La belle France. Yet even the most beautiful of gardens has both thorns and weeds. The group Eurocultures invited me to visit Camp Rivesaltes otherwise known as Camp Joffre where we would visit a memorial to some of its darker past. A very short distance from the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean, and just the other side of the tracks, lies the remnants of a concentration camp.
For over five years I have tried to share with you some of the beauty in my chosen home. However, this scar must not be glossed over nor forgotten.
Testimony to man’s inhumanity to man.
Though the walls are crumbling and little remains of the buildings, many artifacts are carefully preserved in the new climate protected museum.
Rivesaltes Internment Camp – Camp Joffre opened in 1938 and was not to close its doors until 1970. For nearly five years, I have shared with you the beauty, serenity and the joy of La belle France. Yet this beautiful Country has had much pain, cruelty and suffering inflicted on it and its people. Many of those coming through this camp did not originate in France but may have spent their final days here.
Life here is filled with surprises and delight and this morning was no exception. Hibou is the word for owl while Chouette is one with tufted ears.
When my neighbour, Gait, came out his door this morning he was face to face with a little visitor. He took a photo with his phone and stopped to show it to me on his way to walk his dog. He said it was still there and to take my camera so I shall share with you the pictures I was able to get.
He/she made no attempts to fly off and the agency that deals with bird rescue has been contacted. For the time being, Gait has placed it in the container and covered it loosely.
The owl did not seem to object to being petted or when picked up. However, we felt it best to let it rest now until the experts arrive and can assess the owl’s health. Being nocturnal, we assume it would be more comfortable out of the bright sunlight at least.
While I know little about owls, I find them fascinating and if there was a magical bird, it would have to be an owl. The first time I got this close to one was in my youth while staying in Canada with my grandmother. While walking through and undeveloped area on my way to the local swimming pool, there was a snow white owl perched on a fence. It took my breath away and I couldn’t wait to get back and tell my grandmother about it. Swimming took a backseat that day.
The feathers are so very soft… like a small chick.
Don’t forget to click on the photos to see them enlarged. No doubt there are some of you out there who know much more about these fascinating creatures and perhaps even the type of owl this is. If so, I would love to hear from you. I hope you have enjoyed this little visitor to our village.
“Here on the river’s verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to the right or left.” – Paul Cézanne
Walking through the mazes of Ille-sur-Têt, I am in the company of the master. I cannot help but be reminded of his devotion to his beloved mont Sainte-Victoire. Shortly after the opening of the Aix-Marseille line, Cézanne wrote to his friend, Emile Zola, on April 14, 1878 to praise the mountain which he viewed from the train while passing through the railway bridge at Arc River Valley. That same year he began a series of over 60 paintings of Sainte-Victoire.
I give you the above quote as I seemed to hear his voice as I hiked through Ille-sur-Têt. He kept telling me to turn my head and record what I witnessed. Ever since the first time I visited his Atelier in Aix-en-Provence, I take his messages to heart. Perhaps I was carried away with the camera or just maybe, I listened to the master. I could imagine his response to witnessing the wonder of Ille-sur-Tet and the great Mont Canigou in the background…
Orgues (Organ) of Ille-sur-Têt: The site was listed in 1981 as protected under the Act of 2 May 1930 regarding the protection “of natural monuments, and artistic, historic, scientific, legendary or picturesque sites.” Listing the site concerns outstanding features of the heritage whose preservation is of general interest. The procedure permitted to develop the site so that it could be more welcoming.
The approach to the site follows a trail of approximately 800 meters before entering the actual site. Shortly before the entrance you will find a scattering of metal sculptures. The art and their placement reminds me of the park grounds surrounding Atelier Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence.
This part of the Têt valley is called the Ribéral. The word means “river area” or “born from rivers” due to the number of springs and resurgences present on the territory. The site is situated in a valley wich is 2 km wide at the level of Ille-sur-Têt and surrounded by three massifs – to the south, west and north. Eastward the land widens out to spread gradually to the Roussillon plain. The foothills of Les Aspres lie to the south. These hills with their steep slopes are mainly composed of schists – an impermeable rock accounting for the dryness of the environment. To the south-west you can view the highest point of the Canigou Massif (2784 m) it is also known as the dog’s tooth peak and is the last high summit of the eastern part of the Pyrenees and an important symbol for the Catalan people.
The first stop facing the visitor centre is situated at the confluence of two torrents: the Retxe and the Piló d’en Gil. These rivers often run dry (as they were when I was there) but be aware as heavy storms turn them into raging torrents. Autumn rains are often violent, sometimes catastrophic, as there can be 150 to 200mm of water in only one day and there are records of 600 or 800 mm of water which is equivalent of rainfall in the Paris region in a whole year. The locals will never forget the month of October 1940 and the ‘aiguat’ (downpour/overflow). About 1280 mm of rainwater tumbled down over the region during three days. The Têtriver reached record levels of 700 times more than its average rate of flow or a discharge ten times more than the average rate of flow of the Seine in Paris. The level of the water rose up to 6m in Perpignan, over 80 buildings were destroyed and there were about forty victims in the department of the Pyrénées Orientales. While such events are rare, they are not exceptional and each generation remembers their ‘aiguat’. I have come to realise that this will not be a single post. Please join me again as we explore the magnificent Ille-sur-Têt. There is more information and lots of photos to encourage us to listen to Cézanne who turns his head searching for each new perspective and sees so much more. Bisous, Léa
Quatorze juillet is also known as la fête nationale de la France. English speaking countries often refer to this most important day as Bastille Day. The French National Day commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, as well as Fête de la Federation which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. The celebrations will be held in every city, town and village around the Country.
