Sunday, May 24, 2015

A jewel of a village: Coussergues, Aveyron

Coussergues, looking a bit like a village in Touraine for some reason

Coming on to the last of our exceptional string of long weekends here in France, I really hoped to have a lot of new, local adventures to share. But the weather has really got into the way.

Let me explain: May can have anywhere from no official long weekends and just one potential long weekend, to three official ones and one potential one. This year we got the jackpot. May 1st (La Fête du Travail) and May 8th, to celebrate the end of World War II, were both on Fridays, making for automatic long weekends.

Ascension Thursday is always a public holiday, but can be earlier or later in May. This year it came right on the heels of the May 8th holiday, and since our building closes for the Friday following, I got another long weekend last weekend.

But of all of those days off and weekends, really only Sunday May 10th provided me with beautiful, warm, exploring weather. That is when I went to Palmas, which I wrote about in my last post, and also discovered the charming village of Coussergues, located between Laissac and St. Geniez d'Olt


Coussergues is impressive for its two church towers of approximately the same height. 

This is the "modern" church, built in the 19th century. This type of church is not considered much of an attraction in these parts, but I found its location attractive and liked the way it stood out in the middle of the village

The bell tower is all that remains of the 15th century church, just a few steps away from the "new" church. 

This church used to serve as a shelter for village residents, perhaps during periods of attacks from enemies.

Its fortress-like aspect strikes a sharp contrast against the more clearly "churchy" modern edifice. 

A place to be explored...

Like just about every place I have visited since I started up my perigrinations again last fall, I told myself I needed to come back when I had a little more time. And if I just were to carry on a few more kilometers, there are many other places to explore in the surrounding countryside.

No sign-posting here

I ended my visit to Coussergues sitting on a conveniently-located bench in front of this intriguing little fountain.

Like so many other structures in France, no sign indicated a thing about its age or origin.

As I write this, it is our last in the series of long weekends -- Pentecost weekend, with Monday being a public holiday. Pentecost weekend is more often in June, but the church calendar this year piled it up right after the string of three other long weekends.

The weather has been gloomy, if not out and out cold, so I have nothing more recent to add. 

But I can always hold out hope for tomorrow. 

Lou Messugo

Friday, May 15, 2015

Backroad Wanderings: Palmas, Aveyron

Looking up at the Eglise Saint-Vincent de Palmas

Last Sunday we had magnificent weather here, and I was itching to get out and do a little more backroad exploration. Unfortunately -- no, let's say fortunately, it needed to be done -- my husband got me wrapped up in a home improvement project at about 3pm, right before I was planning to leave.

"It won't take long!" 

I've heard that before! 4pm, 5pm, 6pm...I finally hit the road in the early evening which, on what was a hot day, turned out to be most pleasant.

My only plan was to head east, as I know very little of the whole area between Gages, where we live, and the impressive medieval city of Sévérac-le-Château

My first stop, and the object of this post, was the tiny town of Palmas -- just 14 kilometres from my house, yet I had never set foot there.

A precarious and surprisingly accessible climb

I was pressed for time (grumble grumble, yet that home improvement project WAS worth it), and I'm afraid I didn't do the place justice. Naturally, I found myself drawn to the most clearly visible site to see: the stark yet stunning Eglise Saint-Vincent de Palmas.

Were there really no railings up this staircase?

I was intrigued at the apparently permitted possibility of climbling up an exterior staircase to a tiny terrace, and even more surprised to be able to open the iron gate to go into it.

I perched up there for a few minutes, feeling a bit dizzy, and forgot to take any photos looking down.

The narrow door at the top of the stairs

The door at the top of the stairs was only about a foot and a half wide -- I wondered about its purpose, and wondered even more about the advisability of passers-by (read:me) being able to climb up the stairs with no railing. But of course I was thrilled to be able to do so!

A church with a built-in mailbox

Front view of the bell tower

My visit to Palmas started and ended here. As the only person wandering around the village, I was already feeling conspicuous. An elderly woman had started observing me from her window; a dog started barking as I stood in front of its house to take this last shot.

My future backroad companion

I later found out I had missed a lot: the vestiges of a castle, three distinct "quartiers," a 16th century bridge. 

I have an excellent book by Daniel Crozes , a well-known local author, that gives an exhaustive wealth of information about every nook and cranny of Aveyron, but I have been consulting it after my outings only.

