A singular housing crisis

One of the beautiful features of Daglan and the immediate area is the widespread use of our local limestone in house construction. Virtually all of the old houses in the village are built substantially of this stone, which has a lovely, soft sandy colour.

Aside from their attractiveness, a feature of stone houses is that they are not likely to suffer from house fires — or at least you would think so. But in reality, there is still a lot of wood in stone houses — the beams that hold up the roofs, the flooring, and so on.

And when a house fire does occur, it can be catastrophic. You have to look no further than this house, which sits beside the road that runs between Daglan and St. Cybranet. It’s across the road from a major campsite, and suffered the fire several weeks ago. Now, it appears, the clean-up work has begun, and there’s a construction permit posted in front of the house:

What a disaster!

I don’t know any of the details — exactly when the first occurred, how it happened, and whether anyone was injured. All I know is that it looks absolutely awful.

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The jammed-up village

You wouldn’t normally associate traffic jams with a village like Daglan. However, we currently have a truly major jam — one which doesn’t feature a tangle of cars all jammed together, but a complete blockage. As things stand, it is impossible to drive through Daglan on its single main street, Rue de la République.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs is scheduled to continue for several more days, well into next week.

The cause of the problem is a project right on Rue de la République, where crews have erected scaffolding and are working on the roof of one of the old houses there. With the scaffolding in place, and then the extended base of the crane that’s been raised to roof-level, there is no way for cars to pass.

In fact, the spacing is so tight that Jan couldn’t pass by the work this morning with her bicycle, as she tried to cycle to a friend’s house for their daily exercise session. Fortunately, the village’s Mayor happened to be there, and he stood Jan’s bike on end, and then lifted it over the barrier that was blocking her way. (Pretty good service, eh?)

When you enter the village from the north (from the direction of St. Cybranet), these are the signs you will see — informing you of the blockage, but letting you know that at least you can access the convenience store and our bakery:

Blockage ahead!

And here’s a look at the roofing project itself:

There’s just no way to get through.

Inconvenience is, well, one way to put it. For Jan and me, we can get out away from our house and drive north to St. Cybranet and Cénac (by going over the hill from St. Cybranet) and so on.

But we can’t drive out the south end of the village, which is the way I normally go when I drive to the spa in Costeraste three times a week for aquagym. Instead, I have to drive north quite a ways, then turn right, cross a little bridge, and wind up on the narrow road that passes as a bicycle path.

Eventually, this takes me back to the main road, outside the village, and I continue on to the spa. But I tell you, it’s not comfortable trying to drive along the narrow path when another vehicle is headed towards you.

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Packed in for lunch

When we lived in Toronto, years ago, we would often go out for lunch or dinner with friends for something “cheap and cheerful” — by which we meant a meal such as cheeseburgers and a bottle of wine. Eventually, we realized that there was nowhere “cheap” that we would actually like to go. So we eventually decided that “reasonable” was a more accurate adjective for what we wanted.

Around here, one of the most “reasonable and cheerful” restaurants we know is Le Tournepique, in the lower level of Castelnaud, at the foot of the bridge crossing the Dordogne River. And that’s where we lunched yesterday with, well, quite a crowd. In fact, the place was packed, so service was a tad slow — we waited nearly 30 minutes for our kirs to arrive. By 1 p.m., all of the tables were occupied, and the restaurant is quite large.

There were probably several reasons for the crowd. For one thing, Sunday lunch with family and friends is a well known French tradition. Yesterday was also the day before Valentine’s Day; and not many “reasonable and cheerful” restaurants are open at this time of year. And of course, the food at Le Tournepique — which features both Basque and Périgourdine dishes — is pretty darn wonderful.

For my main course, I chose the Basque-style chicken, which includes a delicious tomato sauce with onions and both red and green peppers; I love it. Here’s a look at my generous serving:

The Basque-style sauce is delicious.

Jan had the moules frites, which is her go-to main dish (the mussels are sweet, the fries are hot and crispy and pretty much perfect), and decided to skip dessert. I, on the other hand, chose the walnut cake, served with walnut ice cream and a small glass of walnut liqueur, which Jan and I shared by pouring some into our coffees. Here’s my dessert:

The walnut liqueur is a great finishing touch.

