16 January 2009

Its Truffle Season!

It is the week of the international truffle festival here in Sarlat and I’m not talking about chocolate. This particular region of France is known for its truffles, a particular type of mushroom, and everybody here makes a very big deal about it. Students at my school took the afternoon off to visit the festival where you can buy the pricey mushrooms, buy infused oils, chocolates, and see demonstrations about how truffles are found. The town has cordoned off the area around the cathedral and turned it into a mini forest complete with a dilapidated “shack” and trees and Friday and Saturday people from the area can see how truffles are found and gathered. For the past couple of Saturday’s the truffle market has been in full swing here with some of the mushrooms selling for as much as 1,000 euros/kg. Of course, nobody buys a kilo of truffles but still I couldn’t believe how expensive they are. Truffles actually smell quite good and connoisseurs here can be seen sniffing the same mushroom over and over again. Needless to say I won’t be purchasing any truffles this weekend.

Truffle gathering area next to the cathedral.

Price tag on one group of truffles.

Last week my friend, Ali, from home visited. She arrived at the Bergerac airport which apparently is little more than a tin shed. Two tin sheds to be exact, one for arrivals one for departures. As soon as one plane lands and clears, people waiting to depart board the waiting plane to take off. There also isn’t a baggage carrousel and everybody is responsible for their own luggage. I, having never used the airport, had no idea it was so primitive and had been told there was a bus to shuttle people to the train station. But alas, there was no bus and Ali was stranded at the airport until she got a taxi. We stayed in Sarlat for the week and then headed to Paris for the weekend where we saw the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and visited the Louvre. We also went out to eat by the Eiffel Tower Friday night for my birthday. I was thrilled to replenish my supply of English books before heading home Sunday.
Ali in Paris.
Side of Notre Dame.
Les Tuileries gardens in winter.

The sales are also going on in France right now. Stores are only allowed to have sales in January and July so typically every store is jam packed with people looking for deals. However, this isn’t the case this year. France is sort of going through the financial crisis, however, there economic system is very different than ours and most people don’t have credit cards or mortgages simply because they are difficult to get. Still, French people are very worried about what they see happening around them and most have stopped spending money. There are at least 7 stores closing right now in Sarlat which is roughly the size of Brookings. I think that this area was particularly hit hard because a lot of people living around here are British retirees living off British pensions and as the pound continues to fall against the euro, they’ve stopped buying anything that’s not absolutely necessary. The last summer’s tourist season was also the worst in over ten years. All in all, things aren’t looking very bright here. High school students have started striking again in Paris and the national train system has been striking as well. My school is striking along with most other schools in France January 29th. But I suppose things could be worse. We could have feet of snow and deathly cold temperatures, but today it was sunny and about 50 degrees.
Update: In honor of the truffle festival, I had a truffle infused coffee at the coffee shop today and it was amazing. I dont know who thought of putting mushroom oil in coffee but I love them. Here's a link to an article on the BBC that will brighten your day:

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