Daglan’s near-normal July

In summers, the British typically are among the most numerous of visitors to the Greater Daglan Area. But not this year. Because of various travel restrictions, it has been virtually impossible for the British to visit France — including a number of our friends who have holiday homes near us in Daglan. And for quite a while, in fact virtually the entire spring, things around here have been extremely quiet.

But now we are well into July, and the usual  hordes of tourists have arrived. Still no British, but lots of people from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain and, of course, other parts of France. This is anecdotal, but it seems to me that the language I’m hearing most often is French.

You can spot the change on the area’s roads — more car traffic, lots more campers, and lots of cyclists, runners, and walkers. And now Daglan’s Sunday market is operating almost as it was in the good old days, before Covid 19. Here’s a look at some of today’s action.

The market, which starts up each Sunday morning in our main square, dwindles to very little in the winter. But now it seems to be back to pretty much normal, in terms of the number of vendors. The village has added barriers to guide shoppers around the square, and to make social distancing more obvious, and some shoppers are wearing face masks. But otherwise, it seems to be business as usual. Here’s a look, as of about noon today:

Now, a full complement of vendors.

With the tourists, of course, come the vehicles — and some really tight squeezes on the village’s main street. Fortunately, the drivers all travel slowly and carefully, but getting through Daglan can be a bit of a challenge. Have a look:

Playing dodge-’em, with real cars.

Naturally there are lots of tourists walking around, in and out of the bakery and the convenience store and of course the market. If you’re driving, you’re often dodging not only other vehicles but pedestrians. Like these:

Strolling through the village is a popular activity.

Aside from adding some buzz to our otherwise quiet village, the summer inflow of tourists has one particular benefit — it gives a much-needed financial boost to the stores, restaurants, campgrounds and tourist attractions that rely on a busy summer to make ends meet.

 

 

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Volunteering — with brushes in hand

One morning earlier this week, my wife Jan headed over to Daglan’s outdoor gym, located next to our tennis court and behind the Salle des fêtes, or community hall. When she arrived, she saw a large group of villagers being addressed by Thierry Cabianca, our 2ème adjoint, or the second deputy to the Mayor. What’s up?, she wondered.

Thierry explained to Jan that this was a group of bénévoles, or volunteers, whose mission for the day was to clean and then paint the various Calvaires (monuments carrying a crucifix) throughout the village and up in the hamlets that surround Daglan. Remember that ours is a village that truly cares about its appearance.

Later that morning, as I drove out of Daglan, I spotted one of the groups of volunteers at the north end of the village. One of them was up a ladder, more or less lost in a tree, and I couldn’t figure out why. In any case, here’s some of the people I saw:

Working at the north end of the village.

At the intersection where the volunteers were working stands a large monument to Abbé Guillaume Delfaud, who was born in Daglan in 1733 and eventually was given the title of Archiprêtre, an honorific that means something like Head Priest. (More on him at the end of this posting.) So I figured they were cleaning the bust, and indeed it does look pretty spiffy. Have a look:

A well-placed — and nicely cleaned — monument.

But then why the ladder? It turns out that one of the volunteers had climbed up the ladder in order to paint a crucifix fixed to a monument (dated 1872) several metres from the bust. It’s so high up in the tree branches that, frankly, I’d never noticed it. It’s painted dark green, which makes it even more invisible in the tree. Have a look, and see if you can make it out:

Look! Up in the sky!

Because our home is just below the village church, and a neighbour’s house is the former presbytery, there’s a small crucifix just a few metres from our front steps. It too had been carefully cleaned and painted dark green. Here it is, looking quite well polished:

Freshly scrubbed and painted.

As for the village’s volunteer program, Jan participated a few years ago — in a group effort to clean branches, rocks, fallen trees and other debris out of the Céou River. Now she is planning to follow up with the Mayor’s office, to be added to the list of volunteers for future campaigns.

Some final historical notes: Regarding Abbé Delfaud, the following is an English translation of  a Wikipedia entry in French: “Elected deputy of the clergy to the Estates General of 1789, first favorable to the start of the Revolution,  he then opposed the civil constitution of the clergy. Arrested, he [was] killed in prison [in 1792]. He is recognized as a martyr and blessed by the Catholic Church.”  The bust itself was stolen by the occupying German soldiers near the end of World  War II (1944) and taken to Germany; it was repatriated to Daglan in 1960.

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Trash Talk 4: The earth beneath our feet

Unless you live in Daglan, you will find this post incredibly boring. If you are indeed a non-resident, I suggest that you leave the blog now, and take up something like origami or stamp-collecting.

Even if you do live in Daglan, you’ll find this posting of only marginal interest — that is, unless you have been bothered (as I have been) by the rough, even dangerous, footings around our new poubelles (the bins for household garbage, recyclable materials, and glass).

To refresh your memory on the general topic, here’s a bit of what I wrote in “Trash Talk 3: Storm clouds ahead,” posted on April 15:

 Several days ago, I made my first journey to one of the collection points. With a load of household garbage, glass bottles, and cardboard cartons, I drove to the bins now located on the parking lot of Daglan’s salle des fêtes, or community hall.

There are only three bins there — one for garbage, one for packaging to be recycled, and one for glass jars and bottles. And guess what? The bin for packaging was already packed. Impossible to stuff in any more cardboard.

Since then, I haven’t come across any overloaded bins — so that’s a plus. However, I have been bothered by the footing around the bins, since the area was covered with very rough stones, making it difficult to walk. Now I have nothing against crushed rock as a sensible base; but many of these stones were as large as walnuts and even apricots. Once at the salle des fêtes bins,  I tried to kick away one of the larger stones, lost my balance, and tumbled to the (very hard) ground. Not nice at all.

But we’ve now had progress. On Friday, as I drove to the bins near the rugby field, I noticed a large and unusual-looking truck parked there, with two workmen scurrying around. It didn’t seem like the kind of truck that would unload the poubelles, so I really wasn’t sure what they were up to.

Then yesterday, it became clear. The workmen had smoothed the ground around the bins, put down a layer of black tar (or similar material), and then covered the area with finely crushed grey rocks. So unloading my garbage and recyclables this morning was a relative breeze — and much safer. (I expect that the other two main collection points will get the same treatment, although I haven’t checked yet.) Here’s what the bins at the rugby field look like now:

Around the bins, it’s nice and smooth.

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A Cava correction

Accuracy is something I strive for in Radio Free Daglan, and when I find I’ve made an error, I want to correct it. And so this is an apology, of sorts, for something I wrote in “A bit of a Spanish connection,” posted on June 26.

In a bit of a rant, I had written that it’s occasionally frustrating to discover that products from nearby countries are difficult to find in the Greater Daglan  Area. Here is the part that I came to realize is wrong:

Spain is a neighbour (and is particularly close to those of us in the southwest of France), and supermarkets here do stock a number of Spanish products — olives and chorizo come to mind. It’s easy to buy Prosecco (from Italy) but not Cava (from Spain).

The day that I posted my piece was Friday, and the next day Jan and I went shopping in Gourdon to get supplies for a lunch we were hosting for good friends the next day. And when Jan emerged from the Carrefour supermarket, she proudly announced that she had found bottles of Cava in the store, and had bought two of them! She was as surprised as I was.

And so, just to prove the point, here’s a view from my end of the table at our Spanish-themed Sunday lunch: a bottle of Cava, a glass of the bubbly, and a look at my serving of paella:

Some Spanish treats.

 

 

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A bit of a Spanish connection

Living in rural southwest France has its many advantages, but cosmopolitan shopping is not one of them. Since Jan and I spent much of our adult lives in the large city of Toronto, we became used to shopping for wines from all over the world; choosing from a huge variety of breads, meats and spices, and much more. But in the Greater Daglan Area, not so much.

Things on the shopping front have certainly improved since we moved here, some 10 years ago. Gluten-free products (for Jan) are now readily available. Products favoured by the British and the Dutch (common visitors in the GDA) are now much more available in supermarkets.

But some of the merchandising choices are a bit odd. For instance, supermarkets offer all sorts of Italian pasta and sauces, but not fresh Italian sausage (like the fennel-seed-flavoured sausages we used to buy in Toronto). As for Thai spices, ingredients for Chinese dishes, and “basic” breads like bagels, buns, rye bread, pumpernickel, and so on — forget it.

One of the strangest absences (to us, anyway), is sherry. While supermarkets stock all kinds of port (ruby, tawny, and so on), plus Campari, Madeira, Scotch (blended and single malt), and even Canadian whisky, sherry simply cannot be found.

Is it a Spanish “thing”? Remember that Spain is a neighbour (and is particularly close to those of us in the southwest of France), and supermarkets here do stock a number of Spanish products — olives and chorizo come to mind. It’s easy to buy Prosecco (from Italy) but not Cava (from Spain). I’m not sure I get it.

Anyway, we now have a source for sherry!

By searching online for the Spanish fortified wine, we discovered an outfit called Bodeboca, and placed a first order for a bottle of Tio Pepe (the popular dry sherry) and one of a darker, richer sherry, oloroso. After just a few days, a box with the two bottles was delivered late this morning.

The package that was delivered today.

It was just in time for each of us to have a glass of iced Tio Pepe before our lunch (instead of the usual kir), with enough sherry (Tio Pepe and oloroso) available for a Spanish-themed lunch we are hosting for friends on Sunday. Hurrah!

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Lunch in (yes, in!) a restaurant (and a terrific one to boot!)

While restaurants in the Greater Daglan Area have been open for a while, my wife Jan and I had been cautious about eating in confined public spaces, and so we had been using the take-out option (as loyal readers will know). But yesterday we went for the real thing — and had an enjoyable experience and a wonderful meal.

The occasion was a drive (lasting a bit more than two hours) to Toulouse, where I had a medical appointment. Our friends Richard and Rosemary had volunteered to drive, and so the four of us set out from Daglan at about 10 a.m. We arrived at the restaurant just five minutes or so before the time of our reservation, at 12:30.

