The singing fool

Do you know which French singer was given the nickname Le Fou Chantant? I’ll give you a clue: one of his most famous songs is called La Mer. You’ve probably heard that song at least once, perhaps in its English version called Beyond the Sea, performed by Bobby Darin and others, and more recently by Robbie Williams for the film Finding Nemo.  No, it was not Debussy, he didn’t sing!

A mural in Narbonne

The singer’s name is Charles Trenet – had you guessed it!?  Charles Trenet was born in Narbonne on May 18, 1913, at a time when his father was notary public in Saint-Chinian, and where Charles spent much of his early years.  Charles’ mother had inherited her parents’ house in Narbonne, which is where Charles Trenet was born.  The house stayed in the Trenet family until Charles donated it to the town of Narbonne, on the proviso that it would be opened to the public as a museum.

I went to visit the Maison Natale de Charles Trenet, which is what the house is called today, during the last European heritage weekend.  A guided visit had been announced for 1:30 pm, and I thought that would be a perfect for my first visit.  When I got there, quite a few people were already waiting.  When the doors opened, a larger than usual number of people were admitted – lucky for me!!  🙂  We were ushered into what had been Charles Trenet’s living room on the ground floor of the house.

You can see that it was a little crowded!  The whole house is furnished as it was when Charles Trenet was still alive.  Here are some shots of the sitting room:

Our guide explained that Charles Trenet redecorated whenever he thought something looked a little shabby.  Consequently, there were four different kinds of wall coverings in the living room! 🙂

From the ground floor, a staircase swept up to the first floor (the second floor if you are in the US) – the mirrored wall in the entrance hall gave the impression of a double flight staircase!

The first floor of the house was the domain of Charles Trenet’s mother.  Here’s her little boudoir:

Next door was the bedroom where Charles was born:

The christening robe of little Charles has been framed and hung on the wall above the bed.

After his mother died, Charles Trenet had a sauna cabin installed In the room next to his mother’s bedroom – the only modification he made to the first floor following his mother’s death.  Apparently he spent half an hour in the sauna every morning – in his later years he attributed his good physical shape and the condition of his voice to that habit.

The bathroom next to the sauna is incredibly dated – I’m not sure which period it is from –  the 60’s or the 70’s?  The large fireclay bathtub in powder blue must weigh a ton, perhaps literally!

Across the hallway from the bathroom is the kitchen, with the same brown tiles as in the bathroom!

Amongst my pictures of the house, I cannot find one of the family dining room – this room was always very crowded during my visit, so perhaps that’s why.

There was another flight of stairs to climb to the second floor (third floor for readers in the US).  One of the walls surrounding the staircase was hung with red drapes.  On the narrow wall there was a picture of Christ on the cross, and the next wall up showed various record covers and publicity shots – a somewhat odd juxtaposition, but whatever…

The second floor was where Charles had his private rooms.  The large sitting room contained many personal mementoes and photographs.  The upright piano is where Charles would have worked on his songs.

His bedroom was next to the sitting room, and it was fairly spartan in its furnishings.

The bathroom next door was of a more recent vintage than his mother’s bathroom.  There were still some toiletries on the shelf above the sink.

Across the hallway from the bathroom was a guest bedroom.  I’m not sure that I could live with that colour scheme 🙂

The kitchen on this floor must have been state-of-the-art at one point!! The wall-mounted refrigerator on the left is from the 1960s.

Charles Trenet had a number of homes in France, but he frequently visited his birthplace and he was always very attached to Narbonne.  I leave you with a song (e-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the video), and a picture of the bronze statue in the little front garden of the house.

The Maison Natale de Charles Trenet is located at 13 Avenue Charles Trenet in Narbonne, and open to the public every day except on Mondays.  You can find full details here.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisements

History preserved

Just down the road from Saint-Chinian, on the way to Beziers, lies the village of Puisserguier.  Puisserguier is one of those villages which I have passed through countless times, always on the way to somewhere else. I’m sure you also know a few places like that?  BUT – Puisserguier has several attractions worth stopping for, and I am going to tell you about one of them in this post:  the Ecomusee de la vie d’autrefois.

An ecomuseum is the museographic name for a museum concept which deals with cultural heritage, both material, i.e. displays of objects, and immaterial, such as skills.

The ‘ecomuseum of life in bygone days’ is located in four rooms of an old schoolhouse and the adjacent school playground.  The subtitle of the ecomuseum in Puisserguier is Centre de Ressources des Memoires, the resource centre of memories.  The exhibition does exactly what the subtitle hints at, displaying over 300 objects which have been collected/donated by volunteers, and are arranged to give an idea of what life might have been like in a bygone age.

The displays are arranged by trades.  Here you have a selection of items which would have been sold and used in the epicerie, the grocery store:

P1000500

Every display has a “hook”, which provides a link to local history.  The photograph, which is tied into the grocery store display, shows a local shopkeeper in her shop.  Some of the exhibits have come from that very same shop!

P1000502

Here is the pharmacy:

P1000503

The mercerie has a great selection of items from a haberdasher’s shop:

P1000504

The coiffeur shows what a hairdressing salon would have looked like, along with the tools which were used to style and cut people’s hair.   Those wash basins don’t look too comfortable, do they??

P1000505 P1000506

One of the rooms has been set up as a kind of reading room, where folders upon folders, containing all kinds of information, are waiting to be consulted.

P1000507

In the schoolroom next door, an exam, typical of those given autrefois was being administered – I was asked whether I wanted to give it a go, but I declined – I’m not sure that my French would have been up to it!

The displays continued outside, in what used to be the playground for the school.  A garage workshop had been set up under the cover of the old playground shelter:

With all the kids’ bikes lined up against the wall, it felt as though the schoolchildren might be sitting in their classrooms, ready to burst forth as soon as the bell was going to ring!

P1000511

A long, low building in the courtyard housed a great display of domestic paraphernalia.

P1000531

Inside, it was brimming over with “stuff” – there was so much to look at!!

Here is la toilette – from a time when most houses did not have bathrooms!  The bucket under the wash stand was for what used to be called “night soil”.  I leave you to work that one out! 🙂

P1000513

The kitchen corner had an amazing array of pots, pans, crocks and implements!


The fireplace, complete with family portraits and other everyday items, was the focus of the main room in every house, :

P1000518

P1000519

Entertainment from a bygone era – definitely pre-digital!!

A well stocked linen closet, such as this one, would require a lot of work to keep everything looking good. The foot-powered sewing machine was a big improvement on hand-sewing, but laundry was usually done by hand!  How did they get the sheets to be so snowy-white??

The exhibition is completed by a large selection of tools used in the vineyards:

The ecomuseum in Puisserguier is open on Fridays from 10am to 12noon, and on Mondays from 3pm to 5.30pm, or by appointment.  Entry is free, so why not make a point of stopping in Puisserguier and see for yourself – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too!

Frozen in time

At the beginning of November last year, I visited the Fete de la Chataigne in Olargues.  Whilst walking around the village, to see what was happening where, I discovered a gem of a place:  the Taillanderie Galibert or the Galibert Forge!

P1140054

I had walked down this street many times before, and admired the ancient, timeworn doors and shop fronts, but nothing had hinted at what lay hidden behind some of these shutters.

Outside the door stood an old bicycle and a few pieces of old equipment, as well as a storyboard.  My curiosity was piqued when I saw the open doors – I couldn’t resist having a look!

To step inside is to step back in time – to a time when mobile phones and internet were totally unknown, and when colour TV was still in its infancy!  The Galibert forge closed its doors in the 1970s.  After the last blacksmith died, the workshop was shut up and left as it was – since then almost nothing has been sold or removed.  The house still belongs to one of the descendants, and it was one of the grandsons of the last blacksmith who was demonstrating the machinery and giving the visitors some insights.  Here is the video I took of the machinery in action (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog site to view the video):

This grandson created an association last year, with the aim of bringing his grandfather’s workshop back to life.  It will be open for educational visits (school classes) and prearranged groups, and to the general public on special days, such as the Fete de la Chataigne.

Have a look at this Aladdin’s Cave of amazing stuff:

All the machinery is driven by a belt and pulley transmission – every health and safety inspector’s nightmare!  But the electric motor still works, and so do the machines – they were built to last!!

