Well, as luck would have it, this weekend was the Jours de Patrimoine in our area. This just means that lots of stuff that’s not normally open to the public, is. Plus, it’s usually free. We had been out of town or otherwise engaged for the last few of these so I was totally psyched!
We started out our morning with the usual homework stuff but did it very quickly so we could get to the important things – like finally getting to set up all our decorations and presents we had been preparing. As the kids grow, they get more and more excited about other people’s birthdays and they really got into doing things for the big day. I love that they are getting a tiny bit less selfish and also that they can truly enjoy another person’s happiness (at least some of the time).
Callie and Zander both made elaborate paper chains that took hours and Griffin had drawn several pictures. Callie also worked over several days on the special ‘Happy Birthday Dad’ sign we hung on the wall. We had hit a vide-grenier where Zander had chosen a ship night light and Callie chose a couple of beautiful copper plates to give as gifts. Each of the kids made a special card as well. As for the gift from me? Well, I was on a quest to find a new, nice dress watch. I had bought André one back in our dating days, about 13 years ago – that had quit about 2 or 3 years before. In the interim he has had a few new ones, but none that lasted. Besançon is famous for watch making so I really wanted to get him something special. Of course, my budget was tight but usually I can still make it work – I went to thrift stores, vide greniers, pawn shops and multiple jewelry places and I finally found one I liked (and I was hoping he would like as well!). Unfortunately, he didn’t really like it (sadness).
It was still morning so we headed off to see a few churches. The first, right next to Zander’s school, was closed (rats!) so we headed downtown to see one that is right over Pont Battant – L’eglise de la Madeleine. This site is one of the oldest churches in the city and dates back to before the Citadelle. I was surprised and happy to see that there were meridian markings on the floor of the church. I hadn’t seen that since Paris! I love the way these buildings incorporated the light of the sun to help them measure the passing of seasons to find out when to celebrate holidays such as Easter. You can see the gnomic hole (the pinhole in the window where the light comes through) in the photo, left. The nave of the church was beautiful, most remarkable feature being the elaborate sculpture set above the altar, almost at the ceiling, featuring Mary surrounded by the angels. They had it backlit – so it was impossible to get a good shot, but it was a unique and truly beautiful sculpture. Because of the special open house, they had lots of other rooms open in the church – we could walk up to be near the organ and also walk through the area where they kept historical robes worn by priests etc…. This particular church has always been closely connected with educating the students and scholars of the region and seems to have quite a collection of archives and artifacts.
Then, we headed to the next stop, Le Basilique de Saint Ferjoux. This was not on the list of open churches, but André has run past it a bunch of times and was hoping it would be open. It is a giant building – the front has a clock and a weather predictor of some kind – both seemed to be accurate, but there was no indication the doors were open. At the side door, however, we got lucky. A nun was in there, sweeping the mammoth floor with a little straw broom, (swish, swish, swish) so the doors were open. I enjoyed the Egyptian like figures of Jesus and the Apostles that were painted up in the cupola. The best part, though, was definitely the cemetery. Located across the street from the church it is huge and had both old and new monuments. We were getting hungry for lunch but ended up spending half an hour or so just wandering through. The sculpture, right, was situated next to the tomb of a young woman. Apparently, her husband was so wracked by grief at her passing, he carved it by hand. I looked to the internet (of course) to discover the meaning of the snake, and the urn and found a nice page on the official website for the state of Indiana – who’d of thunk? So thanks to http://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/3750.htm I can tell you that the snake is a symbol for everlasting life and the urn represents the return of our body to dust and the rebirth it will gain in the next realm. (They didn’t have the wreath on their list – come on Indiana!) Zander and Callie walked pretty serenely around but Griffin always wants to find the ‘secret’ way. After a while Daddy had to admonish him: “Griffin, don’t step on top of the dead people, it’s not polite.” We also had a nice conversation as a family about the pros and cons of cremation. Conclusion being, it is better for our earth to be cremated BUT it is nice to have a special place to go to remember your loved one. Zander, of course, came up with a solution – he plans to get a bench in the forest dedicated to our family – and then dump all our ashes there – forever (but don’t tell anyone so they won’t think it’s gross). Well, I’ll be dead so I guess it works for me! I had fun exploring some of the more modern headstones. I like this style with the stain glass back drop. Also, it is cool when people put photos on the headstone – it really helps you get an idea of the person – they seem to be ceramic – neat. One thing, though, that I can’t get used to is the way they use ‘souvenir’ to mark some headstones here. I realize, of course, logically, that in French ‘souvenir’ means to remember – so it makes sense that the graves are littered with little items such as the one pictured left. But, I just can’t get over a lifetime of conditioning that forces me to think of a souvenir as something you get to bring home from a fun vacation!
