The Pleasure of French Village Life – Corrèze

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  We first heard the sound while we were in the upper reaches of my in laws’ garden that overlooks the postcard-friendly French village of Corrèze. In fact, the picture used for the village’s official postcard for many years was shot from that very garden. My daughter Emilie and I weren’t taking pictures. We were up to no good. The rest of the family (my wife Dominique and her parents) was down below, sipping cool drinks and no doubt complaining about the violent Americans up above. You see, earlier in the day we had gone to Sarran for the village fair and a visit to the Chirac Museum. While I’m no Chirac partisan, I’d heard from people of various political stripes that the museum was well worth the visit. Given that Sarran is a short hop from Corrèze, it seemed a good way to pass a hot afternoon. Emilie had been demanding we go to a fair of some sort so she could try her hand at the shooting games. Emilie “Oakley” had been hooked the year before when she’d won a dirty and scraggly stuffed goat at the fair in my father-in-law’s home village. My daughter’s never been good with numbers, especially if there are dollar or euro signs next to them. The old goat had cost something like thirty bucks worth of shots, but aren’t parents wired to lose money at carnivals for their kids? The prize goat was left in a dusty corner somewhere, but the desire to shoot and win remained lodged in Emilie’s soul. We were condemned to her moaning mantra about getting her hands on a rifle as soon as we hit France. After a midday meal of my mother-in-law’s nonpareil pan-fried, breaded veal scallops—provided by the village butcher and friendly neighbor—we pushed off to Sarran. Once there, we drove past the empty public parking lots, got a free spot in a field just above the village, and walked off the meal in the dry heat of the afternoon. It was a pleasant walk, despite the punishing heat that hit you when you stepped out of the shaded parts of the street. Several times I thought I might lose my sandals in the softening asphalt. A glance at the scene below, with Sarran decked out for its fair (including the usual games and rides, arts and crafts) and the large field across from the Chirac Museum dotted with colorful costumes of the visiting troupes of international dancers, made it easy to see why Sarran was selected for the president’s rural monument of magnificence. Scenic, remote, rural, with little competition for attention. We decided to walk through the street fair area before going to the museum. Strolling past the customerless stalls of regional foods and drinks, hat salesmen, and the pervasive displays of craft-fair quality trinkets and jewelry, we hoped the museum would be air-conditioned. Emilie made only a modest scene about not heading right for the shooting games. The heat must have been getting to her, too. When we entered the museum and felt the cool breeze of air-conditioning, we knew the euros were worth the visit—no matter what the quality of the exhibits might be. To be honest, viewing the gifts from other countries given to the French president over his long political career was quite enjoyable. We were impressed with Chirac’s humble restraint. Pictures of him or his wife receiving said bijoux, skins, sculptures, and countless dinner services were discreetly held to a minimum. However, we were in a large building with Chirac’s name on it—and that alone should qualify any overboard praise of his humility. Emilie and I were particularly drawn to a temporary exhibit about the French postal service. We got to get up close to old saddlebags, horse-drawn mail carriages, stamp making equipment, and mock-ups of old mail trains. From time to time, I’d look up from collections of regional stamps to see the international dancers outside on the stage performing with zest and energy. The heat was obviously no big deal to them. As for me—a spoiled American—I could have lingered longer over more postal paraphernalia in the artificial air of the museum, but Emilie wanted to get shooting. Before descending back to the street fair, we had one more stop to make. Just a few steps from the museum, there’s a restaurant intended to serve visitors to Chirac’s monument. We wanted to check the place out as a possible new place to take Domi’s parents for dinner. Local food rumors were rather positive, so we walked over to get a drink and scope out the decor and menu. The place was cavernous and HOT. And with its modish metal tables and chairs, high arched ceiling, and whitewashed walls, the restaurant was as cozy as an airplane hangar plopped in the middle of Death Valley. The fact that there were no customers besides the three of us didn’t add to the restaurant’s charm. Domi, true to her optimism, pointed out that it was well past the dining hour. She was right, and the sweat-glistened waiter behind the bar, who was drying glasses, didn’t appear to welcome our business. That is, until we called from our table that we only wanted drinks and ice cream. As I awaited for what I hoped would be an ice-cold French brew, I drummed my fingers on the menu and looked through the open doors to the empty and baking stone patio with its empty tables. The heat waves distorted the image of the concert dancers in the distance, their music blasting up to us from the stage. I felt like some parched character in a Sergio Leone spaghetti-western. But the beer—and a quick second one—helped soothe me. The orders of ice cream mostly melted before they could be eaten. As we were about to pay up and leave, a kindly looking older woman poked her head around the door to kitchen. “Dominique? C’est toi?” she asked. It turned out that the woman was the former cook at of one of Corrèze’s small restaurants. Domi’s parents had wondered if she had indeed taken the job at the place near the museum. So there she was. Hugs, kisses, French chit-chat that can test the patience of some American males. Au revoirs that can last even longer. The gist of it was that she would indeed cook our family a splendid meal—but she wanted us to wait a year. The restaurant would be redecorated…
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