A Christmas work-in-progress

As we left Daglan this morning for a shopping trip to Sarlat, we drove up through the main square and past the war memorial, just in front of the restaurant  Le Petit Paris. Grouped in front of the large tree that grows there was the village tractor, a crane, and a small knot of people that included our Mayor.

“Aha!” I observed to my wife Jan. “The game’s afoot!”

(Okay, I didn’t really say that. It was more like “Looks like they’re doing something.”)

And sure enough, as we re-entered Daglan a couple of hours later, we saw what turned out to be a work-in-progress — namely, a sleigh full of Christmas presents, perched in the centre of the tree. Like this:

What's that? A sleigh in the tree?

What’s that? A sleigh in the tree?

Once we had unloaded our parcels at home, I returned to the square to take these photos, and found our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, admiring the work.

So I congratulated him on this “bonne idée” and said it looked lovely. M. Dussol thanked me, but quickly added that the decoration wasn’t complete — a biche (deer) was to be added in front of the sleigh, plus a set of Christmas lights. So I’ll have to return to let you see this new (for Daglan) bit of Christmas whimsy. Stay tuned.

Also on the Christmas-decoration front, the main village tree is now in place and decorated, and here it is:

Behold! Daglan's main Christmas tree for 2014.

Behold! Daglan’s main Christmas tree for 2014.

Okay, it probably won’t win the World Christmas Tree Competition, but it’s a lot better than the poor thing we had in the village square last year. Here’s what I wrote in a blog posting early in January of this year, just after the 2013 Christmas season had passed:

I’m not certain, but it could be our village’s attempt to create a new tourist attraction — something that would rival the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa.

It’s the arbre de Noël in Daglan’s main square, which I’ve described previously as possibly “the world’s scrawniest Christmas tree” (see “We’re dreaming of a wet Christmas,” posted December 22).

Here we are on January 2 of a new year, and the tree has not only surrendered to some strong winds in the past week or two, but has refused any remedial treatment. (Either that, or the village workers aren’t even trying.)

And here is how the poor thing looked:In this view, it's leaning to the right.

The poor creature of Christmas 2013.

So things have progressed in a year. And it’s great to be eye witness to progress like this, isn’t it?

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Roast duckling and other tidbits

On this past weekend, Canadian friends were celebrating Grey Cup Sunday. You may have missed it — you know, the annual Canadian Football League championship game. This year, the Calgary Stampeders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Oh, that Grey Cup.) But here in Daglan, my wife Jan and I were celebrating St. Andrew’s Day.

You may not know about St. Andrew’s Day any better than you understand Canada’s Grey Cup Sunday.  In any case, it’s Scotland’s official national day, and Jan was born in Scotland, so that’s enough for us.

Knowing that the day was approaching, some time ago we started wondering: What shall we have for Sunday lunch? We were hoping for a true Scottish meal.

Of course our lunch had to include the traditional “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes). But what of the main event — a prime rib of beef? Given our views of  French beef (very chewy and pretty expensive, given that it seems to have been taken from a frozen mastodon), we thought that maybe a roast chicken would be the answer. Then, lightning struck.

On a visit to the boutique of Fabrice le Chef, here in central Daglan, Jan discovered that on Sunday morning, Chef would be selling roast ducklings, all ready to eat. So she ordered a canette rôtie. When she brought it home, she simply wrapped it in some foil and heated it in our oven and, voilà:

Roasted, warmed, and ready to be carved.

Roasted, warmed, and ready to be carved.

This may not seem unusual to you, since the Greater Daglan Area lies in the very heart of Duck Country, but we don’t find roast duckling on the menu as often as you would in North America. More commonly, we are served confit de canard (duck legs) and prepared dishes like duck meat made into a sort of shepherd’s pie.

In any case, Chef had stuffed this particular canette with olives, and it came out of the oven perfectly, with moist meat and crispy skin. Here’s how it looked on my plate, with the neeps and tatties, and with a simple sauce we made out of blueberry-and-cassis preserves, heated in the microwave with chopped walnuts and some Grand Marnier:

On the plate, with blueberry and walnut sauce.

On the plate, with blueberry and walnut sauce.

