Going, going, but not gone (summer 2017)

October in the Greater Daglan Area is not my favourite month (that would be September), but it’s close. In October, we are technically in autumn, but hints of summer remain.

In October, we seem to have two kinds of weather: Skies can be stunningly blue, or they can be grey and rainy.

Yesterday (Thursday) was one of the sunny ones. In the morning, after I had a haircut in Castelnaud, I enjoyed a coffee on the terrace of La Plage, basking in warm sunshine and reading the international edition of the New York Times.

In the late afternoon, my wife Jan and I were there again for drinks. And the sky was brilliant, and the sun was pouring down.

Here’s the view upwards toward the Château Castelnaud, with the sky looking a bit more hazy in this photograph than in real life:

The château above us.

After our drinks, we headed back towards Daglan, but decided to detour to the holiday home of friends of ours on a hill above our village, to pluck figs from their trees. (Our friend hates figs, so we are free to pluck.) While Jan plucked, I shot this photo of a shrub with bright orange berries, against the stone wall of a nearby house:

Bright orange berries and a stone wall.

And to show the strength of the sunshine coming down, even in the relatively late afternoon, here’s another photo:

Late afternoon sun lights up these leaves.

What about today? Pretty much a repeat performance: Once the early morning mist cleared away, the sky was bright and blue, and the day was wonderfully pleasant. Here’s another photo, of flowers at the village déchetterie:

Yellow flowers, blue sky.

Of course we are into autumn; the leaves of Virginia creeper are turning red; some tree leaves are dropping; and we now have a fire going in our log burner at night. But hey — we can live with all that.

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Glimpses of Milan Fashion Week

Yes, my wife Jan and I are back in Daglan after a vacation in Milan. And no, we hadn’t planned the trip to coincide with Milan Fashion Week, which ended yesterday (September 25). It just sort of happened.

We had a similar experience a few years ago in France’s capital, when our visit there coincided with part of Paris Fashion Week. What I was able to observe there, as we walked along the Rue du  Faubourg Saint-Honoré (“Luxury’s Stronghold”), heading for dinner, were (a) beefed-up security at the entrances to all the luxury shops, and (b) some very strangely made-up women and men.

In Milan, we did see quite a few young women, in a variety of settings (hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants), who appeared to be models, or at least aspiring models. But it seemed somewhat rude to start taking photos of them.

But to brighten this posting, I am able to offer just one photo, that was taken by Jan. It’s a dramatic shot of a mature male model, striding ever so smartly through the Piazza del Duomo. Here he is:

Wait — that’s me in the photo shoot!

Wait a minute — that’s me! Sorry about that. At least there is a touch of fashion in the photo, in that I’m wearing my new blue cotton pullover, that I had bought in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Well, okay — I can include another photo. It’s a close-up of a huge display of jewelry in the Galleria:

Interested in some (very) large jewelry?

Now to show that I take research for this blog seriously, I can confirm that I’ve spent a fair amount of time today with the Telegraph online.

I was reviewing such photo features as “The best street style from Milan Fashion Week,” “The choicest and maddest catwalk looks from Milan Fashion Week,” and in-depth coverage of the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, featuring pieces from the collections of Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Stella McCartney, Versace, and Gucci.

With this extensive research behind me, I can now confirm that I am able to recognize Anna Wintour, at a glance. (And if you need to ask who she is, then like wow —  fashion is definitely not your thing.)

Aside from all the Telegraph coverage, here are a few personal observations of mine:

It’s all in the face. Based on the models we observed, I’d say the “right” facial expression is a combination of bored, vacant, and sullen. On the plus side, the young women did seem fascinated with their smart phones. And of course, they are actually beautiful.

Lettuce anyone? Describing the young women generally as slender doesn’t quite capture it. If anyone can exist on a lettuce-only diet, I’d say that young models would be right up there.

Legs, and more legs. Not only were the models almost uniformly tall, their height seemed to be made up mostly in their legs. Wow — there were some very long, slender legs on show.

Hijacking. An evident side-effect of  all the glamour is the ability of hotels to jack up their rates during the week. On the first day of Fashion Week (Monday) the night rate for our downtown hotel went up by 150 euros from the day before. And note: That’s not the rate; that’s the increase in the daily rate. This may be a good reason to check on special events (conferences, shows) when planning your next trip to a major city.

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Not Naples, but pretty darn good

We’re back home in Daglan after several days in Milan, which according to Google Maps is some 770 kilometres from Naples. I mention this because Naples is generally regarded as the home of the “modern” pizza (that is, pizza as we know it, with tomato sauce and various toppings).

