La France Profonde: Ma Bourgogne
The beauty of France never ceases to amaze me. Discussing this with my friends in Burgundy who I visited this past weekend, in comparing it to the countryside of the U.S., they observed that what was missing Stateside was the “love” when it came to esthetics. It was a very profound observation from my own perspective, because it seems true that money, what drives the American culture, wins out over the love people and country have for romanticism — the pure desire to live with beauty rather than profit.
I’m not even sure if what I say makes any sense to you, but whether in Burgundy, Provence or Brittany, or just about anywhere in France, the beauty is overwhelming, regardless of the kind of landscape one encounters. The roads are beautifully maintained and often tree-lined, the villages are adorned by flowers and even the oldest of farmhouses are pristinely kept. There are no unsightly billboards, or neon signs, or trash along the roads. When you look across the fields one sees the villages with their classic churches positioned dead center, or even some large stone château with a moat, all now not far from the town’s Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) surrounded by basic shops, cafés and amenities. Even if all you see is the outline and shapes of the structures from a distance, it’s a beautiful sight.
I came to Burgundy to see my friends’ old farmhouse. It’s hard to say how old it really is, but it’s entirely made of stone. The beams are of oak. The floors are stone and some rooms have clay tiles. There is a fireplace in every room. It was at one time a working farm evident by a cheesemaking corner, and a few outbuildings such as a “pigeonnier” (dovecote), a little structure where perhaps bread was once made and a cellar.
The house had been neglected for many years. When they bought it, they found themselves with an enormous project. Little by little it has become habitable, but it still has much that can be done to it to make it more luxurious…but all that costs a lot of money, so it will be a project over time.
On Saturday night, my friends invited their neighbors to join us for a “diner ensemble” — I suppose because I was their guest and it provided a good excuse to gather them together. Some didn’t know the others, so it was a welcome event to bring them together. One family offered up needed tables and chairs and delivered them like good neighbors do. “C’est normal,” they said with a shrug, as in…”Doesn’t everyone do that?”
The evening turned into a kind of pot luck dinner with everyone pitching in to make it possible and easy. They brought wine and lots of edibles to add to the fare, including salad, cheese and pies. In typical French fashion, as each group arrived, there was the formality of saying hello to each and every person, shaking hands or kissing of the cheeks (of perfect strangers) — about 14 in all including the kids. We all sat around the table and the conversation included everyone at all times. It was casual and easy without any debate. These were all country folk, dressed casually and without pretense, but not one that I’d call a “bumpkin” — in fact each was well spoken and well educated, even if not rich or very well-traveled.
I didn’t feel like a total outsider, although I really was — the city slicker American living in Paris. “Paris!?” one of them said, “Ooh, Paris, c’est cher.” (Paris!? Paris is expensive!) I almost felt ashamed for a moment that my lifestyle was so expensive compared to theirs, but the only thing I could do was agree with him: “Ah, oui. C’est Paris. C’est cher.” My level of French held up pretty well, all things considered — easier in conversation than trying to catch the gist of a film or a theater performance.
We had some pretty funny English faux-pas moments that got big laughs. When I tried to comment that one woman’s young daughter looked just like her, they thought I said “clown” (pronounced “cloon”) and not “clone.” (Not nice.) When one of my friends mistakingly said “jouettes,” instead of “jouets,” he was quickly corrected that “jouettes” meant nothing and maybe he meant “chouettes” (owls), but he was really talking about “games” (jouets).
We did not talk much about politics, although it was impossible to avoid talking about Donald Trump. He’s a fascination for the French. They simply couldn’t understand how the American people elected him. I confessed that I couldn’t get my own head around it, but didn’t know how to say that in French. Later, I learned to say “Je n’arrive pas à comprendre.” They all agreed wholeheartedly that he was dangerous to “liberté” (freedom) as we know it, remembering how Hitler came to power in Europe, and how his tactics follow the same patterns. I didn’t get the feeling they blamed any of us Americans since those they encounter here in France are largely politically left.
We visited a few towns in the area, but promising not to divulge with whom I spent the weekend, these photos here will go unlabeled. You’ll just have to guess for yourselves where they might be located. One thing for sure, the region is as lovely as any in France. There are fields of grazing cows (the white Charolais kind known for their high quality meat) and sheep, freshly shorn. Fields of wheat had been newly harvested, the bales of straw piled up and ready to be collected. The architecture is of stone and half-timbered houses. The little towns are sleepy with only a few people shopping on Saturday or lunching on Sunday.
It was truly La France Profonde, in the most profound sense of the word.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
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