Back Home in Essoyes…

August 20, 2018 at 9:10 pm 5 comments


“Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” 

That is the quote, attributed to Aristotle, that came to me when I was asked where my sacred place is, and why I chose it.

This was in answer to one of several questions I was asked, to accompany  an excerpt from the memoir I have been working on for some time that was published last year in a collection of essays called The Pilgrimage Chronicles: Embrace the Quest.

And even though the excerpt that was published in The Pilgrimage Chronicles is about my experiences in a little town in Iowa where I had gone to to pursue my quest–seeking to understand my grandmother’s inner life–nonetheless, when I was asked how I chose my “sacred place,” it was Essoyes that came instantly to my mind.

I had never really thought about whether or not I had a sacred place before being asked this question; but indeed Essoyes is the one place in this world where over the past couple of years I have felt my soul settling into its most appropriate spot. And there is a deep contentment that goes along with having found that place at last.

There are a few other places in the world that I love deeply and can feel very happy in–places all over Minnesota, New York City (especially Brooklyn), Paris.

But I wouldn’t call any of them my sacred place, and I have never felt quite so completely right in any of them, never quite so completely my fullest, truest, best self–as I have in this place, a little rural village in Champagne, not too far from Paris, where all the fundamental parts of myself can be nourished and inspired.

I suppose it should not, then, have been surprising to me how unsettling it could be to be away from here this summer for a longer time than I wanted to be. I spent the summer doing things I needed to do and seeing people I enjoyed seeing very much. I had a good, rich, enjoyable, productive time. Most of the time in the three months I was away was spent in Washington DC and Minnesota, with side trips to New York and Ohio to see my sons, and two nice long road trips that allowed me to reconnect  with family and friends I hadn’t been able to spend very much time with in recent years.

But I didn’t feel I was at home this time, not even in Minnesota. I love Minnesota, deeply, profoundly; and when people ask me where I am from, I always say Minnesota, because that is the truth. I like being there, I like it a lot, and I wish I could spend more time there; but there is a reason that when I left there at the age of 25 to travel in Europe, I never really lived there again. I didn’t know at the time that I was leaving for good, but as it turned out, I was.

And so here I am, back home in Essoyes. Getting back to work on various projects. Sinking into the rhythm of this lovely place once again. Taking long walks at sunset across a field that is sometimes–like last night–wonderfully quiet and peaceful. Just me and the fields and the sunset, and the songs of the birds, affording me the opportunity to be embraced and renewed by a beautiful and rare–even for here–complete and total solitude.

There is also, of course, pleasure in the social and cultural life of the village. An exposition of  works of art depicting Renoir and his children will be on display at Du Côté des Renoir through September 30. Last week there was an organ and choir concert of Polish musicians performing in the church. And soon the vendange, the annual harvesting of the grapes, will begin. When it does, for a couple of weeks everything here will be focused on that. There will be more to come about that, probably, in my next post.

This morning I was awakened by the  bells that ring out from the churches at both Essoyes and Loches-sur-Ource, the nearest village to us. There is a lovely asymmetry in the ringing of these bells that I enjoy: that is, the bells ring almost at the same time, but not quite. They are a couple of minutes apart: so which village has it right? Essoyes or Loches? What time is it, really?

It doesn’t matter, at least it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that I get the chance to hear both of them; that there is a sufficient pause between the two so that one can really enjoy both of them, rather than feel that they are competing with each other; and that they are both lovely, one a little bit closer to me, the other farther away.

One day, maybe, I will write an essay about how much I love the ringing of church bells, and why I do. For now I will just say that I think there is something primal about marking time in this way, something that makes me feel connected to earth and sky, field and village, the sacred and the mundane. It makes me feel grounded, and centered, and it lifts my spirit. All at the same time.


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 writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the City University of New York each summer. 




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

Wending My Way Through Wisconsin… Report from Essoyes: Les Vendanges 2018

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sara somers  |  August 21, 2018 at 6:39 am

    Sigh!! I feel that way about Pouy in Le Gers and I was only there a month.

  • 2. Kevin sisson  |  August 22, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Beautiful. I’m glad you’re home. Wish I was there.

  • 3. janehoppe  |  August 26, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    Change of scenery refreshes and recharges. Connecting with friends and family touches the heart. Coming home settles and satisfies. Aah.This is good. Glad you’re HOME in Essoyes. I love your last paragraph.

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  August 27, 2018 at 5:51 am

      Thank you so much, Jane. I look forward to the day I can welcome you here to write from your heart! 🙂

      • 5. janehoppe  |  August 27, 2018 at 2:50 pm

        Thank you, Janet. I look forward to that day as well!

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