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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mushroom Pie

  • ½ lb short pastry
  • lb mushrooms
  • 3 oz butter
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup bechamel
  • 1 ¾ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • onion
  • garlic
  • pepper
Butter a metal oven-dish with wavy edges of about 8 inches in diameter; line with the sheet of dough to a thickness of about 0,2 inch, prick all over, cover with some thin white paper, fill with dried peas, and put into a moderate oven. Remove after 15-20 minutes (it should be barely colored), remove the peas and the sheet of paper, leaving the crust in the oven-dish. Brush with beaten egg and leave in the oven doorway for a couple of minutes to dry the pastry. After this procedure, the crust may be filled. Cut the mushrooms into thick slices, sauté them in the butter for some seconds, add the chopped mixture of onion and garlic, mix, and as soon as the mixture is lightly golden, douse with Marsala wine. Allow to evaporate and reduce the mixture. At this point, pour in the cream, season with salt and pepper, continue cooking over high heat for 5 minutes, taking care to mix often, and then mix in the light béchamel. Cook for some seconds, then fill the crust with this mixture, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan and melted butter. Put into a hot oven. Serve when the surface has become nicely golden.
 
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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step ten (and last) – A walking through Castres

Another beautiful road led us north of Carcassonne, to visit the city of Castres….

Castres is a commune, and arrondissement capital in the Tarn department and Midi-Pyrénées region, and it lies in the former French province of Languedoc. Castres is (after Toulouse, Tarbes and Albi) the fourth largest industrial centre of the predominantly rural Midi-Pyrénées region and the largest in that part of Languedoc lying between Toulouse and Montpellier. It is noted also for being the birthplace of the famous socialist leader Jean Jaurès and home to the important Goya Museum of Spanish painting.

(above and below, old houses along the river Agout)

The name of the town comes from Latin castrum, and means “fortified place”. Castres grew up round the Benedictine abbey of Saint Benoît, which is believed to have been founded in AD 647, possibly on the site of an old Roman fort (castrum). Castres became an important stop on the international pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain because its abbey-church, built in the 9th century, was keeping the relics of Saint Vincent, the renowned martyr of Spain. It was a place of some importance as early as the 12th century, and ranked as the second town of the Albigeois behind Albi. Despite the decline of its abbey, which in 1074 came under the authority of Saint Victor abbey in Marseille, Castres was granted a liberal charter in the 12th century by the famous Trencavel family, viscounts of Albi. Resulting from the charter, Castres was ruled by a college of consuls.

During the Albigensian Crusade it surrendered of its own accord to Simon de Montfort, and thus entered into the kingdom of France in 1229. In 1317, Pope John XXII established the bishopric of Castres. In 1356, the town of Castres was raised to a countship by King John II of France. However, the town greatly suffered from the Black Plague in 1347-1348, then from the Black Prince of England and the Free Companies (bands of lawless mercenaries) who laid waste the country during the Hundred Years’ War. Consequently, by the late 14th century Castres entered a period of sharp decline. In 1375, there were only 4,000 inhabitants left in town, only half the figure from a century before. Following the confiscation of the possessions of Jacques d’Armagnac, duke of Nemours, to which the countship of Castres had passed, it was bestowed in 1476 by King Louis XI on Boffille de Juge (Boffillo del Giudice), an Italian nobleman and adventurer serving as a diplomat for Louis XI, but the appointment led to so much disagreement (family feud between Boffille de Juge, his only daughter, and his brother-in-law) that the countship was united to the crown by King Francis I in 1519.

(above, the statue of Jean Jaurès in the same name square – below, with a very interested husband – at market time, and after it)

Around 1560, the majority of the population of Castres converted to Protestantism. In the wars of the latter part of the 16th century the inhabitants sided with the Protestant party, fortified the town, and established an independent republic. Castres was one of the largest Protestant strongholds in southern France, along with Montauban and La Rochelle. Henry of Navarre, leader of the Protestant party, who later became King Henry IV of France, stayed in Castres in 1585. The Protestants of Castres were brought to terms, however, by King Louis XIII in 1629, and Richelieu came himself to Castres to have its fortifications dismantled. Nonetheless, after these religious wars, the town, now in peace, enjoyed a period of rapid expansion. Business and traditional commercial activities revived, in particular fur and leather-dressing, tanning, and above all wool trade. Culture flourished anew, with the founding of the Academy of Castres in 1648. Castres was turned by the Catholic Church into an active center of Counter-Reformation, with the establishments of several convents in town, and the building of a renowned bishop’s palace by Mgr. Tubœuf, still the most famous monument in town today. A new cathedral was also built, after the destructions of the religious wars. Perhaps even more important, Castres was made the seat of the “Chambre de l’Édit” of the Parliament of Toulouse, a court of justice detached from the Parliament of Toulouse and in charge of dealing with the cases involving the Protestants of Languedoc, a measure of protection granted to them by the Edict of Nantes. This court attracted lots of business to Castres. In 1665, there were 7,000 inhabitants in Castres, 4,000 of whom Catholic, and 3,000 Protestant.

