Lautrec, Tarn, Midi-Pyrénées, Occitanie, France – an address worth memorizing

If you prefer to listen to my beautiful voice, click here: Lautrec – an address worth memorizing.

We drove for a long time. Between fields dotted with sunflowers. Pointilism is something that France excels in – naturally – and I believe it is here where Van Gogh started using this very technique of painting. He simply copied Mother Nature. Ah men!

Truly! It was exactly like in those movies! The fields waved on both sides of the road, sometimes changing colors depending on what grew on them. Beautiful tall trees counted passing kilometers for us and the sun…. and the sun was shining! And a gentle breeze was blowing. However, it did not blow through our hair, because we had the aircon turned on in the car…

We left the main road ’cause it was getting a little boring, and yet still we had nothing in sight that would direct us to some place we could potentially call cool.

We drove and drove, on a road made of stones and earth. Sunflower fields on the left, hill on the right. On this hill 2 or 3 farms. And right at the turn to this area, at the very intersection, at the end of the world – a small square for a picnic. And a tree too.

The plan was simple:

Get out and eat!

We took out bags with previously purchased products, took out cutlery, a Swiss knife and the battle began between tounges, teeth and upper plates!

Baguettes, cheeses, butter, milk… oh dear how fresh. Literally, as if it came out of the cow right there and then. And the grapes! We treated ourselves to a bunch of some that were growing by the road, for which we sincerely apologize, but it was impossible not to stop. And the grapes here are the size of quail eggs!

We ate like animals, ’cause one could never tell when the next meal would occur. Traveling with no plan meant one could potentially skip a meal… or even two if caught up in a conversation or staring at something for infinity. Although, knowing life, it would probably be in 20 minutes in the town when we see something alluring to shove…

I ran for 2 sunflower heads to a nearby field and with the patience of an ant I plucked the seeds with a knife, then packed them beautifully into bags and put them away with other bundles of goodies. The plan was that we would snack on them along the way. There were so many more days ahead of us.

However, I forgot, and I found out about it when I no longer had to remind myself, that it is summer and moisture in a plastic bag filled with fresh sunflower seeds will turn them moldy. Well, so it happened and 2 hours of chiseling went into the forest.

But at that stage I was completely ignorant of the above possibility of things going so bad. Instead we decided to go to the village. Or a town? Well, probably a town because there were a lot of buildings and some walls there on the horizon. Wow, probably one of those amazing ones with a castle and cute half-timbered houses.

I jumped for joy seeing what a place we hunted.

We parked right at the entrance on the mentioned wall. On foot, we set off into the distance. Towards the unknown.

First, on the right, I saw an old bicycle. Then I took a closer look at what it was leaning on and saw the most wonderful wooden building with a big window. And this old bike. Such a fairy tale. I took a photo, look and don’t fall in love, huh?

Next came a market square. Surrounded by such old houses that it is hard to believe that people still live in them. Well, but they do. On the left, something once big, already closed. Opposite this thing, a tiny local shop. Of course we enter.

We bought a couple of items and moved on. We turn left, and on the right side we see the world of azuro. Actually, it’s indigo.

I wanted to talk to the lady in the shop about what she was doing, just like that, friendly, but she didn’t want to talk. So we didn’t buy anything. But instead I will tell you in short what’s it all about.

Source: internet

Isatis tinctoria, also called woad, dyer’s woad, or glastum is a cabbagy plant with yellow flowers, a bit similar to rapeseed flowers. Seemingly inconspicuous but such a secret agent. It has been used for blue dyeing for centuries. Why? It’s simple. Its leaves are harvested, fermented, and after oxidation, the green color turns blue.

In addition, an ornamental, edible plant, healthier than broccoli, used in herbalism and allegedly stinks so insanely during fermentation that some English queen would not allow it to be planted less than 5 miles from the castle.

There are three stages of production:

  • Leaf harvesting – sometimes collected at different stages of plant growth, but they contain most pigment during the transition period, not when flowering. Then they are ground in a mill.
  • The leaf mash is left for some time to ferment. After this time, it can be kneaded and formed into small balls called cocagnes. Then they are dried.
  • After drying, the cocagne is crushed and put back into the mass, which will be watered and turned regularly to ensure a second fermentation for several weeks. This causes the dye to begin to secrete.

For French speakers, there is a whole history of the plant and its colorful popularity in the article about Le Pastel.

Lautrec is also famous for its pink garlic, grown in the Tarn area by more than 160 farmers who plant in December, prune flowering stems in May and start harvesting at the end of June. Then only drying remains. Somewhere around the third week of drying, when removing the peel, its pinkish coloration appears. Farmers say that it is like “a rose, very rich in sugar, perfumes are not aggressive, in addition, it holds up very well.”

Lautrec pink garlic is sweet and would hardly scare away a vampire, because it does not smell like its ordinary white cousin.

Tarn is an agricultural area of France. Not only garlic grows well here. Fields of, officially industrial hemp, cover hectares along roads.

I have found a nice animation, telling the story of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s life. And it’s not for no reason that I’m pasting it here, because, even though Henri himself was born in nearby Albi, his family still lives in Lautrec today. He lived and worked in Paris, but it was in Tarn where his heart beat for the first time.

We go further and here we find a beautiful tenement house of Mr. Mer, and on the opposite site, a pizzeria. Did you doubt me when I said 20 minutes?! Well, fine plus 2 hrs for the sunflower seeds.

And what a pizza! Have you ever tried pizza with cream and potatoes? Yes, no tomato sauce, potato pizza. Mon Dieu, this one has the capacity to launch you into space.

We melt now from the heat.… Whew….

On this side, the end of the town along with the ending street. So we picked up our overfed asses and walked back towards the square.

The atmosphere of this place is simply amazing. Buildings from centuries ago, here and there, uncover the glory of the years past quietly presenting their charms.

Ah, there’s a mill in front of us. Let’s go!

We climbed to the first floor and as in other mills, also here everything is stone and wood. A little bit of grains, some bran and a bit of flour in bowls standing against the wall.

Very beautiful and well-kept. The rafters shimmered as if they were polished daily.

Moulin à vent de la Salette dates back to 1688, it was restored in the ’90s of the twentieth century. It is open for visitors from mid-April to mid-October. It is one of the few windmills still producing flour in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

In front of the mill, a huge mill stone, now serving as a kind of a bench and a flower stand.

We said goodbye to our guide and took narrow stone stairs down, towards the center.

On the left we saw a plaque with a clog drawn on it, advertising Clog Atelier.

Watch the video here and read about the history of L’atelier du sabotier.

We come back as evening falls. It’s time to eat something and figure out where we will sleep.

We sleep in the car.

The unfolded rear seats did a fantastic job. We open our eyes in the morning, open the trunk door and we are greeted by a…. donkey. Screamed as if they wanted to milk him! Fortunately – for you – I drew a portrait of him, because he so got under my skin ….

After a homely breakfast, we set off into the world. And the world of southern France has plenty to boast about.

Anka

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Diarrhea Portuguesa

You can listen to the podcast version here: Diarrhea Portuguesa

From Alcacér do Sal, we took an IP8 road in order to reach the west coast of Portugal.

Cities where appearing and disappearing along the way but the Atlantic Ocean was our destination. A beautiful town of Santiago do Cacém popped out in front of us though and there was something about that place that told us not to skip it.

Zobacz obraz źródłowy
Source: Alentejo

Portuguese villages and towns tend to be positioned in a very strategic way – on top of huge mounds and are usually topped with either a castle, a huge alcazar, or, as in this case – a cemetery inside of the castle ruins hence remains inside the remains.

The medieval castle (Castelo de Santiago do Cacém) was built in the 12th century over an earlier Moorish fortress, parts of which are still visible. The town has both, Moorish and Roman origins.

The legend has it that the Moorish ruler of the area had three children, 2 sons and a daughter. According to the tradition, the eldest son had the right to pick which lands he would inherit after the father’s death as first. The second son also chose his part and a nice piece of land remained for the daughter to work with. However, when the ruler asked his daughter whether she was satisfied with what remained as her inheritance, she replied that she was not interested in the properties (seriously?! – it’s the best business ever!). Anyways, she said she wanted a nice spot, the size of which would be determined by the area marked with a string cut out of an ox-hide which she showed them. She believed that building a castle would be of much more importance, as they surely would need it one day to defend themselves. This was arranged and the designated area was then marked with the mentioned string of an ox-hide cut and arranged by her personally. After three days of heavy fog, a fortress appeared.

Zobacz obraz źródłowy
Source: castleworldcom

Remember when I was telling you about Casela Velha and the little houselets at the cemetery? Yes, Santiago do Cacém, has the most wonderful examples of these very post mortem houses. But there are also many other types of graves here which normally can be found accross Europe’s cemeteries.

The town itself is magical. Tiny cobblestoned streets lead usually either down or up the hill between plain white washed houses. The way to the top is very steep but equally worth it.

A flock of sheep and a herd of cows were wandering around the castle walls singing their moo-ey and baa-ey songs to those who could no longer see them. And we sat there for a while, staring at the surrounding mountains, coastline of absolutely incredible beaches and contemplated ages of history that has passed through this place.

The yellow and white building attached to the castle, Igreja Matriz de Santiago do Cacém, dates back to the 13th century and was founded and built by the Order of Santiago. It is now a National Monument which houses the Museum of Sacred Art of Santiago do Cacém and relief sculptures depicting Santiago fighting the Moors.

Have you ever heard of Santiago de Compostella? Yes, hundreds of thousands of routes lead to this place from all over Europe and millions of people walk these routes in order to reach the Finis Terra. These are called either St. Jacob’s or St. James routes and they are marked with the sign of a shell.

Finis Terra, source: internet

St. James the Elder or Greater, also known as Santiago de Matamoros (from Spanish matar – kill and moros – Moors) so the Killer of the Moors or the Moor-slayer, was one of the 12 apostles whose mission was to convert the Celts living in current region of Galicia, the northern part of Spain, to Christianity.

Santiago Peregrino (St. James the Pilgrim) at Santiago de Compostella Basilica, source internet
Padova, St. Anthony’s Basilica, St. James Chapel – The Death of St. James, source: inetrnet
Current tomb of Santiago in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostella, source: internet
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - St Jacobus in Budapest.jpg
Saint James Matamoros by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, source: internet

After his martyrdom by beheading by order of Herod Agrippa, Santiago’s body was laid to rest on a boat that was released into the sea. According to legend, hosts of angels led the body back to the Galician coast, where the apostle was finally buried (less the head which is now in Jerusalem) in the Liberdon forest in the Iria Flavia town area.

The tomb of the saint was forgotten over time and no one knew where it really was. The breakthrough came in the year 813, when, according to beliefs, a miracle occurred. A shepherd (Pelayo) saw a rain of stars falling to the ground and the divine light illuminating a mysterious, narrow, entrance to the underground located on the Liberum donum hill. He informed about this unusual phenomenon the then bishop Theodomir de Iria, who, after examining the place, decided that indicated by the stars was the burial place of St. James the Greater and his two disciples. Upon hearing of this discovery, king Alfonso II of Galicia and Asturias immediately went to this place with his court and family. There he proclaimed James the patron saint of the kingdom and, in order to commemorate this event, ordered a church to be built over the tomb of the Apostle.

The place was called Campus Stellae, which in Latin means field of stars. Hence the second part of the name of the city of Santiago de Compostela.

King Alfonso II defied the demand of the Moors to reinstate the tribute of 100 virgins (fifty noble and fifty commoner). The battle started on the day of his death when Ramiro I took over the ruling of the country.

During a legendary Battle of Clavijo, he appeared on a white horse and helped the Christians lead by the King Ramiro I to conquere the Moorish. Chanting ¡Dios ayuda a Santiago! “God help St. James!” they managed to kill over five thousand of them.

A while later, while trying to find a way back to the main road, a very unique sight materialized in front of our very eyes:

The ruins of the Roman settlement of de Mirobriga situated nearby is one of the best preserved sights of the kind in Portugal. The size of the complex suggests its rather high significance at the time as there were two baths (probably for men and women), temples, houses, shops, a bridge, paved roads and the foundations of a Hippodrome or Roman Circus used for chariot races. A few of its original, decorative columns belonging to the Forum or a temple can be seen still.

Roman Empire’s occupation of Santiago was replaced by the Visigoths which then followed by the Moorish who controlled the Iberic Peninsula. It then, in the 12th century, was ruled by the Portuguese kings, later belonged to the Order of Santiago, after which the Almohads resumed Muslim control here. The name Cacém, possibly derives from the Moorish name for the town, Kassen and Santiago remained after the Order of Santiago.

According to the legend, princess Vataça Lascaris from east Meditterian, arrived at nearby Sines and moved on to attack a Moorish settlement lead by a man called Kassen. The battle was lost by him at the castle of Santiago and this is why the town became known as Santiago do Kassen.

That other word from the sign post, moinho, of course stands for the mill. And I adore mills, especially windmills. The Moinho da Quintinha is a small windmill built in 1813 and it was in operation until 1966.

A typical figure to the Portuguese life, the miller, a country man with the characteristics of a rural world. The little industry which the miller owned, was a family business. There were many tasks involved in the milling process and both, the adults and the children played their equal parts in everyday functioning of the mill.

A miller would be a handy man of many-o-skills. It was necessary that he understood the wind and knew how to observe the weather. He had to understand the mechanism of the mill itself and not just know how to crush and grind the grains but also how to fix what required fixing.

The miller, living a secluded life, would always welcome visitors.

We arrived by and this lovely gentelman and his wife appeared in front of us. All only happy to take us on a tour around this wonderful place. We saw many similar places in the past, in Ireland, France, Spain, Poland; nowhere however would it be run and showed around by the actual owner. And the difference is extreme. There is no such thing as a language barier. One look into the man’s eyes and you could see so much love in there, that there was no way you could not understand the process behind the machinery.

It is believed that the first windmills were built in Persia, and their system was later exploited by the Arabs and brought over to Europe during their invasions. Of course Europe welcomed such novelty with open arms and the idea spread rapidly throughout the continent between 11th and 13th centuries. Due to diverse climate and weather conditions, the windmills would vary structurally and thanks to this, we can now associate their architecture with certain coutries, such as Holland for example, where they took a very unique to the region shape, color and even functions. In Portugal, they appeared around 14th century and despite of the fact that they are long now replaced by more advanced technology, Portugal is believed to have the largest number of such structures remaining.

Even though the old style milling is no longer the case, to this day, we cannot imagine life without bread, not to mention rolls, cakes, pastries, etc. Flour played and plays such an important role in the human existence that the Portuguese dedicated it a very special place, the Museu da Farinha (Flour Museum), which can be visited in the village of São Domingos. It was once a flour mill in operation until the 1980s. Now all the machinery is still in place and the next door former granary became a luxury accommodation, the Casas da Moagem, rocking a nice restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool as well as bar and lounge.

We did not know this at the time, but I have now found that only 6 km northwest of town is the fun Badoca Safari Park with a variety of animals living in a savanna-style environment. This includes typical savannah inhabitants, such as zebras, antelopes, giraffes, ostriches, but also chipmanses and lemurs as well as exotic and carnivorous birds. Guided tours are operated in the safari style by jeep. A definite must next time while in the area!

We however moved on, as the day was nearing to an end and we were only down the road from the lovely granny.

We passed through Sines, a wonderful coastal town, but only to take a quick look because just outside its borders, some of the truly incredible beaches awaited to be discovered.

Source: google maps

Atlatic Ocean was battering the rocks with some impressive waves. We strolled for a while buttttt…. had to rush! in search of accommodation because, looks like the stewed tongue started to tickle the insides of my hubby’s guts and we were only to discover some true face of what Diarrhea Portuguesa meant after decking ourselves in the nearby Porto Covo.

The storm lasted the night. And it was rough – to say the least….

But as we know, after every storm comes out the sunshine. And so it has for us in the beautiful village of Porto Covo. But all about that next time.

The morale to this story is: use your tongue well and stick with the one God gave you. Too much of everything may be…. too much.

Anna

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