31 January 2021

How now, brown cow?

I doubt that most people think of cattle country when they think of the Dordogne, which is a French département or county. Castles, yes. Foie gras, yes. Geese and ducks, yes. But beef cattle? The two breeds of beef cattle produced in the Dordogne are la limousine (brown) and la blonde d'Aquitaine (beige or white). La Dordogne accounts for about a third of the beef cattle raised in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which is nearly 10 times larger, and of which the Limousin region is a part. Here's a slideshow featuring some of the bovines I photographed in the Dordogne.

The old name for what is now called La Dordogne was Le Périgord. La Dordogne is part of a big French administrative region called La Nouvelle-Aquitaine that was created about five years ago by combining three previously existing regions: Aquitaine, Poitou-Charentes, and Limousin. La Nouvelle Aquitaine covers about 84,000 km² of territory in southwestern France. That's approximately 32,500 mi², which is about the size of South Carolina, Maine, or Maryland. The area of the Dordogne is just 9,060 km², or about 3,500 mi². That makes it bigger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut.

By the way, annual consumption per capita of beef in France is about 70 lbs. In the U.S. it's about 80 lbs., as best I can determine. The French eat more and more hamburgers, but I'm sure France can't compare to the U.S. when it comes to 'burgers. In fact, just found a French web site that says the French consume 1.7 billion hamburgers a year, while Americans consume nearly 50 billion! Another site says that Americans consume 2.4 hamburgers per day, but that can't be true. Can it? Some 85% of the restaurants in France now have hamburgers on their menu.

30 January 2021

Martel: more photos

The hôtel (ou palais) de la Raymondie in Martel was built starting in about 1280. Construction continued for 50 years. Its street-level arcades were designed to accommodate merchants and shopkeepers. During the Hundred Years' War, they were bricked in. By 1440, part of the hotel was in ruins. It was restored and renovated, and the arcades were opened up again at the end of the war.

Looking through the market hall, you can see the arcades. In the 1530s, the building was divided up and apartments were sold to local bourgeois. During the Revolution, town officed occupied part of the building, renting it from its owners, who complained that the town didn't pay the rent they owed. By the beginning of the 20th century, the building became Martel's Hôtel de Ville. the town started renovating the building again and the owners of apartments were bought out. Such is the life of a 750-year-old building.

Here are a few more snapshots.

In Saint-Aignan, we're again in a very rainy period. Fronts moving in off the Atlantic bring heavy showers and high winds, and then a light mist that keeps everything very damp. Walking around in the vineyard is like slogging through a swamp. The weather, we assume, has kept the two contractors with whom we have signed bids from starting the work they've promised to do — re-tile our front deck, repair big cracks in the garden shed walls, dig out several dead or invasive shrubs and bushes, and re-grade and put down new gravel on the path that runs from the house out to the back gate. We're still hoping all that work will be finished before, say, May 1, when we'll want to have use of the deck and the back yard for the season.

29 January 2021

Martel, ville de légendes

According to legend, the town of Martel, located in the northwest corner of the former Quercy province, was founded by the grandfather of Charlemagne, a man named Charles Martel, in about the year 700. However, there is nothing in the historical record supporting that assertion. There are records of the town being founded in the 1100s as a ville nouvelle by the powerful Comte de Turenne, who held sway over northern Quercy at that time.

I liked Martel's market hall, which I've just learned was built only in the late 1700s, around the time of the French Revolution. Carpenters of that era were real artists when it came assembling roof structures using chestnut logs (below). Maybe it's not surprising that the name of the town, Martel, is the old form of the modern French word marteau, meaning "hammer".

Other legends about Martel involve England's king Henri II Plantagenêt and his sons. None of the legends can be verified through historical records. So nobody knows if Henri II's son Henri le Jeune really died in Martel after pillaging nearby Rocamadour in the year 1183. Be that as it may, Martel is famous for its truffle market, as well as for its walnuts. Another Martel attraction is a vivarium called Reptiland, just on the edge of town. According to its web site, 100 espèces d'animaux, serpents, lézards, tortues, crocodiles, mygales et scorpions y sont visibles. Reptiland boasts one of the country's largest collections of venomous snakes.

