Monday, June 23, 2014


THURSDAY JUNE 19, 2014 – Last night at around 7 p.m. I received a text informing us that our train to Cannes this morning had been cancelled.

Marti and I had the bad luck to have scheduled our brief getaway in the sun during a nationwide rail strike. In protest of a planned restructuring of the French rail system, unions had decided to shut ‘em down. Summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the streets.

I called an audible. I went online and booked a rental car, then we phoned our favorite inn in Normandy and reserved a room and dinner for the next night. In the morning we took our previously reserved town car to the train station to pick up our ride from Avis (a big Opel Zafira). We had it all of ten minutes before it broke down in heavy traffic. I went ballistic. Marti and I waited nearly an hour on the Quai Montebello, across from Notre Dame, for a tow truck to haul away the Hell car. It was another 20 minutes before Avis’ taxi arrived to take us back to their office to cancel the contract.

Meanwhile Marti called Karim, this morning's driver from Chauffeur Privé -- my favorite app-based car service -- to negotiate a rate to take us to our destination. And by noon we were finally rolling!

My bride and I settled into the comfy back seat of the Peugeot 508. Bottles of water and a phone charger were at our disposal as Karim wove us safely through strike-clogged Paris traffic onto the Autoroute and into gorgeous Normandy. I even caught a petite sieste en route. Finally we arrived at Le Pavé d’ Hôtes in the beautiful hamlet of Beuvron-en-Auge.

Mme. Bansard showed us to our charming room overlooking her garden. We quickly stashed our bags and headed into the center of town, a five-minute walk.

We discovered Beuvron-en-Auge 23 years ago right after we moved to Paris. I had seen a photo spread about the protected village in the Figaro Sunday Magazine. Plus Beaux Villages de France is an association that includes 156 villages spread over 21 regions and 69 départements. Their mission: “We aim to avoid certain pitfalls such as villages turning into soulless museums or, on the contrary, ‘theme parks’. Our well-reasoned and passionate ambition is to reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred-year-old lime and plane trees.” Marti and I drove up on one of the May 1991 holidays and fell in love with the place. We took parents and friends here in those early days, en route to the nearby D-Day beaches, but it had been 20 years since our last visit.

By now we were both starving. Not to worry. This was Normandy. These hardy country folk are all about the food. We downed a late lunch of buckwheat crepes. Marti had ham, cheese and egg.

I went all-in native: melted Camembert, Livarot and Pont l'Evéque cheeses with caramelized apples in Pommeau apple liqueur. Accompanied by a bowl of demi-sec cider.

My favorite little shopper. Because Beuvron-en-Auge is so small (pop. 222), the level of teeth-hurting quaintness is not as overwhelming as say, Old Town Alexandria or Cape Cod. And the focus here is on FOOD, not chintz.

Marti snapped this rare photodocument: Me. The chronic nighthawk. Out in the actual sun.

Marti interrupted her shopping mission long enough to conduct initial research on the menu at Chef Jérôme Bansard’s Pavé d'Auge restaurant gastronomique, where we'd be dining that evening.

On the walk back to the auberge, Marti and I encountered these farmyard quackers. The guy on the left seems unhappy that his two associates are discussing the possibility that he may be featured on tonight's Pavé d'Auge menu. "Hey! I'm right here at the watering trough, you guys!"

When we found a piggy in the farmyard, I immediately did an impression of him. "Have you seen my cousin? I think he may be at the restaurant . . . " Sure enough, Chef Bansard had already paid a recruitment visit.

Dinner was amazing. As a starter we both ordered the Demi-homard de Carteret décortiqué, grillé tiède sur une rémoulade de pomme-céleri. (Lobster on a bed of apple-celery slaw.)

Ris de veau cuit au beurre, carottes-petit-pois-laitue au lard, jus de veau. (Sweetbreads to die for.) Offal guy that I am, I was a happy chappy!

Marti’s main: Carré de porcelet aux girolles, tomates confites, émulsion à la moutarde Fallot. (Piggy chops, chanterelles, mustard emulsion.)

“Ya gotta be faster on the trigger to shoot a Before Pic of my tarte aux pommes tièdes, glace tatin et pommes caramélisées, Smart Phone Boy!” I had a taste. An inspired variation on the classic tarte tatin.

We both had a selection of cheeses before dessert. I spoke with Chef Bansard about my sugar issues, and he obligingly prepared an off-the-menu array of fresh fruit for me.

You could say we had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat: Rail strike > aborted Cannes trip > rental car fail > Karim from Chauffeur Privé to the rescue > Normandy idyll. Aaahhh.

FRIDAY JUNE 20, 2014 – Next morning we chilled at the crib. Delicious brekkie overlooking the garden. A bit of Interwebbing via WiFi and a chat with Mme. Bansard, who arranged for a taxi to take us later to the train station in Caen. The Iron Horses were running again.

Mme. Bansard’s plantings reminded me of my mom’s informal yet prize-winning gardens back in East Longmeadow, Mass. She became so proficient at green-thumbing that the other mulching broads elected her president of the Garden Club.

Brilliant sunshine. Temps in the 70s F. Certainly there are worse settings for a serious chillax.

L’église Saint-Martin de Beuvron en Auge, constructed 1640 – 1643.

Intimate. Lovely. These days one welcomes such a sanctuary from all the atheists who are so aggressively outspoken that they’ve ended up organizing non-belief into a religion itself. (Without seeing the fucking irony!)

Local specialties. Time for some Mr. Phil shopping.

Some people haul home tee-shirts and kitschy souvenir curios from their getaways. Not me. I want those homemade regional delicacies for my larder.

Lunch at Café Forges, a third Bansard property. We ran into the chef at this great little place, told him again how much we’d enjoyed dining at his main restaurant the evening before. It turns out we’d been on the Pavé d'Auge Mayflower: he’s had the resto 24 years; we first ate there during his initial months of operation. This afternoon I opted for the signature Tripes a la mode de Caen (Baked tripe with Calvados). Killer. Marti had a steak with out-of-this-world fried potatoes. I’m guessing Mr. Lard was involved. We split a traditional "teurgoule" (slow baked rice pudding with cinnamon) for dessert. Livin’ the life, for sure.

After a long, leisurely lunch we strolled around the village. I bought a little cookbook at the tourist center and I’ve been rockin’ the recipes ever since we got home.

Cider, cheese, Calvados, Pommeau. Directly from the producers. I could go nuts here.

After the late-afternoon taxi transfer to Caen, an easy train ride home to Paris and a temporary Chauffeur Privé fuckup (like we needed another shoe to drop), Marti and I finally wound up in a town car headed for home. View from the sunroof.

I hope it rained in Cannes.

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