The thing about France is that it gets under my skin and stays. We've been home for well over a month, and I think about going back. Every. Single. Day. Could we retire there? Could we serve back-to-back senior missions there? Could Patrick's employer suddenly decide that opening a movie studio in France is imperative, and ask us to move there so he could head it up?
I'm sure it's odd to get homesick for a place I've never lived, but there it is. So I've put off summarizing the rest of our trip, probably because I knew it would exacerbate my Francesickness. But it's time. And I'll do all the rest in one fell post.
Day Eleven--after our whirlwind weekend of family fun in Switzerland, we needed a quiet day of recovery. The kids played with Praline, our host family's rabbit. Tess and Hope rode the neighbor's horses. We shopped at the grocery store and did laundry and read and ate and dozed. One of the true luxuries of such a long vacation is the downtime. Bliss.
On Day Twelve, James enjoyed one of his graduation presents: a trip to Paris all by himself via the TGV. He explored all his favorite museums, ate lunch in the Latin Quarter, ambled along the Seine, and generally had a fabulous time.
Meanwhile, the rest of us were ready for another day of exploration. James isn't a big cheese lover, so we saved our tour of a local cheese factory for this very day. We drove up to Gevrey-Chambertin, through the "Gold Coast" wine country, getting to the Gaugry fromager in time for a light picnic lunch. After that, we took a self-guided tour through a family operation that makes some of our favorite cheeses, among them the fabulously stinky Époisses.
After the fascinating tour, we had a private cheese tasting in the little restaurant-café attached to the factory. The hostess arranged five cheeses on plates for us, from mild to strong, and we savored each one slowly and carefully. Afterward, we chose our two favorites and bought some to take home.
Then we drove to Autun--one of my new favorite spots in all of France. We visited an ancient Roman amphitheater; the locals were gearing up for a big son et lumière, which made for some interesting scenery. Next stop, the local cathedral, was another Romanesque wonder, especially the tympanum. As we drove from amphitheater to cathedral, we'd seen signs for the "Roman pyramid," so of course we had to go see what that was.
Local oddity, indeed. It's built over a Roman necropolis, and over the centuries, treasure hunters have dug into its sides. But it's largely intact--and the view from the hill on which it stands is stunning. The Autun valley, resplendent in the late afternoon sunlight--it's a sight I won't soon forget.
On our way back to the car, we saw signs for a nearby waterfall. We figured that we had some extra time until we had to pick up James from the TGV station in Mâcon, so we took a leisurely streamside walk up to the cascade and back. We decided it wasn't very impressive--and maybe there's more to it at times other than July--but it was still a delightful ramble.
We picked up James and heard about all his adventures over another wonderful dinner. Notably, I made my mother-in-law's carrot soup, and it was a triumph, by all accounts.
Day Thirteen was another local day--but that doesn't mean it wasn't adventure-filled. Five minutes from our house stands the Château de Pierreclos. One of the many great things about it was how interactive it was. They had a weapon room with replicas of medieval weapons and armor, and the kids (and the parents) had a blast trying stuff on and swinging stuff around.
On the way home, we toured the grounds of the château right next door to our house, eating wild plums and skirting the wheat fields.
That evening was Patrick's and my Date Night. Before we'd left on our trip, I'd read that a local orchestra and choir would be performing an all-French program--including the Fauré Requiem, one of our favorite pieces of choral music--at Cluny Abbey, so we bought tickets. We thought the concert was going to be in the jaw-dropping farinier, but it ended up being held in the abbey's cloister. This was at first disappointing--but then the music was sublime, and we forgot our complaints.
But beforehand, we visited the village of Paray-le-Monial, which boasts yet another sublime Romanesque basilica. I wanted to see the church because it was modeled on the much larger abbey church at Cluny, which was mostly destroyed centuries ago.
(Doesn't Patrick take brilliant photos? This one looks like a postcard to me.) Paray is the most visited historical site in Burgundy, and we found out why once we got there. In the 17th century, Marguerite-Marie Alacoque founded the modern devotion of the Sacred Heart in Paray after several dramatic visions she had of Christ and His atoning love. Today, Paray actively welcomes pilgrims and hosts retreats and other devotionals year round. A little church down the street from the basilica is dedicated to Marguerite-Marie's visions; we walked down to see it, but stayed outside when we found that it was packed to the gills for a daily mass.
We explored the basilica and the cloisters and a building full of dioramas depicting Marguerite-Marie's visions, then made our way through a spectacular thunderstorm eastward to Cluny. We had a picnic of scrumptious pâté, cheese, bread, fruit, and French lemonade on the (mercifully dry) abbey grounds. Then, just after sundown, we filed into the cloister and took our seats.
