Postcards from the front

Sorry for the delay, but a host of activities — including hosting our friend John from Toronto — has delayed my blogging for a few days. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to go back to last Tuesday,  November 11, and showcase our village’s Armistice Day ceremony. It was a special one.

Jour Armistice is always celebrated solemnly in France, but the holiday carried even more weight this year, because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This year, what made Daglan’s ceremony all the more special was the involvement of children from our local school.

The day was just about perfect for the ceremony, because the temperature was cool but not cold, and the sky was overcast. In other words, it’s what you would expect for a November day.

Here’s how it all began, with the school kids lined up in front of the war memorial, and a veteran  leading the procession into place:

The flag bearer passes before the war memorial, and the school kids.

The flag bearer passes before the war memorial, and the school kids.

Each Armistice Day, a prepared speech is read by mayors all across France — outlining the history of the conflict, and what it means for France today. Here is Daglan’s Mayor, Pascal Dussol, reading to the crowd:

Daglan's Mayor addresses the crowd.

Daglan’s Mayor addresses the crowd.

The Mayor is followed by a veteran, who reads out the names of the local people who were lost in both World Wars. After each name is read, the crowd murmurs the same words — Mort pour la France, “Died for France.” Here’s the veteran, reading the long list of names:

Reading out the names of those "morts pour la France."

Reading out the names of those “morts pour la France.”

Then it was the children’s turn, and their performances occupied most of the ceremony. They led the crowd in singing France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise, and later performed several other songs. But the highlight was when the children, one by one, took turns reading excerpts from postcards and letters written by soldiers from the area during the Great War. (Fortunately, the organizers had provided a sound system for the kids, so they could be heard pretty well.) Here’s a look at them:

Daglan's school kids take part in the ceremony.

Daglan’s school kids take part in the ceremony.

This year, the ceremony started at 10 a.m., instead of the more traditional 11 a.m., to allow time for the children’s participation. At about 10:30, the sun finally broke through the clouds, lighting up the scene like this:

Halfway through the ceremony, the sun broke through the clouds.

Halfway through the ceremony, the sun broke through the clouds.

At about noon, my wife Jan, our house guest John, and I joined other friends and neighbours at the salle des fêtes for a community lunch to honour the former soldiers. As always, when there are multiple courses and an unending supply of both white and red wine, the lunch lasted most of the afternoon.

Posted in French government and politics, History in France, History in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | 2 Comments

Glimpses of autumn

The transition to November has been smooth and beautiful, because the weather yesterday (November 1) was as sunny and warm as it’s been for pretty much all of October. In this brief posting,  I’m just going to offer a few glimpses of the scenery in and around Daglan, now that we’re clearly in autumn.

First, a quick reminder of Friday night — Halloween. My wife Jan and I were all set for quite a few trick-or-treaters, and were disappointed with the results. First came two kids; then, three more; then, nothing. Grand total, despite good weather: five kids. You can’t accuse us of not trying — we did have lots of candy, and our jack-o-lantern was glowing on the front steps. Here he is:

Glowing on our front steps.

Glowing on our front steps.

But that was then, and this is now. Yesterday morning I went for a walk on the back road that connects Daglan and Castelnaud, and then decided to do some sightseeing by car, with camera in hand. Here’s  a look at a few of the sights I saw.

First, here’s a view along the road,  looking up towards the hamlet of Le Peyruzel at the top of the hill in the distance:

This is the road that runs north from Daglan, with Le Peyruzel high above.

The road that runs north from Daglan, with Le Peyruzel on the hill above.

As I’ve written before, autumn colours in the Greater Daglan Area are generally not as bright and dramatic as the show put on by North American trees, because we don’t have the maples that provide bursts of orange and red. So yellows tend to be the dominant colours here, as you’ll see on this huge specimen of a tree at the end of the parking lot at Daglan’s salle des fêtes, or community hall:

A massive tree just starting to show its autumn colours.

A massive tree just starting to show its autumn colours.

However, we do see the occasional bursts of red — like the leaves on this large shrub:

Brilliant red leaves are rare in the Greater Daglan Area.

Brilliant red leaves like this are rare in Daglan in autumn.

Some trees, in fact, have already lost their leaves completely — like the stand of tall trees (poplars, I believe) that you can see beyond the small pedestrian bridge that crosses the Céou River along the edge of the village:

Over the river, a stand of trees with their leaves already gone.

Over the river, a stand of trees with their leaves already gone.

And to close out this photographic review, here’s a lovely scene on the Céou River:

A tranquil scene on the Céou River.

