Friday, 19 August 2016

Bastille Day 2016

St Pierre Livron in France

After Margaret and Pascal’s wedding (It’s all I have to bring today) and exploring Bessines-sur-Gartemps (There goes the baker) Sally and I took the train further south to Caussade near Toulouse. Maggie Lancelot met us there and drove us through small towns snuggled in verdant countryside to her stunning house in St Pierre Livron. On four levels the structure of Maggie’s house is a slate-topped, rock-hewn tree-house, surrounded as it is by miles of forest, forest, and more forest. The sound of birds and crickets was a perpetual background to our amiable chats about the past, the present, the future, politics, family, friends, literature, cinema, holidays, hobbies and all topics between.

Maggie's house in St Pierre Livron

French Food and Drink

Being in France and staying with a fellow foody, it was heaven to enjoy:
  • lush wine
  • scrummy food including local cheeses, fresh fruit, prosciutto, chicken, mushroom risotto, salmon in sorrel sauce, chickpea salad, burgers that melted in your mouth, potatoes, roasted peppers, asparagus, green beans, salads galore

Through the rain....

The first morning we woke to the tropical sound of rain pattering through the trees, rain soaking the forest floor, rain softening the valley, but through the rain the calls of birds continued – magical. It dried quickly and it was fascinating to visit the bustling town of Caylus, the nearest place to shop, and visit the fresh food market – fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish – all pleasingly displayed. Caylus is a medieval be-shuttered hamlet with boulangerie and boucherie.

Zadkine's Christ

The sturdy Church of St John the Baptist houses an extraordinary crucified Christ by sculptor Zadkine, gruesome but awesome. Notice in the collage below how it dwarves Sally.
St John the Baptist church in Caylus with Zadkine's Chris

Shabby romance

Why are peeling walls, coloured shutters and deserted medieval streets so glamorous? Even the dark and murky public pissoir in nearby St Antonin seemed functionally quaint. In Britain these things would seem grotty but in Europe they have the gloss of utilitarian shabby romance.
St Antonin

Journey to Albi

The journey to a day out in Albi wound through fertile countryside, along roads and boulevards, up hills, alongside rivers, over bridges, through forests, past limestone cliffs and fields of sunflowers. Towns like Cordes-sur-Ciel are perched on impossibly high outcrops.

Echoes of the Great Sept of Baelor

Albi was like a set from Game of Thrones. Saint Cecilia’s cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi) is the largest brick-built cathedral in the world with many highlights:
  • the massive organ case
  • the painted vaults with azure blue background
  • the sky, earth and hell images on the Last Judgement painting
  • the side chapels with their differently-patterned muted-in-colour geometric designs
  • the elaborately delicate rood screen
  • and the soaring ambulatory
– all combine to take away your breath.
Inside St Cecilia's cathedral

Spectacular view

Walking round the outside of the building, up and down monumental steps, in between corridors of brick that make you feel inconsequential, you reach a viewpoint looking over the formal gardens of Berbi Palace (Palais de la Berbie) and a great place from which to see the city’s spectacular bridges. Our final stop in Albi was to the Saint-Salvi collegiate church with its odd statuary and peaceful cloister.
Saint-Salvi, the view of Albi's bridges and one of the many wrought-iron Sacred Heart crosses in towns throughout the region

Volatile times and dignified ceremony

During this trip, back in the UK the Prime Minister changed (David Cameron to Theresa May) and Boris Johnson became Foreign Secretary. It felt like we were living in a strange bubble of unreality. More so when on our final day we learned of the attack on a Bastille Day fireworks party in Nice that killed at least 85 people and injured many more. On July 14th morning (the morning before the attack happened) Maggie took Sally and I to the Bastille Day commemoration in Caylus, a respectful ceremony attended by many: soldiers with bayonets, fire marshalls wrapped in rope, be-medalled veterans, the Mayor and his family – and many townspeople and us – assembled in the square with a portable amplifier to play La Marseillaise, raise and lower flags, march, salute, parade and lay flowers. French patriotism at its most solemn, a ceremony performed twice, once at a general memorial and once at a memorial for the dead of the First World War. Lots to wonder about, lots to contemplate – at the time and, after the news of the Nice attack, regularly since.
Bastille Day in Caylus 2016


What else do I remember about the last stage of our trip to France? We watched Truly Madly Deeply as a tribute to the glorious (late) Alan Rickman and, in a bit of a drunken stupor, the eccentric French film Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis. I loved re-reading Charlotte Brontë’s bonkers tale of a very complicated woman, Lucy Snowe, Villette and I began compiling a written glossary of the ideas I have for the fictional fantasy world I have been inventing since April (Wasted time….) An abiding memory, though, will be playing Bananagrams and being mightily impressed with Maggie’s speed at forming words and switching tiles to form new words…. Bananagrams – an Olympic sport one day? Many thanks to our gracious and generous host for a tranquil break deep in the heart of Europe.