The restaurant is located pretty much in the heart of Toulouse, and it specializes in one thing — fresh seafood. Its name? See the place mat below:

The restaurant’s name, on a place mat.

Jan had eaten at Chez Jeannot several times, but this was a first for me. Right from the start, I knew why she had raved about it: A warm welcome at the door, a clean and sophisticated decor, and professional service. Here’s one look at the restaurant, towards the entrance (where there is a large tank containing live lobsters):

Towards the entrance, from our table.

And here’s another view from our table. Note that the walls show what types of seafood are available on that day, as well as the prices. If there is no price next to the name of a particular item, it means that the seafood is not available. In other words, you’re quite sure you’ll be eating fresh food. You’ll also note that the restaurant has a nice “nautical” theme, without being over the top, and that it’s bright and clean-looking:

Seafood availability is well noted.

Once the four of us were settled at the table, we each had a kir and then set about ordering. We opted to start with fine de claire oysters as an entrée, and ordered a dozen — six for me, and six for the others to share. As a matter of interest, here’s some information on this type of oyster, from the Marennes Oléron website:

The fine de claire is for those who prefer a less fleshy oyster. These oysters are finished for several weeks in shallow clay ponds where they acquire a superior quality shell to oysters grown in the open sea. It is during this process that the claires of the Marennes Oléron basin impart the subtleties of regional flavours. This oyster is particularly appreciated by the consumer who prefers an oyster rich in water and balanced in flavour.

Here’s the ice-covered platter on which our oysters were served:

We shared a dozen (with six for me).

At a neighbouring table, we saw a man devouring a plate of grilled gambas (a shellfish somewhat larger than shrimp), and both Jan and Rosemary were convinced that this was the dish for them.  And rightly so, as you’ll see from this look at Jan’s plate:

A plate of gorgeous gambas.

Richard’s choice for the plat principal was a sautéed turbotin (a small turbot) which he said he really enjoyed. As for me, I was in a “go-big-or-go-home” mood, after the half-dozen oysters, and so I ordered a whole blue lobster with mayonnaise, at 38 euros. It came on a large platter of chipped ice, with several shrimp tossed in for good measure. Oh, and a side order of frites. Here’s the serving:

The highlight of my meal, of course!

Still operating at maximum velocity, I was the only one of the four of us to order dessert, and chose the tarte tatin, one of my all-time favourites. My portion was certainly tasty, but it didn’t seem like a classic version — in which you can usually spot the individual slices of apple. Of course I devoured it, but as you can see in the photo below, the filling looks a bit mushy:

A somewhat mushy (but still delicious) tarte tatin.

My final thought was simply that I wish more restaurants could be like this: Specializing in one type of food and doing it very well. Having well-qualified, friendly and professional staff (and by the way, all the staff wore face masks at all times, and cleaned each table and chair vigorously after customers had departed). And sporting a smart, well-lighted décor.

The details: Chez Jeannot is located at 1 Rue de Bayard, Toulouse. The phone number is 05 – 61 – 62 – 43 – 46. And right next to the restaurant is a shop selling the same fresh seafood. If you have a reason to be in Toulouse, I’ve just given you another reason.

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Yet another try at the take-out option

Restaurants in the Greater Daglan Area are now allowed to serve people indoors, not just outside on terraces. Still, Jan and I have been cautious, and have used the take-out services of nearby restaurants for our Sunday lunches. And so it was yesterday — with food picked up from Daglan’s lovely restaurant, Le Petit Paris, a short walk from our home in the village.

I give the restaurant a lot of credit for varying its take-out menu day by day. Yesterday’s plat principal was anything but “fine,” but it was certainly delicious. It was the classic home style dish, pot-au-feu, at just 11 euros.

In case you’re not sure what pot-au-feu is, here’s what one of my favourite cook books, Saveur Cooks Authentic France, Rediscovering the Recipes, Traditions, and Flavors of the World’s Greatest Cuisine, has to say about the dish:

“Literally ‘pot on the fire,’ pot-au-feu dates back to the Middle Ages and is now unarguably the national dish of France.”

In somewhat less grand terms, this might be described simply as a boiled beef dinner. In any case, it consists of slow-cooked beef in a vegetable broth, with potatoes, carrots, leeks, celeriac, and celery. It’s not glamorous, but it’s very tasty. And here’s my serving:

Meat, veg, potato — the big three.

The take-out desserts at Le Petit Paris for yesterday included Crème citron mascarpone at just 4 euros, and so that’s what we ordered.

The creamy dish, decorated with a fresh sprig of mint and some red currants, was smooth and delicious. Here’s my serving:

Nice and creamy, with the fresh taste of lemon.

As for next Sunday, who knows what we’ll try. But in the meantime, we have a date for lunch on Wednesday with friends — inside an actual restaurant for the first time in a long time. No doubt I will be reporting. After all, it’s a top-flight restaurant specializing in seafood.

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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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