So obviously, we weren’t in Milan specifically for the pizza. However, Milan is indeed in Italy, and so while we were in the city I had to try at least one of their pies.

My wife Jan and I were in the northern Italian city with Toronto friends Rob and Darlene.  One day the four of us visited a casual spot called Granaio, which is located roughly between the Teatro alla Scala (Milan’s famed opera house) and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the world’s oldest shopping mall and a showcase for luxury goods). Here’s the restaurant’s window:

Our lunch place, from the outside.

The beauty that I chose was called the Tacco d’Italia, and featured a fairly thick crust (apparently that’s the Milanese style) with tomato sauce, incredibly creamy burrata buffalo mozzarella, and (best of all) several large blobs of ‘Nduja, a spicy, spreadable pork salumi. For 11 euros, this was the large platter I was served:

Spicy, gooey, and all good.

It really was spicy, and I enjoyed nearly all of it, although the crust finally defeated me, as you’ll see:

The outer crust: The end for me and my appetite.

Would I have enjoyed a traditional thin-crust pizza from Naples even more? I may never know, but I do know that I loved my Milanese pie. (And the thought of having another pizza here in the Greater Daglan Area is not, at this point, warming the cockles of my heart.)

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A touch of spring in autumnal Daglan

We are just back from a vacation in Milan (you know, the big city in northern Italy), about which I’ll be blogging in due course. But first, a note on the weather here in Daglan, and a colourful surprise.

Apparently the weather has been pretty miserable here since we were away. Gray, rainy and cool sum up most of our friends’ comments on the weather.

But today was simply lovely — bright and sunny and warm — and so I decided to take a stroll with my shiny new Nordic walking poles.

Not very far from my starting point, I was surprised to find some bursts of colour in the front lawn of another house. And here’s what I saw:

Are these what I think they are?

Now I’m no expert on flowers, but these sure looked like crocuses to me. And I thought crocuses popped up only in the spring. Does anyone have a better idea?

Follow-up note: Thanks to a reader, I’ve learned that these flowers are called “sternbergia.” Further research finds that they are also known as “autumn daffodil” and “yellow autumn crocus.” So I guess we’re not really having spring in September! Lovely, all the same.

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

A fitting lunch for a birthday girl

What do you get for a birthday girl who has almost everything — things like beauty, charm, humour and intelligence?

Well, the birthday of my wife Jan was a couple of days ago {Thursday), and we realized that one of the few things she was lacking was a lunch at the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat. So off we went.

For extra birthday fun, we were joined by long-time Contrada friends from Toronto, Rob and Darlene, who are staying with us, and Daglan friends Richard and Rosemary.

In a rare show of unanimity, we all began lunch with a kir, and then ordered the special “bistro” lunch menu, at just 25 euros. This is an incredibly low price for a restaurant of such quality, and the goodies included a nice selection of amuse-bouches to begin.

Then came the entrée, which was a generous slice of terrine with a variety of accompaniments, plus freshly baked rolls. Here’s my plate:

Finely minced cornichons among the accompaniments.

The main course was merlu (hake), which was not only perfectly cooked but served with a variety of interesting extra touches, from a glazed strip of beet to baby carrots to several sauces and foams. Here’s my plate, before I attacked:

The fish was delish.

Dessert was this serving of frozen banana soufflé, topped with chocolate and a sliced strawberry. Very nice:

A lovely way to end a lovely lunch.

Along the way, we enjoyed an unusual wine recommended by our hostess, Céline, who had given a subtle shake of the head to my suggestion of a Sancerre.

Instead, she thought that the Vertigo blanc by Mas Amiel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region would be perfect. The wine is predominantly Grenache Blanc, with Maccabeu, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes too. And yes, it went well with all our dishes, from entrée to plat to dessert, and finally to the mignardises that were served with our coffees.

As has become fairly typical, we were the last diners to leave the restaurant. But that gave us a chance to shake hands with the chef, Maxime Lebrun, who was outside the restaurant with a few members of his crew, and to thank him for another wonderful meal.

And by the way, we did celebrate further in the evening, at the home of good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, who were kind enough to host a bunch of us, and to provide a variety of drinks and goodies, concluding with a giant sparkling candle set on a plate of macarons. So, once again, it was Happy Birthday, Jan!

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Bergerac: A few good reasons (to visit)

The town of Bergerac (remember Cyrano de Bergerac?) lies west of Daglan, and I’ve learned that you can pretty much count on one and a quarter hours for the drive.

So it’s not a place we go on a whim (as we might, say, to Sarlat or Gourdon), but we do get to Bergerac fairly often. If you haven’t been, here are a few good reasons to go, including a new one (for me, anyway).

