Carcassonne: Le Transporteur d’Images on the Canal du Midi

February 2014 brought the traveling photography exhibition, Le Transporteur d’Images (“Carrier of Pictures”), to Carcassonne.  The Transporteur d’Images is a mobile art gallery based in a converted river barge that is sailing on the Canal du Midi.  The 150 mile long (241 km) Canal du Midi was built in the 17th century and connects with other rivers and canals to create a continuous waterway from Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canal du Midi, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.

Map of Canal du Midi. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Map of Canal du Midi.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Captain Frédéric Journo with crewman/artist Gauthier Fleuri uses the traveling art exhibition as a method of creating awareness that historic trees lining the canal have been destroyed.  Many trees along the route have had to be removed due to a spread of canker disease.  Since setting sail from Sète in late July 2012, the Transporteur d’Images has raised €10,000 in donations for re-planting trees along this waterway with the sale of pictures, books, and posters.

Le Transporteur d’Images was one those unusual surprises that makes living in Carcassonne such a pleasure.

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Le Transporteur d'Images
Le Transporteur d’Images

Carcassonne: Carnaval de Carcassonne 2014

Our local version of Mardi Gras, the Carnaval de Carcassonne occurred over the weekend of February 15 (a few weeks early from the traditional Fat Tuesday – Shrove Tuesday start of Lent.)  It was a wonderful combination of Burning Man, Carnival, and a Disney Parade starting at the town square of Place Carnot, through the streets of La Bastide, down the Rue de Verdun, across Square Gambetta, down Boulevard Camille Pelletan to a final bonfire with masked ball under the stars starring five different bands at Le Dome.  There were an amazing variety of costumes (ranging from medieval traditional, outrageous, risqué, modern, and child friendly), music, singing, dancing, with lots and lots of confetti along the way.  (Tracy is still finding confetti that made it home.)

Carnaval de Carcassonne Poster
Carnaval de Carcassonne Poster

While not nearly as big as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Venice, or Carnival in Rio; the celebration had a “home town” flavor (like “Jack’s Carnival” or “Hometown Christmas” in Sparks, Nevada) and was major fun enjoyed by children and adults alike.   The expected crowd was in excess of 16,000 people.

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While the Carnival in Nice, Rio, New Orleans, and Venice are world-renowned, this was an exceptional event to attend especially because of the intimacy of a being a local celebration in a smaller city.

Alan and a traditional Masquerader at Carnaval de Carcassonne, 2014
Alan and a traditional Masquerader at Carnaval de Carcassonne, 2014

Carcassonne: New Years Eve 2014

Bonne année et bonne santé!  Happy New Year and Good Health!

This last year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tracy cooked our holiday meal, and extremely well done they were!

So for New Year Eve, le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre, I tried to make my lovely bride, Tracy, as close to a traditional French New Year’s Eve dinner as  I could manage.

So after some research and shopping I  felt I was prepared:

Seared foie gras:  this time of year foie gras is everywhere.  It’s a major menu selection for Christmas and New Year Eve dinners.  Foie gras is incredibly delicious, I had no idea.  I seared it about 30 second on each side.  The good news: it was melt in your mouth perfect.  The bad news:  the high heat searing caused the smoke alarm to trigger.

Blinis with smoked salmon and caviar: smoked salmon appeared to be another favorite for the season.  I also obtained a nice black caviar (not the wonderful and endangered Black Sea or Caspian sturgeon caviar you hear about.  My pockets are not that deep.)  The blinis, tiny buckwheat pancakes, were obtained from a store as we still struggle with baking in France.  Tracy enjoyed both the salmon and caviar.

Polenta with black truffles.  Truffles are a big deal in France.  The polenta had shaved flecks of truffles throughout the pan-fried polenta.

A cheese plate with chèvre, camembert , and roquefort cheeses.  It’s France, there MUST be a cheese plate.  Tracy (and I) love chèvre (goat) cheese.  I also included Camembert de Normandie (A.O.C.) and roquefort (A.O.C.)  blue cheese both of which are “Contraband cheeses” that cannot be imported into the US since they are unpasteurized.

Additionally, I made meatballs, sausages, and sliced ​​meats.  We used to do this for hosting the kids during New Year Eve.  It ended up that I had way too much food, but we enjoyed it over the next week.

Champagne.  What is the point of living in France if you don’t enjoy real champagne for special event?  Of course there was Champagne with dinner.  (Although Tracy and I both love Italian Prosecco sparkling wine.)

