to fight the shower fairy. The plug hole makes a very compulsive gurgling sound and obviously whatever it is that causes it has to be captured and dealt with. The metal drain cover also makes a most appealing clanking noise especially on the tiled hall floor outside the bathroom. Yesterday morning he had to be evicted from the shower by four different people but that wasn't the end of his troubles.

A minute or two later the promised thunderstorm finally arrived with a bang, quite literally; causing Spike to arrive in our room at top speed and fluffed out like a bottle brush. The storm rolled around overhead and as you can see Spike was less than impressed. We were all a bit less than impressed a while after that, when there was a huge explosion with fizzling and a strong smell of ozone. It was pretty clear that something had been hit.

Unfortunately further investigation showed that it was the church spire which had taken a direct hit. Slates were scattered about all over the pavement.

The hole is pretty big but hopefully the insurance will cover repairs. Our house is insured against lightning strikes, I've always thought this was a bit of overkill but now I'm rather glad that it is. At least the storm has cooled the weather down. Yesterday morning there was a beautiful soft autumn mist and it was deliciously cool. Spike and Amelie both like it a lot more and there has been a lot of hurtling up and down the stairs. They like us will miss being here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Random stuff from Verfeil

All sorts of things have been happening lately the most joyous being a long visit from our friends Joey and Richard. Lots of food has been eaten, wine drunk and games played amid a great deal of hilarity.

One vital aspect of most visits is trips to the local bakers for those all important breakfast croissants. The bakers in Verfeil is fantastic and sells the most delicious apple tart as well as all the bread type things you'd expect. They also stock groceries and other necessities. The sweet bakery smell takes me straight back to my childhood and I'm pleased to think that these small shops are still holding out in corners of rural France. Indeed they are important vectors for information. If there is a funeral to be held in the village there is always a notice up in the bakers telling you where and when. I also love the fact that they stock a fizzy lemonade which rejoices in the name of Pschitt. Not a comment on the quality but the sound the bottle makes when you open it!

Of course if you are a cat and it is 40 degrees, all this is irrelevant and all you want to do is kip.

And if you know who bashed into our car and drove off please let us know. It happened in the supermarket car park in Negrepelisse. Never mind the dynasty which runs the bakery also has a garage directly opposite the bakers shop and M. Guibert is going to do his thing to fix us up.

After all the aggro with the car here is a soothing picture of the waterfall at Salles La Source a stunning and soothing place to spend a few minutes.
Finally behold the handmade bunting care of the divinely talented Joey Ludbrook
All the neighbours were fascinated when it went up...what are the mad English up to now? They cried. But we explained that it was all the fashion in England and that we were celebrating the arrival of our dear friends so I think it was OK although John thinks they look a bit like knickers...Oh dear. I think they look great and you can see the plants doing well. The wisteria is also doing well especially now that Richard has helped John cut it back a bit, much to our neighbour Robert's delight.
Finally for your delectation all the excitement of Sunday's newspaper, La Depeche de Tarn et Garonne.
The nudist campsite has had less visitors this year than last, is this because the campers are becoming more sensitive to the cold?
The old peoples' club in Valence D'Agen will be dining out on vegetable soup, scallops and white fish in white wine sauce, roast chicken with onion marmalade, Provencal tomatoes, braised artichokes, cheese and finally pear tart. YUM.
There is a dog exhibition taking place all day in Lauzerte where there will also be a dog beauty contest.
Montauban Rugby club is in trouble, "stuffed again"!
And finally in Castelnaudary today is the tenth Cassoulet festival.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


On Sunday evening it was the annual St Antonin fireworks display at the end of their summer festival. As usual it was a fantastic display and even the rather damp weather didn't deter people from coming along. In the end the rain stopped just in time and although it was rather damp sitting on the wall by the river it was worth it to see such a magnificent display. I love fireworks and the St Antonin ones are always good. They festoon the bridge with them and all the lights are reflected in the river. Each time there is an explosion the noise echoes around the river valley and bounces of the cliffs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Culinary Activity

As you may know I'm addicted to French cookery magazines especially Cuisine Actuelle and Maxi Cuisine. They always seems to have such interesting and creative recipes like jelly of fresh Charentais melon with red fruit coulis, and savoury beef crumble with hazelnut topping and couscous with goats cheese and apple and courgette flowers stuffed with chicken mousse and fried in tempura batter and white bean soup spiced with cumin and vinegar and filo pastries stuffed with herbs garlic and goats cheese and... stop me now before I expire from hunger. Every time I get a magazine I end up cooking for days which is fun when you have time and wonderful ingredients. Anyway one of the recipes was for a quiche made with a commercially available fresh soup containing leeks and scallops. Here is the result made with olive oil pastry and I hope you'll agree that it looks pretty scrummy, it even looks a bit like the pic in the magazine so there you are. Admire and when I can find the magazine again I'll blog the recipe. I'm sure you could use any soup.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Operatic High

