Posts filed under ‘About Essoyes’

September in Essoyes, Paris, and Nice!

My goodness, what a busy month this has been!

First of all, there was the vendange (the grape harvest) which of course is always a busy and important time of year in Essoyes. This year, despite a very dry summer, there was a very abundant harvest, which made everyone both relieved and happy.

To add the excitement for me, this year one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world came for a visit. She and her husband were lucky to finally, on their third try, be able to take a Rhine River cruise to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, after two previous cruises were postponed due to Covid restrictions. And I was lucky that after their cruise was over they chose to meet me in Paris and then come with me to Essoyes for a couple of days before they had to head back home to Colorado.

They had a whirlwind couple of days in Paris, in which they were able to make it to two of the three sights that Colleen’s 95-year-old father had told them were “must-sees”: the Basilica of Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, and the rue du Bac. We weren’t able to work in a visit to Chartres, Mr. Foy’s third must-see, in the short time they had, but we did stop in the beautiful medieval city of Troyes on our way to Essoyes. Troyes has many beautiful churches, as well as a cathedral, a synagogue, and a mosque. I took them to see my favorite church, the Eglise de la Madeleine, and they also were able to visit the very cool Musée de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière (Museum of Tools and of Workers’ Thought).

Then it was on to Essoyes. My friends got there too late to see the grapes being pressed, but not too late to be given a wonderful private tour of the pressoir owned by our friends Bethsabée and Léa Roger, which they declared a highlight of their visit.

Their visit to Essoyes was wonderful, but short. And almost as soon as they left I had to leave Essoyes again, to go to Nice, where I had been invited to present on Demystifying the French at a conference my friend Adrian was hosting. It was a very interesting, friendly and responsive audience, composed of (mostly) Americans who are considering the possibility of moving to France. We had a great time discussing some of the cultural differences between the French way of doing things, and the American way, that can lead to confusion and even sometimes dismay not only for Americans, but for French people as well. I tried to give them some tips about how to understand these differences and how to avoid cultural clashes over them, and I was very happy that quite a few people told me afterward that they really enjoyed my presentation.

The day after my presentation I was invited to join the group in a one-day tour of the lovely Côte d’Azur area before they went on to Provence and Occitanie. What a treat! Here are just a few images from a lovely day.

Then it was back to Essoyes, and time to settle into autumn activities: stacking wood, resuming my writing projects, and preparing to continue exploring the history of France with the students in my online class. There’s room for more students this time, so if anyone is interested in learning about how France recovered from World War II, we’ll be reading three very interesting books and we’ll have a couple of great visitors to the class who will share their expertise to augment our learning.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, productive autumn. (You can keep wearing your masks if you want to 🙂 )

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

September 22, 2022 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

July in Essoyes: Birthdays, Bicycles, and Champagne!

July has been a busy month for us in Essoyes. In mid-July, due to record-breaking temperatures, one of our sons decided that working from home in Essoyes was preferable to working from his apartment in Paris, so he and his girlfriend asked if they could come and stay with us for a few days.

Of course the answer was yes.

It was delightful to have them here. My son’s birthday is just five days before mine, and our dessert of choice for our birthdays is always a raspberry tarte (tarte aux framboises). Our patissier makes a wonderful tarte, and so we enjoyed one together a few days before his birthday.

Sometimes birthday celebrations can be frustrating to plan, especially with summer birthdays–getting everyone to be in the same place at the same being often challenging. This time we were very lucky to have all the stars line up so that an unplanned visit from two dear friends who live nearby coincided with our son’s unplanned escape from the heat wave in Paris, and voila! we had ourselves a delightful unplanned birthday party.

The last week in July began with a two-day birthday celebration for my birthday; first we had dinner at one of the two lovely riverside restaurants in the heart of Essoyes, the day before my birthday. Then we had dinner again the next day in the other one, when we realized that our other son, who lives in Lille, would be able to join us for that; and of course there was no better birthday present than to have him here.

