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After a quick stop in Montreuil (near Paris), I headed for Angers. Angers is fairly close to where I am from; however, I had not been there since I was a young kid and the only thing I could remember of the town was the famous castle (we used to pass it when driving from Nantes to Paris). My expectations were not really high, but I was agreeably surprised. Angers is a really pleasant town with a great atmosphere.
I was there for a conference, but arrived the evening before. The sun was shining and it was warm and I was at leisure to explore this charming town. I love small and disordered streets and I enjoyed wandering in them.
There are many old stone buildings and a beautiful cathedral, as well as some maisons à colombage. I decided to have my dinner on a terrace facing one of them.
We were treated like kings at the conference and maybe it is not such a myth that the French like their food and their wine; I just did not grow up in such a family. On both days, two hours were allocated for the lunch break, and these were indeed spent eating and drinking. We had three-course meals in both places. The first was only the university cafeteria, but the food was delicious. The second day, we went to a café-bistro where we were able to eat on the terrace and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sun.
You might notice that I am skipping a meal here. For the conference dinner, we were bought by bus to a village, Louresse-Rochemier, where a table had been reserved for us in a troglodyte restaurant, Les Caves de la Genevraie. Troglodytes are houses that are built in the rock. The temperature there can be quite low, but a fire kept the restaurant room warm and cosy. There, we were served a traditional and earthy meal. Each course was accompanied with some fouace, a traditional bread, which was made on the premises and served hot. We began with a fouace stuffed with some mushrooms (grown in some toglodyte houses), followed by some rillettes. Then, the main course arrived and consisted of a dish of white beans and rillauds (little bits of lard), which you spread on your fouace. Being in France, we couldn’t escape a plateau de fromage, to my delight, as well as a dessert. A filling meal, but as we took our time, we were able to fit everything. Through the meal, we actually took a break and went to visit another part of the restaurant where the baker makes the bread. It was a most enjoyable evening and a great food experience.
The conference itself was also a success. The theme of the conference was The Figure of the Author in the Short Story (you can read the programme here), a topic that I find highly interesting. It was a small conference and consequently very friendly. The plenary speaker, Charles E. May (whose blog you can read here) delivered a paper highlighting why the short story is a more writerly genre than the novel. There was also a roundtable led by Tim Struthers (whose first ever interview was of Magaret Atwood) on the topic of interviews. The highlight of the conference was a reading by Toby Litt, followed by a series of questions and answers.
Here is the complete set of photos:
The 1st of May has come, and as every year, I will miss the ‘muguet’ or Lily of the valley.
The first of May is ‘la Fête du travail’ in France, the equivalent of ‘labour day’. It is a bank holiday that has its origin in workers’ revendications for the eight-hour working day. In France, it has become a day where nobody works, except for ‘muguet’ sellers! In my opinion, it’s a very depressing day, there isn’t a shop or café opened (maybe it has changed now), there is no public transport, but the worse is that all the streets are deserted. They are deserted, except by the independent sellers of ‘muguet’. Indeed, anyone is allowed to sell ‘muguet’ without any authorisation or without having to pay taxes on that day, so they are the only ones seen working.
If I don’t like the 1st of May, I do love Lily of the Valley. It is a symbol of the beginning of spring, but also of friendship and luck. And I must admit, I do miss that French tradition of offering it on the 1st of May. Strangely enough, I’ve never seen any in Ireland…
As we are talking about muguet, it would be difficult to avoid sharing with you that song that many French pupils had to learn in school, ‘Le Temps du Muguet’.