May 28, Sarlat

There’s definitely a feeling that this vacation is almost over. My thoughts are turning more and more to home, and my life there, though my eyes and my camera are still turning to France. A few random thoughts: Teenage boys seem more affectionate, less afraid to touch each other in France. It was good to see them as comfortable maintaining contact as girls do. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the young man, laden with a heavy backpack, and a guitar strapped to the backpack, stretching his neck and camera up to get a photograph of a window frame. Saw a few kitties today; one let me pet her, obliging shed on my backpack, and then avoiding letting me get a good photo of her; another scampered by, a twitching bit of gray fur in her mouth: she was taking her mouse somewhere to enjoy it in private.

Breakfast: see above. Actually, I had cheese left over from the other day, so had that for breakfast. Enjoyed the fresh fruit. It will be strange to go back to having tea for breakfast, as I’ve gotten very used to a couple cups of strong coffee to get me going.

This morning was free, and though I hadn’t slept well, it was good to have free time when still fresh and alert. I had a map of the historic parts of Sarlat, and a cheat sheet for the cathedral, Saint Sacerdos, from Katherine, our guide. So I cruised around, especially appreciated the Lanterne des Morts, built to commemorate a visit by (St.) Bernard in the 12th Century, and the beautiful, peaceful, cloister ruins on the west side of the cathedral. I met Teddy and Tom at the cathedral, and we took a tour together. Midway through, we noticed some movement in the organ loft, and a few minutes later, the low, unmistakable pattern of the bass in Pachelbel’s Canon in D reverberated throughout the entire building. It swelled into the treble, and we listened, transfixed, to the piece. It was one of those rare times when one is seized by the power of the moment, and a powerful impression is etched into one’s memory. Wow. A little more music, a little more of the cathedral to admire, and we were done. I checked off a few more place on the guide. Unfortunately, the Chapel of the White Penitents, now a museum of sacred art, wasn’t open. I had hoped to see the chapel and the art. Then back to the hotel for our noon appointment with the bus driver.

So we spent the afternoon driving around, visiting various historic sites. They were all wonderful, and I took far too many photos to inflict on you, but that happens.  But I remember best the trip to Beynac Castle (and got the best photos there.) It was the best possible way to see a castle, kept as close to what it was as a working castle as possible. (The fact that it’s been used for so many movies is definitely a testament to its visual authenticity and charm.) Beyond the way-cool oldness of everything, there was also a sense of how difficult and desolate life could be, how safety was hard won.  

One of the cool things about Beynac was that we were able to view the French countryside from way, way high up. It was absolutely splendid, and offered a much wider vision than we’d had before. And we all noted, ruefully, that France is every bit as beautiful, manicured, perfectly-arranged in panorama as it is close up. We were making jokes about the length the French must go to achieve such visual perfection—using tweezers and nail clippers on the lawn and the yard to catch every miniscule weed. Look at the photos.

Lunch was at Le Pech de Malet, a lovely country restaurant. We had yummy shredded veggies for starters, and a wafer of some paté, which I actually ate. The bread was hearty and rough, and tasted of walnuts, ubiquitous in this area. Wine and coffee were including, and happily consumed. The main course was served family style, slices of veal with fancy mushroom gravy, delicious potatoes, and some green beans cooked with a little bacon. It was great French family food, not fancy, but very tasty and satisfying. Fresh strawberries with sauce and whipped cream for dessert. For once, we didn’t linger over our meal, but were urged back to the bus, for more sightseeing. I did get a photo of the kitchen, at the urging of one tour member. I don’t think the chef was too pleased, but he was gracious.

For dinner, we made our third trip in a row for dinner at e Bistro de l’Octrol. This was for our big gala dinner. It was interesting to hear tour members compare this to other tours. The general consensus was that this group was more fun, easier to get along with, better company, than other tours. I would have said the same thing comparing this to the Drouin trip, except for a few cousins that I really got along with. But overall, it did seem to be a cohesive, coherent group. For a starter at dinner, we each got a little glass filled with a delicious tomato puree—it would have been great over noodles. And, concealed in the middle of each glass of puree was a poached egg. No idea why—we didn’t need the protein, but it was certainly delicious, and someone said it was a Spanish dish. Baskets of hearty bread were on the table, and most of us at my table had requested white wine. It was cold and refreshing, and we went through almost two bottles. The main course was fish in a mushroom sauce, with two pieces of potato, and some green peas, a grilled tomato, and a mystery square. The square was the subject of much speculation, and requests to the waitress, and errors in translation. I think the final decision was that it was pureed celery, gelled and seasoned. Dessert had a fancy name—Poires Belle Hélène, poached pears with gobs of fragrant and delicious chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a little fruit. My own tiny, crumpled pear looked so pathetic that I had to borrow Myrna’s for the photo. It was good for a laugh. There was one young waiter, a cheeky kid, who ended up waiting on us all three nights we ate there. We were good friends by the second night, when Teddy, frustrated with his incomprehensible answers in French to her questions about the menu, blurted out “I bet you speak perfect English.” He allowed that he had studied English for ten years in school, but continued speaking in French. The next night, more of the same, and she said “You need to talk in English tonight.” “I’ll talk in English,” he responded, “if you speak in French.” And so they did.

I can’t think about the tour being over. I can’t think about not seeing these wonderful people again. So I won’t. I’ll pack, and try to get some sleep tonight, as tomorrow night will not be restful.


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