Archive for May, 2017

A very special spring in Essoyes


Fields of wheat and rapeseed, springtime in Champagne.

Springtime is always a busy time in agricultural communities, and this year is no different in southern Champagne, as local farmers tend to their crops–primarily wheat, rapeseed, and of course grapes for champagne. It was once again a rough start to the year for grape-growers, with exceptionally warm weather followed by a couple of weeks of early-morning frosts. Not good for the grapes! We’re holding our collective breath that the result will not be too disastrous for too many vignerons. Last year was hard enough! 😦

Meanwhile, in Essoyes, excitement is mounting as the time for a plethora of department-wide celebrations planned for this, the Year of Renoir, draws near. The excitement begins on June 3, when the Renoir family home in Essoyes will open to the public, and will continue on June 23, with the official inauguration.


La Maison Renoir, under renovation. It opens to the public June 3!

This has been a massive project for a village of only 750 citizens to take on. It is happening thanks to extensive help from various arms of the French government, plus numerous generous donations of time, money, and in-kind donations given by individuals, contractors, and other entities. It has required courage, imagination, foresight, a lot of hard work, and phenomenal amounts of determined persistence and patience from the mayor,  the members of the conseil municipal, and many others I’m sure.

But it’s happening. Yay, Essoyes! 🙂

The excitement continues when, during the weekend of July 22-23, Essoyes will turn itself into a 1900 version of itself in Essoyes a la Belle EpoqueThere will be a circa 1900 carousel, a circa 1900 wedding, a circa 1900 school exam given in a circa 1900 classroom. There will be women washing clothes in the village lavoir, and a great many people dressed in period costume. It’s going to be fun! If you can come, do!

There are lots of other special events planned over the course of the summer as well, including Un Autre Renoiran exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Troyes, showcasing more than 50 works of art on loan from museums around France;  and a weekend of cinéma en plein aire in Essoyes July 28-29, thanks to the cooperation of the Maison Pour Tous in neighboring Landreville, which has moved its regular summertime festival of outdoor film to Essoyes for that weekend, in honor of the Year of Renoir. (You can find out more about many of the Year of Renoir events that are being planned here.)

A couple of weeks ago an open community meeting was held at the mairie, at which a handful of people who have volunteered to be in charge of various aspects of planning for Essoyes a la Belle Epoque reported on their activities and progress to date, and let those attending know how they can help. I was once again impressed with “my” little village: how organized, how dedicated, how ambitious, really, people can be, and are. There are a lot of details to attend to! This is going to be a lot of work! But here everyone was, planning, pitching in, organizing, thinking ahead. Wow! What a great town!

I think it’s all going to be a lot of fun, and though I am always telling people what a great place Essoyes is to visit (because it is!) I think that is going to be even more true this year. 🙂

Meanwhile, aside from all of that, there are the usual spring events to keep people busy. For example, last weekend it was the Foire aux Vins, a local celebration of viticulture. I wasn’t able to go this year, but here’s a picture I got last year. (No. I was not drinking champagne before I took this. It is out of focus simply because I’m not a very good photographer. But you get the idea. Banners. Costumes. Herald trumpets. Champagne!)


Then there are the “flowers of spring.” Essoyes is a three-flower village (if you don’t know what that means, well, you really just have to come to France and see if you can figure it out, or ask someone about it).

And though wildflowers don’t count for the three-flower designation, they certainly are very pretty. I wrote about them here last year. This year I will simply say that the last couple of weeks have seen a lot of whites and yellows. And this week there were some pinks and purples coming onto the scene, pinks and purples of such intense hues that spotting them almost inevitably makes me smile–smile at the beautiful audacity of nature.

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.

May 24, 2017 at 4:05 pm Leave a comment

France Has a New President


Photo by Adrian Leeds.