We headed home for lunch. On the way there we happened to pass a watch factory. This is a Timex factory that also has a factory outlet store. I had passed it a long time ago while riding the bus, but couldn’t remember exactly where it was or how to get there (typical for me, right?). So, I hadn’t checked it out on my watch quest. We stopped in, just to see, and ended up finding the perfect watch. (Luckily, I can return the other one) It’s a Timex – and an automatic – that means it uses the inertia of your body to wind it – and never needs a battery – super cool. It has a clear window in the front and a glass back so you can see how it works. Plus it seems flawless and cost about half of retail price. We love the fact that it is manufactured in Besançon (well, mostly, some parts are assembled in Thailand and then sent back here – but such is the state of the global economy) Hopefully this one will last another 10 years. You can see André modeling it below – he is sooooo GQ!
After lunch we had Daddie’s birthday cake. By his request I made two batches of winter fun cookie dough and spiraled them into cake layers. It actually came out pretty well and was certainly faster than (but not as fun as) making all those little shapes.
Then it was off for the afternoon portion of our adventures – a visit to a local fruiterie. This one is located only about 20 minutes from our house but we never knew it was there. It was quite a popular event--the parking lot was packed. We thought we had a spot to park because there was a woman who was obviously either getting in or out of her car. When I made eye contact, she looked right at me and held up one finger. Right, I surmised, I just need to wait a minute and you’ll move. Well, actually, that interpretation would only apply if we were in America! Here, at least in this case, holding up one finger means more like what we sometimes do when kids are bad and you are trapped in an old British movie – you know – shake the finger at them and say “Naughty, naughty!” It’s always something new to interpret in the land whose culture just isn’t mine! Right, you can see us waiting by the giant vats for our tour. Those vast silver things are where all the leftover milk, etc… ends up after it goes through the cheese making process. There was a little girl counting the number of arrivals on a white board – I have it pictured left to show how French people count groups. You know how we do those little hash marks – like 1111 and then a cross through it to make the 5? Then you can look at the number and just count by 5’s to get your total, right? (Is this making any sense? You fencers out there, it’s how we keep score during rounds most of the time. What is this practice called anyway?) Well, they don’t do that in France. No, this long line of little hash marks is not just there because this kid doesn’t know about our way. They just don’t do it. (Another one for our list, folks)
But, on to the tour! This was a really amazing one because they let you go in where the cheese making equipment was and touch it all. In the past we have just been permitted to view it from above, through a glass window or something. They must really have to disinfect the place after this day! The neatest part, though, was getting to see the cave. The cave is where they age the cheese. True Comté isn’t even allowed to be eaten until it is at least 4 months old. The aging takes place in a cave. The cheese actually only stays at the cave in the fruiterie for about one month before it is transferred to a giant cave somewhere else (and yes, I really do want to visit one of these someday too!). The amazing thing that I learned during this trip is that, every day, during the first month – the cheeses have to be rubbed and turned. Each cheese is about 50 kilos – so this is no small feat. They actually have a new machine that does this for them – it is amazing to
watch it – see video! André asked if it is reliable – and the guy said it takes lots of work to keep it running well. Hmm….. modern technology meets ancient cheese making – it’s a beautiful thing.
Then we got to taste some Comté and go on to watch them make, straight from raw milk, some cheese and some butter. It was really fun to watch and, of course, delicious. She used a hotplate, and a food processor and other modern tools so it took only about 15 minutes – we tried to imagine how long it would take in the olden days. We even got to take some of the butter home with us for free. We ended up buying some Comté as well, before heading home for the evening. I made us some chicken and rice and we had more birthday cake. Augustin then showed up and André and I went out on a date. We had initially planned to go on a starwatching walk, but it was full. So we ended up at the circus Maximum – in town just for the weekend. The kids were so jealous!
This was my second European circus, and much smaller than the other one we attended. It seemed like there were probably only 15-30 people running the entire thing. The brothers who did the tightrope, also rode their motorcycles in the globe. The family that juggled, also were the clowns. The tiger tamer, camel trainer and horse trainer were all the same dude. And then, there were the two ‘beautiful ladies’. They sold tickets, sold toys to the kids, juggled a bit, danced a bit and often just stood around looking ravishing in the background of lots of acts. One of the things I thought was awesome about this show was how they had a juggling act done by the children (about 9 and 12 years old). They were already such performers and it made it obvious that this is truly a family affair. As the last time, the whole ring was small, so we had great seats. We were both particularly interested, before and after the show, in the little village that was set up all around the big top. There were a couple of RV’s but, much more impressive, were these giant mobile homes made of tractor trailers – they popped open on both sides when parked and looked super luxurious. I guess, if you truly live on the road, as the circus people do, such an investment is worth it.
Then we made it home and to our beds – what a busy Saturday – and tomorrow awaits!