Unfortunately we were unable to find a Scottish wine (Château d’Haggis), so we made do with this pinot noir from Burgundy:

A wine from Burgundy went well with the duck.

A wine from Burgundy went well with the duck.

All in all, the meal was delicious. So was the dessert, which consisted of pears that Jan had poached in white wine and honey, and then served with whipped mascarpone cheese that she flavoured with brandy.

Poached pear and a base of whipped mascarpone.

Poached pear and a base of whipped mascarpone.

On behalf of the entire staff of Radio Free Daglan (both of us), here’s hoping that you had a very good Sunday too — whether it was Grey Cup Sunday or St. Andrew’s Day or just a day of rest.

Shopping tidbits

It now turns out that Daglan’s new-and-improved convenience store is not open on Mondays at this time of year, despite what I wrote in my blog posting of November 27. The promotional card we received, trumpeting the store’s reopening, said that it would be open all through the week, but yesterday the 8 à Huit was shut as tight as a drum. Presumably Monday shopping will resume once winter is behind us.

On another shopping note, we drove past the mini-supermarket in Cénac this morning, and found that the store still had the Shopi sign on its front. Since it is supposed to reopen as a Carrefour tomorrow, work crews still have some heavy lifting to do.


Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Walking among the hunters

We’re now in hunting season, and I have to say that hunters in the Greater Daglan Area seem to be a fairly responsible bunch. They always hold their rifles and shotguns carefully, and I’ve never seen one riding through our village on horseback, yelling “Yahoo!” and firing into the air. (Phew.)

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to get between a hunter and a running deer that he was tracking.

So naturally I was a bit nervous yesterday afternoon as I set out on my usual one-kilometre stroll with Nordic walking poles. As I started off,  I realized that I would have to walk right past two older gentlemen who were armed with rifles, standing in a clear patch under a small grove of walnut trees, while waiting for their dogs to flush some game down from the hills.

The scene was the back road,  or cycle path if you prefer, that runs north from Daglan to St. Cybranet. It’s where I park my car and then walk a measured 500 metres, turn around, and walk back to the car. This is part of my exercise regime as I attempt to recover fully from the major back surgery I had in April.

It was easy to see that I would have to pass directly next to the hunters, because they always wear bright orange safety vests. So you can spot them from quite a distance.

As I approached, I could hear their dogs barking, high above us on the forested hill. I nodded politely and and wished the hunters  a good day and good luck with la chasse, and silently hoped that the dogs wouldn’t come charging down the hill any time soon, baying at a deer. All went well.

On the return trip, back to the car, I had to pass them again, of course. This time, the baying of the dogs was even louder, and soon after I passed the hunters, I heard what sounded like a gun being cocked. Gulp.

In the end, no shots were fired, and I was back at my car safe and sound.

And in case you’re wondering why there are no photos with this posting, it’s because I didn’t think it seemed very politic to pull out a camera and start shooting pictures. After all, the hunters weren’t shooting at me.


Posted in Exercise and fitness, Life in southwest France, Walking in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Shopping Forecast — smoother sailing ahead

If you have any experience in the U.K., you may know that the indispensable way to learn about the weather for fishing areas is “The Shipping Forecast,”which is broadcast on radio by the BBC. But my title for today’s blog posting is not a typo.

That’s because this blog posting is about some welcome improvements in the shopping scene in the Greater Daglan Area, or GDA.

I realize that this posting may be of absolutely no interest if you don’t live in the GDA, or own a holiday home here, or regularly visit. But if you’re in any of those three categories, you’ll be delighted to learn about  some improvements in our shopping experience.

I should explain that shopping (and driving) is a big part of our daily lives, in part because Daglan isn’t exactly teeming with stores. There are large supermarkets in both Sarlat and Gourdon, each of which is 20 or so kilometres away. There’s a mini-supermarket in Cénac, about 10 kilometres away. And there’s Daglan’s own convenience store, the 8 à Huit.

Of course there are smaller specialty stores nearby, such as the boutique of Fabrice le Chef (meats, cheeses and prepared foods) in Daglan, as well as bakeries and garden centres. But for basics like orange juice, paper towels and butter, it’s a question of either walking to the 8 à Huit or getting in the car for a longer drive.

