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Deliciously Dysfunctional Dordogne - A Trip Report

Deliciously Dysfunctional Dordogne - A Trip Report

Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 01:28 AM
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 11,192
Oh StCirq, this is so lovely!! I am enthralled and can't wait for more. But I did LOL at your last 2 sentences. We were recently in Albas in The Lot and christened it Brigadoon as we had so much trouble finding it and it did seem like a place that was trapped in time. Many of our friends haven't seen the movie and didn't know what we were talking about. Beautiful trip report, please keep going...... Cathie
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 04:42 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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You promised "fun" and you sure delivered! I leave for my recently purchased home in Le Bugue on 08/25/2008. Now I am forced to take/find a computer to not miss a day of your report. Thank you for your three D's!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 05:39 AM
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 08:21 AM
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>> 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. <<<

Is that great wine shop still in Le Bugue??? We'll be in the Dordogne for 2 weeks next year, and the wine shop will be one of the first "orders of business" - if it's still there.

Stu Dudley
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 08:24 AM
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The new Intermarché is, alas, closed. We had hoped to arrive in time to provision ourselves with a few things, but we can’t. We pull up cautiously into the almost empty parking lot of the new building, its gleaming façade punctuated by orange and black banners advertising “Thursdays, double the points on your carte de fidélité!,” advertising the new rent-a-movie section, advertising the new Bistro de l’Intermarché, right next door near the new jewelry section. Where is our old supermarket, the one that over time actually evolved from simple to pretty fancy, but is now a boarded-up wreck next door, destined for rubble? When did this happen? Is our town no longer a town? Will we be a city one day? We are still waaaaayyyy out in the countryside…how can this be? To add an even more bizarre touch to the moment during which we are trying to absorb this, there are three large dogs arranged in a sort of canine collage in front of the middle of the three rows of sliding doors of the massive new market: an Irish terrier sitting on its haunches panting, a pale bulldog stretched out on its back with legs akimbo, and a fussy little white terrier standing at attention. All by themselves. This must be the Welcome Committee, T decides. It’s a Fellini moment for sure, and I snap a picture.

We retrace our steps into the town center, where the Laval, formerly a Casino, is still open, buy some coffee and milk and Orangina Rouge and a bottle of Pécharmant, some cheese, and some Activa coconut yogurt (why don’t they have this flavor in the USA? Even I who hate coconut think this is the best flavor ever), and a baguette. And then, with that unhinged feeling creeping back even though we’re over jet lag, we head on the few kilometers to St- Cirq, where yet more surprises await.

On the way to our hamlet, we listen to a radio report that says, I think, that there has been a 500-km backup on the autoroutes today. Just imagine that. What is it that is so ingrained in the French that practically every one of them gets in a car on August 1 and goes on vacation, most of them heading south on the same routes? It’s almost perverse, the way they insist on this tradition and then love the media mileage they get out of it.

But that’s not our concern. There are no cars on the road to St-Cirq. I could drive this stretch of road blindfolded and tell you every copse, every walnut tree, every tobacco sechoir, every secluded farmhouse, every lightpole we are passing. I know to hug the curves around the stationmaster’s houses at the two places we cross the tracks, I know where the rain collects in puddles. I know where the cones rain down from the Aleppo pines in autumn. This is my road. It leads to home. So we make the turn off to St-Cirq, now newly marked with fresh signs to the hamlet and the grotte, and begin the climb up the steep hill. Funny, you can’t see the house as you usually can, just trees and more trees and a glimpse of stone where the house sits. Past the mayor’s office and the “parking lot” that holds three cars, up to the sharp left turn that requires going down to first gear, around the corner by the “petit château,” gliding through the thin alleyway that the road becomes between Mme. L’s house and the wall along which she displays her overblown, over-red, fluorescent geraniums, up around the curve, and….what in heck is this? There is supposed to be just another curve in the road past the unassuming Grotte de St-Cirq and the bamboo grove on the left, and then our driveway. But….it’s a…well, it’s a parking lot of sorts, all neatly graveled on both sides of the lane, and where the bamboo grove used to meet the lane it’s been cut back and a fence installed and more gravel to make room for, oh, a dozen (can this be?) cars, maybe more. And THEN there’s our driveway, like an afterthought…oh, some people live here, so we’ll chill on the gravel and let them have an entrance to their house. And there’s a Toutes Directions sign literally right outside the driveway. And there are broken boulders all along the sides of our house, which is built into the cliff and follows the line of the lane up the hill, so that the road literally passes over the top of our house. And the enormous rock outcropping that used to hang over the road right at the entrance to our driveway is…well, half of it has fallen off and is on the road. Hence the boulders strewn around. And it’s all being held up with heavy-duty wire, including a tree that was growing out of it, which whips in the wind now with its trunk now moored to the rock high above the road.

