Sunday, April 26, 2015

Burgos: Not just another pretty church

Ken and I start our 11-day trip to Spain with an overnight stop in Burgos (pop. 180,000). This historic capital of Castile, and the current capital of the province of Burgos, is located in north central Spain.

Ken, left, at Plaza Santa María in Burgos, Spain

Statue in Burgos, Spain

After checking in, and miraculously finding free parking on the street in front of the hotel, we head across the puente Santa María and pass through the the Renaissance archway built for the first entrance of Emperor Charles V in the 14th century. 

We stop for a much-needed refreshment (cerveza for Ken, vino tinto for me.) The plaza in which we sit is dominated by the massive Catedral de Burgos. With just a little arm twisting, I convince Ken to tour the cathedral after we check out the rest of the old city.

Fountain in Plaza Mayor, Burgos, Spain 

Building façade in Burgos, Spain

Doorway in Burgos, Spain

Somebody, left, still reads newspapers.

The incredibly detailed audio tour of the cathedral is rivaled only by the ornate, over-the-top architectural details of the church itself. It is Gothic on steroids. Commissioned by Costa del Sol Emperor Ferdinand III, construction started in 1221 and was completed in 1567. 

Catedral de Burgos

Nuns in Plaza Santa María, Burgos, Spain

Ornate, ¿sí?

If my jaw weren't in the way, I could take better notes, but alas these pictures of the cathedral's interior must speak for themselves.

Golden altar in Burgos Cathedral

Interior detail in Burgos Cathedral

Vehicle of some sort in Burgos Cathedral

Altar in Burgos Cathedral

Ceiling in Burgos Cathedral

Contemporary statue in Burgos Cathedral

Friday, April 17, 2015

Surprised by diminutive Beffery’s pretty église

Église Saint-Étienne in Beffery, near Miramont-de-Guyenne in the Lot-et-Garonne

Despite living here three years, it was only recently that I noticed the small road sign pointing to Beffery. The icon indicating a historical church next to the village name was enough to draw me to Beffery a few days later. The tiny village is located just 3 km from Miramont-de-Guyenne, the largest village to where I live and the place I do most of my grocery shopping.

Following the signs, I find myself in a part of Miramont I have never been through. Being careful not to blink, within minutes I am pulling up to the parking lot behind the Beffery church.

Église Saint-Étienne in Beffery

The day is gray and no one except un chien qui aboyait is in sight. The menacing dog is enough to keep me wary about walking past his yard to get a better camera angle, but I manage to take some pictures and study the sign on the locked porte.

Église Saint-Étienne in Beffery

Église Saint-Étienne was built in the 13th century. It appears to have recently been refurbished, and is quite striking from the outside. An ancient horizontal sundial is just behind the church.

Sundial at Église Saint-Étienne in Beffery

Inside, visitors can see a white marble funeral plate painted in 1939 by artist Giovanni Masutti (1903-1963), in honor of Audiart, a woman who died in 1280. The church is open by appointment only; call or inquire at the tourist information office in Miramont de Guyenne.

Timbers above the door at Église Saint-Étienne in Beffery

My impromptu visit to Beffery reminds me to keep my eyes open; one never knows what may be just around the corner.

Friday, April 10, 2015

To remember, then forgive: Oradour-sur-Glane

The tragic story of what happened at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944 is one that cannot be forgotten. A recent visit to the village has caused me to think a lot about the importance of remembrance and its relationship to forgiveness.


Without warning or explanation, a Nazi regiment massacred 642 men, women and children and then destroyed the village located near Limoges in the Haute-Vienne department of the Limosin region. Much has been written about the tragedy including first-hand accounts by some of the Oradour inhabitants who managed to escape. 


The ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane stand just across the road from the town that was rebuilt after World War II. Then president Charles de Gaulle ordered the creation of a permanent memorial so the events and the people would never be forgotten. Signs throughout the village, remind visitors of the importance of remembering the massacre.


“Oradour was not a crime due to madness but the logic of a system. We must remember this not to
see it again, we must live and build a world in which crime will be folly again, and reason will be peace.”

— Claude Roy, French poet, journalist and essayist (1949)



For this American born more than a decade after its end, World War II has always seemed distant in time and place. In the three years I’ve lived in France, that distance has lessened, but my visit to Oradour has made those dark years seem very close and very real. Maybe it’s natural to want to forget. What is amazing to me is how much is remembered and how much more has been forgiven. 


