West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Old stones, new stones

9 juin 2011


We start with the old stones of the castle in Talmont.  Its construction started in the XIth century.  It is marked by the presence of its most famous owner, Richard the Lion Hearted, one of the kings of England whose native tongue was French and who knew no English.


Our guide, Marine, dressed in medieval garb, takes us through the history of the castle.



Our Vendéens are not the only students eager to learn about medieval times.  Pictured on the right is another class, though the students, aged 3, attend a local Kindergarten school.  It is customary for French school children to begin class trips to museums and historical sites at a very early age. 


We are done with the visit of the castle and our group poses for Dr. Orlikoff and... the press!  But more on this later...



After learning about the castle, we get to have a taste of royal food.  Coralie explains the importance of spices in medieval food.  Spices, newly imported from the Middle East during the Crusades, were not used to mask the taste of rotten meat, as many of us learned in school; rather, they had a much nobler purpose: to impress friends and visitors.  The richer the lord, the spicier the food.

Along with the gâche and the pain d'épices, we sample hard cider (or locally-grown apple juice).  Do not worry, our kindergarten friends will not partake of the cider.


Our group seems to be enjoying the medieval sampling, eating a snack on our way to lunch.



We gather in the restaurant Le Green, located... on a golf course (not a medieval pass-time).


The first course, a salade césar, holds little resemblance to its American counterpart.



Our chicken is not as banal as it may appear--it is the famous poulet de Challand, a local delicacy.


Our dessert is a surprising offering--carpaccio of pineapple with caramel sauce and coconut ice-cream.  Well enjoyed by all!



Our afternoon adventure takes us to the CAIRN, a center for Neolithic research.  Sam is put to work conditioning a hide with a flint tool. 


Holly is a bit tall for this dolmen, but she doesn't seem to mind...  The CAIRN is where we learn more about the new stones of the Neolithic.



Here, I wear my clever disguise. I thought I was safe as menhir woman, until Dr. Orlikoff finds me out.


We have had the pleasure of working with Joe for over twelve years, and each time, he becomes a favorite with the Vendéens.  Here, he holds a Neolithic whisk in his left hand, and a flint in his right.



He has just demonstrated flint knapping in front of us and has created this serrated-edged tool.


Our next adventure takes us outside, and we rest for a while, waiting for Joe to return.



And here he is, explaining the importance of this booster, used to increase the speed and distance of a javelin.  Most handy when chasing animals from afar (notice the wild beast cut-out against the haystack). 


It's a good thing we had a good lunch, because Joe will never quite hit what he told us would be our dinner.



In our last adventure, we will watch Joe play with fire.  First, he shows us how to start a fire by rubbing two pieces of different soft woods together (here, ivy and linden tree),


It works very well, but the smoke can be overwhelming. . .



The second method consists of creating a spark by rubbing a flint stone against a piece of pyrite stone.  The tinder used here is a piece of amadou, a tree fungus abundant in the region.


This house is a Celtic house, from a much later time period, although the building materials and concepts are similar to that of a Neolithic dwelling.


A traditional Vendéen pose--everyone in the cairn.


We say goodbye to Joe.


On our way home, we stop to admire a real menhir, erected in Neolithic times.


We then stop along the road to inspect a 7,000 year-old dolmen in situ.  Amazing!


Apparently, one is never too old to play hide and seek (I am speaking of the Vendéens, but it could also apply to the 7,000-year old dolmen).


This was a very pleasant day, wasn't it girls?


At the end of the day, we are raising the roof!  Way to go, Vendéens!

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