On further expeditions, Daniel Crozes will guide me -- at least once I've landed in the place I plan to explore. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

An emotional visit to Albi, a place that used to be home

Albi, looking UNESCO-picture-perfect

Albi was my first French home, and for years I carried around a heavy, lump-in-the-throat nostalgia about it.

We lived there for two years in the early 90s; our first daughter was born there; I easily imagined staying there indefinitely.

But professional changes led us to spend a few years in Touraine, and then return to the Midi-Pyrénées area: not to Albi (sniff -- no, sniffed), but to Aveyron -- as you all know.

Rodez is now less than an hour's drive from Albi, but when we arrived, the road was sinuous and slow, and we immediately figured out that with two small children, we weren't going to get back to Albi that often.

I was shocked, though, as I planned a day trip there last weekend with one of our exchange students, to find that I had not been back for exactly (to the day!) 7 years -- not counting, of course, driving past the town on the way to Toulouse.

Tourists come from far and near...and why wouldn't they?

A lot has happened there, even since 2008. The Episcopal City of Albi, including its cathedral, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010, giving it the same worldwide cultural standing as Chartres Cathedral or the Pont du Gard

Albi was a tourist attraction even when I lived there, but the swarms of visitors in early May, and the rather alarming number of tourist-trappy-looking restaurants sprung up around the cathedral, attest to a significant boost in the town's popularity.

The St. Salvy/Salvi Cloisters, May 2, 2008

My favorite place in Albi, and one where I could always find a moment of cool calm when I lived there, is The St Salvy Cloisters

I'm glad I got this photo 7 years ago, because this time around, the cloisters were overtaken by a boisterous and vociferous group of young (but adult) Spanish tourists using the secluded site to take multiple photos in a variety of oh-so-amusing poses. 

Their raucous photo shoot took over half an hour, so I gave up on any hope of cloister "zénitude," as the French would put it -- athough I did think that was what cloisters were for, even now. Call me old-fashioned.  

Blooms have replaced the dirt in the previous photo, so at least I can reflect from the comfort of my own computer

The day marked a turning point for me. 

Yes, Albi, you are drop-dead gorgeous, certainly, at least at first glance,  the most beautiful medium-sized city in the region. I will definitely be back before 7 more years go by -- although perhaps in February.

And yes, you deserve your UNESCO status, and I might add in passing that the powers that be did a fantastic job fixing you up. You wear your honor well.

But, finally, after many years of "what-ifs," you no longer feel anything like what used to be home.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Old signs and abandoned buildings

Abandoned storefront in Rodez, France

A lot of my favorite finds never make it to my blog. 

As most "France" bloggers do, I tend to focus on the scenic: pastoral views, architectural wonders, and, of course, the mandatory doors and windows. (Sometimes I try to resist the latter, but who can, really?)

But what I actually love tracking down the most are old signs, abandoned buildings, and assorted weird places that wouldn't make the tourist guides.

Girdles ("gaines") must have been more important than lingerie at the time

This sign for Triumph Lingerie, a perfectly modern brand,  is displayed on a still-operating lingerie shop in a nearby town. I like that they have chosen not to take it down -- or just haven't gotten around to it.

There's always a story...

More recently abandoned buildings, especially businesses, always make me feel melancholy. I wonder what the story was: dwindling trade, no one to take over after retirement, even a death? I may like the photos, but it doesn't mean I like the situation.

An old sign of the scenic variety

One finds, in France, a number of old advertising signs placed directly on houses, or even painted on them. I've often been curious about this practice, and I also enjoy looking up the brand if I don't know of it.

But with so many of the letters hidden behind the leaves, I wasn't able to find out what the one above was for.

Does anybody out there know?


Although I hadn't heard from her for a while, I suspected that this would be the type of mystery that Susan from Days on the Claise would solve, or at least help me solve. She was able to decipher that the top word was "HUILE," or (motor) oil, and suggested the brand might be HART.

That sped up my research considerably. The brand was not HART, but HAFA, and it is still a going concern -- just shows you how much I'm up on my motor oils. 

This led me to finding a full photo of the same ad, on the blog Fragments de Roanne.

Photo courtesy of Dominique Thoral

I had been intrigued by the latest photo's on Dominique's blog, a series of "abri-bus," or covered bus stops, and was not that surprised to find out the blogger is a truly accomplished photographer who has done some exhibits.

Website: Choses Communes by Dominique Thoral

Lou Messugo

Monday, April 13, 2015

Paris 1: Les Douches, la Galerie

Entrance to Les Douches, la Galerie

As a student in France in the 1980s, I was always fascinated, and a bit perplexed, by the many municipal bath and shower facilities I saw -- especially in Paris.

