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Fun with Katherine, Part 2

October 17, 2014

My mind is such a sieve that I need this blog just so I don’t forget what has happened on this trip. I’m reaching back to last Sunday, which dawned dark and stormy, with a lashing wind. When I hoofed up to the boulangerie to get our croissants at 8:30, there was no sign of the Sunday market. After breakfast we went up again, and the market had been cancelled, due to the foul weather, I assume. That turned out to cause us all kinds of angst later.

Our rainy day plan was to go to Carcassonne, a bit over an hour west of here. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must for anyone visiting this part of France. The other item on the agenda was to get cassoulet, also an integral part of the Languedoc-Rousillon experience, and to do so in Castelnaudary, supposedly where this iconic dish was invented — or at least it claims to be the world capital.  Since we didn’t want to spend one more moment than necessary being hungry, we decided cassoulet would come first.

So we headed out of Capestang, Katherine shooting this video of the canopy of plane trees lining the road west.

The further west we went, the clearer the weather became, which was totally unexpected. Nevertheless, the attractive town of Castelnaudary was quiet, and it was easy to get a table at La Maison du Cassoulet, which seemed like a logical place to get what we wanted.

CassouletFor those unfamiliar with it, cassoulet is a rich stew with a base of lingot beans (similar to our navy beans), sausage (authentic cassoulet uses the Toulouse version, which I can’t really compare to anything except homemade), and duck confit (a duck leg baked in its own fat). The dish in which it’s baked for hours is called a cassole. If you try to make an authentic cassoulet at home, it takes about three days.

This was really good — obviously rich, the beans creamy but not mushed, duck meat falling off the bone, sausage tender and a bit spicy, and a crusty top. The frisée salad with a simple mustard vinaigrette was just right to balance the richness, and we washed it down with a nice little red Corbières.

After a short walk around town to get the digestive juices flowing, we made for Carcassonne.  One’s first glance of La Cité, the old fortified town, is awe-inspiring, as it looks like something out of a fairy tale. Once you cross the drawbridge and go through the gates, however, it’s a big disappointment. Clogged with tourists and shops selling tacky souvenirs, it reminded me of San Gimignano in Tuscany. The good news is you can skip all that and tour around the old castle. Carcassonne was sacked early in the Albigensian crusade, later becoming an important part of the fortifications between France and Aragon; and, after falling into ruin and almost being demolished, was only fully restored in the 19th century. In fact, the Norman-style slate-roofed turrets were a fanciful affectation of the architect and not strictly authentic.

Carcassonne 1               Katherine in Carcassone

As we were leaving, Katherine spotted this sign —

Self Service cemetery— and said, puzzled, “Self-service cemetery??” One time when the Spanish-French connection let her down. (It actually indicates no entry except for cemetery services.)

Our last objective for the day was to pick up a good roast chicken for dinner. This is where the market cancellation left us confounded, because nowhere, not even in a supermarket, could we find a poulet rôti on a Sunday afternoon. So dinner was cheese, bread, olives, grapes and anchoïade, which turned out to be just fine, followed by the movie, “Chef.”

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