Vintage Signs

P1070809Like ghostly apparitions, advertisements from an earlier age whisper hints about the past lives of buildings and places.

There was a bakery here before?

Rue Trivalle, Carcassonne

A cured-meat shop down the street? I love the specificity. Not just a butcher, but charcuterie–sausage, ham, cold cuts and such.


This one was near the charcutier. A rival? Salaisons are salted foods, mostly ham and such. Wholesale and retail, it says. Felix B. was called the nice (gentil) something. I wonder what!


This little place was an auto garage? It’s true that cars were smaller back then. The buildings on these streets are very old–13th century mostly–very narrow, with low ceilings. But if you’re a mechanic, you find a way to make your business.

Rue Trivalle, Carcassonne

Again, the specificity: wines for Catholic Mass. The second line most likely read vins de dessert–dessert wines–because Banyuls wines are very sweet.

Banyuls on the coast

This one is no advertisement, but a warning: With the Legion or against France. From World War II. Reminders of war are never far away in Europe.


Hints that life was different then.

08.MAY 12 - 02
Peyriac-Minervois. A ruche is a beehive. Midi means noon but it also means the region of the south–where it’s always noon. It was a small grocery store.

No online shopping. If you wanted something, you went to the specialist.

Limoux. Fabric and clothes.
Also in Limoux, Marius Long made casquettes, sold retail at the price of wholesale. Thanks to Midi Hideaways for the casquette (cap) tip.
Another clothing shop, which still exists, in the center of Carcassonne.

When we were hunting for an investment property, among the eight-dozen-plus places I saw was a magnificent ruin (at a modest price, but requiring a large fortune to restore to habitability) that included an atelier. The seller’s father had been a sign painter around the era of many of these signs. The workshop was a hoarder’s bazaar, but there were so many interesting remnants of signs. Sign painting was a real profession then.

A Swiss apèritif. In Carcassonne.

Occasionally there also are hints of the boom times, from the Belle Epoque or during the 1920s, when advertisements and store signs were more elaborate. This gorgeous mosaic, which glimmers gold in the sun, is signed by the ceramists Gentil and Bourdet (who also did quite a few Paris Métro stations) and adorns what originally was a butcher shop–hence the cow’s head. The surrounding arch is marble from the nearby village of Caunes-Minervois. Today, the address, on the main street in the center of Carcassonne, houses a real estate office, still in the same family.

Rue du Verdun, Carcassonne

The top photo is outside the halles (indoor market) in the center of Carcassonne, on rue Chartran. A droguerie is like a pharmacy for your home. Gazaniol was the family name of the owner.

Are you also a sucker for anything old?


Lions Around Town

P1060407I’ve been looking for lions. They are everywhere, especially on fountains. They usually look anything but ferocious. The guy above, in Toulouse, looks a bit pained.

Three lions on one fountain! 
verdun corner
A little lion on the corner of a building in Carcassonne. It looks as if it might have been a fountain at one time.
lion light post place carnot
One of the four lions at Place Carnot in the center of Carcassonne.
Pensively guarding an otherwise ordinary house.
la cite
Finally one that means business.
on fountain
Fountains like these were used for getting water before indoor plumbing was installed (in the ’70s!!!). 
Not a lion but a horse. A huge one, glaring down at the Canal du Midi.

Lions are just one of the little details I see around me that remind me that we’re not in Kansas anymore. They make me smile and warm my heart.

Four-star rental again!

kitchen fireplaceWe don’t do things by half measures. We have two vacation rental apartments, and both have earned four-star ratings. We featured la Suite Barbès on Tuesday. Today is the turn of l’Ancienne Tannerie. On AirBnB, you can find la Suite Barbès here and l’Ancienne Tannerie here.

Mostly antiques. The hand-carved coffee table is from Lamu, Kenya. Not antique, but it fits in.
mantel full
Look at that marble mantle!

Logo 4 étoiles 2017The star rating was given by the ministry for tourism’s department for furnished tourism rentals.

