Sunday, September 13, 2009
Stopping only for benzine, we raced to toulouse, to the farmer's market, to provision our picnic basket so we could avoid the culinary ravages of burger king, mcdonalds, et al, on our way back.
Paranoid, now, I staid with the car while Mrs shopped in Toulouse, regrettably missing out on the sights and smells . . . I was only able to snap this picture from my camera phone as we whizzed by leaving as an afterthought. . . but she had scored a chicken roasted with herbs, a loaf of olive bread, some nectarines, and some cheese, which she had selected in what we call Lupe mode: an adventurous choice of an unknown foodstuff.
Then we drove and drove and drove . . .The french countryside is lovely but the eye grows blase' as if after several hours at the grand canyon . . . from the freeway . . . evenmoreso . . . this bridge caught our eye . . . we stopped and took pictures of it after we had past, but the best one was from within the car, thru the windshield, before we went thru . . . has something to do with the Dali-esque appearance of the bridge before those clouds . . .Dam', Dali-on-the-brain . . . may have to go to the hokey Dali museum in Prg, after all. . .
the trip back was uneventful . . . the countdown on the TomTom was excruciating . . . I kept asking Mrs, when are we going to turn East, instead of North!? The best part was the lunch we had provisioned ourselves . . .the chicken was superb, the nectarines like from the garden of eden, the olive bread was fabulous, but the cheese . . . I tho't I had achieved the sophisticated palate to appreciate any cheese no matter how . . . challenging . . . but even my juvenile sense of decorum prevents me from describing how this cheese tasted to me . . . Mrs wouldn't even try a nibble . . . "I SAW your face!" she said, "and I can smell it." we thru it away at the next stop. SHe'd tho't it might be a sort of camembert . . .a softish-yellowish cheese, but then we wondered . . . was it Limberger? of Our Gang Fame?
We had our music but the only other entertainment we had was once when the TomTom got confused. Tho' we were still on the freeway, the TomTom narrator started issuing confusing instructions, "get off, get on, turn around", the display started flashing discordant, disjointed maps, the cursor started flying off the road, like a wingman -- for like 11 miles, the cursor shadowed us, off road. The coordinates must have been mis-entered is all I can figger, there wasn't an old road over there or anything . . .
Later, much later that night, as we crossed the german/czech border, TomTom freaked out again, ordered me off the freeway. . . exhausted, I followed mindlessly . . .instead of cruising we were suddenly inching around little by-roads in a small village, taking some perceived short-cut . . . there was construction, so even more wildly, we were taking detours in the darkest-before-dawn-dark on a route that was clearly, in retrospect, another bug in the programming.
When we got back on the freeway I spied a car pulling a boat on a trailer that I had past before. Oh, well.
We pulled into the circle near our apt in PRG without further trauma. We went up together on the first trip, but I left Mrs in the apt. while I carried all else up . . . 8 trips . . . I've never felt so paranoid in Prg before as when I was carrying up the cases of wine and armagnac, at 4am.
They say that the doing is the pleasure, not the having done, but finally getting back to the Apt. with all that stuff, was a good feeling, even now.
Next day we lounged about after getting the car back -- noticed that the traffic was heavier than when we left, since everyone has come back from vacation, back into the city . . . Mrs washed clothes, we watched two movies, we ordered Indian Food Delivery from Himalya . . . took 'em 3 hours to deliver, almost worth it. . . . I savored some rare imported Armagnac.
Monday could not possibly be a good day, I figgered.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
We ambled over to the titular raison d'etre of our vacation, the musee' Armaganac . . . it is small but interesting . . . there's a grape press the size of a fire-truck . . . collections of tools for cultivating, harvesting, and distilling armagnac grapes . . . collections of antique stills . . . and displays of antique ways of enjoying armagnac, like crystal decanters and small glasses and snifters . . . but perhaps most important . . . the proper dressage: a blue velvet vest with little metal grape clusters on it . . . this picture kinda turned out Dali-like from my reflection in the glass . . . but I am resolved to make this my next purchase of custom tailoring, not so ornamented, perhaps, and with golf motifs, instead of grape clusters, since I am a better bad golfer than armagnac sommellier, if you see what I mean . . .
They had a short video to watch in a small theatre, with a choice of 4 languages. I chose English for intelligibility over French for authenticity. It was only a PR flick, but was enthralling to such a afficionado as I -- I'd forgotten: I'd asked our sommellier at LaFontan what the french equivalent for afficionado was . . . she came up with Amateur! Ouch! . . . 8^D . . . but I think I'd heard that before, so, ok . . . like a black belt just means you are a serious student instead of a dilletantte. The film did manage to convey the information that Armagnac was first distilled in the 1280s, and it is the oldest distilled product in France. I always wonder about those types of First Pioneers . . . how do they come up with these ideas? Did Spacemen tell them? Did they have a bad mushroom? Were they just incredibly bored on winter eves?
