dimanche, août 29, 2010

Belcastel, Tarn, France

The back of the old church in Belcastel

I would not take the liberty to inform you of my SIL's life (in detail) as she would skin me alive for that. Suffice to say that she's Hub's older and only sibling and is a free spirit who lives on her own out there in the little village of Belcastel in the Tarn, in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

The bell goes off very often, including more than 20 hits at 7 every morning

The old church seen from SIL's doorstep

But I must disabuse you of any notions that you may have of SIL as a country mouse. On the contrary, she has lived a major part of her life in the heart of the capital itself, has travelled quite a bit in the world (often as a nurse with humanitarian organisations), is an accomplished musician on several instruments (including the flute and the piano) and is also a linguist.

The "main" street in the village just behind the old church

SIL's house

As a matter of fact, the decision to leave Paris and settle in this village 26 km Northeast of Toulouse had in no time appeared quite rash to the lady in question as she started to discover that her quiet village of no more than 200 inhabitants is small both in population and in spirit. The region is still quite rural and most people there are not very educated, add that to the unreliable and clanish nature of the people in the South and you will understand how she should feel quite out of place there. On the other hand, she's living not too far away from where her mother's family used to live - near Rodez in Aveyron.

The living room

The spacious kitchen

She tiled this bathroom herself

In the meantime, she has bought herself a nice little old house in Belcastel just a few metres from the very old church and townhall. And has been spending the last year or so renovating it - on her own. We liked it very much actually. Found it charming and very nicely-built. The kids loved playing board games with their aunt, but we couldn't stay too long as she was working through most of Summer.

The garden

The back of the house

Babinette playing with the neighbour's cat (one of 40!)

View from SIL's garden

She has a nice little garden of her own with a fabulous view of the surrounding fields, her own fruit trees and a successful herb and vegetable patch and regaled us with tales of her battle with the escargots as we sipped wine in her terrace, had foie gras on toasts to start before we enjoyed her cooking. It was chicken curry one evening, duck magret on another, roast veal from the neighbour's farm and finally saucisse de Toulouse on our last night there.

Sunflower fields

We made a few day trips to nearby towns and villages during our stay in Belcastel and especially enjoyed driving past the surrounding fields often full of sunflowers - beautiful! In the past, the region would also have fields full of Isatis tinctoria flowers (aka woad), flowers that once fermented, dried, crushed and oxidised (often achieved by adding urine) would yield a blue tint (aka pastel).

A modernised pastel house seen from the road

The pastel was the only blue tint available in Europe until the arrival of indigo in the 17th century. In France, the Cocagne triangle comprising Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne became very prosperous thanks to the pastel trade. Near Belcastel, we could see former pastel houses modernised to be lived in in the 21st century and they made for a lovely sight. There is also some attempt today to revive the use of the pastel - as a natural tint and for its medicinal properties (the Chinese have been using it for ages).

We've really enjoyed our stay in Belcastel and were glad to be able to visit SIL and her lovely stone house before she decides to sell it and move again. Hub's not the only person in the family with an itchy backside.

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