La France Profonde

Thus begins my adventure to La France Profonde and my first full-immersion into French culture via the American way.  By that I mean I stayed with Chloé’s incredible multi-national Franco-American family.  I couldn’t have asked for better company and a more inviting family: I owe Chloé and her family everything for giving me one of the most unique, interesting, and overall enlightening experiences of my life. Not only did they take amazing care of me that I will forever be indebted to, but they also showed me the real French way of life which no one in their right mind can pass up.

The adventure started at 4 in the morning last Friday when I headed to the airport to catch my six am flight out to Paris – Beauvais. The flight went perfectly as planned; quick and easy. It still amazes me that I can fly from Madrid to Paris, the city of lights and love, in only an hour and a half.
Once there, I found my way to the bus station, bought my ticket (using my new French skills), boarded the packed bus, and rode to Porte Maillot where I’d meet Chloe an hour and ten minutes later.

It was great seeing Chloe as always.  We grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a croissant with a friend that she was with, bought sandwiches and cokes for the 4-hour car ride we’d have a head of us and met up with our driver. What’s great about France is that they have a car-sharing site where you can find and pay people who are driving from one city to another. I call it modern hitch-hiking.  For only 35 Euros, as opposed to the 80 we would have paid for a train ticket, some guy drove us from Paris to Niort.  Once we arrived in Niort, we were picked up by Chloe’s family who drove us another 45-minutes to Chloe’s wonderful country home.

Her house was spectacular! You wouldn’t have believed it. It was gently resting deep in the middle of the French countryside, surrounded by small locally-run shops organized by people whose families have lived in that same centre-ville for ages. The buildings were all made of ancient brick, coated in moss and vines. It’s no wonder famous artists like Monet were so inspired living in such a gorgeous place. The town was as Chloe had told me, in the middle of nowhere, but that was what made the place so incredibly inspiring, unique, and beautiful. The open rolling green hills filled in with fog every afternoon giving it an eerie feel and a cozy stay-in-bed warmth.
Chloé’s home was large and inviting, complete with numerous beds and bedrooms, and of course a swimming pool like all good chateau’s have. We couldn’t go swimming at this time of year, but I can only imagine what a great time it must be during the summer being able to swim in their pool right in the heart of France and pick fresh mint from the mint plants that sat alongside to make cold mojitos.

Anyway, once we were all nestled in, we began living the French way of life.

With Chloe’s family, we did everything French: the food, the rules, the traditions, and even the language. Although my French is far from even comprehendible, I still felt as if I were one of the French people who had been living in this little village for centuries.

Chloe’s family prepared these exquisite meals for us with food not just French, but specifically typical only to the part of France that we were in. When I went to Paris, I was telling some of my friend’s there some of the names of the things we had eaten in La Châtaigneraie (the name of the town we stayed in), and they had never even heard of it. I tried to describe it, but even the description fell short.  What I can tell you is that we ate Foie Gras and raw oysters amongst other things that I was unable to catch the names of because their French titles were too much for me to understand.

I knew that French cuisine was exquisite and that American food is a joke to the proud French, but I didn’t know that there were strict rules to eating it. Take the Foie Gras for instance. Chloé, whose American half clearly shown through, took the delectable Foie Gras and smeared it on the top of a piece of French bread. Her mother looked aghast and said that you NEVER spread Foie Gras! Rule number one: NEVER spread your Foie Gras. It is not cream cheese and your French bread is not a bagel.

So Chloé’s mother explained to me (and to Chloé) how to eat it correctly. First, you take your fork, you cut off a piece for yourself, and you stick it directly into your mouth. You enjoy it, you savor it, you take in all of its flavor. Once you have finished chewing, you can wash it down by tearing off a small piece of bread or by taking a sip of red wine. Together, the flavors blend in your mouth, but you NEVER eat them all at the same time.

Almost every night we ate raw oysters; you place a splash of fresh lemon on top and carefully scrape off the contents of the shell and place it into your mouth. It tastes like the sea; very sweet, yet rough from the salt it has bathed its entire life in. Chloé’s mother says it’s best eaten with a glass of white wine, but that’s mostly to help you get through cutting open the stiff oysters. They were terribly difficult to open so as to forget the struggle, a bit of white wine takes the struggle away (or you can go next door to meet Chloé´s kind neighbors who can open them in a single swipe). I of course cut myself trying, and Chloé’s paniced mother sent us next door where their neighbor split them open instantly, and then invited us into his cave (wine cellar) where he brews his own liquors. We drank something I can’t remember the name of, but the taste was divine.

This was all in the first night.

Over the next few days, I saw the wonderful church Chloé plans to get married in, the surrounding towns, and we visited Chloé’s dead great-grandparents’ graves. Chloé’s father said that her great grandmother was widowed at like the age of 38 so she had to spend the rest of her life wearing black. Due to the strict Catholic tradition of the region was she not permitted to remarry or change from her black attire. I find this incredibly fascinating!

Christmas morning was spent by opening up Christmas presents and everyone just feeling good. I missed my own family, but I’m glad I had Chloé’s family to take good care of me. Chloé even got me a book on how to learn better French which I cannot wait to start reading and practicing.

During the day, we went on a stroll through the town, had some hot chocolate and then returned to the warmth of their home for dinner.  Upon returning home, Tom took us through his wine cellar where he had been collecting wines from the region over the years. Even though I know nothing about wine, I hope to start a collection like his someday. He bought a collection of wine from this region in France the years that Chloé and her sister, Olivia, were born. It’s was really cool because that means that he had wines made in 1987, the same year I was born. He is saving the wines for special occasions, like birthdays, graduations, etc. I thought that was just really awesome.  Chloé later told me that that was a very typical French thing to do.
Of course.

Although my Christmas day went perfectly, it ended on a sour note with Chloé and I both spending the entire night throwing up in separate bathrooms.  Bogus.

That wasn’t the worst part though: it was far worse being woken up at 6 am after only 45-minutes of puke-free sleep, then having to drive with Tom, who was nice enough to get up that early and take me to the train station 45-minutes away with me holding my stomach. Fortunately, Chloé’s mother gave me some medicine before I left which I think helped.  Then I caught the 2-hour train ride to meet up with Britt in Paris, which I will tell the tale of in my next post.

Anyway, my trip to La Châtaigneraie was unbelievable.  I wish my family could have partaken in this once-in-a-lifetime experience in the wonderful countryside of Deep France. Chloé’s family will always remain in my heart for one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. It was so great that they took me in and took the time to Frenchify me the best that they could. Thanks, Peebles!

Anyway, write more very soon on my trip to Paris!

Graham

4 thoughts on “La France Profonde

  1. Hi, Graham — I’m Jane, Tom’s sister and Chloe’s aunt. I visited them in September and also experienced many of the wonderful sights of the area and of course, their generous hospitality. (Although I’m not an oyster-eater). It was great fun to read your blog about your visit!

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    1. Hi Jane, Thank you for reading my blog! I’m glad that you had a similar experience, minus the whole eating oysters thing. They really are a great family :) I want to go back already, as I’m sure you do too.

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  2. Hi Graham, I’m Barb – cousin to Jane and Tom, and I traveled with Jane last September to La Chataigneraie. We had the same wonderful experience with the Peebles family and their wonderful home in France – totally open-handed, loving, generous, and simply amazing people. You are right – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience which I shall always treasure and yes, I am certainly hoping and planning to come back again! Thanks for bringing back such good memories with your blog.

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