Foix Travel Blog

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We wandered a bit in the town, found the place, but they didn't have any rooms we wanted, so we took a map and walked to another. They were full, so we got directions to the third hotel that is in town and even got another set of directions from a woman who stopped us on the street and asked if she could help us. She spoke English and we wonder if she just wanted to practice it on some tourists whom she heard speaking English. We found the hotel easily, next to the Post Office and got our room for the night. He ran our credit card and explained how to use the key in the glass outside door, which we would need to do if we came back late. We brought our packs up, leaving the suitcase in the car and took a rest, showered, changed for dinner, consulted our Guide Michelin and headed out to find a restaurant.

Foix is a town of about 10,000, big enough to have a small rush hour, but small enough to walk around. It was my turn to pick the place for dinner after Dawn selected the Vietnamese restaurant the night before. We went by a couple of places, until I recognized one from the Guide, a Moroccan restaurant named Atlas, named after the North African Mountains I think. It was nearly empty when we went in, a couple of businessmen, a young couple who only had eyes for each other were among the clientele. The meal was great, and huge. We ordered couscous and when they brought it in, the couscous itself and the skewers of meat, I thought it looked great. After a pause the great bowl of broth and vegetables arrived and I realized that they have served enough for eight! We dig in and were halfway through our second ethic meal in France when I heard the phone ring.

Let's be clear about this. We didn't know what town we were going to be in until six o'clock that evening and we didn't know what hotel we were going to be at until seven-thirty and we didn't know what restaurant we were going to be in until we walked up to the menu and liked what we saw.

Madam walked up to Dawn and says, "It's for you" (In French).


"Moi? Mais personne ne sais que je suis ici!" ("Me? But no one knows that I'm here!"), I say, automatically thinking that something must be wrong with someone in my family, then realizing that truly, no one we know has any idea where we are or how to find us at that moment. No cell phone, no e-mail.

"Are you staying at the Hotel l"Echauffaugette?" she asks.

"Ah, oui," I reply, barely remembering the name of the place, and vaguely wondering if it means small, hot zucchini.

"Well then, it's for you. He asked if a Canadian couple was here at our restaurant."

So I go to the phone and pick it up. It turns out that the guy who had checked us in was worried that he hadn't explained to us completely how to get back into the hotel when he wasn't there. So he managed to track us down to explain that there would be another door in front of the glass one, but that one wouldn't be locked. We should not use the key in that door but push it open and unlock the glass door. Well, I was surprised, not only by the fact that he would take the trouble to find us, but also because his hotel was the only place we ever stayed on the entire trip where they made us pay the night before. Therefore, I wasn't expecting him to be so concerned for our welfare. Everywhere else we went, we made a reservation, usually by first name only, but sometimes with the Visa card, signed nothing on arrival, and paid on the way out.

After hanging up, the server at the restaurant said, "Are you Canadian?"

"Mais, non!" I replied, not being sure if I should be flattered by this mistake. I guess he thought I spoke French well enough but not with what he considered to be a French accent. Actually, I sometimes have trouble understanding Canadians myself because they speak so differently…but then the sound of French in this part of the country is very different from what one hears in Paris. Moreover, there is the "langue d'Oc" (the language of Oc) movement here in Languedoc. There is a group that tries to keep the old language alive, even doubling up welcome signs to villages, one in French, once in Provençau in which there seem to be many more "u's" in most words. Well, it's undoubtedly just as challenging for a French person who learns British English in school to go to New York City, and then say, Texas, and try to understand American "English."

Anyway, we were so stuffed by the end of the meal that we could not possibly eat the dessert that was part of the prix fixe meal we had ordered. So we opted for that wonderfully sweet North African mint tea instead, which proved to be the perfect digestif.


I know that to appreciate a running joke one must be there, so I hesitate, but only for a moment, to say that for the rest of the trip whenever we heard a phone ring, one of us said, "It must be the guy from Foix, seeing if we are okay." Later in the trip, we heard a late night phone in a B&B, made the joke, but learned the next morning that it had been for us, from the United States, but more of that later.

Also, I did some research on the history of the language in this part of France.

As in other parts of the Roman Empire, Vulgar Latin was heavily influenced by local languages. This accounts for the differences between for example Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian. It also helps explain the existence of different dialects of Occitan, a number of which survive, and can be divided in three main groups:

Northern -Limousin, Auvernhat, Alpine ---
Southern "Languedocien, Provençal or Provençau, Gascon.

The picture is slightly confused by the fact that the literary form of Occitan was also generally referred to as Provençal. Between the 12th to 14th centuries, Provençal was a standard literary language in what is now southern France, northern Spain and northern Italy. It was widely used in poetry and was the primary language of the troubadours. Occitan literature is therefore plentiful. Provençal was still the leading literary language of Europe when Dante wrote his Divine Comedy. It was therefore something of a surprise that he chose to write it in the obscure vulgar dialect that we now recognize as the precursor of modern Italian.

Thursday, June 3

When we are in towns, we decline the breakfast option at a hotel. Most of the time they are dreary events. In a two star hotel, the coffee is rarely any good and the places lack the energy of a café on the street. In four star hotels, which I have stayed in while working, it is different. I remember in Linz, Austria, Peter Colao and I actually moaning in pleasure over the coffee at a Ramada Inn. And the spread was varied as to satisfy the clientele that come from different breakfast cultures all over the world. Here, as we passed the breakfast room on the way out, we saw a few couples sitting at their tables, silently waiting for their coffee.

We didn't have to go far, just to the corner. The woman behind the bar got us our coffees. We found a paper and sat there and watched the town wake up and go to work.

On our way over to see the abbey of St. Volusien, we met a woman with two dogs. Dogs are also becoming a motif in this story. What they represent we will have to discover as we go.


She was wearing sunglasses and walking two dogs, one black and one white. She said, "Bonjour," and we exchanged pleasantries. It wasn't until she asked me where I learned to speak French that I realized she was the same woman who had been our server the night before. So I told her about my mom having been born in Paris and speaking French for the first five years of her life, that I learned the sound of as well as the love of the language from her, but that basically I had learned the grammar in American schools. She actually seemed to think that I had a "broader vocabulary" than most people who learned French in school who, she said, use the same words all the time. Well, I was pleased to think that since my 1989 three-month stay at la Fondation d'Art de La Napoule and with my subsequent visits that maybe I was picking up a few colloquialisms and some street French!

One of the dogs turned out to be a " Chien de Montagne des Pyrénées," a breed that had almost died out when mountain shepherds started abandoning their way of life and moving to the city. However, she said, people are beginning to move back to the mountains and cultivate this breed again. Apparently she and her husband have a mountain place that they visit on weekends.


I use my hat when I visit churches to keep the sun that comes through the windows out of my eyes, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. Not in this abbey, I was reprimanded for by a young priest for wearing it in church. I snapped it off in an instant. Some churches behave more like museums, with exhibits for the tourists. Some, like this one, are mostly just places of worship, and should be treated that way, but they are also buildings that over the centuries have heard many different languages, seen different kinds of dress, and endured different styles of religion, all while silently becoming a living repository of our history.

I showed total lack of courage, when following signs for a toilette, I found a pissoir. Henry Miller has written at length about them in Paris, but I thought they were a thing of the past. This one had a stand up section and a sit down one. To use the stand up part, you went through a gate amd did your business against the wall, totally visible to passerbys. I like to shake with a little more privacy, so I choose the other part but needed to find my flashlight before I could use it because I couldn't find the light. The complexity of the whole affair was deepened by having to hold the mini-mag in my mouth. Ah, Europe.
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photo by: mightytreehugger