Feature Article #1

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Thanks for resting your eyeballs here for a moment.(They are resting, right?) If you rest them a little longer, you may learn some interesting,(hopefully)entertaining, and, yes, ocassionally BIZARRE things about French Country life. (more…)

| June 24th, 2009 | Continued

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French Country Travel Life Irish



French Country Travel Life Irish - yes ineedy! I did say “Irish”  because as DA BG has done informed you many a time….it’s always the “‘non-natives” that most appreciate what the locals take for granted.

Case in point – my fellow (Irish) scribbler  Elgy Gillespie   who has some down on the ground observations about French Country Travel Life:


The Périgord-Dordogne region in southwest France is what the French term la France profonde, literally “deep France” – in other words, bucolic and strikingly empty France.

Except for the school vacation, from Bastille Day to late August, you’d imagine a neutron bomb or the Black Death had hovered over these fertile hills and exquisite, honeyed stone villages, each with its solemn memorial to Resistance martyrs from the last war, each apparently deserted.

Yet it is bountifully farmed, as orchards and pastures show, and also lovely, as a recent visit to tiny St Mesmin proved: fairytale gorgeous, with castles, caves of palaeolithic art and farmers’ markets.

Staying nearby and canoeing down the Vezère river recently, I felt a bit like palaeolithic man myself – outnumbered by flourishing flora and fauna, hawks and other raptors, neon-blue dragonflies and butterflies, fighting stag beetles and millipedes as frilly as false eyelashes. We drifted silently past ravishing chateaux and echoing woods.

On the Auvezère river, a magnificent ruined 13th century forge testifies to once denser population from at time when France was the richest and most populous country in Europe. Limousin cows nuzzle calves. A few tractors of hay rumble past the local Bar-Restaurant Des Forges at dusk before heading home, trailed by whirling swifts. Medieval churches of turrets and steeples remain open, but empty. Where are the people?

“Every French village needs a few score kids to support a school and the holy trinity of butcher, baker and bar-bistro. Once the tissue of local life is frayed, the whole thing just goes,” says Brent Gregston, an American expatriate journalist who holidays here. While Provence and Haute-Savoie are recession-proof thanks to beaches and skiing, the Auvergne and Cévennes are empty as Périgord off-season.

The French have fretted about désertification or the “rural exodus” for decades. A largely secular country, France enjoyed lowest-birthrate-in-Europe status since the revolution, until it introduced cash breaks for big families.

Familles nombreuses get free holiday travel, tax rebates, education incentives, healthcare, cinema discounts, direct cash benefits, you name it. Yet a 1980 billboard campaign featuring cute babies in close-up over the message “There’s more to life than just sex” flopped miserably, as we could have predicted, and it still has the lowest rural population density in Europe.

Frankly, farming is at a stage of evolution that no longer appeals. Only one farm in four is taken on by the next generation. Between 1967 and 1997, 60 percent of farms of less than 20 hectares disappeared, while larger ones doubled in size. A Limousin village was recently up for sale at around €300,000: an entire village, waiting for a Korean cult.

So thank God, said the Périgourdins, for retired Brits who traditionally favoured Périgord-Dordogne for their golden years. Butchanges in currency rates ate into British pensions, causing another exodus, with a knock-on effect on local businesses.

Yet hopeful signs of a reversal may be glimpsed. Each corner of la France profonde has its “néo-ruraux” – Generation ‘68-ers and “baba cools” – neo-hippies selling hand-made soaps and candles at markets, affluent Dutch and Swiss, also weekending Parisians.

Yes, things are improving. Guy Bouchard, incoming mayor of tiny St Mesmin, is a retired general who plants a tree for every baby born in the commune, and reports every newly arrived couple in his magazine. Mayor Bouchard speaks good English and Russian, and as a militant of the back-to-the-country movement is universally admired. He oversaw peacemaking in Cold War Berlin and Darfur, but now presides over village council meetings on the new urinoir.

Read More HERE


What are ya thinkin’?

