South of France Fashion

P1100781 2What to wear? If the photos of Parisian fashions seem too crazy, take some cues from the more laid-back south of France. On some outings to Toulouse and Montpellier, a few trends were evident.

While I usually use only my own photos, it was next to impossible. Either I photograph or I shop. As I was with a very chic friend who wanted to shop, there was a limit to how much I could stop for photos, especially since I have an ancient point-and-shoot camera whose shutter works when it decides to. (New phone with decent camera on order!)

However, please note in the top photo, taken in Montpellier, the color. An orange coat, a red coat, and a woman in a bright yellow coat with yellow tights.

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I’m disappointed I didn’t get her two-tone shoes–black and beige.

I did stop a woman at the market. I was with the same friend, who told me, “THAT’S how you should dress,” pointing to an extremely elegant woman buying vegetables. She really was stunning. I went up and asked to take her picture. She demurred, then agreed as long as I cropped off her face. I showed her the photo afterward to make sure she was OK with it.

We got to talking, and it turned out she was 82!!!! I would have guessed 60-something, and maybe less from farther away. She walked like a dancer, with perfect posture. Tall, slim, with a great haircut and just-right makeup–enough to not look faded, not so much as to look painted. I have seen her from time to time since, and she is unfailingly elegant.

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I liked the pink shoes. Her socks matched her sweater. I wouldn’t have thought to pair pink with this burnt-orange/brown.

As I don’t always have time to talk for 15 minutes for every photo, I sometimes snap from behind, to get the idea of the outfit without someone’s face. But too often people cross in front, and it’s hard to focus….

So I took some photos from a few popular retailers that one sees around French cities. I link to their sites as a thank you for using the photos. I don’t get anything from it and they aren’t advertising. Any advertisers you see here are thrown in automatically by WordPress to make up for me using the free version and I don’t get anything from them nor even know who they are.

We must admit a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words. So here are the main trends I saw:

The fanny pack as bandolier.

bershka big sweater
Here.

Mostly spotted on men, but I did see it on a few women. It was far more common in Montpellier, where everybody seems to be under age 25, than in Toulouse. I have seen it only once in Carcassonne, which someone once described to me as “une ville mémère”–granny town. In Montpellier, I saw a woman whose fanny pack/bandolier had a metal chain strap like a Chanel bag. Go figure.

Bershka fanny pack
Similar metal strap. Here.

Tucked in.

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With not-incredibly-tight jeans. Cut off the doo-dads. Here.

Untucked is over. Men and women alike wore their tops tucked in–all the way around. Not the fake tucked-in-front, out-in-back move. That is so 2015, Jenna Lyons.

Bershka paperbag sweater
Here. That paperbag-waist.

Again and again I saw young women with enormous, chunky sweaters tucked into their trousers or jeans. The sweaters weren’t cropped–that would have been a boxy shape on top. The trend was to create billows of material just above the waist.

Bershka silhouette
Loose jeans. But with the sweater tucked all around. Here.

My fashionable friend explained that it was about the silhouette–you can’t have a big top and looser bottoms without defining the waist, otherwise it just looks sloppy.

High waists are back.

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Corduroy is everywhere, too. Pants, skirts, jackets. It’s the ’70s! This is the infamous “carrot” cut, with a very voluminous tucked top. Like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally.”

I have heard this routinely ever since waistlines started to descend in the late 1990s. It seems to be true this time. Those big sweaters are tucked into high-waist pants or jeans, and cinched tightly with belts. Self-belts that match trousers are OK, but with jeans you need a brown leather belt that’s way too long and you loop the extra end around artfully.

Also, the jeans can be oversize mom/boyfriend cut, preferably large enough to create a paperbag effect when you cinch that belt.

You don’t have to wear jeans.

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Here.

Lots of very young women and teens were wearing pinstripe and plaid (glen or tattersall) trousers. If the pants had wide legs, they were cropped. Otherwise, the “carrot” shape with tapered ankles was common.

(No idea why this photo is so small!)

 

The ugly shoe has arrived.

bershka bandolier jeans shoes
This hits so many trends (minus the oversize sweater): loose jeans, bandolier fanny pack–in CORDUROY–and ugly shoes. Here.

