The village of art, of flowers — and of bugs

Cautionary note to readers: If your fear of insects is so great that you would be terrified by the sight of a grasshopper that is longer than a metre (roughly three feet), then read no further. For the rest of you, brave hearts, read on.

You might already know that Daglan has been committed for some time to being beautiful in general — so much so that some visitors think it was built all at once by a modern developer, with the task of creating a perfect-looking village. Particularly in bright sunshine, the white/yellow limestone of which most houses are made is stunning.

Increasingly, Daglan has been committed specifically to art, and to flowers. And now we have added, of all things, insects.

Let’s begin with art.  The village has several resident artists — painters, sculptors, and artisans like the charming young woman who designs and makes jewellery — and we regularly have special art shows and exhibitions. To make the point, here’s a sign at one of the entrances to Daglan:

This sign about the art in Daglan is on a wall at one of the village entrances.

This sign about art in Daglan is just below a planting of grape vines.

As for the flowers, well, — they’re everywhere, in individual gardens, along the roads and streets, down alley ways, in fact in just about any vacant space that contains soil. Here, for example, is a median strip down the centre of one of the roads leading into Daglan (from the direction of St. Pompon):

Stretches of lavender are just part of this long row of flowers.

Lavender is just one of the varieties in this long planting of flowers.

Here’s another small sampling — pots of flowers in and around the water fountain that stands in the centre of the village square, the Place de la Liberté:

More flowers in the main square.

More flowers in the main square.

Confirming Daglan’s status as a village that’s full of flowers — and which generally tries to improve the environment and encourage a high quality of life — is this sign showing the village as a winner in the Villes et Villages Fleuris competition, a national program created in 1959:

Daglan has been named a Village Fleuri.

Daglan has been recognized for its flowers and, more generally, its appearance.

Cautionary note to tourists: Daglan’s commitment to flowers is very deep. So if you’re visiting, it’s best not to stand in a single spot for too long, in case one of the village workers attempts to fill one of your pockets with soil, and plant a flower in it.

And now for the latest additions to our village-scape, a number of fairly large insects.

We’ll start with this huge grasshopper, located on a corner across from Daglan’s tea room and restaurant, Le Thé Vert:

How green is our grasshopper!

How green is our grasshopper!

As you can see just below the grasshopper, there’s a small sign. It includes a photograph of Daglan students who were involved in creating the creature, and goes on to tell all.

It says that for almost three months, students involved in the school’s formal extracurricular activities program have been helping to make the insects. They were guided by Françoise Regouby, an instructor, with the support of Thiery Cabianca, who is Daglan’s deuxième adjoint (or second deputy on the village council).

As I understand it, the program has two main goals: to teach the children how to recycle materials like plastics and lampshades, and to allow them “to discover the morphology of different insects.” (Morphology? I know — I had to look it up. It means “the branch of biology dealing with the form and structure of organisms.” Phew.)

In any case, it’s all very cute and attractive (unless you’re afraid of bugs, I guess), and the insects are located all through Daglan now. For instance, here’s a ladybug that’s been attached to the stone wall of a neighbour’s garage:

This is one of a few ladybugs in Daglan these days.

This is one of a few ladybugs in Daglan these days.

Dragonflies are another popular insect in Daglan, and here’s a group of them floating among some bushes beside one of the roads leading out of the village:

Dragonflies appear to be floating among the bushes.

Dragonflies appear to be floating among the bushes.

Closer to our home is a group of dragonflies hanging around Le Lavoir, the spring where clothes-washing was done in times gone by. (One has even been attached to a metal grill in the spring itself, so that it appears to be skimming the surface of the water.) Here are the ones hanging from the wooden shelter above the spring:

Apparently dragonflies like to be around water.

As you know, dragonflies like to be around water.

Our tour of Daglan’s bugs wouldn’t be complete without a look at the largest of them all — a praying mantis. Here it is:

Climbing up a stone wall.

Climbing up a stone wall.

A final bit of French: I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had much formal education in French insect names. So checking out the various insect-related panels throughout Daglan has been instructive. And just for your benefit, here are four insect names in French: the ladybug is a coccinelle; the dragonflies are libellules; the grasshopper is a sauterelle (pretty logical, since sauter is the French verb for “to jump”); and finally, see if you can guess the English name for La Mante Religieuse. You got it!

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The return of “crazy bells”

Well, I suppose it had to happen. Starting yesterday (Thursday) at 7 a.m., our village’s church tower added back what my wife Jan and I call the “crazy bells” to the thrice-daily ringing of the Angelus. (What other blog offers up “thrice“?)

If you know what all this means, you can stop reading now. If not, I’ll take you back to my posting of May 24 called “The silence of the bells, and other tidbits.” Here’s part of what I wrote then:

In the church tower, quite near our home in downtown Daglan, the bells ring out the time. At each hour, they ring the number of the hour (so, at 9 in the morning, they ring nine times). Exactly two minutes later, they do the same thing again. At each half hour, they ring once — whether it’s 9:30 a.m., or 11:30 a.m., or 4:30 p.m. Are you with me so far?

But there are three special times — 7 a.m., noon, and 7 p.m. After the usual bell-ringing of those hours, we’re treated to the ringing of the Angelus. This means three rings of the bell, followed by a healthy pause (maybe three seconds or so), then another three rings, then another. Total rings: nine.

My understanding is that all this ringing comes from the old tradition of calling believers to prayer.

But for years and years in Daglan, the nine rings of the Angelus bell was followed by the “crazy bells,” a cacophony of bell-ringing that seemed to go on and on. When daughter Anne was visiting us, one morning she counted something like 154 separate rings. That’s a lot.

As of 7 a.m. yesterday, we thought that all the extra ringing might have been a fluke. But no — we had “crazy bells” at noon yesterday, and 7 a.m. today. It’s just this kind of change-up that makes life in the Greater Daglan Area so exciting.

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Back to our favourite night market

The annual tidal wave of summer fun has arrived in the Greater Daglan Area. A fête here, a marché nocturne there, a vide grenier, a concert, a bodega, a traveling circus. You name it, and a village or town will have it, as all of them compete for a chunk of the tourist-spending bonanza.

For my wife Jan and me, our favourite is almost certainly the marché nocturne or night market in nearby St. Pompon. (The village is about five kilometres southeast of Daglan.) And this past Saturday night, we were back there with good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, whose holiday home is just steps away from our permanent home in downtown Daglan. Here’s a look — using photos taken by Gerhard with his trusty mobile phone.

The small bandstand on the north side of the street housed two guys with guitars and microphones (and amply powered amplifiers), who sang some of the greats from such classic French groups as Dire Straits and Tears for Fears. Whatever song they happened to be singing, they sounded a lot like Cat Stevens, occasionally accompanied by Jimi Hendrix, but it was generally entertaining. Here they are:

Music at the market? Saturday night, live.

Music at the market? Saturday night, live.

It was around 7 p.m. when the four of us arrived, and the market was just getting going. As you can see, the day was still nice and sunny. We sat on the south side of the main street that runs through St. Pompon, to be near the food stalls and to sit at a table in the shade.  Here’s a look at the long line of food stalls:

Take your choice: sausage, oysters, pizza, hamburgers, paella...

Take your choice: sausage, oysters, pizza, hamburgers, paella…

Among the regular specialties at the St. Pompon market is the Chez Willy stall, serving “Cuisine Réunionnaise,” which is to say food from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Here it is (the stall, not the island):

Food that's a touch exotic.

Food that’s a touch exotic.

For us, the evening added up to two hours or so of good things: drinking rosé wine; eating oysters, mussels, frites, and sausages (some with truffles, some with foie gras); and chatting with people — including some Daglan neighbours, and visitors from Germany and Belgium. Not to mention enjoying how Cat Stevens would sound on the album of Tears for Fears Greatest Hits.

 

 

Posted in Festivals in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The silence of the bells, and other tidbits

Things are quieter now in Daglan. (What? I can hear you exclaiming. How could the village possibly be any quieter?) Aha, I reply: it’s all about the silence of the bells — and particularly what my wife Jan and I call “the crazy bells” of the village church. Apparently, that tradition is no more.

Just to orient you, here’s a view of the church bell tower, taken from near the front of our home, in a photo that just happens to show a hot air balloon floating nearby:

Our church tower, set against a clear blue sky.

The village church’s bell tower, set against a clear blue sky.

I shall explain: In the church tower, quite near our home in downtown Daglan, the bells ring out the time. At each hour, they ring the number of the hour (so, at 9 in the morning, they ring nine times). Exactly two minutes later, they do the same thing again. At each half hour, they ring once — whether it’s 9:30 a.m., or 11:30 a.m., or 4:30 p.m. Are you with me so far?

But there are three special times — 7 a.m., noon, and 7 p.m. After the usual bell-ringing of those hours, we’re treated to the ringing of the Angelus. This means three rings of the bell, followed by a healthy pause (maybe three seconds or so), then another three rings, then another. Total rings: nine.

My understanding is that all this ringing comes from the old tradition of calling believers to prayer.

But for years and years in Daglan, the nine rings of the Angelus bell was followed by the “crazy bells,” a cacophony of bell-ringing that seemed to go on and on. When daughter Anne was visiting us, one morning she counted something like 154 separate rings. That’s a lot.

Over the years of living here, Jan and I have become quite used to the bells, and often don’t even hear them, since we sort of tune them out. When we’re away from Daglan, whether staying with friends or in a hotel, we sometimes comment that we actually miss hearing bells in the morning.

But we’re not quite ready to forget the crazy bells. And no, we don’t know who ordered them to end, or why.

Full tilt at the 8 à Huit: If you’re a regular visitor to Daglan, perhaps with a holiday home here, you’ll be pleased to know that our convenience store is now open on Mondays. It’s a sure sign that we’re really into The Season. On Sunday, however, the store is open in the morning only.

The wash-out: And speaking of The Season, it’s sad to report that the weather still isn’t quite cooperating. On Saturday, Daglan played host to a large brocante, a sort of second-hand market that (for reasons unfathomable to me) attract lots of people. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the temperature climbed up to 30 degrees (about 86 American). But the next day, Sunday, was gray, rainy, and generally miserable. I took a peek into the Salle des fêtes parking lot, and saw a few brave souls tending their brocante stalls. But essentially, it was a wash-out. This is easily the wettest spring since we moved to Daglan.

 

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A not-so-hidden gem

This posting is about a gem of a place that seems to have been hidden in plain sight.

And we owe it to friends Elisabeth and Gerhard for convincing us to try Le Bistrot d’Epicure — a restaurant that my wife Jan and I had driven past countless times. For some reason, perhaps because it’s beside a relatively busy route, we had never been attracted to the restaurant. But it turns out that it’s terrific.

Le Bistrot d’Epicure lies on the north side of the D703, which runs from Beynac to Saint Cyprien, and on to Bergerac. The restaurant is quite close to Saint Cyprien, so it’s not a long drive from Daglan.

Our friends noticed it as they were driving to their holiday home in Daglan last week. It was at night, and the restaurant (a former farmhouse) appeared to be quite lovely and welcoming, glowing with light and full of people. So we made a reservation for lunch during the week.

As it happens, it was a rather cool, gray and drizzly sort of day, so there was no way we could eat on the restaurant’s lovely terrace. But inside, the seating is comfortable, the art that covers the walls is attractive and modern, the service is attentive and friendly, and the food is quite wonderful — both in taste and presentation. It’s run by a couple, Marina and Chris, and has all sorts of nice personal touches.

All four of us opted for a somewhat reduced menu — just a plat principal and a dessert, at 28 euros each. However, we also received a good selection of amuse-bouches, including a delicious cold soup that followed this tray of goodies:

Each bite was delicious.

Each bite was delicious.

Elisabeth chose cod, which was served on a bed of fresh green asparagus, like this:

The cod was perfectly cooked.

The cod was perfectly cooked.

I had fish as well, and thoroughly enjoyed this plate of salmon:

My attractive plate of salmon and accompaniments.

My attractive plate of salmon and accompaniments.

For dessert, Jan and I both had strawberries — thinly cut and served with fine slices of basil, like this:

A sweet plate of fresh tastes.

A sweet plate of fresh tastes.

The total for lunch — counting a kir each, plus two bottles of Sancerre and  a bottle of sparkling water for the table, and a coffee each — averaged just under 55 euros a person. We’re already planning our first return trip.

If you want to know more, the telephone number is 05 – 53 – 30 – 40 – 95, and the restaurant’s website is at http://www.le-bistrot-depicure.com

 

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lunching frenzy

When my wife Jan and I used to travel on vacation from Toronto to Daglan, we would eat lunch outside our home just about every day — not only to try new restaurants, but also to visit new towns and villages. But now that we live here full-time, we eat lunch in restaurants much less frequently.

However, we are currently in the midst of something of a lunching frenzy.

The reason is the presence of our friend Joanne, who owns a holiday home very near us, in the heart of Daglan. She arrived at the Bergerac airport on Wednesday from England, and Jan picked her up and delivered her to Daglan. And so the lunching began!

On Wednesday, we ate at La Cantine, the new bistro/café of chef Fabrice Lemonnier. I’ve written about La Cantine a few times recently, so I won’t insert any photos in this posting, nor any comments. (Except to say that I really, really enjoyed my entrée of escargots with slices of chorizo in a creamy sauce over toast.)

On Thursday, the three of us were off to lunch at Le Diabolo-Fraise in the hamlet of Nabirat. Again, I’ve written about the restaurant several times, so I won’t go into much detail — except to say that with five courses of always-fresh food in its daily (set) menu, it offers possibly the best value in the Greater Daglan Area.

As always, we began with a nicely spiced vegetable soup; followed by a composed salad; followed by meaty lacquered spare ribs served with pasta in a tomato sauce; followed by cheese; and finished with lemon sorbet and fresh strawberries and cookies. The composed salads are always different, and offer a lot of variety. Here’s mine:

Sausage, egg, vegetables -- a delicious mix.

Sausage, egg, vegetables — a delicious mix.

So much for the value meals — on Friday, it was onward and upward to Michelin-starred dining at Le Gindreau, in the village of Saint-Médard in the département of the Lot, less than an hour’s drive from Daglan.

After a coupe (of Champagne) and some excellent amuse-bouches, we began enjoying our entrées with a nice bottle of Sancerre. Jan started with a rich soup of fish (with pieces of various fish) and smoked eel, while Joanne and I each enjoyed a lovely dish of green asparagus, which tasted wonderful and looked like this:

The sabayon on the side was a perfect accompaniment.

The sabayon on the side was a perfect accompaniment.

Next came the main courses, which were lamb for Jan and Joanne, and sweetbreads for me. (I am a huge fan.) As loyal and careful readers of Radio Free Daglan will know, I especially love the sweetbreads as served at Le Grand Bleu, the Michelin-starred restaurant in nearby Sarlat. So when I had the dish at Le Gindreau, Jan naturally asked me which I preferred. I answered that they were so different in execution that I couldn’t favour one over the other — they are both delicious. And here’s my plat principal:

A rich sauce, with morel mushrooms, were among the extra touches.

A rich sauce, with morel mushrooms, were among the extra touches.

To accompany the lamb as well as the sweetbreads, I chose a Côtes-du-Rhône that turned out to be a hit with all three of us. It was the 2014 “La Sagesse” from Domaine Gramenon, made solely from the Grenache grape, which we found to be rich and intense and delicious. As the winery’s own tasting notes say, “The palate is complex and powerful, a lot of structure and intensity, everything develops harmoniously.” For those interested in wines, here’s the label:

The producer is Domaine Gramenon.

The producer is Domaine Gramenon.

For dessert, both Jan and Joanne had soufflés, while I had this wonderful concoction involving lots of salted caramel with peanuts:

Creamy and crunchy, all at the same time.

Creamy and crunchy, all at the same time.

Finally, to give you a look at the surroundings where we ate, this photo shows a nearby table where a birthday was being celebrated, with a great sizzling sparkler lighting things up:

The interior of Le Gindreau.

The interior of Le Gindreau.

Today (Saturday), it was back to more ordinary — but still delicious — fare, this time at Le Tournepique, the Basque restaurant at Castelnaud. There I had one of the tapas menus, while Jan and Joanne started with tapas and then moved on to mussels and frites.

Joanne leaves tomorrow, so you might expect that our lunching frenzy is over. But no. Good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard arrive from the Isle of Wight to their nearby holiday home, and we are all set to have lunch with them (and friend Richard) at La Cantine.

Can you guess what I’ll be having? Here’s a clue:

The rich, salty butter was perfect with the fresh oysters.

Salty, buttered bread and oysters at La Cantine.

Yes, it’s oyster Sunday. Of course, this will not take place until we attend the May 8 ceremony at the village’s war memorial, to mark Victory in Europe Day. Lest we forget.

 

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Restaurants in the Lot, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Slipperies on a sunny Sunday

Graciously, the skies did not choose to rain today. Instead, the Greater Daglan Area was bathed in glorious sunshine all day — and in fact the bright blue sky and fluffy clouds remain very much in evidence as I write this, with evening approaching.

Today’s break from this spring’s rainy weather added to the festive atmosphere as we joined up with friends Rosemary and Richard for a lunch of white wine and oysters — or slipperies, as they’re known to our friends in Toronto — at Daglan’s new café, La Cantine.

Based on today’s experience, it looks like Chef Fabrice — Fabrice Lemonnier, more formally — has come up with a winner for Sunday lunches. He is still offering a full lunch menu (more on that later) but has fresh oysters ready and waiting for those who want them.

Here’s what our table looked like, as the lunch began. Aside from the trays of Marennes-Oléron oysters, we had wedges of lemon and tasty slices of bread that were thickly slathered with a rich butter and then sprinkled with salt.

The rich, salty butter was perfect with the fresh oysters.

The rich, salty butter was perfect with the fresh oysters.

For each customer who orders the oysters, a glass of white wine is offered. We accepted graciously, of course, and then went on to order a couple of bottles of Petit Chablis, all in the spirit of having a long and relaxing Sunday lunch.

I lost count of how many slipperies I consumed, along with several slices of bread, but the total must have been impressive, because I then had no appetite for a “normal” lunch. In contrast, Rosemary had a nice entrée sized serving of salmon, done three ways; Richard had rack of lamb; and my wife Jan had grilled steak. They were all quite happy.

At the end of the meal, I had a small plate of cheese (Cantal and Rocamadour), and then Rosemary and I shared a dessert plate. And then it was coffee all around (and I have to say, the coffees at La Cantine are particularly good).

And here we were at our corner table, after all the eating and drinking were done:

We happy four, we band of oyster eaters.

We happy four, we band of oyster eaters.

Of course, we are now facing a dilemma. Will we now have oysters at La Cantine every Sunday? Will we instead have Sunday lunch at Sawadee, the Thai restaurant in Cénac? Or will we alternate between the two? Not an easy choice to make.

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