Thursday, June 05, 2008

from Pont l'Eveque, Normandy: knee-deep in buttercups

If you come here for the cheese (Pont l’Eveque: one of the most popular French cheeses, right up there, I am told, with Camembert, Brie and Roquefort), you’ll be disappointed. I mean, you can find it in stores, sure. But then, I can find it in Whole Foods, Madison. What you cannot find in Pont l’Eveque, Normandy, is a Pont l’Eveque cheesemaker.

Which is fine. Especially if you come here on a partly cloudy day, after a miserably wet one and you expect to be charmed by other Pont l’Eveque attributes. Like buttercups.

But maybe I’m jumping ahead too much.

First, you have to be told that it is the place to go if you want to see a charming village in the Department of Calvados in the Province of Normandy. Well, maybe not THE most charming village. For that, you should hike from there to Beaumont en Auge. That is absolutely THE most charming village.

Yes, fine. We can do all that. We don’t have a car, but we are so absolutely on top of things that we can work with bus schedules and we can get ourselves anywhere.

And so we set out. [Oh, wait. There is the matter of the Honfleur market. We are staying in Honfleur. The official Honfleur market day is Saturday, but trust this place (what with its artists and super with it locals) to develop, in addition, an alternative market – a bio market (meaning organic), on Wednesday mornings. How perfect! I stock up on the red treasures of the region: strawberries, cherries, apples, tomatoes, and a good and heavy bottle of Normandy apple juice.]

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Oh how I love to go for a ride,
To see the country far and wide…

I hum this to myself as we climb the bus and speed down south to Pont l’Eveque. Maybe speed is the wrong word here. It’s not really a long trip, worthy of great speed. Fine, it’s a very short trip. Pont l’Eveque is a mere 17 kms from Honfleur.

We’re happy as we’re rolling along…

How true.

And so we find ourselves in this quaint old town ...which we fully intend to leave ASAP, because we really do want to get to THE most charming village in France.

So, we look this way…

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…and that…

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…and we head out.

Mind you. Not all of us are avid hikers. In fact, I later find out (much later: after I whip everyone along on this close to 20 kilometer round trip trek) that an alternative may have been to take a more contemplative move through the day, one which would include a lot of pauses and conversations. Like, maybe, this:

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But, the skies are almost blue, the buttercups are in full bloom and the there’s the prospect of discovering all that charm. Who can pass on that!

We walk slowly at first, each taking, most likely, the same picture, but in three versions. Perhaps all of our photos look something like these:

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cows, knee-deep in buttercups

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And we are charmed by similar things. Like this mom donkey and her donkey kid. Can you even guess how long we spent looking at the two of them chasing each other in a the field of buttercups? (And we did it both going there, and on the return)

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let's play, mommy!

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oh, I'm hungry...

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walk with me

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not now, I'm prancing!

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oh, come here!

And then, suddenly (perhaps not suddenly enough for some) we were in Beaumont en Auge. Actually what Beaumont was really sur (on) was a pretty steep hill. Which added a nice little denouement to the whole journey.

But, hills do give good views and I’ll let you judge for yourself if this qualifies. Zooming in, you can see Deauville by the Channel…

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…and zooming out, you can still see the sheep. I always like sheep. Especially knee deep in buttercups.

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Some people, those who live here, for instance, may find this view to be commonplace. They'll come to this spot for the quiet that it offers. A place to read a newspaper.

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I'm not so jaded. For me, it's heavenly up here, in Beaumont en Auge.

And the village itself? Not sure how any of us felt about the MOST CHARMING label. Here, take a look:

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It was pretty alright, but then, so many of these villages are lovely. And besides, we were too hungry to chew over the matter of labels. We wanted dejeuner (lunch)! We find the one open eatery and settled in among the men and women of Beaumont en Auge. Here, you see mostly muscled men. I assure you, at some tables, there were women. An older mother and her son, both with their dogs. A couple. And us.

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The food? Here are my choices:

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(The hearty men ate heartier dishes -- meats and gizzards and such; I didn't notice the plates of the mother and son, but I did note that one of their dogs liked a morcel, and French dogs are fussy so I am certain it was good.)

Afterwards, well, one had to get back. There was mention of a taxi maybe, but that thought drifted toward the sea as Beaumont was low on taxi stands. In villages of about 52, you just don’t have much use for cabs.

In Pont l’Eveque, we compensated for the absence of cheese makers (they’re all outside the town, which figures as cheese makers are often where the milk is) by visiting a Calvados distillery. We sampled the stuff, but I myself will admit to not appreciating anything that is that potent and so one of us purchased small quantities for gift purposes while the others delighted in being offered free samples of everything in very large glasses.

More fruitful shopping, so to speak (I'm feeling so clever now, long after midnight) was accomplished at a local clothing store where everything was tres cheap and billowy and cottony. Sort of like this frock (in an antique shop next door), except much more au currant:

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And then it was time to leave. Except, perhaps you have not been reading this blog carefully or for a long time and so you do not know that I am notoriously inaccurate in reading French bus schedules. I always miss the pertinent piece of information, like that the bus takes a vacation on Wednesdays and this happens to be Wednesday, or that the bus does not stop at this particular stop on any evening run and here we are – stupidly waiting at evening time.

The point is, it took almost as long to finally get ourselves on the seats of a bus to Honfleur as it takes a meringue to bake to a fine crisp texture.

Back in our home town, we bought Pont l’Eveque cheese and many other things and one of us opened her secret bottle of champagne (well, not too secret – everyone at the b&b knew about it after all) and we ate and chatted until I pushed back my chair and retired, to go off and post. Loyal to Ocean readers, to the core.