For some reason or another, I even ended up using one once -- I think a youth hostel I was staying in only had toilets, not showers, and we were guided to the city showers.

I thought they were a thing of the past, but before writing this post, I learned that there are still 17 operating municipal shower facilities in Paris. There is even an official video about them on Daily Motion (all in French.) And according to the newspaper Libération, their popularity is on the upswing, as users include people trying to save money any way they can, including on hot water.

Be that as it may....

...I didn't start my Easter weekend in Paris off with a public shower. My husband had scoped out a photo exhibit of shots of New York, so we headed off to Les Douches, La Galerie

It was an interesting show, albeit just enough to whet one's appetite for photos of New York City. I was especially interested to see some photos by the mysterious Vivian Maier, and hadn't realized that this gallery had housed her Paris exhibition in 2013

No doubt here as to what this place used to be

It was fascinating to see how this gallery has kept its "public shower" atmosphere. 

The New York photo show is open until May 22nd, and entrance is free -- but showers are not included.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 years ago on La France Profonde

We're in the 10° rainy zone, just northwest of the 18° sunny zone

There comes a time, in the Rodez area, when we become acutely aware that although we are part of the Midi-Pyrénées region, we are still not quite far enough south to be, well, really part of the south.

That time is often in March, and this year is no exception. 

I haven't been able to get out on any springtime explorations yet, and have spent this weekend and last weekend holed up reading. That's pleasant enough in January, but frustrating when it is nearly April.

Of course we need the rain, but does it have to come especially over the weekend?

Fountain on the Place Foch in Rodez, March 2010

Being utterly uninspired as to blogging material, I decided to dig back into the archives of La France Profonde. What was I blogging about 5 years ago in March?

Inspiration was perhaps lagging then too, as I had only managed to eke out two written posts, plus 4 "Wordless Wednesday" posts, which, for lack of recent photos, I am including to illustrate this one.

On my way to visiting Jennifer of Chez Loulou, March 2010

That March, I got a huge dose of sun on a visit to see blogging buddy Jennifer G. when she was living in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Of the commenters on my Wordless Wednesdays from March 2010, she and Spacedlaw are the only two still keeping up blogs.

I'm still in touch with some of the other commenters through Facebook or Twitter, although their blogs are long defunct. And there are regular commenters from that time period whom I don't remember at all.

March 2010 -- and that's all I know about this photo

The problem with Wordless Wednesday posts is their wordlessness, which is one reason I have decided not to do them anymore -- that and the fact they always feel a little like a cop-out. I wish I remembered where I took the above photo, but I won't go through my thousands of photos to find out.

Baby Bunny was truly a baby in March 2010

We are lucky enough to still have the darling pet rabbit, Bunny, that we got in January 2010. The other "baby" in the photo was in her 1re (junior) year of high school. 

Now she is living in Manhattan, and at the moment is visible on a city wall as part of the Projection Napping Project by Dawn of Man . You can see her here sleeping in the city that never sleeps, from 0:39 to 0:44 seconds:

All that said, I think I'll get under the covers and read a little more...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Stop the virtual world, I want to get off....sometimes...

How can we NOT feel overwhelmed?

I made a New Year's Resolution this year, and feel I have kept it well enough to give a positive status report.

As odd as it may seem after picking up this blog again, I decided, in 2015, to softly yet significantly disconnect from the virtual world.

A lot is being written about mindful computer use and dealing with computer overload, so plenty of professional lifehackers have plenty to say about the topic. 

As for little old me, I was finding my numerous online "obligations" both stress and guilt-inducing. 

So, how could I continue to reap the benefits of the Web's offerings, without making social media site stops just another checkpoint on my daily to-do list?

I won't bore you with all the details of how I tweaked Facebook and Twitter, but basically this is how I achieved -- for now -- a more tranquilly connected life.

1. I turned off almost all of my smartphone notifications. And suddenly, having a smartphone feels fun again. (Granted, I have a job that allows me to do this.)

2. I unfollowed over 1,000 people/entities on Twitter. I don't actually use Twitter that much, but when I do, I want to at least recognize a few familiar faces on my feed.

3. I forced myself to stop drifting to Facebook as my default distraction zone. It is amazing how much I can accomplish there in 10 to 15 minutes a day -- in other words: enough.

