France Profonde (Deep France)
Cezac Travel Blog› entry 22 of 29 › view all entries
June 1st, 1997 – by: jsbuck1
The drive to Cezac was time traveling back in time. From airport to superhighway to highway to road to gravel driveway to farmhouse. The routes got narrower and narrower until at the end we had to put one tire on the grass in order to let oncoming traffic pass us. When we got there the place was so extraordinarily beautiful that I was afraid to look at it straight on. As Dawn got instructions and information, I unpacked our things, sort of keeping my head down and only glancing out at the view sideways because I was afraid that it would all disappear if I stood up, took a deep breath, and looked at it square on. To me it was the fulfillment of every dream I had ever had about living in the "South of France." The view from our bedroom was a Cezanne painting and in fact, I was realizing we would spend the next month in a site of amazing beauty and tranquility.
Since we had little food we us, the Maheu’s graciously invited us to eat dinner with them. The start was a little hectic, as M. Maheu went back and forth between his study and the dining table, wanting to find out the results of the election. It began with a soup of potatoes and radish tops! It then continued with a succession of seasonal vegetables. We added bread and wine. We finished with a question and answer period in front of the walk-in fireplace with mint tea.
I was stunned by the fact that Isabelle used a different set of plates for every item she served, and each part of the meal was served separately and sequentially. After the soup with a dollop of fromage frais in each bowl, she served white asparagus with homemade Hollandaise. The next plate was for fresh peas (the season is just ending for both these vegetables). The next plate was for the chèvre, in this case a semi-mature goat cheese of the region which is creamy inside with a slightly more pungent, harder outer edge. She then apologized that she had made no dessert but proceeded to serve fromage blanc, which I think is a richer version of fromage frais. Depending on the fat content, all of these taste like anything from yogurt to sour cream. She was about to get out yet another set of plates when her husband stopped her, apparently feeling that the raw honey would be perfectly nice with the fromage blanc. They get the honey in the honeycomb. You chew on a piece of it and suck out all the honey and then discard the chewed up piece of honeycomb on your plate. It is unbelievably sweet. One bite was enough for me, even with my sweet tooth.
Some of the evening’s conversation centered around their very strong belief that foods should only be eaten in season and in the region that one lives. The idea of flying tomatoes in from another county in the middle of winter, for instance, appalled them. Then they went on about the genetically engineered tomatoes from Holland that are bred for beauty and shelf-life but taste like nothing, and the roses that are bred for beauty but have lost their scent. “Some of the best apples are a funny color and have strange shapes, but they taste delicious,” Jean would say, for example.
I was struck by how generous and warm they were towards us. They are about fifteen years older than we, have six children, and several grandchildren. We are their first tenants here, and they worked very hard to get the écurie ready for us. They seem very pleased by how much we love it here, how beautiful we think the old stable is, etc. I am also struck by the fact that I have done nothing to try to promote my work though them, although they are extremely connected in the cultural world. She now picks almost all the artists for LaNapoule, and he used to be in the Ministry of Culture and was also the head of the Beauborg Contemporary Art Museum. (Pompidou) In the last fifteen years, whenever I’ve been in Europe, I’ve always tried to hustle my work in one way or another, albeit without much success. This time I didn’t even bring a videotape along. It’s just not what I want to do now.
On Monday, after the confusion of getting the phone line prepared, we waved good-bye. they were headed back to Paris and we for the town of Cahors. We needed to find the market that they had mentioned. In the confusion of French/English we had some locations of markets and the names of some cities, but we weren’t sure which location was in which city. Driving in Cahors was strange for me. Entering into a city by car seemed to make it more alienated than arriving by train. We passed one huge market, went through town, saw a sign for another, took the highway and found ourselves back at the first one, the Mammoth. It had everything.
The plumbers came on Tuesday, which was lucky because we realized that we didn’t have any hot water in the bathroom. Dawn thought for a moment that perhaps that they forgot to tell us that it was a cold water shower. But no, after they set up the pool cover and replaced a broken valve on the stove, they flipped the switch and said that we would have hot water in two hours. I also used them to find out if I had wired the phone well enough to have it ring when some one called as well as call out. They called from their car phone, but we heard nothing. Ah well, back to the drawing board.