The evening was hosted by the Club de chasseurs (Hunters Club). No doubt the main item on the menu, sanglier – Wild boar, was hunted down by the members. The sanglier are known to do a lot of damage to the vineyards. The sanglier was presented in a sauce with white beans on the side. The entrée was a small plate of charcuterie (sliced meats) and salad was served after the fresh baugettes were passed around as well as bottles of red and rosé wine and plenty of water. Afterward more baugettes are passed out as is the cheese course. Ice cream and then a cafe´ rounded off the meal.
Up behind the chateau, the pompiers are busy preparing the feux d’artifice or fireworks. Once the fireworks are finished, tables and chairs are rapidly moved as the large round cement area is cleared for dancing.
Thank you for enjoying 14 Juillet with us here in France.
The first Sunday in June is the Bio Marché. It fills much of the area behind Chateau Bonnafous near Villeseque des Corbières. The setting is perfect for the event as there is plenty of room for all the vendors and space for a petting zoo, roaming musicians and even a bicycle powered carousel. I am particularly drawn to the carousel with its characters a coccinelle (ladybug), cricket, grenouille (frog) and a Grasshopper.
The arts are represented in many ways. There are woodcutters, basket weavers, jewelry makers, artists painting children’s faces and more.
The Ektara is an instrument which is new to me. It is both stringed and the base is a drum.
As always, there is more than covered in these photos. You can buy an organic meal and enjoy it in these beautiful surroundings. Handmade kitchen knives and other cutlery are available from local craftsmen. There is always something for everyone. Bisous, Léa
The artist Jean Savy has his roots in the Breton region of France. As for many of us born near the sea, it continues to call to him and to influence his work. From his imaginative totems which he has sculpted from treasures harvested from local beaches, to the under water experience that spoke to me from a number of his paintings, Jean has succeeded in capturing those illusive moments experienced beneath the waves. Snorkelling and swimming along the ocean floor have long been passions of my own. Friday night, I was transported back to this underwater world. Suddenly, albeit briefly, the powerful wind and chilling temperatures ceased to exist,
A self-taught artist who has lived in Paris (16 years) before moving to the south, he has exhibited widely from Paris to Albi. Jean is devoted to his art and each day is spent creating or gathering the tools he requires. In 1983 he set out to explore the genre of figurative art. Pleased with his early efforts, he continued. Jean’s technique, like his journey is very personal. Jean has not had any artistic education but has chosen to learn from experience. Auto didactics are at times, dismissed or marginalized. However, Savy joins the ranks of others such as Viollet-le-Duc (French architect and theorist), Frank Lloyd Wright, Noël Coward, Gustave Eiffel, Karl Marx and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to name a few.
Jean prefers to work alone. “I fill the white canvas by creating a form of relief and structure in white and afterwards I start playing with colours, colouring pigments and liquids of every sort – even water- on canvas.” Is it a game of chance? No. “I always make something that resembles me. You always project your sub consciousness on the canvas; it is a projection of it. I experience painting as a game of expression and of pleasure.”
On a particularly miserable evening after a trying day, I was transported back into the tranquil embrace of the sea and felt a sense of renewal.
If you are interested in purchasing some of his work, Jean Savy can be reached at email@example.com. Additionally, please be sure to click on the photos!
Ecole Primaire / Primary Schools: End of year extravaganza!
The French primary school covers the ages of six – eleven. This covers the equivalent of England’s school years of 3 – 6 and US grades 1 – 5. Subjects are divided into three main groups: 1. French, history, civic studies and geography 2. Science, math and technology 3. Physical education and sports, music and arts and crafts.
French law mandates Twenty-four hours of instruction per week. While some flexibility is given to the teacher as to which subjects to spend time on each week. A national curriculum, which was established in 2008, provides additional class time and individualized assistance for students at risk of falling behind.
The Ministry of Education states that the official direction of a French elementary education is: “to ensure acquisition of the basic tools of knowledge: oral and written expression, reading and arithmetic. Its objective is to stimulate the development of the child’s intelligence, artistic sensibility, manual and physical skills and sporting abilities. It provides grounding in the plastic and musical arts, and, in conjunction with the family, undertakes the child’s moral and civil education.” The parents will observe that a great emphasis is placed on the basic skills: reading, writing and arithmetic.
Is there an opportunity for the child to learn a second language, if so, would that be English? The teacher will choose the language that he/she wants to expose to her students. As a result, the child may learn the basics of Spanish one year and English the next. Also, the standard of language instruction will vary depending on the teacher’s skills in that area. Should your primary language be other than French, it is advised you not rely on the teacher to substitute teaching the child’s native tongue. On numerous occasions it has been found that English-speaking children educated in French primary schools quickly become fluent and articulate in French and not progress in the native tongue without support from the parents. Among the list of supplies each student is required to obtain each year is a notebook that will be used not only by the child but also by the teacher and parents. It provides another link or way to communicate. The parents are expected to check the notebook for messages and sign to show that they have received any relevant information. Requests for meetings with the teacher or school principal would appear in the notebook. For more information you may want to visit: http://www.education.gouv.fr
The photos here represent the end of the school year festivities in a small village. It does happen to be where I live. There are 60 children enrolled and six classes, six teachers and a number of assistants. In addition, there is a British woman who resides here and volunteers to assist teachers that choose to teach English. Each year, the entire village is invited to attend an event put on by the students. They will perform theatrical skits; recite poetry, sing, and dance. At the end of the festivities, the teachers are presented with floral bouquets. The schoolyard is filled to overflow each year and many are left to watch from the outside the school yard gates. Even villagers without children or grandchildren will come to support the students and teachers.