Saturday, May 17, 2008

Albi, always and forever

The same experience can represent such different things for different people.

During my day in Albi with Loulou, she and I took part in exactly the same activities. We barely left each other's sides, chatting away as you can imagine two expat bloggers, from the same state to boot, would do.

Yet Loulou was experiencing a day of discovery: she had heard a lot about Albi but had never been there.

I, on the other hand, was feeling the sharp pull of nostalgia as I wandered through the beautiful city that had been my first French home.

My first French house...my first French job...my first French friends...my first French (and American!) child:

(A few hours before going into induced labor at the now-defunct Clinique Escudié)

Despite the withering heat that wilted me in late spring and summer, I loved Albi and assumed we would make our lives there. But professional changes for my husband led us to leave all too quickly. I lived in Albi for only two years -- but every time I go back it feels like home.

When we moved to Aveyron after a three-year stint in the Touraine region, one of our thoughts was how wonderful it would be to live "so close" to Albi. And upon arriving in the Rodez area, we contacted old Albigeois friends and spent some Saturdays and Sundays in La Ville Rouge.

But Albi was an hour and a half away from where were living, and is still well over an hour's drive despite road improvements. So we get there once in a while, usually to show visitors around, and we have no more regular contact with anyone in the town.

And Albi has changed, generally for the better. The beautiful covered market, which used to be lovely on the outside, but cold and primitive inside, has gotten a nice facelift...


...and especially a fabulous interior redesign:


There are also any number of new, attractive restaurants crying out to be tested, from this Parisian-style bistro in the basement of the covered market...

...to the Restaurant Stéphane Laurens where Loulou and I enjoyed a delicious and reasonably-priced lunch in a classy setting:

But of course many parts of Albi never change a bit -- and had better not do!

The St. Salvy cloisters, accessible by three tiny passageways in the center of town:

The maze of pedestrian streets where I used to get lost even when I lived there:

And the way I still feel I belong there, despite my adjustment to and love for the airy, varied Aveyron department.

Now my eldest daughter, the one who was about to get out from under that awful pink T-shirt I was wearing in the photo above, is thinking of going to college in Albi.

Now that would give me a real reason to go back often.

Will life come full circle that way? I don't want to unduly influence her, but I know I'm game.

Albi, always and forever...

22 comments:

Randal Graves said...

Wonderful shots and what a beautiful town. I love the idea of all those narrow streets, perfect for wearing the garb of the flâneur.

alisa said...

Betty - last September when we were in France we went to Albi for the day and it was a lovely city. We will only be 30 minutes from there when we move so I hope to get to know it better.

Alison said...

That was a really lovely blog entry.

Loulou said...

It was wonderful to read about your experience of going "home" again. I hope your daughter ends up in school there and that you spend more time in beautiful Albi.
(and maybe I can join you from time to time!)

Betty C. said...

Alisa -- Yes, you are totally in the "Tarnish" part of Aveyron. I think a lot of Aveyronnais may not even know Najac is in Aveyron! I think when I lived in Albi, I thought it was in the Tarn.

Alison and Randal -- Thank you.

Loulou -- Wouldn't that be neat? She really is leaning toward that because there aren't a lot of college options that suit her in Rodez, but she doesn't want to go to Toulouse nor too far from home.

poppy fields said...

You make me want to come visit Albi...I think we drove through one time, but that doesn't count.

john said...

Several years ago we spent a month not far from Albi near a village called Najac. While we only visited Albi once or twice I still remember it well. Thanks for rekindling the memories

Tinsie said...

IMO this post is one of the best you've written. I loved the narrative and the photos, and it's great to "see" you too!

Albi looks like a lovely town. Hope your daughter decides to go to college there, as it means we'll get to see more of it :-)

La Belette Rouge said...

Really lovely photos, as usual, and so nice to read your story of Albi. So funny that your daughter is considering going to school where she was hatched.;-)

Betty C. said...

lbr -- Yes, it is funny, especially since we kind of took the long route!

John - I am in contact with some American bloggers who are moving to Najac for a year. It is technically in Aveyron (where I live now) but much closer to Albi (in the Tarn) than Rodez, so it's often associated with the Tarn area.

Tinsie - Thanks so much! This post was simmering in me for a week. I don't usually post photos of myself, but I like that one before I went in to give birth -- even if the wardrobe choice is a little questionable!

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Looks like a very delightful town...thanks for the photos.

tut-tut said...

How great to have a photo of yourself just hours before giving birth! You look so calm. A lovely post, and I can tell how much you love the area.

Mimi from French Kitchen said...

What a lovely post. I understand that intense place love you feel for Albi.

b said...

This post is so wonderful. Your love of Albi really comes alive here. It is incredible how some places have such a grip on us and understandably, Albi is very dear to you and what a lovely perspective... to return and feel so warmly enveloped in that nostalgia.

I am so glad you enjoyed this trip and I hope you do find yourself returning more often. Hopefully to visit your daughter!

And by the way, you are so absolutely cute in the pregnant photo!! And yes, as tut-tut said, so calm!!! :)

Betty C. said...

b and tut-tut - - I was lucky enough to have easy deliveries. Both labors were induced, but I guess that mirrors the way your labor would have been anyway (at first I thought's that why they were easy.) I guess I was made to have kids! For a long time, I didn't think so...

RennyBA said...

Great post Betty and interesting to read about your different prospective.

The pics was great too - amazing architecture - so well documented.

Btw: I was thinking of other Expats and your blogroll and since I am a network evangelist, I can't resist trying to connect nice people. Have you ever visited:
http://correresmidestino.com/ and
http://expatraveler.blogspot.com/

screamish said...

A few HOURS before giving birth, that photo?! Hey girl I am twice as big and I'm only 20 weeks into it!!!!

I'm seriously not exaggerating, you looked great.

yeah, I love Albi, I passed thru quick once.

The bistros look quite chic, I remember it not so sophisticated...

tut-tut said...

Betty C.: We moved heavy furniture around the day before, to make the baby's room. That evening: one minute calm, next hard labor, two and a half hours later: L!

Betty C. said...

Thanks for all the comments on this post -- and do go to Albi if you have the chance!

CPCcurmudgeon said...

I stayed with a family from Albi for about ten days during each of the summers of 2002 and 2007 as part of a choral exchange. My chorus (Aurora Singers) and Chorale Assou-Lézert performed at the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile the last time we were there. Both trips were marvelous and I hope to return someday.

Jann said...

what a charming city. I would like to visit this place someday soon-has it changed all that much? .

Betty C. said...

Jann -- In the "change for the better" department, there are a lot more attractive restaurants and cafés.

As for change for the worst, I always think it's sad to see the incursion of so many national chain shops and how local shops are shutting down. That's not particular to Albi, though.