Up and coming

With spring in the air, it’s time to come out of hibernation!  There are many events coming up which will tempt you to visit Saint-Chinian!!

Grands Crus Clasiques, Saint-Chinian – 10 March 2019

The pianist Conrad Wilkinson has relocated his successful series of concerts from Villeneuve-les-Beziers to Saint-Chinian for 2019.  There will be a total of six concerts, and the series kicks off with a concert of German Lieder by Mahler, Brahms and Strauss, sung by Ulrike Van Cotthem, with Conrad Wilkinson on piano.

Occitan Carnival, Beziers – 16 March 2019

The 35th Carnival in Beziers will have biodiversity as its theme!  There’ll be children dressed as bees, butterflies, ladybirds, hedgehogs, frogs to name but a few different animals, and there’ll be lots of colourfully decorated floats!

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art, all over France/Europe– 1 to 7 April 2019

The European Artistic Craft Days are held every year on the first weekend in April.  They give the public a chance to see expert craft makers in action.  Several years ago, I visited a workshop in Azillanet, where the almost forgotten art of etching glass is still practiced – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s events on the official French website.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 19 April 2019

Each year on Good Friday, the town of Perpignan hosts the traditional Good Friday Procession.  The custom dates back 600 years, and it is a deeply moving spectacle, the only one of its kind in France.

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Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 5 May 2019

For lovers of flea markets and antiques, this is an event that is not to be missed!!  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”, from rusty old keys to beautiful furniture!

Vente de Charite, Saint-Chinian – 9 June 2019

This is a fixture on Saint-Chinian’s calendar of events – a sale of bric-a-brac, plants, clothes, second-hand household items, books and more, all sold for a good cause.  The sale takes place in the abbatiale, the former abbey church in Saint-Chinian, and in the cloisters, and it is open until noon.

 

Festival Jazz au Cloitre, Saint-Chinian – 12 to 16 June 2019

Five evenings of Jazz concerts in the beautiful surroundings of the cloister in Saint-Chinian.   There will be a variety of styles: New Orleans Jazz, Blues, Soul Jazz, Gypsy Jazz and French Jazz!  The artists are a mixture of up-and-coming stars of tomorrow and well-known musicians.  The full programme is at www.festivalmusisc.com

Fete de la Musique, all over France – 21 June 2019

This one is an absolute must for your calendar!!  There will be concerts everywhere, from small recitals of classical music to large pop/rock concerts!  Saint-Chinian will be hosting a concert that day, details are yet to be announced.

Fete du Cru – 21 July 2019

A day packed with wine-tasting! The wine makers of the AOC Saint-Chinian set up their stands on the market square – paradise for wine-lovers, who’ll be able to taste and buy their way around Saint-Chinian wines!!  There will be food trucks, music, games and a tombola (prize draw)!!

 

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Festival MusiSc, Saint-Chinian – 22 to 28 July 2019

This is another one for your diary – the fifth annual Music Festival in Saint-Chinian!  11 concerts in one week, with a mixture of classical music and jazz, and a great variety of styles and performers – not to be missed!!  For the programme visit www.festivalmusisc.com

If you need a place to stay for any of these events, look no further than the www.midihideaways.com website!  You’ll find a selection of properties from apartments for two to larger properties sleeping up to 10 persons.

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Remembering Charles

I wonder how many of you have heard of the French singer Charles Trenet?  If you haven’t heard of him, you have probably heard one of his songs, perhaps La Mer (Beyond the Sea) or Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (I wish you love).  Both songs have been covered by many artists – have a look for them on the net, you’ll find many of them!  Charles Trenet was a big star in France, and most people know the lyrics to some of his songs.

What the Wikipedia page fails to mention under the heading ‘Early life’, is that Trenet’s father was the notary in Saint-Chinian at the time Charles was born.  Although he was born in Narbonne, little Charles spent his first years in Saint-Chinian, where he took piano lessons from a local music teacher.  The house where the Trenets used to live, is today the Maison des Vins and the veterinary practice – at some time it was divided into two.

