100 years on — Daglan remembers

Yesterday was Armistice Day, and ceremonies were held around the world to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Based on news coverage, I know that many were grand and impressive and memorable. But our village put its heart and soul into its own ceremony, and made it quite an event.

Thankfully, the day was sunny and a bit cool, but not cold. The weekly Sunday market took place as usual — certainly scaled down from its size in the tourist season — but still useful. It included a wine stall, a chèvre (goat cheese) stall, the vegetable man, and the flower lady. Here’s a look:

A relatively quiet market day.

Across the street from the market, beside the war memorial, the November 11 ceremony began quite promptly at 11 a.m., as the bells in our church spire started to toll the hour. In fact, they kept tolling through much of the ceremony’s beginning, including the playing of The Last Post and the address by our Mayor, which included a lengthy message from France’s President. Here’s our Mayor (with the blue, white and red ribbons of France) as the trumpet played:

A trumpet begins the ceremony.

A key feature of the ceremony each year is the reading of the list of the war’s victims from the Daglan area. Here is the veteran reading the list, and after each name is called, all of us say: “Mort pour la France” (that is, Died for France):

The names of the fallen are read out.

This year’s extended ceremony included major participation by the students at Daglan’s primary school. They sang, recited poetry, and read stories that detailed the exploits of family members who had taken part in World War I. Here are some of the students:

The students performed wonderfully.

As the ceremony came to a close, our Mayor asked us all to step around to the other side of the war monument. And there was a new plaque on the side of the monument, covered over with a plastic sheet. Here is the unveiling:

The plaque was covered.

And here is the plaque — the text of which appears first in Occitan (the old language of the area, and a few other spots in Europe) and then in French. The author was Jacques Coudon, modestly listed on the plaque as Paysan-Poète Daglanais, and M. Coudon himself read out his text to the crowd:

The plaque, in both Occitan and French.

Once the ceremony at the war memorial had ended, many of the crowd followed the village officials up to the cemetery, to place flowers on the tombs of World War I victims.

And then it was off to the school yard, for the traditional vin d’honneur — which is to say, drinks and snacks. Finally, there was a lovely lunch at Le Petit Paris — heavily subsidized by the village, because my wife Jan and I had to pay only 10 euros each. Here’s our long table (other guests were up on the next level of the restaurant):

Our long table, ready for lunch.

At each place setting, there was an attractive card for the Repas du Souvenir (or Remembrance Meal), which included the text of M. Coudon’s plaque, as well as the menu for lunch. Here’s my card:

A card for each place setting.

Also at each place with this attractive badge, which we all pinned (or tried to pin) to our shirts, sweaters or jackets:

Our special badge.

And now for the food: We began with a salad of warm lentils and lardons, topped with a poached egg and a crunchy crouton; it was delicious, but far too large for Jan and me, so half was left un-eaten. Then came the main course — Limousin beef that had been slow-cooked in Bergerac wine, and served with a variety of légumes oubliés, or forgotten vegetables, like white beets and yellow carrots. Deliciously tender. And here’s my plate:

The beef was incredibly tender.

For dessert, we had a baba au rhum maison, which was sweet and sloshed with rum, and quite good. Here’s mine:

A seriously sweet — and rum-soaked — dessert.

And then it was off to home — for us, just a short walk from the restaurant. We were both so satisfied after the lunch that neither of us ate anything for dinner. A very good, very impressive day: So some congratulations are due to the organizers, but also to the many Daglanais who turned out to mark the occasion.

For the next really big memorial event, we will have to wait until 2045 — the 100th anniversary of the end of World War II. And let’s just hope we don’t have any other major wars before then. Two were more than enough.

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

Back to a former school house (for lunch)

My wife Jan and I had eaten many times at La Récréation in the past, but hadn’t visited there in a few years. However, we made up for the omission a few weeks ago, when we headed south to Les Arques for lunch there with our Daglan neighbour, Babs. And all three of us were really pleased with the experience.

Before I show off the food, here’s a look at the restaurant, which is located in a former school house. This photo was taken just outside the gate that opens up to a large courtyard:

Our table was just inside the courtyard.

For some useful background, here’s an excerpt from the posting called “Sweets for the sweet,” that I published a full seven years ago (October 2010):

La Récréation is a marvellous little restaurant in the tiny village of Les Arques, about 40 minutes south of Daglan. Its fame has grown because of a book called From Here, You Can’t See Paris by the American writer Michael Sanders. And while the book is ostensibly about spending a year in the restaurant business in the southwest of France, it really offers a rich description of the area’s people, landscape, politics and history. If you’re interested in France at all, I think it’s worth a read; you can find out more at http://www.michaelssanders.com/fromhere.html … The restaurant’s name means “recess,” referring to our favourite period in school, when we ran around the school yard like maniacs.

And now we can move along to the food itself, at our recent lunch. To begin, we were offered fresh marinated anchovies, served on thin strips of toast, as an amuse bouche. Then, as a standard part of the 38-euro menu, we each had a bowl of soup that was billed as gazpacho, but which was more like a normal tomato soup. Wrong billing, but warming and delicious in any case.

Then came our entrées, and I (wisely) chose my long-time favourite at La Récré — the lobster-filled ravioli, with sauce corail, which is a rich sauce made from lobster eggs, known as the coral in English.  I believe this has been on the menu for years, and for good reason. Here is my plate:

The sauce must be consumed!

Fortunately a large basket of fresh bread was on the table, as the sauce simply had to be mopped up after I finished the ravioli themselves.

Next, for my main course, I had a filet de bar (sea bass) served with a variety of vegetables, and yet more sauce corail:

A lovely dish of fish (and veggies).

My dessert was a nice concoction, bringing together the flavours of chocolate, raspberry, and a pistachio foam. Here it is:

My yummy dessert.

Aside from the food, a few other factors contributed to our good experience. For one, it was a beautiful sunny day, with barely a whisper of wind. Sitting in the courtyard gave us that taste of summer, even though it was autumn.

Another reason for happiness was the excellent, prompt service — which was all the more surprising because the courtyard was crowded with diners. We had feared long waits between courses, but were delighted with the quick (but not rushed) service. All in all, a place to visit again.

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My vote for Best Tourist Attraction

We are now well into autumn in the Greater Daglan Area — days are cooler;  shops, campgrounds and restaurants are closing for the season; traffic is lighter; and tourists are increasingly rare. Tree leaves have turned from green to golden and then to brown, and now are simply succumbing to the force of gravity. (Pure poetry.)

But a few weeks ago, on a wonderfully sunny day, my wife Jan and I decided to take our visitors — her cousin David and his wife Christine — to a place that I’ve now decided is probably the No. 1 tourist attraction in our immediate area: Château des Milandes.

You reach it by heading north from Daglan, passing through St. Cybranet. Then you continue north when you reach Castelnaud. (Bear left, instead of turning right and crossing the Dordogne.) The road winds along until you reach the (well-marked) turn for the château.

Here’s a view of the castle, as seen from the grounds a bit below the main level:

The château, against a clear blue sky.

A lot of factors contribute to the attractiveness of Château des Milandes. First, it combines a connection to medieval times (when it was built) with more modern times. Most famously, it was the home of Josephine Baker, the black American singer and dancer who went on to become a French heroine.

Her story is told beautifully as you walk through the château — which is filled with her furniture and other belongings — with an audio guide that’s available in several languages.

Then there are the raptor shows, which take place several times a day (in peak seasons) and which provide a close look at a range of hawks, owls and falcons. Like, for instance, this owl, taking flight from a post and flying in front of the spectators:

A large owl takes wing.

Or this bald eagle, flying in front of us across an open patch of lawn:

You can really sense his strength.

At the close of the show, one of the keepers mingles with the crowd, answering questions and providing a close look at one of the birds, like this one:

Showing off one of the raptors.

The château is also home to a large expanse of beautiful grounds, made all the more attractive by some new water features. Here is a view looking down a hill that now includes some clever water cascades:

A view down the hill.

And here’s a closer look at one of the water cascades:

The water drops a long, long way down.

An obvious characteristic of the château and its grounds is the high quality of construction, finish and maintenance — the edges of planted areas are sharp, the materials are first-rate, and a lot of thought has gone into the design of the grounds. Here, for instance, is a water spout placed in the centre of a large circle with seats around the edge:

At the centre of a seating area.

Finally, and somewhat amazingly, the château offers a really good brasserie — not a fine-dining place, but a large café that has a full menu, a decent wine list, good service, and reasonable prices. (This is in sharp contrast to some North American “attractions” where lunch is an over-priced hot dog and a soft drink in a paper cup.)

At our lunch, seated at a shaded table on the large terrace, Jan and Christine both had duck; David had a steak; and I had the southern French classic, cassoulet. Delicious!

If you’re headed this way for a vacation next year, and haven’t yet visited Château des Milandes, I recommend it. As a plan of attack, so to speak, I recommend visiting in the late morning; that way, you can enjoy lunch on the terrace; tour the château; and enjoy the raptors show. Be sure to visit on a nice day; you won’t want to sit on the brasserie terrace or watch the birdies in the rain.

For more detail, consult the following:   http://www.milandes.com/en/


Posted in French food, History in France, History in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

From beauty spot to barren plot

Several weeks ago, a pretty fierce storm blew through the Greater Daglan Area, knocking down several trees. (Walnut trees seem to be the most frequent victims of high winds here, as their root systems are surprisingly shallow.)

