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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Our quiet (and lovely) retreat

Daglan’s annual Fête de la Saint-Louis took place this past weekend. And that explains why my wife Jan and I escaped the village — well, the loud, late-night music from the nearby bumper car ride — for three nights. Our August escape from the fête  is pretty much a tradition.

Last year our destination was Toronto, home of family and friends, but most years we stay somewhere within a short driving distance of Daglan, so we can look after our cat Souci during the days. At night our friend Sara stays at our home, watching over Souci as well, while her young son enjoys the fête.

This year we tried a new place (new to us, that is), and were delighted not only with the tranquillity but also the hospitality, the comfort, the food, and lots more. Here’s the front of La Belle Demeure, on the road leading out of St. Cybranet on the way to Cénac:

The sign out front.

La Belle Demeure (the word demeure means residence, by the way) is a B & B, so breakfast is offered each morning. Dinners are offered occasionally (we enjoyed a three-course dinner on the Saturday night), while snacks are offered at apéro time and bottles of wine can be purchased.

Breakfast, dinners and drinks are served on a large, grape-vine-covered terrace when the weather allows, and it’s an attractive setting for relaxing and conversation, with a view overlooking the pool. Here’s the view:

Care for a dip?

And here are a few more details on aspects of La Belle Demeure that Jan and I enjoyed:

The hospitality. Our hosts were the owners, Richard and Philippe — both experienced in hotels and both brimming with hospitality, enthusiasm, good humour, and genuine concern for the comfort of their guests. Richard is English and Philippe is French, and both are fluently bilingual.

The comfort. While the building is old, the conveniences are up to date. Our room was large, with just the right amount of furniture, good lighting, a very comfortable mattress, and a well-appointed bathroom (with enough shelf space for toiletries and so on).

The food. Our Saturday night dinner included foie gras to begin, then a delicious chicken pie, and for dessert a Pavlova covered in whipped cream and fresh fruit. We had breakfast at the B & B each morning, and were impressed with the variety of foods on offer — with at least one different fresh-baked dish (baked by Richard) each morning.

So clearly this place has the Radio Free Daglan seal of approval. For future reference, the phone number is 05 – 53 – 28 – 57 – 12, if you’re calling from France. If you’re outside France, you dial the country code (33) and omit the 0 in the 05 beginning.

Posted in Food, French food, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France, Wine | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Historic inventions in our streets

Each year, the Sunday afternoon parade is a highlight of Daglan’s four-day Fête de la Saint-Louis, and it always has a theme (Liberation, Music, Civilization, the Western movie, and so on). This year’s theme was historic inventions.

The inventions highlighted in the parade weren’t necessarily ones I would have chosen, but clearly some thought and a lot of work had gone into planning the parade and its floats.

What follows is a photographic review of some of the entries, starting with the steam engine (which I’ll admit looks a lot like a tractor) driving a train.

Choo choo!

The jet engine is a more modern invention, and is particularly impressive when mounted in a little airplane or rocket that in turn is mounted on a small scooter. This one was scooting around and weaving its way through the other entries:

Here he comes — again!

Plastic is of course an historic invention, and one of its many uses — as demonstrated on this float — is in the manufacture of very large condoms, which in fact can be worn on the head:

There’s nothing like protection.

It was natural that an airplane would be featured among historic inventions, although I had the feeling that this entry had been seen before — when the parade theme was Liberation. By the way, the words on the side of the plane’s nose mean The Widow Maker.

A bit of historical research (thank you, Mr. Internet) turned up the fact that many planes have had that nick name over the years, including one unfortunate new model in World War II that kept stalling and crashing, thus making widows out of the young pilots’ wives. Here it is:

And away it goes!

The band may not be considered an historic invention (or maybe it is), but this group of marching musicians added a lot of life to the parade, and for a time drowned out the music of the bumper car ride:

Playing to beat the band.

The telephone was clearly a major breakthrough in communications (and did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented it in Canada?). I’m pretty sure the first one wasn’t pink, but this version was fairly attractive:

Give me a ring sometime!

A large sign on the front of the next float highlighted the 100th anniversary of rugby in Daglan, but the contraption on the platform  stumped my wife Jan and me at first.

Clearly the vertical column was some sort of chimney, but what was that word on the right-hand cylinder? (On the left of the chimney were the letters RCD, for Rugby Club of Daglan.) See if you can make it out:

Smoke was pouring out of the chimney.

We had to ask four fluent French speakers before we got the answer: Gnôle means hooch. That is, moonshine. Fun guys, these rugby fans!



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Packing up early

It looks to us like Daglan’s Fête de la Saint-Louis — what I call the Festival of Heat and Noise — is losing a bit of momentum. It’s supposed to be a four-day event, but today there is already strong evidence that interest is fading.

You may recall that I recently posted a photo of a massive bumper car ride that was installed in the village’s main square. While the cars themselves aren’t much of a nuisance, the loud music blaring from the ride’s loudspeakers is very much an irritant. Here’s a reminder of what the ride looks like:

Ready to rumble.

Since today (Monday) is the last day of the festival, the ride should still  be operating. So imagine our surprise when my wife Jan and I drove into the village early this morning, and found that the ride had been completely broken down and packed into its carrying vehicle, ready to be carted away. Here’s the truck, with the ride inside:

Ready to roll.

Later on, just after noon, I again drove into Daglan after doing some shopping, and found that virtually all the stalls — games, candy vendors and so on — were either completely gone or else packed into trucks and vans and ready to disembark. I guess business just isn’t what it used to be.

Tonight there is a bal musette scheduled — that’s a sort of old-fashioned dance, typically including accordion music — but that seems to be the last gasp of our festival.

Two more reports on all this will be coming soon. One will be my coverage of Sunday’s fête parade, and the other will be a review of the lovely B & B where Jan and I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, in order to avoid the noise of the bumper car ride.

At least tonight, noise levels should be back to normal — which is to say, nice and quiet.


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And so it begins, again…

Is it a false memory, based on a fervent wish? An unsubstantiated report? A rumour? A daydream?

I’m not sure, but I have this idea that, a while ago, someone told me that the bumper car ride would not be part of this year’s Fête de la Saint  -Louis, Daglan’s annual summer festival that started today and runs through Monday. Or else that the ride would be moved — so that it would no longer take up half of the village’s main square.

But no, this morning as I drove past the village square, there it was, just waiting to get started. And now, in the afternoon, it has indeed started up, and in our house not far from the village square, we can hear the music blaring out of the loudspeakers.

To be clear, I have no objection to kids’ rides in general, or bumper cars in particular, and I generally am fond of music. But it gets to be a bit much when the music keeps pounding away until late in the night, usually past midnight.

The ride itself is massive, and assembling it takes the best part of an entire day. (Not a job I would ever want.) Anyway, here it is:

Ready to rumble.

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Kiwi magic in a lovely French village

We had been hoping that this past Sunday would be another beautiful summer’s day, because we knew that the restaurant we would be trying for the first time has lots of outdoor seating. Instead, we woke up to a cool and rainy morning, and proceeded to have a fairly miserable hour-long drive on narrow, twisting roads.

So when we showed up at Le Petit Léon, in the lovely village of  Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, we were seated inside, away from the wet terrace, and joined friends Helen and Roy at our table for lunch.

As you might suspect, when we had finished our lengthy and truly enjoyable lunch, the weather had changed completely, with brilliant sunshine, as you’ll see in this photograph that I took as we left the restaurant for the long ride home:

The restaurant’s gated entrance.

We were visiting Le Petit Léon because a friend of my wife Jan had heard a glowing recommendation from a tourist, who had stumbled on the restaurant while driving around the Greater Daglan Area.

Things got even more interesting when I visited Le Petit Léon’s website, where the tagline for the restaurant is “Fine Dining with Rustic French Flair.”

In fact, it turns out to be a summer restaurant only, and the chef is a young New Zealander named Nick Honeyman, who trained at a number of restaurants in Australia and France, including the acclaimed L’Arpège in Paris (three Michelin stars).

We chatted with him after our lunch, and learned that he brings his entire brigade from New Zealand to Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. So there really is Kiwi magic in the kitchen, although the serving staff all seemed to be French.  I’ll write a bit more about him later — but now to the food.

All four of us had the 30-euro, three-course lunch, which offered four choices for each course.

My entrée was a wonderful, rich soup — described on the menu as Potato & Truffel Velouté | courgettes | ricotta | salted melon | garlic. Okay, their spelling isn’t always perfect; that should be truffle. In any case, it was truly exceptional, with a heady aroma of truffle. Here’s my serving:

My incredibly rich entrée.

My plat principal was equally wonderful. The menu describes the dish as Veal Rump | beef cheek | cep sauce | smoked purée | brown onion. More commonly, in France that sauce made with cep would be cèpe, but what the heck. The pieces of veal were perfectly cooked, tender and succulent. The beef cheek was so soft that it was literally in shreds; in the photo below, the beef is in the little bowl on the left, under the smoked purée:

Beef or veal? It was a tie for deliciousness.

My dessert was a wonderful concoction, described on the restaurant menu as Chocolat | pear & parmesan | fig | spéculoos (so, some of the spellings are French, others English). In case you were wondering, the spéculoos refers to crumbs of a traditional Belgian cookie, cinnamon-flavoured, and surprisingly popular in France. Here’s my dessert:

Absolutely nothing wrong with this!

I’ll close this posting with a few additional bits of information on the locale, the chef, and the restaurant,

The locale. The village name indicates that it’s located on the Vézère River, a long and important tributary of the Dordogne River. The Vézère Valley is made up of limestone cliffs, which are riddled with caves. These provided homes for some of the earliest pre-historic settlers in Europe, and include such famous sites as the Lascaux caves. The whole area was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and has been called The Valley of Mankind.

The chef.  When the four of us left the restaurant, Nick Honeyman was relaxing on the terrace with his infant daughter, and we asked him about his plans. It turns out that he loves France, and regards his time at Le Petit Léon as a virtual vacation. Despite running such a high-quality restaurant, he said his time in rural France is stress-free compared with his life back in New Zealand. There, he owns Paris Butter, a fine-dining restaurant in Auckland. Its website offers this tagline: “French Inspired. New Zealand Grown.” I hadn’t thought that New Zealand could be stressful, because I think of it as a green and pleasant land. But Auckland is a major city (population of more than 1.6 million) located near the north end of the North Island. So I guess it’s busy, busy for the chef and his crew.

The restaurant. We’d love to go back, but our visit might have to wait until next summer. We have a lot of social events ahead of us in August, so I figured we could go with our friend Joanne when she visits Daglan in September. But no dice — the restaurant opened June 20th, and is in business only until September 1. Boo hoo!

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