Music, music, music…

In 1982 the first Fete de la Musique took place in France, and it quickly turned into an institution which is still going strong 31 years later!  It takes place each year on June 21 –  the shortest night of the year is ideal for partying!  All over France there is music and more music, and people getting together to enjoy.  Pretty much every village or smaller town has at least one event to mark the Fete de la Musique;  I decided to visit Beziers with a few friends and together we enjoyed a totally musical evening.

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We started off at the Eglise St Jacques, just a few steps away from the Musee du Bitterois.  The church was hosting a number of events and we got there in time to listen to the guitar ensemble from the Beziers conservatoire.  They played very well and the music chosen was a delight.  The interior of the church was fascinating, and a little reading of the information panels at the back of the church gave some clues.  The Romanesque church had been much changed over the centuries to the point where it was hardly recognisable as Romanesque.  In 1960 a fire which started in a confessional (don’t ask!) meant that the interior of the church was totally destroyed.   During the work to safeguard and restore the building most of the later additions were stripped away, leaving a very stark but serene interior, which has nice acoustics.  The stained glass windows have just been installed, made by master craftsmen from Chartres.  Walk around the back of the church and you’ll find the small park which was closed on my last visit.  Definitely worth a walk – the views are amazing!

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From the St Jacques neighbourhood we went on a little walk via the remains of the amphitheatre (my friends had not seen that), and back into the centre of Beziers.  At the Hotel du Lac we came across the Symphony Orchestra of the Beziers Conservatoire, and then we went on to the Allees Paul Riquet, where we stopped for a bite to eat, just by the Theatre.  The couscous looked very good and it tasted delicious!

Just behind the theatre at the top end of the Allees Paul Riquet the drummers La Bande de Beziers gave it their all.  I taped the entire piece – be warned it’s 16 minutes long, so you may just want to listen to some of it.

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On we went to Place de la Madeleine to listen to the Jersey Julie Band.  They played a great mix of bluegrass, country, and folk music, heavily influenced by blues.  Julie is an amazing bundle of energy, who just draws the crowd along!

When Julie and her band finally took their leave, another group, Awek, started up right across from the stage, in the Blues Caravan.

After a bit of blues we went on to the Cathedrale Saint Nazaire and on the way came across a scene almost out of a Van Gogh painting, down the winding back streets with the twinkling lights overhead.  All the restaurants were busy and there was of course music here too.  On Place de la Révolution we listened to Cobla Tues Vents playing traditional Catalan music and watched a sardane being danced.

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On to the cathedral, where we were hoping to see someone jump across the Feu de St Jean (it’s a local tradition to jump across the fire).  Alas when we got there we were pretty much on our own, even though the fire was still burning in the cloisters.  It did look absolutely beautiful, and the atmosphere was gorgeous and serene.  

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We wended our way back to the Allees Paul Riquet and towards the car, and on the way caught some more music on the main stage in front of the theatre.  The whole square was buzzing and animated, and it was just wonderful to be immersed in that happy feeling.

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So mark your diary for next year – June 21 is definitely a great day to be in France – you’ll be bound to find some music to listen to!

A note to all of you who are subscribed to the blog by e-mail:  The youtube videos embedded in the post will unfortunately not show up in the e-mail version.  To watch and listen please go to the post at http://www.midihideaways.wordpress.com

All kinds of everything

Do you know what a nightingale sounds like?  I didn’t until I moved to St Chinian, and even then it took me a while to figure it out.  The nightingales are truly wonderful to listen to, and there are a good many secluded walks, where you can just sit and listen to them and they sing their hearts out.

The quality in the videos is unfortunately not as good as I would have liked it to be, I had to take out my old camera for the evening…  On the way to my favourite nightingale spot, I passed this flowering lime (linden) tree.  The whole tree was abuzz with honeybees and the scent of the flowers was intoxicating – simply divine!  Each year it takes me a couple of days before I realise that the heavenly scent means that the lime trees are in flower!