A tranquil scene on the Céou River.

No doubt there’s rain on its way — after all, we’re now in November — but we’ve really had a great run of beautiful weather. So, no complaints here.

Final note: Sure enough, when we awoke this morning (Sunday), it was raining.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

This is Halloween?

Well, I do actually know that today is Halloween. The sky is darkening as I write this; there are candies in a bowl in the kitchen, waiting for the kids to arrive; and our carved pumpkin is on the front steps.

But the Halloweens I remember — whether they were spent in Toronto or here in Daglan — tended to be cool if not cold, and often rainy. Completely unlike today.

Today, for lunch, we drove to Trémolat (less than an hour from Daglan) for lunch with friends Elisabeth and Gerhard at Le Vieux Logis, which has rightfully earned a Michelin star. Okay, I’ve reviewed the restaurant often enough that I’m not going to rave even slightly about the food. But here’s the miracle of today: We ate outside! And it was absolutely beautiful!

So here’s a view from our table, just after we sat down, just before the glasses of Champagne arrived:

Looking out over the lawn at Le Vieux Logis.

Looking out over the lawn at Le Vieux Logis.

Now, how pretty is that? Doesn’t really make you think of Halloween, does it?

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A lovely few days Down South

A full week ago, my wife and I took a mini-vacation Down South — in the resort town of Biarritz, tucked into the southwest corner of France — and I’ve been meaning to write about our trip ever since. In a word, it was lovely.

Biarritz lies on the Atlantic Ocean, and is about 320 kilometres south and west of our home base in Daglan. It’s  on the Basque Coast, a part of France we had never visited — and which turned out to be charming and beautiful.

For Jan and me, getting there was easy. We chose to take the train, rather than drive, and so we travelled by regional train from Le Buisson to Bordeaux. After a nice lunch break in Bordeaux, it was south to Biarritz on the TGV, the high-speed train.

And once we were settled in our beautiful hotel room, these are the kinds of ocean views we could enjoy:

From pool - 1

Looking up the beach towards the lighthouse.

Looking up the beach towards the lighthouse.

So what could we possibly find to do for three or four days? Well, our hotel had beautiful spa facilities, so we took advantage of them. And then of course, there was the dining. That included meals in our hotel (Sofitel Biarritz Le Miramar Thalassa Sea & Spa — how’s that for a mouthful?), but also in Biarritz itself.

On Saturday night, for example, we enjoyed tapas in the lively and welcoming Bar Jean. And for Sunday lunch, we headed to Chez Albert, where seafood is king.

Here’s an example of a seafood platter that had just been put together at Chez Albert (although not for us):

A seafood platter at Chez Albert.

A seafood platter at Chez Albert.

And here’s another of the platters, just waiting to be taken to a table:

Another Chez Albert platter.

Another Chez Albert platter.

To begin her lunch, Jan ordered a whole crab served cold with mayonnaise. Here it is:

Jan's entrée, on ice.

Jan’s entrée, on ice.

For my main course, I had the dorade, served with a Spanish sauce:

My main course -- fish with a Spanish sauce.

My main course — fish with a Spanish sauce.

Of course, man does not live by seafood alone. What would a nice lunch be, without dessert? And so this is the creation I had:

What could possibly be wrong with this for dessert? Nothing.

What could possibly be wrong with this for dessert? Nothing.

It’s a fair bet that we’ll be back in Biarritz again. Lovely spot.

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Beauty on the plate

As I wrote in a recent posting,  the Greater Daglan Area was basking in beautiful late-summer weather at the end of September, when our friend Robin stayed with my wife Jan and me.

So when the three of us visited the restaurant Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat (back on Wednesday, September 24), we had the pleasure of sitting outside, under the trees. We were there for the “tapas” lunch, which refers to many small courses and not to anything Spanish.

That day,  I thought that the mix of sunshine and shadows  made all our plates look especially inviting. In this posting, I’ll keep the words to a minimum — I think I’ve written often enough about how good the Michelin-starred Le Vieux Logis is — and just show off some lovely food on the plates.

I’ll begin at the beginning, with an entrée of foie gras:

Shadows play on the foie gras plate.

Shadows play on the foie gras plate.

Then came this serving of cold poached lobster with pieces of tomato:

Perfectly poached lobster.

Perfectly poached lobster.

Then we were served this unusual dish, built around slices of artichoke hearts in a flavourful jelly:

An unusual dish built around artichoke hearts.

An unusual dish built around artichoke hearts.

The three of us particularly enjoyed the next dish, a piece of roast fish, served with a rich sauce and topped with a slice of succulent beef marrow:

Roast fish, topped with a slice of marrow.

Roast fish, topped with a slice of marrow.

For the main meat course, we were served roast veal, like this:

Roast veal as a main meat course.

Roast veal as a main meat course.

Each time we’ve eaten at Le Vieux Logis, the cheese course is far from the ordinary French serving — which is usually two or three pieces of cheese on a plate. This was a creamy, whipped dish of cheese:

Not your classical cheese course in France.

Not your classical cheese course in France.

And then came desserts. First was this amazing creation of meringue balls, swirled with chestnut purée:

A beautiful and delicate dessert.

A beautiful and delicate dessert.

Next came a refreshing sorbet with fresh strawberries:

Refreshing best describes this dessert.

Refreshing best describes this dessert.

And should you end a meal with chocolate? Well, I think the answer should be obvious here:

Nothing wrong with a small tray of chocolate goodies.

Nothing wrong with a small tray of chocolate goodies.

After lingering over coffees, we drove on to the town of Bergerac, to wander around the old area known as Vieux Bergerac. Still, it was the memory of a wonderful lunch that remained in my mind.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The raptors of the château

At the end of September, while our friend Robin was staying with us in Daglan, we enjoyed a great spell of sunny weather. So on Friday, Sept. 26, we took advantage of the sunshine and spent a good part of our morning at one of the area’s best tourist attractions, Château des Milandes, just north of Castelnaud.

This beautiful château, built in 1489, was bought in 1947 by Josephine Baker, the Afro-American dancer and singer who moved to Paris, became famous and wealthy, and played an important role in the Resistance in World War II (among other accomplishments).

My wife Jan and I have toured the castle several times (and recommend it to anyone visiting the Greater Daglan Area), so our friend Robin visited the château by herself. Meanwhile, Jan and I walked to the back of the castle for the raptors show — an interesting and informal presentation of various birds of prey, some European and some from other parts of the world. And what follows is a quick look at what we saw.

We’ll start with the Lapland Owl, shown here with the keeper who led most of the show:

The Lapland Owl meets the audience.

The Lapland Owl meets the audience.

And here’s the owl showing off its flying skills (in return for some fresh chicken meat):

Showing off its flying skills.

Showing off its flying skills.

A somewhat smaller bird is the Northern White-Faced Owl, shown here fluttering into the audience:

The Northern White-Faced Owl makes a landing.

The Northern White-Faced Owl makes a landing.

And here he is again, this time sitting on the bleachers just in front of Jan and me:

The owl gets up close and a bit personal.

The owl gets up close and a bit personal.

To demonstrate the flying and hunting skills of falcons, a Lanner Falcon was brought into our area:

Bringing in the Lanner Falcon.

Bringing in the Lanner Falcon.

After zooming over our heads quite a few times, the falcon finally caught the piece of chicken that was used as bait, and took it to ground. There it assumed the classic “mantle” pose adopted by falcons to protect the food they’ve caught. Here it is:

Protecting the food it caught in the air.

Protecting the food it caught in the air.

Once the show was over, we chatted with one of the keepers for a while (for years, Jan was active in the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, and knows her falcons) and then met up with Robin — who came away highly impressed with the Josephine Baker story. And then the three of us drove up to Sarlat for a superb lunch at the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu. But then you knew that, didn’t you? I covered it in “Dish du jour — 5/10/2014.” If you missed that posting, have a look.

 

Posted in History in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The tale of the tape

Suddenly, there is plastic tape everywhere. Throughout the Greater Daglan Area, or GDA, it’s been hung from post to post, along roads and driveways.

If the tape were yellow, you’d think that the most of the GDA had become a crime scene.

But it’s not yellow tape — it’s red-and-white plastic, fluttering in the breeze.

One example is a long stretch of tape hung beside the road that leads to the garbage and recycling bins behind the Daglan Rugby Club’s clubhouse. Here’s how it looked this morning:

Red and white plastic tape, fluttering beside a road.

Red and white plastic tape, fluttering beside a road.

So what’s the reason? It’s simple: The tape is marking off walnut groves, and is meant to keep unauthorized walnut gatherers away from the trees, and the nuts that have fallen to the ground beneath them.

The rule is that walnuts found on a road are fair game: They can be picked up by anyone. But the walnuts lying within the groves themselves belong only to the owners of the trees.

So in short, all the red-and-white tape we’re seeing these days is a sure sign that the walnut harvest is about to get under way. Unauthorized pickers: beware!

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments