A Few Days in the Perigord

And a few days away from the problems of my fictional photographers.

Danny and Hago by the Vézère River

Hago and Danny arrived for a brief visit and we took off for the Dordogne, which we all knew only from Martin Walker’s Bruno series of detective novels. Bruno’s almost superhuman wisdom, compassion, and perspective are a bit unbelievable, but the sense of place Walker evokes is tremendously inviting, so off we went: TGV to Bordeaux, rental car to our base in Sarlat.

Bruno lives in the fictional village of Saint-Denis, which exists only in Walker’s imagination, but he creates the place with bits and pieces of regional towns including Sarlat, Les Eyzies, Beynac, and Saint Cyprien.

The Village of Sarlat
Sarlat Store Display
The Village of Beynac

We arrived too late for the Saturday market and left before the Wednesday edition, but there’s no problem finding good food in Sarlat—if you like duck. Magret, dried magret, gizzards, confit, any way you want it.  But there’s also goose, beef, pork, and, thank heavens, fish. They grow a lot of corn around here but most of it goes to feed the ducks and geese; other vegetables make rare appearances, except of course potatoes, which Bruno—who can be found in the kitchen when he’s not chasing bad guys or coaching rugby—fries in duck fat. Just writing this is hardening my arteries and generating a craving for lettuce.

Fois Gras and a Glass of Monbazillac

We did occasionally push away from the table and do our touring duty by exploring a cave and boating on the Dordogne River. Cave access is limited. We didn’t arrive early enough to get into our first choice—did I mention the lovely Bergerac wines?—and second place was a letdown. The visible etchings were underwhelming, although my vision may have been less than keen after the third time I hit my head. This is not a great adventure for people over six feet tall with aging knees. The boat ride was more relaxing; I might better describe it as nap-inducing. Not at all a bad thing.

Dordogne River

For me, the best parts that didn’t involve eating and drinking were just walking through the villages. There’s a distinctive architectural style of light stone or masonry walls, peaked roofs clad in brown stone tiles and turrets capped with witches’ hats. It’s charmingly traditional and pretty consistent until you get to the main street of Saint-Cyprien.

The Village of Saint-Cyprien
The War Memorial of St. Cyprien

I cannot explain this. I asked a street sweeper if there was a fête going on and he told me no, that’s on the first of July. So I asked if the town was always decorated like this and he decided to have a little fun with the tourist rube, telling me it was the work of fantômes. I thanked him and looked for the tourist office but it was closed for lunch.

Saint Cyprien Art

A Parisian Pizza Place

Paris has something for everyone. Last night I stumbled on the restaurant for people eating alone on a Sunday night. Check out the photo. The woman next to me is writing in a journal. Next to her is a woman reading. Behind the wine glass is a man writing in a journal. I’m the one taking pictures.

We’re in a nondescript Italian restaurant just off the Boulevard St. Germain, across the street from Les Deux Magots. Patricia Wells and David Lebovitz are not regulars here.

When I arrived around 7:30 – early for Parisian dinner but I was hungry – there was one other customer in the room, a man in his fifties, reading a magazine and eating a pizza. Since his magazine was in French and he seemed to know the waiter, I took him for a native. He was drinking only water. He was nearly finished when I sat down and left before my pizza arrived. Then came the reading woman. She ordered lasagna and a half bottle of wine and settled into her book. The woman next to me polished off a cheese pizza in about three minutes, pushed her plate aside, and began to write in her journal. The man behind the wine glass ordered a glass of red wine and wrote in his journal without taking a sip. His pizza arrived before I left but he continued writing as it cooled.

Some obvious questions arise:

Why are you eating pizza in Paris?

Well, as Abe Scherl once said: “You can’t eat gourmet every night.”

Why are you alone in Paris?

I don’t wish to discuss that. Other questions?

It’s just that it seems like a long way to go for a Sunday night pizza. You could have gone to Giorgio’s.

I didn’t come to Paris for the pizza. Anyone else?

Yes. Excuse me, sir, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that all the patrons you describe are, how shall I put it, of a certain age?

Yes. Next question.

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that you find yourself there.

What are you implying?