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Another spring/summer sound is this one:

definitely an acquired taste, but so long as they are out in the wilds and not below your bedroom window they are fun to listen to.

There’s been so much going on in the garden, and so this post is just a collection of random pictures, and it has no real story to it.

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This panorama was taken on a recent cherry picking trip near Les Rossignols, just outside Roquebrun.  Isn’t it amazing?

I found the most interesting critters in my garden this year.  This is a moth called Proserpinus Proserpina or Willowherb Hawkmoth.  I was clearing up some stuff and first of all I thought it was a dead leaf.  Luckily I didn’t brush it off, and I did manage to get some decent pictures.  I like the way it seems to hide its head under its forelegs.

And here’s another moth, this one is Epicallia Villica or Cream Spot Tiger.  Wonderful name and a wonderful looking creature.  I’ve not found caterpillars of either moth in my garden, so have to assume that they hatched elsewhere and just came in for a visit.

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This flower, I have been reliably informed, is Tragopogon Porrifolius or wild salsify – I’ve just been looking up the wikipedia entry and it sounds as though the whole plant is edible, though I guess for some of it it’s too late.  I will try and see if I can get at the root though.

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The gorgeous frog was probably still a little dazed from hibernation as he let me come really close.

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This is Cistus Monspeliensis, one of the emblematic flowers of the region.  Visit at the right time and you’ll find whole hillsides covered in different types of cistus

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The new season’s garlic has also made its first appearance!  The flavour is amazing – a little less pungent than the dried variety which will be on sale later on, and good enough to just eat raw, if you dare 🙂

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Now I don’t know what the flower in the top picture is, but the one in the bottom picture is Lavandula Stoechas, which is native to the Mediterranean region and found all over the garrigue.

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And then there was this little guy – I have a certain fondness for these bugs (they remind me of striped sweets) but of course Colorado beetle can be very destructive in the garden.  As luck would have it, I found this one on a hydrangea on the terrace rather than in the garden.  I had Colorado beetle on my potatoes six years ago, and it wasn’t really fun collecting the red larvae that were munching through my plants 😦

And finally, the first apricots, peaches and tomatoes arrived this weekend – the apricots were simply divine, and the peaches and tomatoes pretty good.  The promise of more to come…

Beziers – Musee Bitterois

Beziers has several interesting museums, and I recently visited the Musee du Bitterois in an attempt to entertain my 15-year-old nephew, who came to visit during his school holidays.  I’m not sure how successful the entertaining part was (YOU try and get some kind of feedback from a 15-year-old teen!! :-)), but I was certainly impressed by the museum.  It is situated in part of the old barracks in the St Jacques neighbourhood of the old town, and the building itself is impressive, even more so on the inside.  It’s all very spacious and well-lit, arranged around what was an open courtyard at one point, and which is now partly roofed over.

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The exhibition is in chronological order, and starts with prehistoric finds.  I was particularly impressed by this beautiful menhir and the prehistoric burial urns on display.  I get confused as to what belongs to which period – so if you really want to know you’ll have to visit.

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The most ancient artifacts were juxtaposed with modern art – an interesting concept!

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The museum has a particularly rich collection of Roman artifacts – commonplace objects such as oil lamps,

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but also this exquisite carving, which I think is ivory.  It’s tiny and except for the missing head it’s perfect.

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Another astounding find was a whole collection of stone heads of the imperial family, which turned up when a house in central Beziers was remodelled in the 19th century.  They were all  hidden in the same location and in beautiful condition!  Don’t ask me the names, I only remember Agrippa and Julie…

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Then there were these enormous stone blocks with an inscription which I’ve not yet been able to decipher, despite using google translations.  Something to do with hot mother’s  milk making you happy, and male heirs, but most likely I have that totally wrong, Latin was never a strong subject for me :-).  I couldn’t find a description for that particular exhibit, otherwise I could have told you what the inscription really meant.  But this way we can just make it up as we go along.

