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Friday, 6 November 2020

The Famous Tomatoes of Marmande!

 



My sister, Di, had a suggestion.

“Want to come to Marmande?”

“Where?”

“It’s a town in the Lot et Garonne. I’m going there to get some equipment for my car. I’ll buy the coffees.”

“I’m in!”

We set off on a blisteringly hot day, taking a country route west into the Buzet wine-making country. Their official vineyard is near Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne. It’s sandwiched between the Côtes du Marmandais and Brulhois appellations – a paradise for imbibers.

Verdant vineyards garnished with purple and green polka dots were spread-eagled as far as the eye could see. I was amazed.


“Wow, no wonder they make so much wine with all those grapes.”

“Yep, and did you know that the Armagnac appellation is just south of us?”

“Huh, I knew it was around here somewhere.”

“And the Cahors vineyards are a little way northeast. In total, there are around 2,000 hectares of vineyards in the area.”

“You’ve been at that tourist information guide again, Di!”

We settled into a comfortable chat about favourite tipples, which took us to the outskirts of Marmande. As we crossed a bridge spanning the River Garonne, Di had a new thought.

“Ooh, I wonder if we’ll see many tomatoes?”

“Why on earth would you say that?”

“Ahah! Well, obviously you didn’t know that this is the largest producer of tomatoes in our part of France.”

“I’m going to confiscate that guide book of yours.”

“No, really, this is interesting. The soil is perfect for them. They’ve been grown intensively here since the nineteenth century. And get this. There are lots of artisanal producers of Marmande tomatoes, including the Grand Master of the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Love Apple. Love apple is what the tomato was called in the Middle Ages.”

“Classic! Fancy having a Grand Master. There has to be a tomato fête.”

“Of course! It's honoured here every year. They make giant ratatouilles and enormous tomato tarts, which are washed down with the local wine and accompanied by lots of festivities.”

“Sounds perfect, let’s go.”

“It’ll have to be next year. It takes place in July.”

We reached our destination to find we had peaked too soon for Di’s rendezvous. It provided an ideal opportunity for coffee and cakes. We headed for a large café close-by.


Its innocuous exterior belied the delights that lay within. The pâtisserie was bulging at the seams with goodies. Gawping at the cake selection, we randomly joined a queue, only to be turned away.

Je suis désolé mesdames, cette file d’attente est uniquement pour le pain. Mais, voulez vous du pain?

We were in the bread queue. While the look of those still-warm baguettes was very tempting, we declined madame’s offer to buy. Our hearts were set on other delicacies. We found the non-bread buying line, which had extended out of the door.

Being a fruity type of person I couldn’t resist a tartelette aux fraises, Di, on the other hand, had her heart set on tartelette au citron meringues, and who could blame her? With our tray of delectables plus aromatic coffees, we found a table outside.

As we tucked into what we declared were among the best strawberry and lemon tarts we had ever eaten, a group of youngsters appeared. Politely staying a COVID-discrete distance from us, I couldn’t help noticing their companion. The pretty girl had brought along her cat.

Far from being nervous, the curious young ginger ninja decided he fancied a nibble of our tarts. We may be ardent cat lovers, but when it comes to cakes, we do have our limits. Moggy junior was politely declined his treat, and he returned to mum for a snuggle.

Refreshed and ready to go, we were still an hour early for Di’s appointment. I pointed at a dot in the distance.


“Why don’t we have a quick walk up there?”

“Great idea, it looks like the old part of town.”

Off we pottered, enjoying the sunshine and surroundings which were gradually morphing into older, grander buildings. We passed a magnificent courtyard with mighty oak doors; it seemed to be the entrance to a military establishment.  

Farther along, we discovered half-timbered houses, one in particular caught our eye with its diamond pattern frontage. Since the town was founded by Richard the Lionheart in 1182, we guessed it must have been an original medieval property.

As with so many municipalities in the region, Marmande was at the centre of a turbulent period in history. The crusade against the Cathars, the Hundred Years War, plague, and the Religious Wars dealt the town a series of severe blows. Despite this tortuous past, it was evident from what we were seeing that it had managed to preserve remnants of a history spanning almost a millennium.

Still in Middle Ages mode, what we saw next couldn’t have been less medieval if it tried. A colossal clock with signs of the zodiac on the dial was positioned in the centre of a square. A large bell with Chinese characters was suspended above. There had to be a story to this!

