Sunday, August 31, 2008

0.1% of Rachel's Photos

As I browsed through the hundreds of photos that Rachel has already taken, I had a hard time narrowing it down to a few. They are all so good. She has a superb eye. So, we'll have to include her travelogue in installments.

Turquoise blue shutters in the mountain village of Montsegur, probably some of the most vivid shutters I've ever seen. Not sure if they had to get Planning Permission or not. The row of village houses perched above the rock ledge and beneath the rock face is also Montsegur. It is a charming village that sits below the massive Montsegur Cathar castle, where 210 "bonhommes" were burned to death by the Crusade on March 16, 1244.

Exploring French groceries are a true tourist experience, especially the toilet paper aisle.

Friday was the final Marche Nocture Leran, so we couldn't attend without Gary and Rachel. We were entertained by a solar-powered band that cruised up and down Cours St. Jacques.

Part of Rachel's visit at 14 Rue du Four has been participating in Fergus's outings, which means discovering every unturned stone in Leran.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Photos by Rachel

Here are a few photos that Rachel has taken since she's been here in Leran. Sunflowers in a field near Chalabre, Nancy shopping for salad fixins at the Super U, paella in an extremely large pan at Marche Nocturne last night, Gary and Fergus playing in the Touyre River in Leran, and Fergus going somewhere at a pretty good clip.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rachel and Gary Do France....Part I

Rachel and Gary arrived from Phoenix USA last night for 10 fun-packed days in France. After a jet-lagged sleep, a breakfast of fresh pastries from La Boulangerie, and plenty of coffee, we headed out to begin exploration of the Ariege.

A quick view from au Castella in Laroque d'Olmes, then the scenic drive to Chalabre, Camon, Lagarde and lunch in Mirepoix.

We have to head out to the the bar, so we'll check back later.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This One's For You, Billy!

While we were dining last evening, Billy commented that his photo hadn't been in the blog lately.

Well, ask and ye shall receive.

Stories in the Stuff

Sundays in La Place de la Republique in Pamiers is notably focused on the marche de puces, or, flea market. As far as I can figure, the only difference between the puces and a vide greniers (town-wide clearing-the-attic sale) is that the puces is held weekly. My guess is that a lot of the same stuff is there week after week after week.

The individual booths, or stalls meander. There is no precision or rigidity to their location. Some people display their goods on the ground, others on makeshift tables, others use architectural elements existing in La Place. There are the usual stacks of DVDs, baby clothes, plastic containers, gardening magazines, and hair curlers---the very same items that could easily be at a garage sale in Moab (except the DVDs wouldn't presumably be in French).

But look further, and the odd, unusual, and bizarre items jump out. Items that make me want to piece together a history of the person they belonged to, and how they ended up here. Was this plate collection prominently displayed in someone's cupboard? What color "miracle" was the user hoping to attain with the liquid dye? Was the wood frame bedwarmer used in some drafty old stone village house (maybe mine before double pane windows)?

People's lives, past and present, inhabit a marche de puces. There are stories there, most of which will go untold. The scissors, by the way, were 2 Euro a pair.

Room With A View....Of Sorts

When Doug and I lived in Yellowstone, we occasionally awoke to an elk or bison peeping-tom outside our bedroom window. It was rather amusing except during the autumn rut, when the novelty wore off the incessant bull elk bugling during pre-dawn hours after a few vocalizations. A bison using the side of the employee housing complex as a scratching post could make someone in a sleepy stupor imagine that finally the "really big" volcanic eruption was about to happen.
The dormer windows from our bedroom window at our cabin up in the Bangtails in Montana offered us a sweeping view of the Absaroka mountains and the Yellowstone River valley to the south. It was a view we will never forget. We hope that Linda and Tom, the cabin's new owners, share our sentiment. During a snowstorm, the mountains were enveloped in clouds and everything was blanketed in white. On those days, I would like to just lie in bed and wait for the rush of snow to swoop down the steep metal roof ending in a "thud" on the ground.

The view from our bedroom window at 14 Rue du Four is, I have to admit, unique, maybe best described as "very French". Across the petit cour is a currently unoccupied village house, owner unknown. To the left of the empty house is Neil and Celia's, an unusual feature in itself (not Neil and Celia, but their house). It is what "plugs" up the alley and creates our courtyard. To the right of the empty village house is where Marc (French) lives. Immediately to our right is an unoccupied barn. But my view is only the empty village house, windows broken out, rendering chipping off, columbage exposed, sorely in need of TLC.

