21 December 2014

Les Murs de Môlay, and Christmas (food) shopping in Saint-Aignan

As villages go, and even though it is not fortified as such, Môlay (near Chablis in Burgundy) felt very much walled in. You can see from the Google Earth aerial view below that the village's borders are very clearly defined, with only a few buildings lying outside its "ring road" (la rue des Fossés). The population now is about 120, but in the second half of the 1800s, three times as many people lived in Môlay.

Below, a closeup of a dry stone wall — there's no mortar to hold the stones together, they are simply stacked.

Other examples of walls around the periphery of Môlay

On the home front, we went to the market in Saint-Aignan yesterday and picked up our Christmas turkey along with some beefsteak for Walt's birthday lunch today.

At the poultry vendors' stall, I asked the woman in charge whether she thought I could keep the turkey in the fridge until Wednesday night, or would it be better to freeze it. In the refrigerator is fine, she said, but unwrap it completely and put it in the fridge « toute nue » — completely naked. I don't know if an American butcher would advise that strategy. The turkey cost 34 € for 3.5 kg. That's over $40 for a little less than 8 lbs.

At the butcher shop, we saw a nice looking rolled and tied beef roast that carried a sign saying « Façon Tournedos ». It was 24 € a kilo, and we decided to get some. The butcher wrapped it up, weighed it, and told us the charge would be 31 €. As we left the shop, I stopped and looked at the butcher's receipt and saw that the piece of beef weighed 750 grams — less than a kilogram. The price didn't make sense. Looking again, I saw that the butcher had charged us 42 €/kg instead of 24. Forty-two euros a kilogram is the equivalent of slightly more than $23/lb., and was nearly twice the advertised price!

I turned around and went straight back into the shop (which was a madhouse of people buying food and others placing orders for their Christmas foods). The butcher saw me walk back in and said to me: Est-ce j'ai fait une erreur ?  Oui, I told him — you got the price wrong. He apologized, said it was an honest mistake, and refunded us 14 €, bringing the price of the piece of beef roast down to 17 €. I wonder what I would have done if I didn't speak French as well as I do.

20 December 2014

The morning walk in Môlay, and my new passport

First, I want to announce that I received my new U.S. passport day before yesterday. It all happened very fast, in other words. I sent in the application, a photo, and my old passport on December 10, and the new passport was delivered to our front door on December 18. I obviously filled out the paperwork correctly. The consular staff in Paris accepted my "home-made" photo (which isn't very good, really). Voilà. C'est un souci en moins...

Now back to Burgundy. On our first morning in Môlay, it was my turn to go out for the walk with Callie. Even though the weather was very gray and the light was dim, I took my camera of course. Here are some photos of the village. I have others for other blog posts.

This was the house across the street from the B&B/gite where we were staying.

As you can see, it was early enough that the street lights in the village were still on.

To my eye, most of the architecture of the village is pretty austere.

There were a lot of old stone walls like the ones above and the one below.

We noticed and admired dry stone walls (murs de pierres sèches) like these all around the area of Burgundy we were visiting. The flat rubble stones are carved limestone, I think, but I might be wrong.

19 December 2014

Le gîte à Môlay

Gîte is a word you hear often in France, especially when you are planning a trip including a longer stay than you would want to spend in a hotel. The full term is gîte rural, and there's a French association of property owners called Gîtes de France (web site in English or French) where you can choose the place you want to spend a weekend or a week or more in when you go on vacation. A gîte rural [zheet ru-RAL] is a vacation rental out in the country.

Notice that the word is pronounced with a "soft" G, which in French is pronounced [ZH], like the G in bourgeois or the S in English treasure, measure, or pleasure. It's not the hard G of give or gift. In French, a G before an E or I is always a soft G. In English, there are no rules about whether the G will be "hard" or "soft" before those two vowels. (Why is is the G of gift, gizzard, or Gilbert different from the G of gist, giraffe, giant, or gin?) Before A, O, or U, the G in both English and French is a "hard" G.

Our gite was an apartment in this outbuilding in the owners' back yard. The car on the left is our old Peugeot and the one on the right, a Renault Twingo, must have belonged to people staying in the B&B.

Anyway, the American Heritage Dictionary says that a gite (no accent in English) is a "simple, usually inexpensive rural vacation retreat especially in France." An apartment in Paris wouldn't be called a gîte in French. By definition, a gîte is located in a rural setting. In fact, one of the meanings of the word is 'den' or a 'lair', describing the place where a wild animal takes shelter from the weather or from predators. You shouldn't expect a gite to be luxurious — it should be a little rustic but comfortable.

The gite called Le Nid was tiny but well arranged and amply furnished. It was comfortable for a three-night stay.

So I had found a gite on the Gîtes de France web site for our short trip to Burgundy. It is called Le Nid (The Nest), and it is owned by a couple who live in the village called Môlay. They also operate a B&B in the larger house on their property. Here's their web site in French and in English. Their gite has a full kitchen, a full bathroom, and a small living room downstairs. The bedroom is a loft up a narrow, steep staircase (almost a ladder) over the kitchen. The owners of Le Nid are pet-friendly, so Callie was welcome.

On our four-day trip, we went to exactly one restaurant. Otherwise, we had dinner (and one lunch) at the gite. At lunchtime, when the weather permitted, we had picnics either outside or just in the car. That was easier with Callie, less expensive for us, and a less time-consuming way to get something to eat but continue spending as much time as we could driving or walking around to see the sights. (Lunch can take a couple of hours in a French restaurant, and going to restaurants was not the point of our trip.)

This is the owners' house, part of which is given over to guest rooms (chambres d'hôtes or B&B).

Le Nid cost us 200 € for three nights. That's less than many hotel rooms rent for, of course, and we had use of a kitchen. We could get something like 200 channels on the flat-panel TV set — mostly French of course, but some in English or German. There was wifi for the Internet on our tablets, but no phone (almost everybody brings a cell phone these days, including us).

Here's Callie waiting patiently to be let in while I take photos. She knows Walt is in there...

Gites vary widely in the number of modern conveniences they offer. They are really designed to accommodate people who drive in and who can bring a lot of things with them. For example, we took our own sheets and towels rather than paying the owners to rent linens for the three days and nights. We also took food with us, but not wine — this was Burgundy, after all!