Hallowe’en and Toussaint in Essoyes

AutumnBeauty

The season is entering one of its most beautiful moments, as the leaves turn color and the low-slanting light of autumn works its magic.

AutumnLeavesYellow

The real holiday here this week was Toussaint (All Saints’ Day), November 1, and it is a big and important one. It is also solemn and serious, all about remembering the dead, honoring their memories. It is a family holiday, a time for cleaning and decorating graves with flowers, then sharing a special meal together.

It is such an important holiday, in fact, that French schoolchildren are given a two-week vacation surrounding the time of Toussaint, I suppose to allow families who live far from the graves of their ancestors to be able to go there to honor them if they want to.

Hallowe’en as it is celebrated in the United States–meaning with costumes, candy, trick-or-treating–is NOT really a French thing, though over the past 20 years or so it has gained some popularity in some places, including in Essoyes. On Tuesday afternoon, October 31, there was a simple little Halloween parade through the village, starting at the Maison pour Tous, a community center that arranges all kinds of activities for both children and adults. I went to see the beginning of the parade: I didn’t see any princesses or superheroes, but I saw a lot of devils, pretty little witches, and various kinds of goblins and ghouls. Accompanied by adult volunteers, the parade of mostly children posed for a picture before starting their walk through the streets of the village with their little plastic pumpkins ready to receive treats, some of which were showered upon them by bystanders as they began their walk.

 

 

I couldn’t stay for the whole thing so I’m not sure where they ended up but my best guess is at the Place de la Mairie, where I am pretty sure they were given more treats.

The next day I took a walk to the cemetery to pay homage to two good friends who are buried there. Although a variety of flowers are brought to the cemetery at Toussaint, the traditional flower to place on the graves is chrysanthemums, because they tend to hold their blossoms longer. (This is also the reason you should never bring chrysanthemums to a dinner party in France: because they are associated strictly with honoring the dead.)

I think it’s nice that in France some people are now enjoying the fun of kids dressing up for Hallowe’en, thus preceding the solemn celebration of Toussaint with something fun. I think it would also be wonderful if more people in the United States knew of the connection between Hallowe’en (which after all, means “hallowed eve”) and Toussaint. That too would be more balanced, wouldn’t 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 leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.

 

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November 4, 2017 at 5:20 pm 2 comments

A Wonderful Day in Troyes-in-Champagne

 

Like many people, my favorite city in France is Paris. But my second-favorite city in France is not so well known. So please allow me to introduce you to a beautiful, medium-sized city in eastern France, about two and a half hours southeast of Paris, that you really should think about visiting if you haven’t already: Troyes.

Troyes (which is pronounced “twah,” yes, just like the French word for “three”) is the city I go when I want to take the train to Paris (or almost anywhere else in Europe); pick up friends who are coming to visit; consult medical specialists, or go for x-rays if and when I need them; and renew my visa.

It is also a charming and architecturally distinguished city that has been of historical importance since before the Roman conquest; it is a city that was spared the wrath of Attila the Hun in the fifth century, thanks to the protection of its Bishop, St. Loup, but was later sacked by the Normans in 889; it was the city chosen by the Counts of Champagne as their capital, and remained the regional capital until the French Revolution.

Troyes was the home of Rashi, the medieval Talmudic scholar; Chrétienne de Troyes, the twelfth century poet who is credited with having created the character of Lancelot; and it was at the Council of Troyes that the Knights Templar were officially sanctioned by the Catholic church, in 1129. Troyes is the city where in 1420, Catherine of  Valois married Henry  V of England at the parish church of St. Jean; and where, in 1429, after a few days of refusing to let her in, the British surrendered to Joan of Arc and her army as they passed through on their way from Orléans to Reims for the coronation of the Dauphin, France’s rightful king. Troyes was liberated again in 1944, this time from the Germans, by General George Patton and the Fourth Armored Division, along with Free French forces.

Troyes is home to a number of beautiful religious buildings, including a cathedral, a synagogue, and several mosques; and a number of interesting museums, including the fascinating, and intriguingly named Museum of the Tool and of Workers’ Thought, and a  museum of hosiery where apparently you can see stockings worn by the kings of France. (I must confess I haven’t been to that one yet, or if I have I did not remember that detail.) It is also a vibrant and culturally rich university town; and the departmental capital of l’Aube.

