Monday, September 29, 2014

Chaotic collection of haphazard collisions anyone?

I went to my first rugby game on Sunday. As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am not a sports fan. Especially violent team sports. But my friend reminds me that there will be some cute guys playing, so I decide to give it a go.

Before heading out, I take a quick look at the Rugby for Dummies website. The explanation is ominous:

For the first time rugby player or viewer, the sport can appear to be a chaotic collection of indecipherable movements and haphazard collisions. In reality, rugby is highly technical and organized with specific laws governing all aspects of play. 

With the strange words scrum, lineout, maul and ruck swimming through my brain, I dab sunscreen on my nose, take a deep breath and head for le stade in the neighboring village of Castillonnes.

Luckily for this novice, I am accompanied by friends who are fully knowledgeable about the game, meaning they only are confused some of the time.

Also, through the magic of audition de la superpuissance (superpower hearing), I am able to hear and understand what the players on the field are saying.

Pierre is bringing the buns. Jean Paul said he'd
pick up the hot dogs. I'm bringing the potato salad.
Now, who's bringing the beer?

Last one to the end zone is a scrum rucker!

Please don't step on my head! Please don't step
on my head! Are they gone yet, Antoine?

Thanks for helping me look for my contact lens,
guys. My mom said she'd kill me if I lost another one.

Hey, that tickles!

You put your right foot in, you take your right foot out,
you put your right foot in and you shake it all about...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A tour of Montaigne’s tower

The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them…
Whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.
— Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Perhaps you’ve seen the sign to la Tour de Michel de Montaigne enroute to or from the Bordeaux airport. If so, like me, you may have have been in too much of a rush to take the time to visit. I timed a recent airport pickup to include a couple of extra hours and hung a right off of D936 in Lamothe-Montravel, a few kilometers before Castillon-La-Bataille.

Tour de Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne was a renown humanist author and philosopher of the 16th century. His writings, according to a biography on the Université Bordeaux Montaigne website, remain relevant, possessing contemporary messages of “the qualities and faults of humans.”

His most famous work is Les Essais. He also kept a detailed journal of his travels to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, which was stowed away in a trunk and not discovered until nearly two centuries after his death.

The tower is where Montaigne did much of his writing and where he died in 1592. It is just across a large courtyard from the château, where distant relatives of Montaigne now live. (The château is not open to the public.) Before or after a guided visit, guests can walk through the gardens and admire a panoramic view across la valée de la Lidoire.

Water tower on the grounds of Tour de Michel de Montaigne

Garden décor at la Tour de Michel de Montaigne
Garden passage at Tour de Michel de Montaigne

View of the Lidoire Valley from the grounds of Tour de Michel de Montaigne
I am the only English-speaker in the group, but I have little trouble understanding our guide, a British university student, who has provided me with a written translation. We start our visit in la barbacarne, a fortified area with two doors, designed to trap unwanted visitors so they could not get inside the grounds or escape.

Exterior of la barbacane at Tour de Michel de Montaigne
Within la barbacane at Tour de Michel de Montaigne

From here we enter the writer’s private chapel. Montaigne lived during the Wars of Religion, and he was a Catholic in Protestant territory. In his last years, Montaigne was confined to his bedroom in the tower due to ill health. In order to be able to hear mass from his bed, he had an acoustic channel installed between the chapel au-dessous and his bed chamber au-dessus.

The bed chamber of Michel de Montaigne. The acoustic channel
is located to the right.

The trunk where the travel journals of Michel de Montaigne
were found and published 182 years after his death

An alcove in the bedroom of Michel de Montaigne was
designed to avert drafts.
Our guide shows us a replica of Protestant vestments that
belonged to the Catholic Montaigne.
We proceed up the tower’s narrow winding staircase to Montaigne’s library. Here, at the time surrounded by thousands of books, Montaigne did most of his writing. Greek and Latin writings are engraved in the ceiling beams and Montaigne would gaze up to ponder them. There was no glass in these windows, so he spent colder days in an adjacent, much smaller chamber, which contains remnants of the room’s original murals.

