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.
 and the light -- oh, the light!

 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
 France has an incredible history, going all the way back to pre-historic times (think thousands of years BCE)...
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
 And it is the country of probably one of the most astonishing and little known acts of resistance against the Nazis.  On a plateau in the Cévennes mountains in the Ardèche department of the Auverne region of south central France, the Huguenot (Protestant) inhabitants of the remote village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, encouraged by their pacifist minister and guided by their own history of persecution, hid and saved thousands of Jews, predominantly children, from 1941-45.  They did it not because they were "heroes", though indeed they were risking their lives. They did it because they just thought it was the right thing to do.

Sign entering the town; with Mary

The Protestant "temple" (as opposed to the Catholic "church"), whose minister during the war, Andre Trocme and is wife Magda were instrumental in the "sauvage" rescue and hiding of thousands of refugees (most, but not all of whom were Jewish, mostly children).  Above the temple door it says "Aimez-vous les uns les autres" ( "Love one another").
On the banner on it the gate, it says "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (the French motto), followed by "Refugees: first, you are welcome."

This plaque is on the side of the school that Jewish refugee children attended.  It is still a school (though under reconstruction) and adjacent to the small, current "Memory Site" (museum).  I cannot read the Hebrew, but the English translation of the French is: "The memory of justice will always remain." (New Testament?)  "Honoring the Protestant community and all those led by its example -- believers of all faiths and non-believers -- who, during the war of 1939-1945 blocked Nazi crimes, risked their own lives under the occupation, (and) hid, protected and saved thousands of those who were persecuted -- the Jewish refugees of Chambon-sur-Lignon and the neighboring communes."

 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"!
A la prochaine --


  1. Well described. Thanks so much for sharing Paulette.

  2. Beautiful expression and beautiful photos. Looking forward to seeing you soon.


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