Outside the theatre was this Poem about Armagnac distillation. I'm still working on the translation, but I share the joie de vie in the magical process celebrated by the poet.
because as the still embers buffetted
lightens a vapor that gradually mounted
the summit the hat and moist, unable
to sweat smelling her go farther
grazes gently, then a drop falls a drop
clear as crystal, in glass drips
the more subtle humor that floats in the sea
is the scope of the sun rays in the air
After the museum, where there was no tasting . . . incroyable! . . . we wandered the old-town section of Condom looking for a place for lunch . . . we disdained the St. Pierre for no other reason than fine as it was, we wanted a difference . . . we finally wound up at a table in the street outside a pizzeria. The street is blocked off as a pedestrian zone, but that pedestrian traffic is very heavy . . . the hikers and bikers are constant, not to mention the locals breaking for lunch . . .
We didn't really expect a gourmet feast from a pizzeria, but it was such a charming location, half in sun and shade, we had to pick it.
We waved away the menus and gave our standard order, fumbling such that we wound up with vin blanc instead of vin rose -- there's some secret to ordering vin rose in france I have not mastered -- only after re-persuading the waitress that we wanted wine in addition to eau minerale naturelle.
But Mrs loves the salades in France, that come in so many colours and seem to always have bits of melon and avocado . . . this one also had little yellow tomatos that must have a name of their own, but we don't know it . . . Mrs suggests Baby Golden Heirloom Tomatos . . .
The main course I just call FishKabobs . . . I forgot what the restaurant called it . . .saumon en brochette or something . . . it was succulent beyond belief . . . there were bits of bacon included, too, which I applaud, if somewhat ruefully, but Mrs puritanically disdains.
When the waitress returned, she asked "dessert ou glace'?"
So we said "Oui!"
She repeated, "dessert ou glace?"
and we said "Oui!"
this went on for enough iterations to draw irritable & pitying glances at other tables, till the waitress retreated in confusion, and dispatched her colleague, who was able to convey the concept that "ou" = "or".
I found this rather funny as a demonstration of my linguistic shortcomings . . .
goes into the category of "I will never learn" I guess . . .
was a nummy caramelized pavlova set into custard, an excellent complement to my espresso.
After lunch we expanded our circumambulation to the periphery of old-town. We found a grocer -- I don't think it was a Lidl, but I don't remember -- Mrs enjoys seeing different grocers, and taking stock, if you see how I mean, but she also made valuable purchases . . . plastic tableware to go into our picnic basket with our plastic plates and paper napkins -- essential we tho't for our trip back to Prague.
We also ran across this shop specializing in English Articles . . . The cashier greeted us in English, and chatted to us while we perused . . . we didn't really want any marmite, but bought a used paperback, Kinflicks, and some crackers. When we left, I said, "Cheerio!" which made her smile.
Friday, September 11, 2009
so then we headed out towards condom . . . with the idea I wanted to hit Chateau de Cassaigne . . . they had an interesting web site, their armagnac is alluring, and the old castle is formidable . . .
It was great walking thru the old rooms . . . it's hard to visualize how it would have been before electricity, but you can tell that the old building is like it was centuries ago . . .
I wanted to joke that this the room we staid in . . .
They're awfully proud of their armagnac . . . after reaching into my pocket so often the last few days, I was gun-shy, so to speak . . . so I only bought two bottles of single vintage bottles . . . rather than the hors d'age we were tasting . . . I shoulda bought 4 bottles, at least . . . I can't believe now I wussed out like that . . . in the name of economy & prudence . . . what a dope . . .
we stopped at another place, DeFord . . . along with Millet and Lafontan, this would be one of my favorites . . . this place was awesome . . . we did our normal, tasting from youngest to oldest until we couldn't taste anymore difference . . . we barely made a dent in the first shelf, never mind the 2nd shelf, or OMG, the 3rd shelf . . . the prices down there averaged 250Euros, the age averaged 50 years old . . . the temptation to buy a 1951, the same age as me, was intense, especially since I'd chickened out at Cassaigne. . . but no . . . .dang . . . just a few bottles barely 25 years old . . .
we drove on to condom and checked into our hotel . . . sort of a comedown after the Chateaus we been in, but much cheaper, and in the heart of Condom . . . had a pool too . . . from the hotel we had a recommendation for lunch at the St. Pierre, next to the big church . . . we knew better than to challenge the mores of the region . . . we headed right down there . . .
The St.Pierre brasserie faces the back of the main courtyard of the Hotel de Ville and the front of the Cathedral, a large plaza in its own right. We traipsed upstairs and I saw the seats out on the small terrace? I pointed quizzically. The maitre'd shook his head sorrowfully, but then checked his book, checked his watch, drew a line thru a reservation in the book, gave me a look of cunning appreciation, said "something, something, something bon chance", picked up some menus and led us out to a table on the terrace.
"What did he say?" asked Mrs.
"Something about our lucky day," I replied, "somebody didnt show up, so we can eat out here."
