Mar 31, 2014

No Name: La Brique de Brebis


Somewhere in France, there is a 14 year old girl whose name is not Megane Renaud. That's because when she was born in 2000, the French courts rejected her name for being too similar to the car Renault Megane.

Mar 30, 2014

Aaaw and Shock: Saint Agur

During the second and third year Mi-Carême parades at the elementary school, I am, of course, not shocked to see Disney princesses or Star Wars characters, or the requisite flamenco dancers, which seem to be a given in any French costume party. I'm getting used to the Musketeers, too.

Mar 29, 2014

Gladiator Lent-o-ween: Tomme Mi-Vache Mi-Chèvre

Two Roman gladiators enter the arena, their swords raised. With each step of their boots, they kick up a cloud of dust. In between them, tall and ferocious, struts Michael Jackson.

The girls celebrate Mi-Carême ("Half-Lent") this week, and the easiest way to describe it is Halloween in March. In reality, it is a celebration of the half-way point of Lent, much as Carnaval is a way to blow off steam at the beginning of Lent.

Mar 28, 2014

Viennoiserie Waits For You: Patte d'Ours


Viennoiserie are not to be confused with patisserie, and yet it's a confusing distinction indeed. Pâtisserie is both the generic name for pastries and also the pastry shop where they are made. You may be looking at the photo below thinking they are pastries, and in the general sense, I suppose they are. But specifically, in French, they are called viennoiserie, a sub-category that basically includes and defines all these flaky, puff pastries plus bready things like brioches or rolls.

Mar 27, 2014

National Cheese Day: Fourme d'Ambert


Happy National Cheese Day! In fact, Happy International Cheese Day, too, according to "Journée-Mondiale" which tells you in French about world-wide days celebrating such diverse things as cheese, Pi, consumer rights, fairytales, puppets, office-cleaning, driving courtesy, and sleep. Trolling through the calendar of World-wide Days is strangely fascinating and addictive.

Mar 26, 2014

The Ultimate: Bleu du Vercors

This is not an ironically titled posting. It's our last night in la Dordogne, and our dinner tonight at Le Clos Saint-Front in Périgueux is so extraordinary -- specifically because of the best children's menu in the history of the world -- that it deserves the title "ultimate". As usual, we failed to make reservations in advance, but we luck into a table at Le Clos, the second restaurant we try. And it makes me glad the first one turned us away.

Mar 25, 2014

Most Beautiful Villages: Saint Albray


On France's unfailingly accurate list of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France," so many of these villages are in the Dordogne, there's simply no way to see them all. But in our time there, we've managed to wander, photograph, shop, and eat at some of them. Besides Beynac and Castelnaud, home to wonderful castles, one of our favorites is the medieval, hill-top village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, which is basically prounounced "San Seer La Poopie," and is therefore as much fun for Pippa to say as Les Eyzies (a.k.a "the penises").

Mar 24, 2014

Ancient History: Gramma du Lot

We never do visit the Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies, despite eating across from it nearly half a dozen times during our visits to the Dordogne and even staying in the town. Somehow, we just can't make it there during open hours. We also don't make it to the famous Caves de Lascaux, largely because tourists instead see an elaborately reproduced artificial cave called Lascaux II. I still have a small soft-spot for visiting Lascaux, genuine or faux, given that I remember studying about it with my first fantastic French teacher, Mlle. Joan Brim, at Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield, N.Y. I loved her class so much (and was, apparently, so much of a dork) that I once spontaneously wrote a non-assigned epic French poem in which I rhymed Lascaux with....what else?....Moscow. I'm sure that makes us pathetic, but we do so many other things, we just can't feel too bad about it.
To see places that were already ancient history when ancient history was happening, we check out the prehistoric Font de Gaume. We're not allowed to photograph inside the cave, for obvious reasons of preservation, so here are some pictures taken from the internet. In real life, in the semi-darkness, the lines are not quite this clear. As you can imagine, a mostly dark tour where you see vague hints of shapes on rock is not a big hit with the younger half of our family. Truth be told, it's not exactly the most exciting thing for Anthony and me, either, but we do try to impress on the children that seeing a 15,000 year old painting is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing and rather mind-boggling. Though yes, we admit, kind of boring.


In all fairness to the children and their patience levels, we should mention that in order to see Font de Gaume, we are online by 8:25am. Tickets go on sale at 9:30, and even after getting up early and waiting an hour, we still get the last four available for the day (and even then they had to kindly bend the rules and let us use the one remaining 3pm ticket along with the three remaining 11am tickets in order to get our whole family on one tour). On our first trip, they were selling tickets about four months in advance. Now, for conservation sake, they're only available on a first come first served basis, and the number of tickets sold shrinks and adjusts constantly. At this point, the cave lets in only 80 people per day.


