L’époque médiévale

Just outside the city of Narbonne, on the Mediterranean, is the beautiful beach village of Gruissan.  Besides being my favorite swimming beach in the area, it also plays host to numerous events such as this Medieval re-enactment .

For the fifth year there is on offer a weekend commemoration of  the Days of Heritage. Participants in the ceremony and most of the vendors that I observed were dressed in period costume. All kitted out with bows, arrows, crossbows, swords, shields and more were the twelve troops of riders, knights and of course their ladies fair and other members of their communities. The Trencavel family faced off the armies of the Knights of Templar. The Cathar or Albigensian Crusades lasted from the 11th to the 13 century. The Cathars having their own beliefs and not conforming to the dogma of Rome were tortured, slaughtered and believed to be annihilated.

The Days of Heritage is a vibrant pageant of troubadours, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters, twelve troops of riders, knights in full regalia. Across the estuary, spectators crowded in to watch the story unfold. It was clear as the re-enactment of   XIII century events that the loyalties of the spectators were with the Cathars and not with the Inquisitors. There were no cheers for the victors and the silence of spectators during the battle was erie.

Visitors quietly dispersed and moved into the center of the town where there was exhibition of Medieval life and vendors selling items related to the re-enactment and more. There was a woman making chain maille (a type of metal fabric used in several historical periods) and soldiers gave tips on sword-fighting.

Making Chain Maille

Bisous,

Léa

Deux demoiselles
Toy sized bows, arrows and shields for sale
Sword fighting tips
Simon de Montfort
Chain maille examples
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Meditations on visiting Atelier Cézanne

Entrance: Atelier Cézanne
Expo: Paul Cézanne 2006 Aix-en-Provence

Of all the things I have seen in my visiting and living here in la belle France, the most unforgettable  moments were spent in Atelier  Cézanne. A magical experience which left me in a trance like state with the hair standing up on the back of my neck. It was as if the master had just stepped out and would return at any moment.

After returning to California, a friend asked me to write a poem about Art and France. My first response is that they could not be separated. Art is the loom that the tapestry of France was woven upon. The following poem was the result of that request and has been published previously in an anthology.

“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.”  – Paul Cézanne

“There are two things in the painter, the eye and the mind; each of them should aid the other.”  – Paul Cézanne

“Don’t be an art critic. Paint. There lies salvation.”  – Paul Cézanne

Meditations on visiting Atelier Cézanne

 

One hundred years

After his death

The doors to his shrine

Open to the masses

I but a privileged pilgrim

A witness – I inhale deeply

The plethora of scent

Aging fruits

A wicker basket

Darkened by harvests of the past

A long shelf balanced

Across the western wall

Dusquenoy’s cupid keeps company

With the three skulls of death

Enlightenment radiates

From the northern exposure

A burst of light

Color spreads wantonly

I am humbled in each direction

Le choeur fantôme

Intone hymns of praise

Fragrances

Peaches, apples and summers long ago

And talk of the fields they have known

Stars they raised up to

Rain, love of sun

Dreams of freshness of an old apple

Home is Aix-en-Provence

Sainte-Victorie

He paints their secrets

With celestial vision

And transparency

 

En français

 

Méditation en Visitant l’Atelier de Cézanne

 

Cent Années

Après sa mort

Les portes de son sanctuarie sacré

Ouvrent au public

Pas un pèlerin privilégié

Mais un témoin

Profondement j’ai à inhaler

Un plethora de parfum

Dans un panier noirci en osier

À cause de

Plusieurs récoltes passées

Accompagné de trios cranes de mort

L’ange Cupidon de Dusquenoy a pose

Sur un rayon qui

À travers le mur occidental est allongé

Grâce à l’ exposition boréale

L’éclaircissement a rayonné

Un jet de lumière don’t la couleur

S’est répandue gratuitement en effet

Le choeur fantôme

Entonne l’hymne à féléciter

Les fragrances , les pêches, les pommmes

Le long des Étés

Sont connus des champs

Les étoiles au ciel despersées

La pluie, l’amour du soleil

Les reveries de la fraicheur d’une vieille

Pomme au passé

Sainte-Victorie d’Aix-en-Provence

Est son pays

Il peint leurs secrets

Avec la vue céleste

Et transparente

Traduit par Le Si Dong

Previously published in Flowers of love/fleurs d’amour Anthology Vietnamese International Poetry Society Volume XII 2008

