In the clink!

Last Saturday I went to prison!  Yes, you read that right РI went to prison, in Beziers!!

If you’re starting to get concerned, remember that in my last post I mentioned that I was planning to explore some of Beziers’s lesser known places during the European heritage days! ūüôā

The weather was grim.  Heavy rain had been forecast for the weekend, but I decided to go out anyhow!  Dressed in a showerproof jacket, and umbrella in hand I explored.  What I was able to visit was amazing and exceeded all my expectations!!  I managed to pack in a lot, so this is the first of a series of blog posts on the places I visited during my day in Beziers.

And yes, I went to prison in Beziers – the old prison, which is next to the cathedral, and which was closed down ten years ago!!

As you approach Beziers from across the river, the old prison is very visible as it sits at the top of the hill, with the cathedral next door. ¬†But because it’s built with the same kind of stone as the cathedral, and because it has a crenelated tower on one side, it looks from afar as though all the buildings belong together. ¬†Not altogether far-fetched – on the site of the prison were buildings which at one point belonged to the archbishopric of Beziers, housing clerics until the French Revolution. ¬†These buildings were demolished to make way for the prison!

Building work started in 1850 and lasted until 1857.  The building site was on the side of a very steep hill, so it could not have been easy to build.  Only in 1867 did the prisoners and staff move in.  The prison closed down in 2009, when a new facility opened on the outskirts of Beziers.  Here is an aerial shot from google maps which shows the T-shaped building of the old prison, with another building just north of it.

A curtain wall encloses the yard in front of the prison Рto the right of the entrance, visitors would have been waiting on visiting days; the yard on the left had a large gate which allowed vehicle access to the outside world.  It was also where the guillotine was located!  The last execution took place in Beziers in 1949!!

The door we entered through had a kind of cat-flap in it!  Might cats have been allowed in without a pass, as long as they helped keep the rodent population in check??

Just Inside the building was the reception area, where prisoners would be “processed” before being taken to their cells. ¬†It was rather cramped for our group of 20, so taking pictures was not possible. ¬†The room in the picture below was for prison visits. ¬†One wall had been decorated to make the families of the prisoners feel more at ease. ¬†I wonder how that would have worked, since they would have been sitting with their backs to that wall.

This is where people would have been able to talk but not touch!  Comfort was not of prime consideration!!

Through another set of doors and we were in the prison proper.  Three floors of cells were arranged around a central light well.

In case you are wondering, the netting is there to stop people from jumping down!

Each cell had a vaulted ceiling and measured about 10 Р12 square metres.  There were 56 cells, each housing two to three (and at times even four) prisoners.  Nothing has been done to the prison since the last prisoners left in 2009 Рwhat you see in the pictures is what it was like when the inmates would have last been there!

The cells had toilets and wash basins, some of them also had showers, but all of them had minimum privacy!  The prisoners would have been in their cells most of the day, but there were some physical activities:  on the lowest level of the prison there were four wedge-shaped yards, each with high walls and covered with steel netting Рthere was no escaping.  Can you magine the boredom of walking around the edge of this yard day after day??

There was also a gym:

and a library:

Some of the prisoners were allowed to work in the kitchen – the kitchen knives were counted after each session!!

Those who mis-behaved could be locked up in very small spaces!

Wooden stairs connected the three levels.  I was very glad when we made our way back up!
As we left the prison we walked along a corridor in the building in front of the prison proper – the view from a window along the corridor showed the drop outside the windows of the cells!

Of course, there was some barbed wire too!!

We left via the garage and the gate by which the prisoner transport vans would have passed.  I was very glad to be outside again!!

This was probably the last time that the prison will be open to the public in its current state. ¬†The building has been sold and planning is underway for it to be turned into a luxury hotel! ¬†Pass the champagne, darling! ūüôā

Watch out for next week’s post, which will continue my story of my visit to Beziers!

And lastly, if you are still wondering about the title of this post, “clink” is a colloquial term, referring to a jail or prison. ¬†It comes from the Clink prison in London – Wikipedia has all the information here.

Advertisements

It’s time!

This post is long overdue!! ¬†I had wanted to start writing again at the end of August, but with one thing and another it didn’t happen quite as planned. ¬†ūüôā

It’s been a long and busy summer, and with the weather still balmy it feels as though summer is not over yet! ¬†All kinds of things have happened in Saint-Chinian since I wrote my last blog post: night markets, flea markets, concerts, open air cinema, the music festival, guided visits and …

The garden has also kept me busy ‚ÄĒ the warm summer weather meant that things did grow very well indeed! But in order for the plants to grow that well, the garden needed to be watered – very regularly! ¬†It was all worth it though – the produce was wonderful: tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, okra, raspberries, strawberries, chilli peppers, potatoes and pears!! ¬†I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to list! Apples, kiwis and winter squash are yet to be picked. ¬†Part of that bountiful harvest was canned and put in my store cupboard for the winter months, but most of it was eaten right away or given to friends and neighbours. ¬†The orangeglow watermelon in the picture below weighed a whopping 7.2 kg!! ¬†I felt immensely proud for having grown that from seed! ūüôā

The orangeglow melon formed the base for the salad in the picture below: watermelon, tomato, red onion and feta – apart from the feta cheese, all the ingredients came from my garden!

Another favourite dish this summer was a salad made with thinly sliced raw courgettes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.  The recipe came from the telegraph website Рgive it a try if you can find small courgettes!

A friend introduced me to the Glory Bowl salad from Whitewater Cooks – it’s a layered salad that starts with cooked rice, topped with grated carrot, grated beetroot, fresh spinach, fried tofu cubes and toasted almonds. ¬†The dressing that goes with this salad is fantastic! ¬†I’ve made it a good many times since, with some variations in the ingredients:

Another favourite this summer was Thomasina Miers’ Roast Aubergine Salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and summer herbs. ¬†Roasting the aubergines with pomegranate molasses turns them into a delicious vegetable in their own right!

Combined with the other ingredients, the aubergines make a most wonderful salad – unlike any I’ve eaten before! ¬†My dressing looked a little grey as I used black sesame paste, but it was delicious all the same!

The fig harvest was not as abundant as last year, but there were still enough to make a delicious compote of figs with lemon and ginger!

The pear trees were heavily laden this year – a lot of them are slowly ripening in my fridge, the remainder are still on the trees! ¬†There’s nothing nicer than a perfectly ripe and juicy pear!!

Late summer plums made an appearance in one of the farm shops I went to recently – they were perfect for a plum tart!!

I leave it at that for now – just one more thing: ¬†If you are in France (or in Europe for that matter), don’t forget that this weekend is European Heritage Weekend – there will be many places to visit!! ¬†I’ll be exploring some of Beziers’ lesser known places and will report back soon!!