Another attraction of the restaurant is the location, right beside the Dordogne River. From our table, we could look up and enjoy this view of Château de Castelnaud:

One of the GDA’s most imposing medieval castles.

What would you say would be a “reasonable” price for our lunch — consisting of a kir each; a bottle of French Basque rosé wine; Jan’s moule frites; my Basquaise chicken; my dessert; and two coffees? Well, it was 74 euros, and we were quite pleased with that.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Daglan is, quite frankly, where it’s @

To be a bit more accurate, the headline above should say “Daglan is, quite frankly, where it’s @@@,” but I figured that would be too confusing. Let me now explain, picking up from yesterday’s RFD posting in which I wrote that Daglan has a new title.

The title our village was just awarded comes from a program called the “Label national Territoire villes et villages Internet,” which is a national competition meant to encourage cities and villages to make the Internet as accessible as possible to their citizens. The jury included a wide range of experts, from educators to engineers to scientists to journalists.

And under that program, Daglan is now officially an Internet Village, having earned the title (in French) le label village Internet. This was announced in Paris by Barbara Pompili, Minister of Ecological Transition.

Not only that — Daglan was the only commune in the département of the Dordogne (with 254 participating municipalities) to be so named.

How come? Well, it turns out that the village has pulled together a lot of resources making the most of the Net.

There’s the village website itself. There’s the fact that there are several places with free WiFi access; there’s the use of QR codes on signs that accompany a commentary for visitors; and there’s the distribution of portable computers in the classrooms of our school. As well, the village has created a computer-equipped espace jeunes, which is a meeting place for young people; it’s opened up during school breaks and vacations. And then there’s our Internet-connected weather station.

Daglan’s status can now be advertised on signs and publicity. The village was awarded three arobases — in other words, the “at” symbol — out of a possible five. So now we’re living in Daglan @@@.

Is this cool, or what?

In other news: Tomorrow (Sunday, Feb. 13) is the final day for this season’s winter truffle market, which takes place in the school yard behind the Mayor’s office. If you’re around, servings of scrambled eggs with truffles will be served.

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Glimmers of a normal life — and our new title

Because of the Covid pandemic, life has been anything but “normal” in virtually all parts of the world, including of course the Greater Daglan Area. The recent rapid rise in Covid cases has come as something of a shock, although here in Daglan we have not been hit very hard (I can think of only one neighbour who had the disease).

And now, thank goodness, there are the usual February signs of winter ending, and normalcy returning.

Having endured a particularly long spell of very cold weather, we have now had a break. It still takes several minutes to clear the frost off the car’s windows, but daily high temperatures are now showing up in double figures.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I drove into Sarlat for an appointment, I watched the usual gaggle of lycée (high school) students walking home, and one brave lad was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket.

Another welcome sign of change is that the days are getting longer — so that it’s possible to walk outside at 6 p.m. and actually see where you’re going.

On the food front, Daglan’s restaurant Le Petit Paris opened up from its winter break on February 4 — when the usual date for the annual réouverture has been February 14 (Valentine’s Day).

And while it’s not much, Jan and I spotted a brave flower — a vinca minor, or lesser periwinkle — growing beside a neighbour’s garage. Here it is:

Just one flower, peeking through the leaves.

And in other news, it seems that Daglan has just earned another title. Can you guess? “A beautiful village in a beautiful valley.” Or, “My oh my, what a place!” Or “World Headquarters of Radio Free Daglan.” Sure, all our possibles, but not quite right. I will reveal the truth soon. (And you can handle the truth.)

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Fog to start the day

At this time of year, heavy morning fog isn’t an every-day occurrence in the Greater Daglan Area, but it is fairly common.

For example, I had to drive through thick fog on Saturday morning as well as today (Tuesday), as I headed from Daglan to the tiny hamlet of Costeraste (near Gourdon) to reach the spa where I exercise in its large pool three times a week.

Fortunately, it’s not the kind of fog that slows you down to a crawl, but it does demand that you pay particularly close attention to the road. It would take just a split second for a deer or wild boar to dart out of the brush at the side of the road, before you could see it coming. In any case, as the morning wears on, the sun starts to burn off the fog, and so by noon the driving is usually clear.

