Friday, August 31, 2012

MLG Travel Update: Day 107 — An Evening Stroll in Monbazillac, and a Short Sojourn into the Not-So-Distant Past in Sussex

l'église de Monbazillac
(click images to enlarge)
Photos/Text © 2012 Sean M. Madden. All Rights Reserved.

DAY 107 (Thu 30 Aug '12): This evening Mufidah and I decided to go out for an evening walk. Our intention was to walk together, specifically to stroll down to the Château de Monbazillac and take some more photographs given that the skies were blue with great white clouds rising above the Dordogne.

Although Mufidah had dropped her particularly versatile (18-135mm) Nikon lens in the Cora parking lot in Vichy — rendering it as well as her DSLR kaput, at least until we can afford to get the lens fixed or replaced — Deems, our generous host here in Monbazillac, charged up her own Canon DSLR for Mufidah to use.

I took our Canon digital compact, leaving my iPhone back home. iPhone photos are excellent for the web, but are not high enough resolution for professional printing. And the Canon's still small enough to put in my back pocket, or to carry in my bag, so it's more my style. I've pretty much sworn never to buy a DSLR, as no matter how good the photographs might be, I'm almost surely not going to want to carry it with me when I'm out and about. So I make do with either my iPhone or our shared Canon compact.

That said, I was just beginning to really appreciate using Mufidah's Nikon just before it crashed to the ground within the light canvas bag given to us by the Hay Deli when we were in town for the literary festival. In fact, the last photos shot with the Nikon were those I'd taken, of Mufidah, sitting across from me at a café with tables outside the Grand Marché where we treated ourselves to a likewise shared grand crème. A quite handy bag which we use for all sorts of things, but which slipped out of Mufidah's hands as we were getting out of the Punto to go grocery shopping that afternoon. The resulting crash of the camera lens against the parking lot foretold of destruction and personal devastation for Mufidah, her DSLR being one of her relative few possessions left in our post-Lewes life and which was going to be instrumental in documenting her travels, not only here in France, but most poignantly in Greece and Turkey where she's been wanting for years now to explore and write about her ancestral roots, emanating out of both countries.

When I met Mufidah, in the capacity of house manager of the venue in which I taught my creative writing classes, this is what was driving her, what inspired her, beyond her demanding day-to-day work. We first spoke of our shared love of travel and writing when I bumped into her at Caffè Nero, directly across the street from her flat, though I didn't know that at the time, nor could I have imagined that I'd one day quite soon be sharing that flat with her on the Lewes High Street. Anyway, on that day, standing in line together, she told me of her goal to travel for an extended time in Greece and Turkey and her intention to write a book about her experiences. That was the morning of 29 June 2009, less than 48 hours before my wife told me she was leaving me. Seven months later, Mufidah and I met up for lunch at the Buttercup Café (where we'd met once before), and I blurted out that I'd love to come along to Greece when she next traveled there. Her father is a native Athenian, and still lives in the city. Her younger brother, George, as well.

Two days later we went for a muddy walk in Alfriston, on the South Downs, after a less-than-stellar cheese scone experience (if you can imagine such a thing!), and soon we were sharing our lives together, shuttling back and forth between Lewes and Mayfield until, finally, I packed more than just an overnight bag and settled for good — or two years, at least — in Lewes, a place which had already become a home away from home by way of my teaching my writing classes there throughout the previous year and all the lovely students who graced my life during that particularly inspiring time of great heartache and even greater joy.

Now, back to the present.

The good news is that the camera body seems fine, and has been tested using the Nikon lens of a fellow long-term resident of Camping de la Croix St Martin, where we spent two months this summer, outdistancing even Tony, whom we had assumed throughout most of our stay was French given the French plates on his Hymer motorhome but who is, in fact, from Guernsey. Tony travels for eight months every year, mostly on his own, though he seems increasingly to be meeting up with a fellow amateur photographer — a woman whose specialty is (digitally) shooting tigers — and whom he left the campsite to travel with in Switzerland.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with this evening's stroll in Monbazillac, except to say that we left Deems's house with her Canon DSLR as well as our digital compact, eager to take more photos before we move on from Monbazillac towards Burgos, Spain, our next intended longish-term destination.

Château de Monbazillac

But only ten or fifteen minutes into our walk together, we got separated when I started clambering amongst the grapevines which grow on the west side of the Château de Monbazillac, while Mufidah was trying, once again, to get a good shot of another set of vines which run perpendicular to the path leading downhill below the château.

I was trying to find a clump of grapes, sunlit, which simultaneously offered a view of the castle. When I found some that did, I took more than four dozen photographs using both the digital macro and automatic settings, hoping the former would produce a crystal-clear image of the grapes with the château's blurred image in the background. I did manage to get these shots, but ended up preferring the above picture, taken on the automatic setting, with much greater depth of field.

A couple of Dutch guys in their sixties strolled past and quite nonchalantly said hello to me while I was lying on the ground between two rows of grapevines trying to get some decent shots. When I eventually got up, I had dirt and a bunch of tiny burrs stuck to the side of my shorts as well as within my right-hand pocket.

The best thing — far better than the resulting shots — was that while I was hunkered down in the vines getting closeups of great clumps of both white and red grapes, I plucked a single, particularly ripe-looking red grape and popped it into my mouth as I carefully climbed down the short but quite steep slope to meet up with Mufidah again. But while I never did find Mufidah, at least not until I arrived home more than an hour later, I had the single best grape experience of my life. It was gorgeously sweet and tasty, though I had no expectations whatsoever as to how a genuine Monbazillac grape would taste before being made into a fine bottle of Bergerac rouge. Only the white grapes are used to make the famous Monbazillac wines. I've (yet) to try one of these, straight off the vine, but suspect I will do before saying goodbye to Deems, her two Jack Russell terriers, and Monbazillac itself.

