I went to visit my friend Dawn in Toulouse from the 14th-16th. We met on the bus to the Rencontre Européenne. Toulouse, Albi, Agen, Montpellier, and Nîmes were all on the same bus and I’m so glad that we were and that frère Minh introduced us. Dawn has such a light about her and is one of the most bubbly people I’ve met- and her weird can definitely keep up with my weird which is a big plus ; )
Dawn met me at the train station upon my arrival and we headed to Capitole, the town hall of Toulouse. It’s an impressive building and you’re allowed to visit some of the rooms inside such as the hall of chandeliers. It’s gorgeous! The walls are covered in art. Sometimes framed art, sometimes murals and bas-reliefs, sometimes sculptures. It’s incredibly romantic, which works out nicely for couples getting married in Toulouse, because in France, before you can have a religious ceremony, you must have a civil one at the town hall. We did indeed see a bride waiting and saw the beginning preparations for a marriage.
Toulouse is known as “la ville rose,” or the pink city, for it’s distinct coral-hued brick architecture. Brick is not a common building material in France. However, Toulouse will always remain the violet city for me- its regional specialty is anything made of violet; candied violet, violet honey, violet soap, perfume, tea, mustard… I LOVE violet, it’s one of my favorite scents. Perhaps I get than from my great-grandmother, Nana, who also loved all things violet. Another specialty in the city is “pastel” soap. A woman in one of the shops explained that the scent and blue coloring comes from some sort of plant. It smells very clean in a good way. Think things scented “heavenly” and “sky.” I apologize for being so much in violet heaven that I didn’t snap any photos of any of the violet specialties, but courtesy of lamaisondelaviolette.com, you can kind of see what a gelée de violettes looks like. Personally, what I saw looked like it had been made by fairies. Needless to say, I had difficulty restraining myself in the violet shops. Toulouse problems. I can think of worse things in life. As I write this, there are candied violet petals in my mouth.
Did you know that one of the Doctors of the Church is buried in Toulouse? I didn’t. Saint Thomas Aquinas is buried in the Couvent des Jacobins. Saint Thomas introduced the cardinal virtues; prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, as well as the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. As a young boy, he used to love being out in nature and sketching it, and from his experiences, he believed in the importance of nature and rational thinking joining with faith to understand God’s divine will (thank you, Professor Perry). The convent at which he is buried is architecturally interesting, with one pillar resembling a palm tree. The mirror around the base amplifies the effect. While the original stained glass windows were destroyed during WWII, the new windows are quite lovely.
We visited l’Église de la Durade, known for its black Virgin. According to Dawn, the Virgin’s clothes are changed regularly. I must admit, I love visiting churches. They’re so peaceful, yet each has a distinct personality. Some are more somber, some more joyful, some more pensive and they so often hold so much history and culture.
That night, I accompanied Dawn to daily mass and adoration at Saint-Sernin. I was shocked that on a Friday night, Valentine’s Day, there were about 50 students present. Dawn said it’s normal for so many students to come. They seem like a nicely dynamic group. While the South of France is typically more Protestant, Toulouse seems to be dominantly Catholic.
Let’s take a brief moment to talk about Valentine’s Day in France. In the United States, it’s a very commercial holiday. Not so much in France. Yeah, you may see a few hearts like these pastries, but it’s not that big a deal and they’re there for one day and one day only. Valentine’s is for lovers, not for friends or familial love.
We started the next day off bright and early with a bible study and then the most delicious palmier I have ever eaten in my life. Miam miam miam. Fuel for a day filled with sight-seeing and history learning. Dawn lives nearby the Garonne River where it overlooks l’Hôtel Dieu. Actually Dawn lives by EVERYTHING, but that’s another story. I think you can measure distance in Toulouse by number of minutes from Dawn’s apartment. In case you find something that is more than a few minutes from chez Dawn, Toulouse has a convenient metro with 2 lines. So I don’t end up writing a book on what we saw and did in Toulouse, here’s a photo album.
We ate so much good food. Cassoulet is a specialty of Toulouse consisting of duck sausage and duck meat so tender it falls off the bone served over beans cooked in the duck’s fat. You can get it in cans at your local supermarket, which is really strange to me. It tasted amazing, though!
I could really picture Toulouse as the perfect backdrop for steampunks. The bricks give it a somewhat modern industrial look, yet at the same time it retains a quaint Victorian aura, especially with the Canal du Midi and Canal de Brienne which run through the city.
I was sad to leave Toulouse. It’s a great city with great people and I had such a nice time seeing Dawn again. On the way home I made a friend on the train who put season 1 of The Big Bang Theory on my usb stick. Procrastination, here I come!