All that explains why locals were delighted to receive this card in the mail recently:

"Discover your new store!" shouts the card.

“Discover your new store!” shouts the card.

Yes, there’s been a complete remodeling of the Huit à 8, located on the village’s main square. This project has been the talk of Daglan for more than a week, and Tuesday night saw the grand opening of the new and improved store.

Interestingly, the actual footprint of the store hasn’t been enlarged, but it seems quite a bit larger. The whole set-up and arrangement of the store has been greatly improved, more shelving has been installed, everything’s been polished and painted and prettied up, and more products are on offer. Here’s a look at some of the bright signage you’ll see around the store now:

Bright green signs are now all over the place.

Bright green signs are now all over the place.

And here’s a look at the enlarged cooler for perishable products:

Keeping things cool.

Keeping things cool.

In many ways, the store has become the central meeting place and news room of Daglan. It’s run by a popular (and helpful) couple, Virginie and Christian Lefebvre, who always seem to know who’s moved into Daglan, when various ceremonies will begin and where they’ll take place, who’s getting married, and who’s selling their house. Daglan residents meet and greet in the store, share gossip, and generally enjoy themselves.

But while the 8 à Huit seems like very personal enterprise, it’s actually a part of the huge Carrefour shopping empire — which at the end of 2013, had a whopping 3,458 convenience stores in France. (That’s just the convenience stores, not including supermarkets and other outlets.) If you watch the Tour de France, you see the Carrefour name so often that you may have thought that they made bicycles.

In any case, a team of retail experts from Carrefour helped to make the changes in our 8 à Huit, and they were on hand for the inauguration or grand opening party on Tuesday night, when it seemed that just about everyone in the village showed up. At the back of this photo, in front of the new display of wines and spirits, you might be able to see Christian raised up above the crowd to make a short speech of welcome:

Addressing the assembled crowd.

Addressing the assembled crowd.

My wife Jan and I are pretty sure that one of the key reasons for such a good turnout was the chance for villagers to nibble from several large trays of goodies, from pizza squares to sausages in pastry to cookies and macarons. Like these:

Trays of goodies for the crowd.

Trays of goodies for the crowd.

And, it almost goes without saying, the chance for a drink or two:

Ah! The drinks are being poured!

Ah! The drinks are being poured!

So a good time was had by all, and the new and improved store seems to be well and truly in business. And wonder of wonders, it now appears that it will be open on Mondays, instead of being closed on that day in the “off” (non-tourist) season. Hurrah!

And if that weren’t exciting enough, the other big change on the shopping scene is that the Shopi mini-supermarket in nearby Cénac has been closed for remodeling and a conversion into a Carrefour Contact.

We drove there this afternoon, and saw that there is now a shelter for shopping carts in the centre of the parking lot. We also peeked in an open door, and saw that a lot of remodeling has already taken place.

But there’s more to come, so stay tuned for details.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

And so it begins (firewood season)

We endured a rainy start to November, and then enjoyed a warm and sunny spell. But the nights have been cool for a while now, our fire has been roaring each evening, and our supply of dry and seasoned firewood has been slowly disappearing from the garage.

So on Friday morning, my wife Jan and I had our first firewood delivery of the 2014-2015 winter season. Mostly oak, we believe.

And here is all the wood, resting in front of a neighbour’s garage, just after being dumped:

Our latest stack of firewood.

Our latest stack of firewood.

What to do, what to do? Obviously it needs to go into the garage. And so that’s exactly what Jan did, aided by our friend Judith (owner and operator of Le Thé Vert). Here they are in action:

The logs are being lifted and carried into our garage.

The logs are being lifted and carried into our garage.

So now it’s all settled. The wood is stacked neatly in the garage, a fire is going nicely as I write this, and we are all set for winter. (Including some very nice vacation plans, I must say.)

But I also hear you asking: What did you do personally to help with the firewood, other than taking a few photos?

Well, nothing actually. (Although I did participate in the coffee-drinking session that followed the log-lifting, along with Judith’s husband Paul. Oh — and I drove up to St. Cybranet to the bio [organic food] store, to get a few things for lunch.)

I’m still recovering from my back surgery earlier this year.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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