Apparently, it was the incongruous brainchild of the then town mayor, Gérard Gouzes. On his return from a trip to China in 2011, he announced that the Chinese of Yuncheng, with whom Marmande were considering a possible twinning, wished to offer a typical bell, accompanied by a clock.  


 Despite many disagreements on suitability and cost, the mayor had his way. The bell was eventually purchased from the foundry in the city of Wu Han.

Gérard Gouzes was allegedly delighted with the furore surrounding the installation of this monumental clock and was quoted as saying, “The controversy will create curiosity and attract people. And I do not regret it. This symbolic gesture will resonate in our relations with China.”

Still unsure whether we should be impressed or amused, we strolled on. The dot we had been heading for finally took shape. It was the Church of Notre Dame, Marmande. The sun dazzled us as we admired this remarkable building.

With its Anglo-Norman style architecture, it was built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. At one time, the church had a fine Gothic spire with a copper cockerel on the top. There’s a quirky tale about this too.

In 1672 the consuls in Marmande (and I have no idea why) used the spire to store the town’s reserves of gun powder. Lightning struck the spire which exploded, causing significant damage to the chancel and demolishing the steeple section. It was a sad end for the steeple, but another gave rise to another fascinating story.  


I walked inside the church. It was cool, tranquil. The nave was paved with immense slabs, and wooden pews flanked either side. Tape marked points of social isolation. Even here, the perils of coronavirus were all too evident. The graceful vaulted ceiling, simple yet so elegant, restored serenity to this beautiful place.

Back outside and we spotted a sign for the cloister gardens. These were a must-see. We found information telling us that only one gallery remains today. The pilasters in the renaissance style are decorated with floweret and diamond motifs, and the capitals are covered in acanthus leaves.

The photo Di took!

The garden was created in the 1950s. Its design was inspired by the gardens at the Château de Langeais. Observing the seventeenth century rules for topiary gardens, boxwood hedges and shaped yew trees were planted. Walls of the arbours evoke the arches of the cloisters that have since disappeared.

I was dead keen to have a look. Di stopped, looked at her watch and gasped.

“Oh my God, have you seen the time?”

“Erm no, what’s wrong?”

“We’ve only got 10 minutes to get back. We have to go now!

“But, Di, the garden.”

“If you hadn’t spent so much time staring at that clock we’d have time to take a good look. I had a peek while you were in the church. It’s fantastic, by the way.”

“That’s right, just torture me with words.”

“We’ll have to come back another time.”

With that Di raced off with me moaning in tow.

Happily, we did make it in time for Di’s meeting, although I will admit to us both being a bit hot and bothered by the time we got there. As usual, the folks involved were utterly charming, graciously ignoring our flustered state.

By the time Di had finished, it was getting towards lunch, and that café beckoned invitingly. It was one of those moments. You know you shouldn’t, but you do anyway.


“Erm, Di, did you notice those savouries in the café?”

“I did. I’m starving after galloping back all that way. Fancy a coffee and snack before we go home?”

“You’re on!”

It had been another fun excursion, another French town – partially seen, and did we see a famed Marmande tomato? Nope, not a single one, but those cakes were delicious!



Saturday, 3 October 2020

Guest Blog - Patricia M Osborne

 


We have been friends on social media for a long time, and one day I sincerely hope we manage to meet up. This month, it is my great pleasure to welcome the exceptionally talented poet and novelist, Patricia M Osborne. 



Thank you, Beth, for inviting me to talk about my writing journey. 

My Writing Journey – Patricia M Osborne

From as young as I can remember I’ve been writing poetry, well I wouldn’t call it poetry now, but back then I thought it was fabulous. I’d write one draft and to me I’d written a masterpiece. I was one of those people where whatever the situation I’d be the one who wrote the poem. For instance, I was twenty-two when I went back to school for the first time, well college, to train as a bookkeeper and typist. It was a TOPS Manpower course (for anyone who remembers them). It was great fun being with the other women students. I was the youngest and the eldest was in her seventies. We did a two-year course in eight months and on our last day dressed up as St Trinians. Our poor tutor, Jim. Of course I had to write a poem. Well someone had to.

This was it. (1977) I certainly think my writing has improved over the last forty years or so.



