Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Tip of the Chapeau...

  Because we'd heard that its Sunday market was well worth a visit, we drove to Esperaza last weekend, a town on the Aude river. It's also a town on the tourist trail, I suspect, because the place was rock-solid with accents other than French and folk carrying Nikons rather than shopping bags. Still, it was fun to stroll around in the sunshine. It always is, and it was pleasant sitting in the sun drinking coffee. Later, we crossed the bridge, admiring the floral boxes and wondering "what do these people feed their plants?"
   By now it was lunchtime but we didn't really feel like the full meal that's the usual Sunday lunch in France, so we picked up a pizza and ate it outdoors by the now-defunct railway station, talking about how great it must have been when even small communities were linked by le train. Some of the old stations have been converted into houses. Others into exhibition spaces. Our local "green way"--a 34 km trail for walkers, bikes and horses--to a large extent follows the route of the old railway that used to link nearby villages. 
   Lunch done, pizza box folded and thrown in the waste bin, I wandered over to one of Esperaza's top attractions. The other is a dinosaur museum and both it, and the hat museum--the star attraction as far as I'm concerned--are housed in the same building.
   This whole area used to be famed for its textile manufacturing and related industries like glove-making and hat-making. Our village used to make jet jewelry and not far away, to this day, is a little factory that makes combs out of cow horn.
   So, a hundred years ago, you tidied your hair, and then you put on a hat, probably made in Esperaza.
   Antique equipment, vintage photos of proud hat-makers, hats of course...all in all, the museum was huge fun. I love seeing how everyday objects are made, and here they took you right through the hat-making process from raw wool to finished chapeaux.
The life cycle of the classic French beret.

If you've ever been unlucky enough to inadvertently send a wool sweater or socks through a hot wash...the same principle applies to berets. Once it's been steamed, this very large floppy thing will be transformed.
Brute force creates another classic shape.
Isn't this medieval hat wonderful?

A hut for a musketeer.

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