Our (Croatian) shore lunch

Early in my career, for a few years I was in charge of public affairs and communications for a major forest products company in Canada, and spent a fair bit of time in Northwestern Ontario — a vast area of lakes, rivers, and forests, north of Lake Superior. There I had my first of what locals call a “shore lunch.”

It consisted of some beautiful pickerel we had caught minutes before, cleaned, breaded and then fried in melted lard in an iron pan. With the fish came white bread (yes!) and baked beans (yes!). And in the cool air and sunshine, sitting on rocks beside the cold water, I found the whole lunch delicious. Perfect.

Now we’ve had a shore lunch of a somewhat different sort, on our recent vacation at a resort in Croatia. (I described our journeys to and from our home base in Daglan in the posting “You [almost] can’t get there from here,” on May 23.)

This lunch was at a seaside location near our resort, the TUI Sensimar Adriatic Beach Resort (south of Split, north of Dubrovnik). Called Gran Mare Grill, it certainly made the most of the scenery. Our host had promised us a table on the shore, and that’s certainly what we got.

Here is the “entrance” to our own area, with my wife Jan and our friend Elisabeth sitting at our table:

Jan and Elisabeth get settled, à table.

Our young host was charming, proud of his Croatian heritage, proud to be serving only local ingredients, and keen to serve us (fair enough —  at the time, we were the only customers). Here he is, standing beside the table with Jan, Elisabeth and me (photo credit: Gerhard):

Our table, and host, beside the Adriatic.

To begin, the appetizers we were offered proved (once again) that “simple is good,” as long as the products are excellent.

We were served a few nice plates (actually, slices of tree trunks), starting with a selection of local sausages and a dish of a peppery condiment. The round slices were a bit like chorizo (one of my personal favourites) and so this appetizer went down well, especially with Gerhard and me:

A savoury serving of sausages.

I do love sausages, but I liked the next plate of appetizers even more — a sheep’s milk cheese served with candied walnuts and various sweet jams and conserves:

Tasty slices of cheese, with candied walnuts.

For the main course, it simply had to be the fresh fish, caught that morning (we were told — we weren’t actually there for the catch) in the Adriatic. Our host brought us a tray with two fish on ice — a grouper and a John Dory (St. Pierre, in France). Here they are, before being prepared for the grill:

Two fresh fish, to be grilled.

And then, unaccountably, we had a really, really long wait until the main course arrived. Not sure why, and we didn’t ask. But it was far longer than it should have taken to grill some fish over a flame.

When the main course did arrive, it was very good — we each had some of the two different fish, plus creamy mashed potatoes, and some grilled vegetables that were surprisingly delightful. (Our host explained that the chef, his wife, “shocks” the vegetables first in icy water, before placing them on the grill.) Here is one of the plates:

Fish, potatoes, veg. Tasty!

Finally, here is a look back at the actual restaurant building. This early in the tourist season, it was not exactly jumping:

This is one quiet restaurant.

We left our seaside table feeling quite well fed, but all four of us thought that the final bill seemed a tad high for what we received (which did include three bottles of Croatian white wine). So after some deliberation, we cancelled our plans to have our final evening meal at the restaurant, and instead stayed for the buffet at our resort.

 

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You (almost) can’t get there from here

One of the joys of living in the Greater Daglan Area is our remoteness, which means that life here is slower-paced, quieter and relaxed. (Okay, except for the peak tourist season of July and August.) But the remoteness becomes problematic if we want to travel.

For example, for our visit to Lisbon earlier this year, my wife Jan and I had to (a) drive to Sarlat; (b) take the train all the way to Bordeaux; (c) take a taxi to the Bordeaux airport; and (d) fly south to Lisbon. Flights from Toulouse — which has a pretty substantial airport — don’t go to many of the places you’d expect.

Another case in point was our recent trip to a resort in Croatia, on the Adriatic coast between Split and Dubrovnik. Before I describe our travel travails, here’s a look at the scenery around the resort where we spent a week:

Looking up the coast from our resort.

And to round out the picture, here’s a look at one of the beautiful sunsets we enjoyed:

Sunset on the Adriatic.

