Monday, May 10:  Possessions are a nuisance

It was Paul Erdos who said, “Possessions are a nuisance.” I agree. We’ve limited ourselves to one suitcase and one book-bag sized backpack each, on Rick’s advice. On numerous occasions, we’ve smugly watched other travelers wrestle their luggage (Venice seemed the most extreme, though CinqueTerre was a close second). However, since Sorrento, we’ve had the luxury of a car, and just enough trunk space for one large plastic box. It has accumulated paper towels, toiletries, detergent, a soccer ball, and worst of all, souvenirs and obsolete guidebooks. Today, we cleaned house (car?). I separated the trash from the keepers and drove it all down to the Post Office (LaPoste) with David in tow so I could earn some sympathy points.

I’d asked around, and nobody could tell me of anything akin to a “Mailbox, Etc.” store, and I couldn’t find any drop-off locations for DHL or UPS anywhere within 100 kilometers of Sarlat. Couldn’t even find out where to get a box! Everybody told me, “just go to the Post.” So off I went. The clerk at the counter and the manager were a bit amused when I tossed my see-through box full of guidebooks, kid toys and used wine bottles up on the counter. Finally, they weighed it in back -- 12 kilos. 76 euro. But they managed to explain to me that a 3 kilo box of books could go for 7 euro.

Back to the hotel, where they got me some boxes, and they suggested a place to get tape. Robert and I set out walking. The “art supply” store turned out to be a home decorating shop (paint, carpets, furniture, etc.). No tape. Their suggestion down the street had just closed for lunch. We asked at the Tourist Information Office -- they had no idea where one could buy packing tape. Finally iterated to a bookstore which had some bright red tape, “Duck” brand no less. Tried to buy some cheap newspapers for packing material, but she explained to me (with the help of an English speaking customer) that all their international (Wall Street Journal, etc.) papers were very expensive. On the way out, Robert spied the local paper on a rack. So back inside I purchased three, much to the clerk’s amusement.

Returned to the hotel, weighed the books on the scale in the hotel kitchen and it was clear the five kilos would need two boxes. Packed everything up, and walked to the car with David, carrying our precious cargo. Saw the helpful hotel clerk on the way out and I said, “Voila!” “Magnifique!” came the response. Once back to the Post, they recognized me, and everything went out smoothly.

Now time for lunch, so we grabbed sandwiches; two hot dogs in a baguette for each boy, croque monseiur for Pat and a delicious omelet with french fries for me. The sun had been out all day, and by now was getting warmer, to the point where we might break out the sunscreen. Maybe our run of unsettled spring weather has snapped.

Another day, another castle. Today’s stop was Chateau des Millandes, the first castle we have visited that was built for elegant living and not strictly defensive purposes. (Photo 115) Just down the road from Castlenaud, it was the living quarters for Castlenaud’s owners. Today it is managed by Marie-France Manoncourt’s niece, though she was not there when we were, so we did not meet her. A previous owner in recent times was Josephine Baker, an American of mixed parentage who was a popular nude dancer in Paris in the first half of the 1900’s. She became a Hollywood film star and was active in the French Resistance (for example, passing coded messages in her musical scores when traveling). She owned the castle for about twenty years, along with twelve adopted children of similar ages, until financial difficulties forced her to leave. The tour of the castle focuses on her life story.

Photos of a nude dancer in action were not enough to hold the boys’ attention, but the falconry show outside afterward was. With about twenty other visitors, we sat on benches around a green lawn in the shadow of the castle and watched a very interesting demonstration of the abilities of birds of prey. After the first bird went back and forth from its handler to a post and back (getting food on the return), I began to watch for the visual clues the handler was giving. He shook his head sideways, and the falcon this time went left, right at my head, and then into a tree behind me on the slope down to the river. A new routine, but it was thrilling to see the bird come at me so fast. A larger falcon was passed around to each set of visitors, and both David and Robert had the opportunity for it to land on their extended arm. (Photo 116) With warm sun and personal attention, our forever-spring strategy seemed to be paying off. The show finished with a peregrine falcon doing dives at a lure at a speed of 300 km/hr (180 m/hr), the same speed as the TGV train we will ride to London, and almost as fast as the Audis on the autostrada.

Afterward we debated a longish drive to a reproduction of the closed Lascaux caves (more prehistoric art) or a visit to the closer, stunning Beynac castle (home to the losing side in the Hundred Years’ War). That decided, we crossed the Dordogne River on one of the many bridges and saw that the river cruises were going today. On to Plan C, and we drove to Rocque-Gegeac to investigate the river cruises. One departed within twenty minutes, so we did that.

The cruise was nice, and the English audio feed was informative. We only went as far as Castlenaud, so we didn’t see too much more new in the way of stunning architecture. Did learn that the river flows at 3500 cubic meters per second at maximum floods, and now was at about 1500 cubic meters per second. In August it can be down to 20 cubic meters per second. Our ship was a reproduction of the flat-bottomed boats used to move goods on the river before the railroad put them out of business. On one long stretch of the river, boats used to be built for one use. Float ’em down the river and then chop ’em up for firewood, since it was too hard to get them upriver again. Our motorized boat had to work pretty hard to make it back upstream.

Back to Sarlat, we had our final dinner at Lou Cocalou, just off the main square. Omelets for starters, and great desserts. I tried the cassoulet again, and it was much, much better than the one I had in Carcassonne. Sausage, bacon, duck leg and beans in a hearty sauce. So rich I couldn’t quite finish it. I can still taste it as I write on Tuesday evening, just thinking about it.

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Photo 114  Sarlat Plaza
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Photo 115  Chateau Millandes

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Photo 116  David, Robert with Falcon