We also see the troglodyte village of La Madeleine, which is where the Magdalenian era gets its name. It's part cave dwellings, part medieval village, all built under a cliff. Our first year, we saw it from a canoe on the Vézère river, and I now feel deeply satisfied to have finally visited it. Even if the kids find it -- you guessed it -- a little boring.

And to finish our tour of caves (though not all on one actual day, because that would be parenting suicide), we head way out to the Gouffre de Padirac. This is a cave of the stalactite/stalagmite variety, but so big that we get to ride in what is essentially an underground gondola for nearly a kilometer round trip. Plus we hike up and down stairs. So many, many stairs. It is a truly stunning place, a cave that dwarfs all others I've seen, and Anthony and I are kind of shocked that it's never been used as a movie location. Even Gigi immediately says how she feels like Indiana Jones inside here.

It is around 90m to the ceiling in most places, with about 9m of rock separating the cave top and the ground above. The formations are truly incredible, and most grow about 1mm per century. So to see the 75m high, 3m wide column is, not to over-use the word, again mind-boggling. To the grown-ups. And not completely boring to the children, either -- hallelujah!


No, don't adjust your screen. The size and dimness of the place makes photography near impossible -- and it's not allowed at all on the boat ride or inside the best cave rooms. It's so massive that flash would do nothing. And I don't have a tripod with me (I have the opposite of a tripod; I have active young children rushing and shoving by me). So for better photos, I once again turn to the trusty internet:

 Photos from: http://larevenchedelaquiche.vraiforum.com/t3020-Le-Gouffre-de-Padirac.htm; http://www.colonnes.com/en/actu.php; http://www.rocamadour.com/fr/38/6/6/PCU3143CDT460001/sit/detail/decouvertes-patrimoine/visites/Gouffre-de-Padirac/PADIRAC/;http://www.francematin.info/Le-Gouffre-de-Padirac-se-met-a-l-heure-du-Telethon_a23165.html; http://servirlepublic.fr/epl-a-la-une/667/semitour-perigord--un-reseau-dinterets-touristiques; http://servirlepublic.fr/epl-a-la-une/667/semitour-perigord--un-reseau-dinterets-touristiques;

THE CHEESE: Gramma du Lot

Gramma du Lot, as I buy it, or Gramat du Lot (as I've sometimes seen it written), is a luscious, raw goat's milk cheese from the department of Lot. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So perhaps I don't need to spend much time on the texture. Suffice it to say: Yum.
The cheese has a pronounced goat tang, but nothing overpowering. It's lovely in every way and the only bad thing about it is that it's very hard to find, no matter how you spell it. There's not much information about it, and it's not sold very much outside the region.

Though we visit it as part of our Dordogne/Périgord trip, the Gouffre de Padirac is actually located in the department of Lot, just across the border from the Périgord. And what says "ancient history" more than a bad "Gramma" pun?


Mar 23, 2014

Milling About: Rouelle du Tarn

It's not the Moulin Rouge, but in our trip to the Dordogne, there are a surprising number of mills (moulins) involved.

We are lucky enough to get to eat at Au Vieux Moulin (The Old Mill), the restaurant in the unbearably cute converted mill in the almost unbearably cute town of Les Eyzies. Perhaps luck has nothing to do with it: We eat American hours, from the restaurant's opening at 7pm till around 9pm

Mar 22, 2014

Lemony Scented Adventures: Fiore de Muntagna


On these curvy roads, it was bound to happen. But the surprise is that it's not me or Gigi but rather Pippa who gets car-sick and vomits all over the interior of the rental. And I do mean all over. She manages to hit not just her entire outfit, but also her booster seat, the car seat under it, the floor, the seat in front of her, the window, and even the ceiling. The road has no shoulder, so despite the warning she gives us, we have no choice but to keep going forward till the next turn out. Gigi goes into a nearby store and buys tons of bottles of water, and they also give her some paper towel and a sponge. Once Anthony and I have gotten the car (and her) relatively clean, I have the brilliant idea to use a travel-sized bottle of moisturizer I carry with me in my backpack. It is an old hotel-freebie to be used in dry-skin emergencies only, since Anthony nearly gags at what he calls the "lemon balm". Or is it "lemon bomb"? I'm not sure what he's been calling it, because both are apt. In this case, we moisturize the car seats with it, assuming it will improve matters. But this is putting lipstick on a pig, and now -- let's face it -- we're driving around in a lemony-vomit-scented rental car. In desperation, we each smear a little bit of the lemon balm/bomb beneath our noses. I'm not sure if this is an improvement or not, but let's just say that we drive with the windows open.
Pippa changes into an extra sweatshirt we brought with us and wears my fleece jacket tied around her like a skirt. But as we are driving, we come across this Defimode store. At which point angels start singing.