View from the Tour de Michel de Montaigne

Statue of Michel de Montaigne

A replica of “Les Essais” at the Tour de Michel de Montaigne

Latin and Greek phrases on the beams of Michel de Montaigne’s private library

Portion of original mural on the walls of Tour de Michel de Montaigne

In addition to being one of France’s most important writers and thinkers, Montaigne also had an impressive career in public service including 15 years in the Parliament of Bordeaux and four years as the city’s mayor.

Tour de Michel de Montaigne is open February through December. Visit for days, hours, tarifs and directions.

For hundreds of Montaigne quotations, visit

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Maybe they were praying to find a man

There is never a shortage of churches in France. This one, Église Saint-Léger, located near Saint-Pardoux-Issac, caught my eye while on a bike ride last month. Ken and I were trying a new route home, sur nos vélos, to avoid some hills and traffic. (Feel free to give a hearty "hah!" when I use the term "traffic," because I actually mean the half dozen or so cars that may have passed us. Often I see no cars at all on bike rides, especially when I ride during the lunch hours.) 

L'église Saint-Léger dates from the 13th century and was restored in 1992. It is now locked up tight, but the sign at its gate says that at one time, the church contained a wooden statue where femme jeunes célibataires (young single women) would gather. They'd light candles and pray; if the candles went out then it was a sign they would find husbands.

Alrighty, then!

On another note, if you haven't checked out the blog I write for the AngloINFO Dordogne website, "Lot of Livin'." please do so when you have the time. The link is here.

And you can subscribe to this blog (below) so new posts appear, as if by magic, in your very own email inbox. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Looking around Limoges

Those of us who wandered around France this summer learned to bring along a jacket and umbrella. As expected, we had grey skies, but happily no rain, for our recent visit to Limoges.

Monument au Marechal Jordan, Limoges

The capital of the Haute-Vienne department in the Limousin region, located in the northwest portion of the Massif Central, is known for its porcelain. Alas, my travel companions can muster little enthusiasm for ceramics and enamels, so we explore other options during our visit.

After settling in at our centrally located hotel at Place Jourdan, we stretch our car-weary legs with a walk to the ancient village de la boucherie quartier. This neighborhood dates from the 13th century and is full of half-timbered maisons, narrow streets and lively squares. Here also is the city’s magnificent large covered market.

A narrow street in la village de la boucherie quartier, Limoges

Large covered market, Limoges

We turn in early (no night owls, we) so we are fresh for our morning exploration of the Limoges vast gardens and a visit to Musée de la Résistance. 

Located in the quartier historique de la cité, les Jardins de L’evéche (Botanical Gardens of the Bishopric) were created in the 18th century, redesigned in the 1950s and received their latest makeover in 1976. The 19,000-square-meter terraced gardens, which contain thousands of plants, overlook the Vienne River. The gardens are neatly laid out by type and use of plant: medicinal, dyes, edible, etc.

Les Jardins de L’evéche, Limoges

Les Jardins de L’evéche, Limoges

Les Jardins de L’evéche, Limoges

At the heart of this neighborhood is the enormous Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges, known as Limoges Cathedral. This Gothic church took about 600 years to construct, beginning in 1273 and completed, finally, in 1888. (Keep that in mind when you get impatient with your slow-moving contractor!) 

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

A gargoyle at Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

Interior detail at Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges

We arrive at the Musée de la Résistance just when it opens and have the place nearly to ourselves. The museum, (which doesn’t allow photography so I can’t include the pictures I took before I noticed the photographie est interdite sign — oops!) provides a comprehensive look at wartime Limoges and gives us much to discuss on our drive home. 

Monument aux morts in Limoges

For information about visiting Limoges, click here.

An ellipsis kind of day ...

Maybe it's because I'm missing my better half, but les tournesols seemed especially sad on yesterday's randonéà vélo (bike ride).

And the scratchy wild flowers seemed to grab at my calves ...

But there were a few lovely sites ...

Like this fixer upper ...

And the spookiest église in the neighborhood. This is the church in Queyssel, in which our younger son said he'd like to live. Maybe someday it'll go on the market and I can entice Luke to return to France by buying it for him. Ah, les rêves!

If you like this, you can read another blog I write on AngloINFO Dordogne.