This was another unforgettable evening. Gorgeous music very well played in the haunting acoustics of an ancient monument, while a flock of starlings wheeled exultingly in the twilight sky in hypnotizing murmurations--perfection. I was moved to tears several times, especially when the choir did a surprise extra piece--Lauridsen's "Dirait-on." I get misty just reliving the memory; it was a Date Night for the record books.
We repeated our "recovery day" on Day Fourteen. Our kind, delightful neighbor, Paul, brought his horses over and gave the big girls and the little kids riding lessons. Paul speaks very little English, and our kids speak even less French, but somehow, everyone understood one another. We took a walk. We read. We ate more great food. Not exciting to retell, but oh, so satisfying to experience.
Day Fifteen was another rainy day, such a balm to our California-droughted souls. We visited the medieval stronghold of Berzé, which was about fifteen minutes from our house. The château fort is truly ancient; parts of it date to before the tenth century. It was abandoned for a couple of centuries after the Wars of Religion, but in the early 19th century, a descendant of one of the original owners bought it and began restoring it. Since then, it has passed down through the same family and is today inhabited by them.
The gardens in the basse-cour are extraordinary, and the food they supply supports the bulk of the family's needs. We went into the tiny chapel that is recorded as having existed in AD 991. "Five hundred years before Columbus," as Patrick kept marveling. As we left the château, we visited the 17th century chapel outside the gates that's still used for worship by the family and neighbors. Chickens and Charollais cattle grazed placidly nearby, and we ate some wild blackberries that grew along the road.
We drove a little ways through the rain to visit the nearby monks' chapel. We'd heard the frescoes were extraordinary, and they did not disappoint. We watched a video of a modern fresco artist demonstrating the centuries-old technique, then went and sat in the tiny chapel and gaped at the ceiling. Photos were unfortunately not allowed. Amazing.
That evening, cousin Valérie and her son Nolan arrived for a visit. After dinner, Patrick and Valérie and I took a long walk to a nearby quarry. People began quarrying limestone there in the third century AD. We talked and admired the gorgeous scenery and went to bed afterward pleasantly tired.
On Day Sixteen, we went to church in Lyon. This was another terrific ward--warm, welcoming, interesting, kind. Amazingly, we saw people we knew. As Sacrament Meeting progressed, I realized that two rows in front of us sat a man I'd known as a missionary in the MTC in 1989--but hadn't seen since. I introduced myself after the service. He remembered me well, and then informed me that I knew his wife. He brought her over, and it turned out she was my RA when I lived at BYU's French House in 1987! I had no idea they'd married, but it made sense, since they grew up in the same stake. They're happy and have several children--just like us.
After church, we recognized other people--a French family that had visited our ward in Pasadena two years before. I had translated for the teenage daughters during the Young Women's meeting--and then they'd met our friend Sunshine and invited her to come stay with them in France for a month. Which she did.
We chatted and took photos of our two families together, and then we ate our picnic lunch on the lawn outside the church.
Next, we drove into Vieux Lyon and visited the cathedral there. It houses a treasury, which was great fun for us all. Then we took a funicular train up an enormous hill so that we could visit the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière, "the fanciest church I've ever seen," as Daniel said. Ornamentation everywhere. Gorgeous, gilded, gigantic mosaics. Bright colors and soaring ceilings. And the stunning views outside--we loved it all.
To get back down the enormous hill, we strolled down the hairpin turns of the Rosary Walk. Every few feet, a brass rose embedded in the asphalt reminds the faithful to say a Hail Mary, and after ten of those, a larger, numbered brass medallion indicated the need for an Our Father. I loved the invitation to meditation, as well as the lush hydrangeas and roses that bordered the walk.
At the end of the Rosary Walk, steep staircases lead back down through narrow alleyways to the plaza in front of the cathedral. Shaky-thighed at the bottom, we headed back to our car.
Our tradition for every day trip was to have a packet of Lu's Prince cookies as a snack on the drive home. This was something we'd invented on our trip to Paris years before, and it bore repeating. We often added some Haribo gummies, especially on long drives. These in no way spoiled our appetites for dinner.
Monday morning (Day Seventeen), we bid goodbye to our dear Swiss cousins. This was another rainy day, so we decided to drive about forty minutes south--back near Lyon--and visit the Château de Fléchères. I'd read that it was lovely, but I had no idea how much we'd adore this place.
First of all: rain. It makes every secluded country site more romantic. Second: this was the most "Pemberley" of any place we'd visited. Third: as nearly always on this trip, we were among the very few who were visiting, and having a gorgeous château all to oneself makes it exponentially more magical.
