It’s in the Details

balconyThere are so many things I love about the apartments we’re renovating.

Obviously the fabulous high-relief carvings are at the top of the list. But many little details make me smile. Like the design of the balcony railings, now painted in regulation gray.

doorknobOr the door knobs. Husband scoured all of France to find matching antique knobs.

He also scoured the hardware stores and online to find feet for a couple of radiators. During the demolition, somebody threw them out!

radiator feet
It’s a small triumph but a necessary one

There are a few weird doors to nowhere. A door jamb on one side of a wall and smooth plaster on the other. Though when we discovered the door to the harnais, we decided to keep it. I wonder how they used to get up there? A ladder?

harnais door

I love the wavy glass in the old interior windows. We had to give it up on the exterior windows, because we aren’t as clever as Daniel of Manhattan Nest, who fixes everything, including making new windows out of old ones, by himself. We had all the exterior windows replaced (by a professional) with double-pane glass, albeit according to strict design rules of the Bâtiments de France.

wavy glass
Can you make out the waves?

I love the little interior room that gives onto the light well of the stairway. The view of the stairs is so typically French to me. And talk about a quiet room!

back bedroom window
More wavy glass! Those stairs don’t ripple like that.

I love that got my way and have black paint on the inside of the window frames in the black and white bathroom. And I got at least a little bit of floor with cabochon tiles.

I love that a friend managed to salvage the Art Deco bed and transform it so artfully from a double to a queen, while improving the frame.

back bedroom bed
This is going to be a great place to sleep. Do you see half of a ghost door in the corner? The wall next to it is solid stone! WTF? No door on the other side, either.

I love the weird things about the place. Like what was the point of the niche below? It isn’t even symmetrical. I can’t wait to scout something to put in it.

back bedroom niche

I love the furniture we bought with the place. The stories that must have gone with them. Perhaps one day I’ll find out. The previous owner is still around.

Who was M???
A comtoise, or grandfather clock

The floors have all been treated, the appliances installed (except for the sauna, which is en route), the kitchen cupboards built. We began moving furniture to the right places. It is taking shape.

For the Love of Painting

By Hugues Tisseyre

There’s a charming little gallery on rue de Verdun, the main drag of la Bastide in Carcassonne. Formerly a church, it hosts a diverse range of exhibits.



The doors were open, so we popped in.

church-doorThe paintings made me think a little of Chagall, but also of Cézanne, but then another was a little more Pissarro, and a few had hints of Picasso. But I’m no an art expert. Just a museum nut.

carnaval-blueThere were quite a few dedicated to the Carnival of Limoux, a town just south of Carcassonne. And several around tauromachie, or bull-fighting, which happens in Carcassonne and several other towns around the south of France.

seatedWe were delighted to discover that the man tending the desk was the painter himself. He explained that he indeed admired all those artists, and learned how to paint, as many artists do, by copying their great works before establishing his own style.

But he can explain himself:


For the love of painting

Because the hand of the painter is the eye of his heart, the extension of his soul, because the hairs of his brush are the thread that connects the spirit to the material, Hugues Tisseyre paints, he paints his Carnival and all the things he loves.

The Carnival of Limoux, mystical and lyrical, which goes farther than anecdote, farther than the figurative, is the instant magnified by the play of the human comedy deliberately consenting and not submissive to the truth of the mask and its possibilities of transformation of the obvious fatality.

Painting in fact must not progress except in the mind of the senses.


He said he was from Limoux and always loved its Carnival, the world’s longest. Here are his thoughts on that:

carnaval-messageThe carnival festival has behind it a long history, which we perceive through texts.

Often a drawing, a painting, an engraving suffices to explain all that to us.

Modern history since 1945 to today marks its limits. Carnival thus ferments, resists, transforms itself according to society’s solicitations. It shows all its capacity for dialogue, renewal, ironic rejection, refual, to reserve the identity which defines a common man’s living culture.

This festival which fascinates and questions is indeed the place that holds the imaginary, memory and writing.

minerveI asked about a huge painting on the ground. “The city of Minerve,” he said. Minerve is one of the most beautiful villages of France–an official designation!–about 45 kilometers northeast of Carcassonne.

I almost fainted when he walked right onto the painting.


“Oh, it’s very tough,” he said. “If you only knew how many layers of paint there are.”

He explained that one day he got hold of a big roll of moquette, or carpet, and thought the nap would make an interesting base for painting. And the price was right. Though that very nap ate up his brushes, which in turn cost a fortune, he added.