I’ve kept a lot of my poems from younger days, although I have to admit they’re pretty awful but they do form part of my writing journey.

It was only back in 2009 when I enrolled on an Open University degree and chose two creative writing modules that my writing started to move forward. Although, to be honest I thought I knew the lot. What could I learn? I was already able to write a poem without thinking. Hmm.

For my first tutorial in the classroom, I sat scared while everyone took it in turn to read out their masterpieces. I came to mine. The tutor was lovely and told me it had a simplistic feel but nevertheless said a lot. I think she was just being kind. Although I have to admit I do kind of like the poem as it shows the pen and paintbrush as rivals and I’m sure my paintbrush feels just this way.

First draft.

Rivals 

I stand alone in a colourful pot,

bristles, dry and crispy,

why do those inky

rivals get attention

and not me?

 

Dip me in blue,

paint a cloudless sky,

orange, a fire burnished sun.

Dip me in green, paint a land

with tall trees, mounds on moors

but instead she chooses the pen.

 

Abandoned I stand and wait for the time,

when her words too, will become dry.

Until then here I am, stiff, rigid and cold,

watching and envying the pen.


Later Draft 

Rivals 

I stand alone in a colourful pot,

bristles, dry and crispy.

 

Why do those inky pens

get attention and not me?

 

Dip me in blue,

paint a cloudless sky,

 

orange, a fire burnished sun.

Dip me in green, paint a land

 

with tall trees, mounds on moors

but instead she chooses the pen.

 

Abandoned I stand and wait for the time,

when her words dry up in her mind

 

until then here I am, stiff, rigid and cold,

watching and envying the pen.

Nine years on, ‘Rivals’ is still a work in progress. I remember my first creative writing tutor’s advice: ‘Never throw anything away, not even one line, because you never know when it will come in handy. (Clare Best, 2011). How true that statement is.

As I worked through the first creative writing module with the Open University, and started to learn the technical tools, my creativity became stifled. The tutor advised this was perfectly normal. I wasn’t convinced. During that summer I signed up for an online visual/concrete poetry course and I was able to let my inhibitions go. It was wonderful to scatter words across the page – my first poem was a sewing machine creating a zig-zag stitch effect. By the end of the course my muse was back. I was now in possession of new writing tools and my creativity. I was ready for the advanced creative writing module.

For my dissertation I wrote a screen play and House of Grace was born. Once I’d finished my degree, for the first time in my life I felt able to tackle a novel. Before this I was in awe of peers who’d done this. ‘I’ll never be able to write one,’ I’d said. But I was wrong. In the year between finishing my BA degree and starting my MA I did just that and wrote House of Grace: A Family Saga. It then sat on my PC doing nothing.

After losing my mum I was lost, so for my first module on my master’s degree, I wrote a sequence of fictional poems on lost identity. Here I gave the characters my pain. It was great therapy. I took a long route to complete my MA, four years, and as I went through the various modules my writing became stronger both creatively and academically. I had the chance to become a Poet in Residence in a local park where I taught poetry to beginners and completed a fictional timeline of the Victorian park based on facts. This role gave me confidence to call myself a writer. For my MA dissertation I took on a research project studying myth, folklore and legend around trees and created a poetry collection. Some of that collection has since been published in my debut poetry pamphlet Taxus Baccata.


I have come a long way since my early poems and I am now a poetry tutor for Writers’ Bureau.

Since finishing my MA I published a second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son, Book 2 in the House of Grace trilogy and the final story, The Granville Legacy, is well on its way to be completed.


My latest project is a children’s picture book which I hope to get off the ground within the next few months. The story is based on an ancient Indian legend around the banyan tree and will be suitable for children aged 6-9 years – or so my Beta readers, who are teachers, have informed me. 

I thought I’d finish with a poem from Taxus Baccata. This is one of my favourites and I hope you and your readers agree that my writing has moved on from St Trinians and Rivals.

Sunrise Concertante

Burnt golden rays break

the night-time sky,

beating on the Ouse’s slow crawl.

 

Air-warmed sweet-grasses

fan fragrance into the wind:

marsh marigolds shine.

 

A blackbird’s

chromatic glissando sweeps 

towards the riverbank.

 

Swanking his red tuxedo, a robin

trills to join the recital

 

as elm silhouettes dance,

watching their mirror image.

