Our first weekend back, we decided to go to the Musee de Maison Comtoises. We had been meaning to go for a long time but hadn’t. We decided to go now for two reasons. First, we thought it was free with our bus passes, but it actually only gave adults a small discount. Secondly, there was supposed to be some sort of honey/bee festival that weekend and we wanted to check that out. The French are very into bees and their honey and there are probably about 8 different main kinds of honey here. So far we’ve tried 2 and liked neither. I thought this would be a great opportunity to taste lots of kinds (without paying) and find one we liked. Well, turns out that didn’t start until Sunday – bummer.
Still, there was a small bee display, and, while André was off with Zander doing something else, I tried to be brave and got into a conversation (in French) on the differences between a bourdon (French bumblebee) and our bumblebee. I started out by telling them that US bugs are a bit different and then moved on to explain that our bumblebee was a different color and didn’t sting. They were fascinated – they wanted to know all about the US bumblebee. They started asking me questions such as…. What kind of flowers do they feed from? Do they make honey? Do they live in colonies or are they solitary? What kind of hives do they make? Unfortunately, my bumblebee knowledge is very limited. I then tried to get into a different conversation with them about some of the reading I have recently done about hive disease wiping out huge percentages of bees in the US. I wanted to know if this was happening in France and if they were worried. They responded by telling me that, yes, bees do die after they sting. It seems my ability to actually have real conversation, that people can actually understand in French is still severely lacking. It is better if I just stick to the weather and telling people where I come from. I am also good at explaining Griffin’s gluten allergy. We have to embrace our strengths, folks! After all that bee talk, I did get treated to this brochure on names and types of bees in France. Then it was more of the museum. In general, this place is a giant outdoor exhibition of different styles of old houses from all over different parts of Franche-Comte. In recent years, many of the older buildings have been torn down to make way for new construction and the mission of this museum is to preserve as much of the old history as possible. At right you can see André posing in front of a house that was built entirely out of stone. This included the roof which is made up of giant slabs of slate that weigh several tons. It seems amazing that one can safely sleep under such a massive weight of stone.
So, the curators here go to where an historic building is, label and number all the parts, take it to pieces and reassemble it on the grounds of the museum. The result is a wonderful collection of buildings that you can walk through and see how they were built, etc… They often also have furnishings and other artifacts from when they were built. Zander went here with his class on a field trip so he was eager to show off all his knowledge. Since they didn’t have very much wood in some parts of France, they used mud and twigs to create the walls in the house shown right. Zander and his class got to make some of the mud bricks when they had visited.
I enjoyed walking through the house and discovered one extremely interesting room. As you can see from this floor plan, there is the Chambre de la sorciere or room of the witch, located at the top of the stairs. I’m not sure who lived there – but I’m glad there was room made for the witches – maybe this was before they started to burn them and stuff. I really enjoyed some of the artifacts. We saw lots and lots of baby cradles. I love the way they are so small – cribs are so very gigantic – when did that whole tradition start anyway? Griffin is four and still sleeping comfortably on a crib mattress – is this excess really necessary? I mean, this was a wealthy house, with about 15 people living in it – and do you see the size of that stove? Plus, that baby heated the entire bottom floor of the house! It seems a lot of things were smaller in the olden days – but one thing was certainly larger – wine jugs. They were hand blown and monstrous requiring baskets to be weaved around them in order to cart them about. André and I really like these bottles and were totally psyched to find one still in it’s original basket and with it’s cork (just like the ones in the picture, folks) at Emmaus for only 5 Euros. I know we don’t drink – but does that really matter? Does everyone who collects those little spoons eat out of them? My personal favorite olden day house was the one where they made comté. This is our super favorite cheese and we have been to a few modern fromageries to see how they do it. It was quite different in the olden days and at a much smaller scale. Here you see the kids in front of the old-school cheese press and also a shot of Callie, churning imaginary butter.
We also got to see the inside of this house with a Tuye. These are smoke houses. I have seen them before and even mentioned them on the blog but I never realized what they were really like until we got to go inside one. In the photo you can see the little house-looking thing popping off the roof. Well, that structure actually continues right down to the ground level – basically the poked out part is the apex of a slanted box that houses the kitchen. They eat and live mostly in this room, especially in the winter, and their meat and dried produce hang above their heads. Incredible. We went to a workshop on how they built many of these old buildings, with no nails or screws to be had. Here you can see Zander using a giant drill on a piece of wood. He was fascinated by this but the French vocabulary concerning wood was soaring right over my head! We also got to watch them baking bread in a traditional oven. If André understood correctly, they only made the dough once per week and was baked in a brick oven. They first fill this oven with wood, wait for about 3 hours for it to burn down, sweep out all the charcoal and place the raw dough inside. We bought a loaf to try – it was 3 Euros (which is more than we’ve ever paid for bread in France) and the outside was kind of burnt, but it was a different experience and I liked it. Below you can see some shots of the baker and her oven. She really needed those long handled tools since the oven is at least 5 feet deep.
The grounds of this entire museum were beautiful. The houses were all spread apart into little areas depending on how and when they were created and the paths and gardens were beautifully maintained. For whatever reason, dahlia’s are very beautiful here in France. My great grandfather used to raise prize winning dahlia’s and I think he would have really enjoyed some of the ones in the gardens around this place. André and I loved the way the gardener here used giant slabs of stone to create the border around the cultivated plants. Note to future selves: if we ever have enough land and the desire to garden (all highly unlikely) make wall like this one…. We also came across this interesting sculpture/labyrinth thing. It was made so you would take a stick with a piece of wood attached to it (these were provided on a nearby rack) and then walk slowly along, dragging your loose wood along the stones and trying to not let it fall off. Very meditative and super fun as well. The kids loved it and I found did to. Also would love to build one of these in my most likely never going to happen large future yard area.