Sunday 20 July 2014

France part 1: Albi and the Chateau du Bosc, homes to Toulouse Lautrec

We've just spent 10 days in the Midi-Pyrenees area of France. Our holiday crossed two departements, sort of like counties here in the UK. We started off in the Tarn, and then went on to Aveyron, both in SW France, inland from Carcassone and Perpignan.
Our first stop was Albi, a UNESCO world heritage site. A beautiful medieval city on the river Tarn, with really lovely, friendly, welcoming people, famously the birthplace of Toulouse Lautrec. I've never been a particular fan of his work, but since we were there, it made sense to check out the museum. It is always fascinating to see the development of an artist's work. It so often starts and ends in a completely different place. It turns out that Henri Toulouse Lautrec was a precocious child, with an incredible talent for drawing from an early age. His favourite things to draw were horses. There are some amazing paintings from when he was a young teenager, which, regardless of whether you like the subject matter, demonstrate quite an astonishing expertise. 
These interior shots are of the incredibly stylish place we stayed. Our host Brigitte was just gorgeous, with great taste in everything. The breakfast she gave us was one of the best meals we had during our stay. I have her secret recipe for French toast which I am going to try out soon.
The bridge on the river Tarn. There's me in my cut and shut jumpsuit again. I'm certainly getting my wear out of that. That cardigan belonged to my grandmother and was part of a two piece suit she knitted in the 60s. I've had it since I was 13. It used to be longer, but I cut it to fit my teenage self. I wore the skirt to death until my mum chucked it out when I wasn't looking. The tell tale sign is that it has my name tag sewn into it, which means I had it at boarding school. That bag is made by Em, I use it all the time.
Our first night in Albi was magical. We sat and ate outside, then wandered around and sat in a park watching the world go by. The perfect start to a holiday.
We noticed a few portraits of the artist's mother in the museum, in rather attractive looking rooms. It turned out the family was rather wealthy, and as well as the family home in Albi, there was a chateau, where they passed the summer months.

So, when we got to our gite in Averyron and discovered a leaflet for the Chateau Bosc, which is that same chateau, I knew I wanted to visit.
Originally a fortress in the 12th century, it gradually turned into a home. But what is truly astonishing is that it has belonged to different branches of the same family the entire time. Toulouse Lautrec was part of that family. It seems he is descended from a very important dynasty. The more I discovered, the more it seemed that his work was less interesting than everything else about him.
Inside there are family portraits, dating back hundreds of years, Aubusson tapestries cover the walls, there is Sevre porcelain to eat off, bohemian glass to drink from and Louis IV chairs with the original silk upholstery to sit upon. 
You can see the original tiny windows of the fortress. The other, larger, more domestic windows were added in the 19th century.
But nothing, nothing could compare to our guide. This tiny lady, well into her 80s is Nicole-Berangere Tapie de Celeyran, great niece of the artist. That sign says ring the bell very, very loudly. That's because she is a little hard of hearing. She came out of the side entrance of the house, unaware of our presence, holding her teeth in her hand. She invited us to view a small exhibition in the stables, then join her in the front garden. When we got there, she was kneeling in the dirt, doing the weeding. Small lady, big spirit.
She showed us around her home, just the two of us, dazzling us with a river of facts and anecdotes, all in French. She quoted letters by heart, verbatim. She lives this house, this history. It is her life's work. I have never wanted to take someone's photo so much in all my life. It felt like the most precious gift to meet her, she is a piece of living history, bearing all this legacy in her tiny person with composure and grace.

Next up, a fairytale wedding.


Helga said...

O my fecking GAWD! Albi is to DIE for amazing! Love the doors; I have a passion for awesome doors......and gates...and such....and JAYSUS, that chateau! Why is eveything in France so bloody FANTASMO?! I so need to go and see for myself, but I will gratefully live vicariously through you...
Your cardi is a sweetie! I love having things for years and years. Not so lucky to have anything from either gran though.
Argh, more pix, hurry!!!

Fiona said...

How absolutely fascinating, I LOVE nearly everything about France. How amazing to meet this old lady and what an indomitable spirit she must have, no wonder you were so keen to capture her with your camera. I didn't know any of that about Toulouse Lautrec, how interesting that he came from such a prominent family. I always imagine aspiring artists to be penniless! (it seems so much more romantic that
way) I am off across the channel later this week...can't wait.

Curtise said...

What wonderfully evocative photos, Tania, of beautiful places and fascinating details. You've got a good eye, love - well, two, actually! Albi looks stunning, as does the chateau. And the lady who lives there - how amazing to be giving tours and continuing to give life to the history of the place.
Now I rather like a bit of Toulouse-Lautrec, I'm rather a sucker for all that decadent, post-Impressionist fin-de-siecle art. And only 36 when he died, a sad life in many ways.
You and Pool Boy didn't get MARRIED, did you?!
(PS. Just did the best typo and put "Poop Boy" - so tempted to leave it in but don't want to offend Q!)xxx

Vix said...

Albi looks absolutely astonishingly lovely. I could quite easily move into that fortress without any fuss whatsoever.
I grew up with Toulouse-Lautrec posters and am rather fond of his work although I know sod all about him. How fab to meet his lovely great-nice. She looks tres formidable!
Love the cut and shut jumpsuit and the cut off cardi as sweet! xxxxx

Vix said...

Albi looks absolutely astonishingly lovely. I could quite easily move into that fortress without any fuss whatsoever.
I grew up with Toulouse-Lautrec posters and am rather fond of his work although I know sod all about him. How fab to meet his lovely great-nice. She looks tres formidable!
Love the cut and shut jumpsuit and the cut off cardi as sweet! xxxxx

Anonymous said...

What beautiful photos.
Adorable anecdote of meeting Nicole-Berangere T de C! How lovely to be invited in for a little tour.
Like you not too grabbed by H TL's work but like the representation of him in Moulin Rouge! Xx

Kylie said...

Catching up Tan.
(I've just discovered I am (was!) still following your old blog - not this one. Silly me!)
Lovely-dovely posts. ALL of them.
Nicole, teeth in hand, must have been a sight for sore eyes. She sounds like a real character and a wonderful advertisement for old-age.
I think it's gorgeous and lovely you still have AND WEAR your Nan's cardie x

Kylie said...

p.s. your bloglovin following thingo is still linked up to your old blog...just letting you know in case you didn't know x

Helga said...

Hilarious! Something must have just registered, as I've just got 24 post updates in my feed! Hahahhaa-AT LAST! XXX

Connie said...

Oh oh oh oh oh!!!! Tania!!! I've been trying to add your blog to my feed with no success and the suddenly today POP! There you are!! Yay!! What a wonderful trip! Such a beautiful place. Those French really know how to do it. And you look so,pretty. I love the story of your outfit. Handmade clothing is the way to go. Made with Love. So so super happy to see you!

Miss Magpie said...

Huzzah! I too can finally comment on your posts! I bet you thought I was ignoring you ;-)

What an amazing holiday you lucky thing.