 

The mistle thrush flaunts

his speckled belly. He takes his turn

to chant – introduces

 

hedge sparrows who chatter,

boast brown suits.

 

A cadenza call governs the concerto—

plump skylark makes his solo in the skies.

 

Shades of light peep,

geese chevron across the blue,

noses down, necks stretched, wings

 

spread wide. Honking their signal sound,

they climb the horizon and sky-fall

on to daylight’s iridescent waves.


Thank you, Beth,  for inviting me to talk about my writing journey. It’s been quite a trip. If anyone is interested in knowing more about me and my writing they can visit:

Patricia’s Pen

Facebook

Twitter

Linked-In

Instagram

Links to Books:

House of Grace

The Coal Miner’s Son

Signed Paperbacks including poetry pamphlet, Taxus Baccata


About Patricia M Osborne

Patricia M Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. She was born in Liverpool but now lives in West Sussex. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton).

Patricia writes novels, poetry and short fiction, and has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She has two published novels, House of Grace and The Coal Miner’s Son and her debut poetry pamphlet ‘Taxus Baccata’ was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press in July 2020.

She has a successful blog at Whitewings.com where she features other writers and poets. When Patricia isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers and as an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau.


Saturday, 5 September 2020

The Hidden Treasure

 

Imagine what it would be like living in the Middle Ages, the early period. In a town blessed with a formidable natural resource which contributed to its reputation as a significant trading centre.

It all started around the 8th century. This place has history coming out of its ears, and I was dying to visit. I reminded my excursion-averse husband about his promise.

“Come on, Jack, you said we could go.”

“I’m sure I didn’t.”

“Honestly, you did. It’s a beautiful day, perfect for sight-seeing.”

“Alright, alright, but we have to be back mid-afternoon, I still haven’t fixed the tractor.”

After a minor contretemps with SatNav lady, we set off on our two-hour journey. A voyage into the unknown to Saint Antonin Noble Val. A mouthful of a name, but one we would soon realise was fit for purpose.

Our route took us past Montauban, the principal city in our area, through several pretty villages including Caussade. Also known as la cité du chapeau (hat city), straw hat making was their thing. The hatter industry flourished here, peaking in the late 19th century.

Deeper into the countryside, we went. There were none of the gentle fruit-growing landscapes we see in our area. This was big-boys rugged terrain.

“Wow! Jack, quick, look right.”

“I can’t on this bend, obviously.”

“Never mind, you’ll see it in a moment.”

Jack negotiated another tight corner, and there it was again. A slash in the landscape. We had reached the Aveyron Gorge, a natural feature more than 50 kilometres long. Vertical cliffs, some over 500 metres high, towered above the river flowing far below. A vast forest covered the landscape like a verdant duvet, bisected by the limestone fissure. It was an incredible scene.


Blind hairpin bends marked our descent. Jack slammed on the brakes as we were halfway round another.

“What on earth is that man doing in the middle of the road?”

“Blimey, that’s dangerous! He must have been crossing to reach the viewpoint. What a shame we missed it.”

“Bloody hell, we only just missed him. What a ridiculous site for a picnic place.”

“It’s a strategic viewing point, Jack.”


As we descended, the gradient became steeper still. Stone slabs the sizes of houses were stacked into skyscrapers on our left. To our right, we snatched more sightings of the gorge through a blur of scrub and scabby trees. Another tricky bend, and there it was, Saint Antonin Noble Val, a secret town nestling at the confluence of the Aveyron and Bonnette rivers.

The closer we got, the clearer it became that this was no ordinary settlement. Narrow streets guarded by fortification fragments, archaic buildings and stone obelisks, I couldn’t wait to start exploring. There was just one problem. Modern cars and medieval towns aren’t a match made in heaven. Finding somewhere to park was impossible. It didn’t take Jack long to get frustrated.

“We’re going to be driving around in circles all day at this rate. You get out here while I find somewhere to leave the car.”

“Okay, where shall we meet?”

“I’ll find you.”  

I leapt out and walked beneath a massive cathedral-like archway into another world. Just for a moment, I was completely alone on a cobbled way lined either side with medieval buildings. Some looked like homes, others, shops with living quarters above.

Entranced, I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see men appear wearing tunics, and ladies in light robes. After all, it was a hot day. Instead, a cat strolled into view and then a fellow tourist. The spell was broken.

