Spring Coming Soon (we hope…)

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The sun’ll come out…tomorrow! Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

The days are suddenly beginning to be quite a bit longer, and thank goodness for that!

It has been kind of a rough winter here in Essoyes (and indeed all around France, and much of Europe).

First there was the tempete Eleanor, which came roaring through Essoyes (and much of northeastern France, as well as other places in Europe) on January 3.

Then there was the flooding. There were two floods in Essoyes (and again not only in Essoyes of course)–one on January 6, and a much worse one on January 23.

Following that, very late in the season, in late February, there was le grand froid (“the beast from the East” it has been called in English, and the “Paris-Moscou” in French). This blast of exceptionally harsh winter weather in fact did come from Siberia, bringing with it freezing temperatures all across France,  with its effects stretching up into the U.K. and down as far as Rome.

Along with it came snow too, subjecting French cities that are not accustomed to dealing with snowstorms, sudden or otherwise, to the challenges, most notably this week in Montpelier, and causing dangerous, and deadly, avalanches in the mountains.

So when I took a walk across the fields next to our home yesterday, it was such a pleasure to feel, for the first time in months, a softness in the air…and to be walking outside at nearly 6 pm in full daylight. What a relief!

And as I heard the birds singing on a sunny morning this morning, I had the thought “there is no joy like the joy brought by the coming of spring in a wintry climate…”

 

Because I had promised to do so before all this dramatic weather, I want to mention briefly that I did finally get to experience the annual ceremonie des voeux in Essoyes, which had been postponed because of flooding in the village on January 6, when it was originally scheduled. It finally took place on January 19 (between floods as it turned out 😦 ) and the cheerful pictures above are from that night.

I had imagined that the ceremonie des voeux would be mainly a kind of post-holiday party, primarily a social event, but as it turns out, it really is is more like a State of the Union address, but on a very decentralized, local level. In this tradition, which takes place in every large and small municipality in France sometime during the month of January, the mayors host community gatherings in which they tell their constituents about what has been accomplished in the past year, and what the plans are for the year to come.

Of course, because this is France, there is also a culinary element: in this case, after the mayor’s remarks, and those of an invited representative of l’Aube (our département), galettes, the special cakes traditionally made for the festival of  the Epiphany were served, along with champagne for the adults and juice for the kids. The mayor and the children of the village graciously made the rounds of the room, greeting and serving the citizens. As I took a bite of the delicious galette, I was informed by a friend which of the two bakeries in our town had made the galette this year. “They take turns,” she explained to me. “One year it is the bakery en haut, the next year the bakery en bas.” 

Not all French villages have two bakeries, and some sadly do not even have one anymore. (In these villages, arrangements are made for fresh bread to somehow be made available to the inhabitants of the village, most frequently door-to-door delivery by van from the nearest bakery.) But for a village of any size, it is ideal to have two bakeries so that a) the villagers can be assured of having fresh bread at least once every day (something considered de rigeur by most French people; and b) the boulangers can be assured of having at least a couple of days of rest in their week (an equally important fundamental right and privilege of life in France).

During the serving of the galettes and champagne, people began to casually make the rounds of the room, greeting each other and offering their New Year’s wishes to each other. It was a very pleasant thing to see, such a large crowd composed of people from all walks of life: vignerons and the people who work in their vines; the owners of the commercial shops in the village and their customers; children, old people, and everyone in between. I found it quite refreshing that this varied and diverse population had come to listen to a substantive report from their mayor and other elected representatives, and that indeed they did listen. The report was fairly long, and quite detailed. And people were listening to it just as if it matters, which of course it does. 

Then, just a few nights later, on January 24, the river broke it banks in the middle of the night and flooded the streets of Essoyes again, this time much more extensively than the first time, this time flooding the center of the village and the main square. The mairie’s emergency protocol was activated, and the sapeurs pompiers (the volunteer fire department) were called out of their beds to help people safeguard their homes and to evacuate those who needed to be evacuated. I later talked to a friend whose house was flooded with 13 centimeters of water standing in his newly renovated living room. His grandchildren, who had been staying overnight with him, had to be handed to the firemen out through the window and carried off to safety. (“A night they’ll never forget, no doubt” I noted, and my friend agreed, with a philosophical laugh.)

These pictures were actually taken a few days before the second flood. As you can see, even then there was a lot of water that was in places where you do not normally see it.

Meanwhile, as the calendar advances, the work of preparing the vines for springtime has begun, despite temperatures that suggest a much earlier period of the year. The enjambeurs, the huge specialized tractors made for straddling vines, have begun to lumber by our home in the early mornings and return to town toward nightfall. I’m not sure if in the extremely cold days over the past week these intrepid farmers were going into their fields in spite of the cold, or because of it. I will have to ask my vigneron friends about that.

The rivers in this part of France are still quite high: we are all hoping that as the spring rains begin they will come in measured enough quantities to prevent more flooding.

And that is the news from Essoyes for the moment…there will be more to come…stay tuned!

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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March 4, 2018 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

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