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 time...in the future!