Watch out for the Cheese Man

Bonnes, Charentes, south western France

The garden here is a treat.

............It was market day today, in Riberac, so off we went in two cars. I had the person who knew the way as my passenger so we were leading the station wagon full of bouncy family, who are also visiting the household at the moment. While my trip was edge-of-the-seat, full concentration, alert, lightning reflexes and precision steering, scraping daredevillishly past churches and barns on elbow bends, those in the rear, I understand, nodded off at our 45 kph pace.

My passenger was aware that I usually drive in Australia in an automatic rather than on the right with gears, and in order to put her mind at rest I mentioned that I’m a very safe driver- and have only ever had one ticket which was for untidy parking...at which instant, having successfully negotiated a roundabout, I found myself, car, and passenger shooting out into the path of and then having to floor the accelerator to avoid colliding with the black 4WD which was already whizzing around the second roundabout which was attached to the first without anybody telling me. The chef friend of the household who was driving the car following us later explained to me, for future reference, that the red triangle in France means you’re meant to slow down, not accelerate.

The market was full of colour and texture and smells and umbrellas and music. Strawberries were soft and warm and delicious, doughnuts were tender and the flavour surprisingly not sweet for the wicked look of them, and we were warned about the cheese man.

The Cheese Man. There are several and I can’t swear which one it is so be generally afraid.

He offers you a taste. The cheese is delicious. You, in an unsuspecting, trusting sort of market day good humoured earthy kind of way say, thank you, monsieur, that’s lovely, I’ll have a bit. He smiles. His knife flashes and the wedge is wrapped. It costs you 20 euros (about $30.00). You pale at the realisation of how much of your holiday piggybank has just gone on a bit of curdled milk. Many tourists share this experience as their central recollection of Riberac, possibly of the region, maybe even of France.

The locals who want cheese accept the sample, say merci, I’ll just have 120 grams.

Those in the know who DON’T want cheese accept the sample, said merci, then leave.



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A trip to the supermarket (wine and groceries and clothing all rubbing shoulders...the prices on the shelves are LCD displays which I suspect are changed from a central computer...you push a one euro coin into the trolley to unchain it from its colleagues, then retrieve your euro when you return the trolley to its shackles...no bags or boxes are provided...you weigh your own produce and punch the little button with its picture on it to print out your own pricetag) and once again it is amazing to see not only the same brands of toothpaste as in Australia or Canada, but that the French have to solve the same dilemma- do I want white teeth, or strong teeth, fizzy teeth, fresh breath, baking soda, new flavour, tartar reduction, cavity protection,or triple action. There isn’t one tube of toothpaste to simply get dinner off your teeth.

A drama class was held at the house this afternoon for adolescents, which is how the household earns its income. Delightful kids. English, French and Dutch. They enjoy a romp in English after their formal French days at school.

Out to dinner with my hosts- gradually less nail-biting weaving about the countryside in the car but I still take it slowly- old French house, wonderful food, good conversation, home in the dark with light rain. Two navigators. They live here. We get lost on the way home (no, it wasn’t the church she thought it was after all, which became apparent when a water tower appeared which wasn’t supposed to be there)

Fun day. On Monday I’ll go and look at some houses with the real estate agent at whose house we had dinner. She is also a cultural transplant and doesn’t feel her home of 21 years is “home”.

What is “home”?