christmas in france part 2: sarlat

We had a pre-Christmas trip to Sarlat for lunch and exploration. A bleak day with endless drizzle, but Sarlat is beautiful whatever the weather happens to be doing. Fortified with a splendid lunch in a tiny restaurant thronged with local people doing what the French do so well… break their working day up with a proper midday meal… we set forth, Graham, Liz, Peter, me and Meg the border collie, to enjoy this lovely medieval town in its atmospheric haze of rain. And since you ask, omelette with cepes and shaved truffle, served with salad and delicious potatoes roasted in duck fat. I don’t eat meat but I have a policy when abroad… particularly in France… of going with the flow. (Explaining to a Frenchman that one doesn’t eat meat is a surreal experience to be avoided at all costs. He simply won’t understand.)

My party waits for me while I take photographs. I can see that Liz is huddled against the cold.

There’s nothing quite like long-pollarded trees for wonderful shapes. This avenue is stunning in its leafless winter state.

What artist would not imagine him/herself living in this house? I bag the bedroom in the roof with the dormer window that looks out over…

… the wonderfully named Lantern of the Dead.

However, when I’m old and infirm, I want to live in the room that gives out onto this tiny corner balcony, so that I can doze in my chair on it as the world goes about its business below me.

Bronze geese flock in a tiny square between narrow streets.

33 thoughts on “christmas in france part 2: sarlat

  1. I remember a very similar day in Sarlat in May, in a trip we made to the Perigord after we got married! But the wet just made for good reflections and deepened those lovely ochre colours. I tend to associate the area with walnuts, in fact, and the ‘Sarlanoix’ liqueur they make from them.

    Apparently one of the very elevated Michelin starred trendy chefs in Paris went vegetarian in his menus, as a kind of fashion statement and to be different, I think, but I gather he’s gone back on it now. We belong to a wildlife/animal protection association who occasionally moot vegetarianism as an idea, and feature veggie cookbooks in their catalogues, but in restaurants in the provinces it’s still not really something you find – though our local pizza place offers a ‘vegetarienne’ , and many creperies offer galettes you can compose yourself with plenty of non-meat choices. And there’s always fish. I think perhaps doing without meat is still too closely associated with poverty and hardship to be seen very positively; an elderly friend once told me that many of their parents generation ate meat perhaps once a year, and the country people seemed to subsist very largely on buckwheat and buttermilk. And let’s be frank, a concern for animal welfare isn’t exactly something you associate with the French, though Hugo and Zola were helping to found the SPA several years earlier than the RSPCA came into being.

    • Lucy, I don’t believe in importing my own habit of preferring not to eat meat into other cultures, and if that means when I’m in France my potatoes are occasionally basted in duck-fat or my lobster bisque is made with chicken stock, then so be it. I love immersing myself in whatever is around me. I think the saddest sight is that of the Brits abroad demanding fish n’ chips and Marmite instead of sampling whatever local foods are on offer.

      We had a lovely meal on our last night in France at a restaurant where the French chef always makes sure there are non-meat options when his eccentric vegetarian friends Liz and Graham come to dine, and that was a splendid end to the holiday. Peter, who is not a vegetarian though volunteers meat abstinence under our roof, was able to try fare that he’d not normally experience. Out of curiosity he had foi gras… seeing as we were in the Perigord… and found it to be rich and interesting. (Though like us veggies he finds the method of its manufacture to be very worrying and so won’t be seeking it out now we’re home.) All in all, and while trying not to dine too richly, I find eating out in France to be a very great pleasure, though I was happy to come home and return to simpler food. However I LOVE the produce markets over there. Now those I really miss! And that omelette fragrant with cepes and shaved truffle served in the tiny family-run restaurant packed with enthusiastic and noisy diners in the back-streets of Sarlat, was pure, melt-in-the-mouth heaven!

  2. Pingback: Arboreal photo-blogging roundup |

  3. Clive, your pictures capture the atmosphere, the weather, the mood, perfectly so I know *exactly* what it felt like to be there that day. Many French towns in winter – even the most beautiful and historic – take on a particular kind of gloom, a je ne sais quoi of melancholy which I, for one, find hard to take (even though France is my native country). So a very very long lunch in a sympathique local restaurant with superb food is the only way to raise one’s dampened spirits. You knew that, of course!

