What’s 230 feet long by 20 inches high and took an estimated ten years to create? If you guessed the new Congressional health care bill, maybe you need another clue: It contains 41 ships, 620 men, 3 women, and 55 dogs (the health bill, as far as we know, says nothing about ships or dogs). You’d probably still be guessing if we hadn’t included a picture here of a small piece of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry is something many of us recognize at a glance but may know very little about. Turns out it was created as propaganda, to celebrate William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It doesn’t pretend to be even-handed: if you win, you have more riches – and more needle-handy nuns – at your command than the losers, so the story makes you look good, and the Saxons… not so good. By the time the long strip of colorful linen was first displayed at the dedication of the new Bayeux Cathedral in 1077 the victory was old news, but Bishop Odo (who was, not coincidentally, William’s half-brother) strung the B.T. all around the nave to remind everyone of what a good job Brother Bill had done, a decade back. Want a look? Check out this animated version, with English subtitles, if your Latin’s a little rusty. Or, sign up for our April 25-May 2, 2010 Culinaria adventure trip to Normandy – and come see the Bayeux Tapestry in its original.

Like all Oldways trips, our week-long “Normandy: Camembert and Calvados” will combine an intriguing balance of food, culture, and history, with expert guidance from cookbook author Susan Hermann Loomis, proprietor for almost two decades of her own cooking school in Normandy. Susan will lead us through typical French markets and shops, explain the food traditions of Normandy, and even role up her sleeves a few times to offer mouth-watering cooking demonstrations. We’ll start our week with three nights in the quaint coastal fishing port of Honfleur, where a maze of cobbled streets leads to the largest surviving wooden church in France, the 15th-century St. Catherine’s.  It was from Honfleur that Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain each set out to explore Canada, and the townscape seems little-changed from those days.

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Once we’re settled, a side trip through the scenic Pays d’Auge countryside will take us to St-Martin-de-la-Lieue, where we’ll see two of Normandy’s most famous cheeses, Pont-l’Eveque and Livarot, made – and learn why these cheeses can’t be produced with milk from any cow other than the Norman breed now being brought back from the brink of extinction.  We’ll also drop by a small traditional family Calvados distillery at the height of apple-blossom season, to see (and taste) just how the local brandy is produced.
Oysters are another top product of Normandy, so we’ll visit an oyster farm, too, timing our visit for low tide when we can examine how the bivalves are raised.  Then, we’ll continue on to Bayeux, where we’ll spend our final four nights.

(photo via) With this charming, pedestrian-friendly city as our base, we’ll visit the very moving D-Day invasion beaches, the American cemetery, and the Battle Museum, tour the cathedral, and – yes – see the actual Bayeux tapestry.

(photo via) We’ve also set a day aside for the famous agneau de pré-salé, or salt-meadow lamb, a springtime delicacy in this part of France. We’ll combine a farm visit on the west coast of Normandy with a stop at a restaurant specializing in this famous dish, leaving time to admire Mont Saint Michel, a World Heritage site. We’re limiting this trip to no more than 30 participants, as we’ve found this the perfect number: small enough that you’re never part of a crowd, but large enough so you’ll meet an interesting range of other intelligent active adults who love food. Many of those already signed up are alumni of other Oldways trips who appreciate our ability to balance activities and free time, on-the-road and at-the-table, history and modern comforts. Normandy: Camembert & Calvados is approaching the half-way point of enrollment, with six months to go before the trip begins. If you’d like to check out the details and pricing, click here, or call me (617-896-4820). I promise to share my enthusiasm for Normandy, until you’re convinced you’ll just have to join us!  — Cindy

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