Earlier this year year, the municipality of Saint-Chinian decided that it would be fitting to remember the fact that Charles Trenet was once a citizen of Saint-Chinian.  To that end, the Rue de la Promenade was recently re-named  Avenue Charles Trenet!

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The re-naming ceremony took place outside the Maison des Vins, one recent Sunday.  The sun shone, and the atmosphere was festive!  Part of the ceremony was the induction of three of Charles Trenet’s collaborators into the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Saint-Chinian, the Fellowship of the AOC Saint-Chinian.

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Of course there was an aperitif after the official business had been completed!

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The “festivities” continued in the abbatiale, the former abbey church.  Here a monumental picture of Charles Trenet was unveiled, hanging on the end wall.  It looks impressive, doesn’t it??

Jean-Pierre Tutin and Jean-Jaques Debout, both of whom knew Charles Trenet very well, were playing some of the Trenet repertoire, while the rest of us snacked on cheese and apple cake.

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Jean-Pierre Tutin

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Jean-Jacques Debout

You’ll be able to hear Jean-Pierre Tutin in Saint-Chinian later this year, on July 7, 2016, during the music festival.  He will be playing and singing music by Charles Trenet.  I’ll write more about the music festival in due course, once the programme is finalised.

The last event of this day of celebrating Charles Trenet was in the parish church in Saint-Chinian.  Here a recital of the music of Charles Trenet was played on the organ by William Henriet, another Trenet collaborator.  Hearing 20th century music played on an 18th century organ was interesting – let’s leave it at that! 😀

All in all, a great day, and I’m sure there will be more events in Saint-Chinian with a “Trenet” theme.

Magic in the moonlight

In a little valley near the village of Cazedarnes, hidden away from sight, lies the Abbaye de Fontcaude.  This monastery was founded in 1179 as a Premonstratensian monastery, and stayed in the possession of the Premonstratensian Order until the dissolution of the monastery during the French Revolution, in 1791.  Today the buildings of the former monastery are in private ownership, and members of an association, the friends of Fontcaude Abbey, have been working on restoring what is left of the monastic buildings.  The church and remains of the cloisters are now open to the public throughout the year.  It is well worth driving down the winding roads to the hamlet of Fontcaude, and I will write about a visit to the abbey at a later date.

Fontcaude Abbey

My most recent visit was on the eve of the European Heritage weekend, which always takes place around September 21 each year.  It has become a tradition at Fontcaude that a concert is held at the abbey then, and this year the concert was by an ensemble called Aire y Fuego, air and fire.  The group was made up of two guitarists and two singers:  Ariane Wolhuter (soprano) and Philippe Mouratoglou (guitar) made up the “air duo”, and Sandra Hurtado-Ros (soprano) and Jean-Francois Ruiz (guitar) made up the “fire duo”.

The stage and seating were in the open air, against the magnificent backdrop of an old stone wall, with the apse of the Romanesque church to one side.

Backdrop at Fontcaude Abbey

It was a cool evening, and a lot of people had come prepared, dressed in warm jackets or carrying blankets.  As I sat waiting for the concert to start, I wished I had thought of more than just a scarf – but it turned out to be OK :).

The Aire y Fuego website describes the concert as follows:

Recital English and Spanish melodies
The passion for Spanish and English melodies, with the voices of two magnificent sopranos, is expressed here with talent and generosity in the duets with guitars : Ariane Wohlhuter, accompanied by Philippe Mouratoglou, sings John Dowland, Benjamin Britten, Dusan Bogdanovic and weaves ample arabesques under the Romanic vaults, and the Sevillane Sandra Hurtado-Ròs, with Jean-François Ruiz, inflames Manuel de Falla, Manuel Oltra, Antonio Machado and Federico Garcia Lorca’s songs… Air and Fire. It is an unforgettable moment !

An unforgettable moment it definitely was!!  Ariane Wolhuter sang the English songs with perfect diction and great interpretation.

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E-mail subscribers, please visit the website to view the videos in this post.

