I was shocked by all of the stereotypes that rang true after visiting France for one week. Just one week and I can attest to the love of wine, biking with a baguette, a bouquet of fresh flowers, full mustaches, and an accent that Steve Martin nailed in Hollywood’s rendition of The Pink Panther.
There’s no place like home, but “home” becomes a confusing concept when you love people in various places. Home is no longer a physical place, street or zip code; it can’t be bound by time or space. If “home,” resides in the company of people I hold dear, then “home” is scattered all around the globe. Home is pockets of peace in comfortable company, arms that greet you at the door, folded fresh laundry at the base of a ready-made bed and an old bottle of wine brought from the cellar for no reason other than the expectation of conversation and togetherness. Home is a meal blessed by the hands that prepared it, a familiar scent, a warm embrace, a comforting smile and a prayer of thanksgiving. Never had I ever expected to find a home in France, but there is a part of my heart that will always love the family that welcomed me into their home and helped make it mine, as well.
Just before my train to France I got sick. When you are sick away from home-it’s just 10x’s worse. I was one cough drop away from calling it quits and hopping on the next flight back to Texas, if it wasn’t for the generous offer of a week’s stay in Dijon, France, with a local friend. Not to mention one of my favorites and dearly missed from back home just so happened to be passing through France on the same overlapping week. You might call that a coincidence, I call it a God-send.
Before I could even make it off the train platform I saw the wide smile of a friend whose long arms extended to welcome me to his hometown. Little did I know how amazing it would feel to see a familiar face, none-the-less one I didn’t guess I’d get the pleasure of seeing in person again. Not long after, another eager face greeted me but before I could get a good look at his newly grown, untrimmed mustache his arms wrapped around the two of us and pulled us in tight. A warm comfort blanket, a piece of home.
I felt guilty for staying in the home of a French-speaking family and speaking ZERO French. I had anticipated this being slightly awkward but when two warm, un-shy kisses were planted on both of my blushing cheeks all the anticipated awkward fled. Her genuine love flooded the threshold and was most welcoming. The excitement radiated and bridged the gap between our native tongues. We were shown to our all-inclusive rooms: free linens, WiFi, fresh towels, bath soaps and a loofah with no extra charge, in fact, completely free! Compared to the bunk-bed hostels and communal bathrooms I had been using, this was a penthouse dream! I couldn’t tell if it was more of a blessing for me to borrow, or her to lend, which made the pleasure all the more mine.
We strolled through the streets of Dijon. Yes, home of the mustard, this was my first question, too. It was beautiful. The old, gray stone buildings with intricate art chiseled into the framework lined the streets of Dijon. Cafes, boutiques, fragrant flower shops, restaurants and business buildings all in a row. The architecture was astounding.
Dijon is situated in the region of Burgundy, France, home to some of the largest vineyards and most renowned wine. Coming from the land of bratwurst and beer, a baguette and wine was a nice change of pace.
We got to go in one of the finest and oldest wine cellars where we brushed away cobwebs on vintage bottles, swirled,tasted and dined in the wine caves.
We learned how to taste wine that evening. It’s as simple as one, two, three; see it, smell it, taste it. Simple, but there is an art to this wine tasting business. Each cheese has its wine, each wine has its year and each bottle is stored, collected and opened at the precise place and time.
See it. Swirl the wine inside the glass and watch the concentrated alcohol drip down the inner rim of the glass. The longer the legs, the better the wine… “it’s all in the wrist.” Smell it. Go ahead, stick your nose in the glass and take a deep inhale, no need to waft, this isn’t a science experiment. Taste it. Loud and proud. Sip the wine like you are trying to annoy the people around you, swish it around your mouth, swallow and take a big exhale to REALLY taste the beverage. Apparently you never do this at dinner, only in a cellar or at a tasting-whoops, we learned that lesson after embarrassing ourselves sipping, slurping and sloshing the burgundy beverage.
Dinner had been prepared and the table was set for a special homecoming. Here, everyone at the table is family. That evening we chatted around the table all in broken languages we kinds-sorta knew. Dinnertime became an arousing, jump out of your seat, game of charades. Hilarious!
When it comes to cheese, I just thought there were the Subway basics; Swiss, American, Cheddar or Pepper Jack. Wrong again. I tried local cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, creamy cheese, liquid cheese and cheese that was so strong it called for an immediate swish of Listerine. After bread and cheese was the main course served with red wine, followed by dessert and concluded with coffee. Not an oversized cereal bowl with a handle like the mugs we use in America, this is more like a doll-house teacup. Make no mistake about it, this coffee is not served “sissy style.” Inside that teacup is one shot of straight, bold, black espresso. Bottoms up!
One thing I really appreciated about the French culture is when dining out, the woman’s menu doesn’t list the prices, whereas the man’s does. This is because the woman is given the privilege of ordering whatever she wants and the man is expected to pay for it. Fingers crossed your lady doesn’t have expensive taste, but if she is French the likelihood of that happening are slim to none.
The following morning, Saturday, as is tradition in this French village, we woke up early and made our way to the fresh market. Picture an outdoor Central Market with all local, home-grown foods sold by old school teachers, neighbors and family friends. Everyone seems to know everyone in this village and nothing brings the French together like fresh produce. “Select anything you want to try and we will cook it for you,” we were instructed by our new French family.
Wow, where do we even begin there are like 45 different cheeses on the table, slabs of meat I have never heard of and I’m pretty sure there is a rabbit over there getting its head chopped off- boy this meat is fresh! Items were selected and on our walk back we marveled at this charming, historical city.
One of my favorite surprises about France were the fields of mammoth sunflowers. These happy flowers lined the roads, their big heads following the sun. I couldn’t help but request a stop to say hello to these cheerful beauties!