A Long Way from Iowa Is Now Available

More than thirty years ago I had the idea to a write a book that would pay tribute to my mother and grandmother, whose passion for reading, writing, and travel had been passed on to me. I wanted to honor the fact that this was a legacy they had passed down to me even though neither of them got to do as much of these things in their own lives as they would have liked to do.

They did live pretty happy lives anyway, and they were wonderful role models in that way. Still, I feel pretty lucky that I am the one of the three of us who was able to live out some of the unfulfilled dreams they carried with them through their lives–silently, but no less real for all that.

Finally, as of today, my book is now available in both e-book and paperback from my wonderful indie publishing service, BookBaby. In March you will be able to buy the book anywhere books are sold, but for now this is the only place you can buy it. (It is also the place where the author gets the best royalties. 🙂 )

If you prefer to buy the book some other way, the preordering period for Amazon is now open, and it should be open on Bookshop.org soon also. But I do hope that some of you will support BookBaby (and me through BookBaby). BookBaby is a wonderful thing for authors!

But honestly, I don’t care all that much where you buy the book: I will just be so pleased if you do; and I will be even more pleased if you like it.

.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  A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France.

January 19, 2023 at 6:34 pm 1 comment

A New Year Ahead…What Will We Make Of It?

Christmas morning in Essoyes

As 2022 draws to a close, all four members of our far-flung family were together once again for Christmas, for the first time in many years. Here are a few pictures of our Christmastime.

While counting one’s blessings, it’s hard not to think about the many parts of the world where people are not as lucky as we are. Here’s hoping that in the coming year each of us can find ways to help ease the suffering of those around the world–or right next door–who need our help.

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, and happy new year…

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. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France, will be published in early 2023.

December 31, 2022 at 2:23 pm Leave a comment

That most wonderful time of the year…

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration here a few weeks ago: a nice mix of French and American friends. There was a lot of food, all of the usual menu items for Thanksgiving (except cornbread! I couldn’t find any cornmeal this year). But! We were treated to not just one but two different kinds of homemade (!) pumpkin pie. And we had both cranberries, thanks to our friend Rosanna who snatches them up whenever she sees them, and freezes them. And we tried airelles also, as a cranberry substitute before we knew Rosanna had the cranberries. Both a success! This being France, we also had escargots during the apĂ©ro, and a cheese course after the meal, during which we were treated to some very special cheeses brought by my son’s French friend.

This year we instituted a new way of “giving thanks,” suggested by our friends Darcy and Roger, who shared a family tradition of theirs. Before the meal, as we were enjoying our aperitifs, each person was invited to write down what they were grateful for and place it in a vase. Then, at a certain point in the evening–after the main meal and before dessert–we went around the table and each person drew out one of the pieces of paper and read it aloud.

This was a wonderful way to make sure not to miss the whole point of Thanksgiving–giving thanks! without that awkwardness and putting people on the spot that can occur sometimes in other ways of doing so. It was really fun to see what everyone had written and although some of the slips of paper were not credited, we were able in all cases to guess who the author was. There were some funny juxtapositions: one slip said “I hope you like the cheese I brought,” and the next one gave thanks for a meal with “not too much cheese.” That brought a big laugh!

The final note was the perfect one to end the exercise, and le mot juste went to our good friend Rosanna, who covered it all by saying “Merci, la vie!”

There was also a lot of live music–banjo and guitar and trumpet. I even picked up my flute for the first time in years and tried to sidle into some of the jamming, rusty as I am…

The following weekend I was excited to be invited to a very cool Christmas party in Paris–this one given for patrons and guests of The Earful Tower podcast, creation of the wonderful Oliver Gee and his lovely wife Lina Nordin Gee. If you don’t know about The Earful Tower, you need to know! Oliver, who is Australian, and Lina, who is Swedish, are just brimming over with creative good energy and they have drawn a wonderful community of interesting, nice people around them. And their podcast is the best! Oliver and Lina really get into exploring each and every corner of marvelous Paris–their enthusiasm is infectious and the videography is superb. Check it out!

