Archive for August, 2020

The lovely ringing of the bells in France…

L’Eglise St. Remy d’Essoyes

I have in the past mentioned how much I love the ringing of the church bells in France generally, and in particular the ringing of the church bells in “my” little village in Champagne.

I have also promised to expand upon this topic someday, and I have chosen today as the day to do that.

Before beginning I should probably say that there quite a few questions about this topic that I don’t yet know the answers to. And so I would invite anyone who can provide additional perspective or knowledge on the subject to please feel free to do so by commenting below.

Some of the things I wonder about are 1) Why recently the church bells in our town are ringing much more frequently than they used to–for example, every Sunday morning, not just the Sunday mornings when a mass is being celebrated here. It seems to me this started sometime into the period of confinement, or it might have even been during the beginning stages of déconfinement. In any case, lately, every Sunday morning, usually around 10:30 the bells begin to peal and they peal for a lovely 10 minutes or so. And then they peal again, maybe about 45 minutes later. 2) I would like to know how to learn more about the various patterns and meaning of the ringing. I have learned to recognize the tolling of the bells calling mourners to the church before a funeral, and I have been told that the ringing of the bells at 7 am and 7 pm each day is called “Angelus,” and that it is an ancient pattern of bell-ringing that is a call to prayer for Catholics, to pray a particular prayer commemorating the incarnation of Jesus, which includes a Hail Mary.

L’Angélus by Jean-Francois Millet. (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Before starting to write this post I looked to see who else had written on this topic to learn what I could from them. I did so a year or so ago and found this really interesting post written a few years ago by an Australian woman. I find this post interesting for the perspective and information she received from locals in the village where she was vacationing, when she asked the about the patterns of the ringing of the church bells there.

This time I found another post, this one by an American woman, also written a couple of years ago. I found this post interesting for the change of opinion this woman experienced when she first encountered the very frequent (and quite loud) ringing of the church bells in the French town she was vacationing in.

Like many people, at first she found the ringing (which continued through the night) annoying. But eventually she came to appreciate it to the extent that she actually missed the ringing of the bells when she had returned home to Huntington Beach, California.

I have never been bothered by the ringing of the bells; au contraire. I should probably add that like the husband of the woman from California, sleeping through innocent ambient background sounds is not a problem for me: therefore, the sound of bells ringing through the night does not interfere with my peaceful slumber.

But, as the Californian woman herself eventually came to feel, I find the regular ringing of the bells–not just on the hour, but on each quarter-hour also–to be comforting/grounding/orienting in a deep and fundamentally human way.

I think perhaps what bothers many people about this bell-ringing is that it is a regular and–some might feel unwelcome–imposition of the outside world into each of our individual private worlds–the one that exists in our minds. And I will readily admit that it indeed does do that.

However, far from resenting this imposition, I find it a very healthy and pleasant reminder that my own internal world, much as I value, respect, and protect it from all manner of unwelcome outside intrusions on a pretty much constant basis, does exist within a much larger world–a world formed by a local, national, international human community. In that regard, I find the ringing of the church bells, though an imposition, unlike many of the sounds that surround me daily in the 21st century, a very welcome one.

I am not a Catholic, but I feel lucky to be included in the daily reminders that Catholic churches around the world offer all within hearing that there is a power greater than and outside ourselves that we can benefit from remembering and calling upon, if we so desire; that we are surrounded by people, not only in our own local communities, but around the world who have a need for and appreciation of such reminders; and that whether we choose to listen to them or not, to appreciate them or not, these church bells, with their lovely musical sounds, will go on ringing through all manner of the chaos, worry, and strife that also surround us constantly.

I was going to say that they ring on “no matter what.” But in fact, I learned through my recent research, that the bells of France did stop ringing during World War II, from the time of the Occupation of the country until the moment of its liberation nearly five years later. That silence surely must have been a sad absence of sound for the French people: and the return of the ringing of the bells when they finally sounded again, incredibly joyful.

I wish I could share with you with the lovely sound of the ringing of the church bells in Essoyes, but my audio tech skills are just not there yet. So instead I will share with you the ringing of the bells from Sacre Coeur in Paris from a few months ago. Although one of the joys of church bells in France is that they do not all sound exactly the same, not at all; yet, in a general way, the sound is quite similar. And to me at least, deeply comforting.

