Sunday, September 18, 2011


This weekend is the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine in France, the European Heritage Days. This always fascinating event opens the doors to the public for some of France's most exceptional historic homes, museums and sites. It is an opportunity to discover and appreciate the best of France's heritage and long history. Here in our region, it was an extra special day as Remi's photographs for an archaeological dig are being exhibited on the site in Nimes as part of the festivities. We both were so thrilled to see his work featured as part of this event. I am always so proud of my incredibly talented honey and was grateful that they included his accomplished resumé alongside the photos. 

As it is indeed a small world, albeit a wonderful one, my friend Frederique was the graphic designer involved in printing up Remi's photographs onto waterproof canvas. She works for INRAP, the National Research Institute for Preventive Archaeology. While much attention is given to the most glamorous aspects of archeology--Jewel bedecked mummies! The fossils of ancient man!--there is a real need in countries such as France to study land that is being developed for modern uses.

The site in question spreads out over 1000 square meters in what is today the heart of downtown Nimes and will become a residential complex. In Roman times, it was near the Gate of Augustus and as with many major transportation hubs of the period, was frequently used as a mausoleum. As my friend Marie (whose fantastic hospitality I have written about here) worked on this dig, she took me on a private tour of the site, explaining it to me with patience and professionalism. Marie, like the rest of the team that I met, loves what she does. 

Interestingly enough, it seems as though the living and the dead existed side by side. Multi-tiered esplanades sprawled away from dolia or giant vats used for storing foodstuffs that neighbored elaborate private tombs! Yeesh. Complicated, those Romans. The most ancient remains date to 2 BC. In the 13th century, the Carmes Convent was erected with an attached cemetery. So yes, more bones for the archaeologists to dust off and remove as they reach down, down through the layers of time. 

Happily, more than skeletons were offered up for oggling. I couldn't help but think that many of my designer friends would be thrilled by the iridescent lustre found on these small glass vessels. Isn't incredible to think that they have been sleeping thousands of years underneath the ground? Similarly, for the two fragile dangling pendants, one caressed with gold, the other in jet and possibly of African origin. 

Now, all of this is worth noting but archaeology is far from France's sole line of heritage. Mais, non! As a thank you to Remi's contribution to the dig, the team invited us to a lunch at their offices with each member bringing something to the table. And as it was a day celebrating discoveries, it was all too appropriate that I tasted something that I had never heard of before. The papeton is a dish that originated in Avignon and was named for being cooked in a mold in the shape of the Pope's crown. A mix of eggplant purée, eggs and garlic, it is Provence on a plate. But so much was wonderful--and homemade: the goat cheese and red pepper tart, the prosciutto, roquette and balsalmic pasta salad, the insane apple, cinnamon and creme fraiche pie for dessert. Such generosity amidst a table of gossip and laughter.

All too soon the team needed to finish up so as to open the gates for the afternoons visitors. It was also touching to see my friends in their element and sharing their knowledge with the public. Call me snarky if you wish, but I could hardly imagine such throngs for a similar event in America. INRAP welcomed 500 visitors on the site in a single day! I am not big on generalizations but the French are on whole extremely curious with an avid will to learn.

Once outside the gates, we lingered, watching the reaction of passerby to Remi's photographs. What a fantastic, accessible way for the locals of the neighborhood to understand what the project was all about and take in all of the history that lays beneath their feet. Their heritage.

The last to leave was the photographer, camera in hand, working even then to create images to help others travel back in the future!


  1. Hello Heather:
    What an extraordinary day. How wonderful that Remi's work is being used to illustrate this most fascinating of archaeological sites, an excellent way to really make the work 'come alive' and for interaction with visitors.

    It is astonishing what can be buried for so many years and yet emerge looking so fresh. The glass is particularly remarkable. An uncle of ours used to collect Roman glass and the iridescent colours are truly amazing.

    Marvellous that you were allowed a personal tour of the site and an opportunity to talk with the experts.It is so pleasing for them that they have so many people wanting to see and learn more about, as you say, their heritage. And, Remi's photographs will be a wonderful and lasting record of the whole event.