The party was held at the beautiful Cercle Suedois/Cercle NorvĂ©gien on the rue de Rivoli. There was live music, there was fun and games, a lot of lively conversation–and a delicious buffet of warm and cold treats, served in a room decorated with extraordinarily beautiful Nordic landscape paintings by Odile Fontaimpe.

I’ve worked with Oliver on all four of his books–the last three are a collaborative endeavor of this dynamic couple, a series of children’s books featuring Parisian animals (so far a crocodile, a liger, and a giraffe). Oliver writes the text and they are beautifully, charmingly illustrated by Lina. In each case, we have had fun talking over some of those last-minute decisions that go into every work of literature. Oliver even had me on his show once, to talk about my work as an editor.

Next week my kids will be heading home and it will be so nice to have them here for Christmas. As I write this morning, a light sprinkling of snow is covering everything, imparting that quiet winter beauty so dear to my heart. Of course, as the temperature drops, life becomes harder for those who are not lucky enough to have warm, cozy homes to be in and plenty of food. As you count your own blessings, try to remember to spare a thought for those struggling, whether in Ukraine or Africa, or right next door, and figure out what you can do to help. There are so many ways, and each of us can do something.

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. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France, will be published in early 2023.

December 15, 2022 at 9:25 am 2 comments

Books that will help you understand and appreciate the French

For any of my readers who are looking for good books about the French for holiday gifts (or whatever), take a look Shepherd.com, which is a new book recommendation site. I was asked to contribute five of my favorite books about some aspect of life in France.

Here is the topic, and the books I chose:

You can read about why I chose these books here:


Once you’re on Shepherd.com, do stay a while to check out this site. It’s a wonderful new endeavor by some very creative, book-loving, monopoly-challenging heroes of the book world. So take a few minutes to browse around and see what other lists they have available. (Just a few examples of some of their many, many topics: “The best books to understand modern Iran” “The best books on enjoying wildlife when traveling.” “The best travel books when you need escapism.”)

I’m honored to have been invited to do this, along with some very impressive authors from one of my favorite niche genres: books about France. (Martin Walker? Mark Greenside? Stephen Clarke? Wow!)

You might want to also take a peek at the “bookshelf” posts on my blog for additional ideas. Here they are! https://janethulstrand.com/?s=bookshelf&searchbutton=Go%21

PS: Be careful out there everyone. Wear those masks! (I didn’t wear masks as much as I should have in a recent trip to Paris, and I am regretting it. 😩

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. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France, will be published in early 2023.

December 7, 2022 at 2:44 pm Leave a comment

A Few November Highlights from Paris…and Essoyes!

The real reason for my visit to Paris this month was to see and support my friend Edith de Belleville, who was the speaker at Adrian Leeds‘s monthly AprĂšs-Midi gathering. Edith is a licensed tour guide in Paris, a lawyer, and the author of two wonderful books, Belles et Rebelles and Parisian Life: Adventures in the City of Light. If you can read French, you should read both of them, they’re wonderful. I keep hoping Belles et Rebelles will be translated into English, it’s too good to stay in just one language, DO YOU HEAR THAT, PUBLISHERS? But also (to be clear), Parisian Life is already in English: Edith wrote it in English (another feather in her cap). So you should all buy it. 🙂

You can learn more about Edith in this interview I did with her for Bonjour Paris. if you are a subscriber. She is a very smart, lively, funny, interesting woman! (If you’re not a subscriber to Bonjour Paris, and if you’re a serious Parisophile, you might want to subscribe. Lots of great articles, Zoom talks, etc. available there!)

Then I got lucky: Adrian invited me to come for the weekend before AprĂšs-Midi to just “hang out” and have fun in Paris with her. (She didn’t have to twist my arm about that…)

You don’t hang out with Adrian in Paris (or anywhere, as far as I can gather) without eating a lot of really good food. This woman believes in eating at least two full meals a day, which is kind of a novelty for me; and a culinary adventure whenever I stay with her in Paris. Whenever she asks me what I want to eat for dinner, my main requirements are generally the same: “Not too expensive. Not too fancy. Not too far away (so we can walk there).” I like to keep it simple! And she always has great suggestions. Here are just a few of the culinary pleasures I enjoyed in those few days in Paris.