Although fog can make driving more treacherous, it does have a more attractive side. I was struck by the following view on Saturday as I left the spa and headed to my car — looking down the hill to a valley still shrouded in fog:

Fog settled in the valley.

It may not be the French equivalent of the Great Smoky Mountains (in the southeastern U.S.), but it was still nice to see.

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The tree and the truffles

Sure signs of the holiday season in Daglan: the village Christmas tree is installed in the main square, and our weekly market for black truffles begins. First, the tree.

I now quote from my posting of December 10, 2016: “There was a period when it seemed like our village council was desperately trying to win the Worst Public Christmas Tree in the Developed World contest.” That referred to the scrawny tree of December 2013.

But things have been improving significantly since then, and now we have the 2021 version, in all its glory. Jan and I saw the tree being installed on Monday, and then decorated on Tuesday. And here it is, as of late Wednesday morning:

A real beauty, we think.

Today Jan said she thinks it’s the village’s best tree ever. I can’t disagree, although I’m not sure how one keeps score. In any case, it’s certainly right up there.

And this week the Mayor announced that the market for winter truffles — the flavoursome black truffles of the Périgord — is starting on Sunday. As in the past, the market will be held in the courtyard of the village’s primary school (just behind the office of the Mayor), and will be run each Sunday until February 13. The hours are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

My advice is to shop early. These little goodies are quite the local delicacy, and they are sold quickly by the local producers who bring their truffles to market.

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Clamato cheer and bean bliss

Before my lunch today, I enjoyed a Bloody Caesar cocktail, made with Clamato. If you know what I mean, you’re almost certainly a Canadian reader; if not, you’re from another part of the world. In fact, I’m not sure that non-Canadians even know what Clamato juice is, so I shall explain.

Let me start with this quote from liquor.com: “In 1969, the owners of the Calgary Inn in Calgary, Alberta, asked Walter Chell, the Montenegrin who presided over their Owl’s Nest bar, to create a recipe to represent their new Italian restaurant in a contest. So Chell took some vodka, a bit of Worcestershire and a little Tabasco, added a mix of clam and tomato juices and dubbed it the “Bloody Caesar.” It sounds rather odd, but it’s the national drink of Canada…”

His mixing of the cocktail is doing it the hard way. The easy way is to buy cans of a concoction called Clamato, which itself is a spiced mix of tomato juice and clam juice, and then to pour a can into a glass with a good measure of vodka and several ice cubes. That’s how I made my drink today.

You may wonder why anyone would bother, since Bloody Marys are so common, and so good. The answer is that Bloody Caesars are better — less apt to be “gluggy,” and thus more easily quaffed. There is only the merest hint of seafood taste, so the resultant cocktail is refreshing and well, yummy.

But where can you buy Clamato in France — where people don’t even know what clam juice is? (It’s the juice inside clam shells, silly. In Toronto, Jan always used bottled clam juice to make bouillabaisse.)

Aha! That’s when we turned to an online shopping service called My American Market, which Jan discovered some time ago when searching for a Clamato source. Before I go more deeply into My American Market, I’ll show you what the Clamato Tomato Cocktail looks like:

An improvement on the Bloody Mary. Really.

As for My American Market, it bills itself as the No. 1 American épicerie (grocery shop) online, since 2009. It’s not exactly a place for bargains, as each small can of Clamato will set you back 1.69 euros. But for occasional treats, it’s worthwhile — and I did love my Bloody Caesar at lunch.

But that’s not all. When Jan was buying the Clamato juice, she asked if there was anything else that I’d like her to search, and I replied “Baked beans.” That happens to be a favourite canned food of mine, and I wanted to see if we could get an American version — which tends to be sweeter and a bit spicier than the British-made Heinz beans we can buy in many French groceries. And the answer was yes!

The beans we bought were these B & M Original Baked Beans, made in Maine. The price is a rather silly 4.09 euros per can (Yikes!) so we bought just four cans, to give them a try. And here’s what the can looks like:

This was a new one on me.

I had never seen this brand when we lived in Canada, so I was anxious to try them. And so I heated them up as an accompaniment to a Mexican-style dish I made one day for breakfast, involving tortilla chips, creme fraiche, and a fried egg. And here’s my breakfast:

My version of a Mexican breakfast, with a New England touch.

