So long, 8 à Huit — hello Proxi

The Carrefour retail group is good at many things, such as operating supermarkets, but I suggest that its marketing gurus leave a lot to be desired when it comes to naming their stores.

A case in point is the outlet in the neighbouring village of Cénac, about 10 kilometres from Daglan, where there used to be a Carrefour store called Shopi. Now I know that “shopping” isn’t a French term, but everyone seemed to understand the store’s purpose, and the name Shopi is kind of catchy.

Then, for some reason, the Carrefour marketing brain trust decided to give a new name to all its mid-size supermarkets, like Shopi. I wrote about a major renovation project at the Cénac store in 2017 (which was primarily to modernize and enlarge the front of the building), and in a post on October 31, 2017, I showed how the revamped store looks — with its new name in place:

Yes, it’s Contact. Or Carrefour Contact, if you recognize the company’s logo. I don’t know about you, but to me Contact doesn’t suggest a supermarket. Maybe a type of cement, maybe a tire (in fact, I think the tires on my VW include Contact as part of their name). But not a place to shop. Ah well.

However, the naming gurus at Carrefour never rest. A few days ago, as we were driving out of our village, Jan and I went past the 8 à Huit (“8 to 8”) store in the centre of Daglan, and noticed two workmen attaching large, attractive decals to the front windows of the store. I thought they were simply freshening it up. But no — they later attached a new name to the store itself: Proxi. Or more expansively, Proxi super (the word “super” is in much smaller type), with a drawing of a shopping cart in the “o” of Proxi.

And here’s what our convenience store/small supermarket looks like now, with the new signage in place:

Well, the signs are new, anyway.

If the name Contact seems weak, Proxi seems to hit new depths. I’m not sure what it will mean to the French, but to Anglophones it might suggest “proximate,” as in being near something, or maybe “immediate.”

When I checked out Merriam-Webster on line, to see the origins of the word, here’s what I learned:

Middle English proxi, procucie, contraction of procuracie, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin procuratia, alteration of Latin procuratio procuration.

Despite the naming goofiness, the store itself remains a vital part of our village. The couple who operate it are quite wonderful — helpful, friendly, knowledgeable. And of course the store supplies all kinds of essentials, from basics like milk and butter and vegetables to items as diverse as ice cream and greeting cards. In the off season, it’s closed on Mondays, and on Sundays it’s closed in the afternoon. But it’s generally open for a good number of hours in the morning and the afternoon.

Maybe the problem for Carrefour was that the name 8 à Huit made a promise (“We’re open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.”) that simply could not be fulfilled. That was made abundantly clear to Jan and me in late December of 2004, when we travelled to Daglan to take possession of the house we had bought in the autumn.

We had flown overnight from Toronto to Paris, but our plane was delayed from landing on time because of fog. Because of the delay, we missed our train to Gourdon, so we had to kill time in the Gare d’Austerlitz and catch a later train. By the time we reached Gourdon and secured a rental car and drove to Daglan, it was 7 p.m. and pitch black.

We knew that there was virtually nothing in our house except furniture — no food, no plates, no glasses, no cutlery, no paper towels, and so on. But were we worried? No! We were confident that the 8 à Huit was open until 8 p.m., and so we had plenty of time to shop.

Wrong. The store was closed, and as pitch black as the night. In desperation, we drove all the way back to Gourdon and managed to eat dinner in a hotel we knew. We were the last diners that evening. And we had learned our lesson — in France, you need a good amount of local knowledge, and can’t necessarily rely on signs.


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The return of Crazy Bells, and other jottings

We are slowly emerging from the Covid-19 lock-down, and Jan and I are hoping that people won’t go overboard and ruin the progress that’s been so painfully made against the pandemic. In any case, restaurants here are re-opening next week, and we’re already planning to lunch on Tuesday with four friends. I can’t imagine wearing a mask while we eat, but who knows!

Speaking of masks, here’s my most recent experience with the lock-down loosen-up: a pedicure in Sarlat (much needed). First, wearing a mask is obligatory. Then, you don’t ring the doorbell and walk in; you wait at the front window until the receptionist sees you and beckons you inside.

Once in the reception area, she spritzes your hands with a sanitizer. Then you head into the back office, where all the equipment for the pedicure is located. As for the young woman who actually performs the pedicure, she is dressed in so much protective gear that she could probably perform brain surgery. Beyond that, there is a large plastic shield between her and the client, from about waist level (while seated) on up.

All in all, it was not a bad experience. And now I’m much more confident that my toe nails could not be mistaken for tiger’s claws.

Now for something that’s un-related (I think) to Covid-19: the return of what we call “crazy bells” at Daglan’s church. Here’s the background:

First of all, our home is located in the heart of Daglan, very near the church, and so Jan and I are intensely aware of the bells in the church tower. A single, loud bell rings each hour (for instance, 10 rings at 10 a.m.), and then rings the hour again only two minutes later, just in case you missed it the first time. On each half hour, a bell rings just once (no matter what the hour).

This goes on all night, and we’re most grateful that the bells use the 12-hour time system, instead of France’s more common 24-hour system — otherwise we would get to hear 23 rings, twice, for 11 p.m.

Daglan’s church tower.

Now of course the church is, after all, a Catholic church, and its main purpose isn’t actually a time-keeper  — it’s a place of prayer, and an important Catholic tradition is praying the Angelus (which is where the crazy bells come in). Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

The Angelus (… Latin for “angel”) is a Catholic devotion commemorating the Incarnation. … The devotion is also observed by some Anglican and Lutheran churches. The Angelus is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is a call to prayer and to spread goodwill to everyone.

Here in the Daglan, the bell tower rings the Angelus just after 7 a.m., noon, and 7 p.m. (after the hours have been struck). The pattern is  a total of nine rings, in three sets of three. But ever since we’ve lived in the village, the church bells then go a bit crazy — with multiple bells clanging away for perhaps a full minute. If you’re not prepared for it, you might think it’s a warning about a fire or imminent attack.

Anyway, quite a few weeks ago, we noticed that there were no more crazy bells. We had the three sets of three rings, but no wild clanging. Why the change? I have no idea, but they were absent for what seemed like a very long time. And now, guess what? We’ve just had the return of the crazy bells. Maybe it’s another sign of life returning to normal.


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Daglan’s church: a bit of history

A few days ago, I published a posting that included a photograph of the bell tower of Daglan’s old church, as seen from the front steps of our home.

The point of the photo wasn’t really to show off the church, but simply to illustrate how blue the sky has been lately. However, one reader asked me for some history about the church, and particularly about the bell tower. When was it built? Was it added to the church more recently? Who was responsible?

As you might expect, I had no answers — but promised to do some research. And so I have done!

Before offering you a brief history of the church, here’s how it looked early this afternoon:

The front entrance of Daglan’s church.

And now here’s what I found about the Church of Saint Martin (as it’s formally called), using an English translation of notes provided by the office of our Mayor. Unfortunately, there is no specific information about the bell tower:

Built in the 6th, 11th and 12th centuries, the church of Saint Martin in Daglan has been renovated numerous times.  The presence of a crypt, or lower room (which is today filled in) is evidence of the church’s age.  Developments like this, made to shelter relics, were major sources of revenue and are synonymous with the arrival of people, and therefore the development of the market town. The church is dedicated to Saint Martin, who was elected bishop of Tours in 371.  This dedication confirms the parish’s long history and that it has existed since the Carolingian era. The round tower on the west side was added following a reconstruction of the original church, which was on a levee of earth (a feudal motte).

All that remains of the original construction are the great door and some columns.  The church was composed of a single nave and a small transept (a nave which cuts the main nave at a right angle). During the construction that followed the destruction of the Wars of Religion, a chapel dedicated to the local stately families was added.  At the end of the 19th century, the church was enlarged by three spans.  For this addition, the parish made the most of the need for repairs.

The bell tower stands above the choir.  The roof, consisting of long sections, looks more like the tower of a chateau, without a spire.

And that is all I could find. If any reader can unearth more specifics on the bell tower, please do comment.

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Glimmers of light, May 2020

We are certainly not out of the woods, but here in rural France there are at least a few glimmers of light — some basic returns to normalcy —  during the Covid 19 lock-down. A few of them follow.

An end to all the paper. One of the features of France’s lock-down was the requirement that, if you left your house for even a very short trip, you had to complete an official form and carry it with you. Among the requirements: your name, date of birth, place of birth, current residence, reason for your trip, the date, the time you left your house, and your signature. Now those forms are no longer required. Instead, you’re expected to carry proof of your residence  (like a bill from the electricity company, with your address printed on it). Completing the form wasn’t really onerous — but a bit fiddly, and a definite pain.