In 1670 however, the Chambre de l’Édit was transferred to Castelnaudary, much to the discontent of even the catholic citizens of Castres, who lost a major source of business and revenue with the departure of the lawyers and the plaintiffs. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes soon followed, and Castres suffered a lot when a great number of Protestants chose to go into exile. Then came the plague of 1720-1721 and the fire of 1724. Last but not least, Castres lost its liberal charter in 1758. In the 1760s, a few years after the famous Calas Affair in Toulouse, Castres made the headlines nationwide: Pierre-Paul Sirven and his wife, both Protestants, were wrongly accused of having murdered their daughter in order to prevent her from converting to Catholicism. Tried and sentenced to death “in absentia” on March 29, 1764, they were defended by Voltaire, and eventually exonerated in 1771.

The outbreak of the French Revolution was generally welcomed in Castres, particularly among the local Protestant merchants and entrepreneurs, but the majority of the population remained moderate during the whole period. In 1793 for instance, Protestant pastor Alba La Source, Castres’ representative at the Convention in Paris, opposed the deportation of “non-juror” Catholic priests to French Guiana, where death in the horrid jungle was certain. “Non-juror” priests were by far the majority in the region of Castres. Accused of being a moderate, Alba La Source was guillotined in October 1793. Suspected of being lukewarm toward the revolution, Castres was duly chastised. The bishopric which had been established by Pope John XXII in 1317 was abolished, Castres later becoming part of the bishopric of Albi. Capital of the département of Tarn in 1790, the town was downgraded to capital of an arrondissement in 1797, Albi being made the capital of the département. Despite these setbacks, in the 19th century the economy of Castres developed greatly, and the town grew outside of its old medieval center. As early as 1815, the first mechanized wool mill was set up in town. Originally specialized in luxury cloth, the Castres textile industry then turned toward more ordinary types of cloth, whose markets were considerably larger. Around 1860, there were 50 wool mills in town, employing 3,000 people. In the end of the 19th century, mechanical engineering industries appeared beside the textile industry, which led to Castres becoming a major arsenal for the French army during the First World War. Castres was linked to the French railway network in 1865. At the end of the 19th century, Castres was the largest town in the département of Tarn, with 5,000 more inhabitants than Albi.

The Goya Museum (below) is settled in a part of the ancient bishop’s palace of Castres which plans had been designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of Versailles architects. Although the museum exists since 1840, the Briguiboul legacy of 1894 determined its Hispanic vocation. Painter and collector, dazzled by the famous Spanish master, he acquired numerous quality works among which Goya famous : “Self portrait with glasses”, “Portrait of Francisco del Mazo”, a set of engravings : “The Caprices” and” The Philippines Assembly”. In 1949, prestigious deposits from the Louvre Museum confirmed such specialisation :”Portrait of Philip IV” by Velázquez, “Virgin with the Rosary and child” by Murillo. Since then, the Castres Museum never stopped enriching and, particularly, those past twenty years and this place, unique of the kind, became a reference to appreciate Spanish creation, from Antiquity until the 20th century. (sorry, but inside it was forbidden to take photos).

Castres Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Benoît de Castres – below), now the Roman Catholic church of Saint Benoît (Saint Benedict), was formerly the seat of the bishop of Castres, but the diocese was not restored after the French Revolution and was added by the Concordat of 1801 to the Archdiocese of Albi. The first cathedral was built in the 14th century after the creation of the diocese of Castres in 1317, along with a number of other dioceses created in the region after the suppression of the Albigensians. It was destroyed during the French Wars of Religion. The present building which replaced it was constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries.

On a plaque is written: “Bishop of Tuboeuf initially, first put into effect plans for the building in 1678”, on the site of the former St. Benedict Abbey, which had been destroyed by religious wars. The works were later halted by a lack of funding. The construction was then resumed under Monseigneur de Beaujeu. The cathedral was consecrated in 1718. The style is baroque and very sober. The initial plans were for a large imposing building. The interior is huge. The decoration of the vault dates from the last century. In the choir is a canopy of gilded wood supported by red marble columns from Caunes (Aude). The side chapels contain a rich collection of paintings from the Toulouse school of the eighteenth century (Chevalier Rivals). Most of the decorative elements are from the old monastery of Saïx, including : the seats of the canons, the doors of the sacristy and the paintings. The Cathedral of Saint-Benoit was classified as a Historical Monument on June 24, 1953.

