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Deliciously Dysfunctional Dordogne - A Trip Report

Deliciously Dysfunctional Dordogne - A Trip Report

Old Aug 21st, 2008, 08:06 PM
  #1  
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Deliciously Dysfunctional Dordogne - A Trip Report

I just started this thread because it will make me write the first trip report I've posted in several years, for several reasons. Let's just say that when I'm over jet lag and caught up with work I'll be posting a report of three glorious weeks in France, 2.5 of them at our house in St-Cirq in the Dordogne and 4 days at the end of the trip in Paris.
It will be the expurgated version (I myself and my publisher get to deal with the unexpurgated stuff, for what it's worth) , but I trust will hold some interest. For those of you not familiar with my trip reports, which used to be rampant in these parts, let's just say if you're not into detail and derailment and diversion, this will not be for you. For the rest of you, make a pot of coffee tomorrow morning and get ready for some fun......
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Old Aug 21st, 2008, 08:20 PM
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Sounds yummy, I'm waiting!
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Old Aug 21st, 2008, 08:31 PM
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Looking forward to it also.

Tom
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Old Aug 21st, 2008, 10:00 PM
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It's raining, cold and miserable here St Cirq. But I know this will cheer me up, looking forward to it.
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Old Aug 21st, 2008, 10:08 PM
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The coffee will be brewed tomorrow morning and I so look forward to the beginning of your report StCirq.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:23 AM
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ira
 
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Hi StC,

>It will be the expurgated version (I myself and my publisher get to deal with the unexpurgated stuff,...<

Good for you!

When does the book come out?

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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:30 AM
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StCirq, I'm really looking to your report, especially since I have been to your beautiful hamlet in the Dordogne and was just steps from your home I later discovered. I came across one of your reports on another site one time and loved it, by the way. Oh no, am I coming across as a stalker?
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 05:43 AM
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LOL, ira.

My publisher would like to know the answer to that same question! I've got a huge amount of sifting through almost 20 years of journals, photos, trip reports, receipts, and memories to put it all together in cohesive fashion, but it's coming along.

Moolyn, not to worry. I'm honored you took the time to visit my hamlet. Just glad you weren't there when part of the cliff fell down last spring!

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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 05:49 AM
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Looking forward to your report!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 05:51 AM
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Great anticipation fills the Nuke household!

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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 07:29 AM
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I'll be grinding coffee beans as soon as I sign off here!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 08:40 AM
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Warning - Long and Potentially Tedious!

July 30, 2008

The day has finally arrived for our long-awaited return to St-Cirq. Almost two and a half years have transpired since we were last in the embrace of our home village in the heart of the Périgord – years during which we endured a seemingly never-ending smackdown of personal and familial tragedies: illnesses, divorces, deaths, and the inexorable unraveling of a life we had spuriously come to think of as one smooth sail. Not so. It was if we had bypassed all the normal bumps in the road, and while we weren’t looking they had coalesced into a giant cancerous ganglion and come after us from all angles with a vengeance. Somehow, though, through wit and grit and a collective personal determination to slay the beast and regain equilibrium, here we were, whole and happy again…and on our way back to the place most dear to our hearts.

We were coming from all directions, a motley crew of cousins and ex-in-laws and new folks who had recently joined the skeletal remains of the family. The buildup to this trip had been significant; it was impossible to view it as a mere vacation. By design it was a journey of reunion, redemption, and renaissance. But how lucky we were to have the Périgord as our destination! Who could be anything but lighthearted in that verdant paradise? Who could not regain a sense of peace there? Who could not put all bad things to rest in that ancient land?