The narrow street was interrupted by openings to intriguing allies. I couldn’t resist a peek. There were balconies, twisty passageways, old and new masonry and planters, which suggested these were folks’ homes. Oh, and another cat.


Back out, and I passed several different shops. Chapeaux and Casquettes, a thumbs-up in support of neighbouring Caussade, was impressive with its frontage buttressed by a massive timber beam. There were épiceries, boulangeries, even a book shop. Did I nip in for a quick browse? Of course!


A magnificent building caught my eye; it seemed somehow grander than the others. Maison Romane is one of the oldest civic buildings in France. Retired from duty now, way back in the 12th century, the Town Hall was used as law courts and base for the governors.


I admired the great tower, solid and dependable against the blue sky. It was a Tuscan-inspired creation by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who knew a thing or two about architecture. Among his major restoration projects, Viollet-le-Duc was renowned for his work on Notre-Dame de Paris and the medieval walls of Carcassonne. It was he who restored this building in the 19th century.

As the way broadened, cafés came into view with residents and visitors enjoying morning coffee in the shade of squashed together buildings. Soft pastel paint, pretty flaky now, was evident on walls, as were the gnarled vines. Wood stanchions, battered shutters and balconies with intricate ironwork designs, I gazed in wonder at them all, as did another cat, who had become my guide.

Ruing my decision not to nag Jack into coming with me, I dragged myself away to explore the market hall. Another imposing building, it dates back to 1840, and it is still fit for purpose.

I love the thought that this hall and the surrounding streets are filled every week on market day with flowers and flavours from the locality. It’s a tradition observed by most towns and villages in our part of France.

I continued, passing more intricate alleys, no cats down those. There were little restaurants snuck discretely behind protective walls, lit by lanterns, and candles on tables, each as charming as the other.

Before turning back, I looked along a narrow street with its immense limestone backdrop. It was so skinny, the roofs of houses almost met across the way.

Reluctantly, I left my feline companion and returned to find Jack relaxing in the shade, suspiciously close to the car.

“I thought you were going to join me?”

“I decided to leave you to it. It’s far more peaceful here.”

“You’ve really missed out. Never mind, though, I grabbed some tourist info. Listen to this.”

“There’s no need.”

“Ah, but I have to tell you, it’s such an interesting place. Oh, and there were cats all over the place.”

“Lord, we’re covered in cats at home, I don’t need to hear about more! Stick to the fascinating facts, please?”

“I’ll tell you on the way.”

“Where to now?”

“Can you take us to the old bridge, please? If I’ve got the right one, it was first mentioned in 1163.”

“That’s old, are you sure it’s still passable?”

“Absolutely. Interestingly, the governors used to levy tolls on it. And talking of wet stuff, believe it or not, the town has several underground canals, some of which provided water for the public baths.”

“That rising damp wouldn’t be much good for rheumatics in the winter. Huh, and I thought the medievals were a mucky lot.”

“Perhaps it was the Roman influence. Anyway, several industries thrived here. Tanneries were established in the 13th century, and provided much of the town’s wealth during the Middle Ages.”

“H’m any idea how many hides were processed?”

“Hang on, yep, 200,000 a year during its heyday. Eventually, the industry declined and was replaced by others, including walnut oil production.”

“Time to put away that tourist blurb and enjoy the view in front of your nose. It’s superb.”


We parked and walked onto the bridge. The studded steeple of a splendid church dominated one side. A cluster of buildings surrounded it, some whose bases were lapped by the Averyon. There were homeowners taking tea on balconies. The scenes were spellbinding.

The other side marked the point where La Bonnette flows by the town, and a river walk, which in ancient times was favoured by the town’s monks. The benign river was a-bob with enthusiasts exploring in canoes and kayaks, the perfect way to enjoy this waterway on a hot day.

Time was against us now, so we returned to the car. Jack took us out on a different route. A skinny one-track road, he pulled off at a rough entrance.

“Here you go, I reckon if we walk down here, we’ll be able to satisfy your passion for panoramas.”

I bet he wished he hadn’t said that. 

In amongst the brush, we discovered a rocky trail. We had no idea whether animals, drovers or even pilgrims had used it, but the rock base was smooth with use.

Now both determined to reach a point where we could catch one last view of this remarkable phenomenon; we trudged on in the heat. Cussing and puffing, we fought through a patch of gorse, and suddenly there it was. The vista was utterly extraordinary.

