Friday, August 30, 2013

Getaway day in the Gers

Overcast skies didn't put a damper on our recent day trip to the Gers. Instead, we agree that gray is preferable to the triple-digit (F) temperatures we slogged through on last month's outing to Les Eyzies and the soaking we got on our spring mini-vacation to Rocamadour.

Our guest, Laurent, a Frenchman who is staying with us for two weeks to improve his English, insists on driving, so we enjoy the two-hour drive south in BMW style.

The Gers, at the northern edge of Gascony, is known for its farms and bastides, garlic and foie gras, geese and oies plus. At least one guide book claims the region has more geese than people, along with a few million free-range chickens and ducks. The same book (Cadogan Guides) says Gers "looks much as it did in the time of its most famous son, the semi-fictional fourth musketeer d'Artagnan."

Our first stop, for coffee and toilettes, is Fourcès, one of just a few medieval bastides laid out in a circle. Careful attention to detail by residents and propriétaires, along with its 15th-century Tour de l'Horloge on the River Auzoue help Fourcès earn its Les Plus Beaux Villages de France designation.

Caffeine-fortified, we head a few kilometers south for a quick look at the medieval church in Mouchan, constructed as a stop for pilgrims en route to Compostela. The church doesn't open until 1500h, so we take  a quick walk around its perimeter and continue on to Larressingle.

I first read about Laressingle a few months ago and immediately knew I had to see this tiny fortress, called the Carcassonne of the Gers. My photos would have benefited from blue skies, but we still enjoy our hour there, inspecting the stone walls and listening to Laurent, in ever-better English, share his vast knowledge of French history. Ken, meanwhile, checks out the medieval war paraphernalia and gets in a bit of a bind.

As lunchtime approaches, we arrive in Condom. In addition to a museum chronicling the production of Armagnac, Condom is home (I swear!) to the Musée des Preservatifs, dedicated to rubbers. As intriguing as that sounds, instead of museum hopping, we eat pizza and pose for pictures with the Four Musketeers beside the Cathedrale St-Pierre. We also stroll along the Baïse River, but find it a little murky, much like the city itself.

Our last stop is the sweet little village of La Romieu, the day's highlight for me. My previous blog post tells the story of Angeline and her cats, who, legend says, saved the village from famine around seven hundred years ago. In addition to l'adorables statues de chats, La Romieu's most popular site is its Collegiate church, cloisters and tower. Since I'd rather not pay admission to visit a church, we just peek in the gate and soak in the village ambience until we are satiated with quaintness and head home.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A taste of the legendary cats of La Romieu

A visit to the village of La Romieu in the Gers department in sud ouest France may include a tour of the Collegiate Church (a UNESCO World Heritage site built 700 years ago) or a stroll through the Jardins de Coursiana. But for this cat-lover, La Romieu's highlight is its Legend of Angeline and the whimsical feline sculptures scattered through the village.

Angeline's story is not a pretty one. Her father was crushed by a tree and her mother soon after died of a broken heart when our heroine was just a baby. Her kind neighbors took her in and allowed her, over the years, to acquire dozens of pet cats. As a young woman, Angeline and her cats were inseparable, even when she helped her family work in the fields.

Harsh, wet weather for three years in a row caused a great famine, and the starving people of La Romieu had no choice but to start eating cats. Needless to say, this made Angeline very sad. She begged her adoptive parents to let her keep her furry friends, and she eventually was allowed to hide two kittens in the attic.

Finally, the weather improved and the crops again grew. But La Romieu now had a huge rat problem, since all the village cats had been made into stew.

Luckily (and quite naturally), the pair of cats to whom Angeline had given safe harbor had multiplied, and Angeline generously offered the villagers 20 of her kittens, as long as they would be adopted as pets, not as snacks. So, voila! Angeline's cats quickly disposed of the rats and the village was saved.

And, since this is a legend, it only makes sense that as the years went by, Angeline more and more resembled a cat, ears and all.

To honor the legend, sculptor Maurice Serreau created a dozen or so cat sculptures for the village square, Place E. Bouet. I'm not sure I spotted all of them, but here's a (pardon the pun) taste of La Romieu's cats.

Look closely at the two round holes
above the windows.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gasconnades gives village something to brag* about

Sunday was the biggest day of the year for our little village. The 20th annual Lauzun Gasconnades started with a huge vide greniers.

Setting aside our usual two-euro limit, Ken and I scored, among other items, unbreakable dishes for repas du rues (street meals), a set of American Westerns in French on VHS (compatible with our European player), some cassettes for the car (we're evidently living in the 1980s), an Irish cookbook and two dictionaries (one children's French, one pocket-size Spanish-English).

Later that evening, more than 450 guests feasted on pâté de campagne, confit de canard and a special anniversary gâteau. Plenty of wine and a great dance orchestre rounded out the evening. We even stayed up late enough to see a few shooting stars. 

*I had incorrectly assumed the word gasconnades had something to do with gastronomy, but it actually means "boast" or "brag." Vive dictionairies!

A standing circle of musicians
entertains bargain-hunters
throughout the afternoon.

My honey enjoys a honey
pastry from the honey stand. 

Lauzun's main street sparkles
as the sun sets.
Seats for the evening repas gascon 
sold out. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bastid'art, with clowns and accordions, bien sûr!

Circo Bocabajo, from Spain and Argentina
Last weekend was Miramont de Guyenne's 19th annual Bastid'art. A miniature three-day version of Reno's Artown, the arts festival featured international music, dance, theater, and circus/acrobatic acts, most of them free.

We stopped by for a few hours on Sunday and caught some of the entertainment.

As an aside, after several years of helping produce Artown's Little Book, I can appreciate the work that went into the Bastid'art handy guide. Bien fait!

Circo Bocabajo, from Spain and Argentina
Circo Bocabajo, from Spain and Argentina

Alchymere, from the Haute-Garonne, France 
Alchymere, from the
Haute-Garonne, France  

From Italy, Mattatoio

From Italy, Mattatoio Sospeso
From Italy, Mattatoio Sospeso

Les FrHaven acrobats from
Alpes Maritimes, France 
Les FrHaven acrobats from Alpes Maritimes, France 

Bulles de Zinc from Loire
Atlantique, France
Clown/mime  Roland Zee,
from Paris
Little Mouth, a folk/rock duo from Landes, France

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ma semaine (my week)

The summer days are flying by. Here's how I spent the past seven days.

Lundi: Monday is market day in Miramont de Guyenne.
Typically, we'll meet friends for at this cafe.

Mardi: In need of air conditioning, went to the
Redford film, "The Company you Keep," on
Tuesday. It was called "Sous Surveillance" here.   
Mercredi: Celebrated mon amie Andrea's
birthday with a lunch out in Eymet on Wednesday.

Jeudi: On Thursday, Ken and I went on a breezy walk
around a lake near Soumensac.

Vendredi: Friday's weather was perfect for a bike ride
with our next-door neighbor, Phillippe.
Samedi: We went to a fun barbecue at our friends' home
on Saturday. Such a treat to be around so many
enfants mignons.

Dimanche: We caught the last day of Bastide d'Art in
Miramont. What a great way to spend a Sunday.