Of Oysters and Salamanders

The last couple of days flew by in a flurry of activities, leaving no peace to write. However, I simply have to post a couple of quick pictures of a delightful evening with friends in the city of Cognac.
Cognac, as you undoubtedly already know, is the birthplace of King Francois I. He became king by virtue of the Salic law of inheritance, which disallowed female succession to the throne. In Francois’ case, his two kingly predecessors died without qualified issue, so little Frankie slid into the monarchical role by default. By all accounts he was a great patron of the arts, especially promoting Italian artists of the Renaissance period when this art form had hitherto been unappreciated in France. Through his great love of the arts, Francois I introduced the royal custom of lavishly decorating residences and gardens with paintings, statuary and assorted precious knickknacks, which would eventually peak with the Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles. The great master Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the last three years of his life near the king in France, died peacefully cradled in Francois’ tender arms, or so the legend goes.

King François I chose the salamander as his emblem and you can find his symbol all over Cognac, often in unexpected places – as in a ceiling painting in the delightful Bistro de Claude [above], where we had dinner with our friends. Or it might appear high up in an iron grill guarding an ancient oak door.


Le Bistro de Claude indeed serves delectable delights, like these Marennes fines de Claires spéciale Papin oysters from Île d’Oleron, which I enjoyed tremendously.

The following contraption is a marvelously fascinating meat slicer, to which the waiters rushed ever so often with a plate in hand, to quickly shave off the required number of paper-thin slices of Jambon de Bayonne.

After finishing this bottle of excellent wine, it was soon time to walk back through a quiet Vieux Ville, which had seen plenty of tipsy citizens over the centuries stagger home through its cobblestone alleys. 

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