    • Natalie, I quite enjoy grizzly weather if I’m in the right mood and in good company. It was a delicious meal with friends we love in the atmosphere of a tiny though busy family-run establishment. The wine helped too. Not even the rain could stop us after that! Sarlat was pretty deserted as we strolled, which added to the feeling of having it all to ourselves. I love that.

    • Ah, I see you’ve corrected it. Still, that’s a handy thing, to have my identity on your laptop so that you can pretend to be me! Ha ha! You’ll be able to get into all sorts of mischief!

  4. Hello Clive it’s Liz here, entering the 21st century and joining in your blog! I can’t promise how long it will last, but I shall probably continue as a silent watcher. It’s good to see Sarlat and photos of your time with us. It already seems long ago. By the way when you are old and infirm, I shall be old and infirm too. However, your appartment awaits, and you can snooze fitfully under the wisteria on the sunlit terrace, waiting for me to bring you a steaming hot mug of Van Heuten Chocolate. How’s that for something to look forward to?

    • My sweet Liz, hopefully we shall grow into friends who are aged, just as we have been friends throughout the middle years of our lives. And don’t be silent here. There are many who have become friends through the medium of the Artlog comment boxes. Certainly you’ll find Chloe here, who made the tree decorations that were your Christmas present from Peter and me, and Marly who was at the Ty Isaf party and wrote the chapter Fire in the Labyrinth for the monograph. (Did you meet her that day?)

      I see my ‘wolf’ picture has attached itself to your comment due to the fact that I logged on to WordPress from your laptop while we were staying with you and Graham at La Crabouille. Don’t worry about it. Just announce yourself at the start of any comment so that anyone reading won’t be under the impression that I’ve developed a split personality! You may even be able to work out how to make an image of your own to displace mine.

      Bring on the hot chocolate, maybe laced with a little rum in the winter months! (-;

      • I seem to have figured it out, Clive, pity, I quite liked having the wolf as a signature! Yes of course I remember Marly, hello Marly! I remember evenings round the table in the kitchen of Ty Isaf, munching delicious food, (prepared by Clive of course) and talking and laughing long into the night; all on that wonderful magical weekend in May.

        And hello Chloe, those exquisite decorations are lovingly packed up, ready for next year, or rather this year, and will be treasured always.

        Happy New Year to all.

        • Hi Liz! Hugs–I’ve enjoyed peeking at your beautiful world via Clive.

          Clive, remember I ate dinner with the four of you on the night when the others went to that family (drat, the name is gone!), owners of the St. George and the dragon piece.

          • Anne and Basil Wolf own Green George. And yes, now I recall. We had an improvised pasta supper with Graham and Liz and Eric and Angharad, having persuaded them to stay and eat with us before heading over to their beds at Penparc Cottage. We had Ian here too, down from Scotland. That was a lovely occasion. Dave Bonta was staying with the Wolfs by then, and Anita and Andrea went over to eat with them.

            How did we do all that stuff? Madness!

    • Your French adventure is wonderfully illustrated on your blog Julia. You’re clearly having a stupendous trip! And yes, the Romanesque is where my heart lies! Your pictures of that beautiful cloister make me long to visit.

  5. I’m expecting to see that curve of trees in a painting… I do love pollarding, but it is seldom practiced here. In western North Carolina, I have often seen full-grown trees brutalized by cutting the branches back. Not at all the same effect as what comes from years of care!

    Enjoyed that vicarious outing–weather looks better than icy here. I’ll take it!