Years ago I had a head=hunter rap to me about how when she was a waitress, she always wondered about the people she was serving, what kind of superior lives they led, and now (she said then) I am living the life of one of those people!
This was one of those moments for me, too . . . we sat up there, sipping wine and eau minerale naturelle, watching the hikers, the bikers, the tourists trudge by below us, while we sat in this prize position admiring the spectacle . . .
the first course was a salad, with melon, endive, avocado and regular stuff . . . Mrs' eyes rolled back in ecstasy . . . wine and vegetables, is all she wants . . .
but then came the money shot: leg of goose, with legumes, mushrooms, and vegetable terrine, I guess you could call it . . . I think it was great, but up on the terrace, in the sunlight under a brolly, with the breeze above the plaza, I think it was ecstatic.
there was some dessert course, natch, but we were so besotted we took no picture, and have no idea what it was . . . I'm sure it was fantastic, and I had coffee with it. . . 8^D . . .
we went back to the motel after lunch, for our siesta . . . we tho't we might swim afterwards, but it was raining, so we just went walkabout back around Condom instead . . .
we found a little store with grocery items, wine, and armagnac . . . I found some bottles of the Pelle Haut we'd had at dinner in Cabuzon and a bottle of armagnac from the same ventre, so I picked those up. They also had those very old and very tempting bottles going back more than 50 years old . . . geez, it was like a sign or something, but I turned away from the madness . . . I mean if you drink a bottle dated by your birth year, and you finish it, aren't you finished ,too? Just asking. . .
we got some more tapenade for our nightly picnic . . . we found the Armagnac museum and bookmarked it, in a manner of speaking for the next day, we walked past a frommage cottage without stopping, but then doubled back . . . I was trying to tell the cheese master I wanted 250 grams (deux cent et canq) but the jolly fellow couldn't understand me, so we just bought the slice of brie he ad in his hand . . . it was 289 grams . . . close enough . . . 8^D . . . we stopped at another shop, a patisserie and bought one baguette . . . that seemed easy in comparison . . .
by the time we got back to the motel, and put away our purchases, and turned around thrice, it was time for our nightly picnic, at a table away from the pool, now crowded by vacationing legionaires.
So we leisurely noshed, then retired to the room to read and listen to music and tipple a little armagnac.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Over to the breakfast room for the petite dejeuner. There was a party – a group – of French couples on a golfing vacation together . . . I think they would have welcomed us into their group, but they spoke no English and we speak no French – aside from bon jour – so we got murmured greetings and polite nods and smiles while they gave each other air kisses and big hugs . . . once again, you have to admire they way the live . . . meet at the chateau, golf a little together, big lunch, golf a little more, rest and off to dinner (god knows where in that country . . . maybe someone else’s house), and back hours after we went to bed. . . 8^) . . .
So I set out as soon as after brekky as possible to get back as soon as possible . . . Walked straight out onto the first tee, no one else in sight. Played like the morning person I am . . . rotten . . . shot an even 46-46=92 . . . but there I was back for lunch before noon . . .
Mrs & I just wanted a leisurely lunch quickly, if you see what I mean, and the restaurant at the chateau was open and had a menu de jour, so we were all set . . . we thought . . . they had signs flapping in the wind advertising sangria, so we tho’t we’d try that . . . when the waitress finally took our order, I tried to give her this variation on our norm: deux sangria, eau minerale naturelle, et menu du jour, which seemed to go alright, but then she asked if we wanted wine, too?
I said no, but when she came back, to be sure, I asked (difficile with pig-french and gestures) whether the sangria had vin in it, too. She said it did, so ok. I’d be driving, and I didn’t want a load on anyway . . .
So, the plan for this vacation was to drive around hitting the Armagnac Ventres and buy a little wine, too, if the opportunity presented itself . . . driving around what turned out to be HautArmagnac, as opposed to Bas Armagnac, we discovered the truth of the matter that 95% of the Armagnac is in Bas Armagnac . . . I had been spoiled by the perfluence of Armagnac distillers & ventres around Cabuzon . . . around Tillac, there simply are very few . . . we drove around . . . tens of kilometers of tiny roads, directed by TomTom, till we crossed a major road that I took out of impatience, where we past a place I'd seen on the way down -- now, there's something to contemplate -- and whipped in . . . it had an industrial look to it, so no pictures, but it said Ventre et Degustation Gratuite', which is all I cared about . . . 8^D . . . this was just an "ordinary" wine store, not really a vintner . . . but we tasted some wine and some armagnac . . . bot some of both and hit the road, refreshed, looking for more . . . we had pamphlets from a Touriste Office in Tillac . . . where they were still re-cuperating from a big jazz festival, so the whole place was in sort of a post-festival stupor . . . but we learnt that you have to spell the Saint in St. Mont in TomTom to get where you're going . . . 8^D . . . evenso, following signs to our destination led us up a medieval road, precariously narrow, that had Mrs squirming as I viewed the downhill portion, so much that I turned around instead. . . and it was thus that we found what we we thought we were looking for . . . but they directed us elsewhere . . . I mean, the pamphlet says, this name in this town, but "they" say, no this name on the outside of town . . . 8^/ . . . so we wound up at this dimininutive, yet modern ventre, some sort of co-op, I think . . . the only armagnac they had was Cassaigne, which we planned to see the next day, so I didn't want to taste it . . . but we tasted several wines . . . had an interesting discussion with the charming young man hosting us, selected a cheaper red wine, from the Monastery St. Mont, partially because I couldn't tell it from the more expensive wine and partially because I liked the lable, which is covered in a starlit midnight blue sky. . . 8^D . . .