So, quite obviously, it’s lovely to get away and spend time with good friends (in this case, Elisabeth and Gerhard) in beautiful spots around the world. But phew — what a job it can be, to get there (anywhere) and return home.

So, for the journey to our Croatian resort, we left home very early on a Thursday morning and drove to the SNCF station in Gourdon. Then came the more-or-less two-hour train trip (south)  to Toulouse. Then a taxi to the Toulouse airport. Then, a very, very long wait. (Fortunately, Toulouse has a wonderful lounge in which to eat, drink and kill time.) Finally, a late-afternoon flight to — Croatia? you might be thinking? — no, to the London airport of Gatwick. Which has expanded to the size of Lithuania.

We arrived at Gatwick around dinner time; met up with Elisabeth and Gerhard at our airport hotel; and had an early evening together. Why early? Because we had to get up the next day (Friday) at about 4 a.m. to catch a very early flight to Split, Croatia.

On the way home, things got a bit worse. First, after the two-hour bus trip to the Split airport, we found that our flight was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Eventually, however, we took off for Gatwick.

That’s when it got really tiresome. A very long wait for the flight to leave — so long that, when we reached Toulouse, we didn’t get to our hotel until about 12:30 in the morning on Saturday. A short sleep, a breakfast delivered to our room, and then a taxi ride to the Toulouse train station for the two-hour-ish trip to Gourdon. And then the ride home.

Okay, I know what you’re saying: We’ve all endured delayed flights. And that’s certainly true. The difference for us is that there is a lot of coming and going just to get anywhere. Sometimes we travel north, in order to fly south. And vice versa.

Still, once we’re at home, we’re delighted to be living here. And why not? It may not be as dramatic as the Adriatic coast, but we’re quite happy with views like this:

On the Céou River, north of Daglan.

 

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A spring break (from blogging)

It is time for a spring break (from blogging) so this will be my last posting for a few days. Rather than offering you nothing to stare at, I’m closing off my latest flurry of postings with a few images of floral life here in the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA), as we slide into summer.

To provide an overview, it is clear that the early flowering things are pretty much gone — things like forsythia and daffodils and lilacs and wisteria flowers. Now we are seeing an abundance of mature green plants and more summery flowers (if this is getting too technical, please consult a nursery specialist — I’m at the outer limit of my floral knowledge).

Here, for instance, is the fountain just around the corner from our house, in the aptly-named Place de la Fontaine. Just inside that railing is a natural spring that keeps on flowing, eventually emptying into the Céou River, which is our contribution to the Dordogne River. Oh, and there’s also an awful lot of plant life:

Gently flows the spring.

This is, it seems, pretty much the season of roses. Perhaps you noticed the attractive grouping of deep red roses around the village’s war memorial, in a photo from my posting about our May 8th ceremonies (immediately below). But there are now roses everywhere, like the array of red roses climbing the stone walls of one of our neighbour’s homes (the following photo):

Vivid red roses around the memorial.

By any other name, would it smell so sweet?

At another immediate neighbour’s home, the roses are white:

A wall of white roses.

One of my personal favourites, although I don’t know its name, is this flowering plant that seems to thrive in the cracks of so many of the stone walls and stone houses in the GDA. This one is growing on yet another of our neighbour’s houses:

Out of the stone, some real beauties.

Finally, one of the successful plantings around our own house is this collection of euonymus, an evergreen that seems to do very well in the GDA (hint, hint, if you’re looking for what to plant):

Gold among the green.

As a final note, if you look closely at the bottom of the photo, you’ll see a scattering of grey stone, which we’ve discovered is an excellent mulch. It’s small pieces of slate (which we have bought by the bag at a nursery in Sarlat), and it does a great job of keeping down weeds.

An unexpected side benefit is that it’s dramatically reduced the number and amount of droppings we used to get from the neighbourhood’s dogs and cats. I guess the wee beasties prefer to use softer soil, so the slate is now a permanent fixture here.

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

Democracy at ground level

If you’ve been paying the least bit of attention to the news, you already know that yesterday, Emmanuel Macron was elected the next President of France. There is already a ton, more or less, of commentary and analysis available.

