This isn't going to come as any huge surprise to some of you but I like details. Completeness. Thoroughness.
When I was growing up and in school, my parents loved telling stories that showed just how much I liked detail. To the point that I would add details that were missing from the original. My Mom's favorite example is this... after being read a story in elementary school, I had to write a "report" on the story remembering as many of the details as possible. A story about a princess riding in a carriage going to a castle became one about a black-haired princess in a pink dress riding in a beautiful golden carriage led by six white horses to a big stone castle surrounded by trees at the top of the hill.
So please forgive me that I'm going to tell you more about the week at Chateau Dumas than you probably wanted or needed to know.
I just can't help myself.
I flew from Phoenix to JFK in New York, then caught a flight to Heathrow. From Heathrow, I flew on British Airways to Toulouse, France. They served a very nice tea... just so you know. After going through security (oy vey... soldiers with some serious weaponry), we boarded a van driven by Tom to the Chateau.
Chateau Dumas is in the town of Auty, about an hour or so north of Toulouse. When we turned off the main road ~ a two-lane country road ~ this is the driveway up the house.
The Chateau is off to the left on the side of a hill. This is the entrance to the Chateau at the top of the drive.
The Chateau is a large three-story stone house situated on 22 acres, built in the 18th Century. While it has been beautifully restored and modernized, it still feels very much like a house from another century. Oh wait... it is!
This was my bedroom ~ isn't the late afternoon sunlight beautiful?
(To see the rest of the Chateau... here's the Chateau Dumas website.)
On Monday morning, we went to an open-air market in Caussade, a little town just a few minutes away.
We didn't have the heart -- or the French language skills -- to tell them that it wasn't that we'd never seen a tomato, it is that we didn't have much experience with tomatoes that actually smelled like fresh, ripe tomatoes! Yes, it was very depressing to go into my local grocery store the other day -- and it's a pretty nice grocery store.
This gentleman was making paella. If someone ever invents a scratch-and-sniff blog program, I promise to go back to Caussade and bring that to you. The aroma was mesmerizing... tantalizing... intoxicating. You think I'm kidding. And embellishing. Several of us just stood there, breathing deeply. Within an hour, all three pans were half-empty as he was doing a very brisk business. I was hoping someone would get a little bit and report back as to whether the taste matched the amazing aromas but I don't think anyone spoke enough French to consider it. And no, I couldn't have had any... alas, shrimp and shellfish and I don't mix.
This was one of my favorite stalls. The woman sold herbs and potions for teas and "magic elixirs" to cure whatever-ails-you. Those bags on the back shelf contain remedies for stuffiness, constipation, digestive ailments, colitis and menopause. Charlotte whispered that the woman was rumored to be a witch.
Back at the Chateau, we spent the afternoon making mustard from scratch and pate de fois gras. Wendy got us started with our memory books using vintage papers, fabrics and emphemera. The evening ended with a wine-and-cheese tasting led by Laurent, a local sommelier.
Day 2 started with a trip to the hat factory. If you've read Kaari's blog, you know that this is owned by Guy, a very quirky and funny man who will let you buy fabulous ribbon for next-to-nothing but can't bear to part with an old stapler than doesn't even work. Kaari tells it perfectly... it was like someone called "closing time" one afternoon, everyone finished their cigarettes, turned off their machines and left their work for the next time. Except that there was no next time. The doors never re-opened.
There are stacks and stacks of hats that are just waiting for someone to come finish them.
From Guy's, we went to Patrick Bru's for a couple of hours of treasure-hunting. I know you'll be hugely disappointed when I tell you that I bought a couple of vintage black-and-white postcards of Versailles and that was it.
That afternoon, we used up the sunshine doing our cyanotypes.
Wednesday morning meant Cahors, a lovely town that dates back to the Middle Ages located about 45 minutes north of Auty and Caussade. Another open air market, this time in the town square and with a few of the same vendors, a couple of brocantes and antique shops, and some time to just wander around the town, seeing the sights and taking time for a cafe creme at a local cafe.
One of the main attractions in Cahors is the Pont Valentre on the Lot river.
The Valentre Bridge was begun in 1308 and was completed in 1378. When the bridge was restored in 1879, the architect made reference to the association of the bridge with the Devil's Bridge legends by placing a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of one of the towers. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
The devil is at the top of the tower -- looking at the picture above this one, the devil is on the right side of the tower on the left, the one in the background.
We had a picnic lunch by the river... this is the view of the bridge from right in front of our lunch spot.
One of these days I'll have to tell you about how the van got stuck in the gravel trying to go up the hill.
And just so you know... this was our "picnic". Dessert? Fig tarts.
After we got unstuck and up the hill, we headed off for Bernadette's farm and the lavender fields.
When the soap in these molds dry, they will be a beautiful shade of blue. Bernadette showed us how she makes her soap using lots and lots of skin-softening oils, lavender oil, indigo powder and I don't remember what else.
French Apple Tart... a very flaky, very delicious French Apple Tart.
