How The Internet Works
So un beau jour, one fine day, I got this comment from an unknown reader who’d just discovered French Letters. In her comment, Robin made an unusual request: she asked me to take a photograph and send it to her. A photograph of a specific cat door in Saint Antonin Noble Val, where we were at the time, and where she’d been recently. Since it’s a really cute cat door, and such a quirky request, I couldn’t resist.
I emailed her the picture, and after a while I got a note from her saying that she’d figured out that when she was in Saint Antonin she had stayed in the same house we were staying in, where she sunned on the same terrace, and dined at the same table. This she evidently worked out by looking at Beppo and Zazou’s view from our window. The house, by the way, is Maison Fleurie, where you too should definitely stay if you get to Saint Antonin and don’t mind stairs.
In a subsequent email Robin and I discovered that we had rather a lot of time-space continuum occurrences in common, so when she recommended that we visit Castres, we got in the car that same day and set off for a town we’d barely heard of. And just look how lovely it is. Before heading out, of course, I looked online for a good restaurant in Castres and came across some reviews for La Mandragore.
It sounded lovely, and according to Google maps it would be easy to find. Yet Mandy, our GPS mistress, couldn’t manage to get us there. Castres has a typically French and infernally complex inner-city road arrangement, for which you really can’t blame it since the town began growing in about the year 650, and we just couldn’t get to the restaurant from anywhere. Mandy consulted her satellites obsessively and had us driving in circles, until we finally ditched the car and relied on Shel’s superior low tech masculine internal compass.
When we finally stumbled in La Mandragore’s back door we found the warmest possible welcome by some of the friendliest restaurateurs anywhere, and a homey three course lunch, each course accompanied by a glass of wine, for 13 Euros.
Were we happy campers? You betcha!
Robin had also piqued our interest about a phenomenon we’d never hitherto understood, why every town in France has a Boulevard Jean Jaurès. As it turns out he was born in Castres in the mid-19th century, was a Socialist firebrand of a politician, and was assassinated in Paris on the night before World War I broke out. There’s a museum dedicated to his life, and we marveled at how neither of us had ever heard of someone so important in French history. What the heck did they teach us in school anyway?
Google had also informed me that Castres houses the Goya Museum, home to the largest collection of Spanish art in France and one of the largest in Europe. Ranging from medieval pieces to Picasso, it’s a fabulous collection, with three Goya pieces on permanent display, and while we were there, an exposition of Goya gravures, pointed and often hilarious political cartoons about the events of his time. There’s also a lovely garden behind the museum, designed by Le Nôtre, who did the gardens at Versailles.
Then, on the way back to the car, with no help from the Internet whatsoever, we happened upon this lovely church, notable for its majestic width and tranquil colors.
And so we thank you Robin, whoever you are, for sending us on this journey into one of the nicest days we spent in the Tarn et Garonne. And we thank you Internet, whatever you are, for making all of this possible. But no matter how high tech a goodly portion of this excellent day was, I’ll never forget that we owe it all to a cute little French cat door.