Then on Wednesday, July 27, the Women’s Tour de France came through town. There has only been a women’s race five times in the 113-year history of the Tour de France, and this was the first time in more than 30 years. According to the director of the race, it was a great success, with enthusiastic crowds greeting and cheering the cyclists on all along the 640-mile route.

In Essoyes, pink bicycles beautifully decorated with handmade crepe paper flowers, and crepe paper flowers gracing the grillwork and the bridges over the Ource River, helped point the way for the cyclists to make their several turns through town.

The Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube étape went right past our driveway as the cyclists came speeding downhill out of the forest, on the stretch from Gyé-sur-Seine to Essoyes. So we were the very first Essoyens to greet them with enthusiastic clapping and cheering as they entered our village. It was lots of fun; I hope they do it again next year. (Though if they do, they will no doubt take a different route: the Tour de France likes to spread the excitement to different villages and towns every year.)

The end of the week brought Son #1 and his girlfriend back to Essoyes, and this time a few of their friends also, who came to celebrate the Route du Champagne en Fête, an annual celebration in our department (l’Aube) of–yep, you guessed it–champagne!

We often feel like our swimming pool doesn’t get used enough; but the fun they all had in the late afternoon–swimming and sitting poolside, then hanging around talking, eating pizza, playing Uno, drinking ratafia until late in the evening–more than made up for some of la piscine’s more idle days.

And, as usual, evening fell with the gift of a very beautiful sunset.

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 Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

July 31, 2022 at 11:26 am 1 comment

Spring 2022 in Essoyes

Spring has been capricious this year. It was here, bringing sunshine, warmer weather, beautiful wildflowers, and sunnier dispositions. Windows were being opened to let warm breezes inside. Then it snowed again! Which was not good for the young buds on the vines that are so important to life here–and to making the champagne that brings pleasure to people far and wide. The temperature hit a record low for April, and so our local vignerons were once again desperately trying to save their crop of grapes for this year. 😦

Fingers crossed that winter–beautiful as it is–is done for this year! We’re all very ready for spring.

This is an important month in France, as voters choose their next president. In France there is a two-round system for the presidential elections. The two candidates who get the most votes in the first round–which was yesterday–then face off in the final election, which will be held on April 24.

This year there were 12 candidates on the ballot for the first round. And this year–as in 2017–the final choice for French voters is between Emmanuel Macron, the current president, and Marine LePen.

Although the system of counting votes here is very simple and old-fashioned –paper ballots are counted by hand in each commune or arrondissement–it seems to work better than the system in the US. By the morning after the election, sometimes even earlier, the results are posted so that everyone can see how their community voted. I walked into the village this morning so I could see the results for Essoyes posted at the mairie, but since you can’t read the figures on my photograph of the posting (instead you see a rather lovely reflection of the part of the village that was behind the photographer 🙂 ) you can see how Essoyens voted here if you’re curious. And you can read this very interesting article if you want to learn about part of what is at stake in this election. (Only part: there are always, of course, many many issues of concern. But this one seems pretty significant to me. )

The news from Ukraine continues to be horrifying, and the worst part of it is the slowness of action on the part of political leaders to take more vigorous and decisive action to deal with the rapidly mounting humanitarian crisis, and in fact a genocide. Another one. How can this be happening again. How can it?

Many are doing what they can–France, for example, has already taken in some 45,000 Ukrainian refugees since this crisis began less than two months ago. But there will surely be more tragedy ahead unless Putin’s war machine is stopped, and the powers that be are not doing enough, and they’re not acting quickly enough. They’re not!

Fossil fuels are destroying the planet and now they are also fueling this terribly bloody war. When will we put an end to this madness?! How many more innocent people have to suffer from our inability–or unwillingness–to change our ways? It is really so awful. So maddening. So disheartening. So wrong!!