It’s been a campaign that was short by U.S. standards (but long by French ones). And most of the time fairly civilized (by U.S. standards), but “brutal” by French ones. The voter turnout was surprisingly low by French standards. (It was close to 70% at 5 pm, three hours before the polls closed. For some reason I haven’t been able to find the total figure 😦 ) This of course is very high by American standards. (Though it is also somewhat deceiving by American standards, since French voters have the option of voting, but voting basically for no one (it’s called vote blanche), and this time a fair number of them chose to do that. 

Anyway, it’s over now, and France has a new president. Much of the world, especially the democratic world, was holding its breath over this one, hoping that France would not elect Marine LePen, the far-right candidate who faced off with Emmanuel Macron in the second and final round, which ended yesterday with a decisive victory for Macron (66% to 34%).

So. For a lot of people in France, including a lot of people who voted for Macron despite being anywhere from strongly unenthusiastic to mildly-hopeful-but-not-at-all sure about him, his election came as a huge relief. And then there were some (quite a few, in fact) who have dared to speak of feelings of hope, even elation, about the new president-elect. (He’s being compared to Kennedy, Obama, and even Napoleon–which is, in case you’re wondering, in France, mostly/usually a positive thing).

For another significant number of people in France of course, it was a disappointment. They are the ones who voted for Marine LePen.

It’s a big job this very young man (only 39 years old) has before him. But I think he has the brains, heart, strength, courage, and conviction to do a good job.

In my opinion, the biggest question is whether he will be able to get the majority of the French people to work with him to begin to solve some of the difficult, deeply entrenched problems they face, even in this country which is, after all, a pretty good place to be. And whether he can gather that kind of support and cooperation is not yet at all clear. It would appear there won’t be much of a honeymoon period.

What is pretty clear is that unlike in our recent presidential campaign, a debate between the two candidates for the presidency in which one candidate was clearly well prepared, well qualified, and has the right temperament for the job and the other one was not so well prepared, not so clearly well qualified, and who, instead of giving substantive answers to substantive questions had a tendency to spin them in such a way as to attack her opponent and to appeal to peoples’ fears and prejudices rather than their intelligence and their concerns. In France that kind of performance in a debate can still hurt a candidate. And it did. Apparently even many of LePen’s supporters were not very impressed with her performance in that debate.

That is certainly not the whole reason Emmanuel Macron is now president of France and Marine LePen is not, it is far more complicated than that. But I think it’s at least part of the reason. I’ll have more to say about this kind of thing in a future post. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a long, long time; the anti-intellectualism that in my opinion is one of two Achilles heels that will bring the U.S. down once and for all, if it hasn’t already. (The other one is racism.)

But never mind all that for now. Now is the time to celebrate the intelligence of French voters, the seriousness with which they carried out their democratic duty, and the handsome, smart, energetic young president to whom they’ve entrusted this awesome responsibility.

Sunday night, after walking–very much alone, seriously and solemnly–out from the shadows, into the light of the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Carrousel du Louvre, with Beethoven’s beautiful Ode to Joy (which apparently is the European Union’s anthem, who knew that before? Not I!)– he  gave his victory speech. He promised to serve the French people with humility, dedication, and even love. I’m not entirely sure, but I think a president promising to serve his people with love might be a first. In any case, I like it.

Then, after his speech, he was joined by his family and they–and the crowd–heartily sang La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, which is a stirring call to arms.

There is much that is important–and to me anyway, moving–symbolism in all of that. Macron ran on a platform of France remaining firmly committed to the success and endurance of the European Union, while still defending and protecting French interests and values. So–Ode to Joy first, La Marseillaise second. Each have their place. And who wouldn’t prefer joy to battle, if given the choice? Marine LePen insisted in her concession speech that the choice before the French people was between patriotism and mondialism. Macron is insisting that the way forward is not a matter of either/or but of both/and. It’s a more complicated message, but also a much more hopeful one. At least that is what I think.

Here’s wishing Emmanuel Macron strength, courage, and success in his presidency. And of course, wishing the same to the French people. I believe that the two are inextricably intertwined.

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

May 9, 2017 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

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