The first out of the box are my son T and I, headed for a first night in Paris preceded by a wickedly complicated route that in retrospect I should have thought twice about. Trying to save some feeble dollars, I had booked us from DC to Philly to Heathrow to the Eurostar to Paris. Insanity (but it runs in the family). The DC to Philly leg was of course a breeze. The Philly to Heathrow leg on USAir was irritating (scowling moon-faced flight attendant was just having a bad day and let everyone know it), but manageable. Heathrow – so much bigger than when I was last there in 1999, so much more modern, and so very much more chaotic. But we found our way to the Tube in the morning crush and within about an hour were at St. Pancras Station. Our first time here. After a wander around to get the lie of the land and confirm that our Eurostar train was leaving on time in a couple of hours, we meandered over to a pub, as T said you cannot be in London, even for 2 hours, without sitting in a pub. And he’s 18 now, and wanted to try an ale….not that he hasn’t tried one or two already.

I don’t recall the name of the pub. It was a block or so from the station, on a corner, and had lovely pictures of pub food plastered to the windows. Seemed a pretty typical place, though of course that close to the train station one doesn’t expect much. Good thing, too. I choose from the Small Plates – Light ‘n Healthy menu, filet of chicken with a potato-mushroom puree. T chooses a hamburger on focaccio with crisps. We each order an ale. The waiter speaks British English with a Central European accent infused with a speech defect that is so mystifying we find ourselves just pointing to things and nodding ignorantly, as though we were in some exotic, alien land. The food comes. A bare, overcooked chicken breast fillet on a massive, thick mound of oversalted mashed potatoes with a sprinkling of wrinkled mushrooms and chives. Light ‘n Healthy? The first bite goes down like an anchor in my stomach. T’s hamburger is in some bagel-like dough thing that disintegrates when you bit into it. The crisps are anything but – huge, soft, and well-slimed in some kind of lard it seems. We try to eat, but we’re queasy just looking at this. We quaff our ales, though, and look out the window and enjoy the passing madness, including a London Cab that has some banner on it with a quote cautioning people not to enter a taxi if they believe they are carrying the Bubonic plague.

These are the jet-lag moments, that space you always enter after a certain period of travel when time is impossible to quantify and everything around you seems dream-like and unhinged. We leave the pub and wander through a crowd that includes a tall blonde man with green hair carrying a large stuffed zebra on his shoulder, a few disconsolate street musicians, young female tourists galore with bellies exposed, chewing gum, yakking up a storm of “like….he…like…,” a Rastafarian or two, a few dapper businessmen with polished briefcases, an elegant older woman stepping primly from a cab, long pearls swinging and sensible shoes. Into the chaos of the station, where we have a coffee until it’s time to board our train.

I was apprehensive about the Eurostar….being under water, that is. I’m not all that great in tunnels. But apart from the obvious steeper-than-usual descent, and the popping of the ears, it’s really just like many other train rides. What I loved was leaving the brick rowhouses and gray cheerless skies of England and popping up in sunny green France in less than an hour. It was like being a piece in a giant geographical board game – I’m going 5 spaces to France!

And then before we know it, we are at the Gare du Nord, which always strikes me as slightly sinister. But the familiar bitter yeasty smell of Paris is in the air, and that lovely inflected hum of the language all around, and even in our deteriorated mental state we are thrilled to be “home” again. This is one place we belong. This is part of us. This we know.

A quick taxi ride takes us to the Hôtel de France. Paris, contrary to my expectations, really does seem deserted. There’s no traffic, even now at rush hour. Most of the people on the streets appear to be tourists, peering into large unfolded maps, carrying large bottles of water, walking in directionless groups with fingers pointed at this and that. It’s really quiet here, almost eerily so.

We check into the hotel, where we are greeted like long-lost family, which I suppose we are in a way. T and I have a room with a balcony overlooking Les Invalides, which looks to be ready for a dome-polish sometime soon, though it’s still glinting merrily in the early evening sun. It’s warmingly familiar, all that’s below on the streets, the whine of vespas, the click of heels on pavement, the smell of recent rain, the rooftops and gardens of the buildings around. We’re blurry-eyed now, and hungry. We wander over to the Place Ecole Militaire and note the new café there, and the old ones too. T’s favorite restaurant is closed, and we prefer having a drink or coffee at the cafés on the Place to eating there. We don’t want to do the rue Cler. Our favorite Indian restaurant is open, but we’re not feeling like Indian food. So we opt for the Thai place opposite our hotel. It’s perfect. Some Tom Ga Yum, spicy sautéed shrimp in garlic sauce, a bit of rice, and we’re sated and ready for a good long sleep.