There have been some bright spots in the news. Last week doctors and scientists around the world made clear where they stand about the climate crisis in large numbers. Thank God for them, for their dedication and honesty, for their commitment to doing what they can to turn things around before it is too late. If the climate action movement could pick up steam as rapidly as the resurgence of union activity seems to be doing in the United States as of last week, maybe things could begin to get better.

I hope so, and SOON! because really? Things are not going so well on Planet Earth right now. 😦

There is much hope to be found among youth around the world: young people with great courage, imagination, determination and generosity are doing what they can to correct the mistakes and make up for the negligence of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If you want to feel a little bit better about how things are going; if you wonder sometimes if there is any hope at all, you might want to read about some of these young people in this book. The young people featured in it are truly a source of great hope. But they need our help: they can’t solve these big problems alone.

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 Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

April 11, 2022 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

Late Summer, Essoyes 2021

Our New, Opened-Up View of Essoyes. Photo by Stephen Rueckert.

Well, it has not been a quiet week in Essoyes, and next week will be even busier because I am told that is when the vendange will begin.

This is the week we (that is, our family) had to say goodbye to our beloved épicéas (spruce) trees, another victim of climate change. (Of course I am well aware that around the world, including in my beloved city of New York, others have suffered much worse fates, this very week. 😦 )

Nonetheless, for us this was a big loss, and it was a big job to take these trees down. Fortunately, we were able to call upon our local paysagiste, one of whose specialities is “abbatage délicat,” to take on this enormous task. And délicat is indeed the right word for the work they did for us this week.

We were most impressed (plus relieved) to watch this team practice their expertise. Five (out of the 32 very tall trees that had to come down) were right next to our house, with a fence behind them, and a road on the other side of the fence, plus a farmer’s field. These guys–two guys, one with a ladder and a chain saw, the other standing at a distance with a rope attached to the tree–managed to take these huge trees down, one at a time, in such a way that when they came crashing down, they cleared the house by a very narrow margin, and also managed to not hit my beloved “Christmas tree”–a beautiful, majestic cedar, which is (thankfully) immune to the insects that have devastated all the spruces. This task was carried out with surgical precision. It was amazing!

And it was not a lucky accident that it turned out that way. This was the result of sheer professional expertise. I have often remarked on the excellence of the French in mastering their various métiers. Here again we saw that excellence demonstrated.

So while it was sad to see our lovely trees go, remembering how that line of evergreens had sheltered, more or less cocooned us here in our lovely French home, by the time we were able to arrange to have them taken down, we were not only ready, but actually quite eager, to have it happen. Because by the time they came down, they had not been green in the least for a good while; and there is really nothing at all lovely about looking at a line of dead trees. (It’s also no fun wondering every time a storm comes up which of them may come crashing down, and where!)

And so, in the end, the new and expansive openness of our view from here has felt liberating, even kind of joyful. The beauty of the sunsets that I have so often shared on my Facebook page no longer have to be taken while standing between the trees and holding my camera up: the view of that beautiful sky and the fields over which it performs its daily visual splendor now can be seen clearly right from our house, and all around our yard.

In other news: French kids went back to school this week. And I must say, this tweet, with a short video of the rentrée, which I saw on the news feed of L’Est Eclair (our regional newspaper) really touched my heart. I feel for all the parents, kids, teachers, and school administrators who are doing their best both to resume a semi-normal school year, and to protect the kids from that nasty virus. It’s not easy. I hope things will go well. The kids didn’t ask for this, and they don’t deserve it. 😦

Anyway: as the virus picks up in various places, these words again become very useful: wear your masks, wash your hands, practice those rules of social distancing. Be safe, be well. 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 Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

September 4, 2021 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

Summertime 2021

Essoyes a travers les champs, at dawn. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

In spite of early predictions for another hot, dry (meaning good-for-wasps) summer, at least in this corner of southern Champagne it has been cool and frequently rainy. I’m not sure what this means for the farmers around here: I know the season started out badly for those who grow grapes and other kinds of fruit, due to a few unseasonably warm days in May, followed by a late freeze.

