Wednesday, December 7, 2011

France: Sarlat

Several people have been asking me what I did when I was in France. I guess that I should feel bad about our lack of itinerary, but the whole point of the trip was to slow down, to do nothing productive. No spreadsheets, no checklists, no have to do this or have to do that.  I read, I ate, I went for walks and took a million pictures of it all. 

One of my favorite places to venture to was the nearby town of Sarlat (Sarlat La CanĂ©da, if you are feeling official).  Compared to our little castle village of Beynac, Sarlat is a booming metropolis. Its historical city center dates back to the 9th century but the outlining areas are full of modern shops and conveniences.

When you first stumble upon the town of the Sarlat you instantly get this feeling that you may have just discovered something great. 

As the records tell us, Sarlat emerged as a village with the building of a Benedictine Abbey in the 9th century. As with most churches during the time period , as the church grew so did the town that has formed around it. In 1299 the town was able to separate from the church, in terms as power/authority and became a wealthy merchant town. And then the Hundred Years War came.  The town, like most of the surrounding area switched hands between the French and English powers.
 During the Religious Wars Sarlat become a Catholic town and the Abbey that started the whole community became a cathedral, which is still in use today. Building up to the time of the French Revolution, floods, plagues and famine were unwelcomed visitors to the area.  After the Revolution, Sarlat slowly tried to reclaim its role as a commercial town, but because of its inner location, away from major roads and waterways it started to fall in decay. This twist of fate probably preserved it from ugly modern building projects which would of destroyed some of the historical buildings and charm.
In 1962 the French Malraux Law passed which drew up a list of sites all around France that were deemed worthy of restoration. The Marais district of Paris was the first to be awarded funds. The second place was Sarlat. The French government provided 80 percent of the costs; the community and owners of private houses paid the balance. Most of the town's major buildings and more than 50 private structures were taken down to bare bones, studied by architects, and then rebuilt as close to their original style as possible.
We arrived for the first of several trips on a Monday afternoon. This timing will mean nothing to you unless you have ever been to France. Most Mondays, not just holidays, are bank holidays, so much of the town was quiet. We also arrived during the magical lunch period. Not the lunch hour, but the lunch period which lasts from 12pm-2 or 3. During this time a large portion of the shops that are open on Mondays close for their afternoon meal.  We used this stillness to explore the narrow city alleys and streets.

I am pretty cautious about taking pictures inside churches. I have a deep respect for all forms of religion and I wouldn't want to do anything that could be seen as trivializing the sacred.  I never, ever take pictures if someone is worshipping. That all being said I couldn’t help but take pictures in the cathedral. We were the only people in the whole church and warm sunlight was beaming through the stain glass windows. I felt this need to capture these moments in hopes of holding on to them for a little longer.

There was also a little bit of a breakthrough during this first trip to Sarlat. The language barrier had been my biggest worry during the planning stages of the trip. I had flashbacks to a trip to Quebec I took several years ago, and the very sad day that I walked about of an ice cream shop there, empty handed, because I couldn't figure out the words I need to order.

But this afternoon in Sarlat, in my broken French, I was able to get our group an outside table at a little bistro, navigate the menu, order lunch AND a pitcher of water. Sure, there was a little bit of pointing and a lot of polite smiles, but you know what? We all got our food, and it was the food that we ordered! Ordering a salad may not seem like a big thing, but to me it was testament that I could communicate in this new country. I could understand people and they could understand me.  With this self-confidence, no bakery was safe from me walking in and ordering warm baguettes and croissants.
My goat cheese with a side of salad
 This is an ongoing to series of my adventures in France. Other chapters:My Life in FrancePreface to France, La Maisonette Du Coteau

1 comment :

  1. I'm so glad you are letting me live my adventures through you. Places I will probably never get to go. I love your pictures and your descriptions. I must add that the food in the last picture looks amazing - I want some!