So, we were so many klics from home by then that we just headed back to chateau pallane. We went out on the back terrace, that overlooks the practice green and golf course, and had our picnic dinner: tapenade & bread, vin rouge, fresh fruit (white nectarines), brie. All as a presentiment, naturellement, of the chocolate, dried-fruit trailmix, and armagnac as we listened to music & read in bed.
I had to finish the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo . . . no two ways about it . . . but Mrs had only french decorator magazines to entertain her, since I had taken over her book . . . 8^D . . . so she went to sleep at a reasonable hour . . .
I found a machine for the Eurocash to buy the Armagnac from yesterday, then went to the town square to the map, but without my coffee I had to carry the TomTom to the map sign to remember what to type in . . . but the course wasn’t where it looked like it was on the map . . . after hunting around for awhile, I just kept heading out that road till I gave up, 3 km out of town . . . I pulled over into a driveway to turnaround – but that was it . . . 8^D . . . so bien!
There was an amazing amount of activity around Guinlet, construction I mean. Someone has a vision where this golf course is surrounded by dozens and dozens of Gites (visitor’s houses) that they are just now constructing. They have a beautiful swimming pool complex and a nice restaurant . . . but not the assemblage yet to utilize it all. . . it could be it’s just past the season, I dunno. Uvidime.
Unfortunately, the counter woman spoke not a word of English and could not comprehend my pidgin French. . . they had me down for a twosome at 8:30, instead of a single which was the main problem . . .
Shot an 88 with one birdie. . . now I have the same number of birdies in
On the way back I, on the tiny roads selected by TomTom, I saw this chapel set hard against the vineyard . . . there's millions of 'em in France . . . everyone just so . . . je ne sais quoi . . .
I stopped by Lafontan on the way back to Cabuzon, but they were closed . . . it was after noon, but, jeebus . . . so I went back, picked Mrs up, paid the bill, said our au revoirs, and headed back to Lafontan, just to be sure . . . yep, they were closed for lunch, so we went too . . . this time to a brasserie in Eauze next door to where I’d held up the bank . . . we were a little late for the lunch rush, we sat down at a dirty table and waited patiently . . . apparently, the waitress decided she would wait on us eventually, but gave us the emphatic wipe-off with her hand along with the verbal “Non, C’est Fin!” when we inquired about the menu du jour, so we raced thru the menu desperately looking for words we recognized while she tapped her pencil on her pad . . . . Mrs picked Salad Gasconne and I picked steak hache’ ouef, and we asked also for vin rouge (tho’ I’d tried to ask for rose’) and eau mineralle naturalle gasseus. We had both seen other people with dishes that resembled what we’d ordered, is how we chose.
So we had a leisurely wait while the restaurant cleared out, sipping our water and wine, me mindful of drink-driving cautionaries I’d read of
But instead of a siesta, we needed to drive to Chateau Pallane, our next stop, so we needed to go, but I wanted to stop back by Lafontan one more time . . . it was 2:30 by then, so . . . . and sure enough they were open . . . they were as glad and surprised to see us as we were to find them open . . . but we were bearing EuroCash so . . . our order was still sitting where we’d left it on the table, and my golf cap that I’d taken off in heat and disgust when the charges wouldn’t go thru, so it was a simple matter to complete the transaction, give the patroness an air-kiss, pack up the car, and light out for Tillac.
Now, we are dedicated to the principle of mass transit, but it was just not possible to do this trip the way we wanted to do it by mass transit . . . the train from Prague to Toulouse took 24 hours, instead of the 14 by car, then getting from Toulouse to Eauze, and Agen and Auch and Condom, never mind all the littler towns like Cabuzon was even more uncertain, if not outright impossible, not to mention humping around 4 cases of Armagnac & wine, golf clubs, luggage, and our picnic basket . . . .but the roads the TomTom took us on sometimes, amazingly small, one-lane roads shrouded by trees on both sides, with grass growing in the pavement – roads Mrs said needed to be mowed – unnamed roads – we had to have a car, and a TomTom . . . .even if it did “rob” us of that feeling of being primal explorers by having such goat-trails already mapped by TomTom, it was a great comfort . . . and gives rise to a tho’t I am going to use when my contract comes up for re-newal . . .