Unfortunately, Minerve was out of our budget. Perhaps one day.taureau

Renovation update

salon above fireplace
Above the living room fireplace

The front apartment is getting closer. Jacques, the painter, is amazing. He’s meticulous, organized and acts as site manager, coordinating the other artisans. He also cleans up after them a lot. And we are grateful.

salon betw windows
In the living room, between the windows

We are happy with how the color turned out. Gray wasn’t our choice–we wanted a creamy off-white–but we were required to paint the windows and shutters RAL 7035, so we adapted. (RAL is a color system like Pantone.)

salon floor 2
The living room floor…a little wet because it had just been cleaned.

The painting in the front is nearly finished. The tomette expert has to come back to wax and seal the living room’s tiles, which we decided to leave their natural color. They had been painted before.

bedroom 1 floorThe bedroom floors just need to be waxed. They are a different kind of tile.

bedroom 1 above fireplace
Above the fireplace in the bedroom
bedroom 1 door
Do you see the little door?

The passage to the other side has been sealed. The doorway, which is two feet thick, will be filled in on the other side with acoustic insulation and a bookcase.

The front bathroom

Do you see a problem in the photo above? A wall was erected so all the pipes could pass behind, out of sight. But the plumber stuck a pipe on the outside. He has to redo it.

He (or his assistant) also messed up the connections, so when the water was turned on, it ran all over the floor. More to fix.

WC 1
Powder room for the front apartment

The lighting and space is difficult to photograph in the WC, but we are proud of the sink in its pretty converted dresser and with its pretty gray marble. The tile on the floor is the same as on the bathroom wall.

cuisine 1
The kitchen of the front apartment

The lighting in the kitchen also is difficult. The floors match the living room (they’re covered with plastic protection now). We have to get the cabinets and appliances installed as soon as they’re done. We are looking for cool sconces. Brocante time!

cuisine 2 both walls
The kitchen of the back apartment…don’t worry, the door will be painted.

Some progress has been made on the back apartment. The kitchen backsplash was tiled. I really like how it turned out. The tile was chosen to go with dark red tomettes, but we since learned that tomettes come in many shades. The floors here haven’t been treated yet, so we don’t know what we’ll find.

WC 2
The sink has yet to be installed.

The back apartment’s WC is tiled and painted and just waiting for the sink to go in. Another tight space that’s hard to photograph.

The second bathroom is installed, but not yet painted, so everything is covered with plastic.

It isn’t all about decorating. Behind the scenes, important upgrades happen.

Luckily there’s a chimney that goes straight up and out for the ventilation from the bathrooms, kitchens and furnace. And lots and lots of NEW wiring. We love the electrician.

Stay tuned.

Ice saints

all windows
Windows at the church of St. Vincent in Carcassonne, built in the 13th century

Les saints de glace, or the “ice saints,” are here: St. Mamert on May 11, St. Pancrace on May 12, and St. Servais on May 13.

saint painting
Saints, not sure who

People have been obsessed with the weather since time immemorial. And to keep track of things, if you you were a farmer who didn’t read or write, you used the saints’ days.


Today, France adheres to laïcité, or non-sectarianism, but it wasn’t always so. As Barbara Tuchman wrote in “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century,” “Christianity was the matrix of medieval life: even cooking instructions called for boiling an egg ‘during the length of time wherein you can say a Miserere.’ It governed birth, marriage, and death, sex, and eating, made the rules for law and medicine, gave philosophy and scholarship their subject matter. Membership in the Church was not a matter of choice; it was compulsory and without alternative, which gave it a hold not easy to dislodge.”

And so, today, official holidays include Ascension last week, lundi de Pentecôte on May 16, as well as Aug. 15 (feast of the Assumption), Nov. 1 (All Saints Day), Easter Monday and Christmas.

saints 5
No idea what’s going on here, but it’s pretty

And the nightly newscast’s weather report ends with an announcement of the next day’s saints.


The ice saints got their names from the rotten habit of  a promising spring turning cold and nasty for a last few days. Apparently, Galileo’s students made some of the first observations, and the Little Ice Age from 1645-1715 probably cemented the idea. I once read an article blaming the phenomenon on a final cycle of low pressure out of the Arctic, while another said it was the period when the Earth passed through a bunch of space dust, cutting off the sun’s rays.

saints 2There’s the saying “Avant St. Servais, point d’été. Après St. Servais, plus de gelée,” or before St. Servais, no spring (“point” is like saying “zip” or “zilch”–it means none, but with more attitude); after St. Servais, no more frost.

A relic

But another saying doesn’t let Servais get the last word: Quand le St. Urbain est passé, le vigneron est rassuré, or when St. Urbain is over, the winegrower is reassured.


All this is to say that I am not as lazy/crazy as I look for not having planted the garden yet. Just waiting for St. Urbain on May 25.

