Summertime in Essoyes
The first crop has been harvested, these bales of hay brought in just yesterday by the farmer. The fields of colza and wheat are continuing to ripen, and all along the edges of the fields, the streets of the town, pushing up through the stones in the cemetery, the wildflowers continue in their subtle, determined progression through the season.
The wildflowers here don’t take your breath away like in some tropical locations, with their overwhelming abundance and brilliance of color. No, they just whisper to you gently, of the scattered beauty of every day, every season, every landscape, everything in its own time. The predominant colors here are various shades of purple, quietly astonishing in their revelation of just how much variety there can be within one color, and the fascinating borderlines of those colors: some of them raising the question, is it purple or is it blue? Is it purple or is it pink?
There are also many yellows, with the occasional bright orange poppies, made famous by Renoir, who painted them into the landscapes he created here.
Daisies have also begun to appear, making me think of my mother, and the image that comforted her in the last days of her life, an image of a little girl gathering daisies in a sunny field, an image she shared with me. Wouldn’t she love to see these daisies, and know how the sight of them makes me feel close to her again?
In the village preparations have begun for the quatorze juillet, the French celebration of independence, which Anglophones call Bastille Day. On the evening of the 13th there will be (I assume) the traditional procession of the flambeaux for the children of the village, and on the 14th of course fireworks, les feux artifices. Preparations have also begun for the Year of Renoir, a département-wide celebration of the Renoir legacy in this part of the world, timed to coincide with the reopening next spring of the Renoir home, which will be a wonderful new addition to Du Côté des Renoir. The workers have begun their travaux and the gates that were almost always closed before are now open much of the time to allow workers to come and go as they begin the work of restoration.
I attended a meeting designed to inspire the citizens of Essoyes–“motivate” was the word used–to all take part in this year-long celebration, to find ways to make Essoyes particularly beautiful and welcoming to the visitors who are expected to come from far and wide. There were about 50 people there, not bad for a village with a total population of just 750. There were the usual semi-comic moments of any exercise in democracy, which inevitably allows for old gripes to be aired and new gripes to be introduced, some relevant to the topic at hand, some not so much. All in all it was a wonderful example of small-town grassroots democracy in action, with both its irritating aspects and its beautiful ones: the idea that everyone’s voice is worth hearing; the practicing of patience with and tolerance for the ineloquent along with the eloquent; the occasional inspiring voice of reason calling the citizens to a higher plane. In any case, at this point in time there is nearly a year to prepare–and knowing the people of Essoyes as I do, I trust that they will make the Year of Renoir something worth celebrating.
There are many things to do in and around Essoyes during the summer months: I recently wrote about some of them here. I’m looking forward to welcoming some new visitors to Essoyes next month, through my “mini” writing workshops.
Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the sounds, sights, and sweet smells of summer. And hoping that at the end of each day you will find maybe a little bit of peace, and perhaps a beautiful sunset–whether observed from across an open field, over a beautiful body of water, or simply reflected in the windows and on the walls of city buildings.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing, and of literature. She divides her time between the U.S. and France, where she offers writing workshops in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region.