Oradour-sur-Glane can be visited every day, and admission and parking are free. Its current hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the last entry an hour before closing. Enter through the visitors’ center, Centre de la Mémoire. Paid admission to the center provides extensive background, context and a film (in French with English translation via handsets). The center has a gift shop and restrooms accessible without paid admission. Details can be found here.

A detailed account of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, including time lines, eyewitness accounts, theories of its cause and aftermath can be found at This website provides a solid history lesson and context.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The art of Rochechouart

A visit to the Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart is what we Americans call a two-fer or maybe even a three- or four-fer.

Rochechouart can boast: (No. 1) an impressive contemporary art museum, (No. 2) housed in a thousand-year-old castle (entirely rebuilt in the Middle Ages and 16th century), (No. 3) located in beautiful village in the Haute-Vienne department of Limousin, and which is (No. 4) located in a huge crater formed by possibly the largest meteor to hit the earth, some 200 million years ago. The area in which Rochechouart is located is called Pays du Météorite — clearly this celestial event had a huge impact on the area, although no geological evidence (space rock) remains.

Château de Rochechouart

Courtyard of Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart

With its views over the Graine and Vayres valleys, Château de Rochechouart is a delight to visit, and has been a distinct venue for modern art for 30 years. Its collection of more than 300 works by international artists, has been built around three themes: history, landscape and imagination. A special collection based on the artist Raoul Hausmann is housed here. Around 700 items (drawings, photographs, collages, paintings and correspondence) are included in the collection. According to the museum website:

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) was one of the founders of the Dadaist movement in Berlin, which, during the First World War, considerably redefined the form and aims of art. Apart from its evident iconoclasm, the Dadaist experiment challenged artistic separation and the frontier between art and life. Raoul Hausmann was a pioneer in collage, one of the inventors of photomontage and one of the initiators of sound poetry. In 1933, he was forced to flee Nazi Germany. After a long journey around Europe, he found refuge in the Limousin, where he remained until his death in 1971.

Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart

Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart

Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart

Special exhibitions are displayed in the château’s attic. A fun, hands-on exhibit by Tomaž Furlan is featured through June 7, 2015.

Visitors are definitely allowed to touch and try out the artwork of Tomaž Furlan
on display at Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart
through June 7, 2015.
For me, even more than the contemporary art, the museum’s highlight is its amazing collection of Renaissance frescos that were rediscovered after being hidden on the castle walls for centuries. Frescos in the Hunting Room are bright, vivid scenes depicting a deer hunt and banquet. Next door, huge monochrome drawings cover the walls of the Hercules Gallery. According to the museum’s website, “episodes from the life of the famous mythological hero … constitute an extremely rare example of grisaille technique to have survived in France.”

Frescos in the Hunting Room at Musée départemental
d’art contemporain in Rochechouart

Hercules Gallery in Musée départemental d’art contemporain
in Rochechouart

Frescos in the Hercules Gallery at the Musée départemental d’art contemporain
in Rochechouart

After our 90-minute exploration inside the museum, we welcome a stroll on the château grounds. We then head to the village (just a couple of blocks away) to search (in vain) for a cup of coffee, but it’s a quiet Monday afternoon … too late for lunch, too early for dinner … so we head down the road to our next destination.

Grounds of Château de Rochechouart

Rochechouart is the gateway to the 2,000-square-kilometer Parc Natural Régional Périgord-Limousin, so after you get your fill of modern art, there’s still time to visit to one of Mother Nature’s ateliers. More information can be found here.

Weather vane atop Château de Rochechouart

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quelque chose cette semaine (Something this week) part 1

In which I share a short snippet each week throughout 2015

WEEK #13 (26 mars-1 avril)

Joyeux poisson d'avril! Like in the U.S., this is a day of jokes in France. One of the many French language blogs to which I subscribe suggested several blagues to use today, such as telling people, "J'ai apprs le français en un mois" (I learned French in one month), or "Vous avez gagné un billet gratuit" (You won a free ticket). I think I will just stick some paper fishes on the backs of unsuspecting children instead. 

The clocks finally sprung forward on Sunday, so we took advantage of a mid-morning matinee in Marmande and saw "Birdman." No line, and we had our choice of seats.

WEEK #12 (19-25 mars)

A sign of spring in this part of France: the bright yellow mimosa flower, pictured here in ma salle à manger.

