Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jour des crêpes

Happy Candlemas day! A Catholic holiday to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus, here in France it is called la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière or jour des crêpes. Although not participating in the fortune telling, we will have crepes for dinner.

The good news is that once again we all seem to be over our colds. Luckily this time they didn’t disrupt our plans, except for a few missed play dates last week while Roberts was out of town. Originally we had thought to rent a car and drive down to the Puy-en-Velay region, but this excursion will have to wait as we received an invitation to visit the village of Chatenet, about two hours due east.

It might not be considered normal to invite people you’ve never met to visit for a weekend, but the Latvian connection has made it possible. I’m originally from Chicago as is the woman we went to visit, only she has lived in France some time longer. My grandmother was her girlscout leader, I’ve danced in a folk dance group led by her brother, and ultimately we had heard of each other but never met. Through her brother we discovered that she lived in the area with her husband and son, who coincidence has it is only one month older than our Laurīts. So having exchanged multiple emails we rented the car and headed east on our first excursion to the French countryside.

Having read multiple books by (insert country that is not France here) ex-pats who have moved to France for a (insert number) of years to buy a (select one: vineyard or farmhouse) in (select one: Provence or the French countryside), I was looking forward to seeing a small village and the farmhouse that our new acquaintances were living in. The husband is from Britain and although our new friends divide their time between the two countries, this was their first winter in France.

Chatenet did not disappoint, it was everything I had imagined and more. The husband had bought the main house some time ago, and the other house came “accidentally” with the barn more recently. This is the house that has the wood burning stove and heaters for winter habitation, and so the house we overnighted in. The interior is beautiful, with wood beam ceilings and wood accents everywhere. This turns out to be the work of the husband, reclaimed wood was utilized in everything from cabinets, doors to the bathroom sink. The original house also has beautiful wood everywhere as well as a few surprises, including a room hidden behind a fake bookcase. I wish my memory were better and I could recount how old the houses were and when certain renovations took place; one owner had cut a giant hole in the ceiling next to the fireplace in hopes that the warmth would rise to the bedroom on the second floor, another owner had added rooms as a giant support on one side to help keep the structure upright. My favorite room was the library/workspace, I can imagine throwing the windows open on a warm spring day and curling up with a good book.

We took a long walk each of the days we were there to see the surrounding area and enjoy the fresh air. Saturday we followed the ridge leading from the village, and there were some amazing views due to the fact that the ridge separates two watersheds and is the highest ground in a very large area. The two boys were content to relax in the carriers and observe the scenery while the dads did all the walking; this reminded us that we need to invest in a new carrier for Lauris, the baby bjorn is too small for him, and his weight would be easier to carry on the back, not the front. Sunday frost was clinging to every twig and every blade of grass, and looking off into the distance, forests appeared fairytale white. Our hike led us through a timber harvest which was the first experience I have had with forestry on this side of the lake. We were having such a good time that we were much later in leaving than originally planned, and even took the scenic way home to take a look at some more small villages along the way. A big thank you to our hosts for the wonderful meals, the loan of several books, the great company (especially for Lauris) and the chance to get out of town for the weekend. It was a pleasure meeting you and we look forward to not only having you here in Clermont, but also (hopefully!) a return visit in the spring/summer to experience Chatenet at that time of year.

So can I see what the draw is on owning a place in the country? Definitely. In addition to the fresh air and nature that is lacking in the city, there is also the large garden, the woods, all the chestnuts you can eat in the fall, space to try your hand at making wine (or apple cider which our hosts truly succeeded at!) and a peace and quiet, much like you would find in the country in the States. Maybe I am just a country mouse, but all these things appeal to me. However, we have decided to spend these next years in Clermont-Ferrand living downtown to see how we like city living, because although we were in the city in Greenville, we were not “in the city”. Of course we welcome any invitation to visit the country and enjoy some peace and fresh air…

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