A French family reunion in the Perigord

My French family has been the main reason for my annual trips home over the last two decades. France has been the other one. Most trips take me back to Paris, because my parents, my brother and his family all live there. I may surprise some “Parisophiles” when I say I relish the {too rare} opportunities to stray away from the French capital and explore la province. 2017 was a good year: I was able to attend our extended family’s annual reunion in the beautiful Dordogne region, otherwise known as le Périgord. Even if many in our tribe became adopted Parisians a long time ago, our roots are Mediterranean, and for the French part at least, securely grounded in the southwest.

French family
“Je viens du sud, et par tous les chemins, j’y reviens.” (I come from the south and all roads lead me back to it.) – Michel Sardou

This is not to say it was easy to get to le Périgord to be reunited with my French family. I stayed in Bordeaux for a few days, then traveled east to Sarlat, and finally arrived in Montignac, where my cousins live and where they organized the reunion. I was not driving, and had to be creative. When you leave Paris and travel around la province, especially in the countryside, taxis or Uber drivers can become as elusive as bérets on Parisians’ heads. Trains get slow and connections complicated. From Bordeaux to Sarlat, I used the wonderful BlaBla car carpooling service. I lucked out. My drivers were a fun, well-traveled, retired French couple. My fellow travel companion a young waiter, Maxime, on his way to his summer work assignment. For over two hours, we shared plenty of “blah-blah,” discussing life in France and in the United States, French and American wine, our families, and more. We took a mid-morning break on the side of the road and our hosts served coffee and a light breakfast, des viennoiseries, of course. Didn’t I say I lucked out? My cost for the trip? 15.50 Euros (about $19.) Experience? Priceless. Bienvenue en France, French Girl in Seattle! 

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My travel companions, Jean, his wife B. and Maxime. Merci BlaBla car!

Montignac is a charming town in le Périgord, about 12 miles north of Sarlat. It is located by the Vézère river, and surrounded by lush scenery. A walk around town, along peaceful streets lined with the occasional 14th century timbered house, delivers the same message heard in so many villages and towns all over southern France: “We are old, older than the château ruins you see in the distance. We are quaint. History happened here many centuries ago, and our buildings and small museum tell the tale. Take a walk across the bridge. Rest inside the church for a while. Real people enjoy simple lives in this town, shared with their families and neighbors, living off the produce of the land found at the market. They play rugby on the weekends. A couple of our native sons may have found fame in the big city. They are remembered in a street name or on a plaque on the side of a building. Some of us may never leave. Ici, c’est chez nous (this is home.)”

French family

French family

French family
Le lavoir (old wash house)

What does a French family reunion involve?,” you might ask.

First, a welcoming place where several generations (including young children) can meet and socialize casually over a holiday weekend. The problem with such a large group: The gîte-like accommodations (semi-detached villas) where we stayed on the outskirts of Montignac did not provide such a gathering space. This was not a problem for my cousins, who know their way around town: They rented a large room from the local rugby club. The tables could be set up indoors or outdoors. It was perfect!

French family

As you may expect from a French family, a significant amount of time was spent eating (mostly pot-luck style) and drinking. 100% of the meals started with the traditional apéro (aperitif.) Some of us enjoyed impromptu apéros while walking around town too. There is something about a French café terrace on a quaint small town square (la place du village,) that is impossible to resist. That is my theory, and I am going to stick with it!

French family
Fénélon: The local aperitif (walnut wine, crème de cassis, Cahors wine)
French family
Munchies…
French family
A more sophisticated apéro
French family
Potluck is great, but catering works too. Paella!

One group, “les sportifs,” got together at my cousins’ home and organized a table tennis tournament. My favorite aunt, in her early 90s, played – and won – one round.

French family
Allez, Tata!

Meanwhile, “les touristes” wandered off, camera (or iPhone) in hand, to stroll around Montignac. Look at these: Can you blame us?

We piled up in a car and kept going; venturing off on small country roads, stepping out for short walks and more photos.

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Les coquelicots
French family
La campagne 
French family
Two cousins, catching up

Of course, in the name of culture, a visit was paid to the new Lascaux International Center for Cave Art (a.k.a. “Lascaux 4.”) If you have already visited the world-famous Lascaux II cave, discovered in 1940 and Montignac‘s claim to fame, prepare to be amazed by the complex, the new replica of the original cave, and the numerous hands-on exhibits. Prehistory has never felt so close, or so familiar.

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Lascaux 4: the complex
French family
Lascaux 4: Exhibits

Then again, culture (or art) need not be displayed in grandiose surroundings…

French family

French family
with my sister-in-law, the Selfie-Mistress

A French family reunion is mostly about people spending time together, catching up after many months apart, until they meet again (in this case,) in a small town in northern Spain for a few days in the summer. For this expatriate, who has missed so many gatherings, birthdays and celebrations over the years, this was a special time indeed. My dad turned 80 that month, and it was heartwarming to see the great care every member in our tribe put into making him (and my mom) feel special. From photo albums with sweet handwritten notes telling stories about my parents’ lives, to the beautiful watercolor by my talented cousin (based on a photo of my late grandfather’s store in L’Isle-Jourdain, south of Toulouse, where our French family reunions used to happen years ago,) everything was done simply, yet thoughtfully. It was beautiful!

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Some of us, in downtown Montignac

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Antoine the rugby player, manning the barbecue
French family
Not all art work sits in museums…

 

French family
Ma famille (“les Parisiens“)

 

Merci Montignac, et à bientôt.

French family
La Vézère à Montignac, so mad it turned red!

 

 

Dear readers: 

The French Girl in Seattle blog has just turned 7 and will be getting a new look in 2018! If you enjoy looking at France and all things French through the eyes of this French native, consider signing up for la Mailing List (on this page,) to receive new stories first via email, or join me daily on Instagram (@Frenchgirlinseattle)
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All photos by French Girl in Seattle, C. Redor or J. Radegonde. Please do not use text or images without permission.

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