Friday, December 23, 2011

Carcarssonne, day two

Could there be anything more amazing than opening your shutters (yes, we have shutters, it's a childhood dream) and seeing a medieval fort rise up like new bread before your eyes? Well, I guess that's me full up to pussy's bow. That is what we see. Our tiny house in Carcassonne faces the fort, and we can see it from our windows.
We woke. We needed food. Regardless of our next door neighbour and her late evening delivery, we still needed to shop. Myles and I went up (rather than down) for food. Interesting that up would seem more reasonable than down, but there it is. And, apparently, we were right. We found a grocery and a bakery and a butcher. We split. Myles did the grocery; I did the bakery. The butcher was something we would tackle together.
The bakery was fun. I ordered croissants and pain au chocolat, and a bagette. When I got back to the grocery, Myles was in a three way conversation with the cashier (who was Spanish) and the woman behind him who was French but spoke excellent English. 'Truly international,' as the  cashier noted.
Back at our place we watered and fed our insatiable children.
To the fort, we told them. We did have to deal with a whole drama concerning the washing machine and leaking water which delayed us. But to the fort we went.
'Somewhere between Mont Saint Michel and the Tower of London' was Zelda's appraisal. I was thinking of hiring the fort for Christmas considering our washing machine and our oven didn't work. And perhaps on my way to the fort, stealing a Christams tree. Nothing was looking good.
Turns out the fort was heavy with Christmas trees, but all were locked down. Too bad. There were shops a-plenty, and cobbled streets beside. And it was lunchtime. Inside the fort there are a thousand options to eat (more, I would wager, than medieval times, but whatever). Myles couldn't decide on what he would eat. The rest of us sat in the square and waited while he turned about and muttered to himself and wondered aloud if he might (at a pinch) eat the lamb chops. (Yes, we all silently murmured, you will.). So we ended up at at Auberge Dame Carcas. Now, for me, this was slightly ominous. It sounded too much like 'carcass'. But it turns out there is a much more charming story (really?) to this auberge and it goes like this:
In 760, "Pepin the Short", King of the Franks, took most of the south of France back from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne. True to its reputation, it remained an impregnable fortress. After a long siege, the Franks had good reason to think that the inhabitants of Carcassonne would soon starve and surrender. But Dame Carcas, the widow of the Sarrasin lord of the castle, devised a plan to save the city. She had a pig fed with the last sacks of grain the inhabitants could find. When the pig was fat enough, it was thrown over the city’s ramparts. At the sight of such a well-fed fat animal, the astonished assailants concluded that the inhabitants still had enough food in stock to stave off famine and weren’t about to surrender any time soon. And so they gave up and quickly lifted the siege. Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city all day long to celebrate the victory. And then she collaborated with the enemy. Confusing.
Well, history aside, in we went. It was old school with faded salmon pink fixtures and bad pictures on the wall. We went for the menu prix (Elizabeth David spends many long paragraphs warning us of this, but what the hell; she can't know everything ... ).. The kids were happyish with nuggets and potatoes. Paris and I were find with the salad; Myles thought the soup good. The cassoulet (that I had secretly been gunning for the whole time) was greasy and ducky and weird (but I've tasted it ...). The lamb (according to Paris and Myles) was good.
There would be no sightseeing after this. We were shattered by the lunch. Siesta was the only possibility.
But we did drag ourselves into the city to see the Christmas ho haa. There is much ho haa here. There are markets and rides and ice rinks and hot chocolates. It was all going on.
We managed to buy a Christmas tree (the woman in the tourist office believed this to be impossible). We got liqueur and some wrapping paper. Then we walked back to our little house, across the old bridge. And on the old bridge; there the fort rose again before us in this unbelievable tableau; we could hardly cope.
Then it was some inspirational BBC cooking shows and University Challenge. How did I live before I knew about this show?

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