The view after 232 steps to the top of the St. Vincent bell tower, toward la Cité. 
Roofs 1
I spy with my little eye the roof of our apartment!
roofs 2
I never get tired of looking at these rooftops
Roofs 3
And you can see the weather was all ice sainty…temps around 70 F. NOT ENOUGH

Land yacht

You know that Europeans drive some small cars.

Oh, some people have big SUVs, but they’re kind of ridiculous, especially in the narrow medieval streets, where they need three tries to make a turn and can’t fit into any of the designated parking spaces.

Scratches on a wall in la Bastide where cars didn’t quite make the turn

Back in the day, we joked that big cars, like Delta 88s or  Cadillacs with fins, were “land yachts.” Well, look what I saw going down the street recently.

Boat on road 1

boat closeboat behindThis is what you call a “convoi exceptionnel.” Except these aren’t all that exceptional. Boats go by a couple of times a week. Tram cars, two per truck, but they’re in distant second place after boats. Then blades of green-energy wind turbines. Enormous turbines. Gigantic stainless-steel tanks for wine. The occasional house or cabin. Never a dull moment.


Renovation update

old and new windows bedroom
I miss the old wavy glass, but the panes were so fragile we lost one almost every time we closed a window.

The windows are being installed!

Wood baguettes will be added where the lines are (new on the right, old on the left, above).

The wood on the bottom of the French doors was so rotten, you could see through the holes.

salon 2 window
Sorry about the backlight!

The windows in the back are a little different, with smaller squares. We had to keep exactly the same style as the originals.

fix door

Other things have been fixed as well. The carpenter had to move this interior door more than an inch because of settling.

kitchen wavy wall
The difference is about two inches

None of the walls are straight. And some are stranger than others. Maybe because of the stones used? Look at how much this kitchen wall varies. I’m glad we aren’t putting cupboards against it.

SDB 1 paint

One bathroom is painted. The gray came out a perfect match with the pre-existing (but new) shower and the new tile.

The front apartment’s living room got a first coat of paint, but I’m going to wait until it’s all done to let you have the maximum gasp from the change.



Les travaux

The apartments are taking shape, particularly the one in the front.

Salon fireplace
The living room
Chambre fireplace
The bedroom

It’s all primed and taped and ready to paint. Just waiting for the new windows to be installed.

I’ve agonized over the colors. We are required by the historical preservation authorities to paint the window frames (inside and out), balcony and interior shutters a light gray known as RAL 3075. (Turns out RAL is like Pantone, but European.)

I had dreamed of something more in a creamy, buttery palette, with gold touches, like this:

Fave pinterest salon
From Pinterest…if anybody knows the source, do tell.

But we’ll go Gustavian if we have to.

Lovely, n’est-ce pas? Jean-Louis Deniot interior.

We’ll put the whitest white on the ceiling, then a medium gray called Silex on the walls, and two shades lighter for the carved decorations and interior doors. The front apartment faces south and is very bright, so we’re going to be a little daring with darker walls.

We have some wonderful slipper chairs in blush that should work nicely with the gray.

The curtains present some dilemmas. Before, the curtains covered the windows when open, with the rods placed barely larger than the openings.

Chambre facing street
The attachments for the rods are still there. See how close they were?

We’ll have to spread them out in the bedroom. But in the living room, there isn’t much space to avoid covering the wonderful decoration between the windows and to have curtains that aren’t skimpy.

Salon facing street
The living room is a tougher nut to crack. How to hang the curtains for maximum window AND maximum carving exposure?

So: should we try curtains that pull to only one side? Or would that look weird?

I am scouring the encyclopedic do’s and don’t of window coverings at Cote de Texas, but am open to suggestions!

The floors are done, too, with some surprises.

The living room went from this (not unusual to paint the terra cotta tiles):

25. Salon actuel tomettes 1
Tomettes…gorgeous when buffed to a shine

To this:

Salon floors being treated
Paint treated for removal.

To this:

salon cleaned floors
They’ll get a protective coating but will keep these colors. In the past, people painted them to have a uniform color.

The bathrooms are tiled, and fixtures will be installed as soon as the walls and ceilings are painted. Reveals coming soon.

Bread line

Give us this day our daily tarte aux fraises

Sometimes life in France is very trying.

Like, I’m TRYING not to pig out on amazing patisseries. Yet, just to get a baguette, I have to go past this.

st honore
My sweetie’s favorite, St. Honoré is a bunch of cream puffs with whipped cream on top

And this.

moelleux au abricots
Moelleux aux abricots, which translates loosely to a moist bread-like cake with apricots

Not to mention these.

Photo taken just before Easter. How cute are those little nests? Not that cuteness would stop me from jabbing a fork into them.

