Burgundy: I’m Not the First to Yank the Snail

I just met my film crew, Simon and Peter, in Burgundy. Steve Smith — my favorite Francophile (and co-author of my France guidebook and Manager of Tour Planning) — has joined us, too. I’m done researching guidebooks and for the next four weeks we’re making TV — four new episodes: Burgundy, great Swiss cities, Czech Republic (without Prague), and Vienna with the Danube.

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It’s fun to get back into the TV production mode. Each day is an odyssey. Five of them add up to a 30-minute episode. Today was no exception:

This morning was market day in Beaune — I bought a big golden baguette to fit in. Locals treat their reusable shopping bag as an accessory. Lots of little dogs.

We’ll be cooking up some snails in this show — and I learned something a little disappointing about escargot. I always thought when I dragged a snail out of his shell, I was the first to do so. But no. Snails are purchased in a jar, prepared, and then stuffed into reusable shells that aren’t even theirs to be cooked. In a charcuterie you can buy them pre-stuffed with all the garlic and butter packed in…or by the jar with a pile of empty shells (although most French people have a huge supply of empties already at home).

Midday was in a medieval hill town — perfect for illustrating the administrative headquarters of a feudal lord whose church and castle came with commanding views of his domain. The population of Brancion is down to about one family — and François is both the grandfather and the mayor. When we stopped at his place for lunch, he couldn’t fathom the fact that we needed to eat quickly, then shoot.

The French keep lunch sacred. When I’m filming and push the schedule, I’m convinced they do their best to sabotage my mission to keep the work momentum going. I got frustrated as we fell behind schedule.

At Brancion’s stark and humble Romanesque church, I did a video trick I’ve always wanted to do: walk out of a serene religious space and disappear into the light (which is what you do when you expose for the inside, which causes the sky outside the door “burn out”).

Next stop: Cluny — headquarters of a chain of about a thousand monasteries that actually rivaled the Vatican as the greatest power center in Christendom back in the 11th century. We parked right in the town center, and while Simon and Peter set out to shoot, I fumbled with coins for the meter. As the meter maid walked by and saw this, she said, “J’ai fini mon travail.” (Don’t bother…I’m done working for the day.)

While Cluny’s church was once the biggest anywhere, today almost nothing is left. Great history here…but very little to actually see. That meant lots of “on-camera” presentation of information. And covering the script “on camera” means it is unchangeable later — so accuracy is critical. And it’s hard to get precise when distilling the complicated story of monastic orders into a nutshell — as we need to do for TV.

For instance, one of today’s “on-cameras” had me saying, “The abbey’s success has been attributed to a series of wise leaders or abbots. In fact, four of the first six abbots actually became saints. They didn’t answer to kings or bishops, but directly to the pope. They preached the principles of piety and the art of shrewd fundraising. Piety — they got people to stop looting the monasteries. Shrewd fundraising — they convinced Europe’s wealthy landowners to will their estates to the monasteries in return for perpetual prayers for the benefit of their needy and frightened souls.” I confirmed this with a delightful but not very scholarly local guide.

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We wrapped up Cluny at exactly 6:00 and drove to Taizé. After all the ruined thousand-year-old monasteries, I wanted to show a contemporary monastery. Taizé (www.taize.fr) is a Christian Woodstock with thousands of young pilgrims here on retreat each week. We staked out a square meter in the vast and simple church as, like a worshipful rising tide, 3,000 young people from 100 countries flooded in. It was all Steve and I could do to hold our spot until Simon and Peter (good Biblical names for the gig) joined us.

The immense congregation sat knee-to-knee on the floor, holding candles and singing chants of praise round and round while being led in worship by fifty white-robed brothers. Looking up from my cross-legged position at the big camera atop its tripod capturing this phenomenal gathering capped the day perfectly. (More on our shooting in Burgundy in a future blog. It’s 1:00 a.m. and I’m beat.)


10 Replies to “Burgundy: I’m Not the First to Yank the Snail”

  1. Yes, that’s how they sell escargot here in US at World Market – snails in one jar, shells in another. I don’t bother with the shells, just flame the snails in brandy, butter, parsley, and garlic, have a loaf of good bread ready – heaven!

  2. Our travels in France have been a thoroughly enjoyable experience — it’s truly an exciting and beautiful country. The towns we’ve visited, the sights we’ve seen, the people we’ve met. Eight other countries (Andorra, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, and Switzerland) border on France, and we have crossed those frontiers more than fifty times, and have visited some parts of France at least a dozen times. The RV is a convenient way to travel, we have not spent even one night in a hotel in France. Most of what we find of interest is not time-dependent. For example, the Romans constructed an amphitheater in Nimes in 50 AD; the Abbey at Mont-St.-Michel dates from the 1000’s; the Crusades Army left Aigues-Mortes for the Holy Land in the mid-1200’s; Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was completed about 1345; the Louvre became a museum in the late 1700’s, so what we saw during our 1995 trip hadn’t changed in any important way since the first time we were in France, in 1970.

  3. I’m sure people enjoy their snails, but ewwww for me! I didn’t know you had to get the snail bodies separate and then stuff them in a shell. I look forward to watching the new show you’re shooting, Rick! Have fun!

  4. Wow, you must be quite dedicated to your work to have to rush through a French lunch. Not much would make me rush through that delicious moment of the day. I just got back yesterday from a month-long trip (1/2 of the trip with my students) through Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and France — recently spending a couple of days in Lyon where I sopped up every last drop of the butter-garlic-parsley liquid gold that bathed my escargots with bits of glorious bread. I suppose not being the 1st to drag the snail from its shell can be a bit like traveling: you may not be the first to experience the delights of it, but what matters is that you savor what you’ve got in front of you. p.s. Your books (as everyone says) were so helpful to me (and my students) throughout my trip. We learned a lot from you. I even used your podcasts for the audioguide tours in France; 3 we also discovered a lot on our own, carving our own paths and letting our independent travelers’ spirits soar.

  5. Natasha, your recipe sounds delicious!! Would you mind posting your actual recipe or post a place where I could get a recipe? I had escargot in Paris earlier this year and fell in culinary love. I’d love to try to repeat the experience here at home. Thanks!

  6. Too bad about the snails — I’ll refrain from wondering how exactly they sanitize (or not) the shells. They taste too good to bear much dwelling on. I look forward to this episode!

  7. Karen, I do it the way my husband cooked them, he was Swiss and a professional chef. Melt butter in a pan, add chopped garlic, chopped parsley and saute it all a bit (garlic should never become brown). Then when it simmers and starts to smell good, add escargot. Sautee it while turning it with a spoon a few times. Not long, though, it is important not to overcook escargot or it will be tough like rubber. Then add a bit of brandy (or white wine) and turn the pan very quickly in such a way that the whole thing swirls and catches a bit of fire. If you are afraid to do the flaming, you don’t have to, it will be good all the same. I can’t tell you the measurments,I never measure. I use butter, parsley, and garlic very liberally, because that becomes the best part, that heavenly thick sauce. I buy escargot at Cost Plus (World Market), a big jar is about 10 dollars, excellent quality escargot. Give it a try, you can’t really go wrong here, it is a very simple and quick dish.

  8. I was at Taizé when Rick was there on July 28 and we spoke briefly after the service (I was the typical annoying fan that just had to chat!). It was great to see him there sharing the life and work of the Taizé community with the world. It is an amazing place for youth and for those of us who are too old to be called youth! I am really looking forward to seeing the episode.

  9. Wow! Taize sounds wonderful! A Christian revival of faith in France! Made my day. Those people’s faces look absolutely beatific! Thanks for filming that, Rick. You are so balanced in everything you cover, and bring the ambience right through the screen.I’m at home awaiting hip surgery, and it’s great to travel with you. My son has brought me your complete set of DVD’s, and I’ve had a virtual holiday. Keep on traveling, and be blessed.

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