I don't see bison or elk, or even a glimpse of the Pyrenees from my bedroom window now. But sometimes I look out this window early in the morning and I chuckle. I couldn't reproduce this view if I tried---it is one of a kind. And that, like the commercial says, is priceless.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Exploring and Glorying in Life

We met Anglela Murrills and Peter Matthews last year when they showed up at our Bon Voyage party. We hadn't met them yet but John and LeeAnn told them they would be more than welcome, and indeed they were. In fact, we were excited to finally meet them. We had read their book "Hot Sun, Cool Shadow", liked it a lot and passed it around amongst my sisters and some friends. The book is a beautiful exploration of this corner of France; the Languedoc, it's food, attractions and people.

And now, you will want to check out Angela's blog. It is really beautiful and it has a different focus than this blog, which I think everyone will agree is a good idea. While the overall theme might be food, Angela's description is"exploring and glorying in life in general". I'm excited because when we go home we can check in with people writing about France that are actually in France, rather than Moab.

They other thing they like to do, as we do, is seek out bargains at what we in the U.S. call a flea market. I took this photograph at the Vide Grenier in a neighboring town, and you can tell they are very serious bargain hunters.

Welcome to Mayberry

Nancy and I have often marveled about how we fell into this wonderful village full of great people. We acknowledge that we’ve got more friends and acquaintances here than we have back home. (Not sure what that says about us, or Moab.) I suppose it is something about being in a foreign place and not having a good handle on the language that makes you seek out and embrace others that you can communicate with. Then again, perhaps it is the spirit of adventure of the people that we have met here. Australians, Irish, English, Canadians, and Scots: they have set off to a new land and left behind the familiar, their friends and family and the language they grew up with. Some are here for the duration and some are very frequent visitors. In any case, it requires a little bit of craziness, optimism and bravery to go off and purchase a house in a foreign land. (We include ourselves in this group, but to a much smaller degree. We’re not selling out in the U.S. and spending all our time here.) These are rather adventurous folks. And, granted, this is not like setting off to parts unknown across an ocean in a small ship, or crossing a continent in a prairie schooner, never, ever to return to your homeland. But neither are these the kind of people who sit at home, watch TV and grow old complaining about the goddamn weeds in the lawn.

Of course, Nancy and I aren’t the only ones who have noticed the remarkable fellowship of the English speaking community here. We’ve discussed it with others and many agree. Others say that they have more of a social life here than back home. Some say they have made lifelong friends that they would never have met back home, much less socialize with.

But there are other considerations. It is a small town and you meet a lot of people at the bar where everyone congregates. It is not just THE place to congregate; it’s the ONLY place to congregate. The Marche Nocturne Leran forces everyone to get friendly. You can’t eat paella with a plastic fork and swill wine at a picnic table and not talk to those beside you. The other thing that crosses my mind is that for the English in France, any social barriers that may still exist in Great Britain are gone. But, I don’t have enough knowledge or experience about British social customs to discuss that topic in any depth.

As in any migration, there are push factors and pull factors. That means there are reasons that cause people to leave their homeland, and factors that pull them to another place. You can have strong push and weak pull or vice versa, or even-steven. Push factors can be religious, lack of economic opportunity or something more personal. Pull factors can be relatives that have already resettled, a booming economy, religious freedom and a host of others. The influx of English speakers to France seems to have one major pull factor; the quality of life, including better weather. The push factors are numerous and it seems all our friends have different reason for leaving home.

Now, if this was only being read by our American readership, I’d give you some photographs and profile of a few of the friends we’ve made here, but if they saw it they would be embarrassed and I’d probably get the facts wrong. In any case, I’m not a good enough writer to give you the lurid details of someone’s life and expect them to approve of the way I characterized them, much less what their friends here in Leran would say. So don’t worry, all you good folks in Leran are off the hook.

But the fact remains. This is a seriously friendly town.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christening the Salle de Bain

I don't think we'll be breaking any bottles of Blanquette over the baignoire (bathtub) to herald it's maiden voyage. I'll just be glad if all the tiles don't fall off the wall. Every conceivable nook and cranny has been sealed with caulk, including the centuries-old beam overhead, and I believe the vessel is water-tight.

When we ordered the ecran de baignoire (sliding tub enclosure door), the longest one available was still 18 cm short. So Doug had, yet once again, to improvise. He cleverly added a single row of glass blocks at the far end for the ecran to butt up against.

The circular object is one of the most ingenious European products I've yet seen. It's one of the many different ways you flush a toilet here. It's not so much that you don't use a handle like we do in the States, it's that it is a Dual-Flush. Without getting too specific, depending upon the amount of water needed to accompany your visit to the toilette, you can choose to press either the half button for a half-flush, or the larger button for a full flush. We have low-flow toilets in the States, and we have a dual-flush one one of our toilets in Moab. But you have to know beforehand it is a dual flush, that you should hold the handle down for a few seconds. There is nothing that indicates this is a choice. This toilet does it quite easily without language or foreknowledge. I guess some could say that us Americans don't know shit.