Bisous,

Léa

Durban Corbières

My first view of the village. (Winter)

Next month I shall celebrate my fifth anniversary of living in la belle France. I arrived on October 31, 2007. The time has gone so rapidly and so much has happened. The first three months were focused mainly on house hunting. Never did I imagine it would take so long. It did give me the opportunity to see a number of different villages and types of house. While many interested me and one in particular in Les Martys which is situated in Montagne Noir (The Black Mountain) I was not convinced. Something held me back.  An agent in Carcassonne (friend of a friend) showed me a few houses but we struck out. Then one day as I passed her office, she waved me inside and said she had a property to show me. Maryanne navigated and I drove.

Something I had not told anyone was that I had a date set when I would start looking out of the region I was convinced was where I wanted to be. That day as I drove closer to the sea than I had considered (thinking it was out of my budget) I tried to keep an open mind to what she would be showing me. It was January 16, 2008 and the birthday of my youngest son. I had been sure that I would have been successful by that date.

Maryanne read her printout from the internet as I navigated the main road then later

View of the mairie (mayor’s office) and school from my front door.

some small windy roads. The thought in my head was that even if this turned out to be the house, I would never find it again. We arrived in the village, parked and walked about waiting for the seller to arrive and let us in. We parked by the stone wall which stands between the house and le berre de rivière (the river berre). Leaning over the ancient stone wall, I saw the bridge (shown above) and felt a tug on the heart-strings.

Monsieur Pollard in the grenier

We didn’t have much time to look about when Monsieur Pollard arrived and we began our look around the house. It is a town house with small rooms and spread over four stories. The top one being the grenier (attic).

The house had been empty for over two years. The structure appeared sound which I later had verified and while small it gave me two guest bedrooms which was more than adequate. The house is over 300 years old and the original tiles remain in all the rooms and stairs.

The kitchen contained a sink (typical of homes in France) and remnants of a chimney which could be replaced should one choose to do so. Any purchaser would have to kit out the kitchen on their own.

The village itself had the requisites that I had been wanting and more. There is the boulangerie, cafe/bar, post office. Yet there was so much more. The village has a piscine (swimming pool), tennis courts, a small market, flower shop, coiffeur, notary, bibliothèque (library) even a botanical garden. There is also a man who brings in fresh seafood every Thursday and a Wednesday morning market offering fresh produce, fresh goat cheese and more. The foyer hosts first run movies each Tuesday night and often additional films especially for the children. There is even a campground with cabins and facilities for those with tents. The tourist season here is quite busy so if you think that camping is something for you, I would urge you to book ahead. If camping is not your thing you can rent a house or stay in the small hotel over the bar. There are also several chambres d’hotes ( bed & breakfast).

Needless to say, if you like a place in the dead of winter, it can only get better. I made an offer the same day and it was accepted. Despite everyone telling me that it would take over three months to close escrow, two months to the day of viewing the house I had the keys and moved in three days later when my bed, fridge, stove and washing machine were delivered. Since then I have picked up a few more pieces. That feeling that I got when I first saw the village have grown. Getting to know the people has been the icing on the cake. I have never felt so at home anywhere.

Anne in the Salle de sejour/ livingroom
Flower shop/ cafe-bar/ restaurant

Bisous,

Cuisine/kitchen

Léa

View of the chateau behind my house from my bedroom window

Castelnaudary et Fête du Cassoulet Part II

The Brotherhood of Universal Cassoulet Academy ( La confrérie de l’académie universelle du cassoulet) an organisation dedicated to promote the dish and preserve its traditions.  Each year, during the festival, awards are bestowed upon those who have contributed significantly to the ideals of the organisation and its furtherance. Oaths are made, and awards presented.

All about the center of town the bars/café’s and restaurants are in overdrive preparing for the nights festivities. Last minute preparations for feeding thousands of people each night and sound checks for the numerous stages is a show of its own. Near the main stage is a tent with emergency medical workers set to help should anyone needs assistance.

It must be a daunting task to feed such large numbers at once. There are two large venues where dinners were being served. The one I attended was able to seat over four hundred people at a sitting. Last years total served over the six nights of festival were over 50,000.

Bon appetit!

