* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Monday, August 8, 2016

Wheat & Lavender

Wheat & Lavender 1Yesterday we ended up having a spontaneous fun experience I thought you might also enjoy.  French towns like to have fun activities in the summer to pull in the tourists, and our area is no exception.  It is possible to attend open air theatre and music concerts, and the old villages like to put on folkloric presentations harking back to their traditional heritages.

Some friends from church were aware of a village festival back up in the mountains, and we all decided to go check it out.  Here are some views of the scenery, the village, and the activities we enjoyed.

As usual, you can click on any picture to see a larger version, which you might find interesting.

First, I thought you'd really enjoy the view we had of the coast as we started climbing up into the hills.  All of us certainly did, and we live here!  There is a hiking path all around this peninsula, which I did a number of years ago with my hiking club.

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Descending into the village

As we live in a mountainous area, most of the local villages are built on the sides of them, including this one we visited. 

As the parking area was located above the village, we had some pretty steep steps to climb down to the center of the village.  Of course, that meant we had to climb back up when we left!

This village dates back to Medieval times, claiming residency since the 14th century.  I don't know how many of the old buildings are originals from that era, but they all help to give the village a lot of charm.

We were told that many Monegasques have their summer homes in the surrounding hills, including the Prince and Princess.  They could almost walk here from their winter homes!

When we got to where the action was happening, a dance troupe was performing old traditional dance routines in traditional costumes.  What I found interesting is that many of their steps reminded me of similar ones we do in our country dance class.  Just changing the music and the setting makes the biggest difference.

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The girls dance around
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Now the couples show their talent

I found a different viewpoint where I wasn't facing the sun, which also gave me a totally different perspective of the square.  Doc Leo searched the shade as his priority, but he still had a good view of the activities.

What I found fun was this historical dancer taking modern phone photos himself.

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The square turns into an ancient party
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Doc Leo looks on, perhaps noting the dance steps?

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Thank you very much for letting us entertain you!
When the group finished their routine, they all gave a unified bow.

I ended up talking with one of their members on our way out.  Not only do they perform all over France, they will be going to Portugal in a couple of weeks.

This group is based in Nice, however, and they are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year.

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Old-fashioned threshing against the rocks

One of the themes of this festival is recalling how they used to process wheat. 

Various individuals beat the wheat stalks against the large rocks, sometimes using a stick, to release the grains. 

You can see how the grains were just flying around everywhere.  Perhaps the ancients were more skillful!

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The winnowing machine waiting its turn

There were a number of sheaves all stacked up, and they threshed them all. 

I imagine the original farmers beat them more seriously, as there were a lot of grains left on the stalks. 

I was interested to see how they would be using this machine.

After they were finished, then others operated the winnowing machine, which separates the wheat from the chaff.  They scooped up all the results of threshing and poured them in one end, and the separated grains came out the other.

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Alpine Queen learning something new

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The separated grain

There was also another group, now over 25 years old, who play old-timey Niçois tunes on old-timey instruments.  They also travel all over Europe.  Our friend Christine happened to know one of the songs and joined the group for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, several craftsmen were demonstrating their trade, including this blacksmith.

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Christine joins in
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The smithy at work

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Proud to be Niçois

As the entertainment was winding up, the musicians played a number of old melodies.  Suddenly, the Doc and I recognized one of them, as we sang it for our Chorale concert this year. 

How many other Americans might have been enjoying this festival and could have joined in singing an old tune in the Niçois language?

For their closing, it was only natural to perform the regional anthem of Nissa la Bella.  Wow, another tune the Americans could try to participate in!

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Just like in days of yore

It seems like I'm hearing it more than I used to, but perhaps I just never recognized it so much before.

The dancers all surrounded the square to aid the visitors with the words, which of course the tourists wouldn't know.

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The Town Hall
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Major thoroughfare

Now we'll take a little tour around the village, although I don't know that we actually got to all the various corners. 

Whatever this big round building in the main square was originally, today is the Town Hall. 

Taking one of the roads out of the square, we pass under a typical elevated passageway.

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A pretty house
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Location, location, location
This set of windows isn't really anything ancient looking, but I think it is a very traditional look for the region today, and I just thought it was very pretty in the narrow street.

I also thought this house in a curve was quite pretty with its laundry hanging up on the roof and the mountain behind.

At the end of this road we came across the village church with a street market next to it. 

Besides the typical regional food stands, one vendor had a collection of an amazing recent craft of creating small objects by crocheting yarns and ribbons with pop-top pull tabs!

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Shopping the street market
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Recycling pull tabs

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The lavender distiller

The second theme of this festival involves lavender.  Apparently, rather than using the flowers as the craft, they are more known for distilling the oil. 

They put the flowers into the boiler, by which steam extracts the essential oils. 

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Filling oil bottles

Then that passes into the condenser, which converts the vapors back into liquids. 

After the oils are separated out into a beaker, they are then poured into little bottles to sell.

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Mitch wants the essential oils
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The dried flower sacks await a home
Our friend Mitch thought he'd like to have some, which I'm sure made the vendors happy.

They also sold the typical Provençal bags of lavender flowers, used to make dresser drawers smell pretty and hopefully stay bug-free.

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Yeah, right!
Here are a few tidbits you might find interesting.  I happened to capture someone in the crowd making an odd gesture.  Perhaps he was doing something else, but it looks like he's pulling down his eye, which is a French wordless way of expressing skepticism, as we might say, "my eye."

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Security efforts in motion
A sadder commentary on current French life is this sign I've never seen before.  This is limiting traffic in the village as a result of the national security alert system called Vigipirate, unfortunately a term I learned way back in the '90s after the Paris metro attacks and one that is now heard often in simple conversation, as it is used to limit normal behavior for the security of everyone. 

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What a great set of couples enjoying the locale
I hope you have enjoyed this little travelogue showing life in one of the small villages up in the hills behind the Med here in the South of France.  Not only is it fun to see how things were done in the past, these festivals usually provide a bit of a learning experience for those of us not from this region.

This trip was brought to you by one Frenchwoman from the north of France and three Americans, two of whom are California natives.  What do we know about the culture of this area older than our own country?

Now I will leave you with the sights we had from the ramparts, showing the village nestled into the mountains and the distant view of the Sea.  Yes, it's a tough life, but somebody has to live it.

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The village on the side of the mountain
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The Sea within viewing distance


  1. This is just lovely. How is your community doing recovering from the awful terrorist attack? This village is so charming and so were are the things you saw!

  2. What a fun time you had and a great learning experience too! Such a beautiful old buildings which you know are nil in America.

  3. Thanks Barbara, great pictures. Brought back fun memories. I'm in N.Ireland right now for a few days at a friends B-day. Then to the UK to work on another friends house for a few weeks. Talk to you later. Mitch


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