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

Thursday, July 23, 2009

FAO Albi Cathedral

See I told you, a big pink building.

La Maison D'Amour ooh la la.

Now don't get all excited, it's the name of a medieval house in the village of St Antonin, so called because as you can see there is a very sweet kissy kissy couple carved over the door. I think they are adorable. Now what else has been happening, well Spike nearly ate a hornet and had to be rescued and then we spent all day yesterday working and had to go out for pizza to recover. By about 9pm it had cooled down to a polar 26 centigrade, I don't even want to think about the temp at lunch time, let's just say that working in your undies is not all the fun you might think especially when there is a hornet on the loose. Anyway by 9pm it was beautiful and we sat outside, we had great pizza cooked in the wood fired oven. It was wonderful.

On Tuesday we worked in the morning. I am delighted to say that my French planning for next year IS FINISHED. Hooray hooray thankyou fans it means I'll be much more sorted about teaching lovely French and so will be much calmer and less panic stricken next term (honestly). In order to celebrate we went to Albi to the Brasserie Vigan for lunch. We had terrine de poissons maison avec basilic et salad de poivrons ( no I'm not going to translate it; practice with your dictionaries) puis saute de canard aux olives, vin et cafe for the magnificent sum of 35 Euros. Then we pottered around the shops and the cathedral because we love Albi and I have been having lunch at the Vigan and pottering around the shops in Albi since I was about 5. We went into our favourite kitchen shop and lusted after all the beautiful things and funky gadgets then normality reasserted itself and we went to the Supermarket which was less exciting but very necessary as we were out of cat litter...lovely.

The cathedral in Albi is, like most of the important buildings and major towns in this area, made of pink brick. It is huge and sits there in the valley of the river Tarn looking like a rather lost ocean liner. Inside is a riot of coloured painting including a rather nasty Medieval depiction of heaven and hell, all rather interesting but a bit scary. Makes you wonder what some of those Medieval guys were on.
Anyway having walked about 300 miles today because we got lost on our ramble, I'm going to give this up now and have a nice hot bath in our fancy schmancy bathtub, especially installed for days when you have walked 300 miles through impenetrable woods and been pursued by mad animals of various varieties... of which more anon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Random Jottings from Verfeil

Market Day

Where's Asterix?

Ye famous sunflowers!

Lots of people having a good time in a barn, it was very noisy.

Err. Have another pint of wine dear.

It's official St Ant is one of the best.

Let me out!

It's too hot

Well, it hardly seems like a week since we arrived but quite a lot has happened, so where shall I begin? We had a quiet and uneventful journey although the cats were not too impressed with being in their cage for so long, but they we pretty good and only yelled to come out a few times.

It was horribly hot and stormy when we arrived and we had a huge code orange thunderstorm on the second night. It was so warm and humid no one knew what to do with themselves especially poor Spike who conked out on the rug. After the storm it was much better and we have had beautiful weather since then.

On Saturday night we went to our first feast in a field only because of the weather it had to be in a huge barn. You haven't lived until you've eaten yourself silly on salad and melon and ham and lamb chops and sausages and cheese and ice cream and bread in a tin barn filled with 400 very drunken people all singing and dancing and throwing ice-cream cartons. We sang the napkin waving song which we seem to sing at every summer feast and which obviously rouses great emotion but we have no idea at all what it's about! Still we enjoyed it and John waves a mean napkin! We were with our adopted family the Lafons and very entertaining it was.

The next excitement was the market in St Antonin, officially one of the best markets in France according to an article in this month's Cuisine Actuelle (a bit like Good Housekeeping). I thought the photo looked a bit familiar and it was! We bought lots of yummy stuff and the sunflowers were out in force.

Today we had our first walk, well more of a scramble up the side of a mountain really! Blimey, but we made it even though it was hard to tell where the path started and finished. We saw the remains of a Gaulish fortified village but there was no sign of Asterix! Altogether its been a busy week. Sorry the photos are in no particular order at the top. I was ina hurry!