However, the uglier the shoe, the prettier the person, otherwise it backfires (which we also saw). That rules out ugly shoes for me.

Wool coats.

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Also: smooth hair. Neither straightened nor “beach waves” nor messy. Very pretty hair–like Ariana Grande’s but shorter.

Lots of camel, with men and women alike wearing a very simple, classic beltless model. Also bathrobe versions in gray and olive green.

Have you seen any of these trends where you live? Would you wear them?

Also: check out this great video from Oui in France of what goes on in a French bakery. Good thing we can’t smell it. I would eat all the bread.

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French Doors

metal trivalleI realized I have three folders of door photos, and they are getting out of hand. Let’s meander through one folder, which ranges from Carcassonne to Montolieu to Caunes-Minervois to Cépie, which are all quaint little villages around Carcassonne.

The top photo is technically a gate. But so gorgeous! look at how the scrolls in the stone match the scrolls in the ironwork. And the bits of “lace” hanging from the gutter.green trivalleThis one might be a gate to an inner courtyard or just a garage door. Who knows! Good luck driving up over that curb.IMG_4732A hidden courtyard elsewhere in town that I spied before the huge doors closed automatically. I love how old French buildings keep so many secrets.P1080833Perfectly imperfect.la citeAnother gate. But the colors!red trivallecepie 1856P1070824 2Why do the women’s faces on doors and buildings usually look unhappy? The men usually look stern or fierce, but the women look like their patience is being tried.P1080849Note the fish knocker. And the date: 1746.gateP1080842P1080824I wonder whether the shutters and door started out the same shade and the shutters faded more because of more exposure to the sun, or whether the homeowners intentionally chose different shades.montolieu blueThe little pot! Notice how almost no threshhold is straight.P1080845montolieu grayP1070875P1080534P1080843This door doesn’t even come up to my shoulder, and I’m short. For a while, it led to an underground bar, called “Le Trou Dans le Mur”–the Hole in the Wall. It was gorgeous, with a high vaulted ceiling and stone walls and a deep well that they had artfully lit. It was no easy feat to crawl through the hole and then descend the steep stairs. Too bad it closed.P1080820Arches+ivy+old stones = French charm.

Which is your favorite?

A French Hamlet

IMG_6484Hamlet as in tinier than a village. Not Hamlet as in Shakespeare.

A little wide spot in the road that I’ve driven by without stopping. A church steeple beckoned. I pulled over.IMG_6482The hamlet of Grèzes was founded in 778 by Charlemagne after defeating the local Visigoths. Charlemagne founded un prieuré, or a priory, at Grazanis, which became Grèzes, now a bedroom community of Carcassonne. The priory had five or six monks of the order of St. Benoît, a hospital, a dispensary and a school. It sounds downright bustling. Charlemagne established a number of abbeys across the region, including Saint Hilaire (birthplace of bubbly wine!!! YES, not Champagne…more on that later), Caunes, Saint Polycarpe, Lagrasse, Saint Papoul. He wanted to re-instill Catholicism across the land. This was well before Catharism took hold in the region and led to the last Crusade, against the Cathars, in the early 1200s, when Carcassonne surrendered rather than face the slaughter that happened at Béziers.IMG_6486The other high point came in March 1579, when Catherine de Medici visited Grèzes during a five-day stay in Carcassonne with her son, Charles IX. She gave two chandeliers that light the choir. The church was closed when I passed, but having learned of this must-see décor I will go back! It dates to the XIII century, but has had many additions, renovations and restorations. It had only one bell until 1952, when two more were added.IMG_6489I saw more cats than people.

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This is Grand Rue, or Main Street. I love how the lady walked over to her neighbor’s open window and just started talking.

All the streets were two-way but barely big enough for one car.

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Old-timey street lamps with energy-efficient LED lights. So French!
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Those are some amazing phoenix palm trees!

A pretty drève leads out of town. So many of these have been cut down because of the blight killing the platanes, or plane trees.IMG_6491The Black Mountains are visible in the distance, beyond the rolling wheat and hay fields and vineyards.IMG_6492

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Vineyards in the foreground, barely visible.

And Carcassonne’s airport is very close.

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I thought the tires were going to part my hair.

Somehow, even places that are little more than a wide spot in the road manage to be charming here. I promise to report back on Catherine de Medici’s taste in light fixtures.

Big Words in French

P1090157Before we get started with today’s post, an exciting announcement: Francophile podcaster Oliver Gee of the Earful Tower and his wife, the lovely Lina, are in Carcassonne. The newlyweds are making a heart-shaped tour of France for their honeymoon. Look forward to an episode from Cathar country. Oliver not only does podcasts but has a blog and does videos about life and cool things to do in France. Check them all out!

Back to today’s rambling. When the French say something is a gros mot, they don’t mean it’s a big word. They mean it’s a swear word or a vulgar term. This is something I was taught not by any French class or tutor but by my kid, who, in preschool, suddenly learned to be an arbiter of what was and wasn’t appropriate talk for polite society.

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Keeping with my penchant for absolutely random photos when I don’t have something relevant, today you get doors of Toulouse.

This post is to save you from innocently saying the wrong thing. Or maybe you don’t care, and this post will give you more ammunition for swearing in French.P1090138Speaking of not caring, when somebody asks you, “do you want an apple or an orange?” and you think either is equally good, you say, “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter.” If your inflection is polite, it sounds perfectly nice—as in, “I’ll take the one that’s most convenient for you to give me.” P1090198In French, there are different ways to say it: 

Ça m’est égal: it’s the same to me. Most polite.

N’importe: not important (doesn’t matter). Also polite.

Je m’en fiche: I don’t care. Less polite. It means really that you don’t care, and no matter how sweetly you say it, you are implying that the question is below you.

Je m’en fou: I don’t care but in an impolite way. A kid would be in trouble for saying it at school.P1090193In my early days in Brussels, having picked up some phrases from the general public without any context or nuances, I once brightly told a shopkeeper “je m’en fou,” intending to convey, “do whatever is easiest for you; I’m good either way.” I got a raised eyebrow (but nothing more), and the shopkeeper undoubtedly took it as proof Americans are rude, when it was proof I was ignorant. It wasn’t until much later that I learned my faux pas.P1090182I know some English speakers who say merde as a polite alternative to saying shit, since it just sounds better. Well, the choice of polite French speakers is mince, which means skinny. As in, “Oh, mince, I spilled my wine.” Another alternative is mercredi, or Wednesday, pronounced meeeeerrrrrrrr-credi!P1090186Knowing about mince and mercredi, I was quite charmed when I first heard the Carnivore, quite annoyed at something, mutter “singe!”  How adorable, I thought, he says “monkey” when he’s mad. Later I learned that it was saint-dieu, not singe. Very gros mot.P1090178A favorite gros mot in the south of France is putain, which means prostitute. But it isn’t restricted to swearing; instead folks say it where some English-speakers might use the F-word, which is to say, as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb or just exclamation point (challenge: use putain as a preposition! as an article!). Extreme anger might be expressed with putain de merde. Watch this subtitled standup act by Patrick Bosso, who explains how to speak like a Marseillais (somebody from Marseille). It’s absolutely truffled with gros mots.P1090176Polite alternatives include purée (same word in English) and punaise, which are either bedbugs or thumbtacks, depending on the context. However, they only work as exclamations. Other polite exclamations: zut! flûte! 

Ça me fait chier and ça m’emmerde mean to annoy intensely, although literally both translate to “that makes me defecate.” Polite alternative: ça m’enerve, or that annoys me. Also ça m’agace, ça me gonfle (that blows me up) and oh, so many others.P1090174Americans sometimes say “shut up!” to mean “I don’t doubt you’re telling the truth but what you’re saying is shocking.” The archaic term (from the last century…you know, the 20th century) is “No way!”  Example: someone observes, “Beyoncé’s ex-drummer claims she does witchcraft,” and draws the response: “Shut up!”P1090164The French don’t do that. Ferme ta guele (sometimes just ta guele), or shut your mouth, but only animals have une guele; humans have une bouche. Very rude.