It’s a fascinating visit – well worth the trip to Olargues.  For details of opening hours please contact the Tourist office in Olargues: avenue de la gare, 34390 Olargues, Tel +33 (0)4 67 23 02 21, e-mail olargues@ot-caroux.fr

Potting away

After I visited Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert last fall, I stopped off in the village of Saint-Jean-de-Fos – it was on my way home, so how could I not! 🙂

Saint-Jean-de-Fos has been famous for its pottery workshops since the Middle Ages.  In days gone past, these workshops produced a huge range of everyday items for use inside and outside the home.  Think of items we take for granted today, such as cooking pots and pans.  Until not that long ago, a lot of people in France used terracotta cooking vessels, just as people in parts of India and Africa still do to this day.  Clay is very versatile, and objects were cheap and easy to produce.

In recent years the production of pottery in Saint-Jean-de-Fos has been revived, and one of the former factories has beentransformed into a museum, aptly named Argileum, “argile” being the French word for clay.

IMG_0961

The part of the building with the rusted exterior/roof is the new addition to the old factory, and it houses the visitors centre and reception area, as well as a gallery.  Looking at the main picture above I feel as though the building could be somewhere in Colorado or New Mexico…

The visit of the museum starts in a gallery which was added to the old building.  Just outside the door into the gallery is an installation of sculptures, which sit on a bed of broken terracotta.

The display in the gallery charts the history of this particular factory, as well as the history of ceramics production in the village.

IMG_0896

Here are some examples of items produced in Saint-Jean-de-Fos:

Pitchers, jars, jugs, bowls, plumbing pipes, roof tiles, sugar-loaf moulds, roof decorations, strainers…  There’s much more on display in the gallery than I am showing you in my pictures!

Here is a model of the old factory – the new additions are not shown.  The red dot (if you enlarge the picture) marks the location of the model in the gallery building, which was added to the old factory.

IMG_0897

Also in the gallery are cuttings from a clay pit – this is what clay looks like when it is extracted from the ground:

The first room in the old factory is the throwing room, where the lumps of clay would be turned into pots and other objects – not by throwing the clay around, but by throwing it on a wheel. 😀

IMG_0946

The wheel shown here is a “kick wheel” so-called because the potter kicks the weight at the bottom to turn it.  In this room there was also a video explaining how clay is prepared: once it is dug from the ground it is mixed with water, then sieved to remove impurities such as stones.  The sieved liquid was then left to settle and dry in large basins outside.  You can see the basins on the model above.

When the clay was the right texture it was cut into squares, and the squares stacked inside and left to mature.  Heavy work!!

P1130770

In the yard outside, where the basins were located, an exhibition of Raku pottery had been installed.

Raku is a particular technique of firing, where the red-hot objects are pulled from the kiln and put into sawdust, which results in the black surfaces.

Back inside the museum we came to the drying room, where the pots would be left to dry before being fired.  A video in this room explained the decoration particular to pots from Saint-Jean-de-Fos, where different oxides are applied to the clay before being glazed.

The final room was where the big kiln was located – an important part of every pottery!  In days gone by, pottery kilns were always wood fired.  Modern factory kilns can be gas or oil-fired, or powered by electricity.  Some potters still use wood, and the results from a wood fired kiln are very different from what is fired in other kilns.  In the picture below you see the upper level of the kiln, where the pots were stacked.  The hole would be walled up for each firing, and the wood was burned in a chamber beneath.

IMG_0982

 

If you want to know how an artisan pottery such as this would work in modern days, here is a video for you.  The workshops of the Not brothers are located close to Castelnaudary, and I will get there one of these days!

After the visit to the museum I wanted to see some of the modern-day potters and their wares.  The village itself is very nice for a stroll: narrow roads, squares, fountains…

… and then there were the shops 🙂 – very tempting and subversive to ever-diminishing cupboard space!!

If you visit St Guilhelm le Desert, be sure to leave some time to stop off at Saint-Jean-de-Fos, especially if you enjoy pottery!!

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.

P1040726

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.

IMG_8322

P1040643

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 :-)!

P1040677