No stone unturned

Last weekend, the whole of Europe was once again on the heritage trail, celebrating history by opening museums free of charge and putting on special events.  I decided to visit Cruzy and go on a long overdue visit of the museum there.  Amongst people who hunt for dinosaur bones, Cruzy is well-known for its twice annual excavations on sites around the village, at Easter and in July.  The museum exhibits the finds from those digs, which started in 1996, as well as a number of other items:  four of the banners carried during a mass protest in Montpellier during the wine grower’s revolt in 1907; part of the contents of a well (we’ll get to that in a moment); the finds from archaeological excavations of Neolithic sites in the village; and a collection of minerals and stones.

P1040708The museum is in the former village hall, and very spacious.  Opening times are Tuesday to Sunday from 2 to 6pm.

First of all the well: this was accidentally discovered in 1975 in the square outside the church, when a car more or less disappeared into a hole – well not quite, but you get the picture!  Initial explorations showed that the well was almost entirely full up with debris, including the stones from the well head.

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The archaeologists emptied the well to a depth of 11.2 m and found over a ton and a half of pottery, along with animal bones, glass, and metal objects.  It appears that the well had been filled in between the middle of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.  And most of the contents were pots, everyday pottery of all sizes and shapes.  Between the 16th and 18th century there were 36 potters in Cruzy, and it seems that they threw their seconds or unsold stuff into the well – interesting for us, as some of those pots are very beautiful.

There are still boxes and boxes of broken pots in storage, just waiting for someone to piece them together – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle!

Of the Neolithic finds, a flint blade caught my eye, although I’m not sure that my camera caught it that well.  There was also a beautifully carved stone fragment.

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The banners from the 1907 wine grower’s revolt were originally painted for a group from Limoux for the demonstration in Montpellier and there is a photograph to show that.

The banners were later altered, and ended up in someone’s attic in Cruzy, where they were eventually discovered.  Restored and in sealed glass cases they are now on permanent display at the museum.  I’m not going to write about the wine grower’s revolt, but you can find a lot of information about it on Wikipedia.  The banners are interesting pieces of history, showing the despair of the people at the time.  At the demonstration in Montpellier on June 9, 1907 there were an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 demonstrators – consider the modes of transport at the time and you’ll realise just how important the issue was for the population of Languedoc.

Of course there are also lots of old bones and fossils, and here’s a little selection for you, including some dinosaur eggs:

As we were more or less finished with the museum, one of the guides told us that his colleague would take us to their laboratoire, where they store and prepare the finds.  How exciting, I thought!  The laboratoire is located in an old winery, which had been bought by the village, and the museum has been given a much-needed large space there, with purpose-built shelving to store all the finds.  Part of the space has been turned into a high-tech workshop, where the fossils are prepared.

Our guide explained that fossils are usually stabilised with a plaster cast before being extracted from the earth, to avoid them breaking up in the process.  Any remaining earth/stone is then painstakingly removed, using all manner of utensils including drill bits much like a dentist would use!

As if all that had not been enough for one afternoon, I then headed back to the church of Saint Eulalie, where a guided visit was underway.  And no sooner had that visit ended than our guide started the next guided visit of the old village.  But I think I’ll just leave you with this teaser and keep that story for next week :-)!

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Windmills, wine and food

What do those have to do with one another, you might well ask.  Nothing really except that it all happened the same week!  Last weekend the theme was “Journees Europeens des Moulins”, in other words European mill days and the idea was to look back on history and heritage.  The windmill in St Chinian is fully functional and once a year the sails go up and if the wind is right the mill turns and makes stone-ground flour (not for human consumption, according to hygiene regulations!!).  Among the local historians there is dissent as to whether the mill was originally designed to grind grain or whether it was to process lime, which was burnt in the nearby kiln.  When it was reconstructed some years ago, they argued it out, but the flour lobby won.  This year it was grey and cloudy and the wind too strong, so here is a picture from a sunny day!

On Tuesday Domaine La Madura bottled some of last year’s white wine – always an exciting operation.  The bottling plant comes on a truck, and the wine has to be pumped across the river.  There is no space for the truck to park outside the cellar, so Cyril has to put on his gum boots and brave the icy waters and slippery stones to get the hose pipe across the river bed.  In part made a little more perilous this year as we’d had rain not long before so there was lots of water!  

Once everything is hooked up the pump in the truck draws the wine into a holding tank, and then the bottling operation can begin – in theory.  The whole setup is very complex and needs a fair bit of fine tuning.  Bottles are fed in one end, get washed and dried, filled with wine, the cork pushed in, the capsule dropped on and tightened, the two labels pasted on and then agile hands put the bottles into boxes which are sealed and stacked on pallets.  It takes six people to keep the whole thing running and if it all runs smoothly the plant can process something like 2400 bottles an hour.  I’m looking forward to tasting the 2011 vintage of Domaine La Madura Classic blanc, cheers!

Auberge La Selette was my last dining out experience, and very nice it was too!  For aperitifs they serve a cucumber/garlic dip with croutons along with some luques olives, followed this time by an amuse bouche of gazpacho (yummy!)   I’m not fond of raw oysters, but I love their gratinated oysters, plump and juicy with just the right amount of cheese and grilled to perfection.  The salad with feta, anchovies and olives looked good too and was very tasty.

For main course there was duo of scallops and gambas, tempura of gambas on a herbed potato puree, and veal kidneys in red wine sauce.  All of it well executed and delicious.

For dessert we had tiramisu and profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  The profiteroles had the wow-factor when they arrived at the table, but I was more than happy with the tiramisu.  Do reserve if you want to go for dinner.  The night I was there the place was packed; service was good if a little slow (but then we were there for the evening, and we didn’t starve!), and despite the volume the kitchen coped very well.

In the garden things are finally moving – the tomatoes are planted and the potatoes are beginning to flower, so we’ll soon be enjoying the first new potatoes!  The roses are flowering their hearts out, and the first blossom on kiwi vine are opening.  That means that I’ll be pollinating every day now:  pick a male flower and then go over all the open female flowers – a little tedious at times but it works!!  With the recent rain everything is lush, including the weeds, but they’ll soon be under control again!

And here’s the gallery!