Springtime in Essoyes (2019)


Essoyes in Champagne

Essoyes in spring. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

Spring has arrived! Wildflowers are springing up everywhere, and the fields of rapeseed are in bloom. (The French word for this grain, which is used to make canola oil, is colza. I much prefer this word, and I propose that we adopt it into English.)

Last week a cold snap forced vignerons in Champagne as well as in other parts of northern France to take extraordinary measures to protect their grapes in this delicate period of their development. We all hope the weather will stay mild now so that the grapes can thrive…

Last week I had the pleasure of returning to the Maison Renoir, the family home that was a beloved place of relaxation and retreat for the Renoir family for many years, and which was restored and opened to the public in 2017.

The home has been lovingly restored and “staged” in such a way as to give the impression that the family has simply stepped outside for a leisurely stroll around the town in the early 1900s.

With the opening of the home to the public two years ago, the village has also been able, for the first time, to offer visitors to Essoyes the pleasure of seeing original Renoir works of art. Each summer since 2017, collections from museums in France have loaned works, and they have been on display to visitors in the room that was previously the family’s dining room, and is now able to display artwork in museum conditions.

This year it looks as though several works of art may make the long journey from the United States to be shown here during the summer months. We don’t know yet which works will be on loan, or exactly when they will arrive. So you’ll have to just stay tuned for more about that.

In the meantime visitors to Essoyes can enjoy a lovely collection of etchings, mostly by Renoir; but there is also a portrait by Conrad Slade, an etching of Renoir by Pierre Bonnard, and a note written by Renoir to the mayor of Troyes that is in itself a work of art.

Letter to the Mayor of Troyes (Renoir 1907)

Letter to the Mayor of Troyes (1907). Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

An exciting calendar of special events is being planned to take place in and around Essoyes this year, in recognition of the centenary of the death of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In particular, anyone who can be here July 6-7 will have the great pleasure of experiencing Essoyes à la Belle Epoque. I was lucky to be here when the village presented an elaborate village-wide “reenactment” for the first time, in 2017. Here’s my report of that wonderful event.

colza in bloom

Fields of colza in bloom…springtime in Essoyes! Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

I’d like to close with a note of relief and deep gratitude that despite the terrible destruction that occurred in the fire at Notre Dame de Paris earlier this week–which touched (and broke!) the hearts of people around the world–thanks to the incredibly brave and brilliant work of 500 firefighters in Paris, the main structure has survived, and the process of planning for the repair of the cathedral is already underway.

Dare I say a Hallelujah for that?

To me it seems apt, especially during Holy 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 teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the City University of New York, and her next writing workshop will be held in Paris this summer. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You. She is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.” 



April 18, 2019 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

The Fire at Notre Dame

A beautiful, heartfelt response to the terrible fire at Notre Dame de Paris last night by someone who knows it well..

Out My Window

I had just arrived at the American Library when I was told there was a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I envisioned a small fire–not to worry about. I didn’t respond with much drama. We were walking on the sidewalk of rue General Camou in search of our two speakers for the evening. She stopped me and said ‘Look’. She had her iPhone in her hand and after a bit of a wait–it turned out everyone in Paris was on Wifi at that moment–showed me a photo of the fire at the back of the Cathedrale. NOT a small fire. As I often do at moments like that, I freeze a bit. I could tell by her face that she was very upset. I had yet to get there.

I was volunteering at an author event at the Library. I often get the job of greeting people as…

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April 16, 2019 at 9:15 am 1 comment

Back Home in Essoyes…


Nature’s Sweet Welcome Home

Well, after six weeks away–nearly a week in Paris in February, followed by five weeks in Washington–I am back home in Essoyes.

And it is very good to be home again.

That is not to say that my time away was bad, not at all!

I always love time spent in Paris. (“I’m always just a little bit happier when I’m in Paris,” is how I think of it.) This time in addition to all the usual enjoyable diversions, I got to see a dear old friend who was there at the same time I was quite by accident. How wonderful it was to see him, and have a chance to catch up on our lives, and the news of our families!

Then I had a wonderfully rich, productive, interesting, and fun few weeks spent in the Washington D.C. area.

This time I was there (once again) primarily to deal with the unending saga of The Storage Locker That Will Not Be Emptied. I have ceased to be embarrassed about this, and have decided to be grateful instead. Not only has that storage locker allowed me to hold onto some very special things–mostly personal papers, photographs, etc. that I need for my work, along with some precious family memories–but it has also forced me to return to Washington every year or so for at least a few weeks. And that time has allowed me to deepen friendships I left behind, and even make some new friends.

I’m grateful to so many people for the kindness and generosity they extended to me in a variety of ways during my time there: more specific thanks will be coming to them in the days and weeks ahead. For now I’ll just say that among other highlights of my time there I was able to reconnect with my dear “Frenchies” (the French conversation group I started seven years ago, still going strong); teach two classes at Politics and Prose Bookstore (one about “getting along” in France, the other a mini Writing from the Heart session); and enjoy a “Demystifying the French” book signing party that some very kind friends hosted for me a few days before I returned to France.

I am truly a bit overwhelmed by it all. I don’t really feel deserving of such kindness, generosity, and enthusiasm about my book: but I am very grateful for it.

There were plenty of sweet solitary moments also, moments of taking breaks from the drudgery of going through boxes of old letters and photos, during which I came to discover some of the charms of suburban Virginia: and enjoyed some sunsets on warm spring evenings, the lovely sounds of children playing in the background as I walked. (Sunsets are beautiful pretty much everywhere, you know?)


Sunset in Arlington, Virginia

But, as I said. I’m back home now.

Last night I went to a meeting in the village hall where the citizens of Essoyes were beginning the planning for an exciting summer of celebrating the centenary of the death of Pierre Auguste Renoir. Essoyes is one of the places where the great painter and his family loved to spend time, and the family home here is now  beautifully restored and open to the public. There will be much more to come about this soon…stay tuned…

After the meeting I walked home, heading into a beautiful, quiet, pinkish sky; past fields of wheat that can only be that kind of green in early spring.

And it was very lovely.

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 teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the City University of New York each summer, and her next writing workshop will be held in Paris this summer. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You. She is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.” 


March 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Demystifying the French, in the U.S. and in France

If you’re in Paris you can buy it at the wonderful indie bookstore The Red Wheelbarrow, in a lovely location right across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens….

Continue Reading March 5, 2019 at 1:07 pm 2 comments

January in Essoyes (2019)

“This month I found myself inside our village church on three separate occasions–two of them large public events that filled the church with people–once with people mourning, once with them celebrating. The other time I found myself inside there completely alone, not exactly seeking solace, but finding it anyway…

Continue Reading January 27, 2019 at 10:56 am 2 comments

Remembering Madame Cintrat…

“…this year, on the evening of New Year’s Day, the church bells in Essoyes tolled. They were not pealing joyously, as they had that very morning, to welcome a new year: they were now tolling mournfully, because Mme. Cintrat had died on Christmas Day,..”

Continue Reading January 27, 2019 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Book Review: The Gardener of Eden by David Downie

A review of David Downie’s (wonderful) new book, The Gardener of Eden…

Continue Reading January 21, 2019 at 12:54 pm Leave a comment

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