Doug adds: Notice also, fellow Americans, that this toilet exits through the wall not the floor. You can get toilets here that exit through the wall to the rear, left, right, or through the floor. I would imagine this is all possible in the good old USA, but I've never seen it. It makes adding a toilet much easier to plan.

Obama's Been Biden His Time Long Enough

For those of you who choose to open up the NorthofAndorra website before your daily newspaper or turn on the radio---here's today's big news:

In the November election against John McCain, it will be Barack Obama and...........
Joe Biden, the long-standing (and some have said long-winded) senator from Delaware. We can debate til the cows come home whether or not this was the 'perfect' choice, but it's settled. And now it's on to the convention in Denver next week.

Personally, Doug and I were rooting for a darkhorse candidate---Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Yes, little podunk Montana. But, and I don't say this lightly, watch this guy. It's not the last time you'll hear his name.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sign of an Earlier Time

The sign is in Chalabre, on a narrow street leading to the covered market square. The limited information I can glean about the White Penitents is that they were one sect of many brotherhoods, ultimately distinguished primarily by the color of their cloak and hood as well as the nature of their charitable work. They were present in Spain, Italy, Portugal and France from the 12th century on. There are references that the intensity of their zeal included wearing hair cloths and self-flagellation as daily ritual.

A French Concession

As I walked in our local DIY BricoMarche store yesterday, something caught my eye. Hardly a day goes by (except Sunday of course) that one of us doesn't pay a visit here. We've finally trained ourselves not to be sitting in the parking lot at 7:30 in the morning or expect to find the doors open at lunch time.

But I never noticed that there is ever so slight a shift in the hours of operation on samedi (Saturday). While the store still closes at 19:00 (7 pm), it opens 15 minutes later, at 9:15 am---a small change. The major difference, and one that I imagine the employees particularly think is foolish, is shortening the lunch hour closure by 15 minutes to a mere 2 hours! What is this world coming to?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Picture is Worth Un Mille Mot

The other day at BricoMarche, we were out in the yard looking for galvanized metal roofing. We wanted a small piece to construct a cover for firewood out in the petit cour. There was no product code written anywhere that we could jot down, and we were pretty much at a loss to attempt to describe it to the cashier. It then occurred to me that I had my trusty little camera on hand. I showed the two photos to Veronique inside the store. She indicated in English that they were "very beautiful" and we proceed to purchase a piece of "plaque galva ondul".

As it turned out, the firewood holder grew to formidable dimensions, out of proportion for the petit cour. On the next foray to BricoMarche, Doug returned the plaque galva ondul to Veronique and receiving in return a Bon D'Avoir (credit). The photos have not lost their beauty.

Department of Unpleasant Surprises

Nancy and I went to a Vide Grenier in Montsegur. It is a small village just beneath the ancient site where a bunch of Cathars were burned alive for their beliefs. (You can google this or go back and find the post I did last June.) You see a lot of strange stuff in a Vide Grenier, but this takes the cake. A jigsaw puzzle of three "beloved" Oakland Raiders. You might reasonably expect to find this at a garage sale at somebody's trailer in Compton, Oxnard, or Thousand Oaks, but Montsegur? Beyond the pale.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Asked For It

Several people have asked for an update on the bathroom construction project. (Remember the old television show "YOU ASKED FOR IT"?) We are closing in on it. Nancy is working on the drywall on the exterior wall and I just built a enclosure around the staircase so no one would fall down the stairs in the dark of night. I have some pictures for you, but my lens will not allow me to show everything I want to show. I can't stand outside the room and show you the inside, (because I don't have an x-ray lens) so these photos leave something to the imagination. I should mention that the area outside the two new rooms is still a construction staging area and a little messy, but I think it will be the project for the next visit. It will require a mason to finish and repair the walls. And an electrician to give us a new circuit so we can have some lights in that space.
The old pictures are from February 2006 when we first looked at the house. The ceiling above us has been removed and the wood tongue & groove pine used on the floor in the bedroom, bathroom and hallway.
The first two pictures show the scene from the same approximate view. Look at the window; that's the same window with the shutters open and a new window in place. The second pair of photos show the other direction. The window right over my shoulder is now in the bedroom and also has the wooden shutter removed and a new window in place. In both new pictures you can see the stairway enclosure with some tools sitting on it. The other opening (the one with the gray insulation boards leaning up next to it) now has a nice set of new windows as well. (I hope all that makes sense to you.)
Now look at the bathroom photo. It shows the bathtub and long-awaited enclosure, Nancy's fine tiling job reflected in the bathroom mirror, and the sink and vanity. Trust me, it also has a toilet, you just can see a tiny bit, and a cabinet to match the vanity.
All that remains it for Nancy to paint the exterior walls, I will trim out the doors, and I think we're done. All that in only twice the estimated time of one month. Neither This Old House, nor Architectual Digest will honor us with awards, but the important thing is, we're ready for visitors.