Those cliffs, ledges, rocks, and forest as far as the eye could see, it felt as though we were on top of the world. We stayed for a while, absorbing the views, enjoying the moment.

“Thanks for this, Jack, it’s been a lovely day.”

“The geology is certainly impressive. I’m not sure I’d like to live in the town today, though, it must be seething with tourists. Well, that’s if they can find it.”

“True! I wouldn’t trade it for our place either, but you must admit it was worth coming. What a fantastic hidden treasure.”

 

 

Saturday, 1 August 2020

An Unexpected Adventure




An ancient bastide, the home of a world-famous person, extraordinary architecture, and more. Did I go to visit this? Nope, I was sent there to trace a lost parcel.

We live in an area so remote it takes years for posties to learn where each home is hidden. When one of these experts takes time off, it’s mayhem in the sorting office. Letters get pushed through the wrong slots, and parcels regularly go missing, as did mine.

“Go to Beaumont de Lomagne, Madame ‘aslam,” said our local postmaster.

“Why? It’s a long way from here.”

“You must make a claim for your lost parcel. This is where you do it.”

“So, you don’t think it will be re-delivered?”

“Oh, no, Madame. Anael, your usual facteur, is on paternity leave again. We have the temporary staff to cover while he is away and there have been many problems already. It is definitely our fault. I am sure your parcel will never arrive.”

And that was that.

The following day I drove to Beaumont and found the post office easily enough. Observing the new standard protocol, I waffled through my mask, and the lady hooted back through hers. After a verbal tussle, we worked out what one another was saying.

“You need a compensation claim form, Madame.”

I live in France. This wasn’t a surprise. The lady produced a dangerously complicated-looking document with many spaces. I had a bash at filling them in, quickly got stuck and asked for advice. She got stuck too, and the process ended up as a team-building event with two colleagues brought in to help.

I left the post office feeling a mixture of mental exhaustion and relief. It then occurred to me that having come all this way, I might as well have a potter, and why not? The weather might have been glum, but I was in a place of great historical significance. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The bastide town was created between 1276 and 1279 following a feudal treaty between the abbey of Granselve and the king of France Philippe III le Hardi (the Bold). Today, there is an air of tired crustiness about the place, but therein lies part of its charm.



As with many ancient towns, the market hall is a centrepiece, and this one is a favourite of mine. It was a quiet day, which allowed me to have a proper look.


Although planned from the original 13th century bastide foundations, it was not built until the 14th century. It became the focal point for the weekly market on Saturday mornings and still is. Silly though it sounds, I love having bought goods on the same site used by folks in medieval times.


I looked up. Talk about a wow factor. The immensely complex oak frame of this square building always fascinates me. 


No wonder it needed 38 posts to support it. Each of these rests on a stone plinth set at a different level to compensate for the slope. As I was soon to realise, Beaumont is town suited to those with mountain goat tendencies.


I paused to read an information panel. The base I was walking on was paved with differently coloured pebbles. It had been sympathetically restored. In total, about 370,000 stones were placed manually to recreate the original base. The work took a year to complete. Imagine that!


The hall is sheltered on two sides by arcades. Faded yet splendid, cafés, fruit sellers, pharmacies and pâtisseries, all the essentials are represented here. Ahead, on the incline was the Mairie. Pride of place as usual, with plaques of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité emblazoned across the front wall. The town hall looked magnificent.



 As I strolled past, I admired the unusual attractive additions to civic floral decorations. Metal music clefs, notes and instruments sprouted out of plant pots, all celebrating la Fête de la Musique which had recently taken place, as had the Fête de l’Ail blanc de Lomagne, albeit in a tiny form this year because of COVID-19.

Traditionally, the garlic fête takes place at the end of July, after harvesting and drying the yield. Over 15,000 devotees flock to this annual festival, keen to immerse themselves in a packed programme bursting with garlic-related festivities.

A wide selection of local produce is offered during the fête, but nothing can compare with the star of the show. An estimated three tonnes of garlic are sold every year. One of the main attractions is the hotly contested garlic-peeling challenge, the very thought of which made my eyes water. Yes, despite its sleepy appearances, Beaumont is a happening place.


Keen to learn more about the town, I headed uphill towards the tourist information centre. En route, a magnificent bronze statue caught my eye. It was Pierre de Fermat. But just who was he?


