Bonne Nouvelle Année d’Essoyes (2019)

January 1, 2019 at 11:54 am 2 comments

DSC07171 (2)Well it is that time of year again. The shortest days of the year are behind us now, and every day the sun will be with us for a little bit longer…yay!!!

On the first Sunday in December, we were treated to a concert in the community center: three local chorales performing Christmas songs. It was a lovely way to head into the darkest days of the year. It is lovely to see people everywhere, whether in small rural communities or small communities within large cities, making time to practice and preserve such traditions, and to share them with their neighbors.

I left the concert a bit early to be sure that I could make it home before dark: and as I walked home I was reminded of what I had told some of my friends when I first started spending more time here, to explain why I love it so much. “I just love the walls,” I said. “When I walk into Essoyes to buy bread in the morning, and I walk by those ancient walls, I just feel good. It’s hard to explain why something so simple makes me feel so good, but it does.”

Here are (some of ) the walls I’m talking about, as seen toward sunset on a semi-dreary day in early December. I think it is something about the suggestion of permanency, of a long history lived here in this village that makes me feel so good, even though I know that much of the history has not been something anyone would want to live through.


It has been wonderful to have one of my sons and his friend Anna here with me for the holidays. They came from Paris on the train a few days before Christmas, and I picked them up at our closest stop, in Vendeuvre-sur-Barse. No matter how you approach Essoyes, or from what direction, there is so much beauty to be seen. The route from Vendeuvre to Essoyes has a somewhat more dramatic open landscape, and fewer villages, than the route from Troyes. But they are both beautiful drives. I particularly love the giant windmills atop a high plateau that we drive over on our way home from Vendeuvre: not only because they are in and of themselves such beautiful shapes but because I know they are providing energy in a more sensible, more sustainable way than some of the other ways we’ve counted on in the past. It makes me feel like at least in some places some things are getting better, not worse!

I have held off saying anything about the gilets jaunes until now, hoping that the movement would have come to a more or less satisfactory resolution, and that it would be fairly easy to summarize and explain. Alas, neither the movement, nor the complaints of the gilets jaunes are anything like “resolved” and nothing about it lends itself to easy summary or interpretation. Indeed there are troubling signs that the usual suspects who tend to take advantage of moments of civil unrest–and perhaps some unusual suspects as well this time–are not about to calm down, but are instead intent on wreaking havoc and sowing discord among the people. It is a very complicated situation, and I am not going to try to describe or explain it here: there has been a lot of ink spilled on the topic by people who know far more about it than I do, and in any case it’s not over yet.

Most of the trouble has been in the cities, but the movement is largely a rural movement being brought there by people who feel they have for too long not been listened to. What I will say is that I  hope, along with most French people, as well as most nonFrench people living in France, whether they are “pro,” “anti” or somewhere in the middle regarding the gilets jaunes, that the discontent, and the real problems that led to so many ordinary citizens to feel fed up enough with their government to engage in some very committed and sustained, and unfortunately upsetting-for-everyone protests, will be adequately addressed by the government, so that peacefulness can once again prevail. President Macron gave his annual New Years vouex (wishes, or greeting) to the nation last night and so far it seems that many approve of what he had to say. Of course not everyone does, and everyone would agree that there is much hard work to be done in the weeks and months ahead in order for France to come through this period of turbulence, reestablish harmony, and make the changes needed for a more just, more equitable future for all.

We went to the Christmas Eve mass at a lovely little 16th century church in Merrey-sur-Arce, and as the priest asked for blessings and protection upon the police and other public servants in his prayers, I heard the man next to me in the pew murmur “et les gilets jaunes..” I thought it was a good thing to remember them too.

Hunting season is in full swing in the French countryside, and that means that weekends bring the frequent sound of gunfire, of dogs barking, and even of bugles. (Yes! Bugles! 🙂 ) It all feels to me, anyway, very medieval, as if I am living on the edge of a 21st-century version of one of the unicorn tapestries. Anyone who follows the news in France at all knows that certain precautions are in order during hunting season: this is because every year there are accidents, more accidents than one might expect. So you don’t go walking in the forest on the weekends from sometime in the fall until sometime in the late winter or spring. I tried to look up exactly how long the season lasts a few weeks ago, and I found a promising title for an article, something like “Everything You Need to Know About Hunting Season in France.” The article was quite helpful regarding when the season begins (it’s not the same everywhere in France), but unfortunately the author of the article apparently did not think  it was necessary to let us know when it ends, leading me to feel, a bit grumpily, that the article had not in fact told us all quite everything we needed to know. (I hate to be a nitpicker, but really…)

Tomorrow there will be another funeral in Essoyes. Micheline Cintrat, wife of our oldest citizen, mother of our mayor Alain Cintrat and his brothers, grandmother, great-grandmother, and beloved friend of many in the village, will be laid to rest in the village cemetery. Madame Cintrat loved this village passionately, and for most of her long life she devoted her abundant energy to supporting and promoting it in a variety of ways. She was cruelly robbed of the ability to do so in the last few years of her life, but her energy, passion, and commitment to supporting the work of her son, as well as many others who loved Essoyes and who, like her, wanted to share their love of its history, its past as well as its present and future, was infectious. She has been and will continue to be sorely missed.

And so we have arrived at a New Year that many of us hope will be better than the last one. This morning there was a rich, melodious, joyous pealing of the church bells to usher in the New Year. I hope wherever you are there has been, or will be soon, an equally hopeful sound for you to focus on for a moment, to carry you into the new year with all the energy and commitment needed to help make it so…

Wishing everyone peace and joy, health and happiness in this New Year.  DSC07888.jpgJanet 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. Her next book, Demystifying the French, a cultural guide to living and traveling in France, will be published in 2019. She is currently working on a literary memoir, A Long Way from Iowa.

Entry filed under: About Essoyes. Tags: .

End-of-Autumn Thoughts… Announcing “Demystifying the French”

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kevin sisson  |  January 1, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Absolutely beautiful, as always.

    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  January 1, 2019 at 2:54 pm

      Thank you so much, Kevin. Sending warm New Year’s hopes, prayers, blessings, and love your way! ❤


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