It’s been an exciting week in Essoyes…

October 17, 2018 at 11:03 am Leave a comment


First of all, it has been so lovely here, an “Indian summer” that doesn’t end! (This is probably not really a good thing, globally speaking. But we may as well enjoy it from day to day, as  glorious October day follows glorious October day…)

Most of the time my life here is pretty quiet, and that is a large part of the reason I love it so much. In Essoyes I have found a place where peaceful solitude, and the ability to concentrate on my work is fairly easy to achieve.

But last week was different.


Headline: “A grandson of President Truman in Essoyes”

First of all, Essoyes was honored with a visit to the village by some very special American guests of honor. Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of President Harry Truman, and his wife were here, along with Marie-France Ménage-Small and her husband, proprietors of the Chateau de Montigny sur Aube, which is not far from here in Burgundy’s lovely Côte d’Or. The Daniels had been invited to the chateau to attend the inaugural ceremony of the Harry Truman Grove, and while they were in this part of France they also visited the Memorial Charles de Gaulle in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises and the restored Renoir home in Essoyes.

I probably should back up, just briefly, 100 years, to explain why there is a Harry Truman Grove at a chateau here in the heart of France: the reason is because  in 1918, as a member of a battalion of American soldiers who were being trained in the use of a 75 millimeter cannon, Harry Truman spent several months there.

Most of the time when French people express their gratitude to the United States for our involvement in allied military action, it is about World War II. But this is an instance in which it is our involvement in World War I that was and is being recognized and honored in a very elaborate and wonderful way by our French friends. And so, on Thursday, October 11, a gathering of French and American dignitaries gathered to honor this joint history, and to mark the (near) centenary of the end of the First World War.

I was not able to attend that event, but as one of only two Americans in Essoyes, I was honored to be invited by Mayor Alain Cintrat to attend a ceremony the following day, right here in Essoyes, to help welcome these very special visitors to our town. The simple reception that the Mayor had arranged for them was perfect in every detail: fresh flowers adorned a table that featured a centerpiece with the French and American flags; the Mayor gave a very touching speech welcoming our visitors, and my friend Desirée (the other American essoyenne), who had been asked to translate the speech into English, delivered it in English after the Mayor had given his welcome in French. Desirée has kindly shared the text with me so that I could quote from it here:

“As an artillery officer, your grandfather spent several months in Montigny. Arriving as a lieutenant, he left with the grade of captain after having followed an intense military training. It was an important period in his life. He demonstrated his leadership qualities, and his discovery of Europe bestowed on him a new vision of Europe. He may not have been conscious of it, but his wish to serve his country at the highest level may have taken shape on French territory, in Montigny sur Aube… You came here to visit the Renoir family home: the notion of family is important to the Renoir history. It was Renoir’s wife, a native of Essoyes, who introduced him to the village. At first a bit reluctant, he ended up adopting Essoyes and Essoyens. He appreciated the light, the calm, the serenity favorable to artistic creation. For thirty years he came here every year…Jean Renoir wrote that “The most beautiful years of my life were spent in Essoyes: for me there is not another village in the world that can compare.” This connection of the Renoir family with this village is so strong that the whole family is buried here. None of them passed away in Essoyes, but all had chosen this land as their final home…If there is a relationship between the Renoir family and Essoyes, there is also one with the Renoir family and the USA. Indeed, a number of Renoir family members live or have lived there: some have become American citizens.” 

The Mayor concluded his remarks by thanking Mr. and Mrs. Daniel for their visit, and Mme. Ménage-Small for her role in initiating and hosting such a wonderful, collaborative endeavor. Then, after he had presented Mr. Daniel with a special commemorative medallion from the village of Essoyes, the guests were served exquisitely presented and delicious petit fours prepared by one of our local traiteurs, along with–of course!–champagne.

Mme. Ménage-Small had invited the guests in attendance that day to visit the chateau on the weekend, to see the exhibition that had been put together, and even the very cannon that had been used for training the American troops, which was on loan for the weekend only. And so I went there with friends on Saturday, another gloriously beautiful (and summery!) day. I will write another time about the charms of the Chateau de Montigny-sur-Aube: for now I will just present a few of the photos I took to show what a great place it is to visit!


One thing that I particularly love and admire about the civic leadership in Essoyes is that in addition to preserving and celebrating the legacy of past artists who have lived here, special effort is given to providing support to young contemporary artists. Last night another special event took place in the Maison Renoir: the opening of an exhibition of paintings which will be on display there through November 25. The artist is Lin Wenjie, who was the recipient of the 2016 Bourse Renoir, an annual fellowship awarded to a young artist by the Association Renoir. So now Wenjie has the honor of having her work hang in the room specially designated for the display of original works of art, the same room that the Renoir family and their guests dined in once upon a time, the same room in which Renoir’s own paintings are sometimes displayed on loan from French museums. Quite an honor for a young artist!


An art opening at the Maison Renoir on a lovely October evening.

But that wasn’t even all of the excitement for me this month so far. I did a whirlwind trip to Paris on October 9 to meet one of my former Politics & Prose students at Adrian Leeds’s Après-Midi meet-up, and to hear Cara Black talk about her latest mystery. It happened to be the day of a national rail strike, which introduced a bit of unpredictability into the question of whether or not this trip would be successful and I would be able to complete it as planned. But, although delayed a bit, I got there on time for the event: and I got back home again too in the same day, lucky me!

Due to an interlocking set of poorly planned details, I was accidentally thrust into the situation of having nothing to read for a few hours, something which normally would drive me crazy. I decided to not let it get to me this time, but rather to use the forced downtime to enjoy quietly and carefully observing the world around me, first at the train station in Vendeuvre-sur-Barse, then meditatively viewing the beauty of the passing landscape between there and Paris. It is always a pleasure to hear Cara Black speak; it was wonderful to be able to see my friend while she was in Paris; and the whole idea that I live close enough to Paris that I can do this–zip into and back out of that wonderful city, all inside of one perfect autumn day (even on the day of a national rail strike!)–and then find myself back in the peacefulness of the champenois countryside, is just one of the very best things about my current life.

Now it’s back to to that quiet country life. When I need a break from my writing, I’ll be raking leaves here on the edge of the forest, wearing my brightly colored hat: a signal to any nearby hunters that I am not a deer!


And that is the news from Essoyes, for now….stay tuned for more…

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. She is currently working on two books: A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir; and Demystifying the French, a cultural guide to living and traveling in France. 

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

Here comes autumn… An interview with Lin Wenjie, recipient of the Bourse Renoir

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