My company needs me the same way I needed a TomTom . . . for 95% of the driving on this trip, it was autobahn, with no unexpected re-routings . . . but to get where the goodies are (I mean Armagnac distillers, literally, and something else metaphorically, if you see what I mean), to navigate the unexpected and unknowable short cuts, I needed the TomTom, and my company needs me.
We drove thru the vast, rolling fields of corn, sunflowers, and grapevines in the incipient autumn haze with great delight, in no particular hurry. We wondered about the huge groves of trees planted like orchards, but that they were not fruit or nut trees we recognized – they are being grown for the lumber? Are they oak trees for barrels? They’re awfully tall and straight, and make a pretty picture en masse. We were please to find a sign as we went thru Marciac pointing to our destination Golf du Chateau de Pallane.
I could see the entrance lane from a couple klics away, as we swerved around a bend in the highway, by the line of trees lining the driveway, all the way up the hill to the grand Chateau that presides over the landscape like minor royalty. A very impressive introduction. We drove thru the golf course to get to the Chateau, between the 3rd and 4th holes. I missed my gear at one point and the car stalled out . . . man, horses pulling some fat nobleman up that hill would have been exhausted at the top!
We drove on a pea gravel past a huge practice area with sand traps below the giant terrace in the back of the great house, and around the sides, thru the old stable areas where the greenskeeping equipment is now kept and cars of the staff are parked . . . thru the first courtyard, where now a restaurant is, and the pro shop/clubhouse, on into the inner courtyard in front of the Chateau itself.
A woman sedately came out of the proshop walking towards us, she checked us in, by greeting us, and showed us to our room. I asked her, “Did a king live here?” It was so posh. Sure the parquet floors creaked and the plumbing looked 18th century, tho’ it worked just fine, but everything was so tres elegant and so tres chic, it was boggling . . . I think the two rooms (bed & bath) were as big as our apartment in Prague . . . what I mean, is that Chateau Bellvue had been very nice, but not very pretentious, rather shabby, concentrating on service . . . this place was posh . . . did I say that already?
This room was so big it was full of that big furniture you see in the antique stores and wonder what kind of room would you put this in? Lamps 6 ft tall. Big couches. Wardrobes 9 ft tall. In the chateau itself, there was, aside from le grande marble foyer, with two spiral, marble staircases, a breakfast room upstairs, a game room downstairs, with a snooker table, a library/tv room, some formal dining area that nobody uses, overlooking the terrace, that overlooked the practice green on one side, that overlooked the golf course, and the pool on the other, not to mention the 20 bedroom-suites like ours.
So we turned around twice and then set out for dinner, using a list of places recommended by our hostess . . . the first place looked really nice, over in Tillac, but it was closed . . . we walked around the area it was in, that looked like an old monastery converted into condos or something . . . there was an old church at the end of the lane, but nothing for us.
We drove further, over to Mielan, looking for another restaurant, but before we saw anything we saw a grocer, so we stopped there and bought picnic supplies: water, fruit, tapenade, cheese, bread, enough for a couple of days, and our plan was this: eat a huge lunch and snack at night . . . that grocer was a jolly, friendly man, we hope he does well, all his regulars seemed to like him, too.
We drove home, and made do with our simple peasants feast. Very satisfactory.
Mrs went to sleep and I attacked her book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, written by Stieg Larson, a swede who died under mysterious circumstances after writing and publishing all at once 3 crime novels, a so-called Millennium Trilogy, couldn’t put it down -- until I fell asleep – if you see what I mean.
I rose earlier than anyone else, and enjoyed my petite dejeuner in solitude,
before I moseyed over to Mont de Marsan . . . a golf course I had not found, but which the Hotel arranged as part of the package deal . . . it wasn’t on the list of golf courses of armangnac I had seen . . . shot 98 on this very difficult course, including a throw-away 13 on a par5 . . . one of those courses that one would love to play again now that there was some familiarity with the lay of the course . . .
On the way back to Chateau Bellvue, I had to stop at construction on the road . . . I hadn’t paid attention coming thru the first time, since I was the 3rd-in-line, waiting our turn to use the one-lane left, but now I was first-and-only . . . they had a signal arrangement, that looked like a standard traffic signal with 3 lights, but it went from Red to flashing yellow when the cars on the other end had past thru, so I intuited “proceed with caution” and did.
Halfway there I met a woman in another car. She looked at me with surprise and outrage, and gestured me to get out of the way . . . I gave her the gallic shrug, and gestured to show I had no where to go. . . . she thru up her hands in disgust . . . I gestured to show her to pull just aside a little bit and I could get out of her way. . . she pulled over and up next to me and cranked down her window and screamed at me, what I can best interpret as “Asshole, M’seiur!”
I didn’t know French for “I am sorry madam, but I think you have driven out of turn on this one lane road” so, I gave her the downtown frozen smile, the half-gallic shrug (shoulders only), and drove off.
