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Interview with Karen Schur-Narula, Author

An interview with the author of “Fatherland,” an exquisitely written, deeply compelling novel set in Germany under the Third Reich…

Continue Reading June 9, 2017 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Et voila! La Maison #Renoir is open to the public!

La Maison Renoir, a corner of the living room

Some things are just so momentous that it’s hard to believe that they ever really will happen. Christmas morning is like this for many children (at least it was for me). And yesterday in Essoyes I again felt some of that feeling of Christmas-morning wonder-and- joy that I haven’t felt in quite the same way many times since I was a child.

Because yesterday, the Renoir family home, which has been under an intense process of renovation for the past year, was at last ready for visitors–and right on schedule!

You have to realize how amazing this is, first of all. This is how the house looked a few short months ago when I visited there with Mayor Alain Cintrat.

Honestly, when I first heard, last year around this time, that the house was going to be totally renovated, with climate control, an elevator, and other major improvements made, and that it would be totally furnished with period furnishings that would have to be gathered  from various places, all inside of year, I didn’t say anything negative of course, but I thought, “No way. How are they going to do that?”

I even asked someone at the Office de Tourism, sometime during the month of July, what the reopening dates were scheduled to be, just to be sure, and when she told me, I said. “Hmmm. So I guess they’ll have to start the work right away, right?”

Wrong. “Mais non,” she said, smiling. “It’s almost August, you know.”

So. You know how everyone makes fun of the French for taking so much time off? Long, and many, vacations? Long lunches?

Well. They did it. And they did it beautifully and wonderfully well. And they did without giving up those vacations and long lunches that make life so much more pleasant to live.

So, think about that now, Brits and Americans, okay? 🙂  They did it.

Yesterday was the day it was finally ready for viewing. And it is so beautiful. Take a look at this!


Yesterday the honored guests were the residents of Essoyes. The mayor was there all day long, cordially greeting everyone as they arrived. A friendly, cheerful, efficient team of village employees and volunteers were there to greet people, and show them how to use their audiotour kits, which offer commentary in French, English, and several other languages. (I wasn’t able to listen to the whole thing yesterday, but I listened to enough of it to know that it too is very nicely done: it tells the story of the Renoir family, how they came to be in Essoyes in the first place, how and why they loved it so. You can read some of that story here also, if you like.)

And, as of today, the house is open to the general public.

Great pains have been taken to decorate the rooms in the way they might have been, or– to some degree, by relying on photographs, bits of old wallpaper discovered in the renovation, and so on–even how they actually were in 1905, when the Renoirs were living there. The impression given is that the members of the family have just stepped out for a walk and will be back anytime. Some of the original furniture is there, on loan from Sophie Renoir–the great-granddaughter of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his wife, Aline–who was the last one to live in the house. Period artifacts gathered from other sources give a wonderfully detailed feeling of what a real home of the period, and in this case what the Renoir home, in this period, would have been like. It is a wonderful experience to see it.

For the summer months three original works of Renoir on loan from museums in France: a landscape painted in nearby Loches; a bust of Madame Renoir; and a painting, Jeune femme au mirror, are on display as well.

During the weekend of July 22-23, all of Essoyes will invite visitors to come and, along with them, enter into the spirit of 1905, as they celebrate Essoyes a la belle époque. You can find out more about that, and many other special events planned for the summer, including a Renoir exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Troyes, here.

You’re going to want to come for a visit this summer, aren’t you?

I thought so! 🙂

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.

June 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

A very special spring in Essoyes

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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.

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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!)

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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

Early Winter in Essoyes

“I have always loved the beauty of lakes, oceans, forests. But it was not until I got to settle into life on our beautiful little patch of countryside that I was able to notice certain interesting and beautiful things in nature that I had never really noticed before, things that were not on the “macro” scale of sunsets and landscapes…”

Continue Reading December 12, 2016 at 7:37 pm Leave a comment

Spotlight on Cynthia Pierce Liefeld: Psychologist, Scuba Diver, Writing Workshop Creator

“I’ve wanted to write children’s stories for a long time, but I thought it would be best for me to put such a large goal aside and open myself up to ‘writing from the heart.’ I found the writing prompts to be inspirations for reflecting on both my childhood and adulthood…”

Continue Reading June 22, 2016 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment


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