Nérac, Calignac et environs

Having spent three weeks in the little village of Calignac, I have fallen in love with this area. I’m told that Lot-et-Garonne is one the poorest areas of France. This most southern part of the district that abuts Le Gers is more like Le Gers. Nérac is a bustling large town that is busy all year long. The river Baise flows from Agen and it is very popular with tourists to rent a boat and take a week going from town to town along the river.

Here the river runs under the bridge with old Nérac on one side and the Chateau where Henry IV spent his teenage years and newer Nérac on the other side.

The Saturday outdoor Nérac market is one of the largest in the area and attracts natives and tourists alike. It goes on rain or shine although many of the non-food stalls don’t show up on rainy days.

At the Saturday Nerac Market
The Saturday Nerac Market is one of the largest in the area.

During the heat wave (canicule), if anyone was silly enough to go outside, we sought places that were shady to rest. Like the small mini-park below that is just before the bridge in Nérac.

Walking along the river Baise in Nérac.

I visited an artist friend in the small town of Francescas, which lies just before one enters Le Gers. There are miles and miles of small roads all numbered D131, D112, etc, winding around each other, going in and out of these small towns and hamlets. Some have only houses left although they once would have had an ironsmith and a boulangerie. Others will have a café that might also sell bread.

Francescas

In the town of LaPlume on D931, the ruins of an old church, L’Eglise St. Nicolas, sit without a roof, its insides empty but a thriving and full cemetery. LaPlume has a new church (around 1856) but it seems that the old church is being somewhat restored. There will probably never be a roof but in the future, it may be much more presentable. Meanwhile wire mesh keeps teens and partiers from going in.

The Cemetery at LaPlume looking out over Lot-et-Garonne

No matter how lovely a balade en voiture is, it is always nice to head ‘home’ at lunchtime for a nap, a good book and food out of the garden.

Heading home to Calignac
Vegetables out of the garden here where I am staying!!!
Lavande from the garden.
Looking out the window from the room I’ve been writing in.

As all my readers from last summer know, sunflowers are everywhere. Huge fields of them, alongside all the roads, next to hiking trails, visible from house windows. They are planted in late Spring and reach their peak in mid-July. These sunflowers aren’t grown for cutting flowers. They are grown for sunflower oil which is prolific down here. People cook with sunflower oil and use olive oil for eating. Now a couple of days into August, the large, heavy heads of the sunflowers are bowing down toward the ground. They will eventually turn black and in early Fall, will be mowed down and their seeds will become huile de tournesol.

Sunflowers at sunset

A bientôt,

Sara

Le Gers: Heatwave, driving and the nicest people one could ever meet

I’ve been told that the heatwave that has hit all of Europe has broken all records. I have certainly felt it down here in Le Gers. There is something so different about being this hot when you live in a stone house and have a pool!  I get errands done in the morning or plan a hike and make sure I’m back in the house by 2pm at the very latest.  Then it’s nap time, reading time, swimming time.  If I need to go out again, I make sure I’ll be in the shade as the heat doesn’t even begin to subside until 10pm at night.  Who knew when I planned this month down here in March that I would be escaping hot and miserable Paris.  I feel very fortunate.

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Is it because of the heat that all the sunflowers are bowing their heads?  Probably not, That’s what happens.  They bow their huge heads into their long necks and nothing but a pale yellow and green shows in the fields.  It’s very pretty but it’s not like seeing proud sunflowers looking at the sun and loyally following it’s path during the day.  Soon they will be harvested and turned into sunflower oil.  That patch of ground will then be home to wheat.  It’s so fun to see sunflowers popping up willy nilly in and around the wheat.  The stubborn ones kept their seeds nearby.

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The Gascons drive terribly.  Very fast on roads that are barely wide enough for one car.  The Gascons live here and probably know these roads like the back of their hands.  It must be frustrating to have summer people driving slower, looking at the gorgeous countryside, filling up on the beauty that is Le Gers.  I’m pretty sure of this because they come right up on my tail and wait for the first possibility of passing.  I pull as close to the right as I can to make it easier but when I see a van coming in the opposite direction and the road isn’t wide enough for both of them, I find myself holding my breath, my eyes grow very wide and I say a little prayer to the driving gods that all will be ok.  So far, I haven’t seen an accident.  The people that live here tell me accidents happen a lot.

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The people that live here….  I’ve met Gascons, I’ve met Brits, I’ve met a few Americans.  Everyone of them is genuinely happy to help if I have a question or just chat if I don’t.  Saturday, I was in Agen with my friend Barbara.  We went to a pharmacy to get some bug spray and anything to help with the itching.  Barbara got a prescription filled and we just chatted away with the pharmacist.  As we were getting ready to leave, she disappeared for one second and returned with two french soaps.  One for each of us.  Just because.

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Not the Brits but I didn’t have a photo of them so you get the swans!

There are two Brits who live in Pouy and have done so for 12 years.  The wife arrived on our doorstep last week with a big box of tomatoes, corgettes and green beans that she had just picked from her potager.  The smell of freshly picked tomatoes is unlike anything I’ve ever smelled.  It makes me wonder how I ever ate those tomatoes my mother used to buy that were wrapped in cellophane and sold in the A&P.  Today, we went over to see their home.  They had bought a house that had been empty for years and they gutted it except the bones.  They now have a lovely, tasteful stone home (the walls were maybe the ramparts of the Chateau next to them) with something precious to look at at every turn.  After drinks of cool, cool water, it was time to leave and she handed us another bag of fresh green beans and tomatoes.  The thing is they would treat anyone this way.

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Sara, Sallie Erichson and Fatiha

Then there is Sallie Erichson, the American Photographer, who I met two weeks ago at a Fete.  When she realised that I was just visiting for the summer, she got my contact info and invited me for dinner with her and her husband.  When my friends from Paris arrived, we went over to her home and she entertained us for a couple of hours.  Plus, each time we were going out for dinner, I would ask her for a suggestion.  So far, she is batting 1000.

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And lastly, there is Simone, the mother of a friend of Barbara’s.  She is 93 years old and when Barbara realised we were staying only 2 km distance from the mother’s home, she suggested to her friend that she might check up on mom in all this heat.  Both of us were picturing a frail old woman suffering from loneliness while everyone was staying inside.  We rang her doorbell and a sturdy woman answered and shook her finger at us and said she wasn’t interested.  She thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Her son had told her that Barbara would visit so when she realised who we were, we all doubled up laughing.  She took us through her house, completely shuttered up to prevent the heat from entering, to a small terrace in the back.  We must have stayed 45 minutes while she entertained us.  We walked through her lovely gardens and both Barbara and I hoped that we looked and functioned like her at 93 years old.  Each time Barbara asked if we could buy her something or help her with something, she didn’t need us.  She has plenty of friends who stop by.  She is well cared for.

And thus continues my wonderful month in Le Gers.

A bientôt,

Sara

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