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Visiting Rodez, France

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Wednesdays and Saturdays are market days in Rodez, a market town in the Midi Pyrenees of southwest France. In addition to the usual display of gorgeous fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats and fish, the Rodez market includes a stand selling “tree” cakes, a tall confection of of thin layers of sponge-like cake, sliced horizontally so the slices look like the rings of a tree. The same cake, coated either in white sugar or in chocolate, is a Bavarian specialty at Christmas time. Apparently, the cake was brought down to this part of France by Napoleon’s army. Even if not true, it’s a nice story.

Another regional specialty at the Rodez market is a huge vat of “aligot,” a mixture of mashed potatoes, a local cheese and a bit of garlic. The mixture is stirred and stirred until is falls like a ribbon from the spoon. It’s quite delicious, as is another local specialty, called “la truffade,” a mixture of sliced potatoes, tome de Cantal cheese, a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

A young man at the market deep-fries vegetable pancakes -- a bit on the greasy side, but delicious.

Rodez has attained international renown because of the May 31st opening of the new Pierre Soulages museum. The French painter and his wife have given approximately 500 works of art to the new museum. Designed by a team of Catalan architects, the museum’s walls and floor are made of steel.

The restaurant in the museum is run by Michel Bras, one of France’s most innovative chefs and a long-time acquaintance of the painter. Like Soulages, Michel Bras is a native of the region, and his conception of the restaurant is based on an appreciation of light and natural flavors. The result is an elegant space offering simple, but delicious dishes.

Rodez offers visitors another outstanding museum, the historical and archaeological Fenaille Museum which houses the only collection of menir statutes in Europe. These menirs are standing stones, approximately 5,000 years old, the first carvings to represent human beings.

Rodez is a medieval city with an imposing cathedral and narrow alleys and streets. It can be reached by train from Paris. It also has an airport offering frequent flight to Paris.

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