Posts tagged ‘France’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

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

Summer in Essoyes

Essoyes on a summer evening. Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

I don’t really think of Essoyes as a tourist town, but it is, among other things, a wonderful place for tourists to visit. This is partly the legacy of Alain Cintrat, who has just ended 20 years of public service as our mayor, and partly the legacy of his mother. Of course there were many other people involved in making their dream of memorializing the history of the Renoir family in Essoyes come true; but if not for their dedication and determination over a period of many years, it would probably not have happened.

In any case, it did happen, and as a result Essoyes has become a lovely and very interesting place for tourists to visit, along with the many other lovely villages in this part of southern Champagne, very near the Burgundian border.

So it was that, just before the quatorze juillet, I noticed that the village square was suddenly full of cars, the physically distanced lines outside the bakery and in our little grocery store were longer, and there were lots of tourists strolling through the town. (You can tell which ones are the tourists: they are the ones wearing sporty casual vacation wear, walking at a very leisurely pace through the streets of the town, rather than on the sidewalks. This is irritating only when you are trying to drive a car through those narrow streets, but it is irritation tempered by the knowledge that having tourists come here is a good thing for Essoyes. It is…)

The rate of COVID cases has begun to tick up in France again, and France is responding. Everywhere you go there are signs reminding people what they can, and in some cases must, do to help protect themselves and others, and slow the rate of infection. In Essoyes, starting in August there will be testing available once a week in the community center. And everyone is hoping that, if everyone continues (or begins!) to follow the recommended guidelines for containing the virus, we can avoid a second wave that would be worse than the first. I suspect health care workers are hoping that more than anyone, let’s try to help them out with that, everyone, shall we?

And so, life has returned more or less to normal–well, to the “new normal”–at least for now. For our family that means raspberry tartes for July birthdays–and we celebrated two of them in our home this month.

Happy Birthday, Phineas!

The tartes at lunch were followed by a delicious meal at La Guingette des Arts, on the banks of the Ource River, which flows through the center of Essoyes. (The photo at the top of this post, by the way, taken by “the birthday boy” that night, is not retouched. Believe it or not!) And here’s a photo of him enjoying his escargots at La Guingette.

There will be an organ concert in the church in Essoyes this weekend. How exciting is that? (After nothing happening in the churches for such a long time? Very!)

Wishing everyone a safe, happy continuation. Stay well. Stay safe. 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.”

July 29, 2020 at 6:01 pm 2 comments

Déconfinement continued…

I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling…

Continue Reading June 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Déconfinement Day 17: France Slowly Reopens

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….

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

Déconfinement Day 8

#Champagne11mai Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Well we are one week into déconfinement. Such a feeling of liberation, now that we don’t have to take an attestation with us every time we venture outside of the boundaries of our home! (Though we are still required to stay within 100 kilometers unless we have a very good, and strictly defined–defined by the French government–reason for going further than that…)

We are still being very careful though, and of course we need to be, because with everyone suddenly coming out of confinement, I am assuming that that automatically raises the general risk of being infected by the virus. (That is my own very simple layperson’s interpretation, I have not heard anyone say exactly that: but it must be true, no?)

So. I am still waiting to do much of anything, outside of walks outside and the occasional trip to our little Casino supermarket here in town, so I can at least start helping my son carry groceries back home. He has been such a huge help to me throughout the lockdown! When restaurants are open again and it is safe for us to travel he is going to enjoy a very fine meal, my treat! Or maybe we will just stay right here in Essoyes and eat at our own very fine hotel restaurant, Les Demoiselles, with its magnificent view of Essoyes and the surrounding vineyards.

Together again, and so grateful for it…

Déconfinement has made it possible for my older son to join us now, too, from the place he was sheltering in place with friends in the south of France: so we are together again, and I am thanking my lucky stars for that.

None of us know one blessed thing about gardening, but today there was talk of us taking the bold step of trying to learn something so we can grow some of our own vegetables in a little “victory garden.” (Please do NOT “stay tuned.” I will let you know if we have any success at all, I promise! )

I continue to watch the news from home with sadness and concern. And I guess that is all I will say about that; except that I am very very sorry that because of the way things have been handled there, many dear friends and family members are not going to be allowed into Europe anytime soon… 😦

Meanwhile here in Essoyes the wheat and colza continue to grow, the bright red poppies are beginning to spring up in the fields, and the vineyards are doing okay too this year (I think).

There is also a field of what I think is cow vetch (in English) vesce de vache in French, near our home. (Now do you see why I wanted to learn French?) 🙂

Vesce de vache. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous…and here’s a helpful reminder from the French government about how to go about doing that.


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 17, 2020 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Day 1

Today is the day that France begins to progressively, and slowly open up again, after eight weeks of quarantine. With an emphasis on the word “slowly”…

Continue Reading May 11, 2020 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

Lockdown in France: Day 42

…What is interesting of course is how it gets harder to be patient with the lockdown with each passing day: but also one must acknowledge that, having recognized the danger and the threat out there, and the incredibly robust contagiousness of this virus, the thought of returning “to normal” is pretty damn scary…

Continue Reading April 29, 2020 at 6:25 am 3 comments

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, Day 21: The Everyday Heroes of Essoyes

EssoyesArmistice18Morning

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.

sdr

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

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