Getting the chop. It had been nearly three months since my last haircut, and I was starting to look like the woolly mammoth. Then the government announced that hair salons could re-open, and I booked my place. What’s changed? Well, the stylists must wear face masks, and so must the clients. As I entered the salon, in Cénac, a young woman squirted liquid sanitizer into my palms. Then, I had to have my hair shampooed. (In the past, I would have my hair cut dry, because I shampoo my hair each day with my morning shower.) Finally, the cloak or wrap that usually protects your clothes from falling hair has been replaced by a one-use-only wrap; once your cut is done, the wrap goes into the garbage. All in all, pretty easy to take — and I do appreciate feeling tidier. And next week, I have an appointment for my regular pedicure, in Sarlat. Huzzah!

Sunshine does help. This isn’t something that the French government changed, but fortunately we have been enjoying much warmer, sunnier weather — almost like summer. (Actually, it was 30 degrees Celsius in the car this afternoon, as I drove to St. Cybranet; that’s 86 American.) So now if you’re out for a stroll or a bike ride or a trip in your car, the world seems like a better place. Here’s a taste — a view of the church tower as seen from our front steps, with a clear blue sky above:

A clear sky does lift the spirits.

Some more outdoor activities. This past Sunday, Daglan again had its weekly market, although with some changes. Now there are directions taped onto the square, and customers are required to keep a good distance from each other, and to follow the order of the arrows. As well, the outdoor exercise equipment and tennis court may be used again.

Obviously, all of us (around the world) are hoping for a Covid 19 vaccine and effective treatment. In the meantime, I think it makes sense to loosen up the restrictions of the lock-down only very slowly. We don’t want to slide backwards.


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Jan and her mask-making success

The suggestion came from Daglan’s office of the Mayor — would residents of the village volunteer to sew face masks, to be worn  during the current pandemic? You could choose to sew 30 masks, or 60.

For its part, the village would provide the materials and instructions. The volunteers needed spare time, a good amount of patience, and a sewing machine. Ever-keen to make a contribution, my wife Jan volunteered for the full count of 60.

The process took several days, and not a few fights with our sewing machine. But the job did get done — rather well, I’d say — and so here is a quick look at the process.

It starts with carefully measuring the fabric, and then cutting it to size just as carefully. Here is Jan starting work:

Careful measuring, careful cutting.

Next came the process of sewing together two equal-sized pieces. Jan chose to sew almost all around the borders, leaving an open space about an inch long, in one of the corners. Here she is at the sewing machine:

Sewing together two pieces of fabric.

Next came the process of turning the sheets inside out, working through the gap in one of the four corners. This has something to do with having the stitches on the inside, rather than the outside of the sheets, when the mask is finally done. Jan explained this patiently to me a couple of times, although I never fully got it. In any case, my job was to do the inside-out turning for several of the masks, which I accomplished with all the delicacy of a gorilla knitting a sweater.

Lastly, Jan had to cut all the elastic bands to exactly the right length, and sew them onto the masks. Here she is, at the sewing machine again:

Now the elastic bands are sewn into place.

Once all the sewing was done, there were lots of loose bits of thread hanging down, and they needed to be snipped off. Again, I helped with the trimming, on perhaps half of the masks.

And then, at last, all 60 were sewn. We kept two of the masks for our own use, and Jan passed along the remaining 58 to our Mayor, Pascal Dussol. Job done!

Today’s final photo is of Jan herself, wearing one of her professional-looking creations.  Applause, please:

Trying it on for size.



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Our reluctant shrub bursts forth

Jan and I have a glossy green-leaved shrub in a blue ceramic planter on the front steps of our home in Daglan, and we had been getting pretty tired of waiting for it to bloom. But now it’s truly burst forth, and the result is spectacular.

For background, here’s an excerpt from a Radio Free Daglan posting on March 23 of this year, in which I had a section that I called “A slow learner”:

Quite some months ago, my wife Jan bought a lovely rhododendron plant to place on the steps leading up to our house. Its leaves were glossy, it was covered with buds, and the buds looked like they were ready to burst into bloom.

So that was in late March, and by then the rhododendron had been in place for several months — with lots of buds, but no flowers. Here’s how it looked:

Lots of buds, but no flowers — yet.

And then, a week or so ago, we started to spot the first real signs of flowering life. However, it was hard to imagine how the flowers would look when they were in full bloom. As you can see in this photo, in the early stages, the flowers looked somewhat like spikes:

Flowers start to appear — at long last.

And then — wham! — the shrub really let loose, with open flowers all over it. Here’s how it looked this past weekend:

Ta-da! Here we are!

The flowers are quite interesting, and so I’ve added this final photo to show the blooms in close-up:

A real starburst of colour.

In a moment of contemplation, I wondered if I could figure out what type of rhododendron this was. And sure enough, when I rooted around in our garage for a while, I found the little card that came attached to the plant when Jan bought it, at the flower shop in Cénac. Turns out that it’s a Rhododendron Scyphocalix (although you probably knew that) and it flowers in “April-May,” according to the card.

One final note: An interesting piece of advice is given at the end of the instructions on the card: “For decoration only. Do not consume.” Glad I read that, just in time!

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Weird dreams, and other lock-down notes

A week ago, my wife Jan and I were having a Skype session with son Michael and daughter-in-law Vanessa in Toronto when the subject of dreams came up. What started the discussion was a news article which said that because the Covid-19 lock-down had changed people’s schedules, many were having more trouble sleeping –and were having more vivid, bizarre dreams.

Mike and Vanessa have two young sons, and so I’m not surprised that their sleep is more disturbed these days. And Jan reported that, yes, she was finding her dreams a bit more disturbing or intense than previously.

As for me, I seem oblivious to the syndrome. I do dream a lot, in general, and my dreams seem pretty “realistic,” if that makes sense. But disturbing? Not so much. Early this morning, for instance, I had a fairly long dream in which I was working in a large office, and was late getting out for lunch. When I did leave the office, I found that all the shops in the building’s food court had already closed. So I had a pretty crummy salmon salad sandwich at a food stand in a street outside the building. Disturbing? Well, not very much.

A touch of normalcy: Before France introduced the lock-down measures to contain the Covid-19 virus, Jan and I each had a series of regular weekly appointments, ranging from exercise sessions to French lessons. Then that was all shut down. But now I’ve had a bit of a break.

Last week I received a phone call from my physiotherapist, David, to say that his clinic has been allowed to re-open. Would I be interested in resuming my program of twice-weekly sessions? Would I!

There are some new rules — we’ll both wear masks; I’ll wait at my car until David waves for me to enter; the waiting room will be closed, so I’ll enter through the large glass siding doors;  and we’ll wash our hands before getting started. But at least this bit of normalcy will be a nice change. I start tomorrow.

More take-out magic: Jan and I are continuing to take advantage of the take-out services of local restaurants, which aren’t allowed to open up for seated customers. I wrote about this most recently in “Roast pork? Sweet!”, posted on April 27.

Most recently, on Saturday we enjoyed lunch dishes picked up from Sawadee — the Thai restaurant in nearby Cénac. Today (Sunday), we lunched at least as well with selections from Daglan’s own Le Petit Paris. Here’s a few looks at what we had:

For Saturday’s lunch, I ordered the sauté of chicken with a big assortment of vegetables and fresh cashew nuts, plus a serving of rice, for just 15 euros. It was delicious and so hearty that I almost (that’s almost) had trouble finishing the meal. Here’s my plate:

A huge portion, and quite delicious.

As it happened, on Saturday Jan had also picked up dishes from Sawadee for two friends in our village, and here’s a note that our friend Vicky emailed back to us: “Just finished our meal — delicious, very fresh, and a lovely change.” I completely agree.

As for today’s lunch, Jan and I each had the Le Petit Paris main course of beef cheeks — that is, joue de bœuf français au vin rouge — slow-cooked, with a few vegetables, and accompanied (for me) by gnocchi and (for Jan, puréed potatoes).  Super tender, super flavourful. Divine! Have a look:

Wonderfully tasty, tender beef cheeks.

For dessert, each of us had the crème brûlée flavoured with orange blossoms. While the topping wasn’t crunchy (since this was take-out, after all), the dessert was sweet and delicious. Here’s mine:

Sweets for the sweet!

And all of this for just 30 euros in total — 11 euros each for the main courses, and 4 euros for the desserts. Jan’s verdict: “I may never cook again!”

Our new production line: A new venture from the village Mayor and council is a program for resident volunteers to produce face masks, to be used as protection against Covid-19. Ever eager to help, Jan volunteered to make 60 masks — and today the Mayor delivered the necessary supplies to her: 120 pieces of fabric (two per mask) and enough elastic for the 60 masks. Jan has already cut the elastic into the right lengths, and has advised that we will be making the masks in a production line. We haven’t tried it yet (that will come tomorrow) but I understand that Jan will operate the sewing machine, and I will do whatever she tells me.



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