WEEK #11 (12-18 mars)

We received a private tour of artist Tomaž Furlan's exhibition "Wear Series" at the Musée d'art contemporain in Rochechouart. Furlan's industrial-like sculptures/machines are incongruous and crazy ... in a good way.

With the help of our guide, Ken tries out a
steel tipping platform, designed by artist Tomaž Furlan

WEEK #10 (5-11 mars)

I celebrate the springlike weather of this past week with two pictures of a nest of red bugs in our garden. (I call it a nest, but it's more like a million bugs nestled in some fencing). Some around here call them Ladybugs, but I think they may be Striped Shield Bugs (graphosoma lineatum). In any case, they are kind of cute and harmless ... and are said to taste much better than their cousin, the Green Stinkbug, but that's for the birds to decide.

WEEK #9 (26 fevrier-4 mars)

Sandy and I are treated to a private magic show at a Mexican restaurant while on une petite visite à Paris.

Rien dans ma manche de chemise!

WEEK #8 (19-25 fevrier)

In honor of the many plowed and ready-to-plant fields in our neck of the campagne, something this week is a photogenic piece of matériel agricole ancienne, passed on a recent promenade.

WEEK #7 (12-18 fevrier)

Ken and I stopped over on our way back from taking friends to the airport in Limoges. We stayed at a lovely B&B near the village of Sorges in the northern Dordogne. This fountain is in Brantôme, a village some have compared to Venice.

A fountain in Brantôme

WEEK #6 (5-11 fevrier)

J'ai eu un rhume cette semaine (I've had a cold this week), so I haven't gotten out much. Therefore, I'm cheating and posting a photo from the previous week. 

My train ride to Marseille was five hours long, and since I had used the restroom in Agen before I left, and since les toilettes à bord des trains can be kind of skanky, I waited until I reached my destination. Imagine my surprise when I found the toilets -- THE TOILETS! -- were on strike at the Marseille train station. This was all the more alarming because I had to wait another hour and a half for my sister to arrive on the TGV from Paris. (And yes, I could have left the station and looked for a restaurant or even gone to our hotel, but as I was alone in a big city with a somewhat menacing reputation (the city, not me), So, I timidly stayed put, crossed my legs, and chided myself for ignoring my own advice: When you have a chance to go, go!

A grève situation: The toilettes were on strike
at the Marseille train station.

WEEK #5 (29 janvier-4 fevrier)

Here's a teaser of upcoming blog posts on Away to Live. My sister and I met in Marseille, France's second-largest city, and one neither of us had visited. 

Notre-Dame de la Garde as seen from Marseille's port.  

WEEK #4 (22-28 janvier)

Last weekend was the Foire de Saint-Paul in Lauzun, an annual celebration of ... well ... Saint Paul. I couldn't find anyone who could explain why we honor this particular saint in this particular place. The day included children decorating cupcakes (made by yours truly) and ended with un bon chanteur Français at our favorite local restaurant.
French girl named Cassandra draped in an American flag
scarf decorating an American-style cupcake as part of a
very French foire.

WEEK #3 (15-21 janvier)

A highlight of the third week of the year was a visit to the atelier de l'artiste (studio) of painter/sculptor Armando Bergallo. My friend Viviane, an art teacher, invited four of her students (et moi) to visit Bergallo in his spectacular converted barn in Lalandusse. The brilliant Uruguay-born artist will be the subject of a future blog post. 

Painting by Armando Bergallo with brushes and paints
in the foreground

WEEK #2 (8-14 janvier)

It has been a devastating week here in France with the assassinations at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and the subsequent hostage and killing dramas. We needed a little getaway on Saturday and went to Sarlat for la fête de la truffe. The weather was drizzly, and the truffles were odoriferous, but we enjoyed revisiting one of the towns Ken and I stayed in the first time we visited France together several years ago.

"Le Badaud" ("The Onlooker") by sculptor Gérard Auliac sits in
Place de la Liberté in Sarlat. He is holding a "Je Suis Charlie" sign.

WEEK #1 (1-7 janvier)

Ken and I help nos amis jeunes préférés (our favorite young friends) learn to ride their bikes: cadeaux du père Noël. (So, I already have stretched the rule about one picture per week, but how could I choose just one?)

Within minutes, Aliénor is nearly ready for the Tour de France.

Tristan, too, is riding! Regardez devant!