May 24, Toulouse

Breakfast: see above. Actually, breakfast in Toulouse is a cut above what we’ve been served elsewhere. There’s rich white cheese (yogurt, actually) in a huge bowl, and fresh fruit salad next to it. The baked goods are wonderful, and I plan on getting a slice of the brioche bread tomorrow. Another one of those make-your-own espresso machines, which was very popular.

We started on the road with Emeline, and spent a little time visiting the Capitale, the 18th Century administrative center that is still in use. The Capitale, and its huge square, was the scene of the rugby festivities yesterday. That’s where the photo of the zodiac archer came from.  Then we were off to Saint Sernin, the largest Romanesque church in the world. It’s beautifully preserved, and it was interesting hearing Emeline describe how limestone was the preferred material, but more expensive, and bricks were more in evidence when times were tougher. I seemed to prefer the outside to the inside, from the photos, and the Pilgrims’ Gate, through which we entered, was really beautiful. The organ there is very famous, and I heard a bit on Sunday, though not the type of music I would prefer. Then we dawdled our way to the Jacobins, which blew my mind yesterday, and it was great to see other folks in the group just as stunned by its design and aura. To even improve things, a group gathered at one end were, I think, Spanish pilgrims, and they were singing—beautiful, multi-part hymns that soared into the tops of the vaults, and blessed all of us. It was truly amazing. I had perhaps noticed that all the stained glass windows, though new, followed a distinct design of red colors on one side, blue on the other, and Emeline explained that it was one of the ways marking the Jacobins as two churches, one on each side of the central row of pillars. Then we all admired the huge first pillar, with its 28?—descending ribs that support the entire weight of the front of the church.  Then we went outside to the cloister, which was as lovely and peaceful and cloisters always are—how the monks must have loved them. Then we wandered into the chapter house, which Emeline said had the best acoustics of all. So I waited until it was almost empty, then hummed a few bars of “Amazing Grace.” Then Tom had me stand in the middle, and I sang a verse for the folks there. It was a scary and beautiful experience, and I’m so glad I did it.

We stopped at the Capitole again on the way back, and went inside. Lots of late 19th Century paintings, something about determinedly realistic paintings to counter the movements toward more modern abstract paintings. Which made sense, except the subject matters were very quaint, and seemed to feature older men surrounded by young, beautiful, adoring, undressed women. Grrr. Though I noticed that all the women had very modern, intelligent faces, and modern hairstyles. There was a special exhibit of black-and-white photos, from the sixties through current times in the US, but I had just enough curiosity left to admire the beautiful kitten in one photo.

Back to the hotel, for another lecture from Emeline about the history of Toulouse. After spending so much time in Aquitaine, I keep forgetting that the English influence in Toulouse was minimal, and it was really not involved in the Hundred Years’ War. We were free after that until assembling for our evening visits. I took the opportunity to skip lunch, and headed, eventually, to the Augustin Museum, another one of those museums in which the fabulous setting sometimes outshines the exhibit. The “Gargoyle Row” in the cloister was a wonderful idea, and you can see from the photos all the wonderful ecclesiastical art that’s been collected there. The busts by Marc Arcis were so vibrant, so alive, that I would get close to them, in their faces, so to speak, and feel profoundly uncomfortable, as if I were invading their personal spaces, and they would confront me. The museum of the city of Toulouse was closed because of the holiday (the day after Pentecost—why a holiday in such a secular nation?) as a couple of Frenchwomen explained to me. So I tried a couple more churches, both closed for the same reason, then went to the hotel and sulked for a bit, and then tried the Raymond of Toulouse museum near Saint Sernin, thinking one should be open since the other was. It was, and had a marvelous collection of Roman sculpture from Toulouse’s days as a Roman colony. Got a few good photos. It was interesting to see that the earliest Christian sarcophagi very much resembled the Roman ones, just with a Christian theme instead of Roman decorations. I suppose they were just for the very wealthy. The bottom part of the museum is exposed as the original walls and foundation of the first Saint Sernin church, and it was interesting to see the ubiquitous red bricks in use then as well.

Then we reassembled for our dinners with the locals. I was paired with Nancy, and we went to Chez Femaux, with Gerard and his wife. Gerard, voluble and energetic, is a jazz drummer, with many famous concerts to his name, and many students from all over the world. His wife, a retired nurse, was quieter, but an excellent hostess. They both were glad to practice their English, and Nancy and I hauled out our best French. The food was lovely, and, after speaking to others in the group, I’m glad it was lighter and simpler than the mountains of calories others had to contend with. You can see the photos. The cheese selection was especially good. I’d never had real Rocquefort before, and found that the taste simply exploded in my mouth, and lingered there, deliciously. They found it objectionable that I used Reclette cheese on pizza, and explained a potato recipe I should be using instead for the Reclette, and suggested and Italian cheese for humble pizza. They got a kick out of my request to photograph the dishes, and indulged me in arranging the offerings.  Their cat, you can see, was not impressed with our presence, and only allowed me a couple pets before stalking off. We talked for several hours about a wide variety of issues. We admired the beautiful baby book of their new grandson in Vancouver, and I was able to help Gerard with some of the English translations for his book of drumming instructions.  What I had feared would be an uncomfortable evening was actually a lot of fun, and I’m glad to feel that we helped make the evening enjoyable for them.

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