We fall into bed at the hotel and watch 10 minutes of bad French TV before we turn out the lights. A light breeze wafts through the window, and except for the occasional toot of a horn, Paris is somnolent. Tomorrow we have a long train ride to the Dordogne. Tomorrow we go home. “I love this place” says T.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 09:58 AM
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I love this! Can't wait for more.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 10:27 AM
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Looks like you're off to a great start, StCirq, both with this travel report and the next part of your life. Resilience, adaptibility, and determination will get us through most anything, won't they? Glad to hear the best is still ahead for you and yours!

Before we switched to renting apartments in Paris, my grandson and I stayed at the Hotel de France based on your recommendation, maybe in the same room as you most recently occupied.

Was there a spacious marble bathroom with a lovely deep tub and no shower curtain? And outside the bedroom's french doors, black wrought iron, curlicued dividers separating your balcony from the neighbor's? Loved standing out there at night looking at the Invalides' illuminated dome gleaming across the way.

Hope everything just keeps getting better and better for you as you travel onwards.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 12:23 PM
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Medicine for the soul..
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 12:56 PM
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I love your stuff, StCirq. Looking forward to the rest of the detail, derailment and diversion (however expurgated it may be).

Glad you're back in the trip report business!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 03:17 PM
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Love your style, Mellen. We look forward to reading your next installation. Next summer, we will return to the Dordogne...I understand the pull, the draw...it is mesmerizing...
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:07 PM
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Can't wait for the next installment. I like your (writing) style.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 04:24 PM
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August 1, 2008

I’d wisely booked us on a 12:50 train to Périgueux, knowing we’d want to loll around a bit in the morning before continuing our long trip. Waking to a cloudy Paris morning around 9 after a sound sleep we dress and wander over to a favorite bakery on the Avenue Bosquet for a pain au chocolat and a croissant aux amandes, which we cart back to La Terrasse on the Place Ecole Militaire to enjoy with our grands cafés crèmes. The street cleaners in their green trucks and bright suits are making a commotion all around the place, doing a fine job of keeping the City of Light clean. It’s a Friday morning, just before 10, and the passersby are about equally split between tourists and locals on their way to work or shopping. Then back to the hotel to pack the few things we’d unpacked, pay up the bill, and make reservations for the four nights we plan to spend here on our way home.

We take the uncrowded metro to the Gare d’Austerlitz, pick up our reserved tickets from the guichet there, and sit in the café there for a small lunch before boarding the train for our five-hour journey. I have a salade caprese – tomates, mozzarella, basilica with olive oil and lemon. Taylor has crudités and emits sighs of pleasure at his first taste in a few years of one of his favorite edibles. It’s just train café fare, but it attains a nice level of fresh Frenchness.

The train is, of course, on time. It’s a TER train that will go to Limoges, where we will have about 5 minutes to change to the train to Périgueux. We have assigned seats, which is good, as the train is crowded. We later realize when we are listening to the radio that it is August 1, the day a few million Frenchmen leave one place in France bound for another, so we are lucky to have a place on this train. I’ve never been on French train cars like this before, and I suppose that means they are fairly recent additions to the stable. There are more luggage racks than ever before – not only ones at the ends of the cars and above the seats, but at least a couple more in each car tucked between seats that back up to each other. And almost every car has a couple of single seats with a tiny table between them. There is a slightly alarming downward dip in the floor, too, at the end of each car as you approach the door, and the shiny glass doors have no handles to flip, no buttons to push; you just put your hand on a panel and it glides open. Nice. There are also the typical train cars with the cabinets that hold about 6 people, 3 on 3 facing each other, with a narrow corridor down the side of the train. There’s no snack car, just a jaunty young olive-skinned man who roams up and down the train hawking sandwichs and salades and boissons from a cart.

