Archive for December, 2020

Adieu to a Much-Beloved Village Doctor

Dr. Alain Grizot, Essoye’s beloved village doctor

I knew fairly early a few mornings ago that someone in our village must have died, because the way the church bells rang at 8:00 was not the usual way. They were tolling, not just ringing the hour.

So I checked the Facebook page for our village, and that is how I learned that the person who had died was Dr. Grizot, and that there would be a funeral mass for him held in our village church that afternoon.

Essoyes is lucky to have a village doctor. Many communities in rural France do not have doctors living in their communities. We have one now, and we were also lucky to have had Alain Grizot as our village doctor for many years, until he retired a few years ago.

I didn’t know Dr. Grizot very well, but I knew him a bit, because several times he was the doctor who cared for members of my family. I also encountered him several times after his retirement, at cultural or heritage events that he was participating in, and so was I. One was the annual memorial hike led by Guy Prunier, in honor of the French Resistance unit, the Maquis Montcalm, based in nearby Mussy-sur-Seine. Another was a guided walking tour led by the staff of the Maison Renoir here in Essoyes.

A few years ago I asked Dr. Grizot if he would be willing to sit down with me and answer some questions about his career as a village doctor. It was my intention to publish the interview on this blog but I was not able to do that, mainly because the interview was very long, and in French (so it required transcription and translation, both very time-consuming tasks), and thus difficult for me to find the time to do it. And now, sadly, I don’t even have access to the recording because it has become locked in an old computer that I can’t get into anymore. (This made me sad before every time I thought about it, and it makes me even sadder now. ) If I can find a way one of these days to recapture that interview, I will eventually do what I intended to do in the first place: which was to publish it as one of a collection of occasional essays and interviews I am posting, as I am able to do so, to feature the lives and the work of some of the citizens of this town, and their contributions to the life here.

However, I do remember a few things from that interview that I can share here. I remember that although he came here, I believe as a young man, a new doctor, and then spent the rest of his life here, he was not born and raised in Essoyes. I vaguely remember him telling me that he came from somewhere in Burgundy, a fact that seems to be confirmed, or at least strongly suggested, by the fact that he was to be buried in Nolay, a village south of Dijon. I remember also that I asked him what was the hardest thing about being a doctor. And while I can’t remember his exact words, I remember that before he answered he looked both thoughtful and sad, and that he said something about how hard it was to see people who he had cared for as little children die as young adults. I believe he said something specifically about car accidents.

Village doctors, and family doctors in general, are becoming more and more rare individuals in our modern world. The amount of training required is considerable, it is ongoing, and the compensation is not what it should be, certainly not comparable to the compensation specialists can expect to receive. Though in general health care in France is much better than in the U.S., this is a problem here just as it is in the United States. I think we talked a bit about this too, about how hard it was to have enough doctors when the sacrifices asked of them are as great as they are, and the rewards insufficient for all but the most dedicated, and those able to survive on the very modest amounts they are allowed to charge for their services.

We did discuss this a bit, but it was in the context of how this a problem not so much for doctors (though it certainly is that), but for the public. What I remember most about that interview was Dr. Grizot’s intelligence; the way he spoke about current and evolving medical issues knowledgeably and with genuine interest, even though he was retired from the profession. He talked for a long time, and seemed to be very happy to have been asked to talk about his work. The other thing that stood out was his compassionate nature, which was evident as he talked about the people he had cared for. That is what seemed to matter the most to him.

So, I would say that one way to honor Dr. Grizot is to remember how much he cared. And to do what he would want. I think he would want everyone to take good care of themselves (“prenez soin de vous“), to carry out, as it were, the work that good doctors everywhere do when they take care of us.

And to drive carefully. An especially good time of year to remember these things.

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.”

December 24, 2020 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Allègement de confinement and freedom of the press…

Essoyes: Allègement de Confinement Photo by Janet Hulstrand

The gradual loosening of the restrictions of movement (l’allègement de confinement) that were reintroduced in France at the end of October have begun. Starting Saturday, shops were able to open again, with very strict rules and requirements designed to avoid an increase in COVID infections while slowly, carefully reopening the economy.

Last week President Macron addressed the nation again (I think it was his fifth time?) since the pandemic took hold in France last spring. This time the message was a bit more clear than the last time: this time, unlike in the spring, déconfinement will take place in stages, each one contingent upon reaching the government’s target for reducing the number of cases.

