Spring events

With the days getting longer, the events calendar is filling up again.  Here is a selection of events which you might enjoy!  Please note – whilst I believe the information on this page to be correct at the time of publishing, I strongly recommend that you check with the organisers before attending an event.  If you want to visit the area and would like help in finding accommodation please head to www.midihideaways.com.   

Limoux Carnival – 2 January 2017 – 2 April 2017

The good people of Limoux take their carnival very seriously.  Different groups have the run of the central square every Saturday and Sunday during the carnival period.  It’s always an enjoyable festival to visit – I have previously written about it here, and you can find the full programme of this year’s events via this link.

Journees Europeennes des Metiers d´Art – 31 March – 2 April 2017

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.  Last year I visited a workshop where verre mousseline is made – see for yourself here.  You can find the full programme of this year’s event on the official French website.

Canal du Midi Boat Show 2017, Capestang – 8 April 2017

Your chance to see a selection of the most beautiful hotel barges on the Canal du Midi.  The show lasts for several days and is aimed at tourism professionals, but on this date it is open to the general public.

Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan – 14 April 2017

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.

Tournoi de la Citadelle, Carcassonne – 15 and 16 April 2017

This will be the first time that Carcassonne will be hosting this tournament, where competitors fight one another in full armour, just like in the Middle Ages!  You can find details on this website.

Balade Geologique dans le Saint-Chinianais, Cebazan – 22 April 2017

The area around Saint-Chinian is a geologist’s dream – to the point where groups of geology students from some of the UK universities are sent here to do field work and projects.  This guided visit will be by bus and is followed by a lecture.  Details from tourist office in Capestang via this link.

Fete de Saint-Aphrodise, Beziers – 28 April 2017

On the occasion of the fete of the patron saint of Beziers, the Basilica of Saint Aphrodise will be open to the public.  Restoration work has been ongoing since I wrote about the church back in 2013, and I am looking forward to seeing the interim results!

Grande Deballage, Pezenas – 7 May 2017

This event is not to be missed if you are into flea markets and antiques.  There will be in excess of 150 stalls, selling all kinds of “stuff”!!

Les Sentiers Gourmands, Narbonne – 21 May 2017

For the 14th time in as many years, this gourmet walk has been organised across the vineyards of La Clape. The full details can be found on the offical website, and if you want a ‘taste’ of what such a gourmet walk can be like, read my post about one such walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois here.

Walking through the vineyards

Walking through the vineyards

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A night at the theatre

Recently, friends invited me to join them for a visit to the theatre in Pezenas.  They had been telling me about this historical theatre for ages, and I had been longing to go – so this was it!  The theatre is tucked away in a narrow side street, and the facade of it is rather plain, save for a very ornate doorway.  If you look at the top half of the door casing there is nothing much to hint at what lies behind the entrance:

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There are no flashing signs, no names up in lights!  With the large wooden doors closed it would look like many other buildings in Pezenas.  BUT, the wooden doors were open and allowed a glimpse into the foyer:

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Very little is known of the early history of the theatre, but a description of it was made by the then town architect, Joseph Montgaillard, in 1855.  The town of Pezenas purchased the building in 1857, and in 1899 a series of renovation projects started, improving seating and stage machinery, as well as replacing the painted stage curtain.  In 1925 (!!) the theatre was electrified. I couldn’t find out whether it was lit with gas or candlelight before then. In 1947 the theatre closed down – I am assuming that it might have been due to the poor state of repair of the building.  You can find out a little more about the history of the theatre here.  There are also some pictures of it before the restoration began, on that website.

Work on the restoration didn’t start until 1998, after the theatre had been closed for more than 50 years!!  It finished with the re-opening of the theatre in 2012.  During those 14 years absolutely everything was worked on.  The building was made watertight, the interior restored and up-to-date technical services were installed.  Here is what it looks like today:

Door to the stalls

Door leading to the stalls

Former box office windows in the foyer

Former box office windows in the foyer

Detail of art deco decorations in the foyer

Detail of art deco decorations in the foyer

The foyer did not prepare me for the sumptuous interior of the auditorium

Auditorium of the historic theatre in Pezenas

Auditorium of the historic theatre in Pezenas

The photo above is of the view from the first floor balcony straight down to the stage.  The walls in the stalls and on the balcony are covered with striped wallpaper, faithfully reproduced after fragments of the original paper.