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And then there was this rather racy sounding inscription, but I think it’s something to do with six at home (??), and of course most of it is missing, so who knows??

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After all that Roman stuff the exhibition got to the medieval period, which meant a fair amount of religious art, and there was a fine statue of a headless St Aphrodise.  Finally we arrived at more modern times, and there was a charming reconstruction of an Auberge along the Canal du Midi, along with the workshop of a last potter of Beziers.

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The revolt of the wine growers was well documented, and the portrait of Ernest Ferroul caught my eye.  He seems to have been very active in the movement, but was also a very shrewd politician and changed allegiances frequently – sounds familiar?

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The Station Uvale looks very much like an art deco ornament.  By the looks of it everything do with grapes was being sold there.

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And here is yet another door knocker, this one made by a Mr Cordier towards the end of the 19th century, and pretty monumental in size!!

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Beziers’ industries were many, and this poster for Blayac brandy is particularly colourful.  I’ve not been able to turn up any information about the factory or the brand, but the name Blayac is still very common in Beziers.

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And here’s another representation of the famous camel (see the post about the occitan carnival) .  It’s somewhat smaller than the camel which is taken out for the processions, but it has a very jolly face!

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And finally, the old boat in the sunken exhibition space of the museum, along with the display cases of local fauna and flora.  Fancy a little cruise?

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The St Jacques neighbourhood surrounding the museum is pretty interesting too, full of old buildings and quirky details.

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One of the more interesting things to see is the site of the old Roman arena, which was completely built over after the fall of the Roman empire.  At some point during the past 20 years, the municipality decided to consolidate the remaining walls and create a small park open to the public.

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The museum has a hand-cranked model of the site, to give you an idea of what there was/is.

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The views from the edge of St Jacques neighbourhood are fantastic – you get a great view of the cathedral, and the surrounding plains.  It must have been a very strategic spot in olden times…

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And there you have it, an exploration of another small part of Beziers, full of history and interesting nooks and crannies.  Thanks for joining me!

Milling around – part 2

First of all my apologies to everyone who was looking forward to the follow-up post about the windmill in Saint-Chinian.  I got so carried away after my visit to Gruissan that I just had to write that post about the salt!

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Until about 12 years ago, the windmill of St Chinian was all but a distant memory and a romantic ruin.  Then someone on the town council had the idea to rebuild and restore, and up it went.  Now the windmill once again proudly surveys the valley, and at least once a year it is put to work.

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I arrived just as the last sailcloths were being put onto the sails.  On the St Chinian mill the sails are built like ladders, and the sailcloth is tied to the top and then woven in between the ladder rungs, until it’s fastened at the bottom.  Of course the mill is stopped for this operation, but I don’t think I’d be all that comfortable climbing up the sails!  Once the sails are in place the brake is taken off and if there’s enough wind the sails will start to turn,

It’s pretty spectacular to watch the mill crank into action, both inside and out!!  Space inside is somewhat tight, but on the first floor I got a good view of the workings of the mill.  The drive shaft which is connected to the sails must have been a massive oak tree!  The craftmanship is superb, and it all functions beautifully!

Unfortunately the wind was not very even, so the mill would start and stop.

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The wooden “hat” can be turned so that the sails face the wind head on, and all the mechanisms including the millstones are located on the first floor of the mill.  The miller had to carry up all the sacks of grain and the flour would arrive by a chute on the floor below.

On the ground floor the miller had a small fireplace, despite the fire risk, to keep warm and to heat up his food.  When the mill was turning there was no way of leaving it unattended, anything could have happened, so I guess you couldn’t blame him for wanting a few little comforts.  There’s also a small sink set into the wall – was that for washing up after meals??  Can you find the chimney for the fireplace on the outside of the mill??  I’ll give you a clue – it does not come out through the roof.

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When you come to visit St Chinian be sure to stop by the windmill.  The views are superb, and it’s also the starting point for a walk called the sentier des capitelles.  The walk is well worth doing and I’ll write about it in another post, promise!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the guided visit of the windmill!

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