But what was yesterday’s voting like at the rez-de-chaussée, or ground floor? For that, of course, stay tuned to Radio Free Daglan, where we keep a beady eye on the workings of democracy in our village.

We begin at the Mairie, the office of the Mayor, which was where voting took place yesterday in Daglan. Here are the signs pointing the way:

Voting? Step this way.

And here’s the front door of the Mairie, where citizens entered to find their way to the Bureau de Vote:

Enter here to vote.

And here’s an actual citizen heading to the actual Bureau de Vote, at about 12:45 yesterday afternoon:

A voter enters.

What happens next, once the voting ends? Well, at the end of the day it’s time to count the ballots — and it turns out that the process is quite a community affair, and one that is full of checks and double-checks.

Some time after 7 p.m. last night, my wife Jan and I made our way back to the Mairie, and entered a meeting room where almost every chair was taken.

At the head of the room was a table with five civic officials doing the counting — the Mayor, the 1er adjoint, the 2ème adjoint, and two Conseillers Municipaux. To begin, one of the councillors, Lydie Pasquet, opened each small envelope, took out the ballot, and handed it to Thierry Cabianca, the 2ème adjoint, who checked the ballot to make sure it was valid.

He in turn passed the ballot to our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, who read out the name on it — “Macron,” he would call out, or “Le Pen.” Then he put each ballot in a pile on the desk. Sometimes the envelope was empty (vide), or otherwise invalid (null or blanc). The Mayor would call out the spoiled ballots as well.

With each vote that the Mayor called out, the 1er adjoint, Marie Vasseur,  and another councillor, Patrice Hillion, each with sheets of paper in front of them, would put a checkmark for “Macron” or “Le Pen” (or a spoiled ballot) in the appropriate place, and simultaneously call out the total number up to that point. “Dix-huit,” they would call out together, and then “Dix-neuf,” and so on.

Most interesting, a number of citizens in the audience were keeping detailed track of the vote count on their own score sheets. Pretty serious stuff.

And here’s the view of the counting table, from where I sat (at the end of the room, with the dark hair, is our Mayor):

Our Mayor called out the votes.

Once the counting was done, everything was checked again, and eventually the numbers were sent off to be added to all the other results from villages and towns and cities across France.

And what was Daglan’s contribution to democracy? A total of 362 people voted, in one way or another.  For Macron, the total was 190 votes, or 52.5%; for Le Pen, 106 votes or 29.3%; and for various spoiled ballots and empty envelopes, a surprisingly high total of 66 (18.2%).

So it seems there was a fair amount of grumpiness about the two choices. And we got a taste of it on the way home, after the count.

A neighbour of ours, a young mother, was standing in front of her house as we passed. In case she hadn’t heard the news, I called out “Macron.”

She nodded, didn’t say anything, but looked fairly miserable about the whole affair. So I said something that I thought might cheer her up: “Eh bien,” said I, “c’est mieux que Trump.” That brought a faint smile to her face. “C’est vrai,” she replied, “Je suis d’accord.”

Lest we forget: In other news involving the state of the nation, this morning Jan and I again attended the annual ceremony for the Fête de la Victoire (V-E Day) at Daglan’s war memorial, to remember the horror and sacrifices of the war in Europe, that ended in May 1945. Here is the small group assembling in bright sunshine:

Gathering before the Mayor’s speech.

After the placing of the flowers, the speech, the moments of silence, and the singing, we walked off to the courtyard of Daglan’s elementary school, next to the Mairie, for the traditional vin d’honneur. Here’s the group, getting organized for the drinks and snacks:

Getting organized for a drink and a chat.

As for me, my vin d’honneur was actually a small plastic cup of whisky, poured by the Mayor. He apologized for not having any ice cubes available. Pas grave.

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The mystery project (yes, another one)

If you’re a resident of the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA), or a frequent visitor, chances are good that you’ve done at least some shopping in the supermarket formerly known as Shopi in the village of Cénac, about 10 kilometres from Daglan.

And if you’re headed to Shopi a bit later in the year, you’re in for a treat, indeed a much better shopping experience.

Maybe. Possibly.

The reason I’m not too sure is that while a major construction project is taking place on the outside of the store, there is virtually no explanation of what is happening. And this seems to be typical commercial behaviour in the GDA.

Brand new stores can be under construction, and no one knows what they are going to sell — auto supplies? clothing? fruit and vegetables? — until the stores actually open. Campgrounds close for the winter, with no sign indicating when (or if) they’ll reopen. Restaurants are notorious for not posting their hours of business.

By contrast, in North America almost every commercial sign is seen as a marketing opportunity: “Coming soon — a new Starbucks! Don’t miss our Grand Opening on June 18!” or “Camp Lalaland will reopen April 1, 2018 — Come enjoy our new pool and our café’s new menu!” And so on.

Okay, there is a sign on the work site at Shopi (which is what everyone calls it, despite its having been formally re-named Carrefour Contact). The black-and-white sign is tucked away on the right side of the building, where there is a variety of electrical equipment, and it looks like this:

Not exactly a grabber.

What it announces is the Relooking et mise aux normes d’un supermarché “Carrefour Contact” — in other words, the renovation and upgrading of the supermarket. (No indication of what standards the store is being upgraded to.) Then there is a bunch of information showing all the individuals and companies responsible for the project.

In Toronto, where I spent most of my working life, a large sign would explain what was being done, what amenities were being added, and how this would benefit the shopper. In fact, there probably would be an architect’s rendering of the finished exterior. But not here.

And this project does seem pretty big to me, with lots of steel work being added to the front of the property. Have a look:

Some serious construction.

Getting into the store is a bit trickier than normal, as you can see from this photo, showing a shopper guiding her cart over some rough ground and around various barriers:

Pushing a cart through the maze.

Clearly there will be a new entrance, but how much space is being added to the store itself? Who knows? In any case, you can count on Radio Free Daglan to keep an eye on the progress.


 

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Our just-in-time firewood management

It’s taken a few years, but we now seem to have the knack of precisely managing our supplies of firewood. (Okay, when I use the word “we,” I  am actually referring solely to my wife Jan, as I am pretty much a bystander in this process.)

Firewood supply management is an important process for us, since it involves (a) ordering firewood a few days before it’s to be delivered; (b) not ordering too much for our garage to hold; and (c) not running out, since that usually means begging some from neighbours or buying small supplies at high prices.

By keeping a sharp eye on our supplies and our firewood-burning, Jan was able to arrange for delivery on Wednesday morning — by which time our pile of firewood in the garage was down to a mere 21 logs. So there was plenty of room for the new wood.

And here it is — this photo (taken from our kitchen window) shows Jan moving logs into the garage on Wednesday morning, aided by the two men who actually delivered the wood:

Moving logs into our garage.

And when it was all arranged and stacked, here is how our new supply of (mostly oak) firewood looked:

These should be ready for the autumn.

In case you’re wondering, we’re enjoying nice spring weather in the Greater Daglan Area, but our nights are cool. So we typically have a fire going in the poêle à bois (wood burner) in our living room.

We’re hoping that the need for an evening fire won’t go on for much longer, because then we’ll have a nice supply of new wood that can dry out all summer, and be just right when wood-burning begins again in the autumn.

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A nasty twist on the election

Yesterday (May 1) I wrote a short posting on the May 7th French presidential election (“Election efficiency”) and showed how campaign posters were displayed in the neighbouring village of Saint-Cybranet.

Today, I’m sorry to say, I’m providing a look at some electoral nastiness here in our quiet, peaceful, and (almost) crime-free village of Daglan. This is how our standard bearing the two candidates’ campaign posters looked this morning:

The Le Pen poster is ruined.

Yes, the poster for Marine Le Pen, on the right, has been completely destroyed. Now I’m not saying that I support her views (and I certainly don’t), but on the other hand I also don’t support nastiness or vandalism in  politics. It just seems cheap.

If the best that your supporters can do is to destroy publicity for your opponent, it’s not saying much for you. At least, that’s what I think.

Posted in French government and politics, Life in southwest France | Tagged | 2 Comments