I find out just how heaven-sent (and heavenly-scented) it is when I see it's a French equivalent of T.J.Maxx or Ross Dress for Less. 14€ later, the Pipster is wearing comfortable and cute lavender pants, and we are -- finally -- ready to make it to our destination, the Indian Forest Acrobatic Park.
This oddly-named place is one of several ropes courses in the heart of the Dordogne. The courses are labeled like ski slopes. Officially, the red and black courses are meant for ages 12 and up, but the first time we go, Gigi -- then age 8 -- is allowed to do them because she is 50% monkey, 50% mountain goat. And 100% fearless. Pippa -- then age 6 -- is allowed on the blue course, whose posted minimum age is 9, because she is also a monkey-goat hybrid, but not tall enough to move up to the red and black courses. As it is, she is on tippy-toes for a few of the passages, and Anthony or I have to try to pull the ropes down for her. Some of these things are really quite high up, and we keep saying that my mother would be having a heart attack if she were here.

The girls pronounce this their favorite part of the trip to the Dordogne and predict it will be what they remember best. Sure enough, wen we return to the region, this is a must-do on their list. Now that they're taller monkey-mountain goat hybrids, they're excited to see what else they can do on the course.

A lot, it turns out. Gigi can do everything but the course meant for 15 year olds and up. She gives that one a try too, but it is immediately too big and hard for her. Pippa meanwhile, gets off the green and blue courses she did last year and is able to do the entire red course and part of the black course. Her greatest success, however, is not throwing up in the car on the way to the Indian Forest, and after we pass the  infamous vomit and the store where we bought emergency clean clothes, she lets out a big victory cheer.

Even I can't do the whole ropes course, since there's one part of the black where the staff member -- who is taller than I am, naturally -- says he has to go on tiptoe. Only Anthony, who is part Tarzan/ part Spiderman, can do the whole thing.

Having tried it both ways, we prefer our forest adventures pine-scented, rather than lemony.

THE CHEESE: Fiore de Muntagna

Fiore de Muntagna is a brebis, that means a sheep milk's cheese, in this case raw. It's a Corsican cheese ("Don't call it French!" says a Corsican in the cheese shop) made in a small, artisanal fromagerie called Baldovini Xavier. The farm is situated on the eastern side of the Ile de Beauté, with the famous Corsican scrub (maquis) all around -- ideal for sheep grazing. The cheese is made seasonally, when the sheep are milked from November through June.

Though it's a hard cheese, it's creamy in the mouth, not dry or chalky as you might expect looking at it. It's on the stinky side, with an acid finish, that you might even call lemony. Good, but not our favorite.


This is not a local cheese, but then again Accrobranche ropes courses are not a purely local phenomenon, either. They can be found all around France and farther afield in French-speaking places: We've also climbed in Burgundy, and our most recent tree-climbing experience was in Senegal, for example. There are others in the area we never got to try out: l'Appel de la Forêt in nearby Thenon, and Airparc Périgord. So why this cheese? For a story of courses, a cheese of Corse. Of course.

Mar 21, 2014

Goose, Goose, Duck: Rondin du Lot

Goose, Goose, Duck. It's not a children's game. Or even the caption of this photo. It's what's on the menu in the Dordogne.

Mar 20, 2014

The Castliest Castles: Tomme Pur Chèvre Périgordine


Our castle day in the Dordogne starts at Château de Beynac (in Beynac-et-Casenac), whose most famous resident was Richard I, a.k.a. Richard the Lion-Hearted, King of England. He lived here from 1189 till his death in 1199. To get to and from the castle, we pass about a dozen others. Choosing a castle to visit here is rather like choosing a tree to climb in a forest.

Mar 19, 2014

Enjoying the Penises: Chabis


We start our love affair with the Dordogne in Les Eyzies (short for Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil) which, when pronounced, sounds exactly like "les zizis", meaning "the penises". Well, actually, it's more a kid's slang word for penises along the lines of weenies or willies. Or broomsticks, dongs, dingle-dangles, holy porkers, fiddle bows, jacks-in-the-box, kielbasas, Misters Goodwrench, one-eyed trouser trouts, pocket rockets, rolling pins, steaming hot kangas, or wingles.


Mar 18, 2014

Good to the Last Drop: Tomme du Chablais


One of the most common questions I am asked when serving my foreign guests a cheese platter is, "Do we eat the rind or not?" And when cheeses are very fuzzy and moldy and multi-colored and foreign-looking, it's a pretty understandable question.

Mar 17, 2014

Très Sexy: Sarments d'Amour


I am in the land of the French accent, acknowledged almost universally -- and especially by my husband -- as the sexiest accent in the world. (Actually fourth (!) sexiest, after Irish, Italian, and Scottish, according to a poll of 5,000 women done in 2009). And yet, I receive many compliment on my accent when I speak in French, which has been called "charming", "sexy", and my favorite: "adorable". Then there's the one that initially flattered me till I realized it was more of a back-handed compliment: "French-Canadian".

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