Posts filed under ‘About Essoyes’

Déconfinement Day 17: France Slowly Reopens

Harvesting the veche de vache

I remember one time, years ago, after spending a month in Paris and then heading south to visit friends in Provence, being struck with the not-very-original but nonetheless unavoidable thought that, though many people do not think of it that way, France is really, primarily, an agricultural nation.

In a small rural village, like where I live now, at this time of year crops become a matter of general interest. Even if you’re not personally involved in agriculture, you can’t help but notice the growing and thriving of things. Where I am, in southern Champagne near the Burgundian border, the main crop is the grapes used to make champagne, but there are a few others. And right next to our home are some fields of some of them: this year, wheat, colza, cow vetch. Last year there were sunflowers.

Winter Wheat in Late Spring. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

It is very pleasant, living next to a field. You can watch the wheat grow, changing in not only size but color–from green, to a greenish kind of blue, to gold–as it matures. Once on an evening walk, I could swear I even heard it growing. I hesitate to mention this because I know it makes me sound a little bit crazy. The sound was very faint and I didn’t hear it for very long. …but I swear to God I heard it. It was a kind of very soft whisper–kind of like fairies would whisper, if there were fairies–as I recall.

Anyway, in case anyone wants to know about the possibility of this being a real thing, here you go. And I say, what goes for corn goes for wheat as well…

That’s how quiet it is here.

I do have several friends who are vignerons, and what I have learned from one of them this week is that the vines are about to flower, a month ahead of schedule. And that they do not expect a very big crop this year. It’s supposed to be another long, hot, dry summer. We shall see…

Meanwhile, France is beginning to very slowly and carefully come out of the strict lockdown the country has been in for two and a half months now. Apparently the first two weeks of déconfinement have gone well enough that the government feels confident that, as of June 2, they can lift many of the restrictions, including the one restricting travel more than 100 kilometers away from one’s home. Here are the main details of what Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced today, and what will change on June 2.

As for me, I’m staying here. Keeping fingers crossed that all continues to go well as people begin to slowly, carefully go on about their lives in a somewhat less restricted way. And enjoying another string of beautiful days and the fact that my sons are here to share them with me…

Acacia tree in bloom. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Prenez soin de vous, tout le monde…keep wearing those masks, and keep washing those hands. And stop touching your face! 🙂

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.”

May 28, 2020 at 8:15 pm Leave a comment

Lockdown in Essoyes: Day 49

Muguets des Bois marking May 1 in France. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Well another “D” day is fast approaching: May 11 is the day that France will begin to slowly enter into a measured, and very careful period of déconfinement. I am not going to go into much detail about it, partly because it is very complicated, and even more because it is still changing a bit from day to day. Some people are annoyed about that: as for me, I’m glad that the French authorities are more concerned with making sure we enter into the next stage of “life with the cornonavirus” as safely as possible, even if it means they have to change their minds, or change course, from one day to the next. What this means is that they are a) listening to medical and scientific authorities and b) trying to err on the side of caution. I hope!

May 1 was a national holiday in France, as it in many countries, as a day of international honoring of workers. But of course, with everyone still confined to their homes it was a pretty quiet celebration this year. It is also the day when French people celebrate a sweet custom that goes back to 1561 when King Charles IX of France was given a sprig of lilies of the valley (muguets des bois in French), and he decided to make it an annual tradition to give these lovely spring flowers to the ladies of his court, as a “porte bonheur.” This year I received several electronic muguets des bois from French friends. And they did indeed bring me happiness.

May 8 is a national holiday also: it is the day the French remember V-E day, the day Europe was liberated from Nazi occupation, and throughout France, in little villages and in large cities alike, it is always solemnly observed. The way this holiday is marked is similar to the way Armistice Day is observed in November. In both cases flowers are laid at the war memorial next to the church, and in the cemetery, and at one of the several spots in town that mark the sacrifices of members of the French resistance who gave their lives pour la France…Always on these two holidays, at precisely 11 a.m. the church bells ring, to remind everyone of the massive sacrifices that were made to return France to freedom from tyranny. Usually there is a solemn procession of villagers who follow the mayor as he makes the rounds of these monuments, and lays the flowers.

This week we were informed, in a special issue of the quarterly newsletter published by the mairie devoted to news about the period of confinement, and announcements and advice about the upcoming period of déconfinement, that this year on May 8 only the mayor and his deputies will perform these ritual acts of recognition. (The point being, it will be done.) We were all invited to take a moment precisely at 11 am to observe a moment of silence (another point being, we should do this in our homes, or failing that, at least while still observing the rules of social distancing); to honor those who gave their lives pour la France.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. It has been most impressive how well the local leaders, and the citizenry, of Essoyes have risen to the challenge of managing life under suddenly quite different terms than what we are all used to. The daily posts on our Facebook page, letting everyone know anything new and important that we need to know; honoring, thanking, and recognizing those members of the community who have continued to provide essential services throughout this period; and in general cheering us up and keeping us well informed has been most appreciated by me and I am sure by everyone else too. And, among many other acts of selfless service to others, the beautiful masks that were created and distributed without charge to members of the community are keeping everyone safer; and the love, care, and even enthusiasm that went into making them is really very touching.

The mayor’s letter on the front page of the special issue of the newsletter was serious, inspiring, grateful, and cautionary by turns. He began by reminding Essoyens that despite the challenges of the day, we are “doubly lucky” here in this lovely little village in Champagne. One, to live in the country, where most of us can get fresh air easily and every day, and those who have gardens have been able to enjoy an exceptionally sunny month of spring weather outside tending them. And we are also lucky to live in a village where really all the basic necessities of life are available (which is in fact one of the reasons we chose to buy a home here: that despite the fact that Essoyes is a very small village, only 750 people, it really does have all the necessities of life close at hand). The mayor also thanked the city council and the people of Essoyes for the extraordinary spirit of solidarity and goodwill that have prevailed throughout this period.

The cautionary part came toward the end of his letter, where he reminded us that “We are living in an extremely complicated moment in time: I don’t know whether there will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after.’ I only hope that this extraordinary spirit of solidarity will endure; that it will be a positive result of this crisis.”

Now we have to figure out how to get out of this period safely. As the leaders of France, from our mayor to the president, the prime minister, the minister of health, and others are continually reminding us, the period of déconfinement we are about to enter is a risky one. Which means it is really more of a scary prospect than a joyful one. On May 11, we will NOT be able to start jumping up and down for joy, and hugging each other. Unfortunately. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could… 😦 ?)

Well, there’s not much point in being afraid. Fear never helps anyone. But there is a point in being careful. This means, pretty much wherever you are these days: 1) Wear a mask! (If you want, you can buy pretty ones with a French theme from a friend of mine here. (I’m going to 🙂 ) 2) Keep your distance from others. Six feet!!! 3) Wash your hands (a lot!) and 4) Stop touching your face!!! (We all do it: we gotta stop!)

So that is the news from Essoyes this week. Stay well, everyone. Prenez soin de vous. I’ll be back again next week, and let you know how it’s going…

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.”

May 5, 2020 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Lockdown in France, Day 35

Masks being made by volunteer members of the community are becoming available in our village. Isn’t this a pretty one?

Last week I was gathering dandelions in our yard, which is wonderfully full of dandelions. Because (did you know this?) dandelions are NOT weeds, they are very useful plants with a host of healthful options to offer us, everything from salad, to tea, to dandelion wine. They also are very important for bees, and bees are important for US. (So, not to go off on this tangent: but if you are still killing dandelions, please STOP KILLING DANDELIONS!!!!)

This week was different: a couple of projects had me busy at my computer. And then, toward the end of the week, everything got a bit complicated. First, I fell (on my face–again!) on my nightly .5 kilometer walk across the field.

I say “again” because I pulled a similar trick about a year ago in Paris. I am tempted to call this my annual “spring fall” except I am really hoping it is not an annual thing. (That time in Paris I landed on asphalt. This time I landed on gravel. There are interesting differences to note, but I will spare you the details…)

Anyway, I was pretty sure that I had also fractured my ankle again. But, hallelujah, and long story short, I did not! It is getting better WAY too fast for that to have been the case, and today our village doctor confirmed that it is not broken, not even fractured, pshew. And, in general, this was a much less serious fall for a number of reasons I won’t go into either…

Then my chest started to hurt. Oh, for goodness sake, now what? Do I call the doctor? thought I. Surely he has more urgent cases on his hand; surely I should wait at least a few days and see if it gets better.

Which I did. But then it didn’t get better, it got worse. And it kept kind of getting worse and worse…So I started doing the required internet research, and read enough to think that probably it was prudent to at least call him, describe my concern, and see what he said.

Another long story short, he came here, checked all my vital signs (and my ankle), gave me a couple of prescriptions to ease the pain in my chest, and ordered a COVID test. (Which the village nurse came and performed here in our home.)

I’m not the first one to say it, but these people are heroes. They are. Let’s all remember that “when this is over…” and make sure they are appropriately rewarded for their brave, humanitarian service. And I mean really rewarded. More than just heartfelt thank-yous, nice as those are…

So, we shall see what we shall see. The test has been taken, the verdict is out. The medicine is making me feel a little bit better and I am forcing myself to take it easier, and rest more than I accustomed to doing.

My younger son is here with me, he is a wonderful musician, a wonderful young man, and a much better cook than I am. And he is taking such good care of me.

Spring has sprung in Essoyes…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

And so, that is my report for this week. Very personal, very self-centered I suppose. Except I want to note that the heroes of this post are, once again, those health care workers (and others) who are out there every day helping us get through this.

All the rest of us have to do is PLEASE just do what they say. Which is mainly: STAY HOME! (And enjoy it…why not?) 🙂

Take care of yourselves, and stay home for the sake of OTHERS as well. as yourselves..and be well…until next week…

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.”

April 21, 2020 at 7:52 pm 5 comments

Lockdown in France, Continued…

The colza is in bloom…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

I love our home in Champagne, and I love living in our quiet, but busy, little village, Essoyes, here in the Côte des Bars.

And it’s a good thing that I love spending time here: because I will not be going anywhere except to the village and back on my daily walks until at least May 11.

I feel so lucky, and so grateful, to be here during this time.

Last week was Holy Week. And although there could be no church services this year, on Palm Sunday at noon the bells in our church rang out joyfully.

On Maundy Thursday at 7:00 in the evening they rang again, this time solemnly.

And on Easter Sunday they rang joyfully again at noon.

Every night the citizens of Essoyes continue to flood the town with music at 8:00 pm as their way of thanking those who are continuing to provide essential services during the lockdown. They are beginning to vary the song: last night this song was played, in homage to a family member of several Essoyens who died yesterday, and whose funeral mass could not be largely attended because of the confinement.

The night before this was the song selected for sharing in the streets of Essoyes.

Crayons and line drawings were distributed to the children of the village the week before last, and last week the resulting artwork was displayed around town in the windows and on the walls of the businesses that remain open, and at the mairie. A nice (and appropriately educational) activity for the children, and a cheering sight indeed for all.

The mairie and some of the businesses in the village are displaying artwork celebrating “nos heroes quotidiennes” created by the children of the village…

Last night my son and I, along with millions of Frenchmen and women, watched and listened carefully to President Emmanuel Macron as he outlined the steps ahead for France as the country attempts to gain control of the coronovirus epidemic, and slowly begin a return to normalcy.

The main points were: France will continue to remain on strict lockdown until at least May 11. The borders will be closed to entry from non-EU countries until further notice. The French government is doing, and will continue to do everything it can to preserve both the lives and health of its citizens, and to find ways to address the inevitable economic consequences of this situation, and help those who need help.

Like his previous speeches during this crisis, Macron was calm, clear, and very candid (“…we still have several months of living with this virus..”). He started by praising all those who have worked tirelessly, unselfishly, bravely to attempt to defeat this thing. He urged everyone to continue to take the rules of confinement very seriously. He emphasized that although the period of confinement has been moderately successful in slowing down the advance of the disease, the epidemic is not under control, and that the continued vigilance of everyone is essential in order for this goal to be achieved. He explained some of the concrete actions the extended period of confinement will allow the government to put into place in preparation for a slow return to normalcy, including the provision of masks to all who want them and the amassing of a sufficient number of tests, so that after May 11 those who show symptoms of the disease can be tested. He stressed that both public and private resources have been aggressively mobilized to work together to adequately address this crisis.

And he said that as of May 11 there will be an attempt to begin to return to normalcy, step by step.  Progressively reopening the schools, beginning in the primary and secondary levels, will be among the first steps, as he explained, because “…there is an inequality in that there are those who don’t have access to the internet and can’t be helped by their parents.” This is only a tiny step toward addressing all of the many inequalities that really need to be made, of course. But it is a step in the right direction. One can only hope (and work together to demand) that this priority does not get lost sight of once things are more or less back to normal again.

I hope I have more or less accurately summarized what he said. Here is the video of the speech, and the entire speech in French, along with a summary of the highlights.

What was most comforting about this speech in addition to the calm intelligence throughout was the humility, the transparency, in other words the honesty of the president as he spoke to the nation. He who has been criticized for having a “Jupiter” complex was also uncharacteristically humble last night. (“We have to reinvent ourselves, and me first of all … We are vulnerable. I understand you have many questions and I would like to answer all of them. But I say in all humility, we don’t have definitive answers today.”)