The apartment’s name comes from the fact that, back in medieval times, the inner courtyard was a tannery. The tiny alley behind the building is called ruelle des Tanneurs–Tanners’ Lane. Our apartments are in the “new” town of Carcassonne, which was built around 1260 under the orders of King Louis IX, aka St. Louis, to house the refugees expelled from la Cité after the Albigensian Crusade of 1209. Our building, however, must have replaced an older one (that likely burned down–fires were a big problem), because the high ceilings (13 feet) and large windows are in later architecture.

cour from above
View from the living room (and kitchen, and small bedroom, and bathroom).

cour toward doorBTW, here’s a list of the residents in our building in 1624. You can see several were tanners, well into the Renaissance. (There’s also a captain, “called Captain Galaton of Pezens,” although Carcassonne isn’t on the coast.)

The floor plan is the very definition of “n’importe quoi.”

As with the other apartment, we preserved the historical details while adding modern conveniences (sauna, anyone?). And, to make sure visitors know they’re in France, it’s furnished with locally sourced antiques. Like this marvelous crystal chandelier that we drove to a little village to the south of here to buy.

living fireplaceWe kept the old piano with ivory keys. I love the sconces on it, though I imagine that one would have had to play carefully if candles were burning.

The stereo was a criteria for the stars.

deskmantle 2

books 2
Many old books!

What’s new: all the wiring, double-paned windows, plumbing…. plus the original terra-cotta tomettes were cleaned and treated.

The apartment sleeps up to five. There’s a spacious bedroom, a small bedroom, and a sofabed.bedroom 1

niche 1
The crazy, lop-sided niche in the bedroom.
small bedroom
A bedroom for one, au cas où.
living sofa
The sofa opens to a double bed.

The kitchen is my favorite room. The fireplace is big enough to stand in. I love having the table in the to fridgekitchen lightkitchen to stove

First, note the thickness of the walls. Talk about insulated. Second, note the clock and the painting….

Among the paintings we found was one of the kitchen. It shows the clock and the fireplace.clock paintingAnother painting we found in the apartment depicts Square Gambetta, which is two blocks away, before World War II. During the war, German troops destroyed the pool and its fountain, pictured.gambetta paintingThe square was redone a few years ago for construction of an underground parking garage. First, it was completely covered with gravel, and everybody hated it. So it was done over, with squares of formal gardens, a small restaurant, the old carousel and a fountain where kids can play in the water in summer. The same allée of plane trees still stands.

Visitors always ooh and ahh over the bathroom. It has a giant glass shower that doesn’t photograph well at all, being clear. The sauna always brings smiles, too.bathroombathroom mirror

Choice of overhead rainfall or handheld shower. The little niche was there originally. Check out the before posts!


The sauna. Such an indulgence.
The WC is separate.

It has been such a pleasure to hunt for pretty furnishings and accessories that establish an ambience of French tradition and authenticity. And it has been an even greater pleasure to meet people who appreciate it all as much as we do.mantel decorationA quick reminder of the main draw of Carcassonne, the majestic Cité, just a few minutes’ walk away from the apartments:la cite from bridgela cite peekla cite sunsetla cite trivalleWe’d love to welcome you and your friends!

Lights! Christmas! Action!

IMG_5633Christmas spirit is in full force around Carcassonne. The skating rink in the central square is resisting melting away (it’s 11 Celsius or 52 Fahrenheit as I write this). Even more lights are up, including new, illuminated Santas. Many grandparents were out with their grandchildren–there’s only a half day of school on Wednesdays (some schools have gone back to a four-day week with Wednesday off), and grandparents often babysit. I much enjoyed eavesdropping on a talkative girl of about eight who was ambling around la Cité with her obviously besotted grandfather. IMG_5658

A municipal worker sweeping the streets with a festive touch.
Rides for the kids. There’s a styrofoam “hill” for “sledding”–no snow here. 

The shops were welcoming beacons in the dark, looking all cozy inside, with little holiday touches and shoppers collecting presents. Year-round, French shopkeepers generally ask whether a purchase is a gift and will either put it in a pretty bag with a ribbon or will wrap it for you. They almost never charge, except when there’s a charity group doing the wrapping as a fund-raiser.IMG_5521A Christmas market encircles the skating rink. It isn’t a big market and more than half of it is devoted to food. It bustles with people having a drink with friends and snacking on delicacies like oysters or aligot (a cheesy potato dish).