French Country Travel Life Grinch – Part Two



French Country Travel Life Grinch – Part Two might make more sense if you first check out PART ONE. 

As I got closer something happened that I wasn’t expecting. (You’re ahead of me again – right?) Exactly. My last chance for water looked MORE like the Bates Motel.

Now you’re probably expecting me to say I “knocked meekly” on Mr. Bates door. Wrong. On two counts. One – DA BG is not, and will never be a candy ass knocker. Two –  My mission was survival!

Several burst of manly frapping brought no results. Could the place be deserted? Could Mr/Mrs Bates be in the shower? Worse yet – could a motel guest be in the shower?

These were the non sugar plum thoughts that tangoed through my head, as rivers of sweat continued to decorate my sneakers.

After doing the impatiently sweat drenched waiting foot shuffle way too long,  I detected shuffling inside.

That was the good news. The bad? It’s frequency and pace telegraphed an indisputable message – OLD PERSON! As in probably hard of hearing, mentally challenged, just plain cranky – or all of the above.

Sadly the exotic stranger from the far away lands was not wrong. After the obligatory eternity of silence – when the footsteps stopped -the door sprang open to reveal the oldest, most shrivelled, stooped over, grandpa imaginable. And he was cranky! Or at least every inch of him looked it.

He was not the Grinch who stole Christmas. He was the FATHER of the Grinch who stole Christmas!

Father Grinch clocked me with meanest WTF -are-you-doing-on-my doorstep scowl. But said nothing.

After giving me a disgusting looking twice over, he raised a bony crooked finger and motioned me to follow.

Yes, the long, dark musty hallway WAS perfectly in character. Complimented by the standard issue French Farmer modern Formica tablecloth in the ancient (as in no micro-wave) kitchen.

My water bottle and I were wordlessly directed to sit at the table – while Grandpa Grinch, back to us,  was clearly “up to something.”

After several minutes of “fussin’ about” Papa Grinch returned. Standing in front of me, he placed two glasses on the table. One of water. The other – an unidentified dark red liquid.

His (by now) trademark scowl firmly in place, he scooped up the water glass and intoned ” eau…..pour le poisson!” (water – for the fishes!) as he turned and poured the water into the sink.

Turning around, a grin bigger than the Grand Canyon had transformed Papa Grinch into the kindest, happiest , most fun lovin’ Grandpa that ever was.

And, yes, he did fill up my water bottle. (After our second glass of wine)

Now – can you guess the moral of the French Country Travel Life Grinch story?


What are ya thinkin’?

French Country Travel Life Grinch – Part One




The French Country Travel Life Grinch - wasn’t really a grinch. Although that’s what he seemed to be at first glance. But like many first glance encounters DA BG has experienced “grinchdom” was a very false first impression. (yes – there WILL be a moral to this tale)

Strangely – I have no memory of what beautiful part of beautiful France I was gliding through. But what I do remember – what was, in fact,  unforgettable  with a capital “U”  -  was the temperature. The phrase: “searing heat” would have been a serious understatement.

This steamy state of affairs was compounded by the fact that my water bottle was empty. And had been for too many KM’s. Usually between villages, you’ll be greeted by a collection of houses dotted along the route at irregular  intervals. But  this fine day (you’re ahead of me already,aren’t you?) – Yes, you’re correct – no houses.

Alas – nothing to do – but keep “keepin’ on.” Or in this case “boiling on.”  Then, after a mini-eternity of pedalin’ in the distance – a house!

Or was it just a heat mirage? Closing on the solitary dwelling it became apparent that this was not yer garden variety French house along the quaint country lane. Nor was it the storybook chateau of every non French travellers dream.

As the distance between the exotic stranger from the far away lands and the house that was, to say the least, “not typical” – I had the eerie feeling that I was back in California. Studio City to be exact. Because my last chance for live saving water was a dead ringer for…

The Bates Motel!

Part Two (uh….that would be..the chilling conclusion? of French Country Travel Life Grinch) Next Time.


What are ya thinkin’?