Dessert:  Chocolate and café éclairs from our favorite pâtisserie and boules de noël’ chocolat from the Christmas market in Square Gambetta.

It made a fun dinner with a new tradition to welcome in the new year.

New Years Eve dinner
New Years Eve dinner

Carcassonne: Christmas 2013

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

December 24 and 25, 2013

A quiet Christmas eve for us.  Tradition in France is to attend la Messe de Minuit evening mass followed by a large family meal, le Réveillon.  Tracy and I had planned to go to midnight mass at Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne, but Sami, the min-pin puppy, was having terrible separation anxiety when we would leave her alone in the apartment.  Rather than impose Sami’s whining on our neighbors, we spent the evening dining in and then took a midnight walk with Sami through the Bastide.  Beautiful night walking through the quiet lanes, enjoying the lights.

Cathédrale Saint-Michel (Wikimedia Commons)
Cathédrale Saint-Michel
(Wikimedia Commons)

Père Noël (Father Christmas) was good to Sami Christmas morning.  Sami scammed all sort of treats and toys from Père Noël .  Tracy had previously knitted Sami her own Christmas stocking.

Sami opening her Christmas presents.
Sami opening her Christmas presents.

Christmas evening Tracy made a delicious Christmas dinner. Turkey roast, mashed potatoes, gravy,  sautéed mushrooms, corn, green beans, toasted chèvre cheese on baguette, champagne, and religieuse pastries for dessert.  Sami even got a small portion for her dinner. The nice thing about living in France is that if you want French champagne for dinner it only requires a walk to the end of the block.

We had a nice visit with some of Tracy’s family as they gathered for dinner, via FaceTime on her sister’s iPhone.

Wonderful Christmas, but we are missing our kids over the holiday.

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Carcassonne: La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) Festival

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

December 6, 2013

La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) Festival is a month-long (December 6, 2013 to January 5, 2014) celebration throughout Carcassonne.

There was a Christmas market in Square Gambetta with a Ferris wheel, carousel, and two children’s carnival rides.

In Place Carnot (the town square) the city had erected an ice skating rink. The rink had live and recorded music, food booths, and later at night “ice go karts” were available for the adventurous.

At Place d’Armes and Port Jacobin (Jacobin Gate) there was a large roller coaster and a children’s roller coaster and spin rides.

Jardin Andre Chenier (Andre Chenier Garden) had a simulated sled run, mild for children and steep for the more bold with several more children’s rides and food booths.

The final venue was up in the medieval la Cité de Carcassonne was a christmas crafts market behind the Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse.

During the month there was all kinds of live music scheduled at the different venues.  The city businesses all had Christmas trees decorated with ribbons outside their front doors and there were Christmas lights hung over the streets.  In short, the Christmas spirit  was everywhere we walked.  Square Gambetta is only a block away from our apartment and there were several special trips for seasonal specialties and stops for vin chaud (hot spiced wine.)

Tracy and Sami  walking in the medieval la Cité de Carcassonne after visiting the Christmas craft fair.
Tracy and Sami walking in the medieval la Cité de Carcassonne after visiting the Christmas craft fair.
Alan and Sami  walking in the medieval la Cité de Carcassonne after visiting the Christmas craft fair.
Alan and Sami walking in the medieval la Cité de Carcassonne after visiting the Christmas craft fair.

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Carcassonne: Fête de la Saint-Nicolas’ Torchlight Parade 2013

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

December 8, 2013

To celebrate Carcassonne’s Fête de la Saint-Nicolas (Feast day of Saint Nicholas) there is the Marche aux Flambeaux (Torch Parade), an amazing parade from the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne across the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) through Gambetta Square’s Christmas Market, the Bastide (the traditional town)  to reach Place Carnot (the town square and marketplace).

Lead by Saint Nicholas, marchers in traditional medieval costumes, families, bands, and visitors all with flaming torches happily walk the route talking, laughing, and singing along the way.  It is a wonderful start to the Christmas season in Carcassonne and one of the first events in the month-long La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) Festival.

We had a wonderful time joining in with the marchers, although Sami, the min-pin, was far less impressed with the volume of the music, especially the marching band’s drummers.