Mrs was wondering where I was by now . . . the golf course was supposed to only be 20 minutes away but it’s closer to 45, the way I drive (not the French), and she was hungry . . . so was I . . . so we left for lunch in Eauze without further ado. We had seen a little bistro on the square while we were looking for a grocer the night before (Sunday, fuhgeddaboudit) . . . La Vie en Rose. We sat, we waited, we ordered what will become our luncheon ordinaire: eau minerale gaseus, vin rouge, menu du jour, c’est fin.
The 3 course meal included a crudite’ salade . . .
which we were surprised to see that cruidite included crude sausages, in addition to veggie bits . . . something bologna-like, some blood-sausage - black as asphalt – and something with a loose texture like spam or deviled ham, only a sausage, if you see what I mean . . . Mrs wouldn’t touch more than a morceau, but I ate most of mine.
2nd course was a pork chop. . . Mrs said it was a little tough, but it tasted fine to me . . .
3rd was a fruit compote – various berries – 8^D . . . it was cold & delicious.
Thus fortified we walked around Eauze . . . it didn’t take long . . . the church wasn’t that interesting, from the outside, the grocer was still closed, the patisserie/chocolaterie had no chocolate noir . . . so we headed back to the foie gras place . . . there was a car out front this time, at least, so we timidly breached the inner confines . . . the Farmer’s Wife stood by imperiously silent as we fondled the various confit and foie gras packages . . . we are such provincials, the prices seemed gastronomic . . . we’re more peasant-food people, I should say . . . we finally bought one foie gras for 29E . . . we will enjoy it some time in the future . . .
Somewhat deflated, we headed back towards the hotel. We past a place I had seen from the road before, and Armagnac ventre, of course, apparently in Cazubon, the Armagnac ventres are thick as flies at a picnic, you could spend a week just going from one to the next down the road . . . there were some really interesting ones over towards Mont de Marsan, but I was disinclined to go back thru the construction zone, if you know what I mean . . . . anyway, the place was called Veuve Lafontan et ses Enfants . . . somewhat ingenuously we had realized that everyplace titled
The charming young woman served our degustations with savoir faire and information. Her family has been making
I have my bohemian crystal balloons that I had been using for my
But when we tried to pay, the machine rejected our overtures . . . I jumped on my cell phone and called mastercard, but they said, “Our logs show no refusals, so, really, it is a telecom issue, on their side.”
So, tears in our eyes, we left, promising to return the next day, bearing EuroCash, bearing in mind that I was playing golf in the morning, that they would be closed for the extended lunch, and we were driving to Tillac, too, to the next Chateau and golf course.
We sulked around the chateau salle till time for dinner, then strolled down fashionably late, only to find they were still setting up. They were unenthusiastically letting us sit outside, anyway. “I expect a severe storm,” said our host, which led to a discussion of the big storm back last January, where he lost several large trees – some of the other guests were going over to the edge of the grounds and peering down at the fallen trees – he made a cyclonic motion with his hands, “A tornado” we guessed, and he nodded . . . odd for france, and unheard of in January . . . but the golf course I’d played that morning had lost 1200 trees itself in that same storm, I’d been told when I asked about all the firewood stacked up on every hole . . . “I will have a busy winter,” our host lamented. I didn’t ask what he did last winter instead of chainsawing dead trees, but instead I tried to console him, “At least you live in a solid chateau, instead of a house trailer!” But I don’t think the French vernacular includes “house trailer”; he went on to describe how the middle of the house, the 2nd floor we would call it in
He broke out of his melancholy musings to tell us about the evening menu and take our wine order . . . I’d done so poorly before his help yesterday, I told him he could guide us, but he sneered kindly and thrust the wine menu back into my hands . . . so, without looking, I said, “. . . the local family reserve from Pelle Haut looked interesting, le vin rouge, sil vous plait!” He smiled maliciously and said, “An excellent choice, m’seiur.”
While he went to get that, we bothered with our aperitif & hors d-oeurve: the same toast with olive oil & parmesan and a local favorite called Mousqueteer – the whole place is rife with references to D’artagnan and the 3 Mousqueteers – which is a bitter orange liqueur made with
Our entrée was a poached egg on a crispy roll with a rind of bacon & some greens with some light dressing. It was great, but both Mrs and I broke down in coughing fits from crumbs from the bikky getting down the wrong pipe . . . 8^D . . . Mrs dithered but then finally just wolfed down the bacon bits anyway.
The sommelier came back with my bottle and said “Hold this!” which took me by surprise, but he repeated the command and suspecting some practical joke, I did. The bottle was uncommonly heavy. I quizzed him with an eyebrow. He almost swooned with the delight of helping me make such a discovery . . . 8^). . . “it is made the old-fashioned way, both wine & bottle”, he said. Well, I’ve always been kindly to the old-fashioned-way, even when I disregard it, so I was all for it, especially when I tasted it . . .
“mercy, mercy, mercy!” I said, in the manner of my grandmother.