I hope with all my heart and soul every day, along with many millions of my fellow Americans both at home and abroad, that something similar can begin to happen in the United States as soon as possible. I know that millions of U.S. citizens, and many of the state’s governors are doing all they can to prevent an even greater tragic loss of life than has already been suffered there. I hope that those leaders who have not yet joined them will do so soon. As soon as possible. It is hard to imagine what they are waiting for…

Meanwhile, in Essoyes, as elsewhere around the world, the coming of spring gives reason for hope.

Stay well, everyone. I’ll be back next week with another report. Until then, as they are saying here these days…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.”


April 14, 2020 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

Lockdown, Day 21: The Everyday Heroes of Essoyes


Essoyes in Champagne. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

I thought it would be nice this week to talk about what everyday life is like in Essoyes these days, beginning with talking about those who have been continuing to work, every day, while the rest of us do our best to stay home as much as possible.

I’d like to first of all thank the people here in Essoyes who are doing such a great job of helping keep us informed of all the things we need to know–from which businesses will be open each and every day, to updated information about the ever-evolving rules of confinement as they are distributed by the government, to warnings about some of those unkind people who are unfortunately taking advantage of the situation to steal, rob, or otherwise trick the innocent and unsuspecting.  😦

But never mind them: forewarned is forearmed. Most people, not just here, but around the world, are discovering how much good we all have to share with each other. For one local example, both Essoyes and our neighboring village of Mussy sur Seine were featured yesterday in an article in the regional newspaper about community involvement in making masks. And through our mairie, volunteers have been bringing groceries, medicines and other necessary items to those who for whom it is difficult to get out, or who should not be going out.

These wonderful volunteers are helping to keep spirits and morale high also, in various ways. One way is by establishing our own local version of a nightly thanks to all the essential workers who are keeping us fed, caring for the sick, delivering the mail, picking up the garbage, and helping us in various other ways. Here is a link to the song Essoyens are blasting out their windows every night at 8 pm. The first few days, there were only a few people doing it and it was a bit hard to hear from where we are on the edge of town. But it seems to me that it grows a bit louder every night, so that now I can hear it better and better, drifting across the fields. It is indeed an encouraging sound, and a great way to remind us all that though we’re supposed to be keeping a good distance from each other these days, we can find new ways to be a community.


Spring Wheat in Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Of course the farmers and vignerons continue their work. I often hear the enjambeurs heading out to the vineyards early in the morning. In the field next to our house the colza is beginning to blossom, and the wheat is that pure shade of green that you see only in spring; and it is a lovely sight to see when I take my daily walks, attestation de déplacement and identification safely stored in my pocket.

Our community Facebook page is also taking the time every day to salute all the other “everyday heroes” who are continuing to serve the community through this difficult period. The bakers. The traiteurs. Our grocer and his wife. The pharmacists, and nurses, the tabac (which does far more than sell cigarettes in France).  For the most part, in short, everyone is demonstrating just how well people in France, generally speaking, understand the meaning of solidarité. 

For example, I had arranged with the local taxi company to pick my son up for me at the train station in Vendeuvre, about half an hour away from here, right before this period of confinement began. Originally he was supposed to arrive conveniently at around 5:30 p.m.; but because of one cancelled train and another delayed one, it was 8:00 pm by the time he got there (which is dinner time in France, do you know what that means?!)

Nonetheless, the taxi company shifted; they were there waiting for him; they brought him to me safely and cheerfully, and when I called to thank the manager the following morning for helping us out, he used that phrase I hear so often in France. “C’est normal…” he said.

Well, it wasn’t really “normal” in this case: it was exceptional service, graciously and willingly offered because they knew we were in a pinch.

That is what solidarity is like: millions of relatively small, kind, gracious acts that we perform for each other to help us get through rough times, and easier ones too. I am grateful for the spirit of solidarity that surrounds me every day here in Essoyes, even when my daily walks there have been curtailed. And I am reminded of it every day, when I hear that music come floating across the fields…

Stay safe. Stay happy if you can. And stay well…until next week…

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.”



April 7, 2020 at 4:57 pm 6 comments

Lockdown in France, Day 14

Well, we are going to be confined to our homes here in France for at least another two weeks. Nobody likes this idea: but all of us, especially those of us who are lucky enough to still be well (knock wood) also know that it is a shameful thing to complain about it…

Continue Reading March 30, 2020 at 11:20 am 4 comments

Lockdown Day 7: France Fights to Flatten the Curve

As I reported in my post last week, halfway measures were not working to keep people in their homes and at least a meter away from each other in France, and so on Monday night President Macron addressed the French nation again…

Continue Reading March 23, 2020 at 8:41 am 6 comments

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