Back in Essoyes again…

April 25, 2017 at 11:05 am Leave a comment


Eglise d’Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

First of all, how nice to be welcomed back after long weeks away! The Facebook message from my friend Desirée expressed enthusiasm that I was back in France again, and added, “…at 6:30 pm there is a short film in the community hall that the Maison Pour Tous and the kids put together. You are welcome to join us…”

I arrived back in Essoyes that day with just enough time to open up the house, change my clothes, and whisk back to the center of town to the salle polyvalente, where an excited crowd was waiting for the film to begin.

The film project is one of many preparations in our village for the celebration of the department-wide Year of Renoir, which I have written about here. The first few rows of seats were taken up by the children of the village, many of whom had been involved in making the film. Behind them sat their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, neighbors, and other members of the community–and me! The mayor and various members of the conseil municipal were there too.

The film, with all roles played by the schoolchildren of Essoyes, showed what life was like in Essoyes in 1900, when the Renoir family lived in the house that is currently under renovation, and will open to the public on June 3. There were scenes of a teacher c. 1900 instructing a class of schoolchildren c. 1900. Spitballs c. 1900–those haven’t changed at all!–were thrown at the teacher when she turned her back to the class to write on the blackboard, resulting in c. 1900 discipline meted out to the offenders. And there were scenes shot in Renoir’s c. 1905 studio, with a young friend of mine, Evangeline, playing the role of Gabrielle Renard, one of Renoir’s favorite models, who was a native Essoyenne. At the end of the film there was a series of outtakes that inspired lots of giggling and even some cheerful hooting from the crowd.

It was a very nice welcome home.

On Sunday, at about 10:00 a.m. the church bells, which normally only ring out the quarter hours between 7:00 am and 10:00 pm, or occasionally announce a funeral mass, began to sing, a rich harmonious melody, and their joyful music went on for more than a minute. I was too late to either make it to the Mass that was being announced (which is celebrated only infrequently in our village church), or to capture the lovely sound of those bells. Next time it happens, I hope to record it, and then I can share it with you.

In any case, when I walked into the village a bit later to get my pain au chocolat, I noticed that the church parking lot was completely full, with many more cars parked in the streets around the church. Given the generally secular nature of contemporary French society, this was a bit surprising, and in fact I was doubtful that it was “just a mass” being said, with that many people. But, the boulangère confirmed for me that that indeed was the cause of the pealing of the bells this morning. Were the people praying for a happy result in their elections, the first round of which was being held that day? Were they praying for their safety after another terrorist attack a few days earlier? Whatever the reason, they were there, and they were filling the church, and in my opinion churches full of people are better than empty churches, closed up.

Volunteers in the village have been busy preparing festive costumes for the celebration of “Essoyes in the Edwardian Age” (Essoyes a la belle époque in French), which will take place July 22 and 23, when Essoyes will transform itself into its 1900 version of itself, and the public is invited to come and enjoy this journey into the past. Volunteers have been meeting in the mairie over the past few weeks to work on making and decorating costumes. I visited this week, and they allowed me to have a peek at the work underway, and to share that peek with all of you.

While I was away in the U.S., the hotel in our village reopened. So now we have two hotels (the other one is in nearby Loches), and a bed-and-breakfast place, all ready to welcome the many visitors we hope will come to Essoyes to help us celebrate this very special year.

Meanwhile, with all the new developments going on, some things are more or less the same from year to year. The fields of rapeseed and wheat are flourishing, their yellow-and-green patchwork squares dotting the landscape, and on the hills surrounding the villages the grapes are beginning to push out. (Sunny, warm weather in the beginning of April was followed by some late frosts over the past week, and we are all sincerely hoping, for the sake of the vignerons, and anyone who loves champagne, that there will be no more of that until winter.)



As for me, I am trying to regain the stride that was interrupted during my extended trip to the States to deal with downsizing the amount of “stuff” I left behind. It was a productive few weeks, the tedium and drudgery of downsizing relieved by the pleasure of visits with friends and family. Still and all, the experience was mind-jangling, and it is very good to be back out of the sorting-reviewing-and-dumping mode, with its inevitable, sometimes sweet, sometimes painful excursions into the past. And to be back into the present, in the springtime, in the beautiful countryside of Champagne.

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 leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.

Entry filed under: About Essoyes, About France. Tags: , , .

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