Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Remember when I said that France was a staunch ally of America during our Revolution? Well, it turns out that the French people weren't too happy about King Louis XVI spending money on things like America instead of making sure that people had enough food to eat. In 1789, they started their own revolution by storming the Bastille prison in Paris.

Guess what day they stormed the Bastille?

TODAY! Happy Bastille Day, everyone. In France they call it La Fête Nationale. The French celebrate their independence much the same way we do--holiday, fireworks. There's a giant military parade in Paris, too. Tonight I'm heading to Prairie des Filtres for a concert featuring Toulousian band Cats on Trees, after which the city will have a fireworks display.

If you've never listened to the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," I recommend it. It's a rollicking military march, and the lyrics...well, let's just say the French have a single word, "égorger," which means "to slit the throat." The last line of the chorus is "may their impure blood water our furrows." It's basically one of the most violent songs I've ever heard.

What else have I been up to? Yesterday I took the train to Albi, a town northeast of Toulouse, where the famed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born. Like many French towns, Albi is beautiful and charming. It was an episcopal city, which means that bishops ruled over it for many centuries instead of secular lords or dukes. Apparently the commoners weren't huge fans of the bishops, which is why the bishops built themselves the gigantic, fortress-like Palais de la Berbie to live in. That palace now holds the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.

Palais de la Berbie/Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

The museum has a lot of Toulouse-Lautrec's famous posters, but it has even more of his early paintings. I liked looking at those. Since he was still learning and formally training, the early works are much more realistic than his later style--but you can see his later style in there somewhere, ready to burst. At that time he painted many horses, for instance, and their legs are always a little too bubbly.... I liked this one a great deal. Unfortunately, it's not famous, so they don't have prints of it for sale. When it comes to his more famous paintings, the museum also has several of his initial sketches along with the final products--and I often liked the initial sketches better. The unfinished versions usually had brighter colors. They seemed more whimsical to me. 

The other main attraction in Albi is the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile--the largest terra cotta brick building in the world. I cannot explain to you how enamored I am with this place; it's easily one of the coolest churches I've ever visited--and I've visited a lot of churches. Where to begin? The vibrant, vaulted ceiling which has never needed to be restored in all these hundreds of years? An organ so large that only 1/10 of its pipes are visible? The gigantic painting of the Last Judgment below it? The elaborately carved choir and roodscreen? The museum filled with creepy relics? Take a look:

Ceiling by Italian Renaissance painters
 
Organ and Judgment Day
 
 Ceiling and roodscreen
 
Bell tower
 
So good.
 
Plans are in the works for one final trip before I fly back to Paris, and then back to the U.S. I'll let you know more about that as it happens. I have no idea how it's already mid-July. June dragged along, but July feels nonexistant. Probably because I've finally settled in. And wouldn't you know it? Any time you settle in somewhere, it's already time to move on. Going to have to make the most of these last few weeks in France.

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