Stay safe, stay well, everyone. Wear those masks, wash those hands, 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 literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

August 28, 2020 at 10:11 pm 6 comments

An Interview with the Author of Sense the Vibration: Hidden Stories

Sense the Vibration: Hidden Stories is a collection of five short stories set in an imaginary town. These stories provide a glimpse into the lives of women in cultures where prevailing social customs as well as legal restrictions keep them trapped in very limiting roles. The author of these stories grew up in such a culture, and has chosen to publish them under a pseudonym to protect her family from prejudice and ostracism. She answered my questions about her book via email. Here is our exchange. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: What made you want to write this book? Who did you most want to reach through these stories?

Seraphina: The purpose of my stories is to bring attention to the plight of women who are living the restricted lives described in them, as well as to urge men to respect women as equals.  These stories reflect what some women and children experience in extremely backward, paternalistic societies in many parts of the world. It is also a plea to parents to educate their daughters, and abandon outmoded and cruel traditions.

Janet: What was most challenging about writing these stories? What was most rewarding or satisfying?

Seraphina: The biggest challenge was to not sound depressing. Accordingly, I avoided dwelling on women who did not, or could not, summon up the courage to struggle against unreasonable strictures, but who actually were subdued or crushed by them.  The rewarding part was writing about women who bravely challenged the old-fashioned customs to better their lives. These women are inspiring.

Janet: What do you hope your readers will learn from reading these stories? Is there any particular awareness you would like them to gain?  Are there any actions you’d like them to take?

Seraphina: Certainly, the hope is that readers will become aware of these cruel conditions in many parts of the world, and provide sympathy and resources to support the resistance these women are putting up against centuries-old male dominance. There are many resources one can support, for example charities that support shelters for abused women,  or law practices that specialize in defending abused women pro bono.

I also hope that men will read these stories with an open mind.    

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 literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

 

August 21, 2020 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

Drought, and wasps, and COVID, oh my!

The promise of rain, but no rain. The clouds are still beautiful, though…

I do not like to dwell on the negative, so this post is probably going to be rather short, and lacking in detail 🙂

Let’s just say it has been a better summer for wasps and a certain very nasty virus than it has been for some of us.

On the other hand, the “some of us” I am referring to are still very richly blessed compared to most people on this suffering planet of ours. And the annoyances we have been dealing with this week are really just annoyances. They are not tragedies, they are not catastrophes, they are not even illnesses.

People who are dealing with annoyances rather than catastrophes or tragedies or illnesses are by definition lucky people. And so, I am going to try not to complain.

Not even about WASPS!!!! (French lesson of the day: guepes: obnoxious little beasts in any language, grrr… 😦 )

By way of focusing on the positive I’ll mention that my sons and I enjoyed another very fine meal at La Guingette des Arts in Essoyes this week.

A wonderful meal shared at La Guinguette des Arts, Essoyes, au bord de l’Ource.

Also, the vendange begins sometime this week, which always brings extra excitement to the villages around here.

I don’t think it’s been a very good year for the farmers around here either, though. Vignerons and everyone else too… 😦

It is just too dry.

Well lest I continue carrying on in this vein, let me close with another positive thing. And that is my lovely pink mask, my favorite one, which was lovingly made by local volunteers during the period of lockdown last spring for the citizens of Essoyes. And since it looks like we all will be wearing our masks even more than before, it is nice, very nice, to have such a pretty mask to wear.

So merci beaucoup de nouveau, aux ces braves benevoles anonymes d’Essoyes qui ont fabriqués ces beaux masques pour nous. Your generosity is uplifting.

In a time when such things are very welcome.

Mask up, everyone! This too shall pass, we just gotta get through it…


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 literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

August 15, 2020 at 7:52 pm Leave a comment

Interview with Renée-Michele Payne, Author of Every Time We Say Goodbye

Suzanne and Jean, a handsome young couple, meet and fall in love in the vibrant artistic atmosphere of Nancy in 1928. They marry and move to Paris, which is for Suzanne a dream come true. But their marriage is far from trouble-free, and even before war comes to Europe, much of their time is spent apart. The story of their love affair, which is enduringly passionate, but ultimately tragic, is played out on an international stage from Paris to Tangiers, Morocco, Spain, and various locations in France, as well as prison camps in Germany and escape routes through the Netherlands and Belgium.

A novel inspired by a true story,“Every Time We Say Goodbye” is a compelling story of sacrifice, love, and suffering, rich in period detail. Ultimately it is a story of phenomenal courage, of fierce devotion to country and freedom, of the resiliency and endurance of love. It is also about the devastating and persistent intergenerational wounds of war. I recently interviewed the author, Renée-Michele Payne, about the background of her book, and the process of writing it, via email. Here is our conversation. Janet Hulstrand

Janet: What inspired you want to write this story? And how long did it take you? 