Sandra Hurtado-Ros’ interpretation of the Spanish songs was passionate and earthy – you could tell that she was living the songs she was singing.

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Both guitarists were fantastic, and the concert culminated with both duos singing and playing together.  Even the moon cooperated 🙂

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The concert was part of the 10th edition of the festival Les Troubadours chantent l’art roman en Languedoc Roussillon, which runs from May to October – watch out for next year’s edition!

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Below are three more videos to give you an idea of what a wonderful and magical  evening it was!

 

King of the castle

This week I want to share a very special experience with you – one that you may not be able to replicate exactly the way I experienced it.  Some of you may remember my post about Carcassonne, a little while back.  Every summer, Carcassonne hosts a festival during the month of July, presenting music of all types, theatre, and dance all over the old and new towns, in a mixture of venues.  There’s jazz, pop, rock, opera, soul – you name it, it’s all there. Some of the concert highlights this year included Status Quo, Lana del Rey, Pink Martini, Franz Ferdinand, James Blunt, Vanessa Paradis, and Elton John.  You can find the full programme here.

If you’re into your music you might be getting somewhat excited by now – I think it’s a pretty amazing line-up for a town like Carcassonne.  And that’s just this year!  They have international musicians every year!

To get back to my story, I found myself in Carcassonne on July 15, the day after the spectacular fireworks extravaganza which takes place in Carcassonne every year (I will visit that for you another year, promise!!).   Carcassonne is always lovely to visit, there’s always something going on and the towers are lovely to look at.

I had arranged to meet friends for dinner before the concert, and I was early, so I had a little time to walk about.  The streets were busy with tourists, but despite the bustle this cat had a lovely time, stretched out in the shade 🙂 !!

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There’s always colour and quirkiness to be found in Carcassonne!

The restaurants on Place Marcou were already busy.

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Just the other side of Place Marcou I met up with my friends, and since we were too early for our restaurant, we had a drink in a neighbouring bar.  Dinner was booked at La Table d’Alais, a little restaurant tucked away in a row of houses on Rue du Plo.  We walked right past it to begin with, without realising that it was there.  The street entrance is just a small doorway, with the dining room and terrace all located on the first floor.

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It’s not easy picking a restaurant in Carcassonne – there are scores to choose from, and reviews on the internet can be variable and not always reliable.  We were very pleased with our choice though;  the food was delicious and the prices pretty reasonable for a town like Carcassonne.

The starters were beetroot salad with goat’s cheese mousse, foie gras, and gazpacho.  Can you guess who had the foie gras??

For main course there was tuna belly with courgette puree, pork fillet with mushrooms, and cassoulet.  Can you guess who had the cassoulet??  I admit, I pigged out a little, but both my dishes were very good!!  After we had finished our main courses, everyone got a little anxious as the time for our concert drew nearer.  We did get our desserts and in the rush I forgot to photograph it.  It was a tarte tatin made with golden delicious apples – well enough executed, but slightly uninspired.

The concert was in the open air Theatre Jean Deschamps in the Cite.  This theatre was created in 1908 on the site of the old Saint Nazaire cloisters, and named in 2006 after the French actor Jean Deschamps, who created the Carcassonne Festival in 1957.

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Above is a view from our seats down to the stage.  The orchestra stalls in front of the stage are called the Carre d’Or, the golden square.  What a nice name!! The first tier in front of us is called 1ere Serie, and we were in the second tier, predictably called 2eme Serie.  Now here’s a tip if you want to go to the festival.  Our seats were Rang B in the second tier, numbered 77 to 81 – the view was spectacular and because it was the first row of the second tier there was nobody sitting in front of us!

As we were taking our seats the warm-up act was just about finishing – I’m glad it didn’t last long :).  We had come to see Elton John, and his concert started on the dot at 9:30pm!

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There then followed one and a half hours of music and pure magic!  As the evening wore on, the sun was slowly setting behind the crenelated walls, and the atmosphere gradually changed.  It was magical!

