Heavy work, heavy reading

A few days ago, I was surprised to see a sign in our little street indicating that it would be blocked at one end of the crescent, because of  a construction project.

Further investigation provided the details. And the exercise reminded me of two interesting facts of life here: the difficulty of replacing a roof on one of Daglan’s old buildings, and the bizarre French habit of providing immense detail on certain kinds of projects.

I’ll start with the roofing project itself, which consisted of removing an old tile roof, replacing the wooden supports below it, and then placing new tiles on top. Here’s a view of the work:

Wooden supports being added.

I’ve written about this kind of work before, in a posting more than five years ago: “Our restaurant gets a new top,” on January 21, 2014. Here’s some of what I wrote:

A roofing job in this part of the world is quite different from what I remember from our days in Toronto. As far as I can recall, the last time my wife Jan and I had a new roof put on our two-storey house in Toronto, the job took just a couple of days.

The workers scrambled up ladders onto the roof; ripped off the old shingles; stapled down some new heavy paper; and then proceeded to nail on the new asphalt shingles. Okay, it’s not easy or glamorous work, but it moves quickly.

Here in Daglan, with our heavy tile roofs, the job often becomes a fairly substantial construction project. Usually, new wooden slats need to be put in place, to support the tiles. Sometimes, main beams have to be replaced before the tiles can be added.

Now, mercifully, the roofing project near us has been completed, so our street is wide open at both ends.

But that brings me to the subject of signage. Funnily enough, there is a noticeable shortage of signage (in this part of France, at least) for some construction projects — leaving you to wonder if a new building will be an auto dealership, a restaurant, or a movie theatre. Similarly, hotels and campgrounds and restaurants that have closed for the winter season generally don’t have signs saying when they will re-open.

However, for certain events (the temporary closing of a public park, perhaps for a festival) and for certain construction projects, the amount of information provided is, well, over the top.

In Toronto, a road closure might have a sign saying something like “Road closed for re-surfacing. — Office of the Roads Commissioner.” And that would be that. But not here.

Have a look at what was posted on a board at the end of our street (and no, you don’t have to read it):

Nothing has been left out!

Among the information provided is the source of the permission (our Mayor, with postal code yet!); the date of the contractor’s request; the company doing the work; the type of work; the place of the work;  and the dates to start and finish the project.

Then come five Articles,  which state, among other things, that one end of the street will be blocked completely; and how local residents can enter the street (from the end that isn’t blocked!). It then concludes with the stern statement that “This authorization is issued on a personal basis and cannot be assigned.”

So there — we have been duly notified!

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A fine-dining duo, and a home-spun meal

This past weekend we finished a round of fine dining on two consecutive days, and now are feeling contented, if a tad more plump. And we continue to be amazed and impressed at the innovative approaches of two of the area’s best young chefs.

The occasion was a visit by our good friend Joanne, who has a holiday home near us. With much advance planning (via email), I made lunch reservations for Joanne, my wife Jan and me at Restaurant O Moulin in Carsac (Chef Nicolas Aujoux) on Friday, and the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat (Chef Maxime Lebrun) on Saturday.

I’ve written numerous times about both restaurants, heaping praise upon them, so I won’t go into detail about the establishments. So what follows is simply a visual trip to some of our more arresting plates — starting with O Moulin.

(Tip for new readers: To find previous postings on any subject in Radio Free Daglan, just type in the Search box at the top-right of the column. Entering the name of a restaurant, for example, will provide you with all my earlier reviews.)

First off, here is the entrée chosen by all three of us, which we all thought was amazing, and delicious. It may not look like it, but it’s a salad of fresh crab meat, inside a tube made of jellied cauliflower (of all things!), with little beads of puréed cauliflower (the green ones were flavoured with wasabi). Quite amazing:

Fresh crab, freshly presented.

As the plat principal, again we three chose the same dish — a perfectly cooked and tender piece of beef steak. Highlighting the beef were the dark, rich sauce and the little potato balls; we originally thought they were whole mini-potatoes, but then figured out that they were made of puréed potato which had then been deep-fried. Perfect:

Potatoes and sauce? Perfect choices.

As a final nod to O Moulin, here’s a look at the dessert that Joanne chose — a cool concoction that featured ultra-thin slices of green apple:

The freshness of green apple.

