Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dordogne Diary, Day 4

I was beginning to get itchy. A whole new area of France, and yet I hadn't seen much of it! Rouffignac, Plazac (yeah, I found it on the map and it's not called Prozac after all, although, as I may have said the suffix -ac means "place of," so that Bergerac would be the place of shepherds), and the farming country around the house here were all very nice, but I had a car and I wanted to see where I was.

The idea yesterday was that Brian and I were going to go to Le Buisson to the market, but although we both got up in time, he was mooching around on the Internet and the appointed time came and went. I knew what was going on: with the distractions of the wife and kid out of the way, he had time to focus on stuff he wanted to do, and wanted to use that time. But eventually we set out for the market. As we left the property, we were surprised by two young men on dirt bikes who weren't from around here. It was probably okay, but Brian remembered that he'd left the house open and I realized that this computer, with most of my brain (and work) on it, was in the unlocked house. Somehow as we plunged along the rural roads, the worry evaporated, but it hung on nonetheless.

And so it was that, as we approached Le Bugue, a new plan formed: traffic in Le Bugue was insane, rush hour in rural France! "All these people are tourists going to Le Buisson," Brian said. On the one hand, I found that hard to believe. On the other, what were all these French peasant farmers doing driving right-hand-drive Vauxhalls? Le Buisson was jettisoned, and Lemeuil, down the river, was the new destination. It's a village on a hill situated where the Dordogne and Vézère rivers meet, and was an important trade town in medieval times. There have been settlements in the area since the Paleolithic.

It was easy enough to park, but not terribly easy to photograph, being both compact and sprawling over a steep hill.

There were the obligatory glass-blowers and potters, the obligatory red-faced Dutch families dragging their kids up the hill, and some not-so-picturesque old buildings. We may not have gone far enough into the town to see what the fuss was -- we passed several official signs on the way in declaring it "one of the most beautiful villages in France" -- but we descended, stopped by a sort of ratty organic vegetable stand where I bought some tomatoes, and drove out of town.

There was a reason for this, though: I'd spotted a late 12th Century church on the way in, and wanted to take a look.

The graveyard, as you can see, is still in full use, but the inside of the church doesn't seem to be. Which is fine: there are some nice frescoes in there that might've gotten painted over:

 The bikers were still on our minds, so after stopping at a world-class bakery in Le Bougue (if you're there, it's over the bridge and has a fake windmill attached to it) for bread and croissants for tomorrow, we headed back. A short stop at an archeological site we'd passed on the way in (where people were working and some tourists were standing around) revealed that it was closed for the daily worship of the French god Lunch -- and didn't seem all that interesting anyway. Naturally, all was as we'd left it back at the house. Sandwiches were had and I started to think of what to do with the rest of the afternoon.

The idea of bastides fascinated me: medieval fortified villages which dot the landcape south of Le Bougue, some of which were built by the English as a way of staking a claim to this part of the country during the disputes over just how much of modern-day France the English could lay claim to. (You'll have to hit the books on this one: it's complicated). The entryway to bastide country is Belvès, which I'd gone through on the train to Les Eyzies, so that was my first destination as I set out solo.

A lot of the drive looked on the map like it duplicated this morning's at first, but I had a new companion: Paddy. Paddy was the Irish voice programmed into the GPS by Melinda, and as the day developed he seemed intent on proving an ethnic stereotype. But he started me off okay, finding a way to Belvès that actually went around the larger towns. Suddenly, there I was. A railroad viaduct had been painted in bright colors: Saturday was the annual Medieval Festival! This is the sort of thing where both historians and people with insight into the kind of behavior alcohol provokes tend to leave town, while the town square fills up with credulous tourists. But I was at the perfect moment: the decorations were up, but the stupidity had yet to start.

There's obviously a large story to this town, and it involves the church (there's a large fortified cluster of church buildings down a fortified street just to the right of that tower there)

from which there's a nice view of the surrounding countryside, which was probably more strategic than charming once upon a time

and, despite the nice buildings which surround tiny squares

there's a whole complex of "troglodite" dwellings underneath the town.

This place clearly demands another visit, but I was anxious to get to a bastide, and so I asked Paddy to get me to Monpazier, and off we went. Looking now at the brochure I picked up at the tourist office, I see that Monpazier is called "La Belle Anglaise," making it one of the English towns, dating from the 13th Century sometime.

My photos don't really convey the way the blocks of buildings fit together around a couple of larger market squares, but the whole place gives a feeling of always being on the defensive. Which, given the circumstances in which it was put up, it is. All these towns seem to have a covered market building, which you can see here.

Belvès is fortified, but Monpazier is socked in. There's enough tourist-oriented businesses, though, that I didn't spend a lot of time there. Instead, I jumped back into the car and set Paddy for...errr...was it Monflaquin? It was a bit of a drive, anyway, especially since Paddy started going to sleep and, upon awakening, seemed to have switched over to believing I was looking for something entirely different than I actually was. At any rate, along the way we passed another impressive chateau which might or might not have been occupied...

It was about 5 by the time I arrived in Monflaquin, and I parked right in front of the tourist office in the market square which had the usual covered structure, this one with a raised bit with three pots with spigots on them, long since unusable. No idea what they were for. This was a French bastide, built in the 13th century by Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of St. Louis, who was the King of France, for what that was worth, and creator of the first Crusade. I suddenly realized that there was little if any variation in these villages, interesting and atmospheric as they were, and I was beginning to experience something I hadn't felt in a decade. Back then, it was Temple Burn in Kyoto, with too many temples in too short a time. Now I was feeling Bastide Burn.

Fortunately, this being a French bastide, it had to have a very impressive French church.

Unfortunately, maybe during the French Revolution, someone had decided to use Jesus for target practice.

There was nothing much inside the church except a couple of folks who were very happy to have survived the devastation, whatever it was.

I had in mind that Janet and Patrick, a couple of New York folkie/beatnik types who were friends of Brian and Melinda's, and who lived somewhere around here, were coming for dinner, and I hadn't put any minutes into my cell phone so I couldn't call and say I was on my way back. I programmed the farmhouse into Paddy, and set off. Now, if we're going to call up stereotypes, we would say that our virtual Irishman was drunken and lazy. There was, of course, no smell of alcohol in the car, and I don't know enough chemistry to speculate what would make a silicon and metal person drunk, but I would get to a crossroads and Paddy would be silent, or I'd be driving along, not sure I'd made the right choice, look at Paddy, and find him trying to find a police station in Basque country. I'd patiently reprogram him, and...that would be it. Still, by following signs to Paris (!), I eventually found myself coming into Le Bugue along a vaguely familiar road and soon saw the bakery from the morning come into view. From here I didn't need any help, but there was Paddy, guiding me along the way I'd have taken anyway.

Finally I roared into the driveway, and a few minutes later, Janet and Patrick showed up with the results of a little garden clearing:

A ratatouille in the raw is contained there, and I suspect I'll finally get to do some cooking here! But not all the goodies were from the garden: Janet had invented a dessert that was a dome of chocolate zucchini cake surrounding a white chocolate mousse. I don't eat dessert, but I had to make an exception here. This was extraordinary; had Patrick not kept joking about "Boy, sure is a lot you can do with zucchini!" I'd never have known that it was there.

A full moon came up over one end of the deck, and the talk was of the impending meteor shower, but they had a ways to drive and I, too, was pooped. The meteors may have showered, but I missed them. And I knew one thing: the next day? No bastides!


  1. These daily posts are wonderful to read and view. Curtis Roberts

  2. Great church in the bastide!! Good pics


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