Bernadette. This might sound odd but when I think about Bernadette, the word that comes to mind is "elegant". She has this extraordinary grace about her, and she was incredibly generous and gracious about letting us wander all over her farm, her yard and her house. She served us tea and French Apple Tart, then she took out her scicle and cut a bunch of fresh lavender for everyone. That she then tied with a piece of raffia.
Denise Lambert and Annette. Denise is the one in all blue, Annette has the black vest on.
There were four big tubs like this one -- two green tubs and two white tubs. The white tubs were for a "lighter" shade and the green tubs were for those who wanted to try to achieve a "darker" shade.
When the fabrics/ribbons are put into the dye, they must be throughly wet. The various buckets you see in the picture are for pre-soaking the things going into the dye vats, and then for rinsing the fabrics/ribbons to "stop" the oxidation after the pieces have been in the dye vat for the last time.
Do you see the piece that Annette is removing from the vat? The first time the piece goes into the dye vat, it comes out an almost flourescent yellow/green. The top of Annette's fabric had already been in the dye vat one time. The change in color happens when the dyed fabric is exposed to the air and starts oxidizing. When you remove the piece from the dye vat, you wring it out and immediately open it up and start airing it out as much as possible. The piece then airs out for a little while -- as little as ten minutes or as much as an hour or two -- and then it needs to go back into the dye bath, either to "finish" it or to make it darker.
Denise describes the process as part alchemy, part science and part magic. It is a perfect description because even with the knowledge of what to do, you're still not sure exactly how it is going to turn out. It depends on the fibers in the piece you're dyeing, the "strength" of the dye in the tub and a dozen other factors. It was great fun and I will remember to take a picture of the things I dyed.
You should know that I didn't have a clue what to bring or buy for the woad dyeing. But then Ginger suggested I bring wool. She would have had me bring 5 yards of white wool to France to dye with woad. If I was an expert at this, I might get as many as 10 different shades. Since I had never dyed with woad before, I tore the wool into small pieces -- fat-quarter-ish size -- and took eight pieces. I managed to get four or five different shades of blue. And I dyed about 30 yards of grosgrain ribbon. I have three or four different shades of that. What am I going to do with any of this? I haven't got a clue. But it sure looks pretty sitting on the shelf in my workroom.
On Friday, we headed off for Toulouse and a really big flea market. "Big" as in lots of vendors and lots of wonderful treasures to be had.
I wandered through the aisles and the market. I fondled the antique linen sheets, pillowcases, garments and tea towels. I considered a couple of beautiful antique pocket watches. I cringed at the price of a couple of vintage sewing trinkets. And I ultimately didn't buy anything.
The morning I was in the park, it was in the mid-70s. The day before, the weather in Phoenix had been 115 degrees. When she saw these pictures, my Mom expressed some surprise that I had actually come home.
That afternoon, we crafted again with Wendy. After showing us how to use her vintage letterpress, she showed us how to make vintage "Bonne Fete" wreaths by dipping vintage silk flowers in wax and wiring them to make a headdress.
As you can see, I have extraordinary talents in the flower-arranging department. Extraordinarily bad. No matter how many times I tried to get the leaves to "spread out", they kept winding up all together. But it was still great fun.
On Saturday, we went to Montpezat-de-Quercy, a town about 15 minutes or so from the Chateau -- by car. But most of the ladies walked. In the hot sun. Up and down the hills. A little over 4 miles.
It was a lovely car ride.
When I heard that several ladies had opted to not do the walk and ride over to Montpezat, I thought they might feel badly about being the only ones not walking. So I thought I would be nice and keep them company. I'm that kind of girl. (Are you buying any of this? Didn't think so.)
The best part is that we had this lovely 14th Century church all to ourselves for about 30 minutes while we waited for the twits others to arrive.
I loved wandering through the village. With the narrow streets and wall-to-wall buildings, it felt like it could have come from another century too. I particularly loved all the shades of blue we saw for doors and shutters.
And the views. It was like being in a postcard.
This is Lizzie. Lizzie is from Great Britain and she owns the Chateau Dumas. She told us the story about how she came to buy it, all the ups and downs and whiskey involved. Let it suffice to say that it all worked out in the end and she is in the midst of a grand adventure. Even knowing how much work is involved, after spending a week at the Chateau, I think it would be an adventure worth taking.
Before I close this, I have to tell you about the other ladies that were at the Chateau. There were fourteen of us -- Nilda, Kate, Laurel, Julie, Marilee, Danielle and Meleen, Mary and Alise, Melissa and Kim, and Paige and Pat. And me. Some of us were there by ourselves, others came with a friend, a mother or an in-law. There were crafters and stitchers, some who came because of Kaari and others who made the trip because of Wendy Addision and Marcia Ceppos. We had different backgrounds, ages, hometowns and interests, and I really enjoyed meeting every one of these terrific ladies.
On Sunday morning, it was off to the airport. Except that I had to go to the train station... Gare Matabiau in Toulouse.