The population of Martel went into a steep decline toward the end of the 19th century, when residents numbered close to 2,600. These days, it's more like 1,600, having hit a low point (1,400) in the early 1980s. One web site I've looked at says that there are 725 résidences principales in the little town, and about 225 résidences secondaires (vacation homes). Another 200  houses or apartments stand empty (see some ads here). It's like that in many small French towns.

The impressive building above supposedly dates back to the end of the 12th century. The round tower sort of embedded in its façade contains a spiral staircase. Apparently, there is no historical proof that this building has stood here since the 12th century. That's another legend, according to what I've read. In legend, this is where Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's son Henry Jr. was supposed to have died back then. More likely is that the building, called the Hôtel Fabri, was built or at least completely re-built between 1520 and 1580.

Some craftswoman or -man seems to have produced and sold a lot of stained glass signs to local merchants. I thought they were pretty nice. I hope I don't sound negative about Martel. I enjoyed seeing it and wish I had been able to go back again. The Cadogan guide calls the town "proud" and "staunchly medieval", adding: "...the population [of the town] isn't nearly big enough for Martel. However small, this is a real city, and, beautiful as it is, it wears a melancholy air with so few around to share its beauty." Martel is about 45 minutes from Sarlat by car.

28 January 2021

Bretenoux, un village dans le Quercy

Before it flows through the department named for it, the Dordogne river, from its source in the Auvergne region, crosses the historical province called le Quercy. Le Quercy and le Périgord are two old provinces that are now better known by their modern département names — respectively, the Lot and the Dordogne. The old regions and the newer départements are seldom coteminous, meaning the boundaries were re-defined when the newer administrative entities were created. La Touraine, for example, is basically the Indre-et-Loire département, but it also includes the town of Montrichard and several villages along the Cher river, including the one we live in, that are in the Loir-et-Cher département.

Le Quercy, when it was a province, was more or less centered on the town of Cahors. Then, during the Napoleonic era, the bottom of the province was lopped off to form a new département, the Tarn-et-Garonne. Well-known places in the Lot portion of old Quercy, in addition to Cahors, are Rocamadour, Figeac, Padirac, Gourdon, Souillac, and St-Cyr-Lapopie. The place where I took the photos in this post, Bretenoux, is not so famous, but it's pretty. I read something about this area sometimes being called le pay bas du sud-ouest — the netherlands of the French southwest.

Bretenoux seemed slightly sleepy and forgotten. It has a famous château, Castelnau — I posted a photo of it a few days ago. A year or so ago, I posted photos of a pretty Quercy village called Autoire. Bretenous is just a few miles south of the beau village called Collonges-la-Rouge.

It was the kind of place where it seemed appropriate to see old cars like the one below. A lot of old houses here and in other Quercynois villages and towns have watchtowers (échauguettes) and turrets as distinctive architectural features. Bretenoux is a village of the type that are called bastides — planned towns from hundreds of years ago (13th century) that were built in a grid pattern with straight streets and big town squares.

Another nearby castle is called le château de Montal (below). It's built in the Renaissance style, and dates back to the time when the château de Chambord was being built farther north, during the reign of king François 1er.

Old "ghost signs" like the one below seem to add to the ambience, along with the arcades along the streets. In medieval times, these were villes nouvelles. Now they are ancient villages.

27 January 2021

Beynac, Castelnaud, et Montfort

These first three photos show views of the Château de Beynac. The Cadogan guide for the region says that the Beynac family, a line of local barons, were "every bit as fierce and daunting as their castle appears." It says that the English king Richard the Lionhearted decided to give their castle to one of his close allies in about 1190, not very long after it was built. The Beynacs forged an alliance with another local clan of barons who held a grudge against Richard and, working together, they succeeded in killing him in the battle of Châlus (50 or 60 miles farther north) in 1199. Then the Beynacs had Richard's friend, who had been given the château, assassinated. Fun times...

The next two photo show views of the Château de Castelnaud, just 1.5 miles upriver from Beynac. It was first built in the 1200s. Cadogan says that Castelnaud and Beynac were constantly at war with each other during the Hundred Years' War of the 14th and early 15th centuries.

Just ten miles down the river by boat — five miles as the crow flies — is the Château de Montfort, which, according to the Wikipédia article, was destroyed and rebuilt five times between the years 1214 and 1606. It was first mentioned in historical documents in the year 866.

26 January 2021

Barnyard birds in the Dordogne

One of the things I enjoy about the short road trips we take (when we can) is being close to animals that we don't see up close around here very often. Even though we live in the country — we see dogs, cats, deer, rabbits, various songbirds, woodpeckers, herons, hawks, and even badgers — we don't often see chickens, geese, or peacocks. I took these pictures on a historic farm outside Sarlat, where we could walk among the birds.

25 January 2021

Spring and summer, 2006: frantic!

You'll have to forgive me for confusing two of the Dordogne châteaux. It's a wonder I have any clear memories at all of that first half of 2006. In early March, we had friends here from California. We were busy, out sightseeing, driving all around, going out for meals. The day our friends (Chris and Tony) left, our dog Collette had a severe stroke. She was completely paralyzed on one side and could only walk in circles. She died about 36 hours later.

By the way, I'm decorating this post with some more photos that I took in the Dordogne in 2006. The day after the dog died, other California friends, Susan and Ray arrived to spend a week with us. We were again very busy, running here and driving there, sightseeing, and eating in restaurants. It was good for us, because if we'd been alone we would have had time to realize how empty and lonely the house felt without poor Collette, who had lived with us for nearly 14 years.

When Susan and Ray left, we decided it was time to get away from the house and Saint-Aignan for a spell. We rented that apartment in Paris that I've blogged about recently and we spent a week walking the streets of the city. It was therapeutic. At the end of that week, our friend Sue was arriving in Paris and planned to come spend three months with us. We met her at the airport and we three took the train back to Saint-Aignan.

Not long after that, we had more visitors from the U.S. It was Evelyn and Lewis, and two friends of ours from Normandy, Marie and Florence, also came to visit. They all stayed in a chambre d'hôtes just down the road, and all of us again were busy driving all over the countryside, eating in restaurants, seeing châteaux and churches. Right after they left, Sue, Walt and I went to the Dordogne for 5 days.

It would continue that way into May. Friends John and Candy from California, as well as one of our closest friends, Sue's cousin Cheryl, came to stay for a week or so. Sue was still here. At the end of that time, we drove up to Paris, where Sue and Cheryl had rented an apartment for a week's stay together, spent a couple of days and nights there in a hotel, walking around the city, eating in restaurants, going to French Open tennis matches.

By then it was late May and it was time for us to get the vegetable garden planted. In the middle of all this, we had major excavation work done to get our house connected to the village's new sewer system. In mid-June, Walt, Sue, and I took a quick trip to see the Mont Saint-Michel, a four or five hour drive from Saint-Aignan. We stayed in hotels.

In late June, we drove Sue back to the airport north of Paris for her return to California. Read this post on my blog for a taste of the kinds of adventures we had that evening. We finally arrived a couple of hours late at CHM's, where we were going to spend the night before driving back home. Finally, in July, CHM came to Saint-Aignan for a week, maybe two, and he and I, and sometimes Walt, toured all around the region by car. I put more miles (kilometers) on the car in that one five-month period than in any other whole year since we've lived here.

24 January 2021

On était en Dordogne...

A follow-up to my post yesterday. Same photos, more text...

It took me a few hours of research to find out that this is the château de Fayrac, above. Wikipédia describes it as une demeure française des XVe, XVIe et XIXe siècles bâtie au bord de la Dordogne. It's located on the left bank of the river about 15 kilometers southwest of the town of Sarlat, on the territory of the commune of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. During the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), Fayrac served as an outlook post for the people who resided in the nearby château de Castelnaud and who supported the king of England. During the French wars of religion in the second half of the 16th century, it was a Protestant stronghold. Today it is privately owned and not open to the public. I'm not sure exactly where I was standing when I took this photo.