“Bien tot.” I think he said, there was blood rushing thru my eardrums then, while he poured glasses for us. “This should go well with the beef, don’t you think?” I asked him. Again the cunning look, “Mais oui, m’seiur”, then he was gone to the other tables, leaving us to our wine and eau naturelle gasseus, while the storm clouds raced past the sunset toward us, seeming to break up and bringing a very pleasant zephyr.
We were very pleased with the plate they finally put before us: a piece of steak more fine than large, with a glace reduction, and cherry-tomatoes oven-roasted on-the-vine in olive oil. We’ll be doing ‘em that way if we can at home for now on, tho’ the Mrs says that the Vietnamese green-grocers in Prague tend to break the tomato stems when they throw them in the bag. I don’t know that there could have been a better troika of flavours than the wine, the meat, and the tomatos.
Just as we finished the wind picked up and the rain started. With a flurry we adjourned inside. When we were seated the sommelier came back by, “How does it feel to always be right?” I teased him. He didn’t get it. I guess that’s how it feels to always be right . . . I wouldn’t know myself . . . 8^D . . .
Desert was a vanilla pudding with lavender cookies, with a lavender sprig decorating the plate . . . we debated it’s consumption, and I tried, but it was like eating soap . . . that was some pungeant lavender . . . I had regular coffee after dinner this night, which means expresso, and I had them bring me some Armagnac, grateful that they would bother to ask again . . . 8^) . . . it was a mere 15 years old, very very fine, but I missed getting the vintner . . . doesn’t matter. It’s all good.
Then back upstairs and to bed . . . I had golf in the morning again.
We dragged our weary asses out of bed early-ish. . . .considering how late we had dragged in, so we would not miss the breakfast at the hotel . . . 16euros apiece for whatever is one step above a continental brekky . . . the kindest thing we would say about it is that the papaya juice was excellent, and the coffee from a machine, passable . . .
The plan was to walk-a-bout for the morning, then head on over to Eauze to begin the vacation proper’. We had no plan nor any direction, I just set out in a grand circle and Mrs followed me . . . the streets were a mess, like after a giant party, there were broken bottles and litter everywhere, but the cleaning crews were already out, desultorily attacking their sysyphean task.
At one corner while we puzzled which direction to go, a car full of young hoodlums (I say with the kindest of intentions) pulled up . . . the front passenger spoke to me with the tone of voice that I couldn’t distinguish between ridicule and jocularity. I gave him the gallic shrug and he responded, “Oh, do you speak English?”
I said yes, and walked over toward him.
“Do you like
“Oh, yes!” I said, “it was very charming.”
“oh m’seuir,” he said, “to be young and to be in
“Well,” I said, “to be young is always better than to be old!”
And we both laughed. The light changed. They drove off, hooting. . . I still don’t know if they were making fun of me.
The hoteliesse at our Chateau in Cabuzon told us later that there are three universities in
We walked along the river, seeing nothing much beyond mild interest, till suddenly we were in the middle of the farmer’s market, which was just reaching critical mass - - some vendors were still unpacking, but others were in full-swing. I don’t know the shopping habits of Toulousians, was it weekly or daily? But this was an entrancing social scene . . . wicker baskets, cheeses, roast meats, vegetables & fruits, an indescribable pastiche of colors and smells. We walked back thru. . . Mrs wanted a wicker basket . . . we concocted a strategy for our return trip . . . we would stop off in
With the prideful feeling that we had accomplished what we had not known we needed to do, but that was essential, we moseyed back towards the hotel thru the flea markets adjacent to the farmer’s market. Only the diminutive size of our rental car, already over-allocated to wines and armagnacs we had not purchased yet in addition to our luggage & my golf clubs, kept me from buying the treasures on display.
We reclaimed our luggage from the hotel, reclaimed our car from the garage, and began to inch our way out of
It was but a short drive from
As we were checking into The Chateau Bellevue, http://www.chateaubellevue.org/ a couple checking out whispered that the
As it turned out, the
The woman who served us our degustation was amiable enough, a smattering of English, but distracted by houseguests, and the fact that it was Sunday afternoon, when they are not as inclined to be attentive as at other times, perhaps . . . or it could be that armagnaciers are a rather independent and indolent class of people, anyway, rather than cold-eyed businessmen and women, if you see what I mean.
Her shop was full enough of arcane books on
So armed with a few bottles and a few tidbits of Armagnac lore she had idly, disinterestedly imparted to us we headed off to the Foie Gras place, now roaring with hunger . . . we figgered a few nibbles of goose liver pate would get us thru to dinner . . . it was now 4:30 . . . but there was no body home . . . sadly, we left.
As we drove back to the hotel, with nothing to look forward to but a couple of hours doing nothing but listen to our stomachs growling, I spotted another vendor of Armagnac that looked promising . . . so I whipped off down their driveway . . . to Chateau de Millet . . . they weren’t one of the 3 on my itinerary, but this was my plan . . . to happen upon the distillers and experience them spontaneously . . . these people could not have been nicer . . . the woman here spoke very passable English, and tho’ it was Sunday afternoon, enthusiastically lectured us on Armagnac, and her particular vintages . . . we developed what would become our modus operandi here: start at the bottom and test until we can’t tell the difference any more, then buy everything we liked . . . 8^D . . .