The ceiling was intricately painted and had been painstakingly restored:

The coat of arms of the town of Pezenas adorns the proscenium:

Coat of arms of the town of Pezenas

Coat of arms of the town of Pezenas

A new chandelier was created to light the auditorium:

the chandelier

The chandelier

Unfortunately the main stage curtain was not lowered during my visit, but apparently it is very much in keeping with the decorations you can see below:

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Top of the proscenium arch

Bit by bit the other patrons arrived, and the theatre filled up.  When it was time for the performance to begin the theatre was pretty full!

The auditorium filling up

The auditorium filling up

During the performance I took no pictures – I was too self-conscious of the loud click of the camera, and aware that the pictures might not be all that good with the low lighting conditions.  The piece we’d come to see was L’homme qui voulait voir les anges, The man who wanted to see the angels.  It was an amazing mix of storytelling and music, performed by Kamel Guennoun and the Trio Zephyr. I was totally mesmerized and carried along by the story and the music.  The simplicity of it was breathtaking – only the four chairs on the stage and the lights, which dimmed a little at times, but that was it!  A totally amazing evening all around!

On the road for antiques

This post was kindly written by Deidre Simmons, who is currently in the second half of her six month stay in St Chinian.  Thank you, Deidre, for sharing your passion with us all!

Shopping Pour Antiquités dans le sud de France

It was not our intention to do a lot of shopping while living dans le sud de la France. After all, it is costing us a bit to maintain two homes plus travel and enjoy the delicious food and wine. And we prefer not to spend a lot of money on “stuff”.

BUT I have discovered the magic of the French brocante et salons d’antiquaires. I got hooked when I decided I wanted a tarte tatin pan for the traditional apple tart recipe I had found on the Midihideways blog. It was early December, but it turned out we were just in time for the annual Grand Déballage (this translates as ‘big unpacking’, very much like a jumble or garage sale) which is usually held in nearby Pézenas on the 2nd Sunday in October but had been postponed this year. Lucky for us – but it meant a cooler day, albeit sunny. The city of Pézenas is known for its antiques, and the many shops of second-hand goods and antique dealers are open throughout the year. Furniture, old linen, jewellery, crockery, paintings, trinkets, African art, art deco, watches, books and posters, and an interesting selection of 1950s era furniture, china, and household items are available.

The colourful and “exotic” second-hand market we attended extended over a kilometre, with over 150 exhibitors. Many just had blankets laid out along the street, covered with bits and pieces. Others were more serious with tables or cupboards full of goodies. I was looking for copper – remember the tarte tatin pan?. There was not much in evidence but we did notice that items near the entrance had higher prices than further along. About half way into the melee, I saw a set of three copper pots. The man wanted 30 euros – for them all! A good price but not quite what I was looking for, so onward. Looking for anything specific among the melange of objects on display is a bit like trying to find “Waldo”.

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It was a cool day so everyone was bundled up. This lady was selling retro bakelite jewelry from the ’50s – or so she said. It is a bit hard to identify bakelite from plastic, but her merchandise was very nice and included some interesting colour combinations and designs. We had a good look through the bracelets and eventually bought two for gifts.

 

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Along we strolled, looking at no end of strange and unusual “antiques”. We were impressed that there were these guns for sale – no one worried about them lying out there for all to fondle.

 

 

We turned a corner and came upon a jazz ensemble adding music to the atmosphere. But it was lunchtime, and in France, lunch means eating and the ubiquitous bottle of wine – and family time.

 

 

Along a little lane off the antique row, we found Crêperie la Cour Pavee, where we enjoyed traditional Brittany-style galettes and crêpes with traditional cider. Can you imagine the taste of a salted butter caramel crêpe?

 

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Back to the Grand Déballage – we returned to our search back along the way we came and stopped again to look at the copper pots. I decided I might be able to pack one in a suitcase so offered 10 euros for the smallest. Now I am the happy owner of a perfect little saucepan. What an exciting day! And there is more….

About a week or two later, we read about the oldest and the biggest fleamarket of Montpellier – Marche aux Puces. On arriving, we were a bit disappointed to find more of a garage sale en masse with mostly second hand clothes and shoes, etc. And the culture was definitely more middle eastern than French. But, there were some treasures to be found among the mish mash, with a lot of careful looking. I, surprisingly, found an oval copper pan with brass handles in very good shape for 10 euros. We also found a set of speakers to use on the computer when we want to watch movies. 8 euros and, miracle of miracles, when we got home they worked!! Just a little further along, I found another set of copper pots on a mat among a lot of useless items. This time a set of 5 for 20 euros. Again, I did not want five pots. But there were two that were very nice, with stainless steel lining, which apparently is a good thing. They were about the same size as the one I had already bought but since I was able to “bargain” the owner to sell me the best two for 10 euros (I know, that was not exactly bargaining) I now have another copper pot a bit larger and have gifted the smaller one to my “foodie” friend. I still do not have a tarte tatin pan but I will keep looking.