Renee: I worked on this book for about 20 years. In 1997, my mother and I were at a department store in the Washington area, when she noticed an elderly woman sitting in a chair at the counter of the beauty salon. My mother approached her, and called out her name. The woman looked up at her, and said: “Forgive me. It was the circumstances.” They cried together for a moment before the woman was called away, for her appointment for a facial.

That was the woman on whom the character of Suzanne is based.

Ever since I learned the details about the couple who was the inspiration for the characters in my novel, I have wanted to write their story. I wanted to solve the mysteries that surrounded them: about the choices they made, their successes and failures, and how the tragedy of the Second World War changed their future together.

The young writer that the character of Jean is based upon had received many positive reviews for his first book, which was a collection of poetic musings. He was asked to write critiques of new publications for many well-known literary journals. An artist painted his portrait, Henri Martinie snapped his photo. The book was translated into Italian, and it was reviewed in the United States, in the Saturday Review. Yet, in spite of an announcement of new works to come, he published nothing after 1930, two years after his early success. Why? What could have happened? I wanted to know.

Another reason I wanted to tell his story was my reaction to what one of the critics had written: that the young writer had to be great, or be nothing. In a factual account I read of a prison escape that “Jean” had helped to engineer, a version of which is detailed in the novel, one of the freed prisoners called him “a pure hero,” the kind of man with whom the Resistance would do miracles to free the country from the jaws of the occupiers and their collaborators. That line brought me to tears. I didn’t want the legacy of such a man to be “nothing.”

At first I was hoping to write a biography, but there were too many gaps that were impossible to fill in through my research, so I decided to use what I already knew, and was able to find out, as the framework for a fictional story, and imagine the details.

The character of Suzanne presented another mystery. As in the book, she changed her identity during the war, and cut off communication with her family. I remember her as a shadowy figure, appearing and disappearing in our lives. My mother loved her, and would tell me stories about her. I mourned her absence from my life. I wanted to know why she had made the choices she did. Was it a result of the trauma of the war? Or was it due to a character flaw? Whenever my mother met someone from her past, they would ask about “Suzanne.” She was clearly someone to be remembered.

I changed the characters’ names for reasons of privacy. I never met the model for Jean, as he was killed before I was born, but the stories I heard about him were the impetus for my research. At the beginning, I knew little about his role in the Resistance, or where he had lost his life. I formed the character not only from the stories I had heard about him, but from the countless queries I sent out, and the research I did.

Unfortunately, most of his family had already passed, and the distant cousins I managed to find knew nothing about him. I was able to obtain a copy of his book, and I was excited to see that it was dedicated to a friend. I began buying multiple copies of his books, and learning about his circle of friends from the dedications he had written in them.

I learned about the place where he had died from the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris. That also gave me his birthdate. When I received that information, he became alive for me. As in the novel, he was a young writer, born in Paris to a Jewish family originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region. He was the youngest ever to receive a doctorate in letters from the University of Caen, in 1924, at the age of 21, a fact that was reported in several newspapers at that time. His book of poetic musings was published in 1928. In 1930, he married a young Jewish woman from Morocco. She began to study mathematics and physics, and later she worked in a laboratory in Paris.

When the war broke out, Jean joined the fight. He was captured and sent to a prison camp in Germany, from which he escaped. He then joined the Resistance. It was after D-Day, but still in June of 1944 that he was arrested and executed. Suzanne did not learn of the location of his death until a few months later. He was buried initially in the cemetery of the town where the execution took place. Sometime later his body was moved, but I have been unable to find the location of his final resting place.

Janet: What was the hardest thing about writing it? The saddest? The most rewarding? 

Renee: The hardest part of writing the novel was the creation of believable three-dimensional characters who would spark and maintain the interest of readers. The saddest part was learning about the traumas and tragedies that befell them at the hands of the Nazis. The most rewarding part was learning each new detail, receiving each new document with another clue, and meeting members of the French Resistance. I also was able to visit the town where Jean and the other résistants were executed, and made a good friend in the president of the local veterans’ association there. My family and I were welcomed to a special ceremony to commemorate V-E day, the day the Nazis were expelled from Europe. That indeed was very special, and rewarding. The president of the veterans’ association was a retired baker. Every year after our visit, he sent us a box of homemade chocolates. I was privileged to know him and his family, and I was touched when his wife called me to tell me of his passing. He was a great man, and a hero of the Resistance.


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 literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

August 5, 2020 at 6:52 am Leave a comment


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