4. I unsubscribed from a ton of email subscriptions and lists. And to tell the truth, I can't name one of them.

5. I gave up on keeping up. I don't set myself impossible goals in other aspects of my life; why should Internet be any different?

Through the above, I have started feeling more of what I used to feel about the Web: a sense of wonder and discovery.

What about you? Have you done anything to tame the Internet overload beast?

Feature Image sourced under Creative Commons Attribution license from Deviant Art.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

20 minutes in Espalion

Espalion reflecting in the Lot river

Spring finally sprang this weekend, which made me want to get out and go anywhere and everywhere.

On Sunday, besides taking a nice hike on the nature paths around my house, I made a lightening-quick visit to nearby Espalion: population about 4,300.

Espalion is one of Aveyron's larger villages, or smaller towns, and every time I head north to it, I tell myself I should go more often.

Unique indeed....

Espalion has plenty of personality. It is home to a most unusual museum, Le Musée du Scaphandre, which somehow sounds much better in French than "The Diving Suit Museum."

I'm not sure if it's the only diving suit museum in the world, but I would bet that it's the only one housed in a church.

So why is this off-beat museum here? 

According to Wikipedia: Benoît Rouquayrol was born on June 13, 1826, at Espalion... In 1864, with the help of the French Navy lieutenant Auguste Denayrouze (also of Aveyron), Rouquayrol created the first diving suit. This diving suit won the gold medal at the 1867 World's Fair, and drew the attention of author Jules Verne. Verne included the diving suit in his fictional depiction of a contemporary submarine voyage, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
Rouquayrol died on November 14, 1875 at Rodez, Aveyron, France.
So that is how we have ended up with a diving suit museum in Aveyron. 
I've been there before, but I think it is time for a new visit once the museum opens for the tourist season.

Aveyron or Provence? 

Much like Rodez, Espalion does not display an overwhelming degree of architectural unity. 

Definitely Aveyron -- not Provence

But I find this fascinating, and would like to know of the history behind the many different architectural styles of the area.

A cool book shop

There is a lovely little bookshop in Espalion and, given the problems independent booksellers are having here -- as everywhere -- I vowed to come back on a Saturday and buy a few paper books. 

A new word for me...

Boulangerie, sandwicherie, boucherie, crêperie...I thought I knew every word ending in -erie for a French food establishment. 

How could I have missed "Tarterie"? 

This looks like another good reason to go back to Espalion on a Saturday...

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A few glimpses of Rodez: new and old

Striking view from the inside of the new Musée Soulages

Last weekend I got to play the tour guide to a friend of ours from Montpellier who barely knows Rodez. 

I'm proud to say that despite the glacial winds, she was duly impressed. 

I wish I had taken more photos, but I didn't want to slow her down with that. 

Other than in the museum, I also didn't want to take my gloves off.

We did two full afternoons of full-mode Rodez exploration, starting on Saturday with the Musée Soulages and tea at Café Bras. Even though "Soulages," as it is fondly called here, will soon have been open for a year, I still can't quite believe, even when I just walk past it, that Rodez is home to such a splendid modern art museum.

The cathedral bell tower in all its splendor

We moved on from the museum to the cathedral. Going up the stairway of the évêché is one of those things I only do if accompanied by a visitor, so the above is a view of the cathedral I had rather forgotten about. 

My friend was surprised that we could just wander into the Bishop's palace courtyard as we pleased, and it struck me that the cathedral has absolutely no surveillance either, at least at this time of year. 

Also, it never ceases to amaze me how few tourists one finds in Notre Dame de Rodez, despite its undeniable grandeur. We ran into only four other people inside -- quite a contrast to the teeming museum galleries.

I hope the many tourists coming into town to visit the Soulages museum aren't missing out on the city's huge and somewhat eerie cathedral. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

St. Martin de Cormières -- another find on the backroads of Aveyron

What's wrong with this picture?

Last week's visit to the snow-covered Lévézou area was not without a magical discovery: the St. Martin de Cormières church, a historical monument that is part of the community of Le Vibal.

I don't know why a telescopic crane had to be sitting next to it right at this time, but I guess machines have to live somewhere too.

Not a cathedral, but still...the work, the work

Although considered a small church, it is still quite imposing. We often hear about "the cathedral builders," but as I contemplated this more modest structure, I gave a thought to the efforts needed to build it in the XVth century. 

How long did it take? Were lives lost? Did the laborers work even through the glacial winter?

Once again, locked doors

I truly wasn't expecting the doors to be open, but I wish they had been; photos of the church here promise a magical and manicured interior.