Our tour guide was terrific; he was the same man who'd complimented my French at Cormatin days earlier, so he was already on my good side. But he was a fount of knowledge and obviously very passionate about the history of the site. We loved the building, with the original furnishings and the Italian murals and the textiles from Lyon, the silk capital of Europe; we loved the gardens, which were a hybrid of the sculpted, formal French style and the loose, lush English style. I was ready to move in.
By the time we got back to the car, though, certain people were getting hangry. We decided that the best course of action would be to go to the French McDonald's that was not too far away. Some of our children had never been to a McDonald's ever, so they were curious.
The food at "MacDo," as the French call it, was definitely better than its American counterpart--but for me, after eating the simple but delicious and utterly fresh French food we'd prepared ourselves--it was unimpressive. It did the job, though, so we went with it.
Once we got home, Patrick and I went to the lavanderie in Mâcon. Most French people have washing machines, but hang their clothes out to dry. This works brilliantly, even when one brings the racks inside on rainy days--unless one has brought only three or four outfits to France, as we had done. The rain wasn't letting up, so we went industrial. While the laundry was going, we shopped at the local Carrefour, which we found decidedly inferior to the Super U (but still better than most American groceries). We got some fancier-than-usual items, since we'd be eating our last home-cooked meal that night.
Day Eighteen was the day of cleaning and getting ready to go. Everyone chipped in, so it didn't take long to get the bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, and living room into shape, and then get mostly packed up. We'd made reservations to eat that night at a very well-reviewed farm/inn/restaurant called the Auberge de Mâlo. On the way there lay the restored and (we found) somewhat Disney-ish village of Brancion, so of course we had to visit.
People actually live in Brancion, but they have very enterprisingly turned it into a tourist destination. Just inside the ancient gates stands a well-appointed gift shop, and your ticket to tour the château fort's ruins includes the option of borrowing of medieval costumes. Daniel and Anne indulged, but the rest of us forebore.
The ruins were enchanting, especially in the misty grey weather, and the views from the top of the donjon were spectacular. Brancion already sits on a hill, and the donjon was quite tall. But it was the empty windows that won my heart.
We had some extra time until our dinner reservation, so took the scenic route to Étrigny. Daniel had been begging us to sing a hymn together in nearly every church we visited, but I was shy of making a scene in front of other visitors, so I demurred. I promised him that we'd sing if we found an empty church--and in Ozenay, we found one.
It was nearly dark, but we gathered in the nave of the beautiful old building and sang "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" in parts--literally a capella. I must say that we always sound good when we sing together, but in the flattering acoustics of an ancient stone chapel, singing words written by Bernard of Clairvaux, we were at our very best--except we missed Christian even more sorely than we already had.
Daniel, having achieved his innermost desire, was happy; all of us had full hearts. We drove to the inn and had a glorious and abundant and very long and properly French multi-course meal. Savory, plump duck. The freshest green salad dressed with savory chicken livers and a sumptuous vinaigrette. Sumptuous charcuterie. Loads of braised chicken. Roasted potatoes and sautéed wild mushrooms. Fabulous cheeses of all shapes, tastes, and textures. And fruit tarts--apple, plum, apricot, and rhubarb.
Absolutely everything had been grown on the farm--except the mushrooms, which were gathered nearby. We ate and talked and ate and laughed and ate some more. Anne fell asleep on my lap. Our family, almost always well-behaved, looked even better in contrast to a loud, large group of Scandinavians with several rowdy,overtired children. A couple of people, clearly locals, made quite a show of leaving in Gallic contempt when one of the kids had a meltdown of some kind. I must confess that I felt more than a bit smug as my children's excellent manners continued throughout the evening.
Full and happy, we drove home. It was late, and we had to get up early, but we couldn't resist one last episode of Buffy before bed.
Day Nineteen, we stripped the beds and piled all the linens in the laundry room. I always feel bad on the last day of our exchanges. We generate so much laundry! But we'd arranged this beforehand, and our host family assured us that they'd simply go to the lavanderie and take care of the issue when they got back. We left the bunny with a thank you note and a bottle of wine for Paul, who would take care of things for the interim days. And we bade goodbye to our marvelous mini-château, piled into our trusty rental car, and drove to the airport in Geneva.
The flights home were uneventful, and it made sense to get all the customs nonsense out of the way between flights in Montreal. Our car service was waiting for us in Los Angeles, and I was relieved that we had thusly splurged, because I had a hard time staying awake on the drive home.
Our house was pristine upon our arrival, and we quickly got to bed. The next day, we picked up Moneypenny from her devoted sitter, and that was that. Another successful, life-changing house exchange!