As well as our hosts at Pierrefitte Nestalas being warm and lovely people with a family of beautiful and friendly children, I was excited when Frédéric and Christele told us they had built the gîte, and even more when Frédéric proudly told us Christele is an artist and it is her creative input that had made it so special.
Frédéric speaks English well, but Christele is not so fluent. Still, we managed using Franglais, lots of gestures and ‘showing’ things. Frédéric and Myrtille Helped at times. (Myrtille is their 14 year old daughter who is learning English at school and seems gifted in languages.) Then when all else failed, we’d use Google translate on the computer.
Christele began studying architecture in Strasbourg, but was more attracted to the art and design side of things and switched after the first year and completed her art degree majoring in ceramics. She studied in a range of art media, as is usual (including glass, which appeals a lot to me) but found what she really likes best is working with ceramics. Her work is inspired by nature and Art Nouveau, in particular the work of Alphonse Maria Mucha and the art nouveau in Nancy where she continued her studies and she and Frédéric met and fell in love. I love this period of art too – the fluid lines, patterns and detail, the use of colour, and just its sheer beauty and mystique.
Somehow, while caring for an active family, Christele belongs to a watercolour group and also works on art commissions, enjoying the variety and challenges of creating for specific purposes. She had just received a commission from the local Mairie to create a fountain in the Pierrefitte Nestalas town park, and generously took the time to share her process with me (and us).
Everywhere you go in the town of Pierrefitte Nestalas you can hear water running, or rushing – even when at times you can’t see it. The name Nestalas comes from the old name nestes used for rivers in the Pyrenees. Pierrefitte actually means boundary stone, or marking stone. So the name of the town signifies that this is the junction of two rivers fed by the mountains, and the junction of the roads and rail between Lourdes and roads and rail (which follow the rivers) going up to Cauterets and Luz Saint Sauveur in the surrounding mountains. The train went when the mining industry left the town, the old tracks being replaced by cycle paths. But a new tramway is being built and much anticipated by the community as it will improve transport for the between all of these towns, and enhance access for tourists, cyclists and pilgrims to the area.
As this is the 110th year anniversary of Pierrefitte Nestalas, the fountain will be ‘inaugurated’ by the Mayor at a town fete with suitable celebration, band playing, cycle racing, and a host of other activities.
Being commissioned to create the fountain is an honour, and in her creation, Christele wants to honour this heritage, the importance of the community – its life and energy – as well as the natural beauty of the mountains, rivers, animals and flora.
Again, we were really sad to leave this beautiful place and new friends. But I really hope to come back and see the fountain myself one day. And if you visit the Pyrenees, (and you’re crazy if you don’t) be sure to go and see it!