Why France Has Won My Heart

Montmorillon in the Vienne département of Poitou-Charente now has a rival for my affections -- the town of Argenton-sur-Creuse ("on the Creuse River"), a wonderful town in Berry, the province comprised of the départements of Indre and Cher, in the "Centre" region, less than half an hour northeast from me.  This is also known as the Valley of the Painters for its popularity with the Impressionists (especially Monet); the region was also home to author George Sand, where I visited a couple of years ago. 

I did some Christmas shopping, took photos, and carried off an armful of printed materials from the very nice lady in the tourist office who understood immediately what I wanted when I said I was interested in possibly settling in Argenton.  (I am always clear about my circumstances when I make these inquiries, so I'm neither misled nor misleading.)  (Narrative continues after photos)















It was, however, an encounter with the owner of a small and very messy restaurant on one of the main commercial streets that made it so clear why I love France -- why I am (and have always been) so comfortable here.

The signs outside the restaurant boasted the tagliatelle was made by hand, was incomparable, and "you've never tasted tagliatelle like this".  I like a small business owner who is willing to brag, so I went in.  Maurice does, indeed, make his own pasta and it is superb, but what else he did left me with a warm place in my heart that not even good pasta can fill; only the human connection can.



Maurice -- a man more or less my age-- and I started talking about (this is all in French) why he makes his own pasta, and in five minutes we'd moved on to life's dreams, and the difference between talent (something that appears as you learn) and "le don" -- a gift with which you're born.  He invited himself to sit down with me.  Wait!  I exclaimed.  I can't do this without a glass of wine!  Of course he understood.  He's French.  But then another customer ('"client" or "cliente") came in -- also a woman "of a certain age", also alone, and a friend of Maurice's.  While he was in the back preparing the food, she and I chatted a bit.  He called out, "Why don't you sit together at the same table?"  We looked at each other, and agreed that we wanted our own space; we both had newspapers with us; we might want to read them and not talk.  Very kind of you, Maurice, we told him, but "on s'entend" (literally, one hears the other, but meaning is, "we understand each other").  And we laughed.

When the woman left, Maurice accompanied her outside and they chatted..and chatted...and finally, when he came back in and I was ready to pay and leave, he explained the woman's mother at age 90 had done a self-suicide in Switzerland, where it's legal through a registered facility -- but it's not in France -- and so, of course, a whole other conversation ensued between him and me, on this topic.

This would never happen in the U.S. -- where I was once derided by a former boyfriend, "Well, at least I don't talk to strangers!".  Here I do...and they talk back.

A completely different scene an hour or so later, when I was back in Pierrette's shop/salon de thé in St Sulpice les Feuilles, cracking all kinds of jokes (again in French), mostly making fun of myself, with two men, obviously friends of Pierrette (who always introduces me as "Americaine et très sympa; on rigole beaucoup" -- "She's American, very nice, and we kid around a lot").  The men described themselves as "rustiques" (country) and said I was "charming".

And here, I am.  I'm not too aggressive, too outspoken, too dramatic, too...anything that I've been called in the States.  Here I am...well, me, and it seems to be just fine. On s'entend.

***
ADDENDUM: Dec. 16 -- Stopped by the village pharmacy on behalf of my sick neighbors, and the clerk and I started a conversation about why I was in France.  She came around to the front of the counter (WHERE does that happen in the U.S.?), and after we talked about the differences between the French and Americans (to the extent she and I are aware of said differences), I asked her:  Do you think it's strange to have a conversation like this with a stranger?  No, she said, giving me a quizzical look:  "C'est normale".
Yup, it's normal for me, too.  :)

A la prochaine --




Comments

  1. You are home, indeed. Wonderful recounting of a wonderful day. "I hear ya."

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  2. Wonderful, Paulette. You "get" France....and capture it so well for us! I am Irish, with a house in Normandy. I don't live there full time as I have work here in Dublin - but I did for three years, and intend to again when I retire in three years. I am there very regularly and always feel I am at home...the only difference being the language - and I am luck enough to speak that well at this point. I now go to weddings, funerals, and baptisms...I wish you every happiness in your new country.

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