Then I got even luckier. My son’s girlfriend, Diane de Vignemont, is a historian, and she was recently involved in putting together an exhibition at the MusĂ©e de l’ArmĂ©e at les Invalides. She invited me to attend the opening for this exhibit, which happened to fall on my last night in Paris. This was very exciting indeed, and it was really fun to see her in this professional context. (Though I’ve actually been able to see that before in my last couple of classes for Politics and Prose bookstore, which were focused on France under the Occupation, during which Diane was kind enough to visit via Zoom, and share her expertise with my students. She is, in a word, amazing!)

The exhibition, which focused on the years of the Algerian War, and De Gaulle’s role in it, was beautifully mounted and very interesting indeed. One of the things Diane was involved in was arranging for the loan of a beautiful Calder mobile called “France Forever.” (Can you see the Cross of Lorraine in it?)

Of course it would not be a trip to Paris without a visit to The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (Here’s another interesting interview to read on Bonjour Paris, this one is with Penelope Fletcher, the wonderful bookseller who runs the store. See what I mean about subscribing? 🙂 ) Adrian and I went there on Saturday afternoon, and I was delighted that my son and Diane were able to meet us there too. With an armload of new books, some of which I will use in future classes, I left the store very happy indeed.

Well, anyway. This is really only a sampling of what I was lucky to experience in Paris this time in just a few days: there was more! Sometimes when I am in Paris I really don’t “do much” at all, I just wander around, walking, sitting in cafĂ©s or parks, reading, writing, and eating only one full meal a day. That is fine with me too! But I have to say, this time was pretty fun, thanks so much, Adrian! (and Diane, and Phineas, and Penelope–for just being there–at The Red Wheelbarrow!)

A few days later, in Essoyes (and all around France), Armistice Day was being celebrated. This is a very important–and moving–national commemoration of the day that brought peace (temporarily! 😩 ) at last to war-ravaged Europe in 1918. Here are a few photos from that day here in Essoyes.

Let’s hope that today’s fragile peace in Europe can be maintained, and the forces of hate and tyranny pushed back. We can’t afford to keep fighting like this all the time. We have big problems to solve together!

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. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa, will be published in early 2023.

November 19, 2022 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Bands & Birthdays & BouchĂ©es Ă  la Reine, OhMy!

My singer/songwriter son Sam (aka Samjo). Photo by Diane de Vignemont.

What a fun month this has been! Never mind all the highlights, I’ll share just a few of them today.

I got to go to Paris twice in one week this month–and in my mind nothing is much more wonderful than that, other than maybe spending the whole week, or whole month, there.

The first trip was a one-day trip to celebrate my friend Adrian’s 70th (!) birthday, along with a packed house of her friends and fans, at her monthly AprĂšs-Midi meet-up. Here’s a picture of me with Adrian (center) and Cara Black (left). Cara is the author of the bestselling AimĂ©e LeDuc series of mysteries set in Paris–and now also the author of two books with an American sharpshooter heroine named Kate Rees, who is helping to fight bad guys in Europe during World War II.

I was up nice and early to catch a train from Vendeuvre-sur-Barse to Paris, a very pleasant, less-than-two-hour ride. I met Adrian for lunch at the CafĂ© de la Mairie in the Marais, where she has held this monthly event for more than 20 years. Then, after lunch, she kept us all entertained (and feeling young!) with her stories of ups and downs (and ups and downs again!) during her 28 years in Paris. Someone asked her toward the end of the session what the one thing is that she regrets the most, the one thing she would have done differently if she could have. She thought about that for a moment, then gave an answer that was worthy both of her favorite inspirational writer, Eckhart Tolle, and Edith Piaf. (“I don’t really regret anything,” she said.) 🙂

After the event it was time for me to begin the trip back to Champagne. I regretted having to leave so soon as I strolled through the Square du Temple, which was filled with children playing, young and old people alike enjoying a lovely warm, sunny afternoon. But I needed to catch my train, and so I walked back to Place de la RĂ©publique, where I took the Metro to Gare de l’Est.

I love taking trains in France, I really never get enough of it, and this time was no different. I enjoyed the ride back, looking out the window at recently tilled fields, graceful windmills sweeping their giant arms against the sky, as the sun set.

By the time I got to Vendeuvre again it was dark. It was a full moon that night, and as the moon rose against the horizon, the fields I drove through between Vendeuvre and Essoyes were bathed in moonlight: it looked almost as if they were covered in frost, but I knew it was too warm for that.

Just a few days later it was time to return to Paris so that I could see (and listen to) my son Sam (aka Samjo, pictured above) warm up the crowd with his lovely, lyrical songs before performing with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires. They had packed the house and were rockin’ the crowd that night, what fun!

One week later a friend and I were invited to join friends formerly of Essoyes, who are now living a couple of hours away from here in the Pays d’Othe. The drive there was lovely, and when we arrived we were treated to a “real French meal” prepared by our friend Pascale. The entrĂ©e she had prepared for us was so beautiful I had to take a picture of it. (This concoction is apparently called a bouchĂ©e Ă  la Reine, and it was every bit as good as it looks.)

Next Tuesday is Toussaint, and today the excitement is mounting in Essoyes, you can feel it everywhere. Toussaint is a major holiday in France in which the dead are remembered and honored, their graves groomed and decorated by their families, and everyone gathers for long, drawn-out, wonderful, delicious meals. Already you can feel the bustle and stir before such a holiday (kind of like Thanksgiving in the US). People are coming and going, preparations are being made, pots of chrysanthemums are being sold in the stores and carried about in the streets, to decorate the graves of loved ones. And although the custom of children dressing in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating is fairly new in France, it is already a much loved tradition in Essoyes. (The children don’t go door to door from house to house, but they do visit all the shops in town, and the mairie, and hold out their little plastic pumpkins, or bags, hoping for treats.)

There will be more to come later: for now here’s wishing you a safe, happy Halloween. Keep wearing masks!

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.

October 28, 2022 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

The Story of a Dream Come True…

A man and his roulotte: almost finished at last!

This is the story of a beautiful little gypsy caravan that an American artist bought and lived in on the banks of the Marne River outside of Paris for several years in the late 1970s.

Much of the story you can learn here, through the artist’s own words and pictures. (You should look around the rest of his website also: his work is awesome!)

The link above brings the story through last summer (2021). This summer has been very exciting around here because this summer the dream of restoring the roulotte (that is the French word for it)–a dream that has taken the artist 15 years to complete–came true. The roulotte is now more beautiful than ever, and is positioned in our garden; and the artist, who is also a musician enamored of gypsy jazz guitar–is my nearest neighbor.

Our son is a musician too–a singer/songwriter who also plays pretty much any instrument he decides to pick up. One night in August he played his songs for a very intimate audience–just his immediate family–thus bringing the lovely music that filled the roulotte once upon a time by his dad, and who-knows-who before that back within her wonderfully acoustic walls. That was a very special occasion.

Now that the roulotte is ready to be truly enjoyed in the way it should be once again, I’m looking forward to hearing much more music coming from within, and to having that music shared with others as well. Stay tuned for more of the story!

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.

October 3, 2022 at 1:00 pm 1 comment

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 SacrĂ© 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 MusĂ©e de l’Outil et de la PensĂ©e OuvriĂšre (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 CĂŽte 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

Paris in August (2022)

The Bassin de l’Arsenal feeds into the Seine

I have just spent a very nice week in Paris, apartment and cat-sitting for my son and his girlfriend while they were vacationing in Italy.

They live in the Bastille neighborhood, and have a very nice view of the Bassin de l’Arsenal, which is a canal that feeds into the Seine. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this neighborhood before, so this time I was pleased to have the chance to get to know it better.

