All Things France! is the home for my photos, travel observations, places to visit, even a recipe now and then. If you’re a Francophile or even plotting your first visit to Burgundy, I invite you to visit All Things France!
All Things France #9 Food, Glorious Winter Food
Dressed for Death is set in the two weeks before Christmas. What foods are my villagers buying? I went to Burgundy in December 2016 to do research (yes, right) and I found lots of comfort food. Here are some photos from that trip, taken at outdoor markets, in small shops, and in cafes. The French will never starve and they will never be forced into Taco Bells either!
All Things France #8 Musee du Costume, Avallon
As I have explained in recent articles about DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY, I was inspired to use this small gem of a museum in my story because the display rooms seemed like a perfect spot for a corpse, as did the curator’s almost obsessive concern with locking the doors. She, the curator, was charming, good-hearted, and professional, and I fell in love with her passion for the museum she created. But I never tried – in my halting French matched to her non-English – to explain the idea, so I hope she never finds out about the body draped on the chaise longue in one of her wonderfully arranged salons!
All Things France #7 Les Jardins des Plantes, Paris
Summer may have left the Bay Area as it has Paris, but I’m not prepared to let it go without at least a sigh. So, here are some photos from one of Paris’s most elegant public spaces, a complex that includes several museums, a carousel, elegant garden beds and allees of trees. If you haven’t been there and you plan a trip in the spring or summer, I hope these pictures will tempt you to visit (the 5th Arrondissement). Meanwhile, whiff of summer before autumn is upon us!
All Things France #6: Halle aux Chapeaux, Belleville, Paris
I went to an art show at the SF Legion of Honor. The theme was a little thin: Degas loved hats. Well, yes, his dressed women wore them, he had something to do with women’s millinery at some point in his life…but there wasn’t a lot to show . I feel for museum curators trying to come up with fresh ideas. They padded the show with other French artwork featuring hats, and this was the best. And then there was a real hat, complete with (gulp) a whole stuffed bird, whose black eyes glared out in fury at having been captured and used for decoration.
All Things France #5: Inspiration for Katherine Goff
Alice is a painter and a friend. She and her husband moved to a tiny town in Burgundy about 10 years ago. Their romantic act inspired my new series and I wanted to recognize her, as she is today. She just had an exhibition of new work in the historic town of Noyers-sur-Serein, not too far from my fictional Reigny-sur-Canne and is still charming people with her style and her art. Brava, Alice!
All Things France #4: Off the Beaten Path Spots to Visit
It’s hard to get too far of the well-worn and much-explored paths in France. Francophiles have been trekking happily all over the country for centuries. My fictional village hovers over a specific area of Burgundy, bordering on the famous Morvan, the large forested area from which France’s Resistance fighters launched guerrilla attacks on the German occupiers. I thought I’d mention a few places worth visiting, starting with the museum in the Morvan. I can’t promise no crowds but a few of these are less touristed. They’re all off the A-6 highway, a major north-south artery.
Start with the Musee de la Resistance en Morvan, a modest but moving repository for World War II artifacts recounting the lives and harrowing dangers for French (and English, who parachuted in at great risk) Resistance participants. The Morvan is now a regional park. You can rent headsets (English language available) but even without, it’s fascinating to look into the eyes of a photo of a middle-aged woman who risked her life to bring food and perhaps ammunition or coded messages into the forest and then melted back into a nearby village. https://www.museeresistancemorvan.fr/en/actualites
Reigny-sur-Canne takes its name from the old Abbaye de Reigny, built in 1134, a monastery that later gave its name to a modern prison nearby. The Abbaye backs up to the Rive Cure. The atmospheric ruins of the Abbaye are available for catered weddings. I saw one beautiful 360 degree photo of the romantic interior online but it’s copyright protected so I can’t share. You can look the photo up on Google maps, though. It’s west of the A-6. There’s a long private drive that leads to it. The gates were locked when we tried to visit, but apparently that’s not always the case.
Chateau Ancy-de-Franc is east of the A-6, past Noyers (more about Noyers later). It’s a symmetrically designed Renaissance palace set on formal grounds with an imposing entrance suitable for approaching the great Bourbon royalty. What it’s famous for are the murals that fill many rooms, also done in the Renaissance, and they’re worth seeing. I will say this – if you look carefully at the mural depicting a bloody fight with men and horses and long spears, you may notice some details that make you wonder if the painter or his patron was perhaps a sadist. ‘Nough said. Worth a visit especially when the gardens are at their best.
Now for Noyers-sur-Serein, and I must warn you this may be off the beaten path geographically, but not for visitors. In summer, the pretty medieval town can be crowded. But it also is the location of a black truffle auction late in the year, when the walled grounds of a former school are packed with fans of the pungent fungus. Not far off the A-6, again to the east of the highway, it’s one of the most charming towns in Burgundy. Half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, an arched entrance to the ancient town center, it is definitely medieval in style and character, although it was a settlement before the Roman conquest of Gaul. There’s a ruined castle, orchards surrounding it outside the old city walls, and cattle who come up to the fence to check you out if you walk around the perimeter. I have a friend who lives there and through her I met the charming, creative couple who operate a pottery in one half-timbered building, the gracious owners of the town’s butcher and charcuterie, wine cave, and restaurant, and a half dozen local farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers – even a yoga teacher. If you go at the height of summer, the city center is closed to cars, but it’s so small you can walk everywhere.
There’s more. There’s always more. But I hope this whets your appetite for a trip to Burgundy’s historic glories.
All Things France #3: Burgundy’s celebrated wines
Last year, I noticed a film title that sounded something like the title of my new book: “A Year in Burgundy.” It turned out to be a documentary about seven winemakers who tend their precious hillside terroirs and produce their unique vintages in a tightly choreographed rhythm with the sun and the weather. If you like knowing about French wines, you’ll enjoy the film.
When I’m in the towns near the fictional home of Catherine and Michael Goff, I look at the labels, ask questions about the appellations, but leave the imbibing to others. So, I asked my agent, Kimberley Cameron, of Kimberley Cameron & Associates, who is a noted wine collector and a true francophile, if she would share her five favorite Burgundy wines. (The reds are made from Pinot Noir grapes and the whites from Chardonnay. There’s a handy map of what’s grown where at http://winefolly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Burgundy-Wine-Map-wine-folly.jpg# )
I spoke with a woman sommelier in Noyers-sur-Serein’s noted Millésimes restaurant, charcuterie, and vintner about the mysterious Irancy wines I photographed and she said some people love them, others hate them. “It’s the tannins, you know?” she explained. As you can see, there are a great many wines to choose from.
And here are Kimberley’s favorites: “Quelle bonne idée!!! Et oui, madame… j’aime les bourgognes!!!! These are my favorites!”
- Nuit St. Georges
- Gevrey Chambertin
All Things France #2: Burgundy’s signature foods
If we were to take a culinary tour of the region’s elegant restaurants, bistros, cafes, and food shops, here are a few of the special treats that Burgundy is famous for and that you will find at one or the other of its dining levels. Bon appetit!
Start with gougère, a cheesy, puffy pastry that is served small as an appetizer or large as a breakfast option. Think of profiteroles or cream puffs, only with cheese in the dough.
Escargot – snails – are some kind of emblem of Burgundy. I’m still researching, but I can tell you that, while at this stage of your dinner they are smothered in garlic, herbs and butter, they also show up as molded chocolates after dinner.
You might be offered a fish course, most likely fresh water fish from the region’s many rivers. People fish from vacation barges, and Burgundy’s 250 kilometer, man made canal has generated a major tourist industry.
When you get to the main course, you’ll recognize the crowns of Burgundian cuisine that incorporate its famous wines: the rich beef stew called Boeuf Bourguignon; Coq au Vin, chicken cooked to tender perfection in red wine; Filet au Poivre, which seems to be a point of pride around Lyon; and Andouillette, a spicy pork sausage that was, for me at least, an acquired taste.
You’re in a part of France that is justly renowned for its cheeses, so don’t skip the cheese course. Epoisses is named for the town where it is produced (complete with a chateau and grounds you do not want to miss). You may already know Soumaintrain, which you can find in the U.S. – you’ll know it by its orange rind. Fromage Blanc, which people buy at the supermarché in large tubs, is a little like whipped cream cheese, but not. There are dozens of local cheeses that will tempt or challenge you. I discovered one that was new to me on my winter visit to a small shop that proudly sold only Burgundy cheeses: “Domes of Vézelay,” small pyramids of a semi-soft, flavorful cheese covered in grayish (tasty) mold.
I hope you’ve left room for dessert, which is served last. Tarte Tatin needs no introduction and I doubt Clafoutis does either, with its custard base on which fruit is set. There’s more but if you’re like me, you’re too full to think about food at this point.
All Things France #1: The Mairie
Le mairie is the town hall, an important part of life in French towns as in American ones. The elected mayor has an office there as does that most local branch of the French police system that deals with the minor conflicts and issues in the town’s life—late night noise, illegally parked cars, a stolen tractor. If someone calls in with what might be a significant crime, the local policeman tells the mayor immediately, and the mayor contacts the gendarmerie, the larger police station staffed by trained and armed national police. Every hamlet has its own mairie, but the gendarmeries are located in larger towns. If terrorism or some other larger scale crime is suspected, the gendarmes in turn call in the national police headquartered in Paris.
In Love & Death in Burgundy, the sheriff of fictional Reigny-sur-Canne and the mayor are quick to call in the gendarmes, but unwilling to miss out on all the excitement.