In addition to shops reopening, we are now allowed to travel a whoppin’ 20 kilometers from our homes in search of fresh air and exercise, and to stay out for a maximum of 3 hours (up from the 1 kilometer/1 hour limit) required during the past month. It is hoped that by Christmas people will be able to travel to be with their families in small groups, but it was also made clear that this also will depend on how well the nation does at following the rules that are essential in order to keep the numbers of infection down enough to reach the December 15 goal.

Many restrictions remain: for example, we still have to have attestions every time we venture out; curfews have been reinstated for the whole of France; and bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least January 20.

It’s a funny thing about those attestations: there are just nine very specific reasons that travel or any other activity outside the home is permitted. You have to choose what the reason is for your sortie and check just one box in order to have the attestation considered valid. I just want to say that in its rigidity, this is typically French! I am quite sure if the U.S. had such a system (and clearly they never will), you would at least have the option of checking “other” for those things which probably are permissible but do not easily fit into one of the nine categories. (!)

Anyway. Saturday was a beautiful day here in Essoyes, so people were out rejoicing in their new freedom. (It’s amazing how liberating it feels to be able to go 20 kilometers and stay out for 3 hours when you’ve only been allowed a tiny fraction of that freedom for a whole month!)

Meanwhile, in Paris the atmosphere was not very happy, nor very peaceful. The Macron administration recently proposed a new law (the loi de sécurité globale) that met with massive disapproval by the thousands of people who demonstrated the past two Saturdays in cities across France. The most troubling aspect of the new law was contained in the infamous Article 24, which would forbid the filming of police. (There was a bit more nuance to the language than that, but make no mistake: the intent was to keep members of the press, and regular citizens as well, from filming incidents of police misconduct and even brutality.) Journalists of course were vigorously opposed to such a constraint on freedom of the press, and many regular citizens joined with them in protesting furiously, and in very large numbers.

The protests were successful in getting the government to withdraw the hotly contested article. But one thing that became abundantly clear in the widespread discussion of this issue is that France is definitely in need of police reform. It’s hard to imagine what could have more clearly proven this need, and also the need for the right for citizens to document police brutality, than a video that showed three policemen violently beating a music producer they had followed into his studio, and that became public early last week.

The demonstrations on Saturday were intended to be peaceful, and mostly they were: but there were a frightening number of demonstrators, journalists, and police injured in the violence that erupted as the peaceful demonstrators were joined by not-peaceful-at-all casseurs. 😦 And there were indeed some unacceptable acts of violence committed by the police.

Protesting the loi sécurité globale in Paris November 28, 2020. Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

As a left-learning observer of the French political scene, I find it disappointing to watch Macron shift ever more toward the right. One of his strengths (and the reason he won the presidency) is that in 2017, he created a more or less centrist coalition. It is of course hard to remain in the center when you have extreme elements pulling hard from both the right and the left end of the spectrum; and even the temptation to shift a bit to the right is somewhat understandable given the problems with terrorism that France has suffered in recent years, and particularly in recent weeks. But I do hope he will find a way to recapture the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect–and a return to the middle at least!–that is going to be necessary in order to get through what is clearly a difficult time in France.

Back here in Essoyes it is more quiet. It is the time of year when some villagers are heading into the forest to collect wood for their fires. Yes, there is something here called affuage which basically means, in this context, the right to gather wood from certain specific little sections of the national forest. Everyone who lives in Essoyes has this right, plus an assigned piece of the forest in which they are allowed to cut and gather wood. As a homeowner here, I too have this right, though it is not one I am exercising. I am very proud of the fact that I’ve managed to learn to be pretty good at stacking wood (thanks to the helpful guidance I received from Cody at wrangler.com 🙂 ) And I have a very nice exploiteur who brings me the wood I need every winter. I had hoped to advance to splitting wood by now, but I’m not sure I will ever be able to add that to my list of lumberjack skills. One thing at a time…

We’re heading into that time of year when at least several of the world’s religions celebrate the concept of light shining through the darkness, drawing on pagan traditions that did the same thing. It’s a good time of year to do so, and I daresay a good year in which to do it.

Photo by Janet Hulstrand

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, happy, safe, healthy holiday season, however and wherever you celebrate it, and even if you don’t.

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.”

December 1, 2020 at 4:56 pm 2 comments


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