Unfortunately, some of the trees that were brought down were in a shady glen that for years has been one of my favourite “beauty spots” near Daglan. Then, things got worse.

Here’s that “beauty spot” as it used to be. It’s a stretch of the Céou River near the hamlet of Bouzic, where the river (a tributary of the Dordogne) is not much bigger than a babbling brook, and where there is nice little waterfall. Behold:

Lovely, isn’t it?

Then the Cutting Crew arrived, and beyond sawing and chopping and picking up the pieces of the fallen trees, and also chopping down many standing trees. This is one of the results — a huge pile of logs beside the road:

Lots of lumber, indeed.

And this is what that shady glen was reduced to, after all the sawing had been completed:

Ah, wilderness!

As for that little waterfall — so lovely that I have used a picture of it several times as the header photo for this blog — it’s now something of a trickle, like this:

You can barely make out the “waterfall” now.

Will the forest ever come back? I expect it will, given the healthy combination of rainfall and sunshine that our area receives. But I also expect that it will take several years.

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A chef who keeps on growing

Ever since he gave us a cooking lesson in 2011, Fabrice Lemonnier (Fabrice le Chef) has been reinventing himself. Following experience in pub-restaurants in England and Malta, he moved to Daglan and began growing, and growing, his business.

Initially he catered, gave cooking lessons, and worked in various area restaurants. Then he took over Daglan’s old butcher shop and expanded it to include a variety of products, including cheeses and a number of dishes he prepared (which I covered in “Fabrice le Chef: Open for business,” March 29, 2013).

Later he turned his shop into La Cantine, a small restaurant/café facing Daglan’s main street at Place de la Mairie (which I covered in “Fabrice le Chef, reimagined,” March 25, 2016).

And now he has completed a major expansion, growing into the adjoining house and dramatically re-fashioning it as a restaurant, while also adding a pleasant terrace behind the restaurant. He’s kept the name La Cantine, but otherwise the place is certainly new and improved.

One of his specialities is serving fresh oysters on Sunday afternoons, and that’s why my wife Jan and I visited his expanded restaurant recently. Here’s a look at the oyster table, on the front terrace:

Something of a Sunday tradition.

To convert the adjoining house, Fabrice had construction workers knock out large spaces in the old stone walls and insert windows. Here’s a look:

Two large openings were made in the stone wall.

This is the terrace at the front, right between the expanded restaurant and Daglan’s main street, Rue de la République:

Tables out in front, with a street view.

And this is the new terrace, behind the restaurant, where Jan and I enjoyed our plate of fresh oysters, served with some chilled white wine:

The pleasant rear terrace.

Finally, here is the interior of the expanded restaurant space:

A tastefully decorated room.

Friends were there for dinner just the other night, and said that every table was taken. So the newly expanded La Cantine appears to be off to a good start. Well done!

Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dish du jour — 10-09-2018

Another birthday, another wonderful lunch at Le Gindreau in Saint-Médard.

Yes, this past Friday (September 7) was my wife Jan’s birthday, and to celebrate we drove down to Saint-Médard (less than an hour from Daglan) with friends Joan and Steve from Toronto.

I’ve written often about this restaurant, which was awarded its second Michelin star last year (see “A well-deserved upgrade,” posted February 12, 2017). Its talented chef, Pascal Bardet, continually impresses us with his creativity.

For today’s “Dish du jour,” I’m highlighting just one of several wonderful dishes from last Friday’s birthday lunch. It’s a plate of écrevisses (crayfish) slow-cooked with saddle of rabbit and a small “cake” of light-coloured liver, and served with a savoury sauce, tender green shoots, and tomatoes flavoured with the juice of wild thyme.

And here it is:

A delicious combination.

All four of us left the restaurant after our leisurely lunch feeling well satisfied, and needed only a short rest before continuing Jan’s birthday celebration with neighbours in Daglan.

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Tobacco road

Having been a city guy most of my adult life (Chicago, Montreal, Toronto), I find it constantly interesting to be exposed to rural/agricultural life here in the Greater Daglan Area.

Most interesting of all are the amazing machines that have been designed and built to perform very farm-specific tasks. Among many others, there are machines that pick crops, tractors that shake walnut trees to get the walnuts to fall to the ground, and machines that then move along below the trees to pick up the fallen walnuts. Of course there are lots more, some of which are absolutely huge.

Another step in my learning has been discovering what happens to tobacco after it’s reached maturity and is harvested. So, simply to show you that next step, here’s a photo I took this afternoon at a farm about five kilometres from our village:

Hanging around in the sunshine.

I guess because the weather has been dry, there’s been no need to rush the leaves into tobacco-drying sheds. I can’t say I approve of the end product — I haven’t smoked in well more than 30 years — but the tobacco must give some sort of boost to the farmer’s revenues. And it does look kind of neat.

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments