Saturday, 26 May 2012

Goose quills

Yesterday, when we were having a quiet local mooching day, it was dark and grey and nearly drizzling. Today, when we will be in the car moving east to the Cevennes (six hours) it is sunny and already hot at 8.30am.  Darn it.
My sister took us to Auvillar yesterday - another surprise.  This is a little brick town on top of a hill - with an ancient clock tower, a large sloping triangular arcaded place, and a marvellous Romanesque grain market in the middle of it, complete with columns, an auctioneer's platform, and very old signs showing where each kind of grain should be found - rye, wheat, barley, oats etc.
The town is definitely on the pilgrims' route and though the day was drear there were quite a few of them about, encouraged by cute little statuary showing how nifty and easy it is to be a pilgrim.
The town has ancient roots of course, as revealed by its architecture, but it kept itself going in the 18th and 19th centuries making faience (13 factories 150 years ago), and goose-quill pens.  Trade was by boat on the Garonne - 3000 visited in one year in the early 19thC.  All this carried on till someone went and built the canal des Deux Mers (not close enough), and then the railway (even further away).  Everything dried up. The huge factories are now either art galleries (closed) or for sale, or empty.
We walked round St Peter's church which had large 18th century artworks casually leaning on the arches, admired the spectacular view over the Garonne river from the chateau carpark (the canal and railway barely discernible), tried to get lunch at a creperie which had wonderful purple metal tables and chairs on its terrasse and was firmly shut despite having a large notice saying it was open, ate in a pilgrims' cafe, then headed into Valence d'Agen to shop for supper. The two fountains in the place in Valence are noticeable for having all the water coloured with bright turquoise dye.
We chose to make a tapas for our last night - this and that... the anchovies from the Intermarché were superb, I must say. The lady behind the fish counter assured us that the brandade de morue in a packet was exactly the same as the brandade de morue out on display. That was nice too.
We cooked and ate out by the pool - Tom and Kate were there too - as the evening gently warmed up, and then the stars gradually revealed themselves, and then Andrew and I came in and zonked out, leaving the locals to enjoy themselves.
Now it's time to set off to the east - maybe go through Toulouse which we have missed out on this trip. We are heading into the country of the great Herault river, with its enormous glaciated valleys and forests.... that is what I remember from last time, anyway.

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