Lancaster Bomber. Photo © SNappa2006, via flickr Creative Commons

More than 70 years ago, Marcel Croteau, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Forces’ 425 Alouettes Squadron and my uncle, was flying nightly bombing raids over France.

Because of his role in those long-ago missions, Croteau is being inducted as a knight (chevalier) into France’s Order of the Legion of Honour today. It is the highest honour the French government confers.

It is one of many ceremonies taking place this year in which the French government is paying tribute to Canadian veterans who participated in the 1944 D-Day invasion to liberate France from Nazi Germany. This event is taking place in Sechelt, where 91-year-old Croteau, a former Victoria-area resident, now lives.

The smiles and congratulations of the 100 friends and family who will gather later today will provide a marked contrast to the night-time tensions experienced during the D-Day–related raids….


Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….


09. October 2012 · Enter your password to view comments. · Categories: France

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Les Jacobins, Toulouse

Les Jacobins was built by St-Dominic to ensure the converted heretics didn't revert after the fall of Toulouse during the Albigensian Crusade.

Les Jacobins, Toulouse

Polychromatic decor in les Jacobins









Les Jacobins, Toulouse

Glass-filtered light on the inner walls of les Jacobins

Saint-Sernin Basilica, Toulouse

Saint-Sernin Basilica is another of Saint-Dominic's post-crusade construction / evangelical efforts in Toulouse

Saint Sernin Basilica organ

St-Sernin Basilica organ

Carving, Toulouse

Toulouse façade

Scrolling grillwork is common on old-Toulouse façades

Buses stop running on many routes in Toulouse at 8:30 P.M. Which is right about the time we made it to the bus stop after an afternoon seeing the sights and dining early (for France). A bus that earlier would have taken us directly to our hotel did eventually come along, but the driver informed us that service was finished. Instead he wrote out directions for an alternate way back—one that required three transfers.

I thanked him profusely, we returned to the sidewalk, and I turned to Gaston: “We’re taking a cab.”

Fortunately, the taxi was only €15. Clearly, this isn’t Victoria.

Back at the hotel, our next task was to find a gas station and fill up our rental car’s tank. We had filled up in Mirepoix earlier, so had almost a full tank, but the rental agency isn’t interested in “almost” full.

“Do you want me to come along?” I asked.

Gaston: “If you want to, I would be delighted.”

Mimi: “I’m thinking that, as it’s dark out and we don’t know the area, it will be easier if there’s a set of eyes watching for gas stations and directions, and one set of eyes watching the road.”

So off we merrily went, remembering vaguely from two years earlier, that we’d filled the then-rental tank en route to the airport, and that the route to the airport is well indicated.

However, we failed to remember in time—vaguely or otherwise—that the gas station the two-years-previous hotel staff had directed us to back then was off to the right at the first traffic circle. We instead followed the signs to the airport.

I’m happy to report that route to the Toulouse–Blagnac airport is indeed very well signed.

I’m not so happy to report that there are no gas stations along the route to the airport.

We arrived at the Departures level, swung around the roundabout, and headed back the way we came.

And you know what, the route back to our hotel from the airport is not signed at all.

In desperation—because, after all, we had cleaned the car out earlier in the day and so had no maps on hand—we took one of the exits to Centre ville (city centre), and headed towards the bright lights in the distance. After just having been driven through centre ville by a taxi driver who knows the town intimately, we quickly realized that navigating downtown Toulouse is not an experience for the inexperienced or for strangers-to-town up the creek without a map, so to speak, and we’d better find another way that avoided the maze that we were heading into.

A sign for the Péripherique (the ring road freeway) flashed by. The road curved and we drove along the bank of a canal. After some consideration, while Gaston was getting tenser and tenser at the wheel and beginning to breathe more and more shallowly, I laid out my Navigator’s plan: “The hotel is near Exit 29 off the Péripherique. Turn around. We’ll get back on the Péripherique and we’ll follow it around until we get to Exit 29, even if we have to drive all the way around the city.”

Gaston kept driving. A left-hand turn over the canal loomed.