Wednesday is a market day in Cahors, so we went off to find the open air market. First we had to find a parking space which was difficult especially as we didn’t know what part of town to look for one in. But we found it eventually and it was worth the search. Wine, cheese, fish, meat, vegetables of all kinds overflowed on the tables. We separated with lists and slowly acquired our food. The market is in the square in front of the twelfth century church, and the door was open but we didn’t go in. It was as if doing and seeing occupy the same part of our brain and if you are doing one you can’t do the other. It is very difficult to be a tourist in your own town and I guess Cahors was beginning to feel like a home, at least when we were shopping. So instead, off to the Mammoth for more basics and we were home for lunch.
On an exploratory walk on the ridge above and behind he house, we discovered an odd array of wine bottles. At first, it just looked like a trash dump that you see if you hike anywhere among abandoned farmhouses. The difference was that here there were a couple of hundred bottles, some half hidden in the earth, and none were broken. We couldn’t image that they were thrown out without being broken. Of course, there is no mystery. As I write this I realize that it was most likely the storage place for wine bottles that were to be used again to put wine in. The walls had just decomposed around them. On the other hand, they were on their sides which argues for the idea that they had been stored as full bottles and the elements destroyed the corks and evaporated the wine. Throwing away wine bottles is probably a fairly modern concept.
Rain brings a morning of guilt free reading followed by clearing skies under which I cut my hair. The work never stops.
Enough of the sedentary life. Today we would hike. We had been told that there is wonderful hiking from here. We wouldn’t have to get in there car or even cross a road to begin. We started at 9:15 in the morning with some water, snacks and the car map in our packs and decided to walk to Montcuq and back. We couldn’t quite figure it out but it seemed to be about fifteen kilometers away.
We went back to the road that we had found a couple of evenings before and headed west. We wandered through upland fields, made a couple of wrong turns but eventually found ourselves in Lascabannes. As Dawn said, it was beautiful. There were hundreds of pots of flowers, in window boxes, stairway pots or just by the side of the road. We moved through the small town, up onto the next highland and by 11:30 found ourselves by a small chapel in the woods where we stopped for a snack. A couple was working in the chapel so we waited until they had left and we had finished our snack before going in. We discovered that this was both a church that the faithful made pilgrimages to and a waystop on the larger pilgrimage trail to Campostelle in the northwest corner of Spain. We found flyers from people that offered rooms for pilgrims and corrections to guide books. Also we found notebooks to write comments in. The knowledge that we were walking on a trail that had been used since 800 AD changed our viewpoint completely. We seemed now to be a part of history. It was like following the Oregon Trail, or sitting down to a Seder. Also the day itself now contributed to the feeling, getting hotter and blazingly clear, and we could empathize with those that had come before us as we walked on a chalk white road on a shadeless plateau. It felt as if we had been transported to Spain. In an hour we were back on the asphalt road, and in two hours we were in Montcuq and had rejoined the twentieth century.
I have never in my life been so glad to see a café as when we walked into the town and saw not one, but two across the street from each other. I was worried we would find another Puicheric, cute but useless. It was now 2:15. We had been on the road for five hours. We were hot and tired, and the shade of the large chestnut tree of the Café de France seemed as good as the body of St. James himself. (He remains in Campostelle). We had a couple of beers, found out that there was nothing like a bus going in our direction and the one cab would not be available, if at all, until evening. We walked to the top of the town to visit the twelfth century tower. It was closed but the view from its base was beautiful. We bought some bread and headed back.
It is now about 4:15. I am guessing that if we pushed it would be a four hour return trip and thinking how difficult it might be, but Dawn pulled out her trusty thumb and got us a ride that in ten minutes knocked two hours off that estimate. The woman driver got us down the hill fast and left us with only about 7 kilometers to do. We got in about 6:15 and hit the pool and I began to think about some serious relaxation near a bottle or two of wine when the Maheu’s arrived from Paris with news that Printemps Cahors, the second largest photographic festival in France was opening that night. They produced an invitation for us for the opening cocktail party and. . .
We were off a half hour later on Part B of “a long day in le Lot”. We drove in, found a parking space, lost the invitation, found the invitation, found the reception, had a glass of champagne, had dinner, watched some dance (the whole thing is set up a little like First Night), went looking for the projections, couldn’t find them, got tired and drove home by midnight. The whole thing will be done again next weekend and we will return with Amber more organized and less tired.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!