Usually when I come to Troyes I am there for one of the above-named specific reasons. I’ve come for an appointment at the préfecture or a medical lab; I’m picking someone up there at the train station to bring them to Essoyes, or I am going there to catch a train myself. Often I walk around Troyes with my visitors to show them some of the beautiful and interesting sights, or to have a meal at my favorite café, but when I do that I am distracted by the stories I am telling them and the sights I am pointing out, while trying very hard (and often not completely successfully) to keep us from getting lost in the maze of ancient cobblestoned streets, with their beautifully restored half-timbered buildings.

So that is why it was such a pleasure to find myself in Troyes the other day, with several hours in which I had nothing to do except wander about and find good places to work from my laptop, while I waited to get a ride back to Essoyes with a friend.

I started out by peeking into my own personal favorite “museum” in Troyes, which is not a museum at all, but the Church of La Madeleine, before it closed for lunch. Unlike most times I’ve been there, this time I was both prepared with a camera, and not hurried, so I was able to take a few pictures to share with you.

 

Afterward, I stopped for a moment, as I always do, in the lovely garden next to the church, the Jardin des Innocents. The light was not right for taking a photo, and in mid-October the blossoms are being to wither and die. (The garden is lovely at any time of year, actually, but it is usually more photogenic than it was the other day.)

It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm October day, so my next act was to buy a sandwich in a boulangerie and take it to a beautiful park called le Jardin de la Vallée  Suisse that stretches along several blocks more or less between the train station and the center of town. After I had eaten my sandwich and enjoyed the beauty of the park for a little while, I made sure to take a photo of the famous ruelle des Chats (“little street of the cats”), which is just a couple of blocks away from the Eglise St. Madeleine, heading toward the center of town.

 

 

Then it was time to find a place where I could work for a couple of hours in peace and quiet, and I found one near the Place Jean Jaurès. There I worked quietly and happily until was time to find the meeting spot where my friend would pick me up.

The meeting spot turned out to be near another little café that promised wifi so I was able to check my mail, and was also offered some classic, traditional French atmosphere (mostly male patrons watching the horse race they had bet on, and alternately cheering and cursing, depending on how the horses (or they?) were doing. But before I left there, one of the men there actually took out an accordion and played a little bit, not bad! (I do so love accordion music, and one does not hear it as often in France as one might imagine.)  I am always so happy when these moments occur.

From there it was a very pleasant ride back to Essoyes–it’s about an hour, through a series of beautiful little villages lying between fields of wheat, sunflowers, and rapeseed. And, as we got closer to home, vine-covered hills.

Here is what I came home to:

EssoyesSunsetOct17_17.jpg

I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “deserving” either good fortune or bad. But I do feel that the closest I can come to deserving the good fortune of living in such a beautiful place, so close to such an interesting city, is to be deeply grateful for it.

And I am.

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 leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.

October 19, 2017 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

Early Autumn in Essoyes

…I am enjoying the pleasure of being once again on the edge of the forest. Listening to the birds, seeing them hop around on the railing outside my window, or peek inside. Enjoying the sound of wings flapping–is it an owl, is it a hawk? I have no idea, but whoever it is that goes scuttering out of the tops of the trees when I walk down the path in the mornings to get wood for the fire has very big, strong wings….

Continue Reading September 22, 2017 at 7:44 am 4 comments

One more vendange come and gone…

The vendange has already come and gone…it was exceptionally early this year….

Continue Reading September 12, 2017 at 3:51 pm 4 comments

La rentrée, La vendange, à Essoyes

…the big field where the gens de voyage who have come here to pick grapes during the vendange park their campers was empty, and now it is not. As the sun set last night, I could hear the hum of the motors of their caravans, the cries of children playing in the evening air…

Continue Reading August 28, 2017 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Interview with Bernard Pharisien, Local Historian (in English and in French)

An interview with the man who probably knows more about the history of Essoyes, and the Renoir family in Essoyes, than anyone else…

Continue Reading August 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Essoyes à la Belle Epoque…a magnificent success!

“As part of the department-wide Year of Renoir, the village of Essoyes hosted a weekend-long return to the year 1900—to celebrate and showcase what Essoyes was like in the height of the period when Renoir and his family would come to the village, to paysanner (enjoy the countryside)…”

Continue Reading July 24, 2017 at 7:20 pm Leave a comment

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