Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lasalle, Gard, France in the Languedoc-Roussillon region

Some passageways can be used only by pedestrians.

Roads which were once ample for donkeys, horses and carts are barely sufficient for modern cars.

The old narrow streets are delightful when walking and challenging when driving.

The alley in which debtors could walk, avoiding the eyes of creditors.

For centuries, water has been piped into the villages by gravity from a number of pure mountain springs, providing a continual flow of water for drinking and household chores. The fountains are still in use, several can still be used for drinking. One fountain near our B&B (La galerie toscane) had formerly been a public gathering place which was occasionally used as a place of execution when the king's men were seeking to eradicate threats to the crown (heresy and later Protestantism during the War of the Camisards).

Public access to the river was always important. Visitors can still climb down to the swift waters of the river which cuts through the valley and the heart of the village, and when there are sudden bursts of rain, the water can flow from the streets, down the stairs and into the river.

In April 2009, we spent a most enjoyable week in Lasalle, a medieval village in the Gard Department in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France in the Cévennes. This historic village of 1,053 people was the centre of a flourishing silk industry in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Salindrenque River provided power, the local mountains provided ample water, and carefully cultivated plants nourished untold thousands of silk worms. The industry provided work for the citizens, the silks of Lasalle were sold both locally and sought by merchants elsewhere. Life looked good until a disease ravaged the worms and the whole industry was unexpectedly brought to a standstill. In a sense, the village never fully recovered its former glories.

As you walk through the village today, you notice the narrow street parallelling the river, and the many substantial buildings with large windows which once gave light for the many workers in the silk trade. You occasionally also still see windows at the street level, windows which used to open with small shelves jutting into the street, displaying wares to those who passed by on foot. You will also hopefully come across a very narrow back pathway whose nickname suggests that people in debt to one or more of the merchants used the passageway to avoid being confronted by their lenders.

The village has several very good bakeries, at least one restaurant I enjoyed repeatedly, the imcomparable La Galerie Toscanne (a superb B&B where we stayed, right in the heart of the village), small library, churches which seemed somewhat unused, a weekly market day even in the off season, grocers and newstands.

But more importantly, it served as a hub for short excursions to other local villages of interest, or even for leisurely drives into the gentle but truly scenic mountains. We were visiting while the thousands of goats were tending their babies, but a great variety of goat cheeses were still plentiful and delicious.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lézan, Languedoc-Roussillon, Gard, France

La Poterie de l'Oliver

Looking up, at the underside of the workshop's roof.
Lézan Village

La Poterie de la madeleine

Lézan is a small sleepy village of 1,073 souls in the heart of rolling farming countryside in the southern part of France known as Gard, or more specifically the Languedoc-Roussillon. We were advised to visit Lézan for its pottery, which can be of a very gentle smokey rose-orange colour with tinges of earthy green around the old markings the workshop has used for generations. The lighting was a bit difficult during our visit in late April, especially in the darkened workshops, so I have had some difficulty with exposures, but hope that these shots give a sense of what the village has to offer.

The largest store/workshop offering pottery is the Poterie de la madeleine just off the highway. They sell both their own pieces and those collected from around the world. The showrooms are excellent.

A second workshop is
La Poterie de l'Olivier, another place to obtain those delightful vases made in the old Anduze style from bygone times. Their glaze is unique and utterly pleasing to the eye.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Graffiti in downtown Vancouver

All it took was an e-mail from Jesse and I was encouraged to return to some shots from this fall, taken of graffiti in the downtown core of Vancouver. In these HDR shots (3 shots of each picture, each shot two exposure values apart), I am intrigued by the way the colours of rusted iron, rotting wood and randomly applied paint interplay with each other.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Château de Fressac, Gard, France

The Château de Fressac overlooks the valley and small village of Durfort in Gard, near the foothills in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. This military castle was constructed in the early 1200s, served to guard the valley and was a place of refuge for centuries. By the 1600s it was finally abandoned, sold to private hands, and centuries later the owners bequeathed the edifice and land to the Commune de Fressac (1992).

The castle was well constructed, with a series of outer walls constructed of quarried stone and gates protected by iron porticoes and bends which gave the strategic advantage to those inside. The castle never fell to invaders, but this may be partly due to its relatively modest importance.

The stony path to the castle begins in the village cemetery and requires a climb of about an hour. Although the modest castle is now in disrepair, the climb is worth the effort. It is safe to explore the thick stone outer walls, view the upper walls constructed from stones gathered from the rocky hillside, and investigate where stables and rooms used to be. Enough of the structures remain to let us imagine what life might have been like in this desolate wind-swept hilltop abode. The views of the valley, some seemingly stretching to the Mediterranean, are magnificent.