  6. What a lovely place, and what gorgeous photos of it. Before moving to Scotland I lived in Paris for three years and so I have a restaurant tip for you, if you’d like it: It’s true that a French waiter will never understand that you don’t eat meat and may even serve you something awfully bland and unappetizing out of spite. French vegetarians actually feel so marginalized that they have a “veggie pride parade”, or they used to. What every French waiter will understand is a “régime” (diet). That magic word will let you avoid anything, even meat, and still have an affectionately prepared meal. But of course, it is also maybe nice to just go with the flow when on holiday!
    As for the trees, they always made me feel a bit gloomy, especially in winter. Though even a tamed tree is better than no tree at all, and it’s lovely to have trees where most cities would have cut them down. Somehow the French way of growing apple trees flat against a wall (to suit a small garden) was very pleasing to me though. I guess these sort of preferences never really make sense.

    • Jodi, what a fantastic tip. Thank you. I shall bear ‘regime’ in mind when next in France. At home in the UK I never touch meat or meat derivatives, though I’ve made exceptions when in social situations when meat has been mistakenly prepared for me, because I would rather eat than make anyone who is being kind feel uncomfortable.

      It’s true that pollarding does ‘tame’ the tree. But I like the way pollarded specimens look when regularly maintained, and at least this way they can have a presence in places where there might otherwise be no trees. I see too that I’m often attracted by the ways such things are managed in other countries, finding myself relishing the differences from our own ways of doing things.

      I’m with you on espaliered fruit trees. They look fabulous. One day we hope to make a parterre garden here using espaliered fruit trees to define the enclosure.

      • Oh, so that’s how they are called… espaliered… good to know! I’d like to try that out in a garden some day too, once we’ve managed to find a place to, well, put down roots. That sounds like that lovely way to enclose a garden though.

        I think I’m much the same as you on the meat front. It is nice that in the UK there are usually lots of options for those who don’t wish to eat meat.

  7. Quite delightful. Good choice for lunch, not too heavy. I adore ceps. Are you thinking of retiring to France, or was that balcony just a dream?

    • No-one knows what the future holds. Moreover I’ve never ended anywhere I quite expected, for the most part having been the almost passive recipient of whatever came my way, a traveller with the knack of sending down roots wherever fate has carried me. I never expected to live in West Wales, but Peter’s job brought us so here I am, bedded in and happily at home.

      While I love France all too often I see people move in retirement to countries they’d enjoyed while on holiday only to find that living in a place is not the same as visiting it. I don’t see myself as ever retiring from painting… it’s a die-in-the-saddle profession… and everything has conspired to make me an artist who paints Wales. The narratives I examine may be universal in their themes, but Wales is in my blood and it would be a massive upheaval to both live and practice as a painter anywhere else. So in answer to your question Derek, I’ll just explain that when travelling I revert to being the peripatetic choreographer/director again, always passing through, always pausing to fantasise about where I might one day stop and unpack. The fact is I unpacked very thoroughly when we came to the Ystwyth Valley, and I find it hard to see beyond it now.

      • Competely understand. It was the desire to observe people from that balcony, which I imagine doesn’t happen too often in the Ystwyth Valley, that made me feel you were not completely settled.

        I on the other hand since reading Elizabeth David’s cookery books, with illustrations by John Minton have yearned to live inside that book, which I am now doing. I just love the light, warmth, smells and vegetation here in Mallorca. It’s good we have both after dramatic career changes found our dreams!

  8. I’m crazy for pollarded trees, but you very rarely see them in the States, a pity. Thanks for the marvelous images, once again I am terribly green with envy!

    • Thom, an undoubted pleasure of living in the UK is the relative proximity of so many fascinating European countries. France is so close to us… a bare hop, skip and jump across the English Channel (or more conservatively, a train journey under it) and yet its language, topography, architecture and culture are all so different to our own.

  9. wow! what a beautiful place–
    and these long-pollarded trees are like a miraculous discovery for me! what? i have never seen a tree like that! amazing…

    very cool, too, the lantern of the dead, and i agree about the corner balcony, but i’m quite certain you will always be young and spry, sorry 🙂

    thank you so much for sharing these lovely photos!

    • Pollarding is used to keep the crowns of trees from getting too large. In France, where trees are celebrated in villages, towns and cities for the beauty and summertime shade they bring, pollarding is a tradition. The pollarded avenue in the photographs is venerable. The knuckle shapes are formed as the trees recover from the annual cutting back. They seem to do very well on this strict regime. They’re very healthy.

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