May in the streets and hills of Bourdeilles For all of you that really should be here with us!!
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May in Bourdeilles and more...

May in Bourdeilles

 May in the streets and hills of Bourdeilles

For all of you that really should be here with us!!


Gobbling Up

 We all knew which line of people to be in. We all knew it might take some patience. We knew it was worth the wait. Ahead of me in the long queue was a family of five, two adults and three young children. The three children were tucked up close to their parents. Three children that already know that sometimes you have to wait quietly for good things. 

We were all waiting in that classic French market line to buy strawberries. Strawberries that taste like heaven. Strawberries that melt in your mouth. Strawberries picked this morning bursting with flavor. We advanced slowly as the customers ahead of us were served — after a little chitchat of course. Finally it was the families' turn. The mom ordered, paid the vendor and placed two berry baskets in her market bag. She then turned and handed a basket of strawberries to the tallest of the children. The little trio moved away from the market table to a quieter space among the Friday morning shoppers. The tallest child held out the basket to the littler ones. They each selected a bright red fruit and popped it in their mouth. From my place in line I could see their eyes light up. I couldn’t hear them, but I could see the yummmm. Little hands kept carefully reaching into the basket for seconds and thirds. Those were some happy children. By the time my strawberry basket was nestled in my market bag theirs was empty. I was so happy to know that they had more for later.

All this happened around 10:10 last Friday morning in Brantome. Finishing up my other purchases around 10:30 I could hear vendors saying - “I’m sorry I’m already sold out. I’m sorry you just missed the last basket. I’m sorry- there are so many more of you than we expected!”

There’s something to be said for the early bird getting the worm and patient children knowing the simple pleasure of a strawberry. And yes - the joy of gobbling some up right there in the middle of all those bustling grownups.


The Forest of Notre Dame

At first, the news didn’t seem that shocking. I was enjoying a leisurely lunchtime on my parent’s porch in Richmond, Virginia. My brother had just read out a text from my sister-in-law: “Notre-Dame is burning”. I pictured a flickering garbage can in a little side room of the grand, resolute, and enduring cathedral. It’s in the middle of fire stations-galore á Paris! The firemen would have this out in a jiffy. We finished up the dishes and turned on the TV. My heart stopped and I burst into tears. Flames were licking the heavens, I saw glowing red ribs burning and crashing, and they kept replaying the skeletal spire collapsing into the heart of the cathedral. Like the rest of the world I stood their transfixed wondering what could have gone wrong. What was going to be left of Notre Dame de Paris?

It’s no wonder that the galloping fire quickly devoured everything in its path. Behind the watchful gaze of gargoyles and chimeras, and under the lace-like stonework of Notre-Dame there was an enormous expanse of attic. An attic filled with timbers dating from the cathedral’s construction in the 12th and 13th centuries. There were so many “trees” up there that the space was nick named The Forest. Way back when, workers cleared 21 hectares (52 acres) of oak trees from the countryside surrounding the city of Paris. Carpenters used the massive trees to achieve the dramatic heights required for the soaring Gothic style. Trees that had sprouted in the 8th or 9th centuries. Trees that were between 300 to 400 years old when cut down. In order to get the dimensions and structure right in the Middle Ages workers first built the frame on the ground then, it would be disassembled and hoisted to the ceiling with lifting gear where it was reassembled. Gothic style required that the oak beams be set at 55-degree angles. Back then, churches tended to use clay tiles, but in Paris, being far from clay deposits, this roof was lead and weighed 210 tons.

It was two years ago in 2019 that I stood there for hours watching Notre Dame burn. At first a French cultural heritage expert said that the cathedral’s roof could not be rebuilt as it had been. Modern materials had to be used for efficiency and safety. He stated, “The biggest obstacle is we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century. France no longer has trees big enough to replace those ancient wooden beams.” He spoke too soon. He underestimated the resources, the generosity, and the pride of heritage of his fellow Frenchies. 

“Given the place occupied by the cathedral in the hearts of the French, in the history of France, and the world ... we are happy (that) the entire industry — from foresters to sawyers — is mobilized to meet this challenge,” said Michel Druilhe, President of France Bois Foret, a national inter-professional forestry network.

Each beam in The Forest is constructed from a single tree. 13,000 trees will be needed.  Many forests will be at play in this epic reconstruction. A call went out to a web of foresters spread all over France to start the daunting and time sensitive search.

Here’s the criteria they use for a “perfect” tree:

  • the most important characteristic is the straightness of the tree- it’s rectitude
  • they have to be long and straight, but once cut it might be discovered that the wood is slightly twisted - one has to examine the uncut tree from all angles and with expertise and experience
  • it’s internal fibers have to be correct/straight otherwise it might twist during drying or milling
  • there can be no low branches (living branches higher up are ok)
  • no knots
  • a diameter of more than 50 centimeters
  • no beetles that have eaten up the insides or are a nursery to the beetles

Now here’s where southwestern France comes  in—

Even before the enormous task of finding enough trees to rebuild The Forest got started forestry expert Jacques Hazera had spotted some impressive ancient trees in his territory. In total he knows of 15 or so trees in the Aquitaine region that meet the criteria for being usable in this noble project. Only five will be cut down.

Three of these trees were inventoried in a private forest. The oaks on Madame de Villeneuve’s property met all of the requirements to a T. Each one has a circumference between 1.65 and 1.8 meters (64 to 70 inches). And 8 to 12 meters (26 to 40 feet) of perfectly straight lumber. Her only disappointment is that her oaks, venerable though they my be, don’t attain the 18 meters high qualification to to be used for the spire. The spire will require 80 oaks that are at least 200 years old.

On the 12th of March 2021 standing in her family’s private forest Madame Francoise de Villeneuve wasn’t hiding her joy. Three of her oak trees had been selected for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame-de-Paris. “When they asked me if I would be interested in contributing the trees I said yes right away. I am a faithful Catholic and a woodland manager. This is a great honor for my family and a tribute to the previous generations that planted these trees at the beginning of the twentieth century.” The trees were originally planted for barrel making or use for the French Navy. These giants are now a gift from her family and their forest to Notre Dame, France, and the world. Madame Francoise de Villeneuve is paying for cutting the tree down, having it transported, and the cost of conditioning the wood.

That afternoon chainsaw-wielding tree surgeons scaled the qualifying oaks to fell them in a race against the clock. Throughout France the selected trees have to be “harvested” by the end of March, otherwise harmful tree sap and moisture could enter the wood fibers. Once cut the trees stay in place until the forest floor hardens up after a wet winter. Horses will be used to drag the trees to the road side - around the month of May. The enormous logs are then trucked to the lumberyard for seasoning, treatment for preservation, and conversion to lumber. Eventually each piece of wood will be tagged with an identity plaque indicating its forest of origin and placement in the attic of the cathedral.  The proud owners will know where their tree is located in the New Forest of Notre Dame.

There is one more important requirement in the tree to lumber process - patience. The trunks must be left to dry for up to 18 months. Not good news to the French President who promised to have Notre Dame Cathedral ready for visitors by the 2024 Paris Olympics. Time will tell.

There are those that fear that cutting these old trees is harmful or bringing an end to an era, but all of these venerable trees were deliberately planted to be used in production some day. That time has come. Here is a big thank you to all the generous landowners. Here’s a heartfelt homage to the ancient trees. 

Now it’s time to plant some more tiny saplings for future grand projects.

information collected from Sud-Ouest and various other journals

images borrowed from google images

--thank you for letting me share and inform


April in Bourdeilles



Dreaming and Drinking

The pandemic in France means seven o’clock curfew, no gatherings, no restaurants, no bars, no clothing stores. I’m fine, Tom’s fine. Our days are busy and our evenings are cozy. So why is there this lingering feeling that I’m lacking a little extra zest in life? Maybe its because for more than a year I have not been 30 minutes from home

Recently the local SudOuest Mag(azine) gave me the spark— the zest!—for a dream adventure. My dream destination is just south of Bordeaux. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10h - 12h30 and 14h - 18h. Three euros will get you entry and a tasting, by appointment only. (All of this changed last night when a month long shutdown was announced.)

In my fantasy I’m speeding down back roads, over rolling hills covered in blossoming fruit trees, gamboling sheep, and miles of budding vineyards. I’m exhilarated by the liberation of the open road. If I’m on my lonesome the first song up is Freedom (yep, George MIchael, for a hoot hollering sing along). If I snagged a friend for this adventure there’s mile a minute disjointed conversations. If Tom has reluctantly left the ranch to join me there’s snoring.

I’m off in search of the glamor of James Bond, the Duchess of Windsor, and the glory days of transatlantic steamships. I’m off to la Maison LIllet. 

Here’s the back story-

In 1872 two brothers, Paul and Raymond Lillet  (pronounced “lee lay”) created a “society” for the production of a fortified drink. Using locally produced white wine and the waste from citrus fruits imported from French colonies they created a concoction “based” on the principles of Louis Pasteur. “There are germs in the water? Then let us drink wines with quinine.” It was reputed to be “exquisite, inoffensive, hygienic par excellence.” Lillet quickly became the apéritif of fashionable women and discerning gourmets.  This alcohol of a golden color with the taste of summer received a gold medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

The golden years continued from 1930 to 1950. Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor (the American interloper that tumbled a crown) was crazy fond of Lillet. She was miffed when it wasn’t served in Paris at Fauchon,  the George IV, - or even the Ritz!  She quickly corrected this and introduced Lillet to all of the hot spots where she hung out - palaces, beach hotels, ski resorts, glamorous transatlantic crossings… 

Her signature drink, The Smiling Duchess won first prize for a cocktail drink in 1937.  The author Ian Fleming was also a grand devotee. In Casino Royale James Bond orders a drink that has 3 measures gin, one measure vodka and a half measure Lillet. 007 baptized the cocktail The Vesper for his one and only, the beautiful Vesper Lynd.  Bond ordered this drink "shaken, not stirred"  giving rise to this immortalized catchphrase. From the casinos of Montenegro Lillet sailed into American high society via transatlantic crossings from Le Havre to New York City. Eighty percent of Lillet sales were in America. Ironically, it took a trip to the restaurant in the Empire State Building for Frenchman Bruno Borie to discover this drink that was made in his region of France.  By 1985 he had purchased Lillet and was marketing the brand world wide.

To this day no one knows the secret ingredients that give Lillet its special zest. We know it is based on dry white wine produced in the south west of France, quinine from the bark of the Cordiliere tree in the Andes, the zest of sweet Moroccan oranges, and the zest of bitter Haitian oranges, but that special something extra remains a well guarded secret.

Lillet is still a small company. This keeps the “society”  agile and guarantees the handcrafted quality of each bottle of spirits. Lillet is exactly what folks are looking for now-a-days - small is beautiful, authentic, anchored in tradition, coming from a small territory and still produced on location. In 2013 1 million bottles were produced per year. In 2020 the production grew to 9 million bottles per year. The staff has grown from 5 to 10.

Soaking up the glory of this long history I’ll take the tour of la Maison Lillet, enjoy the tasting, fill the trunk with Lillet, spend the night in the glorious Chateau Sigalas Rabaud, dine on the terrace overlooking the vineyards, and wake up the next morning to the gentle sounds of Fleetwoood Mac singing Dreams (“now here you go again you say you want your freedom,,,,,”)

Back in reality I’ll settle for a Smiling Duchess under the tower of a medieval castle on the sun soaked terrace of a glamorous friend. Boy I’ve had a zesty, grand time right here in our small dreamy village.

Smiling Duchess
2 cl gin
2cl Lillet
1cl apricot brandy
1 cl Crème de Noyeaux

The Vesper
6cl gin
2 cl vodka
1 cl Lillet Blanc
zeste of orange or lemon

Some fun web sites:

Thank you Louise for being my bartender!
All Lillet posters are taken from web images - thank you for letting me share these.

***Please drink responsibly***