Sunday, January 1, 2012

A look back at 2011...June to August


 A week in Paris to binge ourselves silly on art exhibits, people-watching-from-sidewalk-cafés and--the view I never get tired of--the rooftops.

 This giant head-and-hand sculpture is close to the Pompidou Centre--and to two of my favourite shops. Dehillerin is the go-to source for the best omelette pans you can find (and just about every other variety of pot and cooking tool). Have a browse at . (The English translation is as quirky as the store. I love it that they note they close on "off-days.") A minute away, La Droguerie carries its own line of knitting yarns in pure cashmere and alpaca, big glass jars of beads, embroidered ribbons, feathers, faux flowers, and much, much more.
Each time I go to Paris, I try to explore somewhere I've never been before. On this trip, it was the botanical gardens. Now, those are what I call greenhouses!

    Summer starts officially in Léran with the launch of the Marché Gourmand at the start of July. Every Friday until the end of August, the main street is blocked to traffic by 6 p.m. Instead, long wooden tables and benches stretch from one end to the other.

Set up each side of the street, food stalls sell escargots, cheese, baguettes, bottles of wine, Asian dishes, vegetarian Indian food, various salads, Nutella and other crèpes, and artisanal ice cream. 

    You can also choose a steak, a pork chop or merguez or Toulouse sausages from a butcher's truck and have it grilled to your taste over charcoal. Naturellement, you can buy frites, and serve yourself to ketchup and mayonnaise.
    Although the stall-holders do give you plastic dishes and forks, the experienced bring their own plates and cutlery. You squeeze in beside friends, neighbours or people you've never met until now, table-hop as the night grows dark and, once the wine really starts flowing, volunteer to sing in front of the karaoke screen--assuming this is a night for karaoke and not a professional band.

 July...when the markets are bursting with ripe red tomatoes...

...and every weekend, there's a different vide-grenier for browsing, bargaining and buying.

    Soon we were off to the annual Marionette Festival in Mirepoix. Now in its 23rd year, this is a big deal among string-pullers, drawing artistes from all over the world.
    Live shows take place in a number of venues with plenty of free entertainment on the streets.

I was completely beguiled by this quiet young performer who, with his understated gestures and black clothing, almost disappeared into the background. 

We weren't the only ones to feel the magic...
 It was a lively month. One Sunday, we drove over to the town of Esparaza and roamed around its hat museum.

A long lunch on a broiling day in the shade of a large barn.
The sunflowers in the garden grew taller and taller.

 Our friend, the hugely talented singer/songwriter Fraser Anderson gave an outdoor concert. His wife, Grace, often sings backup.  

 At some point in August, we drove off to Albi for the day. It's a city of rosy-red brick with the cathedral dominating everything. Religion rules, okay? That was the message it was meant to convey. 
Outside, the cathedral is like a fortress except for its entrance which is lacy and beautiful. If you take the péage, Albi is only a couple of hours from Léran. So we were there in time for a coffee in the square opposite the cathedral and a preliminary look at the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. That's the enormous building in front of the cathedral.

    Restoration continues on it making it less museum-y and more multimedia than it used to be. But, oh joy, they still have Toulouse-Lautrec's hollowed walking stick that he used to stash his absinthe in. At the entrance to each room, you can pick up a laminated information sheet in French, Spanish, English--s or Occitan, which used to be the everyday dialect around here.

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