Now let’s move to our Saturday lunch at Le Grand Bleu. As always, we were served a complimentary small soup before the three-course meal that we  had ordered. And as always, it was both innovative and delicious, fresh with the taste of cucumber, and enhanced by a scoop of ice cream. Here’s my bowl:

A soup with surprisingly intense flavours.

For dessert, we all chose the poached pear creation, served with a variety of ices and some absolutely delicious chocolate ganache. Here’s my plate:

Pear, chocolate — you name it!

And then came a surprise treat — an extra plate of desserts, including small macarons and fresh strawberries. Here’s my serving:

Just what we needed: More sweets!

And now, a change of pace. Just to show that it’s not all fine dining and Michelin stars for us, today Jan and I had lunch with friends John and Babs at Le Diabolo Fraise, a small restaurant in the hamlet of Nabirat, about 20 minutes from our home.

Le Diabolo Fraise offers a modestly priced menu ouvrier, or workman’s lunch, which includes four courses and a carafe of wine.

The food is always good, hearty, well spiced, and served family style — a terrine of soup for the table, followed by individual plates of a composed salad, then a platter for the table of meat or fish and vegetables, and finally dessert. Here’s a look at my composed salad today:

A real mix of flavours.

That is probably it, in terms of dining out, for at least a few days. Soon I’ll be writing a post on a building project in the village, and the accompanying official notice that seems to be essential.

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

Sunshine (and smiles) on a Greek island

In a recent posting, describing our dinner at the classic Parisian brasserie La Coupole, I mentioned in passing that my wife Jan and I had left Daglan for a short vacation on the island of Crete.

Now, here’s a look at the wonderful resort where we stayed, called The Royal Blue.

The resort is about an hour west of Crete’s capital, Heraklion, where our plane (from Orly, in Paris) had landed. The drive takes you through an amazing landscape of hills, mountains, valleys, sea views and cliffs.

To begin, here’s a look at the main resort buildings, with the largest pool on the property in the foreground:

Across the main pool, to the resort buildings.

As you’ll see in all my photos, the weather was sunny — in fact, only one morning did we have grey skies and a few drops of rain. Otherwise it was sunshine all the way. Because the weather was so fine, Jan and I typically ate lunch at the poolside restaurant, which was nicely shaded and offered a lovely view, like this:

The view from our usual lunch spot.

Amazingly, there are 59 pools on the property — two large ones for all guests to use, and then a lot of private pools. Some are not much more than plunge pools, for individual suites, while others are larger and serve several residential units. Here’s the smaller of the two main pools, where Jan (on the far right) was taking part in an exercise program:

Exercising in the smaller pool.

We found the food uniformly good, whether it was breakfast or dinner in the main dining room; breakfast served in our suite; or the lunch dishes at the poolside restaurant. Here’s an example: shrimp for Jan, and a really delicious linguine-with-seafood dish for me, so good that I had it twice.

My pasta dish was particularly great.

Our accommodations were terrific, we thought. We had requested a sea-view room, but were upgraded to a sea-view suite — with a large living room, huge bedroom with lots of closet space, and a large and well-equipped bathroom that included not only a walk-in shower but a king-size bathtub. Here’s yours truly one morning, at the door to our suite:

Welcome to our suite!

Something we found interesting but very pleasant was the resort’s habit of serving fresh fruit whenever we ordered drinks, whether we were beside the pool, up on the rooftop terrace bar, or on the terrace of our suite. Here’s a couple of drinks we ordered to our suite, after a hard day of lounging beside the pool:

Fresh fruit was the usual accompaniment.

And here’s a photo, taken at twilight, of the view from the terrace bar, looking down over the resort and the Mediterranean Sea:

Twilight on the upper terrace.

This is certainly a place we’d visit again. The evening entertainment was quite good and professional — including three tenors singing opera; traditional Greek dancing; a saxophonist; and some Greek music. So we left with reasonable tans and a lot of smiles, and some great memories.




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A vintage car “happening”

Do you recall something called a “happening,” in the 1960s? I remembered the term, however vaguely, to mean something like “an event that just sort of spontaneously happens.”