Very early on in the concert, Elton made an announcement to say that, after the current round of concerts and touring, he would be retiring from the music business, to spend more time with his children.  I think it made the evening even more special for everyone.  Elton played song after song, without a break or long chatty bits, and his music still sounded fresh.  At the end of the concert he played a couple of encores, but we made a dash for it after the first one, trying to hit the road before the rest of the 5000 spectators did so.  And we were successful, and back in St Chinian just after 1am, tired but very happy!!

I’ll leave you with a few shaky videos of the evening – the piano playing especially was very good!  E-mail subscribers, please visit http://www.midihideaways.wordpress.com to watch the videos.

And the farewell to the music business?  A few days after the concert, the media picked up on it;  a spokesperson for Elton John said that he would not be retiring.  So we’ll see what happens…

My kinda Pastis

Fall is a time for festivals, and many of them have a harvest theme.  In St Nazaire de Ladarez the festival is called Fete de la Noisette, celebrating the hazelnuts which are locally grown.  A bit of history to start with:  during the winter of 1709 temperatures dropped very low, and the olive trees froze.  The farmers decided to diversify and planted hazel trees to provide a cash crop, and from 1722 organised the sale of the totality of their crop in one lot, in order to get the best price.  In 1833 a total of 137 farmers founded a company for the sale of their hazelnuts.

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Fast forward to today:  hazelnuts are no longer a cash crop, but there are still a good number of trees, and the Fete de la Noisette is keeping traditions alive – not least the tradition of the Pastis.  No, not the drink but a kind of cake, made of puff pastry and filled with hazelnuts.  Pastis is an Occitan word, meaning “mixture”, and in this case a secret mixture is sandwiched between two sheets of puff pastry.  Generally a Pastis was a cake prepared for special occasions and festivals, and different villages have their own recipes, all kept secret and usually passed from one generation to another.  In Thezan les Beziers the Pastis is prepared with almonds, in Laurens with walnuts, and in Pailhes with almonds and apples, but we are in St Nazaire, so it’s with hazelnuts.

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If you want to try your hand at it, my recommendation is to use a recipe along the lines of a Galette des Rois, substitute hazelnuts for almonds, and use less butter.  The top of the Pastis was brushed with something tasting of orange, or perhaps the sugar used for the dusting was orange flavoured.  In any case I’m sure you’ll have a delicious tasting cake!!

When I arrived at the fete, everyone was still in church for the blessing of the harvest and the Pastis of course.  Even so, a good many people were about and some of the stalls were doing brisk trade.

There was a fair amount of hazelnut related food, such as the hazelnut pastries made by one of the local associations.

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And there were chestnuts of course – freshly roasted, of course, and to be enjoyed with a glass of wine.

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Once everyone had left church I took a quick look – from the outside it looked rather austere, and I am guessing that it was re-built during a prosperous period in the 19th century.

The cafe Aux Acacias just across the road from the church was humming;  they had set up a bar outside and were selling drinks and plates of grilled sausages with fries.  Guess what I had for lunch?? 🙂  A band was entertaining us with jazz music and the sun was shining – what could be better?

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After lunch a walk around the village was called for and there were many interesting things to discover.  La Ruche du Midi was a cooperative society based in Beziers, which once operated 250+ grocery stores in the area.

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At some point St Nazaire must have been quite prosperous, judging by the beautiful ironwork on many facades.

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The tower is the best preserved part of the medieval castle of the village.

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I think I surprised kitty at first, but he/she was very patient with me!

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Back at the fete the children were entertained with rides around the village.

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Before heading back to the car I bought some apples from Mr Hortala, who has his orchards in Plaussenous (you try and pronounce that!!).  They were delicious!

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My car was parked just next door to the cemetery.  Whenever I have the time I will always have a look around a cemetery.  There’s always so much to discover, and the graveyard in St Nazaire was no exception.  It is arranged on several levels because of the hilly terrain, and there were beautiful flowers and some interesting monuments.

And just before I left I discovered this little creature.  It was sitting on a Chrysanthemum flower and had a kind of triumphant look on its face, or was that a look of relief? 😉

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