Merchandise side.
Food side. Much more crowded!
The skating rink was privy to a light show of garish intensity. 
A former church that now houses art exhibits. Currently featuring a really lovely collection of photographs.
Plaid blankets draped over the chairs at this terrace café.


The Porte Monumentale des Jacobins, built in 1779, named after a nearby convent, not after the revolutionary political club, which came later.


The giant snowballs that loom over the pedestrian shopping street are much prettier by night.IMG_5665IMG_5629

Village lights are more modest, but charming in their own way.P1090226P1090228

Carcassonne added some classy chandelier-style lights this year.P1090253P1090254

Carcassonne’s city hall looking regal.

One of the most charming things I saw was this sign at a café/restaurant:IMG_5501

“For those who are alone on the evening of the 24th, come spend the evening at Ô Deliz Café”…”Party meal and musical ambiance. A warm welcome…”

That’s the spirit of Christmas! Regardless whether you celebrate Christmas, I hope the lights where you are bring as much magic as I found in the display here. Wishing you the happiest of holidays.IMG_5619

Holiday Spirit

P1060368Between batches of savory curry madeleines (better not frozen), I am pounding out this post. IMG_4477The process of cooking is taking longer than I expected because of mechanical difficulties. I have one madeleine mold, which I bought 20 years ago when I was living in Brussels and spending weekends in Paris and figuring that I’d be back in the U.S. in a year and wouldn’t it be cute to have something so quintessentially French? And then I more or less stayed and had easy access to excellent madeleines and I focused instead on making things I couldn’t get here–Mexican food–and never made madeleines until a couple of weeks ago.

Held upside down!

I don’t see a point in buying another madeleine mold; as good as these curry-cheese madeleines are, I don’t expect to make them all the time, much less a double batch.

And since the madeleines stick ever so slightly, I have to wash the mold between batches. (I tried oil, butter, butter and flour, but the madeleines still cling to the supposedly nonstick mold.)IMG_4481It takes forever!

Do you ever have crises like that?

I don’t consider it a huge crisis. I wanted everything to be done today, and I still think it’s possible.

Meanwhile, some local color. The Carcassonne Christmas market officially opens tomorrow, though it has been set up for a while.

Here are some photos from last year.

The market as night falls.
Bûche de Noël–Christmas logs of sponge cake and buttercream frosting.
A manger. In a tent in a parking lot, but you make do.
Woodworking demonstration.
Honey demonstration. Artisans rule.
Honey products–beeswax candles, spice cake.
platanes with blue drops
Pretty lights. The blue drops seem like water falling.
village tree 2
The village Charlie Brown tree…better lit than during the day.

Complete rundown of the party, recipes, photos and how-to coming Tuesday!!! Promise!

Christmas Prep

hotel in la cite 2Signs of Christmas in Carcassonne have been sprouting faster than mushrooms after a rain. Lights have been strung on the pedestrian shopping street.

That’s supposed to be a kind of lit-up snowball.

More lights went up on the central square, Place Carnot. The fountain of Neptune was swathed with fake snow, because on the day of the photo temps were in the low 60s Fahrenheit. No snow in these parts. It’s supposed to get cold next week, which is just as well for the big ice rink that will take up much of the square.

I found it funny that the guys putting up the “snow” were dressed in white.
Huge piles of lights…imagine trying to untangle them. Did you know they get recycled? The plastic is stripped off and made into soles for slippers.

The chalets for the Christmas market were installed. The market runs from Dec. 6 to Jan. 7 this year. It’s lively all day but best at night, when the lights are on. P1090125In general, the folks around here stick to low-key decorations. I’ve seen more people put up lights, but not as much as in the U.S.P1060354hotel in la cite

rue trivalle gutter
Notice the creature at the end of the gutter.
This is the most elaborate house I’ve seen around here, in a photo from last year.
The spiral going up is a palm tree. I love that a palm tree is decorated for Christmas.

There are some interesting interpretations of Christmas trees.

What won’t people do with pallets?


gourd ornaments
Decorations from a squash/pumpkin vendor at the market.

Another sign of the season: the arrival of Graisse de Noël (Christmas fat), which is a cross between Cantal cheese and butter. OMG it is fantastic.

graisse de noel
See it at the top?

The municipal workers also have been busy removing the frost-sensitive flowers and replacing them with hardier varieties like pansies, cyclamen and chrysanthemums. Having grown up with snow, I am enchanted by the idea of planting winter flowers.