T and I drive up this stretch with our mouths agape. How could “our landscape” have been so altered in the two and half years since we were here? What happened to the big rock? Why is there a parking lot almost next to our house? Who needs a Toutes Directions sign up here? WHAT is going on?

We roll into the driveway and park the car, get out, walk toward the house. The wall, our lovely wall, which our feet have spent so many summers on as we sat idly chatting and gazing at the valley below, is covered in ivy, with weeds growing three feet tall out of it, forming another wall upon wall that extends so high you can’t see out to the terrace from the front door of the house. And the reason we couldn’t see the house from down below is that our view, our beautiful view of the entire Vézère valley, is entirely obscured by weed trees and fruit trees from the orchard that have flourished in the lush climate since our last visit here and formed a living wall at least 40 feet tall that hems in the entire property. Oh…my, this is disorienting! Bug-eyed, we open the front door to the house, and despite all the surprises, we know we are home. The smell of woodsmoke and stone assaults us. We know this smell. This is our smell. We’re home. The massive fireplace is there, the blue and white checked tablecloth on the kitchen table, the market baskets lined up on the chest in the kitchen, my gardening hat hanging on the porte-manteau, the bright blue earthenware pitcher in the kitchen, the familiar tile floor, the airy, antique kitchen curtains with the cherry pattern on them, the brass candleholders on the wall. We sigh. We’re ok now.

It’s dusk and the bats are out, the stars beginning to populate what we can see of the sky from within our cocoon of trees and shrubbery. Across the valley, peeking through the thickets that surround us, three lights only are visible. We’re so hemmed in here we can’t even see car lights on the road between Campagne and Les Eyzies. We’re more and more heavily shrouded as night falls, until we are enveloped in an indigo blanket. Time to climb the creaky stairs, make the beds, unpack. Back to the kitchen, which is now warmly lit, like a tent in a black wilderness, the only light for miles around, have a bite to eat. The silence is so overwhelming it’s loud. A deep, rich silence punctuated by the sounds of owls hooting, a dog baying, our teeth tearing into crisp baguette, our swallows of wine and water.

We open the shutters, fall into bed, turn the last light out, hear the rustle of wind picking up in the ink black air outside our windows, and are gone to dreamland in a matter of minutes.

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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 08:25 AM
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Hi, Stu.

I assume you're talking about Julien de Savignac, on the road out of Le Bugue to Le Buisson.

Yes, it's still there. And there are other new wine stores in town as well. But that's the best.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 09:04 AM
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What a lovely report; I find myself upset about the changes made in your absence.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 09:10 AM
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Very much enjoying your report. I'll be in that general area for a few days in October, so I look forward to more.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 09:18 AM
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OMG, please tell me when the book is published . . .

I had not read your previous trip reports so had no idea what a treat was in store.

Please do not expurgate more than absolutely necessary.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 09:39 AM
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St. Cirq: Thank you for such a lovely brings tears of rememberance of my own time in those special places...keep it coming!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 01:19 PM
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Sheer poetry, StCirq! I can absolutely picture everything you describe after our glorious week in Monsac last month. We even visited the Intermarche in St. Cirq for provisions and I thought of you! I'm still working on my own trip report, but I don't think I dare show it after your masterpiece! Bravo and more quickly, please!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 02:54 PM
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Welcome home. Sounds like a disorienting welcome to the home away from home. Looking forward to the explanations to come.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 03:48 PM
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Great! Wow!
I hope I'm getting an autographed copy.
I hope there will be photos to see that weed wall.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 05:30 PM
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Lovely, lovely read, Mellon. I'm looking forward to continuing installments. Thank you for sharing this unique perspective!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 06:26 PM
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I've missed your reports from the Dordogne. but this is better than ever. Welcome back!!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2008, 06:53 PM
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This is almost too much for me to take: we were in your lovely hamlet in May, and I can just about taste the locale through your prose. Clearly, another trip (soon)is in order.

You write beautifully, StCirq.
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 02:07 PM
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August 2, 2008

The windows in my bedroom are massive, and when dawn breaks, if the sky is clear the light pours in unabashed. No matter how hard and fast I sleep, unless the valley is shrouded in fog I’m up as soon as the pink streaks line the horizon. It’s cool this morning, still. The loony rooster down the lane is crowing and farmers are warming up their tractors.

I creak downstairs and fling open the door to the wild and weedy landscape. Somehow the night before I’d failed to notice that the rose bushes that are supposed to frame the doorway are now 20-foot freak tree creatures with heavily thorned limbs going in all directions, including across the top of the door. A tall person entering the house could have his scalp torn off. And my rosemary bush next to one of the roses now has a trunk at least 5 inches thick and is at least 6 feet tall! But there’s more….off in the corner of the yard I see that the wooden swings have simply disintegrated, each of the four ropes hanging listlessly with a shardy lump of rotten wood at the end. And the pool terrace is covered with leaves and debris….

I need coffee to absorb all this, so I make a pot of dark, thick Arabica and take my coffee bowl out to the wall. I find some outdoor chairs under the veranda….noticing as I do so that the ping pong table actually looks to be in good shape (!)….and pull a couple out to the wall. I can’t rest my feet on the wall because of the weeds, but if I rip a few of them out I have a little tunnel through which to assess the extent of damage and figure out what T and I need to start work on.

By 8:30 am T and I have a list made up and are ready for a foray into town to the Bricomarché and Intermarché. The corn is so high along the road that driving is like being on a luge run…all you can see is the asphalt ahead and a wall of green stalks on either side, except for a few pockets where farmers have planted tobacco and the occasional already plowed field with the hay rolled up into enormous marshmallow-shaped rolls that glint in the weak morning sun. Two hawks float lazily above, and in a clearing as we reach the end of the small road from St-Cirq, farmers are hovered around a large pile of burning debris; the smoke blows through the open car windows in an acrid puff. Honestly, everyone around here appears to be a pyromaniac. It’s second only to hunting when it comes to male-dominated activities.

It’s busy in town already, a slow parade of tourist caravans and cars with Dutch and British plates, and the smaller cars of the locals heading to do errands. There is an annoying, tiny, new roundabout in the center of town, which slows traffic enormously. It used to be a wonderfully reckless free-for-all, but now is just orderly and slow, which makes the French drivers impatient.

First to the Bricomarché, our equivalent of Home Depot.. Oh…my! Also brand new and huge! I believe I have heard that the man who owns Josephine Baker’s château, Les Milandes, owns the Intermarchés and Bricomarchés. He must be doing very, very well. The old Bricomarché, tiny and cramped and jammed with home repair goods, was always a treat, not least for its employees, particularly Jeannette, whom we dubbed the Bricob**ch. Jeannette was always snarly and argumentative and positively reveled in making foreign customers feel like complete idiots. Which, of course, many of us did – it certainly took me a long time to acquire the vocabulary for things like pool wand and Philip’s head screwdriver and rust remover and awl, and Jeannette had no patience for anyone who couldn’t explain exactly what he needed in less than 10 seconds. But Jeannette is gone, as are the rest of the “Brico-boys,” as we called them, replaced by a matronly greeter at the front door: “Bienvenue au Bricomarché, Madame. Est-ce que nous pourrions vous renseigner?” and a host of hyperefficient young men who scurry around the vast reaches of the new store hunting down whatever obscure item you may want.

But we don’t want anything obscure, or even anything that we can’t find…some two-prong adapters, some sponges, some potting soil, a rake, a broom, gardening gloves, work gloves, and some clippers and a small saw. We’re in and out in 15 minutes and on to the Intermarché. What can I say? It’s massive. It takes us more than an hour to get to know the new layout and find what we need, and the lines are incredibly long (well, it’s August, the whole region is overrun), but there are definitely some “improvements.” You no longer have to weigh your fruits and vegetables, which I never minded, but I’m sure the cashiers were plenty fed up with tourists arriving at the caisse with bags full of things they hadn’t weighed. The cheese and charcuterie sections are just astonishing, bursting with hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous offerings. They sell a lot of things in bulk now, too, at a discount, which is nice to know since in a few days we will have a crowd to feed. The wine section is larger and more varied. They’ve assembled all the regional specialty products in one corner of the store, which is probably quite efficient. And there’s no longer a separate boulangerie/patisserie, so you don’t have to stand in line twice if you want bread or pastry. Some things never change, though – Dutch families with obscene numbers of offspring are cavorting around the store as though it were an amusement park, as always. I do appreciate the tolerance of the Dutch, but for the most part I’d like to give their unruly kids a good schwacking!

Back home with all our goodies and T makes a lovely lunch of bread and cheese and jambon de pays and cornichons and sliced radishes and cucumbers and arranges it all on a platter. We clear the spider webs and dust off the picnic table that’s under the veranda, haul it out onto the terrace under the linden tree, throw a tablecloth over it, bring out a bottle of spring water and some plates, and settle in for a nice nibble. And make a plan for attacking the grounds. T will rip the weeds and ivy off the wall, and I will weed the garden beds in front of the house, saw back the roses and the rosemary, and clip the bushes at the entrance to the driveway. And once we’ve finished our modest repast, that’s how we spend the afternoon.
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 04:45 PM
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I'm there in spirit!
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 05:52 PM
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August 3-4, 2008

For the next two days T and I tear into the yard with a vengeance, ripping, scything, snipping, clipping, and hauling everything in sight. I reckon we remove 100+ wheelbarrows of weeds and stalks and stems and branches from just the front terrace of the house and the wall. Ivy is an amazing plant. It gets into and under and around everything it touches, and removing it is painfully hard. We have some ivy vines that are 2 inches or more in diameter, and some of the vines that we remove from the wall are more than 5 feet long. The fig tree has sprouted a youngster, too, that has literally grown its way through the 2-foot-thick wall, so that when you stand on the pool terrace and look up you see a huge fig tree in the driveway and Baby Ficus growing out of the wall, both of them laden with unripe figs. We leave it be for now; there are more pressing matters. We want to reclaim our wall and have a decent-looking garden in front of the house.

I should mention that the house isn’t always like this; it’s just that we’ve had no use for it for the past couple of years – we weren’t using it, we weren’t renting it, no one was stopping by to admire it (our neighbor makes sure it’s still standing and that there are no major concerns, and a property management company stops by every few weeks to check on it, too), and as it is costly to maintain the grounds and we needed our pennies for more dire pursuits, we decided we could forgo the gardener. We were expecting this to some extent. What’s really amazing is how high and wide and fast it all grew. This is, after all, the most heavily forested part of France for good reason!

When we’re not gardening, we’re sitting under the Linden tree gulping water and Liptonic, or slurping perfectly ripe white nectarines and mirabelles and apricots; dipping in the pool to cool off; going through the drawers and armoires in the house to remind ourselves of what’s there and recalling a million moments from the many years we gathered there. The entire house is like an album, every nook and wall and cupboard holding memories from almost two decades. T pulls out a notebook from the large armoire in the living room, and there are four copies – one for each in the family then – of a précis my dad put together of the Hundred Years’ War. My dad, the headmaster, the teacher….he thought the kids should know about the history of the place they’d be spending summers in. And here’s a list I put together in 1996 of technical terminology so I could deal with plumbers and masons and electricians and whatnot, scribbled on graph paper, almost six pages worth. And here’s my dad’s khaki work shirt hanging in a closet, paint-strewn, and the tubes of paint we used to stencil the armoire we put together from old garage doors back in 1997, and a book of lyrics to old French songs we used when my kids were in grade school, and a bathing suit of mine from when I was 45 pounds heavier, and guidebooks from the late 1990s, an old record of Dominique-nique-nique, a tin of pâté from Mme. L dating from 2000, and the water wings my now grown children used to paddle in the pool almost 15 years ago. The house is a reliquary, a museum. And what’s funny is, our time here is just a drop in the bucket. This house has been here for 120 years; a dwelling has been here for 300 years before that; mankind has been here for 25,000 years before that.

Tomorrow my daughter M arrives from California. T and I are bound and determined to have the place looking “respectable” when she gets here. We go to sleep under a cool, cloudy sky, late at night after an evening sitting on the wall reminiscing, with blisters on our fingers and bloody scratches on our arms and legs from fighting the garden elements all day. It’s lovely that there are no distractions here. Even though we have our laptops and iPods and iPhones and Blackberries and a CD player and somewhere in the house a TV that gets three channels, it never occurs to us to use them. We are already seduced by the simpleness of being here. We are bone weary and elementally happy. And so to bed in the black night.
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Old Aug 24th, 2008, 05:59 PM
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Beautifully written, Mellen! I'm so enjoying this report and longing to return to the Dordogne.
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