As you can see, the beans are particularly dark (I presume that’s the molasses showing). What you can’t know is that they are a lot sweeter than “normal” Heinz beans, and so I like them a lot. Given the atrocious price, I doubt that they’ll become a staple in our house, but they are indeed delicious.

In fact, I’m planning to have them with a Toulouse sausage for lunch on Saturday. Bliss! Jan will miss the excitement, because she’ll be out at a craft class, making a Christmas wreath, and having lunch there. But she doesn’t care for baked beans very much anyway.

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A hint of winter (2021)

Since Jan and I moved to France, we have had only one “bad” snowfall in a Daglan winter. By “bad,” I don’t mean “bad” as we would use the term in Toronto, where it refers to conditions like high winds and drifting, deep snow.

But in February 2012, enough snow fell on Daglan that the white stuff eventually stayed on our roads without melting immediately. Then it did melt — and immediately turned to ice. Roads were so slick that we simply could not drive anywhere, and were house-bound. If you’re interested, you can read “On the road again,” posted February 11, 2012, in which I described how the roads finally became passable once the ice had melted away. (It probably goes without saying that our village has absolutely no equipment to plow snow or scrape the roads of ice.)

Then this morning we got just a hint of the winter to come — as gentle flakes fell from the sky at around 9 a.m. As time went on, the snow stayed in place on rooftops through the village. But then, as the morning wore on, the snow began to melt away.

When I left the house for an appointment just after 11 a.m., the only “accumulation” of snow that I could see was the light collection on the windshield of my car. As you can see, a shovel was not required:

No scraper needed — this just melted away.

And now, in the late afternoon, there is virtually no sign of snow. But it sure starts getting dark fairly early these nights.

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A different sort of Remembrance Day

For some years, Jan and I have been pretty consistent in paying our respects on Remembrance Day, which is called Onze novembre (November 11th) in France, by attending the special service at our village’s war memorial. But for a variety of scheduling reasons, on Thursday we wound up on the road for a short trip to Arcachon with good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard.

We had liked Arcachon so much on a trip with friends Kathy and Keith just a few weeks earlier that we thought another visit to the seaside would be fun. As it turned out, it was not only fun but a bit surprising.

No surprises at our hotel (we again stayed at Hotel Le B d’Arcachon), or in the seaside restaurants (we again ate at Café de la Plage and Chez Pierre, which are sister restaurants that are side-by-side and that share the same menu) or in the quality of the seafood (excellent).

What was surprising was the town itself, and how it was buzzing with tourists, despite November’s reputation as a pretty quiet month for travel — to the point that many restaurants close for the winter season in November.

Our first clue to the vibrancy of Arcachon in mid-November was when we tried to book the hotel for Friday night (that is, the day after Onze novembre): Not only was our hotel fully booked, but so was every other hotel in town. That’s why we switched to a Thursday-night stay, when Jan was able to book two rooms in our hotel. Then, on the drive into Arcachon late on Thursday morning, we encountered a massive traffic jam caused simply by the volume of vehicles entering the town.

When we arrived at our hotel, we saw that the carousel on the beach was still in place, and still accepting riders. What was new — and surprising — was a huge Ferris wheel that had been constructed since our visit in late September. Obviously some people must know that Arcachon is a popular destination for vacationers.

Given all this, it was not completely surprising to see how crowded the bars, cafés and restaurants were. For all our meals, it seemed that every table was occupied. And at the outdoor cafés, servers were virtually running from table to table to keep up with demand. (Another positive surprise: Despite the rush, the restaurant and café service was uniformly excellent — friendly and professional.)

Of course this wouldn’t be Radio Free Daglan without a look at the food on offer, so here are two items we enjoyed on our trip. First is the dish that was probably the favourite of our group — a piece of roast cod, topped with a strip of grilled bread and flakes of haddock, surrounded by a pool of vichyssoise and wedges of roasted onions. Here’s my serving:

A delicious variety of tastes and textures.

And here’s my plate of grilled sole, served simply with roast potatoes and a right-sized portion of salad:

Just the right amount, with all the right tastes.

Jan and I are already thinking ahead to our next trip to Arcachon. Clearly, it’s won us over.

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