Out with the old…
In with the new.

We hope to get a tree this weekend, if they’re available. We are throwing a big holiday party (more on that coming soon…menu and recipes), so the decorations will rise beyond the usual.

Have you decorated yet? Real tree or fake? Less is more or more is more?

Night Owl


When the time changes in autumn, the shift to earlier darkness always casts familiar landscapes into unfamiliar shadows. On the one hand, it feels suddenly subdued–no kids out playing. On the other hand, it feels unusually busy–what are all these people doing out so late? Even though it isn’t late at all.

As the emboldened night envelopes us, lights come on, making the outside seem even darker. Peeks of glowing interiors, through windows not yet curtained or shuttered, reveal tableaus of dinner tables set, cooks toiling, televisions strobing colors across living rooms. The homes look intimate and cozy, even those of the elderly residents who favor fluorescent lighting in their kitchens. Dinner smells dance through the streets. Colder nights demand dishes cooked long and slow. Comfort food. Soups, not salads.

We light these candles most evenings in winter. We also have candlelit dinners nearly every night. Little rituals to mark the seasons.

Carcassonne attracts visitors all year because the weather is mild even in winter. But the streets definitely are much quieter off season. It’s like looking at someone you know when they are lost in thought. Their features are familiar, but you cannot reach the churnings inside. They can seem like a different person than the one you know from conversations.

Place de Lattre de Tassigny, around the corner from our apartments. Like an outdoor living room.

Place Carnot, the central square, is like an old, chatty friend, and usually I visit on Saturday mornings for the market, when it’s in its bubbliest mood. I have rarely missed a Saturday market. Even when it’s pouring rain, I’ll go for the excuse of wearing my multicolored polka-dot rubber boots and getting out my multicolored striped umbrella (for someone who wears black most of the time, so much color is exceptional). The square bustles with people at a very civilized level all day, every day, and it turns into an outright party on Saturday mornings. A civilized garden party, not a frat party, with lots of kissing on both cheeks and café crèmes that segue into chardonnays. But as with any good party, more people attend than there are seats available, and even the stateliest Carcassonnais will dive for a table that frees up.36.Carca by night6So to be at Place Carnot very late, or very early, feels almost like intruding. The café tables and chairs are stacked and wrapped in tarps. There isn’t a sound but my own footsteps. The square is mine alone.33.Carca by night3It makes me think of other hushed moments. Snow does that. It slows everything down and muffles all sounds. Boots crunch on the snow, making that satisfying chewing sound. But cars get quiet, as if they’re driving over woolen blankets. There was something so cozy about being in the family station wagon, under a blanket in the back seat with my siblings. Warm but cold. The air so chill it made one’s nostrils pucker and cheeks prickle. But under the blanket, cocooned in a coat over sweaters over shirts over thermals, hands making fists to keep poor thumbs warm inside mittens inside pockets, we were toasty enough to fall asleep before traveling many blocks. I wonder whether my parents knew how safe and happy they made our childhood. P1090058For some reason this makes me think of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song:

You, who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach your children well
Their father’s hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

And you (Can you hear?) of tender years (And do you care?)
Can’t know the fears (And can you see?) that your elders grew by (We must be free)
And so, please help (To teach your children) them with your youth (What you believe in)
They seek the truth (Make a world) before they can die (That we can live in)

Teach your parents well
Their children’s hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you will cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

For my mom, whom I miss every day.IMG_1486

A magical, shining castle competing with the stars.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

IMG_1845Happy Bastille Day!

Last night, our village was among those hosting a dinner and fireworks–done the night before the holiday because they can’t compete with the big fireworks tonight at la Cité of Carcassonne.

Here is the dinner menu: salad with gizzards; civet of duck (this civet isn’t the little animal but a kind of ragout made with lots of onions and pronounced see-VAY); bleu de coeur cheese; and apple pie. The Carnivore went, but I skipped it–too many calories and not enough vegetables.IMG_1796When it got dark, everybody went to the park of our château (almost every village has at least one château) to watch the fireworks. There is something charming about being in a crowd where you know 90% of the people. Children ran around freely; the park is their playground and they were excited by a place so familiar seen so unfamiliarly dark. IMG_1922When the fireworks started, more than a few of the little ones became hysterical. Fireworks are an acquired taste.

