Say “Toulouse” and most people think “Airbus”.
Partially because of that, it’s now the fourth largest city in France (after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, in that order). It’s the center of the country’s aerospace industry, the place where the Galileo spacecraft’s positioning system was developed, as well as the Ariane rocket, and it’s the headquarters of France’s section of the European Space Agency.
As futuristic as all that sounds, Toulouse is also home to one of Europe’s oldest universities (founded in 1229), which gives the city deep roots.
Until the Revolution, France was broken up into provinces. Languedoc was one of them, and Toulouse was its capital, so the city is not a newcomer. Even before that, the Romans built it up from a mere military outpost into a city. When the Visigoths overran them, it became their regional capital. And when the Franks in turn took over from them, it became their capital. Its location on the Garonne River probably enhanced its attractiveness.
So much for history.
This time I’m going to do it though. This time I’ve traveled down just for that. (Well, that and to see my old friend who also finds the situation unacceptable and has volunteered to be my guide.) This time it’s February, but I have gloves and a Michigan-winter coat and boots. In short, I have The Right Stuff!
Next stop is Notre-Dame du Taur, a brick church with the typical flat fronton of the region. This is where the first university started, run by Jacobins, and it’s all that’s left of the convent complex. Unfortunately - perhaps - it’s lunchtime and the doors are locked.
It takes me two courses to get through my “appetizer” alone: two types of ham (cured and dried), French salami, a huge hunk of pork pâté and the miraculous rillettes d’oie, a moist, spreadable, richer-than-rich pâté of shredded goose that is one of the wonders of France. (Be advised: pickles do not come with cold meats here, as they do elsewhere in France.) And all this - two plates, a main course, a bottle of wine and that Quinquina apéritif - for a third of the price such a feast would cost in Paris. Unbelievable. And unbelievably delicious.
We easily spend well over an hour in the museum. There’s way too much to see in one trip, so I guess I’m going to have to go back. (As for the tower, no one is allowed up in it any more, and believe me, I wheedled and pleaded.)
We detour into the Capitole itself, the city hall, elegant within its brick-and-stone walls. Frescos are everywhere and we go up the majestic stairway to see the salon where happy couples from Toulouse are married by the mayor. The view of the square below is even more striking from up here.
Not to mention another meal at Père Louis!
Jazzy singer Claude Nougaro wrote a song about his native Toulouse, which he loved dearly. Here it is, complete with a video show: