Tuesday, May 4:  Caunes-Minervois to St. Emilion

The morning was spent with breakfast, journal-writing, packing and a bit of Internet on Terry’s computer. We departed about noon, headed for St. Emilion in the Bordeaux wine region. Passing through Carcassonne, I saw a road sign I’ve seen several times the past few days, “Meridien Verte” and an outline of France with a vertical line through it. The Prime Meridian? No amount of consultation with our dictionaries or road atlas could answer the question. Save that one for later. Passing through Toulouse on the tollway, we were reminded why it is called the “City of Space” by road signs and Arienne rockets on display. I believe a lot of the work on Airbus planes is done here also. We had one of our more satisfying service area meals, though the carafes of wine on offer at the start of the cafeteria line gave me pause.

At our tollway exit, the gendermarie appeared to be pulling over drivers at random. He looked at me, and looked the other way. Perhaps our red license plate came to our aid -- Nick told us that diplomats have red plates. I’m sure we were not confused with a diplomatic car, and I’m equally confident that our plate screams “Tourist!” Last thing I wanted to do was produce registration and a drivers license. We also realized then that the next exit would be even better. Into the roundabout, and back to the toll plaza. The gendarme looked the other way, again, much to my relief. The “searches” without cause made for some spirited discussion in the car with the boys, akin to our earlier public policy discussion about alternative energy sources, provoked by the modern wind-driven turbines we’d seen today.

On the rural roads, we searched in vain for a florist. Finally found one in St. Emilion proper. Closed. Searched for the TI, until a shopkeeper prevented us from going another two blocks the wrong way on a one-way street. Eventually located the TI, got directions to Chateau Figeac, and learned that nearby Libuorne would be our best bet for flowers. Found a shop selling flowers in Libuorne as we approached the center of town, but Pat was convinced they were just for funerals. I wanted to stop anyway. Into the shop we burst (now late for our arrival at Figeac) and sure enough, all the arrangements were morbid. And they didn’t make “bouquets.” And to top it all off, their arrangements were not even real! All silk. But they gave us directions, all in French, to another florist.

Found the florist directly in heavy traffic and picked out an arrangement not really to Pat’s liking or mine. One of the clerks gave us directions to Chateau Figeac, since I knew to retrace our steps would take a long time and be mostly in the wrong direction. She was very explicit with her directions and map, but her English was non-existent. We were to count roundabouts, but the first was not quite a full-fledged roundabout, so immediately we lost any confidence we had. Followed a sign back to St. Emilion, since we knew exactly how to get to Figeac from there.

We turned off the main road into a long driveway lined with roses. At the chateau proper, it was a pleasure to finally see the building itself, having seen so many photos through the years. (Photo 94) Thierry Manoncourt greeted us at the door. Thierry’s mother was a Villepigue, as was my great-grandmother. We have a common ancestor who lived aroung 1700. So Thierry and his wife, Marie-France, are our French cousins. They are my parent’s generation.

Thierry quickly made us feel welcome and was very kind to the boys. After a few minutes, Marie-France appeared, exuberant at our arrival. We retired to the large country kitchen for a snack, then Thierry showed us all through the three floors of the main part of the house. His study, and the many bedrooms for children and grandchildren when visiting, and the view over to the Dordogne River Valley. We were shown our rooms -- a grand bedroom for Pat and I, and connected by its own hallway, a well-appointed room with two beds for the boys. Luggage in, I chatted more with Thierry. By this time, Pat and the boys went outside, despite the return of the rain, for a look around the estate. Robert returned with muddy shoes, so I went out to fetch his less-dirty sandals from the trunk of the car.

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Photo 94
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Photo 95  Figeac Wine
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Photo 96  David, Marie-France, Robert
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Photo 97  Family History Research
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Photo 98  David, Thierry, Robert at St. Emilion
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Photo 99  Marie-France, Rob
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Photo 100  Pat, Laure
On my way out the front door, Marie-France flagged me down and invited me in the main living room and a taste of wine. The Mayor of Prague had dropped in for a quick visit, fresh from a visit with President Chirac the day before. He’s in the area in part to visit Chateau Figeac, but had just arrived in St. Emilion today, having missed a meeting with the Mayor of Bordeaux due to some traffic mess he was stuck in. Thierry was showing him 3-D photos of Prague from the very early 1900’s with an antique wooden viewing apparatus. I made small talk with his aide and associate.

Eventually, I made my way out to get the sandals, delivered them to Robert, and the whole family came downstairs to mingle with the Czechs. Of course, Pat engaged the mayor with several probing questions. At this time, a grandson, Paul, almost exactly Robert’s age arrived. So Marie-France got all three children involved in a board game.

On Pat’s suggestion, I produced my computer with photos of the Villepigue House in L’Isle-en-Dodon. This caused a very long, and very interesting discussion with Thierry, exchanging family documents and establishing our exact relationship.

Dinner was soup, duck with vegetables, and cheese, all served by the cook. The first bottle of wine was from a vineyard they purchased recently. It was the first bottling ever under their supervision, as of Friday! It was the first time even Thierry or Marie-France had tried it. Second bottle was from a neighboring vineyard, trading on the name, Petis Figeac. Third bottle was a Figeac product, but from new vines. The boys table manners were very good, and we all learned how to eat cheese with just a knife and bread, in the French style. I learned a lot about the wine trade from Eric, one of the son-in-laws, and the current Director of the business.