I love French trains. Arriving in the country and hopping on a train early in a trip is a nice overview of the French population: teenagers wearing black jeans and t-shirts clumped together with eyes closed and iPod wires in a tangle around their necks; young families hunkered over a table playing cards and munching on homemade picnics revealed from Tupperware tubs; a prim elderly couple in tweeds and bifocals, holding their canes and speaking in hushed voices; lovers nestled in a limbfest, oblivious to the world around them; backpackers with dreadlocks and water bottles hanging from their packs trying to steal cigarettes in the spaces between the train cars; and the dapper conductors greeting everyone with “Bonjour, M’sieur, M’dame, vos billets, s’il vous plait…”

You churn slowly out of Paris amid a spider’s web of tracks, graffiti everywhere the eye can see, smokestacks and highrises competing for the view on both sides, and then you are gliding along the river Seine, with pert suburbs on either side of the tracks, tiled roofs and narrow streets, a glimpse of a café here, a tabac there….and then through a zone artisanale with Peugot factories and wrecked car lots and bus depots and warehouses….and just as soon there are fields and a barn here or there and the autoroute in the distance and a cathedral spire poking up amid the wheat and small clusters of towns in the distance and a small pond here with poplar trees dripping with balls of mistletoe, the occasional abandoned stationmaster’s house with shutters boarded up and dark water stains on the stone walls, a lone dog zig-zagging on a dirt path.

And before you know it the train is thrumming along fast and you’re in the heart of the countryside. The sun is poking out from under cumulous clouds, and you’re blinded going into a tunnel here or there, and tossed to one side as you slam by an oncoming train, and tipped right and left on embankments as you navigate through hillsides. And suddenly, there’s a plain…..green, green as far as you can see…..full of tall, white, gleaming windmills. It’s new. It’s stark. It’s a huge outdoor museum piece. It’s the fruition of some engineer genius’s life work. I’ve seen them on the Autoroute du Sud, but these are new and spectacular. They seem to pass by the train windows forever. And then we are lost in the hills and forests leading toward Limoges.

Limoges: a wan and heartless place for the most part, except of course for the porcelaine. We have only five minutes to change trains here, though, so it doesn’t matter. Grab the luggage, descend from one train, board another adjacent one, and we’re off in minutes for the Périgord, the landscape growing lusher, warmer, softer around every curve, the distinctive architecture of honey-colored stone and red-tiled roofs in the shape of a flip haircut showing up in every town, every farmhouse. An occasional lauze roof. Sleek horses swishing flies in the fields, fat white and black cows, and chickens and ducks and geese waddling through every jardin potager that grows by the tracks.

Here we are in Périgeuex, almost the end of our journey. The lady in the EuropCar greets us with hugs and kisses on both cheeks, to our surprise, and says how long has it been? Too long! We fill out the paperwork and jump into a sleek little dark gray Peugot Batmobile that has a hair-trigger clutch and a brake that brings the car to an abrupt halt if you merely glance at it. I make an utter fool of myself getting out of the parking lot, and leave behind a wake of French folks laughing so hard they are bent over and covering their mouths with their hands as I pull out onto the main street. T crouches down in the passenger seat hoping not to be noticed with this mad woman. No matter, I’ll get the hang of it.

And by the time we are in Le Bugue, a half-hour later, I and the car are friends. But what has happened here in two years? Most of it is familiar, but then, so much has changed. New stores, new restaurants, one end of town almost entirely deserted while the other is newly built up. Things in different places. Things gone. Some obvious, some subtle. But clear vestiges of the passage of time, even a very short time. We’ll check it out in more detail in the days to come. For now, we are so nonplussed to find our old Intermarché boarded up and a humongous shiny new one built up next to it with a massive parking lot, we have a moment where we really feel we’ve landed in the wrong place. It’s disconcerting. But there are other disconcerting moments to come. Things change. We’ve always loved this place because it never changed. We could always count on coming back here to a kind of Brigadoon, standing still in a time vacuum, dependably and totally familiar. Not any longer.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2008, 06:11 PM
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WOW! I am hooked! More please.
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