Tracy and Sami on the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) waiting for the Marche aux Flambeaux (Torch March) to arrive.  La Cité de Carcassonne in the background.
Tracy and Sami on the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) waiting for the Marche aux Flambeaux (Torch March) to arrive. La Cité de Carcassonne in the background.
Alan and Sami on the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) waiting for the Marche aux Flambeaux (Torch March) to arrive.  La Cité de Carcassonne in the background.
Alan and Sami on the Pont Vieux (Old Bridge) waiting for the Marche aux Flambeaux (Torch March) to arrive. La Cité de Carcassonne in the background.

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Carcassonne: Children’s Carnival

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

November 24, 2013

Children’s’ Carnival

Just before Thanksgiving, Carcassonne offered a week-long Children’s Carnival at the west side of the Bastide, the traditional “old town.”

The carnival just “popped up” out of the blue.  Carcassonne seems to be very much be like Reno, Nevada with special events nearly every weekend.  We used the fun to expose Sami, the mini-pin puppy, to the excitement and noise.  We keep working on socializing her well with people and background noise.  We had fun sipping vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and watching happy children.

Tracy and Sami at the Children's Carnival
Tracy and Sami at the Children’s Carnival

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Carcassonne: Thanksgiving 2013

DELAYED POST, I am catching up our blog after our blogging hiatus while recovering from walking the Camino de Santiago.

November 28, 2013

Tracy and I enjoying our first Thanksgiving abroad.  We celebrated the traditional American (and Canadian) holiday to keep our old family traditions alive while adopting new local traditions.

While our apartment does have an oven, it is a trifle on the small size.  So I located a large turkey breast, more than enough for the two of us (plus leftovers for cold turkey sandwiches and turkey omelets.)  Tracy had the experience of, after years of cooking extra-large turkeys, and sometimes more than one, for family gathering figuring out the correct timing for a single turkey breast.  Finally the challenge of converting  the fahrenheit temperatures to the oven’s celsius settings.

Tracy dominated our little French oven for some amazing turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn, deviled eggs, garlic bread, with a local rosé wine. It was a classic, wonderful dinner followed by Religieuse creme puff pastries from our favorite pâtisserie.  Sami, the min-pin puppy, had her first “people food” with a Thanksgiving dinner all her own.

Wonderful quiet evening at home despite missing our large extended family back in the US, whom we visited with via FaceTime later in the evening.

Thanksgiving dinner 2013
Thanksgiving dinner 2013

Carcassonne: Smashing Pumpkins (Festival de Carcassonne)

The Festival de Carcassonne (Carcassonne Festival) is one of the major cultural events for the South of France and is now one of France’s largest festivals with nearly 120 shows ranging from opera, dance, theatre, classical music, cirque, French and international popular music.  More than 80 of the 120 shows have free admission. It’s Carcassonne’s version of Arttown with an emphasis on the performing arts.  From the end of June to August, artists perform at 10 different venues, including the Roman theatre in the medieval fortress of la Cité de Carcassonne.

Festival de Carcassonne
Festival de Carcassonne

Adam and Liz just happened to be visiting us over Adam’s birthday.  As Karma would have it, one of Adam’s favorite bands, Smashing Pumpkins, was performing in Théâtre Jean-Deschamps inside la Cité de Carcassonne for Festival de Carcassonne on Adam’s birthday.  The only “band shirt” Adam brought on this trip just happened to be from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero” tour.

Adam wearing his Smashing Pumpkins' Zero shirt
Adam wearing his Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero shirt

Smashing Pumpkins was performing at the Festival de Carcassonne as part of their European “Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2013” tour.  The universe had spoken and Adam and Liz were going to spend the evening of Adam’s 22nd birthday watching Smashing Pumpkins perform in the former Roman amphitheater of la Cité’s Théâtre Jean-Deschamps within the citadel’s fortified walls and in the shadow of the Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne (Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse.)

Smashing Pumpkins' program page for Festival de Carcassonne
Smashing Pumpkins’ program page for Festival de Carcassonne

Adam and Liz arrived early at the theater to wait in line and were rewarded with seats in the second row from the stage.  While standing in line they had a long discussion with an English-speaking French couple from Toulouse about the music scene in Europe.

Liz and Adam pointing out a Smashing Pumpkins sign in Place Carnot
Liz and Adam pointing out a Smashing Pumpkins sign in Place Carnot

Adam and Liz had a great time at the concert, right up front to the stage, and they captured some great photos of the performance.

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And, of course, afterwards Liz got Adam a “Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2013” concert tour shirt for his birthday.

Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins' "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins’ “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins' "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins’ “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” tour shirt