Fontaine de Fontestorbes

We had passed by the Fontaine de Fontestorbes a number of times but had never stopped to look at it. Today we finally did. Incredible. We noticed stepping stones that were under water and a handrail. We decided that the water level must be quite high. We looked at it for a little while and appreciated its beauty but we didn't really understand the true significance of the fountain until we went into the tiny visitor center and talked the very informative individual working there. During the summer, the water level of the fountain rises and falls very regularly in a cycle that can be, remarkably, 30 to 90 minutes depending on the incoming flow to an interior chamber far inside the cave. What we learned follows. (I pirated the information from a website but I edited it heavily, so I probably won’t be prosecuted.)

The Fontaine de Fontestorbes is a karst spring par excellence. It takes the term intermittent very seriously: it changes its output every 30 minutes from around 50 l/s to 1,800 litres per second and back.

But let’s start from the beginning. Fontaine de Fontestorbes is a rather typical karst spring where a cave river comes to the surface. The portal of the cave is located below a white limestone cliff. It exhibits very typical behavior, low water in winter, high flow during snow melt in spring and heavy rains, and again low production during summer and autumn. But one thing is special; there is an additional change in flow, which changes extremely fast. In an hour, the flow changes from almost zero to full production and back again. This means, the cave is almost dry for half an hour and visitors can easily walk in, but then the water rises and the cave is filled with water. The people inside the cave have to wait until the flow drops again, which is about half an hour later.

The explanation for this strange behavior is rather complicated, but based on a rather simple principle. A siphon is basically a tube formed like a U. The bottom of the U is filled with water, and so air is not able to go through the siphon. Think of the pea trap under your sink. Now think of the opposite, a tube looking like an upside down U, with the bow on top. People use this for getting water out of a tank, or gasoline from a car’s tank. If one end of the tube is in the water, the tube runs above the rim of the tank, and when the tube is filled completely with water, the water will flow out as long as the end of the tube is below the surface of the water. That’s because the water on the outside pulls with more energy (if the opening of the tube lies below the surface of the water inside).

The same thing happens inside the cave. A water filled chamber is continually filled from a subterranean river. The exit passage is formed like an upside down U. When the passage is filled with air, no water flows out and the water level in the chamber rises. The water level in the passage rises too, as they are connected. When the water level becomes higher than the highest point in the U, the water flows out. Because water now fills the passage completely, it starts to suck more water out of the chamber until its water level reaches the opening of the other passage. Now air goes into the passage, and the siphon effect ends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

2008 Leran'Cestral Spectacular

The 2008 Spectacular went off without a hitch, even though we weren't in it. The costumes were magnificent and the equestrian events were, although pretty much the same as last year, the thing that makes the show spectacular and unusual. It started with the parade or defilement on Saturday and ended with the performance on Sunday. In between was a Saturday night debut with lights, a medieval market, poney rides, traffic jams and crowds of spectators.

We attended the show on Sunday afternoon and at one point I was amazed, surprised and shocked. You can see it in the fourth picture. A horseman dragged a blazing ball on a rope or chain. He rode along the bleachers dragging the fireball so we could all get a good look at it. As an American my first thought was: "The potential for disaster was quite unacceptable." There were children about in flowing costumes, not to mention adults. There was a chance the ball could come undone and come rolling into the audience. There was no small chance of something like grass or weeds catching afire, although it has been rather wet and probably no danger of wild fire was possible. Some grass did catch fire but went nowhere. Nonetheless, that was all I could think of for awhile. And indeed, all went well. No burning costumes or seared flesh.

Later on I realized what a large gulf exists between how the American and French cultures behave. In the states there would have been police and/or security guards everywhere, guarding the proceeds, directing traffic, handing out parking tickets. Lawyers would have been consulted. Certainly no Arabs would have been depicted in the play rounding up citizens and taking them off to slaughter. And there would have been no fireball dragged behind a horse twenty feet from he audience. In the United States, you can willingly participate in trying to ride a 2,000 pound bull for eight seconds and then hope you won't be gored when he throws you. But you can rest assured you won't be harmed as you sit in the audience, and if you are there will be a lawyer at your side before the ambulance arrives.

Now, I'm not saying one culture is wrong and the other right. Just different. The French attitude is refreshing. "Let it be, let it happen." The American attitude is "Control and no uncertainty. Show due diligence and (there's a lesser chance) you won't be sued".