Speaking of the Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, this is its château. Along with Fayrac, it's one of the six châteaux located along the stretch of the  Dordogne river that's called la vallée des six châteaux. The first château at Castelnaud was built in the 12th century. It was replaced by one built over the decades in the 13th. Castelnaud was loyal to the English but was captured by the armies of the French king Charles VII in 1442. Castelnaud was abandoned at the beginning of the 1789 French revolution and served the local as a stone quarry until 1832. This fine example of a feudal castle was restored between 1967 and 2012. It's known for its medieval warfare museum and is visited by more than 200,000 people every year.

Just across the river from Fayrac and Castenaud, on the right bank, you'll find the Jardins du château de Marqueyssac, an 18th century château. The gardens were created in the last half of the 19th century. They are called jardins suspendus ("hanging gardens") because they are planted on a high hillside overlooking the Dordogne river as well as Fayrac, Castelnau, Beynac (photo below), and the beautiful village of La Roque-Gageac. Here's a web site about them with both French and English versions.

The château de Beynac is on the right bank of the Dordogne just north of Castelnaud. A guidebook I have says: "On a crag high above [the riverside village of Beynac-et-Cazenac] stands one of the most spectacularly sited castles in Périgord" — Perigord being the old name of the region that the Dordogne département is a part of. The château and its 13th-century donjon or "keep" overlook the river from 500 feet above it. During the Hundred Years' War, Beynac was loyal to the French monarchy. It was held by Protestant during the wars of religion at the end of the French Renaissance. My guidebook says it's open to the public, but "the interior is somewhat less impressive than the site itself."

Farther east by about 50 kilometers, in the Lot département, is the château de Castelnau-Bretenoux, which is owned by the French government and open to the public. Its construction began in the 12th century and continued into the 17th. It was in English hands during the Hundred Years' War. The Castlenau family was first mentioned in documents as early as the year 860. Bretenoux (pop. 1,350 or so) is a nearby village that was founded by the Castelnau family in 1277 on the site of a settlement dating back to the 9th century.

Finally, le château de la Grande Filolie is a 15th-century residence built on the site of an old mill that produced walnut oil. It's about 20 minutes north of Sarlat by car and is now owned by a Swiss man whose mother had American roots and bought the place in 1957. "She lived in New York and she never came to France," he said in this newspaper article. I suppose he meant "almost never"...

23 January 2021

Où était-on ?

Here are a few pictures I took on our second trip of the year in 2006. We had been in Paris for a week in late March and early April, staying in a rented apartment. This time we rented a gîte rural, a small house rented out short-term, to stay in for four nights. You'll probably recognize the area. I won't tell you the names of the châteaux...

22 January 2021

La rose des sables, or “desert rose”

About two weeks ago, I posted a photo of a Paris restaurant called La rose des Sables where we had a fine Moroccan-style meal (des tagines) years ago. I happen to have a small rose des sables — called a "desert rose" in English, according to Wikipedia — that I believe I bought (I didn't just find it...) in an outdoor market in the sub-Saharan city of Niamey, which is the capital of the country of Niger. It was March 1985 and I was traveling as a member of the press pool covering a trip that then-vice-president George H.W. Bush was leading to African countries during the devastating drought and famine that the area was suffering through back then.

Here's how Wikipédia describes the rock formation called une rose des sables: [c'est] une roche évaporitique formée par la cristallisation lenticulaire de minéraux solubles, et dont la disposition rappelle les pétales d'une rose. In English, Wikipedia says: "Desert rose is the colloquial name given to rose-like formations of crystal clusters of gypsum or baryte which include abundant sand grains. The 'petals' are crystals flattened on the crystallographic axis, fanning open in radiating flattened crystal clusters."