It was a very interesting visit, the last one of our vacation in France. This country never stops to surprise us, and each time it leaves seeds for another visit….

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step nine – A village with a mistery

Rennes-le-Château is a castle in a small hilltop village in Southern France that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. Some say that priest Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19th century, but there are many conflicting theories and stories about what exactly transpired in this area filled with beautiful scenery etched with deep river canyons.

The history of Rennes-le-Château reflects the history of many other European villages. It began with a prehistoric encampment, followed by a Roman villa. The area was a part of Septimania during the 6th and 7th centuries. Thirty thousand people lived in the city around 500-600 AD, with the number of castles rapidly increasing in the area around 1002 AD. In modern times, Rennes-le-Château became very famous when stories from the mid-1950s concerning Roman Catholic priest, Francois Bérenger Saunière, influenced modern writings including The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, and The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003 (obviously I’ve read both of them and others, that’s why I wanted to visit there, dragging along a reluctant husband….).

The stories told about Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière consist of many theories, revolving around all matters of conspiracies involving the Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and later, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the remains of Jesus Christ.

The starting ground for these conspiracy theories involve Bérenger Saunière. He was the priest of a small village from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Somehow, Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is unimaginable how a small village priest could come to have such wealth. This led to much speculation as to where and how he got the money. Some say that he discovered a buried treasure, but this theory has never been substantiated.

During his first few years in the village, Saunière lived in poverty. He kept meticulous accountings of his money, which showed that in 1892 he owed a debt of 105 francs and had savings of 80.65 francs. From the 1890s on, his papers showed that he spent an alarming total of 660,000 francs. As a priest, he earned a salary of 900 francs per year. Around 1880, the going rate for a single mass was 1 franc, so it is difficult to imagine that Saunière could have earned such an income on performing mass alone. In 1910–1911 Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of “mass trafficking” – receiving money for masses that he never actually performed. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books he refused to attend his trial. Even if Saunière was guilty of this, he could not have collected enough through this practice to amount to the sums he spent over his lifetime. As his life came to an end, Saunière began having financial difficulties. It has been noted that this time in his life corresponded with the start of World War I, which may indicate that his funds were held abroad and he could no longer access them. Saunière’s income and spending have led to many conspiracy theories about Rennes-le-Château and where the money may have come from. Some say he came across a buried treasure. Others accused him of digging graves and stealing from the dead. When his spending was investigated by the church, Saunière claimed that the money had been gifted to him. Marie Dénarnaud, the faithful housekeeper who was accused of digging through graves with Saunière, claimed to know a secret that would make one extremely wealthy. When Noel Corbu purchased the Saunière estate from her, she told him she would tell him a secret that would make him powerful and rich. However, prior to her death, Dénarnaud had a fit that left her unable to write or speak. She ultimately took her secret to the grave.

During the 1950s, Corbu began circulating stories that Saunière was in possession of parchments, which he found while renovating his church in 1892, and that these were linked to the treasure of Blanche de Castile, supposedly amounting to 28,500,000 gold pieces. This was the treasure of the French crown assembled by Blanche de Castile, wife of Louis VIII, to pay the ransom of her son Louis IX (Saint Louis), who was captured during a crusade. The surplus was said to have been hidden at Rennes-le-Château.

It was during the 1960s that Corbu’s stories took on a life of their own, and ignited interest in the case of Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. Corbu’s account of Saunière reached the ears of Pierre Plantard, a French draughtsman who is famous for claiming to be a direct Merovingian descendant and for being the principal perpetrator of the Priory of Sion story. Plantard adapted Corbu’s story and entwined it within the mythological account of the Priory of Sion, which inspired the 1967 book L’Or de Rennes by author Gérard de Sède. The book had photographs purportedly showing the parchments discovered by Saunière, but a friend of Plantard later admitted to forging the parchments and both Plantard and his friend were also involved in planting fabricated documents in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale that dealt with the secret history of the Priory of Sion. A decade later and the story of Saunière became even more convoluted and mixed up with conspiracies relating to the ‘Jesus bloodline’, made popular in the bestselling book ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’. Wikipedia reports:“In 1969, a British supporting actor and screenwriter for the BBC by the name of Henry Lincoln read de Sède’s book while on holiday in the Cévennes in 1969 that led him to inspire three BBC Two Chronicle documentaries between 1972-1979, working some of its material into the 1982 non-fictional bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that he co-wrote with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The book claimed Bérenger Saunière discovered proof (possibly the Marriage Certificate) that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and their descendants became the Merovingian dynasty. Among the book’s hypotheses are the possibilities that this was the secret of the Priory of Sion; that Pierre Plantard could have been the descendant of Jesus Christ; that the source of Saunière’s wealth could have involved the blackmailing of the Vatican.”

This theme was further picked up by Dan Brown for his famous historical novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which led to a further surge of interest in Rennes-le-Château. The story of the castle and the priest with his hidden treasure has since become popularized in radio shows, TV programs, and films, and it is now virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction in this complicated conspiracy story. To this day, the secret of Saunière’s fortune remains a mystery. Many theories as to where he got the money have been developed, but none substantiated. Was he a dishonest priest, highly skilled in mass trafficking? Did he come across buried treasure? Was his money kept and hidden overseas? We may never know the real story of Saunière and his fortune, the truth of which he most likely took to his grave when he passed away on 22 January 1917.

The village church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene has been rebuilt several times. The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site may date to the 8th century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins by the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site—remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. This survived in poor repair until the 19th century, when it was renovated by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the renovation of the church, including works on the presbytery and cemetery, cost 11,605 Francs over a ten-year period between 1887 and 1897.

One of the new features was the Latin inscription Terribilis est locus iste above the front doors, taken from the Common Dedication of a Church, which translates as: “This is a place of awe”; the rest of the dedication reads “this is God’s house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.” The first part of the dedication is above the front doors—the rest inscribed on the arches over the two front doors of the church.

Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a devil holding up the holy water stoup, its original head was stolen by persons unknown in 1996 and has never been recovered. A devil like figure holding up the holy water stoup is a rare and unusual choice for the interior decoration of a Church but not exclusive to the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, a similar subject matter can be seen in the Saint Vincent Collegiate church in Montréal, a short distance from Rennes-le-Château. The new figures and statues in the church were not specially made,[13] but were chosen by Saunière from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who—among other things—offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. Following Sauniere’s renovations and redecoratations, the church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsignor Billard.
As you can see from my photos below, it’s not exactly the roman catholic church you can expect……the first impression is you are on a movie stage really, not the feeling you’re in a blessed place….stunning nevertheless, due to the different lights (natural and artificial), the colors of the statues, the paintings of the walls….have a look….
Near the church there’s a little museum about the story of the village and the Saunière life and mystery, not really adding much to the visit, but from the back garden (a nice walk) there’s the access to the Tour of Magdala….
In September 2004, the mayor of Rennes-le-Château exhumed Saunière’s corpse from the cemetery and reburied it in a concrete sarcophagus in the garden to protect it from grave-robbers. Since then, the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château has been closed to the general public.
Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Named after his church, he built the Tour Magdala originally named the Tour de L’horloge on the edge of the village which he used as his library, it features a circular turret with twelve crenellations, on a belvedere that connected it to an orangery, a tower-like structure. The tower has a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethania, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated at his trial that it was intended as a home for retired priests. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the construction of his estate including the Tour Magdala and Villa Bethania (including the purchases of land) between 1898 and 1905 cost 26,417 Francs. Believers in the enigma have suggested that Saunière’s estate was set up on a large-scale checkerboard, while others have claimed that Saunière produced a Mirror image of selected architectural features of his property.

From there you can have an unobstructed view of the Aude valley towards the Pyrenees………..

After the still unsolved mistery (if really there’s one) we needed a break, so we drove to a nearby lake to have a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon…

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step eight – Two museums in Toulose

The Cité de l’espace (City of Space) is a theme park focused on space and the conquest of space. It was opened in June 1997 and is located on the eastern outskirts of Toulouse. As of 2015, there had been more than 4,5 million visitors.

There you can visit full-scale models of the Ariane 5 rocket (55 metres or 180 feet), Mir space station, and Soyuz modules. The original planetarium has 140 seats and presents shows throughout the day. Cité de l’Espace also has numerous exhibits, often interactive; for example, a mock-up of a control room near the model of Ariane 5, allows visitors to prepare the launching of a rocket, help with its flight and then place a satellite in orbit. Terr@dome (a terrestrial half-sphere 25 metres or 82 feet in diameter) presents the history of space from the Big-bang to the solar system. A building about Australia, which opened in 2005, includes: a new 280-seat planetarium, called the Stellarium, equipped with a hemispherical screen 600 square metres (6,458 sq ft) in area; a 300-seat IMAX cinema, which shows the film Hubble 3D (previously Space Station 3D, a 3D film made on board the International Space Station); and conference rooms.

For more about this very interesting museum (hubby is a fan of everything is space and planes, but I found it so well presented and beautiful as well) read their website, below are my photos of the day spent there.

Lunch was a bit expensive, but we enjoyed it nevertheless………….

Aeroscopia is a aeronautic museum based in Blagnac (where the Toulose airport is) near the site AéroConstellation (an industrial zone dedicated to the aeronautic industry) and hosts several planes, including two copies of the Concorde, the opening took place January 14, 2015, and here is their website to learn more about it. Below, my phots……….

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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