To the untrained eye, the vineyards look healthy, at least the ones I have seen. In any case, my message to the world is the same as it always is: buy champagne! Support farmers!

And my message to wasps is: no offense, but we have not missed you this summer!

I thought that in this post, rather than try to sum up the ever-changing rules, progress in the fight against Covid, sliding back in the fight against Covid, disagreement about how to handle the pandemic, etc., I would give you some respite from all that, through a little late-summer photographic resume of this beautiful part of the world in which I find myself.

The photo at the top of this post was taken at dawn. And the one below, at dusk.

L’heure bleu, Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

There is no such thing as a day here that is not beautiful. I hope wherever you are, you will find beauty in your world too, even if it is in the lovely colors of sunset saturating a brick wall in golden light, or reflected in panes of glass. Or wildflowers making their determined way through cracks in a sidewalk, or a pile of gravel. There’s beauty everywhere…

Stay safe, stay well everyone. Get the vaccine. Wear those masks. So much to enjoy in this world.

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 Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

August 7, 2021 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

Midsummer Night’s Dream…

Summer evening, photo by Janet Hulstrand

It is just past summer solstice, and France is creeping out from under the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. Last week Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that people are no longer required to wear masks outdoors. (This included, significantly, children playing in the school playgrounds; one can only imagine the happiness of the little ones at this news.)

Also, the evening curfew has been lifted completely. This came just in time for the annual Fêtes de la Musique, a nocturnal festival that occurs all over France on the summer solstice, and is followed by the celebration of the Festival of St. Jean, on June 24.

Here in Essoyes, people are joyfully celebrating the ability to be together again. The restaurants and cafes have reopened. A couple of weeks ago there was a village-wide vide maison (empty the house) what we would call a garage or yard sale, and other special activities, including a hike followed by a community picnic.

Reopening means reopening cultural events also. There will be organ concerts in the church at Essoyes over the next few weeks, bringing musicians from as near as Dijon, and as far away as Scotland and Finland.

Three Concerts in l’Eglise d’Essoyes during July.

Among the benefits of country living are being able to get your second Astra Zeneca dose from your friendly local pharmacists, which I did last week. At this point about 50 percent of the French population has received a first dose of the vaccine, and 30 percent have received their second: it’s not enough, but it’s a good start. Hopefully the numbers will continue to grow as rapidly as possible. Last week the vaccine was opened up to children 12 and older as well.

The abundance of the land begins to express itself in early summer. Here are a few proofs of that.

These images are of the barley, wheat, and wild strawberries that grow right in or next to my yard. Up in the hills surrounding the village, the vignerons have been especially busy over the last 10 days: this is the part of the summer where the vines must be trellised, which requires extra hands in the vines. The enjambeurs have been heading into the vineyards early in the morning–sometimes at dawn. Of course, this being France, they come back down for a nice, long lunch. Then it’s back into the vineyards again to work until early evening.

I am lucky to have a neighbor whose hens are prolific enough that she is able to share their eggs with others. Fresher, more delicious eggs I have never tasted!

Finally, from spring to fall there are many lovely varieties of wildflowers here that spring up of their own volition, brightening landscapes and cityscapes alike with their colorful variations. Here are a few of the current stars of the show.

Wishing you a safe, pleasant summer wherever you are. Bonne continuation, et 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 Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

June 29, 2021 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

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

Shuttling between Paris and Champagne

One of my favorite activities in Paris: sitting in a neighborhood cafe with a good book and either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

I’ve been lucky enough to be shuttling between two of my favorite places in France (and I guess therefore in the world) this month: Paris, and “my” little village of Essoyes in Champagne.

