Bruno’s France Travel Blog, April 2011

It did not take long for me to realize that the times are changing in France. Just drive, walk, talk with the good old frenchies and I sense their heritage is under attack or that they think it is. Even though extreme right candidate Marine Lepen is making waves and climbing in the polls with thousands if not millions of her followers willing to kick out all these foreigners, it may be hard to figure out who are the culprits if you consider immigration from North Africa and other French colonies started over a half century ago.

Then there are more concerns. It is the little farmer vs corporate farms, le pain (a bakery franchise) vs le petit boulanger, pasturized vs farmed cheeses, the invasion of inexpensive spanish vino tinto. It is all there and even the huge supermarche is now part of the french landscape, those who do not like to frequent the big box stores still have the option of the indoor and outdoor farmer’s markets and hopefully the return to this trend will become stronger.

Oh yes the land of je ne sais quoi has jumped ahead of the curve but without any breaks on their 9 feet long,1.60euro a liter automobiles. Even with an economy struggling and a government unable to help small businesses form job creation, in the highest taxed country in Europe, opportunities for thriving has become less obvious.

Then I was very surprised. This is not different than any other western country. After or should I say before all, we need our cars, cell phones, big screen tv (even in those small appartements) and still have those 5 weeks paid vacation and… this put a huge dent in the porte-feuille (wallet) of the French.

Gone are the days of 3 hours lunches and 5 courses dinners that was the norm when invited over. And that can be fine by me, but hey we still can have a 2 hour lunch and a three course dinner after all. Even then I still gained 5 kilos in 2 weeks stuffing myself with the local pates and terrines, endless plateau de fromages and the occasional tete de veau, boudin noir with piperade and veal tongue sauce ravigote. To the simple braised belgian endive wrapped in ham with a bechamel au gratin and my favorite pate aux pommes de terre.

Oh yes after a stop in the beautiful coastal town of Larochelle where I ate the famous marennes d’oleron oyters and plates of calamary in a rich inky sauce and fresh saint-jacques scallops with their roe cooked with leeks and lemony sauce. I found myself already stuggling with an already bloated belly and this was just the beginning. You see french folks are hard to say no to. And they have a way to let you know that you may not refuse that last bite of, creamy potatoes with this one more slice of stuffed pork shoulder …. but I want to eat some cheese. And the bread.
For the ranch guests who ask me what is my favorites meal, it is always hard for me to answer but I think I should say the one I was invited at some friend’s house in France. Vague but an invited guest is king there.

I wish I would have had time to visit my friend Gerard‘s mom in Bandol and eat her famous fish couscous. My wife Kris claims this was the best meal she ate in France some 25 years ago. but at least I spent a great day with Gerard driving the backroads of the departement of allier and the montagne bourbonnaise. And eating a lunch of meat pie in a flaky pastry and chicken in white wine with an abundance of carrot and onions. You see simple home food is what I still love the best.

At the beginning and the end of my vacation I found myself visiting a few beautiful homes and gardens of famous kings. The Chateaux de Chambord, Amboise, Sully are still magnificent and well kept. The Loire region offers an array of great wines (cabernet franc, vouvray, bourgueil) and local fare too . The town of Blois is a must to visit.

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