But no — according to Wikipedia, “A happening is a performance, event, or situation art, usually as performance art. The term was first used by Allan Kaprow during the 1950s to describe a range of art-related events.”

Anyway, I like my definition, and I’m sticking to it. And it’s a term I would use to describe the collection of vintage cars that appeared yesterday (Sunday) in Daglan’s main square, without any advance publicity that I was aware of. In the morning, we had the usual Sunday market; in the afternoon, a bunch of cars.

I can’t say that the subject of vintage cars is of immense interest to me (okay, it’s really of no interest), but just in case you like this sort of thing, here’s a visual review — starting with a small car that looks like it would belong in a rally:

Ready for a rally?

A number of cars had been lined up in a row, and backed carefully into place. Here they are:

A row of old beauties.

And here’s a close-up of one of them. The badge on the front says it’s a Dyna, which I had never heard of. But this is what I learned, through my old pals at the Internet: “The Dyna was made production ready and was emerging in commercial quantities from Panhard’s Ivry plant by 1948: it set the pattern for Panhard [originally called Panhard et Levassor] passenger cars until the firm abandoned automobile production in 1967.” Anyway, here you go:

Something called a Dyna.

Then there was this little beauty being offered for sale. The sign says it’s a 1950 Singer:

A Singer for sale.

A group of men wanted to see what was inside, and so the owner obliged, providing this view of the engine:

Oh, so that’s what the engine looks like.

One of the sleekest cars in the “show” was this Lotus, which looks as if it could race out of the square at any moment:

How sleek can you get?

Now, how did all of this happen? Why were the cars congregating in Daglan’s main square? No one really seemed to know; one Daglan resident (owner of the Singer) said that one of the vintage car collectors had simply phoned fellow collectors and suggested that  they meet in the centre of the village.

On the other hand, maybe the starting point was a journey undertaken from Normandy, as the sign on the front of this car suggests:

A sign of a journey.

As it turned out, by this morning all the cars were gone, and the village square had returned to normal. Whatever prompted the happening had, it seemed, happened.

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Dinner at a Parisian classic

La Coupole isn’t exactly ancient — it’s not even 100 yet — but it’s certainly a Parisian classic. And just recently my wife Jan and I enjoyed dinner at this famous Montparnasse brasserie.

The occasion was the start of our early September journey to the outer reaches of the Greater Daglan Area — okay, our destination was the island of Crete — and as always, we spent a night in Paris on the way out, and on the return trip.

Our interest in La Coupole had been stoked by a television series on amazing places to eat in Europe, including Paris, as well as Scotland, Spain and Italy. Along with a personal Parisian favourite of ours, La Tour d’Argent, La Coupole was featured.

Here’s a look at the entrance to the brasserie, as we emerged from our taxi:

Looking up from the street.

For a quick overview, I can’t do better than the following description of the restaurant, which I’ve taken from the TimeOut Paris website:

La Coupole in Montparnasse is the grandest of grand Parisian brasseries. An Art Deco triumph on an extraordinary scale, its famously vast dining room was once regularly graced by the top tiers of the artistic Rive Gauche set like Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. People still come here from all over the world, to marvel at its splendour – all 1000 square metres and 33 pillars of it – and to people watch, a timeless La Coupole pastime.

When Jan and I arrived, around 7:30 p.m., the restaurant was just starting to get busy, so the following photograph doesn’t give a real sense of the hustle and bustle that continued to increase until we left, around 9 p.m. But you will get a sense of its décor, and grandeur:

A real reflection of 1920s Paris.

The cover of the menu will give you another sense of the style of this restaurant, which opened (to great acclaim, apparently) in 1927:

Is this Art Deco style, or what?

When it comes to food, La Coupole is well known for several categories of dishes, including seafood, curries, and of course French classics. So for our entrées, Jan had a beautifully fresh crab salad, and I had three plump oysters. For our main courses, Jan chose grilled lobster while I had veal kidneys in mustard sauce. Here are the entrées:

Jan graciously let me taste her crab salad.

Throwing caution (or restraint) to the wind, I decided to end my dinner with that old-fashioned French dessert, Crêpes Suzette. It’s a dish I haven’t had in, what, 30 years? But it turned out to be every bit as good as I had remembered, and of course the preparation is a great show. Here’s our waiter, at work:

Old fashioned — and delicious.

Would we go again? Absolutely. In fact, as our dinner concluded, I was thinking about a couple of friends of ours who have spent very little time in Paris, even though they have a holiday home in France. If we meet up with them in Paris one of these days, La Coupole will be on the itinerary.


Posted in Art in France, Cafés in France, Food, French food, Paris restaurants, Restaurants in France | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The fascination of fascinators

I can’t recall the last time I was invited to an event hosted by Britain’s royal family — oh wait, that’s right, it was never — so my only previous knowledge of fascinators came by way of photos.

This occurs to me because it seems like fascinators are a fashion item that goes with “royal” just as “Radio Free” goes with “Daglan.”

For example, this is one short description I found on the Internet: “Fascinators—tiny, elaborate hats that are clipped to the wearer’s head—are a popular fashion choice among the women of the royal family today.”

Two members of the royal family who are famed for wearing fascinators to various social events are the daughters of Prince Andrew — Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. Here they are:

Image result for photos of princess beatrice

Two princesses, showing off fascinators.

I can almost hear you thinking: Why in the world is he writing about these things? And then you’re (possibly) thinking, please do explain more about them.

The reason for this posting is that when my wife Jan and I were planning to attend a wedding in Bergerac recently, she said that instead of buying a new hat, she had picked out a fascinator.  But she wanted my seal of fashion approval, so I was to meet her at La Petite Minoche, the lovely hat shop on Daglan’s main street. And I did indeed like her choice, so she bought it.

The real surprise came at the wedding itself. As a rough estimate, I would say that only half the women in attendance were wearing a head covering — but out of them, it seemed like at least two-thirds were fascinators, rather than hats. So clearly, fascinators are also really popular with fashionable French women — not just royals.

Finally, a bit of history — courtesy of a website called Mental Floss:

The term fascinator first surfaced in the fashion world in 17th-century Europe. Back then, it referred to a lacy scarf women wrapped around their heads (or “fastened,” hence the name).

By the mid 20th-century, a slew of new hat styles hit the scene, leaving both the term fascinator and the garment it described to fall out of fashion.

In the 1960s, a New York milliner named John P. John decided it was time for the fascinator to make a comeback. Instead of thinking about the headpiece in its original sense, however, he used the name to re-brand the petite cocktail hats that were known at the time as clip-hats or half-hats. The sexy new name helped the already-popular design become even trendier.

So there you go — possibly way more than you wanted to know. But personally, I found the topic, well, fascinating. But I doubt it will come up again in Radio Free Daglan, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Our first (gala) wedding in France

Since moving to Daglan, we have attended (unfortunately) many funerals in France, but only one wedding,  in 2013. While we were pleased and honoured to have been invited back then, it was not what I would call a “gala” affair, as it was held in a village office, with the then-Mayor presiding.

So we were especially delighted to have been invited to the marriage of the granddaughter of a former (beloved) neighbour, which took place in fine fashion this past Saturday in Bergerac — a drive of not quite an hour and a half from our village.

This was a full-blown, traditional wedding, with a prayer-filled and hymn-filled service that lasted nearly an hour and a half; a delightful and sophisticated Champagne cocktail party that evening at the Domaine de la Fourtonie, secluded in a forest north of Bergerac; and an informal brunch on Sunday, at the same domaine.

For reasons of privacy, I won’t be posting the names of the couple or their guests, and I won’t include close-up photos of people’s faces. But here is a photo that gives you a sense of the occasion, in the beautiful église Saint-Jacques de Bergerac:

The view from our pew.

A great help to us was the nicely printed program, including the order of service, and the words of all the prayers and hymns that the guests were to say, or sing.

Once the wedding service had concluded, and the witnesses had signed the necessary documents, all the guests were asked to file out of the church and wait outside, to greet the newlyweds. And here’s the view out the door, with the couple being cheered:

Greeting the departing newlyweds.

Not that I’m expert, but it seemed to me that this traditional French wedding followed very similar practices as formal weddings in North America — like the wedding of my wife Jan and me, more than 31 years ago, at a beautiful resort on an island off Florida’s west coast. That was pretty gala too!


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