Tais-toi, or shut up, is neutral, though rather than command an adult (how well do you take being told “be quiet”?), it’s better to say chut, pronounced like “shoot,” which means  shush.

Casse-toi, barre-toi and va t’en all are ways to tell someone to “get lost,” though there are far more colorful choices. A milder alternative is laissez-moi tranquil, or leave me be. P1090159This just scratches the surface; the vocabulary of French gros mots is vast and rich. In fact, there are entire dictionaries dedicated to the topic, including “Dictionnaire des Gros Mots” by Marc Lemonier and “Gros Mots” by Gilles Guilleron.

Did you ever innocently utter a gros mot out of ignorance? A rite of passage for all learners of a new language…

French Fashion Sightings

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Some random examples of women I think looked great here in the deepest depths of the south of France. I don’t look for fancy brands nor for naturally beautiful humans, especially those who are young and thin and who would look great no matter what they wore. I like normal folks who have some flair, even when their choices are extremely simple.P1070842Dresses are on trend. I have seen so many women wearing dresses like the one above, especially when it was really hot in summer. This dress has it all–sleeves for sun protection, loose fit that isn’t too hot….I’ve seen variations on it in all white but also in blue and white stripes.IMG_8982Colors, too. I love how this woman has a matching shopping caddy. And red toenails!

And the women below chose green…notice that the green skirt matches not just the espadrilles but also the green of the straps of her shopping bag. Coincidence? I doubt it.P1100596IMG_8755The woman above was far from young but her hair was just a perfect shade of red, and of course she looked great in green. It was a hot evening, and her dress also is nice and loose without being a bag.IMG_8754Another really cute dress. More stripes below. She isn’t young but is put together and classy.P1070843The one below IS young, but she stood out as being even more chic than the others at a brocante. And appropriately dressed for lots of walking.P1070588 2A pair of friends with extreme lengths and very different proportions–one with a long, billowy top over billowy pants and the other with a cropped jacket and slim jeans. P1070105A gutsy haircut. Part shaved and part purple. WHY NOT!!!! You go, girl!P1100422And a closeup of the shirt at the top. Did you notice the zebras?P1070395Do you dress up to go out?

What’s at the Market

P1100337Of all the things I love about living in France, buying groceries at the outdoor market is the one that feels most French. I’ve written about it many times, but again on Saturday I was struck by just how gorgeous it all is. The colors, the smells, the artful arrangements that create still lifes wherever you look.

Even better, because they’re edible!P1100340

Flat peaches have arrived, and asparagus is hanging on. The weather has been record-setting wet, which has helped them.P1100333

A mountain of cherries. I thought the flags were a nice touch. And other cherries below–“pigeon heart” and Napoleon, I think.P1100338

Green beans grown locally…they have three kinds: green, “butter” and cocos, which are a kind of flat bean.P1100324

It’s all so pretty…P1100325P1100339P1100328P1100330

There are even zucchini with their flowers.P1100331

The roasted chicken vendor draws a long line.P1100335

The sausage seller promised one kind was “spicy, spicy, no fat, diet!” In English, even!P1100326

Sheep’s cheese from the mountains…P1100327

Everybody was in such a good mood. The World Cup has started, which invigorates the football fans, the weather is gorgeous at last, and summer is here.

 

 

Le Jardin Secret

IMG_5051Oh, the cachet of a hidden garden–un jardin caché. Even a small city like Carcassonne holds secrets that I continue to discover, and this was one of the sweetest: the garden of a marquis, hidden from a rond-point (roundabout) by high stone walls. I’d driven by since forever, not knowing a public haven awaited between an empty field used for a regular Sunday vide-grenier and the ultra-modern arts conservatory.

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It looks private, but you are welcome to enter. I had the place to myself. And it’s free!

IMG_5062IMG_5076IMG_5067Le Jardin du Marquis de Gonet and its château were bought by the city a little over a decade ago, and the restored gardens reopened for all in 2010. The château is planned for renovation as well, budgets permitting. One idea is to make reception halls for weddings and other events–music late into the night wouldn’t bother the neighbors because there aren’t any. Already, there’s a huge tent (seats 140) that sits in a corner when it isn’t used for the Magie de Noel, and that can be rented, with tables and chairs but without heat or air conditioning (which cost €100 more) for €400. The price might have gone up since the 2013 news article about it, but it still seems like a great deal.IMG_5069

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Was that once a face? Notice the certainly not safe light switch.

IMG_5070After the Revolution (1789), this area was known as le pratle pré in proper French, the prairie. Then it caught the eye of Jean-Baptiste Mary, chief surveyor, who bought it and gave the domaine the name Prat-Mary. The main part of the languedocienne-style house was built in the 18th century. The domaine was passed down until it was inherited by the Marquis de Gonet, who was from Béziers. He moved in around 1948 and stayed until he died in 2006. He was the one who planted the gardens.

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M for Mary.
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Boxwood = French garden. De Gonet created the design (better appreciated from above, I suspect) and trimmed it all himself.
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Boxwood–buis in French–has taken a beating between attacks by two kinds of microscopic fungi and pyrale caterpillars. They killed my own rows of topiary boxwood a few years ago. Sniff!

The local paper had a story about the maid to the de Gonets, who describes preparing the bedroom in the evening: turning down the covers on one side, laying out the nightgown on top and placing the slippers in front on the floor, perfectly parallel.

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Symmetry was a thing with de Gonet.
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Cypress trees are about as French as boxwood, no?
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Olive tree: check.
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Platane, or plane tree: check.
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Rows of roses, climbing and spilling fragrantly over the path: check.

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IMG_5058 Back in the day, the garden and its surrounding orchards were watered by the aqueduc de Pitot, which passed along the wall behind the roses. The aqueduct was built in the 18th century to bring drinking water to Carcassonne. It served until the 19th century.

Oh, to make my garden grow like this one!

 

 

Sweater Weather Packing

IMG_5929Blizzards and storms hit parts of the U.S. last weekend. Here, we’ve been  getting plenty of rain…and sun.

When you’re packing, it can be hard to imagine being somewhere much warmer or colder. Plus, northern France–Paris–has quite different weather than here in the south.

It was upon moving to Belgium that I learned the concept of the summer sweater. It’s the sweater to wear when you are sick to death of candles, hot chocolate and curling up by a fire. When you’ve had it with hygge, but it isn’t yet warm enough to bask bare-armed in the sun.

(Don’t these make you want to cringe after March 20? The one on the right is yak hair, from Katmandu. I get around….and come home with something to wear. It is VERY warm.)

I remember being dumbstruck early in my European séjour, by a movie on TV in which Catherine Deneuve walked a pebbly Atlantic beach, dressed in white capris and a loose turquoise sweater. I forgot the movie, but I remember that sweater. A sweater! On the beach! (And pebbles on the beach!!!! So many new concepts at once.)

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My first summer sweater, like Catherine Deneuve’s but not turquoise.

I soon learned that yes, you might need a sweater on the beach, even in summer. A bunch of colleagues and I went to the (sandy) beach at Ostende one weekend. The wind was wicked. I bought a windbreak (not a windbreaker but a long strip of plastic with posts and a rubber mallet for pounding the posts into the sand) and we all huddled behind it. At work the next Monday, other co-workers ridiculed our claim that we had been to the beach–where were our tans? In fact, the only skin we could bear to bare was on our faces and hands. We froze. In mid-summer.

The summer sweater is is cotton or silk, not wool, unless it’s the finest, thinnest cashmere. It has a smooth, flat weave, or else a loose, open weave. It isn’t chunky.

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Navy and white stripes….so French.

The best ones can be worn with a shirt underneath, or alone. Options, layers. Perfect for travel. Lots of shirts, which are light and pack small, and just two sweaters.

Even better is to have a matching or coordinating cardigan, so you can have yet another layer, or wear it open instead of a jacket on warmer days. And if it’s really warm and you never wear your sweater or cardigan (I bet you’ll wear them at least in the evening), you won’t kick yourself for having loaded up your suitcase for nothing.P1090872Also, take a scarf. Always! The pashmina still is worn around here and is always good against a chill. The large square silk scarf is a classic.

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Chèche, pashmina, winter go away.

