Fool for France

Summer in the French countryside

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I spend a lot of time ranting about French arrogance, French bureaucracy, all the rest of it. Then, every once in a while, I’m reminded of why I bother. This is a view of the Rhone Valley from our hotel room in Cliousclat, a village known for its potters, though artists in many media live and work there. It doesn’t look all that different from the Napa Valley. However our room cost about the equivalent of a nice dinner in Napa, never mind a whole room. While the whole California wine country scene is hyped and priced beyond belief, the French countryside is dotted with charming hotels, small serious restaurants — two just in Cliousclat! — good wineries and talented artists and artisans. While some places, generally catering to foreign visitors, are crazy expensive, many others are affordable, if not exactly cheap. And yes, I brought home a lot of very nice pottery, more than you see here.

Come to think of it, even the walnuts are small production, if not exactly artisanal. France is still a deeply Catholic country, dotted with abbeys and monasteries; I get the feeling convents are, these days, often called monasteries, though I haven’t really sorted that out yet. Anyway, I have a kitchen full of liqueurs and foodstuffs, made as a way of keeping these places self-supporting. I can highly recommend everything I have tried.

This whole concept of the French way of life is finally making some sense to me. In the cities it’s basically a marketing concept, that or a way for unions to justify stultifying labor laws. In the countryside it really is how people live. They grow things or make them and they are proud of what they do. Factory farming, which unfortunately is what is done around my house, and hypermarkets not only spoil the view, they drain the economic and ecological life from areas like this. Eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, that is what will happen here. That view and my little bowls will either disappear or become so rare that the few that remain will be priced out of reach of most of us.

So, that is what I learned this summer. Fortunately that is not all that I did. I have a new crop of adorable grandkids. They spent a week at the house. No, you can’t see photos; the moms have requested otherwise and I respect the moms. I got a few things done. I got used to living here. This is now home for me. On balance, I like it.

7 Replies to “Summer in the French countryside”

  1. Yes, there’s a sincere appreciation for quality–of products and of life.
    While labor laws may be stultifying, the alternative isn’t pretty either. The Uberization of labor–the gig economy–is pretty miserable. I speak from experience. Employers need to be able to reduce workforces when the economy tanks and to get rid of people who aren’t doing a good job or who have committed some breach. But the gig economy puts all the economic risk on workers as individuals, with no cushion and for low wages, while giving corporations all the profits, with very little risk. The employer-employee relationship is always an unequal one, with employers having far more power than employees–it’s why labor unions were created, to give workers a fair shake. I hope changes to labor laws don’t result in what you see in the U.S., with increasing numbers of people stringing together gigs with no benefits and working insane hours (in terms of time of day as well as in terms of amount) yet not being able to earn a living.

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    1. In large part, I agree with you. There is surely a happy medium and I hope both countries find it. To go into it in more detail, yikes, well beyond the scope of my little blog. Everything, globalization included, has both advantages and disadvantages. How to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages is hard to say — not the principle but the “how to” of it all.

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  2. And there you were just 80km from me … I know Cliouscat very well. Walnuts tend to be owned by Isère by the way – Grenoble considers itself to the the spiritual home of le noix 🥜. I am glad that you are more up than down, that home is really here in France and that you are managing to smile through the trials and flowing with the French fleuve rather than trying to dam it (though we can always damn it). Resistance is futile (after all they know a thing or two about Résistance) the only answer is, as my very wise, and very loved friend Tom in West Cork would have it ‘go with it’. He defines this as not rolling over but rather jumping on the wagon and letting it take you. He was referring to raising children when he gave me this pearl which I have kept nestled in my heart ever since. My child rearing years were far happier and more contented as a result. I apply it now to life in a foreign land. PS: I know I have been promising for aeons but I really do have an email for you it will come from my personal account but I will mark it clearly so you know its not a spammer or a stalker

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    1. I’m not going with it, exactly. I just took a break and I have to admit, I am delegating. “honey, you speak French so well, you deal with it,” is a sentence I use far too often. Or not, depending on how I feel about my digestion and blood pressure that day.

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  3. France`s labour laws do need change…what was thought suitable for a large state run enterprise in the post war period is far too cumbersome for the one man band who is petrified of taking on staff when business booms for fear of taking a massive hit if he has to lay people off if things go badly.
    I do not think Macron is too interested in flexibility for the small business fraternity though….his agenda seems to be to break the power of the unions (very Thatcher) and it is a good moment to try it. Unfortunately the power vacuum will be filled by big business out to destabilise their workforces while the going is good.

    I am not sure that there is a French way of life any more than an American or British: differing ways of life co exist in all societies, but, like you, I would wish that people who grow or make things could be encouraged and could survive on a level at which their products remain accessible.

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    1. Well, yes, this may well devolve into union busting. When it comes to small businesses Macron talks a good game but we shall soon see what his real plans are. They may well have been unveiled while I was on the road today. Maybe I just missed it. Funny how so many people can see what needs to be done but so few politicians are willing to do it. Small businesses are, in the aggregate, big employers. More should be done to help them thrive.

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