Jul 11, 2019

Digging La Digue: Le Plaisir Passe par Courseulles sur Mer


There are plenty of boardwalks that are more famous, but to me none are more special than the boardwalk that runs between Courseulles-sur-Mer and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer on the English Channel coast in Normandie.

It's a fantastic summer destination -- low-key, with a lot to see and do, and a whole lot of places to enjoy doing nothing as well. The area is known for great Normandy architecture and lovely wide beaches. (Yes, I know I switch indiscriminately between Normandy and Normandie, but they both seem equally right to me, and I'm trying to show you what goes on inside my brain....)

Starting at Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer pretty much requires a trip to the unique Gui-gui place on the beach. Don't know what a guigui is? Don't worry you're not alone. Neither do the vast majority of French people. But the people in Saint-Aubin have known it as a boardwalk staple since childhood.

I don't know exactly what's in a gui-gui (I suspect a lot of sugar and chemicals), but I can tell you that the texture ends up somewhere between a salt-water taffy and the red shell of a candied apple. It's soft enough that the person in the store can pull it into a coil, then snip it with scissors, then twist it onto a stick. It comes in many (undoubtedly artificial) flavors, including green apple and mandarin orange, shown above.

Gui-gui (pronounced with a hard G as ghee-ghee, not gee-gee/Gigi) must be a dentist's and orthodontist's nightmare, as it could not possibly be any stickier. But it's tasty, in that sort of artificial candy way and certainly makes you feel like you're on a beach boardwalk. Our kids buy one pretty much every time we're there in the summer, though I don't think anybody's ever been able to finish a whole one. The little girl in the middle of the photo with the brown sweater and white gui-gui eventually becomes the young woman with the long hair and red and orange-swirled gui-gui. It's possible it took her that many years just to finish the first gui-gui.

You know the beaches on the side of this boardwalk better, perhaps, as Juno Beach, one of the landing sites for the Canadians troops as part of the Invasion of Normandy to liberate France on June 6, 1944. I really am just incapable of talking about these beaches without mentioning the D-Day connection. I never walk down this boardwalk and look at this beach without thinking of it. Here's a World War II memorial, one of the many found in the region.

Ending the boardwalk at Courseuelles-sur-Mer means a visit to the Centre Juno Beach, a museum honoring the Canadian contribution and sacrifices to D-Day. It's a particularly well-done WWII museum, and extremely moving.

If you're here in August, you might get a lighter look at history -- a boot-stompin' romp with cowboy-clad French people at the Acadian Festival. Their shirts say "Country Club Langrunais" (Langrun is a neighboring town) but this is a different sort of Country Club; this is a club for country dancers -- Acadian, of course.

Why the obsession with Acadians? La Semaine Acadienne honors the Acadian heritage of French people, mostly from this area of France, who headed to colonize the new world in the 17th and 18th centuries. They ended up in the Eastern Canada/Maine area but were kicked out after the French and Indian War (1754-1763) when the British suspected the francophones of colluding with France. 

"Kicked out" makes it sound pretty harmless; in fact, about 11,500 Acadians were deported in what is known as Le Grand D
√©rangement (The Great Expulsion) of 1755-1764. About one-third of those people died along the way by disease or drowning. The two-thirds that made it were either sent to American colonies -- often to be forced into servitude -- or back to France, where they were then recruited by the Spanish to help populate Louisiana, then a Spanish colony called Luisiana. They brought their Acadian culture there as well. Hence, Acadians up in Eastern Canada and down in New Orleans.  And, for one week a year, back "home" again in Courseulles-sur-Mer, on the Normandy Coast of France.

One reason the festival is held here, specifically, is because nowhere in France (perhaps nowhere on Earth?!) will you find people more grateful to Canada.

Also on this stretch of boardwalk (or dam, "la digue" as the French call it), you'll find some of the French-est most Normandy-ish things imaginable: Villa Jehanne-d'Arc (modern spelling: Jeanne d'Arc)...

...a book store and crepe shop in one....

...and a Colombage timber and plaster house, with a man in a beret-like cap wearing a Mariniere blue-striped shirt.

THE CHEESE:  Le Plaisir Passe par Courseulles sur Mer

This Camembert-inspired cheese made from the ever-witty Fromagerie Maitre Pennec is called Le Plaisir Passe par Courseulles sur Mer, "Pleasure Passes Through Courseulles-on-the-Sea."

Unless it's called Le Plaisir Passe par Bretignolles sur Mer or named after one of a number of many other local towns. Even I won't consider each one a unique cheese, despite the changing monikers. Every town you enter in this particular neck of the woods offers the exact same cheese with a different town name on it. It's customized cheese!

It's firmer and less flavorful than a raw Camembert, but has similarities in terms of how its made, how it looks, and where it comes from. Still, the flavor and stink are not nearly as rich and complex as many a raw milk cheese. It's enjoyable, in the sense that -- well -- it's fromage so, really, how bad could it be?

Since it is sold under so many other coastal, Normandy towns, it leaves us to wonder: Where exactly does the pleasure pass?


Since there is no gui-gui flavored cheese, and no cheese twisted around a stick like a gui-gui (though I suppose I might've used a Saint-Maure-de-Touraine for its stick if that cheese were still available to me), I looked to the name of the coastal towns on this boardwalk. And so, a cheese called Le Plaisir Passe par Courseulles sur Mer to talk about a story about passing some pleasurable moments at Courseulles sur Mer, and neighboring Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer as well.


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