OK, the line at Noez bakery is long (proof that the goods are great. With bakeries on every other block, there are other choices!) but it moves very quickly. The line usually snakes outside on market days, and once inside we must pass a veritable gantlet of goodies.

How much self-control can one person muster before cracking under pressure from this?

tiny citron tarts

I love seeing the impeccably dressed elderly ladies choosing individual desserts for coffee with their friends. Un mille-feuille, un baba au rum, une tarte aux fraises…. (and they know which are masculine and which are feminine!!! Feuille is feminine, but mille-feuille is masculine. I give up!)

little tarts
All the patisseries shown are from Boulangerie Noez,  57 rue du Verdun (corner of rue Chartran), Carcassonne. More on the bread later!

While American schoolchildren are belting out “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” in France the favorite round to sing is:

Battez la crème, battez la crème, battez la crème, battez la crème
De la crème fraîche que l’on fouette si gaiement
Parfum vanille, un peu de sucre blanc
On l’aime à la folie, la crème chantilly 

Beat the cream, beat the cream, beat the cream, beat the cream
Some whipped cream, which we whip so gaily
Vanilla flavor, a little white sugar,
We love it madly, whipped cream

Says a lot about priorities, eh?

Baba au Rhum

Imagining the past

While la Bastide St. Louis of Carcassonne was founded in 1248, few buildings from that period still stand. That’s because they were built of wood, and had a tendency to catch fire.

The Black Prince....Grrr!
The Black Prince….Grrr!

Not to mention that in 1355, the Black Prince, aka Edward of Woodstock who was then the Prince of Wales, burned the place to the ground.

If you look at la Bastide from above, you can see that, aside from a grid of streets, not a lot was planned.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 3.46.23 PMBuildings got added onto. Narrow streets from centuries ago got built over and are now corridors within buildings.

A street, back in the day
A street, back in the day

The son of our apartment’s previous owner, who grew up there, said rumor is that the whole Bastide sits on a honeycomb of tunnels and secret passageways. Exciting!

I was trying to imagine what life must have been like, back when our place was new. Between 1628 and 1633, the plague killed 1,895 people in the Bastide, or a quarter of the population. Things were worse in la Cité, where residences were smaller and more cramped: 2,146 dead, or half the population of the fortified town.

The people who picked up the dead were called ravens because of the black veils they wore over their faces. Robbers disguised themselves as ravens to move around town with impunity.

The town fell into an economic depression. The authorities let in workers, weavers and artisans to make up for the drop in tax revenues. The fabric industry had been tightly controlled because Carcassonne’s products were renowned for their high quality, sought even in Italy and the Middle East.

Eventually, the Bastide was home to many increasingly rich drapery merchants. The fabric was exported via the Canal du Midi, which was completed in 1681. In 1694, the drapery factory on the Cité bank of the Aude was founded and named, two years later, as a royal supplier. It was the golden age for Carcassonne.

La Manufacture Royale de la Trivalle
La Manufacture Royale de la Trivalle

Some of those buildings have been restored. The Manufacture Royale, for example, was renovated for €500,000 euros and now houses government offices. Drapery merchants built their fine homes in the 18th century, such as Hôtel de Rolland, which is now city hall, or Hôtel Roux d’Alzonne, which is now a middle school.

What do the echoes of the past say to you?

Thursday in town

Place Carnot
The fountain at Place Carnot


Usually I’m chained to my desk and don’t get into town on weekdays. But when I do, I love it. We had an important mission: ordering tile for the apartment. We went to Ferrand, which did our kitchen when we moved here, and which has a gorgeous showroom.

Since we were in town, we popped by to check on the renovation. The electricians were hard at work. The place is getting completely rewired, a huge task that involves piercing 2-foot-thick stone walls and then covering it all up.

Le Carnot
Le Carnot….one of the many cafés on the square

Then we went next door to Place Carnot for a coffee. It was another gray but mild day, and the terraces were full of people.

There’s a small market on Tuesdays, a slightly bigger one on Thursdays and the major one on Saturdays. Because how can you expect something to be fresh if you shop only once a week?

pont rouge maraichers
These guys have great vegetables they grow themselves

The contrast with the other day at la Cité was sharp. La Cité was very, very quiet (which I find wonderful, actually). La Bastide, or the lower town, was calmer than on Saturdays, but still lively.  Carcassonne is a small city, so the level of activity is never very high. There’s a gentleness and intimacy to the encounters you see. Many of the locals — les Carcassonais de souches — are relatives or went to school together, like in any small town. And it’s fun to watch the local matrons picking up their weekday produce, while holding small dogs on the leash and wearing short fur coats despite temps in the low 50s.

thursday market
Even in winter, it’s nicer to buy produce here