All through July and August there is wonderful music going on throughout the region. One of the best music festivals is the Offenbach Operetta held in the beautiful village of Bruniquel. Founded by a local man Frank T'Hezan it is a wonderful opportunity to hear world class singers having fun in a relaxed and lovely setting. M. Hezan is a highly accomplished and professional tenor who specialises in operetta and especially Offenbach. He gets some friends together and every year they perform an Offenbach operetta in the grounds of the castle at Bruniquel. Normally you'd have to go to opera houses like La Scala or the Opera Bastille or Sydney to hear these folks sing but this is their summer holiday and although they are completely professional there is a real sense of holiday joy about the proceedings. Learn more about the festival at

The first thing that usually happens is a concert in the near by town of Caussade. This kind of introduces the singers and lets them perform some party pieces. Its always amazing.

The concert was supposed to start at 6.30 and at 6.40 the man arrived to tune the piano. He did it with considerable aplomb in front of a full audience. Also we got to admire his legs.

By 7pm we were ready to begin with the wonderful Till Fechner, one of the top Rossini basses in the world. He sang from Faust and was a gorgeously devilish Mephistopheles.

John-Louis Meunier followed up, he's a tenor...can you tell? He's also a wonderful, talented singer and actor.

Philippe Ermelier sang General Boum's song from the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein which was this year's production. He has a fab baritone sound and is hilariously funny. I think you can see here that he was having a good time. The children are from a local music school and some are also the children of the performers they helped to form a chorus and were pretty good. Great to see children being involved.

The guy in the white is Frank T'Hezan the powerhouse behind it all, an all round star, singer, actor, comedian, producer of the show and a bout a zillion other things. Here with Maryline Fallot singing from La Perichole. She played the Grand Duchess and blimey she was good. The concert was very enjoyable with some fine singing and lots of fun. The next pix are from the show itself.

Here is Maryline Fallot with Frédéric Mazzotta another tenor, (another gorgeous voice.) He is playing Fritz the soldier whom the Grand Duchess fancies, and who is promoted from Private to General in about 2 minutes flat!
Maryline Fallot, giving it some welly on top of the wooden canon which formed a vital part of the set and which was made especially for the event.

Recognise these three? Philippe Ermelier, Jean-Louis Meunier and Frank T'Hezan plotting Fritz's downfall. That really is M. Meunier behind those glasses, he also affected an hilarious lisp for the occasion.
Voici le sabre de mon pere. Excuse my French but these words form a refrain which runs through the entire opera, here is my father's sabre. The duchess gives the sabre to Fritz (we all know why), as she sends him off to fight. It's one of the best known songs from the show, and is often heard in France in concerts of light music when we got to this bit some members of the audience were even trying to join in. Offenbach is a bit like G and S in France. Actually La Perichole was being played at a theatre in London where they needed a curtain raiser and a certain Trial By Jury was written to fulfill that role. It went on to become the first of a long Gilbert and Sullivan tradition and was more popular in England than La Perichole!

Fritz ends up in his undies, don't ask why, you know what opera plots are like. It was all highly amusing. We had a joyful and diverting evening and it was rounded off with a late supper at which all the singers, as if they hadn't already done enough, performed cabaret style party pieces. Even the conductor sang and he has a great voice. We came home dazed with fun and good humour which stayed with us for days. We didn't get home until 3am. What a privilege to be able to take part in such a great event.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Outrageously cute cat pix

Despite the heat the pussies have been enjoying their holiday...

Amelie seems to think that John needs some editorial advice.

But all that work is just too exhausting.

Spike and Amelie seem to think that they are in some kind of cuteness contest and to be honest and although I'm biased I can't help thinking that they might win. Just look at those little faces!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Digging Holes

This may not look much, but it is our first piece of Cretan pottery from the site. Good Huh?

Min of the Desert (Min being an Egyptian god and not a character from the Goon Show!)

Exciting news, you may remember that this blog was started as a way of letting friends know what was happening on the dig where I work in Egypt. Then last year we couldn't dig but I have just heard that we will be working in 2009-10 over the New Year period. Flights are booked and I'm really excited especially as we've been asked to put on an exhibition at the museum in Cairo so I am busy selecting photos and writing text. At the top of the blog is a photo of the replica of an ancient Egyptian seafaring ship, designed by a naval architect and nautical archaeologist Cheryl Ward (who worked with us in 2005-06 and will be with us again in 2009-10). It is based on representational evidence & ship remains from Wadi Gawasis. It was built in Alexandria and was successfully sailed on the Red Sea for a week in Dec.-Jan 2009. Isn't she beautiful? Name: Min of the Desert. It's amazing to think that vessels like this one were navigating the Red Sea and almost certainly further afield about 3500 years ago. We know they were visiting areas outside Egypt because at the site there is pottery from Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nubia, The Levant and Crete (identified by guess who!?). All very exciting.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Missing Python

I just can't resist this headline in the local paper the Depeche du Midi.

