A Travellerspoint blog

day 11: churches! museums! music! all you can eat!

in which your author gorges himself on the things that make europe europe

sunny 40 °F

My second morning in Toulouse begins by waking at 5am, meditating in a grassy field in the full lotus position in front of the cresting Toulouse sunrise. Actually, no, I slept in again, made a breakfast of toasted baguette and hopped on a bike outside Marie’s apartment. I ride the opposite way as yesterday, reaching the River Garonne, which I’m told flows into the Atlantic.

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I drop off the bike – this bikeshare thing is getting addicting – and stop for a slice of pizza before walking around the neighborhood of L’Eglise Saint Pierre des Chartreuse, a Baroque church built in 1602, currently undergoing restoration. The side chapels are in somewhat rough shape, but the ceiling of this church is stunning and in good shape. (So not Baroque? Sorry.)

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I walk past the sign saying "don't walk here" on the scaffolding around the altar and there’s a long ceremonial room with a large organ (here's some video of it on YouTube!), dark wooden seats on the sides and adorned with enormous, stately paintings hung high on the walls; this is a room which seems fit for a coronation, and I’m the only one in it. I shoot a bit of video which I'm certain in no way captures the ambiance of being there.

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As I’m walking around, an organist is practicing in the center of the church where a smaller organ resides. Standing there amidst all that art and historical air, the melancholy, perfect counterpoint in the background makes for a poignant experience. When the organist finishes, I say “Bach?” and he says “Oui.” We manage a 75% English, 25% French conversation, and I guess correctly that he’s a local student. The music was beautiful so I take a picture to find a recording later, and I take a few seconds to play the first few bars of the melody on the organ myself, though he tells me I’ve played it too fast.

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I leave the church and continue walking around, with no real plan in place, passing through some brick archways in the area of the University of Toulouse, where Marie chairs the English Department.

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The face of Matt Damon and a Red Bull car seem, I don’t know, anachronistic, in this neighborhood, no?

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I stop into a friendly-looking café and sit for un café, then decide to stay and indulge in some afternoon wine and cheese. (The wine is a local red, Fronton, which I would later purchase a bottle of for home, and the cheese was cow’s milk, though at first I hear the bartender say “coal’s milk.”) I’m able to get a wifi signal here, so I spend a bit of time updating my Facebook status, which admittedly is a fairly exciting thing to do when one is sipping wine in a French café.

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I keep walking and pass by St. Sernin, knowing there was a bike rack (two, actually) behind it, and I pick up a new bike and come upon a square with a merry-go-round and a traffic circle packed with lots of people strolling about.

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Riding down Rue D’Alsace Lorraine, I pass by hundreds of busy shoppers, and come out on a main avenue, where I find a bike stand and saddle down, with the mind of walking back toward a wine shop I had passed. On the corner, however, is the Musee des Augustins, one of the places Marie had circled on her map, and it’s still open, so I pay the meager 3 Euro entry fee and walk in. The museum is arranged around a square-shaped, outdoor monastery plot with a medieval garden in the middle, and I’m immediately struck by the uncanny resemblance to The Cloisters in upper Manhattan, always one of my favorite hidden gems in New York City.

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Walking through the Gothic section there are hundreds of religious sculptures and paintings dating to the 14th century and prior; the collection seems quite impressive and I’m already glad I stopped in.

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There’s a heavy door at the entry to the chapel, and entering I walk into a large space which obviously once was a fairly large church which has been converted into museum space. There are a number of interesting paintings and sculptures here, mostly Spanish, Italian, and French Renaissance and pre-Renaissance, with a few 19th century works as well.

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I take a particular fancy to a work by 17th century Spanish painter Bartolomeo Esteban Murillo, called San Diego de Alcala de Henares en extase devant la Croix, which shows an ordinary medieval garden containing a priest seemingly levitating off the ground in ecstasy while the churchmen bicker amongst themselves. (For some reason they had no postcard for this in the store?!) After looking this painter up online I recognize one of his other works, Two Women at a Window, as one of my favorites from the collection in the National Gallery in DC.

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Marie calls and we agree to meet at the museum, after grabbing a quick bite to eat we will come back to the museum chapel for an organ recital at 8:00. I explore a few more wings until she arrives.

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We walk with the goal of finding some food and exploring the town; she’s a terrific tour guide, pointing out 16th century apartments along the way.

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When I mention I’m interested in buying some wine we head off to her favorite wine store, which is packed with local selections. I buy a nice 2006 Fronton, which I’ve already had twice in Toulouse, and I splurge on some 15 year Armagnac, which I hope will stand for a while as a nice memento of this region. (I find it strangely synchronicitous that a day after I bought this bottle, the Washington Post published this feature article on the intrigue of Armagnac!)

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Stopping first at another of her favorite restaurants to make a reservation for after the concert, we pass by the river, and end up at a cute café where Marie treats me to local red wine (keep it coming!) and local spiced cheese with jam.

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The concert at the museum, played by a young organist on the large pipe organ in the same chapel space described above, is so soothing that I admit to drifting off at times; it’s an almost mystical feeling being semi-conscious while listening to Bach fugues!

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As we leave through the gift shop area I find out that the most famous work the museum owns (a Gothic Madonna and Child called Nostre Dame de Grasse) is actually on its way to Paris and Chicago! So I take a photo of the poster. ☺

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Dinner at Le May is fulfilling, and again I’m basking in the ambiance of the way the French eat. For dessert I have some sort of upside-down apple tort which Marie describes as being named after two sisters.

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The night is still young, so we head to La Tireuse, a beer bar with many Belgians on tap, which given my craft beer obsession, Marie is justifiably excited to show off. Over a few fine Belgian beers, some which I hadn’t tried before (e.g. the sweet Belgian stout Leroy), we discuss great books (I demand of her a list of her Top 5, Desert Island novels) and art and again it's great to feel an intellectual connection with an academic in a different discipline.

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On the walk back to the apartment, I’m kicking myself when I realize that one thing I missed seeing was the church where the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas are kept, and as we walk by the outdoor of Les Jacobins I resolve to see this another time. I head to bed having spent a full, enriching day in Toulouse, and I’m so happy I came here. I look forward to coming again – who knows when? – not to mention meeting Roberto (who was in the US at the time) at some point. (Something tells me he'll be a better conversationalist than Oedi the cat.) Thanks to Marie for being the best local host anyone could ask for!

Posted by coolmcjazz 11:40 Archived in France

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