It’s a transport hub. The Bergerac airport is pretty much the centre of air traffic between the Greater Daglan Area and the U.K. My wife Jan and I flew from there on a recent trip to Southampton, en route to the Isle of Wight. This past Saturday, we drove our friends Joanne and Chris, and their daughter Eleanor, to a hotel in Bergerac where they would spend the night, before flying home on Sunday.

A restaurant we love. Since we knew we’d be in Vieux Bergerac on the Saturday, we made a reservation for lunch at a favourite restaurant, La Table du Marché. (See Helpful Note to Readers at the end of this posting.) There are other fine restaurants in the area, but we particularly like this one. Here’s how I described it in an earlier posting:

La Table du Marché is a relatively small restaurant, just across the street from the covered market (hence the marché) in the centre of vieux Bergerac. The style is contemporary, but comfortable. The chef and owner is a Parisian, Stéphane Cuzin, who learned his craft at starred restaurants in France and Belgium — and learned it very well. His food is clever, creative, fresh, and delicious.

It’s so good that on August 29 of last year, I posted “A chef who keeps upping his game,” to highlight just how inventive the chef is. This past Saturday, a lunch highlight for me was the main course of Cochon Ibérico, which I chose from the à la carte menu for 28 euros, and thought it was worth every centime. It was perfectly cooked, tender, and flavourful, with a sprinkling of crunchy salt and some nice accompaniments. Here it is:

Perfectly cooked pork, topped with a salty crunch.

A great place to shop. On the outskirts of Bergerac there’s a small plaza which contains, among other things, a specialized supermarket called Grand Frais. This is a food-only place — no laundry detergent, toilet paper, soaps and so on — and its focus is on high quality and a good selection. Here we find things we can’t seem to locate in supermarkets anywhere near us — fresh herbs, lemongrass, crayfish from Louisiana, and so on.

My latest discovery. This past Saturday, after dropping off our friends at their hotel, Jan and I went to the plaza with the Grand Frais store. While Jan was doing a light food shopping, I wandered into this wine shop (perhaps just 75 metres or so from the food store) and was, well, delighted. Here’s a look at the place:

At last — a wide choice of wines!

So, why was I so happy? Because, at last, I’ve found a wine store in the Greater Daglan Area that doesn’t focus on local wines. There were shelves with wines from all parts of France (clearly marked and well organized) and — get this — wines from other countries. Yes, countries that most French wine merchants have never heard of, like Italy and Australia. As you can imagine, Jan and I are planning a major dual-purpose shopping trip, to Grand Frais and the comptoir des vignes.

Helpful Note to Readers. If you haven’t already tried it, consider using the Search box at the right-hand top of this blog. It works very well. For instance, if you enter the words La Table du Marché (with the accent), you will be directed to all the blog postings I’ve written that include reviews, or even brief mentions, of the restaurant. The same goes for any other topic that interests you.

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

The Pizza, the Mayor, and Me

I can’t say that I felt as if I had been transported to Naples, but I did have a pretty good pizza today, along with a handshake and warm welcome from Daglan’s Mayor, Pascal Dussol. Who also happens to be the guy who made the pizza. And is the guy who owns the restaurant.

Often, M. Dussol may be found at his desk in Daglan’s Mairie, or at official functions, like this one:

At this year’s May 8th ceremony.

But in non-official life, he owns a restaurant/pizzeria called L’Eole, which sits just outside the northern boundary of St. Cybranet, the first village north of Daglan. Here’s a look at the front of the restaurant:

At the front of the restaurant.

Today I arrived at about 12:30, and found that I was the only customer to that point. The hostess did look after me quickly and well, and I was soon relaxing with a kir, gazing out at the roadside vegetation. Here’s the view from my table on the large terrace:

Hello? Anybody home?

After my kir, I had a glass of rosé wine along with my choice of pizza, a Valenciana. It was covered with tomato sauce, cheese, slices of chorizo sausage, plus peppers and mushrooms. (I said “no thanks” to the egg that normally would be on top.) The pizza costs just 10 euros, and was fairly large. Here’s my plate:

Meet my egg-less Valenciana.

Eventually a couple arrived to eat on the terrace, and they were obviously good friends of M. Dussol, because he came out of the kitchen, wearing his chef’s apron, to chat with them.

Then he spotted me as I was finishing my lunch, and walked over to shake hands, welcome me, and wonder where my wife Jan was. (I explained that she was in Monpazier, lunching and shopping with friend Joanne.)

All in all, it was a pleasant break, and with the pizza, kir, glass of rosé and a coffee, it came to just 16.50 euros. So I left in a good mood, as I ventured out for some shopping of my own.

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments