Spring 2022 in Essoyes

Spring has been capricious this year. It was here, bringing sunshine, warmer weather, beautiful wildflowers, and sunnier dispositions. Windows were being opened to let warm breezes inside. Then it snowed again! Which was not good for the young buds on the vines that are so important to life here–and to making the champagne that brings pleasure to people far and wide. The temperature hit a record low for April, and so our local vignerons were once again desperately trying to save their crop of grapes for this year. 😦

Fingers crossed that winter–beautiful as it is–is done for this year! We’re all very ready for spring.

This is an important month in France, as voters choose their next president. In France there is a two-round system for the presidential elections. The two candidates who get the most votes in the first round–which was yesterday–then face off in the final election, which will be held on April 24.

This year there were 12 candidates on the ballot for the first round. And this year–as in 2017–the final choice for French voters is between Emmanuel Macron, the current president, and Marine LePen.

Although the system of counting votes here is very simple and old-fashioned –paper ballots are counted by hand in each commune or arrondissement–it seems to work better than the system in the US. By the morning after the election, sometimes even earlier, the results are posted so that everyone can see how their community voted. I walked into the village this morning so I could see the results for Essoyes posted at the mairie, but since you can’t read the figures on my photograph of the posting (instead you see a rather lovely reflection of the part of the village that was behind the photographer 🙂 ) you can see how Essoyens voted here if you’re curious. And you can read this very interesting article if you want to learn about part of what is at stake in this election. (Only part: there are always, of course, many many issues of concern. But this one seems pretty significant to me. )

The news from Ukraine continues to be horrifying, and the worst part of it is the slowness of action on the part of political leaders to take more vigorous and decisive action to deal with the rapidly mounting humanitarian crisis, and in fact a genocide. Another one. How can this be happening again. How can it?

Many are doing what they can–France, for example, has already taken in some 45,000 Ukrainian refugees since this crisis began less than two months ago. But there will surely be more tragedy ahead unless Putin’s war machine is stopped, and the powers that be are not doing enough, and they’re not acting quickly enough. They’re not!

Fossil fuels are destroying the planet and now they are also fueling this terribly bloody war. When will we put an end to this madness?! How many more innocent people have to suffer from our inability–or unwillingness–to change our ways? It is really so awful. So maddening. So disheartening. So wrong!!

There have been some bright spots in the news. Last week doctors and scientists around the world made clear where they stand about the climate crisis in large numbers. Thank God for them, for their dedication and honesty, for their commitment to doing what they can to turn things around before it is too late. If the climate action movement could pick up steam as rapidly as the resurgence of union activity seems to be doing in the United States as of last week, maybe things could begin to get better.

I hope so, and SOON! because really? Things are not going so well on Planet Earth right now. 😦

There is much hope to be found among youth around the world: young people with great courage, imagination, determination and generosity are doing what they can to correct the mistakes and make up for the negligence of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you want to feel a little bit better about how things are going; if you wonder sometimes if there is any hope at all, you might want to read about some of these young people in this book. The young people featured in it are truly a source of great hope. But they need our help: they can’t solve these big problems alone.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

April 11, 2022 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

A Busy Week in Paris

To be honest it has been a bit hard to think much about anything lately other than the terrible situation unfolding in Ukraine. There is much to say about it but I’m not going to say much for now, other than that I hope the people who have the power to step up and help Ukraine more than we (collectively) have done so far will do so, and quickly. It is a heartbreaking, and also a terrifying situation. I also hope that we will all find ways to do something–there are many ways to help! And the help is needed, desperately.

I did have a wonderfully refreshing, restorative week in Paris. Last Tuesday I attended a sobering (but enlightening) discussion at Adrian Leeds’ Après-Midi led by Douglas Herbert. Wednesday enjoyed a champagne apèro with two good friends that I haven’t seen enough due to Covid and other nuisances, for far too long. (One of those friends is Gary Lee Kraut, editor of the wonderful online publication, France Revisited.) Thursday lunch with another good friend (Ellen Hampton, author of the fascinating Women of Valor), and my obligatory and joyful visit to The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore, where I met Janet Skeslien Charles, author of The Paris Library, and picked up a copy of War and Peace. (How I have managed to live all these years without reading this classic of world literature is a mystery to me. But well, no time like the present!) Friday, a delightful dinner in St. Germain des Près with Diane Johnson, an author I greatly admire. Saturday, I had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing my son Sam perform with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires, where they rocked the house! Sunday, it was brunch with my sons at Molly’s, a delightful Irish/American bar in the 12th.

And now I am back in the quiet, peaceful beauty of Essoyes. Full of gratitude for friends and family, and re-energized in the way that only big, vibrant cities can do, ready for the road ahead.

Here are a few photos from my busy week in Paris.

As of yesterday, it’s masks off in France in most places. (You still have to wear them in public transportation, hospitals, not sure where else.) You might want to keep them on in certain places anyway. Rising numbers seem to suggest that’s not a bad idea. But for now it’s up to you!

The morning bells of Angelus are ringing as I write the final words of this post. Be well, everyone, and try to think of ways you can help someone, somewhere, from your little corner of our troubled world. Every bit helps.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

March 15, 2022 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

An Alliance Française Panel Discussion: Demystifying the French, Round 2

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a lively discussion about Demystifying the French with three friends and colleagues, all fellow American observers of life in France, thanks to the wonderful Fédération des Alliances Françaises USA. For a little more than an hour we answered questions from the audience, and talked about everything from the unfortunate (and unnecessary) cultural clashes that can occur when Americans visit France (due to a lack of understanding each other’s ways), to the importance of meals in French life, to differences in the way we view friendship, to whether or not Emily in Paris got anything right–among many other things. Here’s the recording, for those who would like to see it. Pour yourself a glass of wine, prepare a plate of cheese and bread, sit back, and enjoy!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

February 8, 2022 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

A Green Start to the New Year

January and February are, for me at least, an ideal time for hibernation and quiet contemplation. Which is probably also the reason that now that the happy, but somewhat chaotic period of celebrating the holidays is well over, I find that I don’t really want to write about any of that anymore. But I guess I could share a few pictures. We did have a very nice Christmas!

One of the best things about Christmas and New Years 2021 for me, aside from having both of my sons here for a few days, was the fact that this was our first “green” Christmas.

I have always loved having a freshly cut Christmas tree every year. Balsam was always our favorite because of the wonderful scent it brings into the home, and the fact that its rather sparse branches leave plenty of room for ornaments to be optimally displayed. But this year–partly because we had to have 32 (!) spruce trees in our yard cut down last summer (victims of an insect that has been devastating this particular species all over Europe)–and partly because of our growing awareness of just how badly we all need to safeguard our trees here on planet Earth, it just didn’t seem quite right to buy a dead tree this year.

We have a lot of replanting to do, and so we decided, why not start now?

Initially we had planned to bring the little live tree we bought inside, decorate it, and then plant it after Christmas. But once we had it sitting outside where it could benefit from the sunlight and rain, we didn’t have the heart to do that. It was clear that our little tree was going to be happiest outside: and so we left it there for a few days near the bird feeder, until one of my sons was able to find just the right spot, and the time to plant it. And so before the old year was gone, thanks to Sam, we had a new tree planted. It was a good feeling!

It has a long way to go to catch up with the “big guys,” but our little tree is doing quite well and we are very happy with our decision.

And so, after an unusually long silence, I am peeking out of my wintry hibernation to send everyone a belated, but very sincere wish for a green, happy, healthy, and productive 2022. Keep those masks on, and keep smiling underneath them. Spring will be here soon!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

February 6, 2022 at 2:27 pm 2 comments

A return to Paris…and Paris returning (to itself)

I was lucky to spend a few days in Paris last week. It is always a pleasure to be there, and what was particularly pleasurable this time was enjoying the fact that Paris is pretty much back to itself after a rough couple of years due to the pandemic (not even gonna say its name…)

For example, look at these two pictures of the Café République, one taken last January, and one taken last week.

It isn’t as if the pandemic is over, no not at all. People are masked up, and there is an aggressive campaign to get a third dose of the vaccine distributed to as many people as possible as quickly as possible (and plans to begin innoculating children ages 11 and up to begin soon). There are testing stations conveniently located all around the city so those who need them can avail themselves. And there are concerns about the new variant. That is why all of the above is happening, and why on the whole people are cooperating.

But mostly the City of Light is back to being a city of light. And in the dark days of December, that’s a mighty fine thing…

In our home, December 13 is the day that marks the beginning of the long march toward longer days and shorter nights…because today is the festival of St. Lucia in Sweden–and in Swedish homes all over the world.

Here’s to celebrating light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold, with music and sweets to bring comfort and joy to you and yours, no matter how you celebrate this part of the year…

St. Lucia Day, Sweden

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

December 13, 2021 at 8:08 am Leave a comment

Autumn 2021

My kids, and their friends, arriving for Thanksgiving with turkey, escargot, pecan pie and other delights …

Well it is good to be back to typing with two hands!

And I am trying to think what highlights to report between the last time I wrote here and this time.

Although three different anticipated visits by friends in the U.S. who decided to postpone (not cancel!) their European trips this fall fell through, my sister and brother-in-law, who had first planned to come for a visit right before COVID threw everything into a spin in March 2020, finally made it here, in early November. And I had a visit from one of my students from my Politics and Prose classes also, earlier, in October. She and her husband were visiting their son and future daughter-in-law, who live in Dijon, not far from here. They too had been long awaiting the time when they could come here and be reunited with their son. So this was the fall when families separated by Covid for too long were finally able to get together again. Yay!

My sister and brother-in-law and I had a wonderful time in Paris (where we walked 7 miles one day!)

After a couple of days of museum going and walking and walking and walking in Paris, we went on to Lille, where we visited my son Sam. And then all of us (including both of my sons) went on to Bruges, Belgium, a place we had all heard good things about, but none of us had ever been to before.

The weather in both Paris and Bruges was uncharacteristically sunny and mild for northern Europe in November, a lucky break for our visitors! In Bruges we had a wonderful time doing all the typical Belgian things: eating waffles, and fries, and drinking Belgian beer. And admiring the beautiful canals, and the lovely architecture…

By the time we got to Essoyes, the weather finally became a bit more typical of the season. We still had a wonderful time–in addition to the required (of course!) visit to the Renoir home and interpretive center in Essoyes, we visited a couple of nearby sites of interest that I had never been to: The Crystal Museum in Bayel, and the former abbey/now prison at Clairvaux. (A word to the wise: the entrance to the museum and tour of the former abbey is to your right as you come out of the visitor parking lot. That is where you want to go, not to the friendly-looking French flags to your left: that is the entrance to the maximum security prison, and you definitely don’t want to go there. The guards inside were quite surprised to see my brother-in-law confidently approach those heavy metal doors looking for a way inside. Fortunately, a quick explanation in French that we were looking for “l’abbaye” convinced them that we were harmless, just a bit confused, and they kindly redirected us.)

All too soon it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to go back home. And so they got the obligatory COVID test that had become required in order to board the plane during the short time they were here. And they went back to Paris, and on to Minneapolis.

One week later it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving in France. And while it is not a holiday here, it is celebrated by most Americans who live in France, and often their French friends and friends from other places are invited to join in the festivities as well.

Because it is not a holiday here, usually Americans celebrate it on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which is what we did. Two things were different about our Thanksgiving this year: one, my sons offered to plan it themselves and did most of the shopping and cooking for it. What a treat! Two, I took the five minutes needed to read enough about the real history of Thanksgiving that I have forevermore banished my posterboard “Day Glo” pilgrims from our Thanksgiving celebrations. I always had displayed them as kind of a joke (Pilgrims really did not dress in those colors!) but having read the history now, I have to say there is really nothing funny about the way the Pilgrims treated the the Wampanoag people. I knew that there was an understory that was not at all sweet, and very little like the one we learned about in school back in the 1960s. But I had not ever taken the time before to find out exactly what did happen. The article I have linked to above tells the story very quickly, and that was enough for me to decide “No more silly Pilgrims at our Thanksgiving celebrations.” Nothing funny about them! 😦

What was the same this year was the joy of bringing together a mix of people to celebrate a holiday we all cherish. This time we were lucky to have among our guests Phineas’s (French) girlfriend; a college friend of his who now lives in London; and the one other American who lives in Essoyes, who came with her two daughters, one of whom is just a toddler, and who delighted us all with her antics.

And there was music, there is always music when my son Sam is around. This time Phineas played his guitar too!

Now, less than a week later, the new COVID variant is causing new concerns, and consequently there are increased travel restrictions. So. I am thankful to have had this wonderful time with my family when we could.

Here’s wishing one and all a safe, happy, healthy holiday season. Wear those masks, wash those hands, get those vaccines! And I hope whatever travels you have planned will go smoothly, and well, so that you can be with your families and friends too…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

December 2, 2021 at 8:13 pm 2 comments

falling into autumn

this post will be very brief, for i am typing with just one hand.

this is because i seem to have developed the habit of taking spectacular falls onto the sidewalks of paris.

please note: in neither case should either paris or mme hidalgo be blamed for this. my good fortune in both episode 1 and episode 2 was to tumble onto a smooth, even, and even nice and clean sidewalk. never mind why! 😦

but before i fell i did manage to get a couple of photos of the newly reopened samaritaine, shown above.

watch your step, everyone! and i will try to do the same. 🙂

view from my place of recovery 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

September 16, 2021 at 11:15 am 6 comments

Late Summer, Essoyes 2021

Our New, Opened-Up View of Essoyes. Photo by Stephen Rueckert.

Well, it has not been a quiet week in Essoyes, and next week will be even busier because I am told that is when the vendange will begin.

This is the week we (that is, our family) had to say goodbye to our beloved épicéas (spruce) trees, another victim of climate change. (Of course I am well aware that around the world, including in my beloved city of New York, others have suffered much worse fates, this very week. 😦 )

Nonetheless, for us this was a big loss, and it was a big job to take these trees down. Fortunately, we were able to call upon our local paysagiste, one of whose specialities is “abbatage délicat,” to take on this enormous task. And délicat is indeed the right word for the work they did for us this week.

We were most impressed (plus relieved) to watch this team practice their expertise. Five (out of the 32 very tall trees that had to come down) were right next to our house, with a fence behind them, and a road on the other side of the fence, plus a farmer’s field. These guys–two guys, one with a ladder and a chain saw, the other standing at a distance with a rope attached to the tree–managed to take these huge trees down, one at a time, in such a way that when they came crashing down, they cleared the house by a very narrow margin, and also managed to not hit my beloved “Christmas tree”–a beautiful, majestic cedar, which is (thankfully) immune to the insects that have devastated all the spruces. This task was carried out with surgical precision. It was amazing!

And it was not a lucky accident that it turned out that way. This was the result of sheer professional expertise. I have often remarked on the excellence of the French in mastering their various métiers. Here again we saw that excellence demonstrated.

So while it was sad to see our lovely trees go, remembering how that line of evergreens had sheltered, more or less cocooned us here in our lovely French home, by the time we were able to arrange to have them taken down, we were not only ready, but actually quite eager, to have it happen. Because by the time they came down, they had not been green in the least for a good while; and there is really nothing at all lovely about looking at a line of dead trees. (It’s also no fun wondering every time a storm comes up which of them may come crashing down, and where!)

And so, in the end, the new and expansive openness of our view from here has felt liberating, even kind of joyful. The beauty of the sunsets that I have so often shared on my Facebook page no longer have to be taken while standing between the trees and holding my camera up: the view of that beautiful sky and the fields over which it performs its daily visual splendor now can be seen clearly right from our house, and all around our yard.

In other news: French kids went back to school this week. And I must say, this tweet, with a short video of the rentrée, which I saw on the news feed of L’Est Eclair (our regional newspaper) really touched my heart. I feel for all the parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators who are doing their best both to resume a semi-normal school year, and to protect the kids from that nasty virus. It’s not easy. I hope things will go well. The kids didn’t ask for this, and they don’t deserve it. 😦

Anyway: as the virus picks up in various places, these words again become very useful: wear your masks, wash your hands, practice those rules of social distancing. Be safe, be well. Prenez soin de vous…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

September 4, 2021 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

Demystifying the French: A Panel Discussion on Zoom

The event is over now, but you can still watch it. Here’s the link!

August 14, 2021 at 2:16 pm Leave a comment

Summertime 2021

Essoyes a travers les champs, at dawn. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

In spite of early predictions for another hot, dry (meaning good-for-wasps) summer, at least in this corner of southern Champagne it has been cool and frequently rainy. I’m not sure what this means for the farmers around here: I know the season started out badly for those who grow grapes and other kinds of fruit, due to a few unseasonably warm days in May, followed by a late freeze.

To the untrained eye, the vineyards look healthy, at least the ones I have seen. In any case, my message to the world is the same as it always is: buy champagne! Support farmers!

And my message to wasps is: no offense, but we have not missed you this summer!

I thought that in this post, rather than try to sum up the ever-changing rules, progress in the fight against Covid, sliding back in the fight against Covid, disagreement about how to handle the pandemic, etc., I would give you some respite from all that, through a little late-summer photographic resume of this beautiful part of the world in which I find myself.

The photo at the top of this post was taken at dawn. And the one below, at dusk.

L’heure bleu, Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

There is no such thing as a day here that is not beautiful. I hope wherever you are, you will find beauty in your world too, even if it is in the lovely colors of sunset saturating a brick wall in golden light, or reflected in panes of glass. Or wildflowers making their determined way through cracks in a sidewalk, or a pile of gravel. There’s beauty everywhere…

Stay safe, stay well everyone. Get the vaccine. Wear those masks. So much to enjoy in this world.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

August 7, 2021 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

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