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Now I am getting excited about antique shopping. On a return visit to Pézenas, we went into Les Antiquaires de l’Hotel Genieys. It really is a beautiful shop, and at the back is a room full of antique linens.

Once I started sorting through and feeling the softness of washed linen, I could not resist. I started looking at sheets for about 150 euros but digging through the pile found a very nice one in a natural colour (not bleached) for 30 euros. It is huge – 320cm x 280cm or 126 x 110 inches – bigger than the usual North American queen size – 267cm x 280cm or 105 × 110 inches.

 

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The most common and most desirable sheets are the white matrimonial monogrammed sheets, traditionally embroidered by a future bride for her trousseau. If you are interested, check out this website http://fleurdandeol.com. On a very cold Saturday in Marseillan Plage, I found one (with the odd initials A O). The extremely cold vendor, trying to keep warm in his truck when I dragged him out to unfold the sheets so that I could check the quality, was not into bargaining. I happily paid his asked for 20 euros.

My photos do not do them justice. The sheets need to be washed and ironed, but it’s wonderful to imagine them on our bed at home. The natural coloured one will probably be used as a topper. I am now on a search for pillow shams!

When we have to return home after this French adventure, for sure our suitcases will be overflowing and we will probably have to send a box of stuff home by post. BUT, we have some great souvenirs and more good stories.

À bientôt de notre maison en le sud de France 
Deidre Simmons

PS: We did not buy these!

 

 

The Moliere connection

A recent lunch date took me to Pezenas, and since I got there way too early I went for a walk, and took pictures :-).  Finding things to photograph in Pezenas is not difficult, but I did kind of restrict my output by using a telephoto lens on my camera, which meant that I was going to have to concentrate on details.  And details abound in Pezenas.  Take the balcony railings: it is as though someone had gone through an ironmonger’s catalogue and ordered one of each.  The variety is simply amazing!

The pictures above are only a fraction of what there is.  And then there is the stonework – exquisite and in most cases beautifully restored!

Pezenas came to prominence in the Middle Ages, when the town hosted the important Languedoc fairs, which attracted buyers and vendors from all over the Mediterranean basin.  Later the town hosted the assembly of the Languedoc states, a gathering of noblemen and bishops, for the purpose of setting taxes.

Many of the buildings in the ancient centre of the town have been renovated and some of their magnificent courtyards are open to the public.

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Quirky details are there to be discovered:

Pezenas is famous for its doors,

and also for little pies called Petits Pates de Pezenas, a (to my mind) strange confection containing meat and dried fruit, savoury and sweet at the same time.  According to one legend the recipe has an English connection…

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The church has some beautiful stained glass, and an impressive pipe organ case.

PICT3453 PICT3455And the streets are busy – with things to see, with people and with charm.

Finally I got to the restaurant – Hana Sushi is run by Yumi Matsui and serves traditional Japanese food.  The small room downstairs is decorated with traditional origami, Japanese textiles and lanterns, and upstairs you can dine sitting on the floor on tatami (rice straw) mats.  There is also a terrace on the first floor, and that’s where we ate.

To start with there was edamame (green soy beans), two types of Gyoza (dumplings) and a salad made from algue/seaweed.

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IMG_8230To follow we had a selection of dishes:  Ebi Bento, which was with tempura prawns, Sushi Bento, a bowl of sushi rice with an assortment of raw fish and vegetables, and California Sushi (tuna, prawns, salmon and avocado).

It was all delicious and the food was very fresh – of course all important with raw fish!  I can’t tell you how hungry I feel writing this – I feel another trip to Pezenas coming on very soon!!

Oh, and the Moliere connection in the title??  During the mid 17th century, Moliere came to Pezenas several times with his group of actors, to perform his plays and to entertain the nobles of the Languedoc states.  It is said that many of the personages of the time found their way into Moliere’s plays.  There’s a lot more to the Moliere/Pezenas story, but that will be for another post :-)!