Only that however unintentional it may have been, you may have found yourself in the right place.

The pizza wasn’t bad. Next question:

How much wine did you drink at dinner?

I don’t see that’s any of your business, but just for the record: a picher of 50cl.

How much is that in American?

About 2/3 of a bottle.

What else did you drink?

Just a cognac at the hotel honor bar when I returned.

Only one?

Yes, a large one.

I see and are you going to publish this tonight?

Well, I might wait and read it in the morning.

What else are you going to do tomorrow?

©2015 Ron Scherl



Back in Maury

Just returned from five days in Spain with Barbara doing what we do best, eating and drinking. Having not seen each other for 15 months, it took us all of about 15 seconds to fall back into our normal patterns and habits; all the history revives the common references without even trying. Change would have been much more difficult.

Barbara flew into Barcelona and after a stop at the Boqueria to stock the kitchen we came up to Maury for Barbara to meet friends and recover from jet lag. Off to Leucate for oysters, then packed the Twingo and headed down the coast, lunch at Sitges then on to Tarragona for warm sunshine, café sitting and tapas.

A couple of diversions along the way to Valencia gave us a great lunch at a restaurant in Gandesa that looked like the dining room of a Holiday Inn in 1970 (I’ll leave it to Barbara to add a comment on her pigs feet carpaccio). Then a little way down the road we found ourselves on a tiny car ferry crossing the Ebro River to get to Miravet and its famous castle, which was closed for lunch. The ferry was a treat though, just a steel platform mounted on two small motor boats.

Spain: Miravet Ferry, Barbara ©2012 Ron Scherl

Valencia is a lovely city and we took a few long walks, dined on paella and went sightseeing at the Central Market, actually Barbara insisted on breaking the pattern and actually going to a museum that wasn’t even about food or wine, but we did get to see some of the portraits of Joaquin Sorolla, who paints the most astonishing eyes. It wasn’t long before we restored our balance with a couple of glasses of Cava in a nice bar at the beach.

Spain: Valencia Bar 39 ©2012 Ron Scherl

Another morning at the market before heading back to Barcelona for the last night. Banys-Orientales is a nice hotel in the Gothic Quarter, which is being revived and renewed with artist studios, boutiques, trendy bars and the most amazing – and probably the most expensive – grocery store, wine bar in town. Order a glass of wine and wander over to the cheese and ham section, have another and you may not even notice the prices. A tapas dinner in the Eixample district and we were done.

Spain: Valencia Central Market

Barbara flew back the next morning and I returned to Maury and an invitation to the end of harvest party at Domaine des Enfants: wine from Marcel, sushi from Pascal his intern, guacamole from Carrie, and wild boar from Taieb the hunter, quite a menu. The Tramontane was blowing, the temperature was dropping into the 30s but the crowd was warm, the food was great and someone kept filling the photographer’s glass.

Domaine des Enfants Harvest Party 2012 ©2012 Ron Scherl

Les Amorioles

This is a great event. It’s known as a balade and consists of a walk of about three miles through the vineyards on a beautiful spring day when the vines are green and the fruit is forming, the fields in between are a riot of wildflowers, and the temperature is 75-80o. Along the way, you’ll stop at six stations, each has one course in a complete meal designed to complement the wines of the terroir available to taste from the 26 participating wineries. The winemakers are there to answer questions and there are several guides on the trail to provide information on grape varietals, soil composition and geological history of the region. The dessert stage is at a plaza in town where a fine jazz combo plays standards in a mellow ending to the day.

The event is sponsored by the winemakers with support from regional council tourism funds. It’s great PR and it sells wine. At the last stop you can buy any of the featured wines and they seemed to be selling well. This is hands-on and local, and when a wine sells out the winemaker rushes back to his cave to get more.

It’s fun, educational, delicious; totally without pretension and you get some exercise too. It’s hard to imagine feeling better about spending a day eating and drinking.

But I was working. I’d been invited to participate, knew to bring my cameras along and for me it was an assignment. I knew there was no money in this but I coveted the t-shirt. I also knew there would be material for my book and blog and an opportunity to meet many winemakers I didn’t already know. So I took it seriously and went to work and for me that means I didn’t eat and didn’t taste (mostly). I know, I know, men are not very good at multi-tasking, but that’s the way I have to work. I don’t make good photos when I’m on vacation or tasting wine.