The crowd oohed and aahed in in unison, which added to the feeling of togetherness.

Compared with last year, the display was smaller and had some glitches. The park has an old stone bridge that used to go over the river until a flood changed its course. Sparklers hanging off the side give the impression of a waterfall of lights. Very pretty, especially with the elegant arch of the bridge. But the string came loose, and half of the waterfall turned into more of a puddle.

This one looked like one of those deep space photos. And it was a very starry night.

After the big finale, we stood around chatting with friends as people slowly shuffled out. Suddenly another firework blasted off and lit up the sky. One of the technicians took off across the lawn, flashlight in hand, toward the launching area. A couple more strays went off. A small fire burned under the bridge. Technicians’ flashlights flickered back and forth near the rose garden. Clearly little villages have to make do with the farm league of fireworks.

Tonight, though, is the big leagues. For a week, you could feel the excitement mounting in town. There were more people around, adding to the energy. July brings the Festival of Carcassonne, with concerts, theater and dance. I went to a dance performance in the courtyard of the château of la Cité–a fabulous setting (la Cité isn’t a castle but a fortified city, with a château inside it that was the last resort). IMG_1872Tonight, the only concerts are free ones at Place Carnot, in the Bastide, or “new” town (dating from only 1260, but that’s how things roll around here). Guy Lacroux will play old-fashioned bal musette dance tunes on the accordion before the fireworks, and BRBB, for Béziers Rhythm & Blues Band, will play after.

At the same time, the reason for the holiday is a serious one. The fight for freedom, for equality, for fraternity and pitching in together for the common good. They aren’t easy principles to uphold, and sometimes what seems right can turn out wrong. But France does a pretty good job, and I’m grateful to live here.IMG_1903

Languedoc in Condé Nast Traveler

79.Cité le soir2If you haven’t heard enough here about why you should visit Carcassonne, check out the lovely article about our region in Condé Nast Traveler.

Titled “Why Languedoc Is Like Nowhere Else in France,” you can see it here.

The gorgeous photos are by Oddur Thorisson, whom francophile blog readers probably know as the husband of Mimi Thorisson of Manger. (Because I don’t reproduce other people’s photos without permission, the photos here are my own.)footprintThe writer visits many of our favorites, from la Cité of Carcassonne, shown at the top, to the beach at Gruissan, above, the garrigue, below, and more. The article calls Languedoc the Tuscany of France, but I think of it as the “other” south of France–more low-key and  down to earth, less fashionable and flashy than Provence.4 view to carcaThe markets overflow with succulent local produce and products that end up in delicious dinners shared among friends and family or at restaurants. And the wine!

It is a pleasure to share the local secrets with you, especially the ones about savoir-vivre–the French art of living well.

Tangentially, check out this beautiful tapestry that some dear friends gave us. We put it in la Suite Barbès. It’s two meters (six feet) wide, which gives you an idea of how big the room is.tapisserie

AirBnB Woes

mirror-and-boiserie-chimney-sideFor reasons we don’t understand, the listings for our apartments in the heart of Carcassonne were completely messed up on AirBnB. We have openings!

The apartments date to the 17th century and have 13-foot ceilings, huge marble fireplaces with gorgeous high-relief decorations above them, and huge windows. They were renovated according to strict historical preservation rules and are furnished with antiques.

bed-lights-onThe front apartment, or La Suite Barbès, sleeps two. It has a lovely kitchen, a big living room, a gigantic bedroom (375 square feet, for the bedroom alone) and the biggest shower I’ve ever been in. It also has two small balconies overlooking the street. It’s a block from the central square, on a fairly quiet street–there are cars, but it isn’t all that easy to drive by, so they pass only occasionally.

toward kitchen with carpetThe back apartment, or L’ancienne Tannerie, sleeps a maximum of five, with a double bedroom, a small single bedroom and a double sofabed in the large living room. It has a very generous country kitchen, a big shower and a sauna. It faces the flower-filled interior courtyard.

cuisine-2-toward-window-afterWe also can arrange cooking lessons or antique shopping separately.

If you don’t see the dates you want, please contact us directly at booking.carcassonne (at)