Could this be the key? Certainly not...

Feeling like an intruder in the sleepy, snowy hamlet, I stole a quick photo of the cross on the village square. Only now, as I post the photo, do I notice the key on it. 

What could that symbolize? 

So much to think about....

A church definitely worth seeing in the winter

I suppose tourists are very rare here in the dead of winter -- and I even have to wonder about the summer, as nothing but the sign on the main road indicated the presence of this classified historic monument. 

I have a feeling I'll be back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Train Tripping out of Rodez

Gare de Rodez, 6:15

Brive-la-Gaillarde is about a two and a half hour drive from Rodez, and when I had to go there for work recently, my manager was surprised that I requested to travel by train. 

She assured me there would be a work car available for me. But between driving alone for five hours and -- for once --  being able to take a train with schedules that actually worked out with my professional obligations, the choice was easy.

First, I could read or work on the train, which I told her.

Second, I'm not that crazy about driving five hours alone, mainly in the dark, in the dead of winter, which I also mentioned.

Finally, I'm a secret train/train station geek...which got left out of the conversation.

In motion in Corrèze

A lot of my American friends imagine that in this very specific place they call "Europe," people are always taking trains and that you can get about anywhere on them. This is not necessarily true in France, and certainly not true in much of the South of France.

From Rodez, you can take the train to Toulouse via Albi; you can take it to Paris by way of Brive-la-Gaillarde; and there are a few stray trains to Millau that I have never heard of anyone taking.  And that is about it. 

The trains stop in various towns and villages along the way, but these aren't necessarily places tourists or inhabitants regularly go.

Of course from Toulouse, Brive, or Paris you can move on to other cities, but that often means pretty long trips -- so most of my friends and acquaintances are in the habit of driving or, if routes and finances permit, flying around France.

Just a weird shot of the sort of weird place you can only see from a train

I often read articles about cutbacks in train services from French town X to French city Y, and I know the cherished Rodez-Paris/Paris-Rodez night train, which allows us to optimize our weekends in la Capitale, is under recurring threats -- although it is usually packed when I'm on it.

But the SNCF seems to be making efforts to combine services to make more cities accessible. For example, when I first moved here, it was nearly impossible to get from Rodez to Lyon -- a 4-hour drive -- by train. 

Now, by taking a regional train to Millau, a bus to Montpellier, and then hopping on the TGV, it can be done in 6 hours -- something I actually might consider.

At any rate, I hope I continue to have chances to take the train in France: for the photo opportunities, and also to kindle my memories of Europass days.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Choosing the road to winter

It all started with a cancelled plane.

Lest you think that all I do is wander around the back roads of Aveyron because that is, well, all there is to do here, listen up!

Today I had a highly cultural afternoon planned. The famous American artist Jim Dine, who has works displayed in the excellent temporary exhibit currently at the Musée Soulages, was going to be giving a conference in Rodez -- and I was going to go.

But his Paris-Rodez flight was cancelled, apparently for mechanical reasons, and I ended up in Rodez with nothing but a tad bit of shopping to do.

So, I had some exploration time. But where to go?

This is definitely not the road to Marcillac

I basically had two choices: driving towards spring, or savoring the end of winter.

The road to Marcillac tempted me, as Le Vallon is always a bit warmer. 

It was 37°F in Rodez; logically it would be over 40° in Marcillac. And after the 2 weeks we have had, even 41°F sounded positively balmy.

Some serious snow had clearly been going on here

But then again, despite our two weeks of cold and ice, Rodez and my home village had actually accumulated only a few puny inches of snow. So I hadn't really braved the elements

I decided to take the colder option and head up the Col d'Aujol, a small pass only about 20 minutes from Rodez, but also about 200 meters higher. 

Around here, when it has been snowing, 200 meters usually makes a lot of difference, and today was no exception. 

Bushes under a blanket

The road was clear and dry, but as soon as I got above 700 meters, everything around me was a quiet winter wonderland. 

I regret missing many photo opportunities because there was simply no place to park. Snowdrifts were blocking the roadsides, and the few smaller roads heading off the main one didn't promise the best driving conditions. 

(In fact, they didn't even promise that I would have enough traction in my snow tires to make it home, so I played it safe.)

Snow like cotton balls, a reminder that spring is around the corner

At the entrance to one hamlet, though, I found an ice-free parking area, and was able to commit this day to my photographic memory: the day that the famous American artist Jim Dine couldn't take his flight from Paris to Rodez.