"Un python bloque toutes mes locations"

Actually it's rather a worrying tale of a python which escaped it's tank during cleaning and is now living in the false walls and ceilings of an apartment block in the town of Montech. Periodically it appears and causes panic, although it is apparently harmless according to its owner. However, according to the paper it is spreading panic and frightening tout le monde. The poor man who owns the building has lost several tenants and you can't help feeling sorry for him but it's just such an arresting headline and not one you see every day.

The Depeche has great headlines and fantastic stories such as

St Sardos Hosts Giant Barbeque.

Hat Exhibition in Septfonds

Man Arrested For Driving Too Fast and Without A Licence

Punch Up At The Nirvana Nightclub (sounds like a good Raymond Chandler novel)

Aurelie and Guillaume On The Wings of Joy. (They got married)

Not to mention

Fireman Takes Pankcake Making Record! 2007 Pancakes in 11 Hours for Sergeant Garcia.

There's always something fascinating happening.

Wild Day Out

Isn't this this funkiest building you've ever seen? Especially as it is half way up a mountain and framing the mouth of the cave of Niaux. It certainly took our breath away. Inside the cave are some amazing paintings. The cave is world famous for its prehistoric paintings of bison antelope and horses from the Magdalénien era. That makes them about 12-13 thousand years old, that really is old! What I want to know is why is archaeology always so difficult to get to? Mind you a car park in a cave half way up a mountain is quite a sight to behold.

Here is my lovely waiting to go inside. Visits are strictly limited
so we booked onto tour. We had to make our way over the cave floor
for about half an hour using hand held lamps, (there is no lighting
in the cave). I have to admit I was starting to wonder what on earth
we were doing especially as I hate dark enclosed spaces.
Finally we arrived in what is known as the salon noir. The guide put
all the lights out, (John's hand is still bruised from where I grabbed
hold). Then she turned on her lamp and I could see why we
had bothered. There were amazing living drawings of animals.
Drawn with obvious skill and passion. They were breath taking
especially when you consider that someone had had to climb deep
inside the cave with only a flickering lamp. Whatever the reason
for making the paintings it must have been a powerful one.

Earlier in the day we climbed up to the castle of Montsegur, famous location of many a Grail legend. (Read Kate Mosse's book Labyrinth for a good idea of what might have happened here.) This is me at the top proving that I really made it, although it nearly killed me.

The climb was worth it for the view alone.

The inside was also pretty spectacular. Who is that perched on a rock thinking about life? Actually I think he's trying to get his breath back.
Here you can begin to appreciate just why were were so exhausted and what a challenge the climb was. You can just see the path setting off up the hillside and that was the easy part let me tell you. Kindly note the completely unshaded and totally vertical section at the top. I was very glad I was wearing my boots. Whose stupid idea was this? Err.. actually I think it was mine. Anyway it was definitely worth it.

Nowadays Montsegur is a small village famous for its spectacular castle but in March 1244 about 220 Cathars were burned alive here at the foot of the steep part of the hill. They were judged to be heretics by the Catholic church, although some believe that their faith represents a much moreaccurate picture of what the earliest Christian church was like. The Cathars had been persecuted throughout the Middle Ages because their beliefs about living a simple life free from worldly possessions had brought them into conflict with the Catholic church and the Kings of France. Montsegur became their last stronghold and it was heavily besieged at the end of the Albigensian Crusade which was basically a campaign against the Cathars. When the castle finally fell the remaining inhabitants were led out and burned at the stake. Legend has it that many went bravely and joyfully and that they sang hymnsand praise as they were tied to the stakes. Legend also has it that a few of them slipped away safely before the castle fell, carrying with them a great treasure, maybe even the Grail itself. Montsegur has often been associated with Grail legends and it certainly feels like a mysterious and special place. Walking back down the hill it was hard not to imagine the last Cathars being led to their death and to wonder why I was making such a fuss about the climb on a safe, sunny, 21st century afternoon. Prayers were said.

Driving away from the site it becomes almost impossible to imagine that people lived here, practicing their faith sincerely and courageously. The hill is so steep that the castle looks like a toy on top of the mound and although the buildings which are there now are of much later date the whole site has a presence which is hard to forget.
The whole day had quite an effect on me, and made me think a lot about what we believe and why, and the lengths we will go to to express our beliefs.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today's walk

After a busily domestic morning of laundry and waxing the kitchen table we went for a little walk. It is a beautiful day, not too hot, very clear and bright with a brilliant blue sky and lots of puffy white clouds. We strolled around the village checking things out and it made us realise what a lot of very wild wildlife there is in this area including lots of lizards, butterflies and many other insects. In particular we saw a number of stunning blue and black dragonflies like the one in my photo. They seem to be quite common in this area and every time I see one I think of a sonnet by Rossetti which was set to music by Vaughan Williams

Silent Noon (Sonnet XIX)
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,-
The finger-points look through, like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest far, as the eye can pass
Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun searched groves, a dragon-fly
Hangs, like a blue thread loosened from the sky:-
So this winged hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti