Friday, July 24, 2009

Bastille Day

(Last) Tuesday was le Quatorze Juillet (the 14th of July), which is la Fête Nationale of France. As is common for many holidays that occur mid-week, lots of people chose to faire le pont or, litterally, "make the bridge" between the weekend and the mid-week holiday so they took off Monday too. The lab was a ghost town.

Although it isn't exactly the same thing, (even though both do mark the birth of the nation) le Quatorze Juillet (not called "Bastille Day" by the French even though it commemorates the holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille), sort of feels like the 4th of July.

To take advantage of our day off, James and I went on an excursion to the Lac Sainte-Croix du Verdon via Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with other students from the program through which James is taking French classes. We had thought this would be an excellent day full of French speaking. However, somehow, only the American college students (plus one Belgian and one Brazilian) went. And they spoke English all day. Maybe that was why it felt like the 4th?

Here's Moustiers-Sainte-Marie from above.

The town is famous for its faïence, and has been since the 17th century when Louis XIV requisitioned all the gold and silver in the kingdom and had it melted down to finance foreign wars. The story goes that he replaced what he had taken with faïence from Moustiers.

There was a revitalization of the faïence tradition in the 1920s and there are lots of workshops where you can see it and buy it. But instead of looking at faïence, we went on a little hike up the side of the hill past the Grotto of Mary Magdalene to the Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauvoir.

There have been chapels of sorts here since the 5th century -- even the great Charlemagne built one in the 9th century -- but most of the current Notre Dame de Beauvoir wasn't built until the 12th century, with some restorations in the 1500s.

Here's the wooden door, which dates from the Renaissance.

Inside it was so dark you couldn't see a thing, not really even the gold on the altar. But with a slow shutter speed ...

This chapel has been a pilgrimage site since the 1600s when parents brought their still-born children here to be resuscitated, just long enough to be baptized. Then, according to the informational plaque, the children were buried in the cemetery.

Then we went to the Lac Saint-Croix du Verdon.

Lac Saint-Croix is an artificial lake formed in the early 70s when the national electric company built a dam at the end of the Verdon Gorge. It was, as most dams are, somewhat controversial and included the swallowing-up of a 12th century town called Les Salles sur Verdon. You can see some photos of the last days of the town here. Apparently, only a few vestiges of the old town were moved before the town was razed.

But the lake is really nice.

We had sandwiches in the town of Saint Croix (above the lake). We missed out on a lake-view by about a minute. (The little girl in the green shirt and her parents beat us to it!)

And then went down to the beach to swim.

On the way back, we stopped by one of the many gigantic lavender fields in the area. Even without those power lines in the background, this picture really wouldn't do it justice. The lavender actually looked much brighter than this.

The minute we got out of the bus, we could smell it. It was great.

And no national holiday is complete with out fireworks! It's no Farleigh Road in UA on the 4th, but here's a sample of the Aixois fireworks from our terrasse. By not seeing the whole spectacle, you aren't missing much: they were only blue (liberté), white (égalité) and red (fraternité).

No comments: