Daglan’s mystery festival (2020 version)

Regular readers will be aware that I refer to Daglan’s August event known as the Fête de la Saint-Louis as our village’s Festival of Heat and Noise. Much of the activities are just fine (games for kids, small rides, booths for snacks) but in the village’s main square there is always a full-sized bumper-car ride, which plays loud music over raised speakers until 2 a.m. It’s awful.

Since our home is not far from the main square, Jan and I usually plan to be away for several nights during the festival. But this year, we figured we’d be safe — because of the Covid-19 pandemic, surely the village wouldn’t hold the fête, would it? Instead, we have a bit of a mystery going on. Here’s what’s happening, starting with information I’ve just copied from the Mairie‘s official website:


Le Salon de la Gastronomie et La Fête de La Saint Louis n’auront pas lieu cette année due au COVID

Okay, so no fête, right? But literally next to the Flash info notice is a calendar for the month of August, showing that from Friday, August 21 through Sunday, August 23, the village will host the Fêtes de Daglan. Note that the word Fêtes is plural, so maybe it’s going to be a different kind of activity? I’m not sure. Here’s more to consider:

Late last week, Jan was heading over to a friend’s house for some morning exercise, when she was almost run over by another friend, whose house happens to be right on the square. Our friend was red-faced and furious: She had just asked one of the village workers why he was taking measurements in the square, and he replied that he was preparing for the Fête. So our friend went off running to the Mairie, to ask just what was going on.

She later told Jan that, at the Mairie, she was informed that the Fête was going ahead, but that all the activity would be in the square, instead of being spread through the village. She was aghast!

Now here we are at August 11, and so far there is no publicity for any kind of festival, at least that I’ve seen. In the past, yellow banners are hung throughout the village, heralding previous festivals, and the themes of the Sunday parade. So far, no banners, no posters.

At Daglan’s convenience store, Jan asked what the well-connected couple there knew about the fête; Christian told Jan that there would be some kind of festival, but that everything would take place behind the Salle des fêtes or community hall — not the main square.

Today I drove there, and could see no evidence of any preparation for any kind of festival.

And here’s one more item: Late this morning I was out for a drive and found trucks and vans lined up at the stade, or village rugby pitch; these usually carry the vendors and other staff who take part in the festival, and who arrive early to set up. Here’s a look:

Now, who are these people?

And further along the road, at an open area where large vehicles are often parked, I saw this rather imposing truck:

Just what is inside this vehicle?

To you, it may look just like a typical long-haul transport of some sort. To me, it looks exactly like the truck that carries all the equipment for setting up the bumper-car ride.

Stay tuned, because surely this needs a follow-up.

 

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Heat, sun and a plenitude on the plate

How hot has it been in Daglan, I can almost hear you asking. Well, if this were The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon would ask: “And how hot was it, Johnny?” And Johnny would say something like, “Well, yesterday our chickens were laying hard-boiled eggs.” And that’s how hot it’s been here in Daglan.

Late yesterday afternoon the fan in the upstairs room where my computer resides was showing 35 degrees Celsius (about 95 American). Earlier in the day, I had to park my car in full sun, because some unspeakable moron had parked in my spot, next to our home. When I eventually moved the car to its rightful place, the car’s thermometer was showing 43 degrees (109).

But of course we are surviving. And since I grew up (well, spent my adolescence) in Florida, I am pretty well used to heat and sunshine. With my Florida-boy background,  I also am a big fan of the hibiscus plant, with its bright and showy blooms. And now Jan and I have one growing in a pot on our front steps, occasionally gracing us with a sunny flower, like the one shown here:

How’s that for summer brightness?

A plate that’s over the top: Regular readers will know that I’ve often written in praise of Sawadee, the authentic Thai restaurant in Cénac, not far from Daglan. But we’ve had a couple of less-than-wonderful experiences with take-out food: On two recent occasions, the normally excellent Pad Thai was, well, off. It was much darker than usual (too much soy sauce?) but also lacking in flavour.

So when we decided to try Sawadee take-out again yesterday, we both chose the yellow curry, featuring chicken, an assortment of vegetables, and a variety of fruit, like pineapple. It was great, and here’s my plate:

Unbelievably, I ate it all.

What was a bit surprising was the size of the portions — Jan thought that each one seemed like a double portion. Was the chef just feeling generous, or rewarding us for being regular customers? Either way, we both enjoyed our lunch, although Jan couldn’t quite finish all of it. I managed.

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A fresh start for our “bio” store

We have not been regular shoppers at the “bio” store in St. Cybranet (seven kilometres north of Daglan), but we have stopped there occasionally because, for one thing, the medium-sized supermarket has carried a decent range of gluten-free products for Jan, including breads and pastas. It’s been a somewhat peculiar place, as I’ll soon explain, but it’s now under new management. So — does this mean a fresh start?

In case you’re wondering, bio in French means organic. Thus, the store has sold a wide variety of organic products, including some very tasty chocolate bars, as well as some strange organic vegetables — often under-sized and mis-shapen, often with odd patches of colour (rust?), and with the additional quality of being able to go bad in just a day or two.

The store has had been lots of other products for what Jan calls the “peace, love and nuts” set — you know, thick hand-knitted wool socks; home-baked breads; various wooden beads; and a wide range of creams and lotions featuring exotic ingredients like whipple grass, toad’s umbrella, slumworth, and lemon cremora berries.

An especially notable feature of the store, however, has been the service. Once the staff members are in front of you, at the check-out counter, they are invariable friendly. The challenge is getting them there.

Sometimes a single staff member will be on duty, stacking cans of organic peas on the shelves, as a line of customers builds up at the counter. Other times, they are simply too friendly and helpful. One day not long ago, Jan went in the store to buy a couple of items and came out fuming quite a while later, with nothing in her hands. As she waited at the counter, it appeared that the sole staff member on duty was helping two customers choose olives from the store’s vast selection — and Jan told me it seemed that they were choosing one olive at a time. So Jan walked out.

Over the past few weeks, we figured something was up, because the shelves seemed emptier and emptier, as if the owners were unloading inventory. Was the place about to change hands? As it happened, it was. And here’s the new look, starting with a sign out front:

Right this way, says the arrow.

And here’s what the store itself looks like:

A sign announces the new ownership.

So the new focus, evidently, is not only on bio products but also Saveurs du Terroir, or Local Flavours. We’ll keep an eye on the store, to see how it evolves. On Tuesday afternoon of this week, we happened to pass by it, and so Jan stuck in her head for a quick look.  Back in the car she told me that it looked like the shelves were still poorly stocked. We’re hoping that changes.

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A smoother ride

Perhaps you have a holiday home in the Greater Daglan Area, and haven’t been able to visit because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. Even so, you’ll probably recognize the view below — and you’ll also know what’s new about it.

Yes, it’s the road into Daglan from the north, and what’s new is that the road has a smooth, grey surface.

Over the past couple of weeks, the road from Daglan has been re-surfaced all the way up to St. Cybranet, a distance of seven kilometres. While the work was of course disruptive to traffic (and there is a lot these days, at the height of the tourist season), the change is welcome. One of our friends told me that his wife — who has back problems — really appreciates have a smooth ride, without the bumps and jolts his car used to experience.

The surface appears to be a very fine gravel, presumably pressed into some kind of tar. One thing I don’t know is whether this is the end result, or whether the road will be coated with blacktop in due course. Have a look:

A fine grey surface.

While the resurfaced road means a much smoother ride for cars, one of my friends who is an avid cyclist said the gravel surface is a bit tricky for cyclists. Too bad, because cycling is a popular activity in these parts.

An unnecessary sign:  I was amused by the following sight this morning, as I made yet another trip to les poubelles (the garbage bins) near Daglan’s rugby pitch. What you’ll see below is the bin that was burned out, an act that I described recently in my blog as either arson or stupidity. The bin has been completely covered in heavy plastic, and wrapped with tape. Fair enough. But did we really need the sign saying Do Not Use?

All dressed up and nowhere to go.

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“This place is heaving!”

In the title of this posting, I am quoting my wife Jan late this morning as we escaped the parking lot of the Shopi supermarket (okay, it’s been renamed Contact, but that is just silly). We were in the neighbouring village of Cénac, about 10 kilometres from Daglan. There we had visited the pharmacy (to buy face masks) and the supermarket (to buy food and other essentials), and were glad we weren’t stuck in the village forever.

(By the way, I believe that “heaving” is more commonly used in the U.K. than in North America, to mean “packed with people.”)

Tuesday morning in Cénac in late July is to be avoided, unless you truly enjoy outdoor markets and crowds, and traffic that barely moves. This is the day of the weekly market, and the hoards of people (plus their vehicles) told us that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism is back with a vengeance.

To kick off this visual tour, here’s the view through my windshield as we crawled south through Cénac, often having to stop dead for long periods:

Just crawling along.

Tuesday’s Cénac market is a particularly good one — with stalls selling not only meat, fish, cheeses, sausages, vegetables and wine, but also clothing and ready-cooked meals, utensils, spices, and more. Here’s a look at the entrance to the northern end of the market:

People crowd around the market stalls.

And here’s a look at the southern (or main) entrance to the market, with shoppers strolling along:

Marché hebdomadaire simply means weekly market. 

On the plus side, Jan and I managed to buy virtually everything on our shopping list, and came away feeling glad that tourist levels are up to near-normal — which is essential for the survival of local businesses.

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Trash Talk 5: Arsonist? Or moron?

Just to be clear, I did not begin this blog in the hopes of becoming the garbage-bin correspondent for a major newspaper. And I do realize I’ve written about the Daglan area’s new garbage bins (les poubelles) several times already. But news is news, and so I’m back at it one more time — with a bit of an odd, or even disturbing, development.

Yesterday (Sunday) around noon, as I was driving to les poubelles that lie near the village’s rugby pitch, I had a concern. One of the small travelling circuses that frequent our area in summer had put on a show at the rugby pitch on Saturday night, and I was a bit worried that their vehicles would still be in place, blocking me from going near the bins.

As I approached my destination, I could see that the field was clear. Phew! But as I got even closer, I saw something that seemed awfully odd: It appeared that the top of one of the garbage bins (which are quite large and sturdy) had been ripped off. What in the world?

Then I drove right up to the bins, and could see what had happened. A fire within the bin obviously (at least obviously to me) had burned away the entire top, leaving the mechanism in place but scorched, and one side of the bin completely black. Have a close-up look:

Front view: Clearly a ruined bin.

And here is a view of the other side of the bin. You can see shreds of plastic hanging down from the rim:

Another view: Notice the dangling plastic shreds.

So the question is: What could have caused this? Was it the work of some mad vandal or arsonist? Or was it done by a moron — someone who put hot charcoal (or equivalent) down the chute, where the garbage caught on fire? I suppose we’ll never know.

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Small steps towards progress

Remember when China would proudly announce a Great Leap Forward? Whether the programs worked or not, the phrase sounded wonderful. However, great leaps in any direction would be a bit much for a small village like Daglan. We do keep making progress, but our approach is more like Baby Steps Forward. In this posting, I’ll provide two examples.

I begin with the state of the garbage collection points in and around the village, and the state of the footing around the bins. Here’s a bit of what I wrote in “Trash Talk 4: The earth beneath our feet,” posted on July 5, as I described how a couple of men had worked to improve conditions and reduce the risk of stumbling over large, loose rocks:

The workmen had smoothed the ground around the bins, put down a layer of black tar (or similar material), and then covered the area with finely crushed grey rocks. So unloading my garbage and recyclables this morning was a relative breeze — and much safer. (I expect that the other two main collection points will get the same treatment, although I haven’t checked yet.)

Now, what about that final sentence up above? Typically I use les poubelles (the bins) near the village’s rugby pitch. But over the past couple of days, I visited the other collection points, one located next to our community hall, and the other near the village cemetery. And now I can report that the footing at all three places is up to standard, like this:

A nice, smooth surface around the bins.

The other bit of progress has been the repair of a stone wall that stands at a turn in a main road leading into and out of Daglan, and separates the road from a ditch.

I suppose the idea is that drivers are less likely to wind up in the ditch if they’re aware of the wall. Good idea, but several months ago, it pretty much tumbled down. Whether a vehicle hit it, or it collapsed through old age and erosion, I don’t know. In any case, it was marked off with red-and-white tape, and continued to sit there in its tumbled-down state, leaving me to wonder if the village workers would tackle the repair in the near future. Here’s how it looked on Wednesday, as work on the repair finally got started:

Wednesday: The fallen wall.

The work began with just one young man, operating a digging machine, and cleaning up the ditch, as you’ll see in the first photo below. Then on Thursday, he was back at the job, as the following photo shows:

Wednesday work: Can you dig it?

Thursday work: Yet more digging.

Yesterday we had the grand finale — the workforce expanded to two young men, and new stones were being cemented into place.  In this photo, one man is in the digger and the other is balanced on a beam, washing down the new stones after they were cemented into place:

Friday work: Laying down the stones.

Today, the three-day project was complete, the caution signs had been removed, the traffic light  had disappeared, and the wall was done. Here’s the final product:

Saturday, and the wall is as good as new.

It would be good to end this posting on a completely positive note, but I’m afraid I cannot. This morning, when I went to the garbage bins next to the community hall, this was the state of the bin meant to hold glass products like jars and bottles for recycling:

Overflowing!

Because the bin was jammed to the top with glass items, people had to place their bottles and jars at its base. Clearly, the company responsible for carting away the contents of the bins needs to adjust its schedule.

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Two dishes of the day (and it’s nearly a tie)

I’ve raved often about the restaurant O Moulin (by actual count, I’ve published seven reviews since my first posting on February 12, 2019). But never one to let a good thing go, I’m at it again. That’s because we lunched there yesterday with friends Roy and Helen, and had a wonderful meal — with two stand-out dishes for me.

To refresh you, O Moulin is on the lower level of the village of Carsac, which is about 30 minutes from Daglan. It recently re-opened as France’s lock-down has eased, but because the weather was decent, we ate outside on the terrace — well separated from other tables.

Three of the four of us decided to order just two courses, instead of the usual three, simply to avoid feeling too full afterwards. Of course, in a fine-dining restaurant like O Moulin, you receive complimentary extras — so we each had two tasty amuse-bouches, to enjoy with our kir, and then a small bowl of delicious and refreshing melon soup, served chilled.

For my lunch, I decided to order from the à la carte menu, even though that winds up being more expensive than ordering two courses from a fixed menu (as, for example, my wife Jan did). My two choices were a salad, at 15 euros, and a beef dish, at 35 euros. And the winner?

Now I’m not normally a “salad person,” but the composed salad I ordered as my entrée was absolutely delicious, and it actually edged out the plat principal as my top dish of the day.

In French, the salad is described on the menu as “Les tomates Bio de Céline CHOQUEL, espuma de burrata et jambon sec Sérrano 24 mois.”  In English, that’s a salad of organic tomatoes with a foam or mousse of burrata cheese, and sprinkled with bits of Serrano ham, aged 24 months. Here’s my beautiful plate:

This was as close to perfect as I could imagine.

Everything about the salad seemed perfect — the mix of tomatoes, and their incredibly fresh and ripe taste; the ham; the dressing; and of course the two light balls of burrata mousse, each with bits of tomato inside. The dressing was so good that Jan wiped up some of it from my plate, using a piece of her gluten-free bread. I did the same. Simply “wow.”

My main course was also both clever and delicious. On the menu, it’s described as “Bœuf carotte et vieille mimolette. Le filet rôti et la joue braisé au vin rouge.” So there were two pieces of roasted filet (medium rare), and a roll of slow-cooked and shredded beef cheek, with carrots and a sauce of old mimolette cheese. Quite wonderful.

Beef two ways, with a rich sauce and carrots.

Normally I’m a dessert person, but I have been trying (with some success) to lose weight, so I skipped the dessert this time around. Still, we were served these mignardises, to enjoy with our coffees, and I was happy enough:

Just right with our coffees.

All in all, it was another excellent outing to one of the best restaurants in the area. The only slight damper on our enjoyment of the afternoon (and it was no fault of the restaurant) was a nearby table of six French people who were — uncharacteristically — quite loud.

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Sunshine, on a cloudy day

Today started off a bit cloudy, and then proceeded to become more and more overcast as the morning unfolded. As I drove north from Daglan into St. Cybranet around 11 a.m., I saw something that reminded me of the  opening line of the song, “My Girl.” (A 1965 release on the album “The Temptations Sing Smokey.”) It goes like this:

“I’ve got sunshine … on a cloudy day.” And without further faffing about, here’s the sight:

A field of vibrant sunflowers on a cloudy day.

Since then, being the kind of word person I am, I’ve been thinking of lyrics of popular songs that amuse me in one way or another — that is, good or bad.

For sheer awkwardness (and desperation to make a rhyme), there’s this classic from the  mega-hit by the Doors, “Light My Fire.” (Released in 1967 on the group’s debut album.) It goes: “The time to hesitate is through … No time to wallow in the mire.” Wallow in the mire! Good grief.

On the other side is this simple line from “My Funny Valentine,” a classic song from a 1937 musical by Rogers and Hart. This is the line I admire: “Your looks are laughable … Unphotographable.” What a great word — “unphotographable.” Just wonderful.

However, coming back to “My Girl,” I’ve always loved the line that begins the second verse: “I’ve got so much honey … The bees envy me.” Nice, isn’t it?

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Another step to a normal summer

Late this morning I was driving out of Daglan (to visit les poubelles with a load of garbage and bottles) when I saw a car pull up in front of our excellent (but horribly named) convenience store. Ha, you poor deluded fool!, I thought. Today is Monday, and of course the store is closed on Mondays!

But as I drove past, I could see that the store (newly re-named Proxi, if you can believe it) was indeed open. Naturally, I first thought that meant that today was not Monday at all, but Tuesday; I confess that I make this kind of mistake surprisingly often. But no, today is indeed Monday.

So, you ask, what is the meaning of this? What it means is that we are truly back to having a fairly “normal” (that is, full of tourists) July — and the store is now open six and a half days a week; the half-day opening is on Sundays. And here’s the visual proof:

Now open on “lundi” for the summer.

I’m not sure about tomorrow, however. July 14 is the national day of France, so our store may be closed the whole day, or perhaps just on Tuesday afternoon. Govern yourself accordingly! (Meaning — if you need to shop, do it today.)

 

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