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History and excursions rounding out Semester in France

December 3, 2013


france december 13

We are quickly coming to the end of our time here in Ambialet. As a result there is a rush of a variety of emotions on display. There is sadness that our time here is limited— but yet there is excitement about being home with our friends and our families. So there is anxiety and anticipation both at the same time. I guess you might say that right now things are bittersweet. But I will save my comments on the emotions and feeling of this experience for my upcoming last update. But suffice it to say that my wonderful “baker’s dozen of European explorers” can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Clearly, this past week things slowed down just a little. For the most part our students have been engaged in finishing many of their academic duties and projects. It has been a full week of classes. However, in keeping with our goal of expanding our view of art and history we were off on another excursion this past Friday. Although it was cold and rainy we found the day’s activities to be very informative and quite interesting. This excursion was developed by Gerry Honisgblum (who also was the lead for our Paris trip). The day consisted of four parts.

Part one: Our excursion began with a trip to the town of Gaillac. Gaillac is generally known for its wine—but today our study was not focused on wine—but rather on art. We visited Denis Miau, a friend of the program, and a well-known local artist. Denis has an exhibition at the Gaillac Art Musuem (itself a wonderful old building). It is a retrospective of the 40 years of work he has produced as an artist. His work was actually portrayed in three different rooms. The first exhibited work from his early days –some 40 years ago. The second exhibited his work from recent years and the third exhibited work that was produced specifically for this retrospective. Denis was absolutely marvelous in his dealings with our students. Clearly the work demonstrated the growth and development of the artist from one form to another. He took time with the students to explain the various periods of growth in his development and how he has grown from a tradition type artist to a somewhat more abstract painter. He also talked about the influence of other artists (such as Braque) on his work. The students really enjoyed the engagement with him and found his work to be quite intriguing and interesting. His use of color was most striking and garnered considerable comments from our students. By the way Denis and his wife will be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner.

Part two: We visited the ruins of an old castle that sits somewhere between Gaillac and Albi. It was quite interesting to be able to walk around the ruins and experience yet another medieval site. While there we also were able to partake in our picnic lunch that was provided by our chef Bernard. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to a picnic so we were required to eat our lunch in the cars. But in spite of the weather –this castle was a truly amazing place and we were all grateful to be able to visit it.

Part three: This third part of our excursions was simply amazing in that it tied together many parts of our academic program. We visited the Chapele Saint –Cecile du Carla. This Chapele was in ruins a few years ago and has been completely restored. Inside the Chapele all of the art work was completed by a local artist named Casmir Ferrer. The Chapele has been redone to support children with terminal illnesses. The artwork inside is simply amazing. The artist who completed the restoration (Casmir) is both a painter and a sculptor. The ceiling paintings of the 4 elements (fire, earth, water and air) are breathtaking. The stained-glass windows are beautiful and the sculpted cross is the centerpiece of the exhibit.

Now what makes this even more interesting is that the town in which this Chapele sits was destroyed during the “perfect heresy” crusade (also known as Albigensian Crusade) by Simon du Montfort (acting on behalf of the Papacy). Since this region of France is known as Cathar country—this tied together some of the elements of our academic work. That’s pretty neat!

Part four: At the end of our journey for the day, Gerry and his lovely wife Olga, their 5 year old son Daniel and Olga’s mother treated us to dinner at their home. It was a wonderful dinner of Paella (a Spanish dish consisting of peas, chicken, rice, shrimp, mussels,and sausage). What a great way to end a very exciting and informative day. It made for a lovely evening. Now where do you get this kind of treatment? This is pretty hard to beat.

Finally this week ended with yet another of our wine tasting classes led by Eric (le juene) Sepich. We enjoyed six different wines from the Bordeaux region of France. We also had some cheese bread and sausage. I mean—come on now—if you are going to taste wine –do it right! These French sure do know how to eat. It has been amazing! Eric did a great job as always.

The next few weeks (our last) have some interesting events that I will share with you in my final update. First we have the Ambialet Thanksgiving feast. This is quite special and involved somewhere around 50 people. Then there is the long Thanksgiving weekend in which some of the students traveled. And, then finally, our last two excursions. We will visit the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in Albi and the Christmas markets in Toulouse. Those both should be great fun and a great way to end our time here in the Tarn valley. And, I think we may have a wine tasting class or two to complete. Oh no—not more wine, cheese, bread and sausage—I guess someone has to do it! I believe we will struggle through it.

Then it will be time to say goodbye. I will save my comments on the overall experience here at Ambialet for my last and final update in around December 9. My trusty “baker’s dozen of European” explorers will undoubtedly be filled with a myriad of emotions as will my wife and I.

-Bob Low