The Chateau Bellvue is a creaky old joint, with the sort of shabby elegance that is very French, if not just European. In places, the wallpaper was peeling, the lighting was peculiar, the plumbing was, hmmmm, not ancien, but ennobled by time, certainment’. It’s a spectacular looking place, in a very romantic setting.
We managed to control our excitement as he revealed the aperitif: floc du gascone . . . we struggled not to cut short his spiel – we don’t even like the stuff – too sweet . . . but they had also brought some thin slices of bread with garlic-oil-&-parmesan cheese nits . . . the aperitif didn’t do anything to quell our appetites, and we scarfed the bread up like it was manna from heaven.
We got him to bring us some eau minerale naturalle, too, tho’ he didn’t seem to know what jemne perliva meant . . . 8^D . . . oh! Gasseus!
Mirabile Dictu! The first course was local foie gras with a toast point, a schmear of framboise, and a snippet of vanilla bean that looked like a dead cockroach . . . we found it all more amusing than disgusting . . .I just hope we didn’t hurt their feelings . . . we’d managed to get a bottle of white wine ordered with the sommelier’s help, and it was quite fine with the foie gras . . . based on our usual diet, that would have been enough for dinner. The foie gras was huge. We fell back in the meat sweats after that . . .
So naturally, nothing would do for a follow up, but a veal roast served on a bed of zucchini roasted with olive oil and thyme – and one radish . . . 8^D . . .haute cuisine is so .. .. .. haute, if you know what I mean . . .
I had some coffee au lait with dessert, but when the sommelier asked if I wanted some Armagnac, I declined, having done nothing but drink
I was even sorrier a couple of days later when I saw in the bar that I’d never gone in the variety of armagnacs they had in there . . . the sort of collection I’d aspire to, except I’m not a hotel . . . .
Just a long drive. . . picked up the car at 8:00, ready just as promised . . .zoomed home for our pre-packed items . . . then zoomed out of PRG to the unctious imperiousness of the TomTom . . .our first confrontation with Ms TomTom came when I spontaneously exited the freeway in order to hit the Starbucks at Zlicin . . . "turn around when you can" she implored as I circled the parking lot. Her disappointment could not match ours however when we discovered that Starbucks does not start serving until 9:30 . . . we settled for MickeyDs, hit the road, and cranked up the volume on our CDs . . . we'd put
Amazing how little one sees from the autobahn . . . the only observation we might have made was the juvenile tittering at all the signs for Ausfahrt . . . 8^D . . . an occasional schloss, depressing petrol stations that make american roadside establishments seem downright bucolic . . .we drove between 110 & 130 kph, like everybody else, stopping only twice to refill . . . the first time we ate at a burgerking, paying enough in euros to buy a franchise, we felt . . .the second refill, we had munchies and celo-wrapped sandwiches, disgusting, true, but the restroom was free, instead of the first stop, where it was .50 euros . . . crikey . . .
once we crossed over into france, the autobahn was the same, but we paid almost 75 euros in tolls along the way . . . I guess this is one of the by-products of the socialist state . . . but eventually, we had to leave the superhiway and travel smaller roads to Toulouse . . . after one particularly confusing rotary, I told marilyn, "that TomTom sure would have been useful . . . " a tho't that stayed on our minds as it got dark and the interchanges got trickier . . . the main problem I had was that I didn't believe it would take 14 hours to get to Toulouse, as foretold, but that I could make time up . . . but as we turned west away from the road to Marseilles, Mrs said, "It's a lot further to Toulouse than to Marseilles!"
I was able to amuse myself for a while by ruminating upon the traffic warnings we frequently saw . . .
I got her to plug the TomTom back in, just to see if we could find out how long it would be . . . and it seemed to know where we were, even tho' it would not give us directions, so -- recklessly, I admit -- I took the TomTom from Mrs and poly-brachiated thru the menus until I got to new country displays. . . while I drove . . . then I shoved it back at her and told her to plug in Toulouse . . . from then on we were comforted by the countdown, at least 3 hours worth. . . when we got to Toulouse, we didn't find the hotel at city-centre, so we had to stop and put in the address: Wilson square (for Thomas Wilson, not Woodrow). When we got to the square tho' and circumnavigated twice without seeing the hotel, we branched out on the side streets, which was an iffy thing, given the one-wayness of those streets . . . eventually we called the hotel and the night man (it was 1:30 in the morning) came out to flag us down . . . the Holiday Inn was hidden behind a bistro, and had its lights out . . . how the F*** were we supposed to find it . . . plus we had to park 2 blocks away and hump our luggage . . .the room was nice enough and provided a tv with soft-core porn and english news . . . enuff to pre-occupy us while we power-sipped a bottle of wine and crashed. What was weird about