Sunday, May 30, 2010

La Grande Tour du Monuments (well, churches actually)

With as much passion as Jean Mark with his famous “We Walk to Montegut” Georgette says “You must go with me on the monument tour”. We ask, “What is a Monument?” She says “These things are very old things”. That’s it… we go. In order to get an early start we will stay at her home in Moumoulous, this means another fantastic dinner. It is late when we get there and she knows that we had a big lunch so she starts cooking a small dinner at 8:00. We smell something wonderful… yes, a new kind of fat frying smell. This time it is from “ze pig” Some time later I will tell you about the video of the killing of “ze pig” but not while I am thinking about eating a slice of it. It is kind of ritualistic and in the beginning the pig doesn’t like it much. (And if remind me to tell you about the blood sausage). While the ham is sizzling steam begins to rise from the pressure cooker. A giant, old pressure cooker. In there is a fresh vegetable soup. At its core is fava beans picked less than an hour ago. Long story short… after the veggie soup a plate of ham and braised eggs (from the hens in Montegut, collected today) shows up. Yes, there is a wine that goes with this dinner too. By 11:30 and after desert, baked apples, we are ready for bed.

I almost forgot this post is about the Monument Tour. So Barry is up at 7:30 and heads for the bath. In France this is a BATH room. No toilet, that is in another room all by itself. Breakfast is a bowl of espresso with frothed cream and sugar, a bowl not a cup, and a couple of slices of bagette for dipping.
Off we go in the rental car. Georgette sits in front to give Barry directions... tourne a gauche, tourne a droit Left - Right. We take a “school boy route” short cut through the woods. At the top of the hill Georgette waves her arms in a circular motion and tells us that these are her woods. We meet her friend near Saint Severn, a monastery some 1100 years old. The friend, Clare drives her car and we follow, again like the Mr. Toad ride off we go trying to keep up, stopping only for a short time to pick up another friend at a farmhouse along the way. The caravan begins to grow.
We arrive at the first Monument, a church built on the foundation remains of building from the Roman Empire; this one is 2000 years old. A good place to start we think.
Inside the church a lecture is in progress. There is a professor type in front of the group 35-40 people, he is right out of a movie, looks like someone called central casting. Stephan is an archeologist from the university in Toulouse and is the foremost authority on the Monuments of Gers. It is very difficult to follow the lecture in French and in the church it sounds a lot like a Latin mass, but without the smoke. After about 10 minutes there is a break and the crowd moves outside for espresso and croissants. Georgette says calmly “We eat again... we are French”.
Then there is a mad dash to the cars. No agenda, no maps and no idea where we are going next, Barry falls in line behind a car he recognized and off we fly. Another small village appears in between the freshly planted fields. This one is only 1500 years old and in need of major repairs. We learn it is a fine example of architecture, blending roman arches and gothic detail. Still all in French but we are catching the eye of the professor. He has found out that there are two Americans in his midst. He tags along after the presentations and gives us the rerun high lights in English. Stephan is very intelligent, a handsome fellow and he seems to knows it. He turns on the charm. After 3 more Monuments it is time for lunch. In the middle of nowhere there is a classic farm house turned into a restaurant. We are in the back of the pack of cars and the little parking area is full. All of the available land is planted. Everybody starts to jump over the curbs and park lined up in the grassy area along the narrow road on the wrong side apposing traffic. We follow suit. Again… soup, wine, two entrees, veggies, potatoes, cheese, salad, and dessert, 2 hours of bliss. Others start to notice that we are Americans and one by one the brave ones come over and chat. This starts a trend. One woman with very little English simply asked us to speak English because she loved how is sounds. When people find out we are from California we become very popular. Two more monuments and long French lecturers later we stop at two ancient farm houses. It is a little bit hard to understand Stephan but I figure out that he said that these farm houses are excellent examples of 15th century buildings. Frighteningly they look a lot like Montegut. We can’t see more monuments without stopping at a winery. This is a very welcome stop because they have toilets. No toilets in churches and the farm houses had out-houses. This time the lecture is turned over to the vintner. We tour the barrel rooms about 300 yards from the tasting area… then walk back to do a bit of tasting. The tasting room is a chateau that is about 500 years old but updated for the tourist trade. By now it is 7:00PM, this must be the end. After spending a bit more Euro on wine we pile into the cars again. They split into two groups, we follow the one that is lost. I think that we are headed home, but no… somehow at an intersection in the middle of a corn field we reunite with Stephan and head to another monument. Now even the most subtle differences in these buildings are becoming apparent to me. I think that I can give this speech myself. In the last two churches there are two big very masculine plaster arms protruding out about 4 feet from the walls holding torches. They are even correct left and right hands. No explanation for these things. I am afraid to ask. The tour is over? We say our good byes to Stephan, in turn he gives a short lecture on cities and churches of the United States and says that he will send us his book on the history of Montegut, some 400 pages all in French. Professors are professors everywhere.

We follow our two new found friends to another site off of the tour. It is the center of a very small village. It is the village nearest to Sylvie’s farm. The church was build by the same family that built the castle, perched atop this beautiful mountain. This is now a summer home of the Queen of Norway, Denmark, Sweden (it is all getting blurry now). Its not 15 minutes form Montegut. We take the short walk around the church and take a few photos of the surrounding landscape and the Pyrenees’ in the distance. No photos of the castle because of the rampart (wall) and very high vegetation. We do get a peak through the trees of a majestic tower with a 'witches cap' slate roof at one corner…just enough to make Barry talk about renting a helicopter. Our French tour guides are quite blasé about living among royalty, they are simply happy that it’s not the English and glad that they take care of the property, the church and surrounding little village.

We return to Georgette’s home… we eat, we drink wine, we talk… it is now midnight… we go to bed.

And, if you have, thanks for reading

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