“Turn here.”

“But …(blah, blah).”

“Just turn.”

He slowed at the lights, and turned over the dark water, and headed up the road on the other bank. At the next set of lights, he made to turn left again.

“Stop! Where are you going? The Péripherique is up ahead.”

“But what if that is the road by the hotel?”

“It’s not. The hotel is nowhere near the canal du Midi.”

“How do you know this is the canal du Midi?!”

“The hotel is nowhere near any canal. Keep straight on.”

Onward we went. Signs for the Péripherique and another major throughway appeared. We followed the arrows.

And merged onto a freeway, with signs indicating exits and routes to Boulogne, to Gaillhac, to Montpellier, back to the airport, and to the Péripherique, and cars and trucks whizzing past us.

“Go there,” I said, pointing to the exit that was upon us.

Gaston signalled, swung the car into the middle lane, made it into the exit lane, but couldn’t get through the traffic into the next lane to make the next exit off the exit.


Wailing and gnashing of teeth. “This is going to be a very, very long night,” Gaston said.

Montpellier, here we come.

Not at all what we had in mind.

Stunned, we kept going. Signs to the airport flashed by.

Then, suddenly, a sign for Purpan l’Hôpital.

It looked familiar. It looked very familiar.

“This is it! We’re on the Péripherique!”

Another sign: to l’Hôpital. And Exit 29!


We made it back to the hotel, but had even more room in the gas tank to fill up. This time, as we drove towards the first traffic circle by the hotel, I instructed Gaston to take the exit to the right, and yes, sure enough, there was a 24-hour supermarket with gas station about half a kilometre on.

As we drove up to it, we both exclaimed: “Ah, yes, I remember this!”




Pech; Puy; Pui; Puig; Pug; Pog

Montségur on its pog

Montségur on its pog



Chateau Puilaurens

Chateau Puilaurens

Puivert, Aude

Puivert, Aude

Gaston belies his French name in preferring a tankard of beer over a glass of wine any day. In fact, he professes to finding few wines palatable—Most engender a twist of the mouth and a shudder to swallow.

We were out for dinner at les Remparts in Mirepoix one evening, and being basically ignorant of local wines, I asked the waiter to suggest something red that would go nicely with both of our meals. A half-bottle, as we had to drive afterwards.

Of course, she suggested the most expensive half-bottle on the list.


Well, I did ask her advice, so we ordered it.

Gaston did the pretentious bit, swirled the glass, stuck his nose deep inside, snorted…. All to delay the inevitable grimace and shudder.

A sip: And a wormhole opened onto a whole new dimension in the Gaston multiverse.

It was lovely. Smooth, rich, and multilayered. He marvelled, he swirled some more, he examined the long, luscious legs (or larmes, if you’re French), and sipped some more.

We took down the name of the vignéron, but couldn’t—of course—find it in any of the shops.

Several days on, en route from Carcassonne to Bézier, I took full advantage of my prerogative as navigator to direct Gaston off the main autoroute onto smaller byways. One of these—conveniently and with deliberate planning on my part—brought us to Pépieux, the address of the winemaker.

“Shall we go for a wine tasting at a cave?” I suggested to Gaston. Knowing that his best interests are best served by following all directions and suggestions put forward by the Navigator, he agreed.

“Great. We’re looking for a left turn onto such-and-such highway.”

“Yes, memsahib.”

We drove through town and came out the other side. No highway north. We turned around and tried it from the other direction. Nothing. Then back again. Still nada.

By this time, it was about 3:00 in the afternoon, we’d had a very busy morning and a lingering lunch out, it was hot in the car, and I was tired, hot, and getting fed up with being in the car.

“What do you want to do?”

“There’s a supermarket up ahead. It’s September, the foire des vin (wine festival), the wine we’re looking for is as local as you can get: maybe the supermarket carries it.”

So we stopped in, walked in, found the four long aisles of wine, and scanned each shelf, bottle by bottle. No luck.

“What do you want to do?”

“Well, we’re here. We’re not likely to ever be here again, so let’s drive through town once more and see.”

Fourth time lucky. Right where the main road was at its narrowest, one ordinary town street intersected with our path at a 90º angle, stone buildings perched right on the corners, leaving maybe a foot for curb and sidewalk. A small, hand-written cardboard sign, about seven feet up: Massamier la Mignarde, with an arrow.

The highway north was so narrow, we had to stop and backup on the main road in order to make the turn.

Once out of town, an official directional sign, courtesy of the highway department: Massamier la Mignarde, 400 m. We checked our odometer.

At 300 metres, there was a turn to a closed gate. At 500 metres, we arrived at the intersection with highway DX. At the corner, a gravel road led into a farmyard. Nothing at 400 metres. So we turned around and drove back and forth again, just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, and to check to see if the gated driveway was more likely. We returned to the corner and peered into the farmyard. It was busy: trucks and small tractors were moving around.

“Let’s give it a try.”
We drove in, tentatively. We found a place out of the way to park. We got out of the car and looked around. A tiny, handwritten cardboard sign: Dégustations, with an arrow pointing around the corner (Tasting, with arrow).

We followed. Went down the slope and around the corner, and came to a deep, unlit archway connecting two buildings. On an even tinier handwritten sign next to a giant, iron-studded oak door: Dégustations: sonnez (Tastings: ring the bell). We pressed the buzzer and waited.

And waited.

Pressed again.

A few minutes later, an ancient bouvier came plodding around the corner and flopped down in the archway’s shade, panting.

Soon after, Madame arrived.

Bonjour, bonjour,Vous voulez dégoûter?”

We came away from the cave with a box of six bottles of wine to enjoy over the next week and to take home with us.

Cuvée Aubin and Domus maximus

Cuvée Aubin and Domus Maximus. The Domus is named for the Massamier estate, originally settled by a Roman named Maximus. Hence, the estate is Massamier, and the wine is House of Maximus.

And we did indeed return. The next fall, we found the place easily, knowing the tricks. Also the signage in Pépieux had improved. The harvest was scheduled to begin the following Monday, the young woman attending the cellar told us. The dog came and said hello.

And this year, when we drove up, old hands at navigating there, a young woman from Korea greeted us, which permitted Gaston to practice his six words of Korean with her. She treated us to a full tasting of each of the kinds of wines offered by the cave (although not each of the vintages). Halfway through, Madame appeared and joined us, but the dog didn’t. We asked her about it: “Ah, c’est triste. Il a été écraser par un camion le décembre passé.” (He was hit by a truck last December.) She went on to tell us how this long-time four-legged companion had served as her doorbell for years, alerting her to visitors to the farm who wanted to taste the cave’s wine before they’d even had a chance to walk around to the cave’s entrance and ring the buzzer. Gaston shared some of his bouvier de Flandres experience. We commiserated.

Another party had joined the tasting, but were interested only in getting a mouthful of the 2005 Domus, the vineyard’s premium libation, voted as the best wine in the world by the vignérons of France. It wasn’t on offer, but the 2009 was. They left.

We bought some of our favourite, and a couple of bottles of the 2008 Domus (there is no way we could afford the 2005). Madame threw in a bottle of rosé.

We like to think she did that because we asked about her dog.

Abbaye Villelongue

Abbaye Villelongue

Abbaye Villelongue

Abbaye Villelongue apse

Abbaye Villelongue apse

At the local supermarket last week, Gaston pronounced that he wanted to buy some of the pre-prepared packages of crème brûlée available in the refrigerator section.

It took a few nights for us to get to it. Last night, we indulged. Actually, we were clearing out the fridge. And Gaston was tasked with getting down, sticking his head into the gas oven, and determining how to light the broiler element.

No Sylvia Plath-imitations on my part, thank you very much.

The brûlée was good. It even had real vanilla powder.

Better yet, it still tasted good once I’d checked the ingredients on the package. Nothing was listed that my grand-mère wouldn’t have recognized.

It’s just as well we didn’t discover this treat earlier.