Sunday, May 2:  L’Isle-en-Dodon, Toulouse

We woke as early as breakfast would allow, and had a breakfast downstairs that was just right. Then out the door for a 10 AM brunch at Nelly Campbell’s home. Nelly is a native of France, who lived in Gig Harbor and worked in Tacoma for many years. Her Gig Harbor home is less than a mile from ours, if you were to kayak there. On the road, its a bit further. She has always split time between Tacoma and Toulouse, but with her two boys now in college, she spends more time in Toulouse. As Terry promised us at breakfast, we did find one flower shop along the way, so we were able to contribute something to the party. But I think there was only the one shop open along the whole route, since it is Sunday. Nelly’s directions were perfect and we went directly to her apartment, overlooking Port Sud, a small harbor off the Midi Canal (which links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean).

Brunch was perfect also and we enjoyed the company of her son Nick, companion Louis, and fellow satellite scientist Dianne, visiting from Hampton College. Nick took the boys down to the canal for some duck-feeding as the meal wound down. (Photo 88)

I’d emailed Nelly a web page link describing a house in L’Isle-en-Dodon listed as Villepigue House, and containing a reference to Pierre-Germaine Villepigue, listed as father of Paul Francis Villepigue. Paul Francis was born in Haiti in 1795, and is one of my ancestors. After the slave revolts in Haiti, this part of the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina. One of their descendants is Corporal John C. Villepigue, who was born in Camden, South Carolina in March 1896 and received the (Congressional) Medal of Honor for action in World War I near Vaux-Andigny, France on 15 October 1918. I’ll describe the rest of the Villepigue connection later. (Photo 87) (Photo 92)

Armed only with an Internet photo of the house, we drove to L’Isle-en-Dodon, with Nick in our car as local route guide and cell phone contact. Louis drove Nelly and Dianne in his car, with us following close (sometimes very close) behind. In L’Isle-en-Dodon, we parked near the center of town, which was very quiet on Sunday during a holiday weekend. Louis approached the first person he saw, a younger man walking with his young son who was riding his small bike. He recognized the house immediately, and said he’d walk us there. Through the square, down a narrow side street, and we popped out at a main intersection with the house on one corner. Voila! As it appeared in the picture, the house was unoccupied. The young man and Louis talked at length, and then the man offered to go a block or so further to consult with an older resident of the town. After much prodding through the mail slot, eventually an 81 year old woman came to the door. She was very helpful and interested and eventually invited us all in to sit in her backyard. We went over the various materials I had, but she wasn’t able to provide much more new information about the house’s past or its present owner. (Photo 86)

In the excitement of locating the house so easily, we forgot all about visiting the town cemetery. From here, Louis took over as tour guide, with a zeal that would rival Pat in Rome or Florence. We drove to Simorre along extremely picturesque minor roads, and the fields on the rolling hills had the same unreal qualify we’d first seen in Tuscany. In Simorre, we visited the town church, dating to 1300. We had it all to ourselves and it was as beautiful and ancient as many of the other churches we have seen. Robert correctly deciphered most of the wood-carved panel adorning the choir.

The need of a toilet prompted a snack stop at the Mon Cafe, where we had coffee, tea and ice cream. The boys played with a local dog (having just visited a nearby pet bunny), while the adults lounged outside in the sun, with the town square to ourselves. When I commented to Louis about finding public bathrooms in Europe, he told me a story about when the astronaut and US Senator, John Glenn, visited him once in Paris and mentioned that one should always use the public facilities in Europe when one had the chance. Glenn then told Louis that he’d learned that from John Kennedy. We also had a fun conversation about Louis’ friendship with Buzz Aldrin (second man on the moon), and Dianne’s professional contacts with Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon).

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Photo 86  Louis and Local Woman
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Photo 87  Villepigue House
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Photo 88  Nick, Nelly, Louis
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Photo 89  Jacobin Cloisters
Back on the road, we passed through Gimont, where the market area is covered by a large wooden roof that spans the main road, and then into Toulouse. The central city was closed to traffic to allow only pedestrian traffic, so we crossed the river twice in search of a parking garage. Louis, waited carefully for us at turns and the like, but it still required concentration to cope with the city traffic and stay in contact.

Our first stop was the Romanesque basilica of St. Sernin, another beautiful church that has been carefully restored. Pat and the boys visited the extensive shrines to various saints (27 in all?), complete with relics.

Next stop, the Capitolium and its large square. Louis told us that the buildings surrounding the square had all been recently refurbished. The consistency of the architecture, the gilding on the Capitolium, and the size of the square all combined to remind me of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Nick gave the boys piggy-back rides, at times simultaneously, while Robert continued to employ Nick as his personal punching-bag. The entryway of the Capitolium contained a simple, but very noticeable, marker on the ground where Duc Montmorency had been executed on 30 October 1632 -- I’ll have to get the history behind that one. Upstairs there were two huge picture galleries, the first containing pictures by Martin that appeared to be of the Impressionist style. The selection in the other gallery was more varied, though I particularly liked the depiction of Pope Urban II entering Toulouse. Louis commented that they often used this space for receptions and the like at conferences.

One more stop on the Toulouse itinerary -- the Abbey at the Church of the Les Jacobins. (Photo 89) We hustled there, fearing an approaching closing time (turned out it was open an hour longer than speculated). This church contains the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas, and is the centerpiece of the interior. The architecture of this church was especially interesting -- main columns run down the very center of the long axis and sprout ribs of archs. The ribs are a maroon color and give the appearance of being the leaves of a palm tree. Each of the ten or so columns has eight ribs, while the very front column has sixteen to support the grander arches there. The cloisters were well-maintained and we lingered there for a while.

Nelly and Louis invented us to follow them out of Toulouse back to Port Sud for a drink and a quick bite to eat. Since the boys had only had an ice cream bar since brunch, the chance to refuel them was welcome. The leftovers came back out and we made simple sandwiches and devoured the remainder of the cakes and fruit. Nick set me up for a quick email session, while Louis prepped Pat on the sights to see around Sarlat, an area where he lived as a young man.

It was a great day of visiting and touring with Nelly and Louis as great hosts. And it was fun to get to know Nick and he was great with the boys. A definite high point in our travels.