An Easter Re-Birth
Today is Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, and it is, indeed, for me a "rebirth".Today marks the end of the first stage (five months) of my new life in France. I move into the house I am renting in Argenton-sur-Creuse (Centre region, Indre department) in two days.
It is also the last day of the visit of the third friend I have hosted (not counting brother and sister-in-law over Thanksgiving), and their visits have truly provided a validation I wasn't expecting. Part of my "plan" to come here, was to introduce friends (and what little family I still have) to a new region and a new way of life, even as I was exploring and doing it myself. It seems to have worked out quite well.
I want to be sure visitors re-think their impression (if they had one) of France; it's NOT Paris (though I certainly love that city!). It is all the countryside and villages, towns and cities outside of Paris. It's the (pre-)history and topography and landscapes and the chateaux...
|After the rain -- Mailhac-sur-Benaize (Haute Vienne/Limousin)
|Chateau St. Germain Beaupré
|Château Azay-le-Ferron with Michelle
|The chateau had opened for the season just before the day we arrived, so the shrubbery was freshly "topiaried".
|The owner had been a serious hunter. Yuk.
|...but they had a great kitchen...
|That, we were told, was a REAL crocodile.
|Guide Marie (whose own grandmother had lived in a chateau like this, so we got a real inside story on this kind of life) joked the faucets were for red, white and rosé wine. In truth, the one on the right was for filtered water.
|Those large flat copper items are pot lids (I thought they were pizza or bread cutters; someone else thought they were for making crepes). The furniture piece with open door is a food warmer.
|View across the Creuse River from the old bridge in Argenton-sur-Creuse, where I'll be living.
I want my friends to experience a country and culture that emphasizes family (not particularly my top priority, but...); quality of life (food, wine, beauty, presentation, relaxation, enjoying nature through gardening and walking, etc.); and the arts and intellectual pursuits -- side-by-side in rural France with the very simple, unsophisticated way of life.
France has a conservative, Catholic religious backbone with a strong secular musculature. It has produced great thinkers, artists, musicians, and scientists. It excels in the "applied arts" and crafts, such as porcelaine (Limoges with Michelle), weaving (Aubusson and Cholet with Clara), leather-making, wine-making (Cognac with Michelle), parfumery, paper-making, and of course cuisine and couture (fashion).
|Carla in front of tapestry museum in Aubusson
|First distillation of the fermented "ugni blanc" grape used in Cognac.
|Guide showing how tastes are blended into the "brandy" (burned distilled "eau de vie", or spirits), to make it the distinctive "cognac" at the House of Martell in Cognac, France
|Dolmen: One of the many, many prehistoric (3-4,000 years BCE) megalith burial sites.
...the most powerful woman in medieval Europe was Eleanor of Aquitaine (from my "neighborhood", sort of )...and it was home to leading feminists, such as writers George Sand and Simone DuBeauvoir.
I want my friends to experience the kindness and humor of the French people. I want them to experience a country where social capital is NOT "keeping up with the Joneses" and "being so busy", and "success" = money and status.
Yes, of course France has issues, not the least of which are attitudes toward Jews, Muslims and black Africans -- not to mention mean-spirited, nationalist politics as represented by the far-right Marine LePen. Yes, France has god-awful bureaucracy and a plethora of labor strikes. Yes, France not only capitulated to the Germans during WWII, but was also instrumental in sending some 74,000 Jews to Nazi camps, of which more than half were gassed.
And yet...France is the site of Ouradour-sur-Glane (with Michelle and Mary), the town in the Limousin region where on June 10, 1944, Nazis (and French Alsacian conscripted soldiers) shot and burned all 600+ of the the locals who were there, including children, and then burned the town.
|Ouradour-sur-Glane with Michelle and Mary
|Sign entering the town; with Mary
|On the banner on it the gate, it says "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (the French motto), followed by "Refugees: first, you are welcome."
More than where we went and what we saw, Carla, Michelle and Mary all seemed to "get it". They witnessed, experienced, and commented on the way of life that seems to be such a part of me, that so resonates with me. They not only appreciated the France to which I was able to introduce them, but they seemed to appreciate who I am, here.
Though they were all generous with their responses, and all seemed to feel they were receiving a gift from me, their pleasure and responsiveness were gifts to me -- the best of which was Michelle's comments after watching/listening to me speak to someone on the phone. She said she could see and hear how different I am here, how open and engaging I am, and how it is met in kind, as it is not in the U.S. She said, with tears in her eyes, that she wanted to come to see this place that speaks to my soul and, she avowed, she saw it. It's true: here I am re-born.
|Michelle and me -- NOT either one's best "selfie"!