Anyway, after not coming upon Mufidah despite having walked all over the place looking for her, and having given a whole series of whistles which she would have recognized as coming from me, and even calling her name here and there, I decided to continue down the steep hill below the château, to see if she might have done what we'd been meaning to do for days now — that is, to walk down to the road which runs parallel to, but a kilometer or so below, the château. That's when I took the below photograph of the Château Péroudier, which is perhaps more beautiful, if less grandiose, than the Château de Monbazillac.

Château Péroudier

At this point, it was seeming less and less likely that I'd run into Mufidah, though I did continue to hold out some small bit of hope that she'd maybe gone ahead to make use of Deems's zoom lens to get a great shot of the castle atop Monbazillac, with the crosshatched vineyards dropping steeply towards the Dordogne down in Bergerac. But with no such luck I continued on regardless, as I have a habit of doing when there's something I'm curious about, something that I really want to see.

All in all I took 215 photographs during my walk, the latter three, below, while walking back up the hill into the center of Monbazillac to return home for dinner. When I got there, not only was a chicken korma with saffron rice dinner — plus a 2010 bottle of Bergerac rouge — awaiting my arrival, Mufidah was already there, in our bedroom, busily importing her photographs onto her Mac.

August Sunshine

In my head, all the while I was photographing them, I was referring to the above flowers as sunflowers, and perhaps they are of the dwarf variety. But I'm not so sure. So if anyone can properly identify them, I'd greatly appreciate your sending me an email and letting me know what they are. While there are a few scattered patches of semi-yellow sunflowers left in the Dordogne, most are well past it and have been scorched brown during these dog days of late summer. The above flowers, whatever they're called, are still springtime fresh, another clue that perhaps they're not sunflowers at all, the other being that the center is not as proportionally large nor as brown as those of regular sunflowers.

Anyway, below is a closeup photo of one of the above blossoms. But no matter what these flowers are called, their beauty far outruns any name which might be attached to them, whether in French, English or even Latin.

Closeup (Digital Macro)

And one final photograph, of a building which is just a minute or two walk below the Château de Monbazillac. I love the shutters, all the more when juxtaposed with the above flowers. France is chockablock with rustic buildings like this, which seem to spring from the land itself — and which seem, too, to be well on their way to returning to their native origins, albeit slowly and with hinged shutters.

Rustic Landscape, Monbazillac

After dinner, Mufidah, Deems and I walked in the opposite direction, further down the D13, in hopes of indulging in another degustation, or free wine-tasting, at yet another château in the village. But, alas, it had just closed for the evening. We do intend, however, to visit again tomorrow. And, ideally, I'd like to stop in to the Château Péroudier as well, before we head off for more southerly (yet higher and, thus, cooler) climes in Burgos — by way of a night or two in Pamplona, assuming we can find a CouchSurfing or other suitable host.

All for now, as it's 2.21 a.m., and we've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow — of writing, wine-tasting and final preparations for the drive ahead. Speaking of which, I'm also quite stoked to have caught up, today, on all of my bookkeeping since mid-May as well as having, along with Mufidah, vacuumed out the Punto and cleaned its windows, inside and out, thanks to Deems's loaning us her hoover as well as giving us a bottle of Windex to use. Thank you, Deems, for this and everything else you've done for us this past week as the moon phase has morphed from the perfect half-moon which lit our way as we first entered the Dordogne to tonight's full moon which rose before us as we strolled along the D13 in anticipation of a few more tastes of the sweet white wines of Monbazillac and perhaps yet another Bergerac rouge.


  1. By the way, my recently announced Special Offer to CAREFULLY read, edit and critique your writing for £35 is still on.

    So click the above link if you'd like to send me your work, and we'll take it from there.

  2. As I just wrote to our host, located just three rooms away ...

    Now to a cuppa joe and beyond (to a couple of scandalously early degustations!? to help Mufidah and me to write more knowledgeably about the local wines).

    But, first, awaiting the bark of Rosie informing us of the postal woman's delivery of that ever-elusive package. :-)

  3. Woohoo! That ever-elusive package did, FINALLY, arrive into my hands just a few minutes after posting the above comment.

    Its contents — a replacement charger/adapter — is presently plugged into my laptop and is working beautifully. Thank thee, Lord!

    Now we're set, God-willing, to begin our drive tomorrow morning towards Burgos. That said, we'll be sad, indeed, to leave Deems and all of Monbazillac behind, so welcoming and supportive has she and the whole of the village been during our week's stay here.

    Mufidah and I are just about to head out in a bit to celebrate with two midday degustations, as noted above, and are planning on hitting a third this evening with Deems, at the place mentioned in the above blog post and which was closed when we arrived there last night.

    Just as well, really, that I got today's blog post very largely written last night, and spent this morning adding to it and whipping it into shape, before the day's wine-tasting gets underway. We might well decide to spit some back out into the little pail which accompanies the sample glasses. We'll just have to wait and see. We're mostly ready to go, our laundry having been washed yesterday, the car cleaned and vacuumed, the petrol tank filled, etc.

    We're even thinking, just this moment, of driving straight through to Burgos given that we'll be able to leave first thing in the morning, without needing to await for the post, and the elusive package, to arrive.

  4. UPDATE: "Six months later, Mufidah and I met up for lunch at the Buttercup Café" has been corrected to "Seven months later ...".

    I knew this but somehow missed the error while proofreading/editing the piece. It was the end of January 2010 when Mufidah and I got together after that lovely lunch we shared at the Buttercup Café during which we first really connected with one another, beyond our professional relationship centered around my Lewes teaching venue.