What’s very popular among both men and women is the chèchea very long cotton scarf that you wrap a million times around your neck or that you leave hanging long. But don’t be like Isadora Duncan. The value of chèche is that it can be surprisingly warm when it’s all wound around you and it can be no more heavy than a necklace when it’s worn hanging long. I have a gorgeous 9-foot-long dark purple one I bought in Timbuktu…and in true Berber fashion it turns my skin bluish-purple when I wear it.

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Fashion tip for French nonchalance: Tie the belt, don’t use the buckle. 

Favorite French coats for this time of year are the perennials: the leather moto jacket and the trench. My trench has a zip-in lining–if I were traveling in early spring, I would take it and be almost as warm as with a winter coat (because I don’t want to wear anything with furry trim come March). In late spring, I’d leave the lining at home.

Either option is good for dealing with the possibility (probability…higher as you head north) of rain. The tips for winter travel hold for spring’s tempestuous days, but you know what they say: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. I’d rather have a rain hat than an umbrella, but better yet is a hood, and best of all is a hidden hood.

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Option 1: waterproof hat.
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Option 2: Hood….
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…that rolls up and is held by velcro…
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…in the collar of this very light windbreaker. I also love the pockets on this thing.

What are your astuces for packing for uncertain spring weather?

Stone-Faced in Toulouse

P1090199When walking around French cities, don’t forget to look up. Somebody might be looking down at you.

Oh, the things they’ve seen!P1090155

This one is wearing a lion skin. Look at that paw on the right.P1090146

And the next window seems similarly dressed, with the paws tied in front. Are those weapons on the left? Even then, women were smooth-faced, while men could have wrinkles.P1090147

This one seems happier, and with flowers, not animal skins. I also like the shutters, with that shade of almost-blue faded gray.P1090148

Sometimes you have to look way up.P1090188

This lady seems to be studiously ignoring the antics of the buffoons on either side of her.P1090168

There will be building after building with no more decoration than the character of their stones and bricks, which, truth be told, is mighty fine in itself. But then a building will have something–or someone–at every window.P1090154P1090155P1090156

Gorgeous railings, eh? They’re called garde-fous, which literally translates to crazy guards. P1090150

The one above was a consulate, hence the barbed wire.P1090175

All the photos are from Toulouse.

 

A Day in Toulouse

P1090162In the dead of the past winter, we spent the day in Toulouse. It’s such a lovely city, one that punches above its weight in sophistication. P1090200I suppose travelers might think of Carcassonne as a daytrip from Toulouse, but I prefer to think of Toulouse as a daytrip from Carcassonne.P1090142My favorite thing to do in any city is flâner–to walk aimlessly. I don’t need to shop, though I enjoy faire du lèche-vitrine (literally, licking windws, but it means do window-shopping). And of course some time en terrace at a café to people-watch.

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The pre-Christmas outdoor dining scene.

The architecture is a bit different from Carcassonne. Grander, for sure, in such a big city. But there’s also the use of red bricks, which give Toulouse its nickname of La Ville Rose, which was adopted as a tourism slogan more than a century ago, after the author Stendahl wrote insultingly of his visit. P1090180P1090141Over the years that we’ve lived in the region, Toulouse has cleaned up nicely. More streets in the center are limited to pedestrians, new tram lines have been built and parking is nigh impossible. Bikes are everywhere. Hipster boutiques and restaurants are filled with young French women who look beautiful despite bedhead and young men with bushy Brooklyn beards. The brick walls are authentic.

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An optician. Of course.
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Rue Alsace-Lorraine is closed to vehicle traffic. On Saturdays, it’s packed.
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Rue Saint-Rome is one of the first pedestrian streets. Isn’t this couple adorable? So typical. People dress up to go out.
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Christmas decorations at Galeries Lafayette.

I never get enough of the narrow, crooked streets. P1090197P1090143P1090192P1090149P1090163P1090181

 

You have to look up.P1090145P1090189P1090183

You have to look down.P1090172

So many grand entrances, to let in carriages.P1090152

Sometimes you get to peek inside.

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Notice how green it is, just before Christmas. And do you see the little fountain?

Have you been to Toulouse? I have more Toulousain treats in store.