The cassoulet was served on trays which included a small black-lidded  container filled with Pâté de foie de canard, large portions of crusty baguette,  dessert- tarte de pomme and un verre de vin rouge. The cassoulet dish was yours to take home and perhaps make your own cassoulet.

Traditionally, cassoulet would consist of a mixture of 30% meat (usually duck and pork). The pots in which the dish were originally prepared were made of clay and called cassoles. Tapered with a pouring lip to assist in remove excess fat. The tapered sides were created so that the top was the largest area where a crust could form leaving the remaining dish underneath to remain moist throughout cooking.

While cassoulet sounds like a rich and heavy dish, it is healthy, filling and predominately a winter dish. It is often served with a simple salad and fruit of light dessert.

The self-proclaimed origins of Cassoulet goes to Castelnaudary. During the 100 year war, legend has it, the people of the town gathered and prepared a cassoulet to nourish the defenders with each family bringing what they could to add to the pot. After the meal the enemy was routed and the town spared. If you should dine on Castelnaudary Cassoulet today it would have pork and duck confit.

Castelnaudary Cassoulet

Ingredients

1.3 lbs. Dried Haricots Lingots (white beans)

1.8 lbs/800 gr. bacon

1 kg / 2.2 lbs boneless pork cubed

The Beatlovs

1 kg/ 2.2 lbs boneless lamb cubed

8 pieces canard confit (duck leg   quarters preserved in duck fat)

1 garlic infused sausage cubed

1 pork rind

14  oz tomatoes diced

8 oz carrots sliced

7 onions diced

10 garlic cloves

2 oz olive oil

1 bouquet garni

3 whole cloves

thyme, salt and pepper

Note: If using dried beans soak overnight and rinse well. If using canned beans drain and rinse.

Place pork rind on the bottom of casserole dish/dutch oven and spread the beans on top. Layer the bacon then onions pricked with cloves and bouquet garni, 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the carrots. Season with salt and pepper, add enough water to just cover all ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Note: If using canned beans, cut simmering time in half.

As the beans simmer, fry pork and lamb pieces in a large skillet with oil. Add 4 diced onions and two minced cloves of garlic. Add thyme and layer with cut tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water, cover and simmer for an hour.

As the beans are done take out and discard bouquet garni and the onions (with cloves only). Remove the rind and cut into small cubes if you plan to put them back. Add duck confit and cubed sausage and all ingredients from the meat skillet and all liquid.

Mix together well and simmer for twenty minutes.

Emergency Services

Best served very hot and easily re-heated. This recipe will served eight very  hearty appetites.

Bon appétit

et

Bisous,

Léa

Headliners tonight: CALYSTA

Arles

Déjà’-vu is not an uncommon feeling even on ones first visit to Arles. As you meander the winding streets and find yourself at the foot of the colorful houses and enjoy a cafe in the squares, it is as if you have wandered into a painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

This captivating city perched on the Grand Rhône River bears the footprints of previous occupants, During the Bronze Age it was a Celtic settlement before becoming a Greek colony then in 49 BC the Romans settled in and its prosperity and political standing soared when the powers of the day backed Julius Caesar. Caesar had never experience defeat throughout his illustrious career. Marseille had made the error of not supporting Caesar choosing to back Pompey the Great. For this error in judgment, Marseille was seized and pillaged. It cost them the power that is associated with being the region’s major port.

Along with power came growth and within the next century it accumulated both an amphitheatre which would seat 20,000 and a 12,000 seat theatre. The citizens were invited to partake in the entertainment of the day which included chariot races and contests among the gladiators. Amazingly, these two structures are still intact and in use. However, the gruesome sports of the past have been replaced by events such bullfighting (in France, the bull is not killed) and concerts. Regardless of the change in what is offered there is still the air of excitement when the season begins again each spring. The venues are packed with locals and tourists alike.

 While Arles was memorably rendered by one-time resident Vincent van Gogh. Sad to say, not one of the 200-odd canvases Vincent painted here, in just over a year, remains in Arles, but the town has made him a starring attraction nonetheless. From the re-creation of his bedroom to exhibitions in the former hospital where he had his ear stitched up, there’s a whole lot of Vincent to enjoy. Don’t miss the Van Gogh trail, a walking tour of sites where the artist set up his easel to paint canvases such as Starry Night.

Bisous,

Léa