Pierre de Fermat (Beaumont de Lomagne 1601 – Castres 1665) was possibly the most productive mathematician of his era.  He is considered to be one of the fathers of analytic geometry, along with René Descartes. He, in collaboration with Blaise Pascal, was also one of the founders of probability theory.

Maths fans will be aware that Fermat's most important work was done in the development of modern number theory, a favourite subject of his. He is best remembered for Fermat’s Last Theorem. I don’t profess to understand it, but for those of you who do, here is the link.


My mind bristling with unfathomable theories, I headed into the tourist information centre. Unsurprisingly, it was based in the quadrangle of another magnificent mansion, which appeared to be part of Fermat’s old home.


A masked-muffled exchange took place between the girl behind the counter and me. Now hopelessly inspired by the history and determined to share my photos with you, I asked for further information about the town. Her eyes lit up.

“Here you are, Madame,” she said, thrusting a wad of leaflets in my hand.

“Lovely, thank you.”

“You are welcome, and I can show you a 360 degree view of the town. You must see this, come with me.”

Intrigued, I dutifully followed the girl out through the quad, down several steps and along a dark passage. Just as I was beginning to think something had got horribly lost between the folds of my mask, she abruptly stopped.

“Here,” she said, plunging an enormous key into an archaic lock. A clunk released the internals, and the door swung open. “Take these stairs,” she said, pointing at a stone spiral staircase, “at the top, you will see the view. Please close the door when you return.”

And with that, she left.

So, there I was, down a shadowy passage looking at a set of medieval steps. Not exactly The Raiders of the Lost Arc, but I did feel slightly intrepid. I started climbing the stairs. Up and up I went.


And up and up.


Still going up, I paused to take a photo of an extremely short person’s door, but I was kidding myself. I was trying to catch my breath.


Inexorably up, and finally, there was light – a skinny flight of steps which I presumed led to the top.


Thigh muscles screaming, I finally made it. Two thoughts occurred to me. This was very likely to have been where Fermat’s theory of probability was hatched. That being the probability of the stair climber having a heart attack before reaching the top. Secondly, the brilliance of the suggestion made by the lady, who had wisely decided not to accompany me. Mind you, those views were fantastic.


I grabbed my camera and started clicking. A bastide town built on hills, I could see it all, and the gorgeous Gers countryside in the distance. Another half turn and a mass of geometric roofs lay before me. The pic could make a terrific jigsaw puzzle.


Another turn afforded a stunning view of a new focal point – the massively imposing red brick church, what a remarkable building that was.


After another few turns, it was time to retrace my steps. For someone who spends hours and hours rambling with dogs, I was surprised how wobbly my legs felt by the time I reached ground level. Extreme stair climbing evidently requires the use of niche muscle groups.

Still puffing, I returned to the tourist office to thank the girl for her help. I was about to stagger out when she had another bright idea.

“But have you seen inside l’eglise Notre Dame de l’Assomption yet?”

“The church? No,” I gasped.

“You must! It’s around the corner and up the hill.”

“Yes, I did see it. Oh, another hill?”

“Yes, you can’t miss it.”

The French are a forthright lot.

But she was right. It was such an imposing building I couldn’t leave without at least having a peek. I’m so glad I did.


Building work on the catholic church began in 1280. Withstanding wars, famines, religious struggles and storms, like many buildings of its age it suffered. Restoration work has been almost continuous throughout its history, the aim always to maintain the magnificence of the construction.


There wasn’t another soul about as I walked down the bevelled flag stoned aisle. It was dimly lit, but I could still see how magnificent the alter was, as were the side chapels. I paused to admire each one – some extravagant, others unassuming.


I looked up at the vaulted ceiling way above. It was contrastingly simple. Tranquil. Yes, the wear and tear were apparent, but it couldn’t detract from the inherent beauty of the architecture. The purity of lines and arches were intensely appealing.


I turned back to face the doorway. Above, was a magnificent organ, one day I would love to hear that played. I could easily have spent much longer enjoying the serenity and artefacts, but time was against me.

I headed back downhill over the cobbled streets, passing crumbly shutters, massive oak doors and truly outstanding buildings. It had been a wonderfully unexpected adventure, one to remember. Oh, and did my parcel ever turn up? No, of course not!