So when I finished the walk and met up with the leaders, the first thing they asked was “Did I enjoy the food?” I said I didn’t eat. No food, no wine tasting. I said there was too much work I wanted to do. Bernard responded: “There is work and there is life, you must have both.” I love the French, they really talk like this.

Pierrette asked me to stay for the grillade but I was done. I had a shower, some wine, cheese and ibuprophen and went to bed.


I really like Perpignan. There’s life in the streets, in the plazas and the bars, which are half in the streets anyway. It’s truly a Catalan city, much smaller than Barcelona and I think, more easily accessible. There’s a vibrant cultural scene with a new theatre and a special interest in photography due to the presence of Visa Pour l’Image. When people find out I’m a photographer, they always ask if I know about Visa, an indication of the extent to which this festival of photojournalism has become part of the city that hosts it. I also need a regular hit of city life.

Saturday, Marcel, Carrie and I went into Perpignan and started the day with lunch at a place we’ve come to call “the ham man.” Marcel and Carrie are the only people I know who eat more pork than me. L’homme de Jambon is a storefront in the central part of the city with three or four tables outside and some great pork. A nice mixed platter with jamon, lomo, some sausage, manchego and pan con tomate goes very well with a cheap rose. It’s nice being so close to Spain. It’s also nice sitting in the sun across from a florist and the lovely woman who works there, who I wanted to invite to the exhibition opening. Alas, she wasn’t working this week.

Salsa Dancing in Perpignan ©2012 Ron Scherl

Around the corner to the café-encircled Place de la Republique for a coffee and the unexpected diversion of a salsa dancing class. Spanish ham, Latin dancing, French cafes, this is a very cool city.

By now the shops had reopened after lunch and we set about bringing exhibition posters and post cards to the wine stores, finding most everyone receptive although Michele was non-committal about coming to the opening.

Michele ©2012 Ron Scherl

Getting on to time for an apero, which means the wine and tapas bars are opening and more places to bring posters and stop for a glass. There are a number of great little bars in the central city and it’s a pleasure to be hanging there. We also discovered there’s a Cava festival in town next weekend, a perfect time to bring more posters and cards.

Perpignan ©2012 Ron Scherl

Having spent the day eating and drinking, it was now time for dinner and we found ourselves eating Asian food and drinking Spanish wine in the Havana Club. This was multicultural overload. The Cuban/Chinese connection shows up in a number of restaurants but Thai noodles at the Havana Club in Perpignan? Seemed a stretch to me. It was. Not bad, but definitely not Thai. The Havana Club is known more for it’s lively bar scene but tonight was quiet. Marcel suggested a nightcap, but I was done.

Saying Good Bye

So I’m launched on a farewell tour, friends and places that I love, doing things that may not happen again, but no guarantees.

Today was lunch with Larry. Now this is undoubtedly not the last time we’ll lunch together because Larry and Mary Ann are partners in the Maury house and we’ll not only eat together in France, but I suspect they’ll show up again in this blog. But Larry and I meet often for lunch and not infrequently in North Beach as we did today and I’ll miss these times.

The lunch menu at Capp’s Corner… today. The food is good and it fits our budget. It also works for Jerry Brown.  Our famously thrifty governor was also lunching at Capp’s today, with friends, without an entourage. The last time we ran into the governor was a few weeks ago at Tommaso’s, San Francisco’s best pizzeria. So I’m thinking the Governor and I share a taste for good Italian food in an unpretentious setting, which may explain why I always find voting for him to be a very satisfying experience.

The first time I met Governor Brown was in 1976. He was in his first term and I was shooting for Time Magazine.

Governor Brown
California Governor Jerry Brown Photo ©1976 Ron Scherl











Now he’s back in office, trying to make sense of a political system gone haywire. Good luck Governor, I wish you well.

Enough politics, Larry and I went on to the North Star and Comstock and discussions of Brooklyns, Manhattans and aged Rivesaltes. Diversity is truly a wonderful thing.