One thing I didn’t find right away, and missed, was a nice little pocket park (or “square,” pronounced “sqwar” in French) nearby, which most Parisian neighborhoods have. From their window I could see the canal and the boats, and I could see a place to stroll along a cobblestone quai next to the boats; but I didn’t see any benches to sit on or any green space along the canal, and what I always want in Paris (or anywhere, really) is a bench to sit on while I read and watch people stroll by. I was feeling a little bit sad about this, so one day I looked at the map and saw that according to the map, the largest nearby green space was the Jardin des Plantes across the river. That is not too far away, but as I was walking toward there I found an even closer little park, the Square Henri Galli, before crossing the river.

But really, I should have known Paris better! I should have known that there would be green space nearer than that and indeed when I decided to explore my son’s immediate neighborhood a little more carefully I found that all along the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are lovely places to walk, with little playgrounds, and benches to sit on, plenty of trees and flowers, and everything that makes me love being in Paris, especially on a nice day when you can find such a place to sit and read. In other words, there is all that literally right across the street from my son, duh; and all I had to do to find it was walk down a winding stairway next to the passerelle that crosses the canal. (When he had returned from his vacation my son also showed me the (not all that easy-to-spot) entryway to the CoulĂ©e Verte, a lovely elevated linear park built on top of an obsolete railway infrastructure just a couple of blocks away from his apartment.)

The moral here, folks, is: if you’re looking for green space, or a nice place to stroll or to sit and read in Paris, and you can’t find it, you’re not looking hard enough. 🙂 )

Bastille is a very busy neighborhood. The area right around the memorial to the Bastille–the original prison that was famously raided in 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution is long gone— has an abundance of restaurants and sidewalk cafes, and generally lots of busy urban activity: skateboarders, people on trottinettes (motorized scooters, watch out for them, they are dangerous!!!), and so on. There is also a big outdoor market there two days a week, a couple of movie theaters, and one evening–it happened to be on a Catholic holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, which is a national holiday in France–there was an open-air gospel concert. One of the two opera houses in Paris, the Opera Bastille, is also located there and was announcing a current production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I thought I would go to that one night, but alas, when I went to inquire about tickets I learned that the opera was taking its annual August vacation and so: no such luck. Well, another time…

France has for hundreds of years welcomed and offered asylum to refugees from many countries around the world, and that continues today. There is a mini tent city for homeless youth sponsored by an association right on the main square, across from the opera. And all along the sidewalk leading from Bastille to the passerelle that crosses the Bassin de l’Arsenal there are tents pitched by homeless people, sometimes whole families, who I must say seem to be bearing their circumstances with equanimity, sometimes even joy. (I know this sounds naĂŻve and maybe even heartless. Surely they deserve better housing! All I can say is, that is what I have seen, and it has caused me to reflect: some people can’t be happy no matter how lucky they are, and others find ways to do so no matter how unlucky.)

The other day there was also a very moving installation in the square drawing awareness to the victims of a massive wave of state-sponsored executions of political dissidents in Iran in 1988. I was not aware of the extent of this tragedy before. Thanks to this effort to memorialize the victims, I am now.

While I was in town I was able to see a couple of friends. I met one of them for a catching-up-with-our-news lunch in the Jardin de Luxembourg one day. Another day I met a friend in the Marais, where we had a delicious lunch at CafĂ© Charlot, and then went to an exhibition about Proust and his Jewish heritage at the MusĂ©e d’art et d’histoire du judaisme.

Honestly my absolutely favorite thing to do in Paris always is just to 1) walk; 2) find a nice little café for lunch, dinner, or just a drink or un café, and then sit there and read, and listen to the lovely sound of French conversation going on all around my ears.

I did plenty of that too.

But how can you write a post about cat-sitting in Paris without a picture of the cat?

You can’t, that’s what. And so, here you go.

Parisian cat surveys the Bassin de l’Arsenal, waiting for her best friends to return.

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 will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

August 22, 2022 at 11:02 am 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 FĂȘte, 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

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