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Bastille Day

Bastille Day

We arrive in Provence, specifically the Luberon, my favorite region of France. Rosé wines flow with pink flourish, ripe olives soaked in oil and herbs precede every meal, and fresh vegetables crown lamb and seafood platters. The crusty bread, as always in France, is addictive. My taste buds are tantalized, anticipating meals to come.

On a really good day when I hold my head high, I’m all of five foot three. I’ve always wished I were taller, but especially when I’m in this part of the world. Everything on the table appeals. With five more inches, I could eat so much more without worrying about calories and my thighs.

Today is Bastille Day, July 14, celebrating France’s independence from the king. The window of our hotel room in Roussillon, a charming amber-red hilltop hamlet in the heart of one of the world’s largest ochre deposits, looks over the village’s one main lane. A young Maman and her two sons, one with a baguette under his arm and the other munching a pain au chocolate, stroll home from the boulangerie. The children clench French flags in their tiny hands and sing La Marseillaise. “Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” The day of glory has arrived!

We’ll celebrate the day by catching up with the twelfth stage of the Tour de France. At 1pm, more than two hours before the cyclists are expected, we pull our car to the side of a country road that runs into Departmental Route number two. The D2 will take racers up to and through the picture-perfect perched village of Gordes and then towards Mont Ventoux, a critical climb in the annual competition. Despite the fact that it’s mid-July, temperatures are cool. The Provençal sun does its best to prove it’s summer, but the chilly bursts of the Mistral wind keep us wondering. It’s jacket-off, jacket-on weather. Dozens of onlookers line the road, holding tight to hats, blankets and picnic goodies the wind attempts to whip away. A group of children in striped blue, white and red tees, jump up and down chanting, “Allez! Allez,” willing the athletes to arrive. We overhear that seventy bikes will eventually pass us by.

Every six or seven minutes, a staccato stream of police cars, motorcycles, and sundry security vehicles whiz by. Each time the crowd hears them approach, ears perk up and heads pivot to look down the road. There are many of these false alarms. Joe takes out his phone to catch up on news and I lie back to avoid the wind and soak in the sun. The young men on the slope behind us jam on drums as the minutes and finally hours tick by. At long last we see and then hear helicopters in the distance; two hover over outlying vineyards and two approach. Spectators crane their necks to follow the whirlybirds. Anticipation mounts. It’s palpable. Cowbells clatter. Whistles ensue. The crowd noise swells and the Mistral blusters full force. Even Joe chants enthusiastically, “Allez, allez!”

We have a perfect spot on a slight rise above the road’s shoulder. In a flash, a media photographer jumps out of a black security car and scrambles up the sandy bank, trying to elbow his way into our exact spot. We congratulate ourselves for choosing our position well and hold our ground, feigning ignorance to his offensive. He can stand shoulder to shoulder with us if he’d like, and so he does.

What we expect to see is a line of lead vehicles followed by a peloton of sleek bicyclists. What we actually see is a scramble of color and promotion, hawking and horns, unlike any I’ve ever witnessed. Who knew the Tour de France competitors would be heralded by a Mardi Gras-like parade of floats hurtling thirty-five miles an hour down a country road, tossing not colorful plastic beads, but samples and t-shirts? It’s a mad scramble for just a bit of loot.

Tour -- yellow guyA man on a swing promoting sausages paper airplanes coupons and special offers into the crowd. Teens on a bed pitch packets of madeleines. Is this happening in France? Who said the French don’t let their hair down? A float for the adhesive brand, Bostick, tosses glue sticks from under the banner, “Voulez-vous coller avec moi?” Do you want to stick with me? It’s a relentless procession of dozens upon dozens of floats: a yodeling van promotes Swiss Tissot watches; fluorescent cars lob bags of chips; French fry girls fling coupons and hats; the Michelin man sings about tires; cheerleaders chant about cheese. The Bic float hurls pens (how did I not know Bic was French?) and I can’t believe no one is stabbed by a ballpoint flying at such speed. A man in a pool on a flatbed truck shouts through a bullhorn, “C’est bon ça – ce sont des jolis cadeaux!” They’re all good, these pretty gifts! Can there be this many official sponsors of the Tour?

Finally, after a substantial lull and waning wind, we see the first group of a dozen competitors approach from way down the road behind a rolling wall of security. The crowdTour -- bikers goes wild. The frontrunner in the yellow jersey, British biker Chris Froome, is in the second pack. The cyclists fly by in a blaze of color amid earsplitting cheers. We’re just above the fray but the crowd is verging on swarming the riders, no barriers holding them back. In the flash of a few minutes, the excitement is over, the crowd quiets, the road is empty, and families disperse. We’re left in the wake. The race has moved on.

It’s no wonder that ninety minutes later during the final climb up Mont Ventoux in advance of the finish (moved six kilometers from the scree-strewn summit to avoid winds that threatened to blow riders down), spectator proximity plays a role in the race. In a melee of a media motorcycle, a fan and Froome, the leader ditches his broken bike and runs up towards the finish line. Although losing many minutes, officials declare that he maintains his lead.

Sun-soaked after an ebullient day celebrating La France and being buffeted by a fierce Mistral, we have dinner and wine and collapse into bed.

At one in the morning we’re awakened by a call from our daughter.

“I just want to be sure you’re okay.”

Why wouldn’t we be okay? I think in the fog of leaving a dream. “We’re fine, sweetheart. What’s up?”

It sinks in slowly, what’s happened in Nice, and then we’re jolted — suddenly, fully awake. The news is devastating. The frivolity of the day, forgotten in an instant. That’s how it happens with tragedy. Pain deep in my chest.

We assure Caroline that we’re hours north of the Riviera and ask her to let her brother , Chris, know.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Je suis Nice.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2016 in baby boomer, France, Passion for French, Travel

 

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A Veteran’s Recipe for Paris

We’ve visited Paris for almost 40 years – ever since we were 22 years old — and it always manages to surprise us. Things we never noticed suddenly appear. There are probably as many ways to “do” Paris as there are ways to make apple pie, and we each have our favorites. It can be difficult to go back, to revisit old haunts, to come to terms with the passage of time, so we paint fresh tableaux with brand new memories.

Here is our recipe for a perfectly romantic five days in the City of Light for veteran visitors. (Our first trip as retirees!)

Pre-departure — Book Les Bouquinistes studio through VRBO, so named as it looks out on the famous antiquarian booksellers in their green painted stalls above the Seine.

As we slip into the center of town on the RER train, I reflect on the range of hotels and small apartments we’ve booked on our many trips and recall our very first Parisian hotel. Perfectly situated in the Châtelet Theater on the river, it was a shabby little no-star walk-up. Breakfast, delivered to your room was included in the pittance we paid. On our first morning, the chambermaid made her entrance, no knocks, no warning, to deliver croissants and cafés au lait. Joe was soaping up in the curtainless shower stall in the bedroom itself. “Bonjour!” she warbled with no hint of embarrassment. Joe’s face was the color of the strawberry confiture and I didn’t stop giggling all day.

We spent a month in a sweet, albeit dark, little five meter by five meter studio in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower during our gap year in 2011, but Les Bouquinistes is now our favorite. It’s chic, bright, efficient, clean, convenient and affordable (under $140 a night). On the ground floor of a 17th century private home looking over the Seine to Notre Dame, it allowed us to walk almost everywhere: the Île St. Louis, the Île de la Cité, the Latin Quarter, the Marais and St. Germain. Unless we inherit a boatload of money and can stay at the Pavillon de la Reine, this is where we’ll return on future visits to Paris.

When mapping our itinerary, we came up with a mix of old haunts and new discoveries. We kept our list brief, leaving plenty of time for relaxing and strolling. Ah, the beauty of visiting a familiar place.

Back to that recipe…

Day one — Arrive from a stay in Iceland with only a two-hour time change and little jetlag. Take an afternoon nap because, why not? Walk across to the Île St. Louis for a delicious French dinner at L’Îlot Vache – a longtime favorite for traditional French specialties. Work off some of the confit de canard and mousse au chocolat by following the lights of Notre Dame across the Île de la Cité and then the Pont Neuf. Head up the Rue Dauphine and slip into Cafe Laurent for an after dinner drink and some live bluesy jazz. You’ll never want to leave. 

Day two — Grab croissants (perhaps the best you’ll ever have) around the corner at the neighborhood boulangerie and enjoy a late breakfast in the studio. Wander around Notre Dame find new angles for pictures, and then dress for dinner on the Bateaux Mouches. Touristy, yes, but the food and wines are top-notch and the views of Paris at night incomparable. (It’s something we do each time we visit – whether on our own or with our children. We’ve traced the growing lines on our faces, ever since that first visit in 1978, with these dinner cruises and have a progression of pictures for posterity.)

Day three – Sleep late and leisurely make your way to the Marais for a lunch of crêpes complètes (ham, guyère and egg). Visit the bright, airy Picasso Museum for the afternoon, newly renovated since you visited years ago. Feel the excitement in Paris mount as the evening’s European Soccer Championship approaches. Enjoy goat cheese salads back on the left bank, and have the waiter paint your cheeks with the bleu, blanc, rouge French tricolore. Listen to cries of “Allez les bleus” – go French blue team – all around you, horns blaring, anticipation palpable. Despite the local support for a country that needs good news, Portugal wins with a double overtime goal. Zut, alors!

Day four – Wake up with another round of flaky, buttery croissants and walk to the beginning of the Promenade Plantée. This 3-mile raised, linear greenway cuts across the 12th arrondissement to the Bois de Vincennes park on Paris’ east side and was the inspiration for New York City’s High Line. Leisurely walk back along the Seine and take the recommendation of your landlord, Stéphan. Have a candlelit dinner at Le Reminet, a small neighborhood resto, sip a kir, and savor the fine dining.

Day five – Sleep in and take a bus across the Pont d’Alma to Le Français, a stylish Parisian cafe under a broad red and gold awning, the terrace outlined by a green privet. Arrive early enough to secure a table looking towards the street, the Eiffel Tower perfectly framed. Make your way up the fashionable Avenue Montaigne, past the parade of wealth that is the designer boutiques surrounding the Plaza Athénée hotel. Take your first tour of the Palais Garnier, Paris’ famed Phantom-of-the-Opera house. How could it have taken you so long to visit this masterpiece with its Grand Foyer perhaps more stunning than Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors? Finish your final evening in the City of Light with dinner at Le Train Bleu, the legendary, gilded Belle Époque eatery that looks down over arriving and departing trains. Order the baba au rhum, served with your personal bottle of Saint James to drizzle (or drench) your cake and whipped cream to taste.

Departure day — Before saying au revoir to your favorite world city, promise each other to make plans to return.

 

 

 

 
 

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Turning 60

Turning 60

Long ago I learned that a trip on the horizon keeps me happy. If there are no definite travel plans, no future dates inked on my calendar, I’m blue, untethered, uneasy. Buying guidebooks, planning an itinerary, and mapping out details give me a high of the healthiest kind. The prospect of getting away, the break from routine, the novel—it all keeps me connected and curiously, sane.

So while most people celebrate their sixtieth birthday with a dinner, cruise or weekend at a spa, the prospect of turning sixty, within eleven days of each other, made my husband Joe and me restless and hungry for adventure. We wanted to challenge what it means to be sixty years old and so we opted for a trip to Corsica, to hike what is considered Europe’s toughest long distance footpath.

Turning sixty is an anniversary some find terrifying. For us, it meant retirement, the end of our workaday lives and the beginning of journeys curbed only by our wallets and the bounds of our bodies. It also meant celebrating a high school romance that grew into thirty-five years of marriage. We were ready to mark milestones thirty-five and sixty, eager to begin the next phase of our life.

We envisioned our journey to Corsica for almost four years. The planning started while we backpacked through Europe on an adult gap year—our Senior Year Abroad—in 2012. That particular journey was thirty years in the making and required selling the house, the car, and most of our possessions, as well as quitting our jobs. This next step in our adventure progression required fewer leaps of faith since we both retired days before we left the US, and no longer had a house to sell.

What is the appeal of these outdoor challenges? It would be simple to say nature’s beauty, but in reality, it’s so much more. It’s the brisk morning air, the solitude, the sense of freedom and timelessness; it’s how our muscles ache, in a good way, at the end of a long day. Certainly we hike for the views, but it’s also for the chance to be alone with our thoughts, for the opportunity to meet interesting, like-minded people, for the photos, and yes, for the effort. Completing a particularly difficult hike goes a long way towards gratifying our competitive sides.

But the true allure of an extended trek to places inaccessible by vehicles and technology is what it does for our minds. It’s a detox during which we leave contemporary clutter behind. We think clearly, without distraction, about what’s most important, with no alarms, no deadlines, no beeps, no bells. We put one foot in front of the other and stress and anxiety wither as we share the same wild wonders together.

While we’re dedicated day walkers and have done multi-day stretches of hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks, a two-week trek across difficult terrain will be a daunting physical challenge that sets a new, much higher, bar for us.

Friends considered tagging along, but one thing and then another got in their way, so off we’ve gone on our own. Just us, in hiking boots—two for the road, as usual—lugging brand new backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags and trekking poles, to tackle a one hundred and eighteen mile trail, the GR20, on a rugged island in the Mediterranean.

The Grande Randonnée (GR) hike number twenty bisects Corsica diagonally and follows its mountain spine, from the northwest to the southeast corner. It’s one of hundreds of GRs, meaning “big hikes,” in French. They crisscross Europe, primarily in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain. Although not well known in the US, if you ask a European hiker about challenging trails, The Twenty always comes up. In Corsican, its name is Fra li monti, “across the mountains.” Rocky terrain, scree-strewn granite slabs and steep inclines, some of which require chains to ascend, have earned the trail its reputation as arduous and relentless.

Trails are blazed with the distinctive mark of a white stripe above a red one and are maintained in France by the Fédération Française de la Randonnée. We’d hiked pieces of other GR footpaths, including rambles around the Hexagon and seventy-five miles of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) through France, Italy and Switzerland, to circle the highest peak in Europe. The TMB was a difficult, sometimes grueling hike. But at the end of each day, bruised and battered, we had a hot restaurant meal, soft mattress and warm blanket waiting for us in a hotel. Granted, some of our overnight accommodations were simple, rustic hiker inns with showers and toilets down the hall, but there was a certain level of comfort we knew to expect. Not so with our Mediterranean adventure; we will be roughing it for two weeks.

We signed with British company, KE Adventure Travel, in large part because we couldn’t find a US-based outfitter that does the Twenty. Yes, we are hikers—but we’re not well-schooled in camping—so we’re going into the wilderness under the direction of a seasoned team that secures permits, reserves campsites and shelters and will be responsible for feeding us. And most important of all, we’ll be part of a group with a guide who ensures we don’t get lost.

Joe and I accumulate hikes like others collect fine wine. Thus, our trip planning always includes researching the best walks in the area. We hate to pass up a good trail, and just like our decision to go to Corsica, we often build an entire trip around a particular track.

Friends and family often ask, “Why Corsica?”

The birthplace of Napoleon is an island in the Mediterranean, one of the thirteen regions of France. It boasts delicious food, garrulous people, white sandy beaches and several top-notch boutique hotels. The island has been on our travel list for years and discovering the existence of the GR20 quickly bumped it to the top. The derring-do hiking tales of a retired British Army General we met on our European sabbatical sealed the deal. He raved about The Twenty and at the end of our conversation commanded, “You absolutely must do it.” The General was not a man to be ignored. Corsica was definitely in our future.

Over the course of a fortnight, we’ll camp, bunk in coed, dorm-style rustic réfuges on platforms in our sleeping bags, and on a few lucky, luxurious nights, stay in gîtes d’étape—small, private hostels with actual beds. Yes, the physical and mental challenges of the GR20 will be significantly greater than those of anything we’ve undertaken before. This outdoor escapade will test our 60 year-old hiking mettle, not to mention our thighs, and stretch the limits of our “senior” resolve.

Come along for the journey. Join us for The Twenty.

(More to follow…)

 

 

 

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Interviewed by the Boom Sex Doctors

This might be my most unusual interview venue. It was fun!
Ep. 115: Marianne Bohr on the power of travel – The Boom Doctors
http://theboomdoctors.com/2016/04/23/ep-115-marianne-bohr-on-the-power-of-travel-the-boom-doctors/

AIRDATE: 5/9

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2016 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Our Longest Day

 

I thought our room was on the first floor. She said premier étage, didn’t she? Why do we need the elevator? Because in France, the first floor is on the second floor. We talked about it in class, but now you’ll remember.

Our coach puts dozens of kilometers of narrow country roads behind us, weaving past stone buildings in various states of disrepair. They’ve been here for centuries — long before World War II came close to obliterating them all. Houses, barns, stables, outbuildings, storage sheds, churches. Some appear to have come through the war unscathed, their bucolic charm intact. Others lie in pieces, barely recognizable under gold and milky lichen, thick grasses and specks of blue spring wildflowers. Who were the people who lived here during the war? French country homes are rarely sold, customarily passed down through families, so it’s likely those who live here now, lived here in the 1940s, or at least their forebears did. Stories of Allied sacrifice and bravery were shared across generations, thus, many yards fly both French and American flags.

Madame Bohr, it feels like we’re at the seashore. We ARE at the seashore. We’re in Normandy, close to the D-day BEACHES. Don’t you remember what Nathalie told us and what we discussed this morning? D-day, Jour-J to the French, took place on the English Channel, La Manche. You’ll see where the battles were fought as soon as we get off the bus.

I find the beaches of Northern France melancholy by nature: cold, gray, rocky. Add the D-day landings and my heart wants to break. There’s salt in the air, and humidity. Remarkable humidity. Seagulls scream overhead. The landscape at Pointe du Hoc, virtually untouched since 1944 and pockmarked with deep bomb craters, is dotted with dense, low-slung bushes of tightly packed yellow beach blooms. A tiny ginger-breasted European robin twitches its head in the brush, trilling morning song. The inexorable persistence of nature on such a blood-soaked bluff. Do my spring-breakers understand what happened here seventy years ago? For that matter, do I or any of us truly understand?

It’s an emotionally gloomy day, despite blue skies and a crisp wind. We arrive at the Normandy American Cemetery and the yellow roses have changed to spiky mauve and burgundy heather. I’ve visited this sacred spot multiple times, yet it never fails to make me cry. How could it not? Seeing the black and white photographs of the fresh, young faces of men – boys, actually – displayed on the walls of the Visitors Center is all it takes. I reiterate Nathalie’s suggestion that each student find a soldier from Maryland, or the state in which he or she was born, take a picture of the grave marker and research him when they return home. Say a prayer, be grateful, say thank you to him and his family.

They gaze out over Omaha Beach to the English Channel and I wonder what they’re thinking, dreaming. Are they imagining a war that seems so very long ago? What was I thinking at their age? As I recall, it was always about the future. About all that lay ahead. Life yet to unfold. Now, however, with decades and so many of life’s major decisions behind me, I’m in the present, appreciating the privilege of sharing history with students, watching it come alive in their eyes. As we stand on this promontory where what happened changed the world, my wish for my charges, as it is for my children: put the important things in relief and let the trivial falls aside. Appreciate what they have and what was secured for them on this cliff in France.

***

The end of our nine-day trip looms.

There has been plenty of hilarity and silliness followed by moments of reflection and illumination. I was enchanted, smitten, after my first taste of France. Have my students fallen in love as well? Have they caught the very same Francophile bug?

Are we taking the metro or the RER into Paris? Bravo! You know the difference.

Our final evening in Paris. A cruise on the Seine. Notre Dame soars, the river banks crawl with revelers, the Eiffel Tower glitters. My students shout with glee, their voices echoing, each time we glide under one of Paris’ many bridges.

I’ve never laughed so hard. I can’t believe I ate chicken liver. I really can’t believe I actually liked it! This is the best meal I’ve ever had. I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life. I’ll never forget how beautiful Paris is. I’m so sad we leave tomorrow. I want to stay. When I come back to France…

French music to my ears.

 

 

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Vous Avez La Patate?

Our shower only has half a door! Are all bathrooms like that in France? The whole floor is soaked! How much butter is in this croissant? Is it okay if I add more?

Our Loire Valley tour continues. Each morning as we load the bus, our guide asks how we are. Ça va? Vous avez la patate? Vous avez la pêche? Vous avez la banane? Do you have the potato; the peach; the banana? Each is a clever way to ask: Are you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today? Oui, j’ai la patate. Every language has its apt idioms.

Students scrutinize the fashion of their French peers. While I see few differences, they are keenly aware of every one and school me on the distinctions. Their shoes. They just look like sneakers to me. Their jeans. Everyone wears skinny jeans, even the boys. Their jackets. They’re longer and actually match their outfits. Their hair. The guys have a lot of quiffs. What’s a quiff? It’s like a whoosh or a puff. Oh, you mean like a pompadour. My fashion eyes are definitely too old.

The students negotiate the topiary labyrinth at Chenonceau, more interested in the grounds than the interior of the chateau. While they visit the donkey farm to the side of the sycamore-lined entryway, I discover an elegant orangery-style restaurant tucked behind the cafe. I’m off in a daydream, imagining a romantic dinner with my husband in the not-too-distant future. Although this is my fourth visit to the castle (my first was in ‘78 with Joe, as students freezing on motorbikes), Chenonceau never fails to charm. I send my stateside travel partner a text: We must return and stay at one of the village’s ivy-covered inns; Chenonceau now has a gourmet restaurant!

The chateau boasts two magnificent gardens designed by the two women in King Henri II’s life: one by the mistress and one by the wife. I choose the one that’s more shaded and compact, that of her majesty, Catherine de Medici. Daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring blossoms have made their way into full color, so different from the austere, pallid portraits of the queen inside the castle. The persona I assume is Diane de Poitiers, however, the beautiful, fashionista mistress of the king, twenty years his senior. The original cougar, I think with a chuckle; a fitting observation by a woman who just turned sixty. One day, some day, I’ll morph into Diane at a costume ball, despite the fact that her calculating ruthlessness is about as distant from my personality as I can fathom. But that’s what masquerades are about, no doubt.

The gardens are now under a soft, spring drizzle. I envision royal steeds trotting up the sandy lane to deposit me at Chenonceau’s drawbridge from a gilded coach. But I’m brusquely yanked back to the present as a student calls from behind a colossal planter: What time do we have to be back on the bus, Madame Bohr? Are we late?

My travelers are astounded by the size of the four chateaux we’ve visited. Wait ‘til we see Versailles, I say. Versailles? I can’t wait to go to Versailles. Part of Kim Kardashian’s wedding was there! Some things my students say make me less proud than others.

***

We’ve made it to gentle, lovely Normandy and Brittany. Apples and butter, Camembert and cows. We’re in the land of crêpes and galettes. No drama, no high emotions today, not until we reach the D-Day beaches tomorrow. For now, I revel in the calm of Mont St. Michel’s cloister, an oasis in this spikey medieval stronghold and pilgrimage destination jutting out into the English Channel.

This place looks like a French Hogwarts, and this would be the dining hall. Perfect. Dozens of seagulls soaring overhead — look how cute they are up close! So, Mont St Michel was first built in the 700s? That’s over 1,000 years ago! Your math skills astound me, I confess.

 What would our nine days be without a rude French waiter – actually quite difficult to find these days. Monsieur Méchant, my students call him. They’re using one of our vocabulary words! Mr. Mean.

While they’ve learned to appreciate some French delicacies (poulet confit, profiteroles, pork rillettes, chicken liver pate, un croque monsieur), they occasionally fall back on the familiar.

That may be the worst sandwich I’ve ever had. Ah, so you’ve learned an important lesson, non? Never order a baguette called The American in France!

We amble down the steep, corkscrewed lanes of the abbey and then through the village below. As I point out the rustic Mère Poulard bistro, famous for its fluffy omelettes Normandes, we manage to bump, very literally, into a working film crew. They push us aside. Make way for the star.

Hey, they’re shooting a film – wow, a French actress! Do you know her, Madame Bohr? I think it’s just a commercial or there would be more cameras, right?

We stand and watch two takes, gawking from the sides of the cobblestoned footpath, as the thirty-something beauty performs a soliloquy on a cell phone. Our brush with Gallic fame for the day. I Google the actress that evening – redheaded French actress with blue eyes. How many could there be? And there she is: Audrey Fleurot, of Les Intouchables, Midnight in Paris and a yet-unknown film shot on Mont St. Michel.

I had no idea you spoke so much French, Madame Bohr. You can ask directions and read the signs and talk to our guides and order food. And you can even order wine.

Thank God for that. J’ai la patate.

 
 

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A Rainbow Over Chambord

How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? Wide-eyed wonder abounds as we tour the City of Light and then head for the Loire Valley.

I saw the Eiffel Tower first! Look, Notre Dame! OMG, Nutella! Nutella crêpes! Nutella milkshakes! Is she a supermodel? She’s definitely a supermodel. He must be French. He’s wearing a scarf.

Having endlessly extolled the virtues of a genuine French baguette – crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, ever so slightly burned on the bottom — I suppose I’m to blame for two students buying two-foot long baguettes and downing them as we stroll the boulevards. All part of the culinary adventure that is France.

I thought the Mona Lisa would be bigger. That statue’s just famous ‘cuz she has no arms. Hot chocolate is only 2 euros! And they serve it with whipped cream! I definitely want to study in Paris. I just love the Seine. Can we do a boat tour?

Time to leave the hurly burly of the city and her anxiety-producing, camo-clad, machine gun-wielding guards, for the hinterlands. So many chateaux, churches and country pleasures await.

Why don’t Chartres’ spires match? Is the stained glass really 1,000 years old? Did people actually live in these chateaux? It’s freezing inside! But look at the size of the fireplaces.

Just in time, we’ve escaped a quick spring squall in the mellow light of a salon de thé. In the shadow of romantic Chambord, I’m enjoying a crêpe with a student: crème de marron for me, caramel du beurre salé for him. We savor our final bites, the skies clear and a perfect arc en ciel materializes from one horizon to the other across the grounds of the chateau. Nathalie, our French tour director, stops at our table and suggests a title for my next book: “A Rainbow Over Chambord.” Pourquoi pas? Why not?

What are those huge trees? Why is their bark peeling so much? Are those trees in the square dead? They look like angry old people shaking their fists. Why do they cut off all their branches?

I recall the first time I saw the closely pruned – pollarded – French trees in the seventies. They made me sad, looking as if they’d been abused, the barren sentinels barred from reaching their natural height and breadth. But as I learned back then, such drastic cropping yields lush lollipop trees in summer, providing thick, summer greenery and dense, cooling shade. I explain to my students about the trees and this leads to discussions of French rationality and affinity for order, English versus French gardens, the philosophes, and the French penchant for debate. All because of an angry black tree in a village square.

I love this hotel! The one in Paris was way too modern. This one has charm. Our room is so cool. It has a back door! On peut sortir? Can we go out, Madame Bohr?

I steal away on my own after dinner – I leave through my own back door — to lose myself in reverie and take a solo look at the chateau. Azay-le-Rideau, built on a human scale, one of my favorites. Grand enough to be called a chateau yet small enough to be accessible. I imagine myself living there, tapestries warming the walls, carpets softening the floors, surrounded by a duck pond. On my own for a few minutes, I’m transported back to the ‘70s, conjuring the feelings of the romantic young student I was. Smitten then; I’m smitten now. My beloved France.

Once again, time to board the bus. This time amid uncontrolled giggling. “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” What’s going on?” I ask. They can barely speak. “The bus driver. Peeing by the tree. I saw things I didn’t want to!” Cackles. Guffaws. Innocents abroad. Innocence in France.

 

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2016 in France, Passion for French, Travel

 

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