It’s only about 2 1/2 hours from Paris to Essoyes, and I usually do most of that trip by train, either from Troyes or Vendeuvre-sur-Barse. So it really can be done as a day trip, and occasionally I have done that, for example to attend my friend Adrian Leeds’s Après-Midi meetups in the Marais. My timing was lucky this month, in that I was able to attend the first in-person Après-Midi to be held at the Café de la Mairie since the lockdown began last spring.

Adrian has been conducting Zoom meet-ups since May: this time the guest speaker was the wonderful Cara Black, who was talking about her latest book, Three Hours in Paris, which is a thriller set in 1940, in newly-occupied Paris. Cara lives in San Francisco and was not able to come to Paris as planned (because most Americans–understandably–aren’t allowed into France for now 😦 ), but she got up at 6:00 in the morning so she could Zoom with us for our afternoon meeting. Her new book is fascinating! It deals with the (historical) fact that when Hitler came to Paris in June 1940, he left again quite suddenly, abruptly, and inexplicably. Why did he do that? was what Cara wondered, and from that wondering she has created a fascinating novel about an American woman, a sharpshooter from Oregon, who is assigned the task of attempting to assassinate him.

It is always good to be in Paris, and September is a particularly fine time to be there. Everyone is back from wherever they had gone this summer and (almost) everyone seems to be adjusting to the new rules for wearing masks, keeping physical distance from each other, and observing les gestes barrières. Most people are wearing masks, and most of them are wearing them correctly. (The most common infraction is not covering the nose–not good enough, people!) Consequently, it is not an infrequent sight to see two friends encounter each other on the street, one of them walk right by the other one, and then stop short, turn around, and say, “Oh, I didn’t know it was you!”

On one of the days I was in Paris I was stuck inside working on a project I needed to do. It was a gorgeous day outside, I could see that, but I wasn’t out in it, enjoying it. Then I began to think about various things that were concerning me, and before not too long I had slid into a not very positive state of mind.

So I decided to pull myself together, and “snap out of it.” I got my work project to the place I had promised myself I would; I went off to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription I needed; and then I found a table at a sidewalk cafe, where I ordered a kir, and then just sat there for an hour, watching the world go by.

There are very few of the mundane worries in life that can’t be made better by spending an hour just sitting in a Parisian cafe, with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. And so that is what I did. And it worked!

Pinot Noir Grapes…from last year…

In Essoyes, the vendange has come and gone. It’s not saying anything new to say that 2020 has been a challenging year for almost everyone around the world. And that goes for the vendange as well.

I’ve written about the vendange in Essoyes in the past, for example here and here. There are good years, and there are bad years: this was NOT a good year for my friends and neighbors who make champagne. After a very hot, dry summer the harvest was both early and short–it began during the third week in August and was over before September 1, for most vignerons only about 8 days I think. Our friend from the pressoir in Essoyes came by to say a quick hello after it was over, and explained some of the reasons that “we’re all going to lose money this year.” The drought was one problem; COVID was another. There were others too, too complicated to go into here.

So the vignerons are hoping (fervently) that people will buy champagne. The sooner the better; the more, the better. You don’t need to wait for the holidays. Or a graduation, or a wedding. (One of the problems, of course, is that so many of those events have had to be cancelled this year.)

So why not just celebrate the fact that–so far–you have come through the pandemic and are still here to enjoy champagne? Vignerons work hard–very hard!–throughout the year, and this year especially, they need our support.

Enough said. This is, of course, up to you. Just sayin–this year the vignerons of France could use your help.

I have not said anything about what is going on in my home country. Suffice it to say it is deeply concerning, and it makes me both sad and worried. Most Americans abroad can send their votes back home very soon if they not already been able to do so. I am hoping that a massive voter turnout will make a difference, and will help us take the first steps toward getting to a better place than we are as a nation right now.

Stay safe everyone. Wear those masks, keep those distances, wash your hands, don’t touch your face.

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.”

September 13, 2020 at 11:56 am 2 comments

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

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

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