Friday, April 06, 2007 as the French do

in two chapters:

1. stay in the village

Last night my landlady, Anne, stopped by. A young woman, as French as they come (meaning a million times more well kempt than me). Born just six kilometers up the road. And her husband is from this village. They were away for the week, or they would have surely run into me on Sunday at lunch at Le Croquant. They heard all about the American who dined alone and took a lot of pictures.

How is it to know your soil so well? To connect to it through the houses you build and the people who are forever your neighbors?

I asked Anne’s mother-in-law when I first arrived what restaurants she liked to eat at around here. I like Anne’s, she told me.

At the vineyard where I spent the harvest week-end last September, the vintner married the girl from the village next door. In the Savoie, in my favorite fromlast spring restaurant with rooms, the award-winning chef married the girl next door. Here, in Plazac, the carpenter married the girl next door.

Village life. So, you’re born there, you go to school elsewhere (by necessity), you come back and marry the boy/girl next door. And you build houses and plant gardens and buy foods at the market and kiss greetings left and right, because you know these people as well as you know your own driveway.

I’m drawn to it, even as I know that I would be the one who moved away. Nina? She left after college. Even before she finished actually. Village life was not for her.

You think? Maybe. But when I come to France, I always want to witness it, study it, contemplate the way it might be.

From the cottage, one last look at Plazac:


2. get away from the village

It would benot a whole lot of fun for me to spend the holiday weekend in places like Plazac, Rouffignac, Fanzac, Montignac or any of the other Perigord clusters. On Easter, families eat meals at home. Much of village life – that part that an outsider can participate in – is closed down.

How else to be among the French on a French holiday? The obvious answer is to head for the coast.

I am (happily) letting go of the car this morning and returning to train travel. Sure, it’s harder this way. For example, I was way late for my train and had to wait a very long time for another. Moreover, my suitcase, the one now containing five spectacular bottles of wine (because obviously you cannot buy wine in the States) decided to break at the handle. And the connection between one train and another left me with only two minutes to run from one platform to the other (up the stairs, down the stairs) – yes, all that.

And still, trains are for me calming devices. For all that can go wrong, you still come out smiling.

And so when I got off at La Rochelle, with hundreds pouring out with me into the spectacular sunshine, giving an almost Mediterranean feel to the place, I was exuberant!

It could not be more different here, on the Atlantic coast, than what I experienced in the Perigord Noir. There is absolutely nothing noir about where I am now.

La Rochelle has got all the things we all love in a holiday get-away. It’s got a little of the history, a little of the harbor and beachfront, a healthy dose of the markets, a lot of fantastic restaurants, many stores, and a mile long (or so it seems) harbor-front lined with outdoor cafes. And happy people, in-love people, eating ice cream and sipping wine people. It defines escape.

La Rochelle

full of ice cream...

...just picked flowers

...and love.

So, I'll eat big today and tomorrow... oh, check in, why don’t you. I have an idea for tomorrow. We’ll see what comes of it.