Thursday, September 23, 2010

After One Week...

Thurs., Sept. 23
Day 10: Students went to the Université d’Albi for their French lesson.  Me: a morning walk with JZ and Brun (pictured below) to the river.  Je crois que les chiens sont bilingues parce que quand je leur parle en français (« allons y ») ils viennent immediatement !  Peut-être ils parlent français seulement ?!  p.s. Day is not finished... wine tasting tonight!

Wed., Sept. 22
Day 9:  spent in Toulouse!  What a cool, hip city!  There is so many cultural activities and events going on – the performing arts – dance, theatre, etc.; music & clubs;  museums – free; galleries, openings!  I grabbed half a dozen event brochures… there is so much to choose from.  The city has a very Spanish feel to me… similar architecture, store fronts, the liveliness of the streets… I would love to live in Toulouse for a few years – I hear the archives are rich!  A postdoc would be nice!  

Our day:  we left the priory promptly at 8:30am, and began our tour of the city with a visit to the Museum of Antiquities – there, an interesting collection of Roman busts and sculptures dating from the late Roman empire (apparently, the area was a center of production… ).  This was followed by a visit to the old Dominican monastery (diminutive now and uninteresting from the outside, but it must have seemed larger in the Middle Ages).  The building was the initial residence for the newly created order of the Dominicans (“Friars Preachers”) of Toulouse.  The tribunals of the papal inquisition also took place within its walls… Toulouse was a hotbed of Cathar heresy… the space that once held the tribunal is now a lecture hall.  On the ceiling, above, are a series of paneled pictures depicting the life of St. Dominic (dated 17th century):

After this, we had lunch break.  I led Dr. Mark Lynch and his wife, Debbie, to a nice little café where we ordered the “plat du jour” (basically, the special of the day… on the other side of the Pyrenees known as the “menu del dia”).  We had roasted chicken, pasta au gratin, salad, and (of course) du vin!  The plat du jour is always the best deal for lunch – ours was just over 8 Euros.    

View of the vaulted ceiling of the Dominican church in Toulouse.  Ed Biemer and myself pictured here.  (Photos courtesy of Ed Biemer).

                    View of the Canal in Toulouse. (Built in 17th c 
             during reign of Louis XIV).

Tues., Sept. 21
Day 8, breakfast, strong coffee, then French class from 9am-noon here at the priory.  The students and professors attended!  We learned basic introductions (Je m’appelle Lori.  Et toi? … Je suis Canadienne. J’habite en Pennsylvanie.  etc.)  This was not hard for me – I have the advantage of having taken several years of French class while a student in junior and senior highschool.  But for our students… well, let’s just say they rose to the challenge!  ;-) I am finding that there are expressions in Quebeçois that are not directly transferable in France… for instance, a relative of mine usually says “Je suis plein” (I am full) after eating a big meal… I said this to the waitress, after our “plat du jour” the other day, and she promptly corrected me:  she said the expression means that I am pregnant (!!)… that it has animalistic connotations… that I am an animal who is grossly fat or about to give birth (?)… well, well…okay, so my expression was wrong. You learn something every day.  Apparently, the correct expression is “Je suis rempli”.

Mon., Sept. 20
Day 7, spent at the Priory.  I am teaching three courses here:  “Inquisition & Society”, “Mediterranean World (Muslims, Christians, Jews in Medit. Society)”, and the “History of Medicine.” We decided that at the end of the term we will  have a mock-Inquistion.  One student has already eagerly volunteered to be the Inquisitor of Heretical Depravity… ! Hmm…. And another, the Torturer!  Hmm hmm.  I think that I am supposed to be the heretic…

Sun. Sept. 19
Day 6, spent in Ambialet.  As it was the occasion of  the « Journée de Patrimoine », we met in the small village church of St. Gilles (which I think dates back to the 10th or 11th century), and joined a tour guide (a local from the village) on the history of Ambialet (given in French, but Tim Perkins translated).  Very interesting.  Apparently, about 7 “castlets” (castlettes? = small castles) were constructed on the hilltops surrounding the village, one of which has been dated back to the 4th century.  The powerful “Trencavel” family were based here, and ruled Albi too (the region, essentially)… doing their own thing and paying only loose homage to the Count of Toulouse.  Some of the remains of these small castles can still be seen (e.g. the cisterns which catch rain water were pointed out, and layers of buildings laid on top of each other).  

Sat., Sept. 18
Day 5, spent in Ambialet. Slept in till 10, sipped a strong coffee and told ghost stories to scare the students (well, it seems that someone was walking the halls in the early morning hours and the dogs were barking… oddly… but everyone claims that they were in bed! Hmmm…), hiked up a cliff to get wonderful viewpoint ("paradise" as local described it – see picture below), celebrated John Roche’s 22nd Birthday (he seems older that this!), tried some very tasty liqueurs from Auvergne, brought by Angeline, from the Université d’Albi… her uncle makes this himself. Delicious!  Meant to be poured in a small quantity over ice cream, but one person (who shall remain nameless) poured a glass full of it (eyebrows raised across the table! Ce n’est pas la coutume!), sharing more ghost stories...students are scared out of their wits now!  

Fri., Sept. 17

Day 4, spent at the priory and in the village of Ambialet. Began with STRONG coffee at 8am, followed by a lesson in how to bake “Mousse au Chocolat” from 9-10am (see below, Monsieur Roche teaching me how to… crack an egg?! Hey, come on, I know how to do that!), then Art class from 10-noon with Dr. Honigsblum, lunch, a leisurely bike ride down to Ambialet with two students, Ed & Lauren, and huffing and puffing back up the mountain (ugh… I’m out of shape!), rest for an hour, dinner, and a sampling of local/regional cheeses (my favourite, “Choix de Moine”).  We were joined after dinner by two very bubbly and sweet students, Angeline & Laura, from the Université d’Albi.  All in all, our day was really scrumptious!

Thurs., Sept. 16

Day 3, spent in Albi (20 kms away). It began with French class at 9am, (see picture below) followed by a tour of the campus of the Université d'Albi by some French students (Angeline was our guide), lunch in the school cafeteria, a French exam (I’m too old for this!),  an historical tour of Albi given by Dr. Honisgblum, then a meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Albi and presentation of gifts (well, he presented us with gifts but we were empty handed – oops), a fun scenic drive (we got lost!) to a mall (store called “Géant”, like a big Walmart but higher quality goods –ah  good chocolate finally!) and then back to the priory for dinner at 8pm. Highlights: La cathédrale Sainte-Cécile (a veritable fortress, and no doubt meant to be a political statement to heretics); tunnel driving (yikes!); and of course, meeting the deputy mayor.  I enjoyed the historical overview he gave of the town government.  Like many other European towns, the consul of Albi was established in the 12th centuy, during a period of dramatic commercial development & expansion. Ambialet’s consul was also established at the same time.  The people of the South, even those who lived in the tiniest of rural villages, were “urban in their thinking”… in this way they were quite different from their neighbours to the north.

Wed., Sept. 15
Day 2. Orientation.  A tour around the priory, its grounds, etc.  Fabulous day – bright, sunny skies, warm (!), fresh air, gardens and green foliage all around!  So picturesque!

Tues., Sept. 14
Arrival!  Day 1.  Made it to Ambialet – no mishaps or lost luggage! – and am now sitting in my large bedroom, with view of Tarn River below.  What a gorgeous setting!  The WIFI is better here than in Loretto – just tried it out!  Am a bit exhausted from the long journey, but must stay up for (?) more hours to beat the jetleg... Dinner is at 7pm. (How wonderful that I do not have to cook for 3 months!  My body and tastebuds will be spared!)  Pictured below: we have just left the Toulouse airport and are heading toward the priory in Ambialet.  Prof. Gerry Honigsblum, the academic coordinator of the SFU France program, sits opposite me.

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