France: a follow up

Well, Andrew is already planning our next trip to France.  I think I need a nap and then a strong coffee. Here is a picture montage of the rest of our trip.

Day 4 started off in Avignon, moved along to Nimes and finished in Arles. Van Gogh did quite a bit of his work in and around Arles, so it is a shame we only saw it by night.  Nimes felt extremely festive and the ancient Roman ruins were impressive. Avignon is home to a huge papal palace and charming, winding streets, good for wandering and window shopping. I really loved the architecture in France, especially the store fronts and flats that are nestled above.  They are more than distinct from their counterparts in Spain; they are abodes that look and feel livable. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I had the distinct impression that the French live at home, that they nest per say, much more than the Spanish.  Spaniards live in the street, heading out each and everyday, whether or not there is a final destination. Holidays are celebrated with family and friends at the local bar or café, having a glass of wine and a bowl of rich, fruity olives or tucking in a winter favorite, chocolate y churros.  In France, for the most part, the citizens of the town take pride in keeping their buildings and homes in good repair.  The French must stay in at night during the winter, gathering around the hearth with family.  This was surprising for us when we needed an open grocery store at 7:30pm.  We are accustomed to towns here in Spain, no matter their size or the weather, coming to life as darkness falls.  I was astonished by the utter silence the lay over each place we visited in France with nightfall.

(Day 5, a driving day through St. Remy de Provence, Beaucaire and Millau)

(Day 6.  Woke up in Rodez, stopped in Figeac and Cahors, drove to Beynac in the Dordogne region of France)

Another detail I appreciated in France was the absence of the persiana.  The persiana, a type of Spanish blind that is lowered each evening at bed time, completely shuts out all rays of light from outside.  It is at once a blessing for those who stumble to bed late and need to sleep until noon and a curse to those who attempt to wake with daybreak, but are unable since their body can’t detect any natural light whatsoever from the rising sun. It also makes going to the restroom in the wee hours quite difficult, creating total obscurity that leads to lots of fumbling around. The French, instead, are fond of colorful shutters painted all colors of a pleasing pastel palette. There doesn’t seem to be a neighborhood association regulating that each resident follow decorating guidelines, rather a feeling of hodgepodge harmony that allows for each window to be distinct, but not an affront to the sense of beauty created by the French countryside style.

(Last day. Beynac, Sarlat, and St. Jean de Luz.  Definitely think that the Dordogne merits a week in and of itself.)

Finally, I wanted to address Andrew’s assessment of how expensive life is in France. Yes, it is true, but I think it is for good reason. To me, it seemed as though French culture, in general, demands a higher standard of life. Each detail is regarded with pride. For example, this is most evident to a tourist in the food culture. First, there is a higher expectation of customer service. Servers were friendly and patient with our inability to communicate. They truly seemed to appreciate our business, even though it was painfully obvious we were clueless Americans. Interestingly, restaurant owners would even come outside to speak with us about the menu offerings when they noticed us examining the menu and prices posted on the door. I was impressed with the care that each restaurant we visited took in serving us food that had been prepared by skilled hands. The food is noticeably better in every way. Each ingredient is of high quality and prepared simply, as only top notch trained chefs can do well. This respect of service was true in the hotels we stayed at and in the shops we visited. Each store we ventured into, we were delighted to be greeted, in French, by the shopkeeper, asking if he or she could be of any help. I think it is safe to say that prices in France are indeed higher because the French way of life demands a high standard in all facets of life. Even bread tastes better there and I dare you to find butter sweeter than in France.

For the two countries, Spain and France, to be neighbors geographically is astounding. This is truly what I appreciate in language and in travel, that ancient societies stay true to their way of life, even though they use the same currency or though they belong to the same political union. It makes Europe great. I would guess that I loved France as much as I did because I can feel meaningful similarities in their approach to the ordinary with my own personal daily outlook. Even the language is much more closely related to English than Spanish. Some days I struggle to find one simple Spanish quality that resonates with one of mine. France wasn’t home, but I identified with society there much better.  That said, I will always love Spain, as with each day I understand a little better what it means to live here.


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