  2. What on earth are they planning to build on top of this extraordinary site then Heather? What sort of a residential complex? And how have they addressed how to treat the finds, if they are going to build on top of the site? It's a fascinating pondery, caught between the need to build for growing populations and not trampling on heritage and history.

    I can only sort of see Remi's photographs in a sideways sneaky fashion! Would love to see them properly, as the sneaky peaks looks amazing. Virginia x

  3. Dear Heather
    What an exciting and interesting day for you and congratulations to Reni on his excellent photography.
    The lunch, with the deleicious meals contributed by each person must have been very special and maningful.

  4. Congratulations to Remi. How very exciting!

    ~ Clare x

  5. Ok - snarky.
    : )

    Sounds like a great day, and you are clearly so proud of Remi! Congrats, Remi! And thanks, H, for making us feel as if we were there!

  6. Thank you so much everyone! It was indeed a wonderful day and I am still beaming with pride! And that includes for my talented friends as well--yes, Jane and Lance they are patient with my lack of knowledge. :)

    Virginia, take a look at the Blue Fruit email please. And how lovely of you to want to see more! As for the complex, it is just a plain old apartment building with shops down below. We actually met one of the architects and he was mentioning some of the ideas that he had to maybe keep one corner of the property as it is at the end of the dig--ie showing the layers of time. As for the objects, the best will go to the museum in Nimes, the rest will be stored in INRAP's wharehouses. And yes, this process of protecting the history is so worthwhile, even if it is time consuming. The archeologists have learned so much!

    Thanks Helen and Clare--and my silly Sister.

    Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

  7. You must have had quite the day and it all looks so wonderful right down to the potluck lunch, how wonderful. The archeological finds are amazing and yes it’s hard to believe they survived intact under ground. You have a right to be proud of your Remi for sharing history.

    P.S. I took your birthday advice but went one step farther spread my birthday out to two

  8. Beautiful post MADAME..once again.How very exciting for you and the hubby!Loved spying REMI.Dont think I have seen a photo of him yet!
    Love how you always include food in the pics!Keep them coming!

  9. This week absolutely evaporated so my apologies Debra and Madame La Contessa. And yes, you have seen him before but he a handsome devil! And yes, I know that I need to talk more about food, especially as we cook so much. Debra, perhaps next year aim for birthday week? :)

    PS. Remi reminded me of something rather important--the building that is being constructed on the site is actually a big project--the architect that we met is from the office of Sir Norman Foster! Oops...journalistic habits slipping I see...

  10. Chère Heather,
    Comme je n'ai pas l'adresse mail de Rémi (mais seulement l'adresse de ses deux sites), je passe par toi pour vous tenir l'un et l'autre au courant de la fin des fouilles archéologiques sur le site des Carmes. Nous avons travaillé activement jusqu'à vendredi 21 octobre pour achever d'exploiter toutes les informations du sous-sol, en particulier pour terminer la fouille des puits. Malheureusement ceux-ci n'ont rien donné. Le premier, antique, n'a pas servi très longtemps et très peu de chose étaient conservées au fond si ce n'est l'amphore qui servait à puiser l'eau. Le second, antique aussi, n'a peut-être pas servi du tout, ou bien très peu. Il s'est très vite dégradé avec des effondrements de paroi qui l'on colmaté. Rien n'est tombé dedans avant que les effondrements ne se produisent. Nous avons été très déçus, d'autant que nous espérions y trouver quelques éléments d'architecture des mausolées. Enfin, nous avons abandonné la fouille du puits médiéval car nous l'avons trouvé très dégradé et trop dangereux.
    En dépit de cette note finale un peu pauvre, l'ensemble de l'opération de fouille aura été particulièrement fructueuse et nous repartons tous satisfaits. Ce fut une belle expérience.
    Merci à vous pour votre participation. Rémi, nous te ferons signe à nouveau quand les objets sortis des fouilles setont présentables. Tu jugeras s'ils sont photogéniques.
    A bientôt,


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