Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sainte-Élisabeth nous montre quel bonhomme l'hiver sera.

Clear skies after a foggy Saturday drive over to Saumur this past weekend drew me out to explore again, and this time I headed upstream along the Loire to the 17th-century Église Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers, which Armelle had told me was very beautiful. And I needed to walk off some of the generous meals she'd been serving. The water remains high and the riverside path is submerged, but there's a wide pedestrian walkway along the road. The sun was warm, but a cold wind made the flags outside the town hall fly straight, and whipped the end of my scarf around my face.

What will the weather be like in May, when Mom and John and I are on the barge, wrestling with the locks on the Marne canals? The old saying is that on the Feast of Saint Elizabeth (November 17) the weather will show you what the winter will be like. If the weather on February 17 was an indicator of what the summer will be like, we'll be in good shape. It's a sunny day today in Tours, and after I finish this post I'm going to go for a walk along this stretch of the Loire, before my physical therapy appointment.

It's good to have a direction. I'm not usually into simply meandering around when I walk - I need a goal, a reason, and a way to return that isn't the same as the way I got there, because retracing my steps is boring. This last requirement is what frequently causes me to lose my way. I'm sure there's something significant about that which could be applied to my life. I'll have to think about that.

In the middle of the 15th century, a farmer digging in a field of clay discovered a small statue of the Virgin Mary near a spring that was already famous for its healing properties. He took it home, but it disappeared from the house and reappeared in its original location. This proved the virtues of the healing waters and a chapel was built on the site, which became a goal for pilgrims around the country. A hundred years later, a larger church replaced the small chapel, and the dome was completed after another hundred years. A community of Oratorians, a secular order of priests focused on teaching, like the Jesuits, was established under the patronage of Louis XIII in 1614, but today the Sisters of Jeanne Delanoue live there. Morning mass was long over by the time I got there, and the sound of the heavy wooden door closing behind me echoed around the empty rotunda. I glimpsed someone up at the altar as I entered, but he left by a side door and I was alone in the chilly marble-paved space, completely silent except for my footsteps and the whir of the camera.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is the patron saint of the homeless, and of lace-makers, and bakers. Armelle and Henri (my roommate Seb's parents) are lovely people, and I felt part of the family, just as I did at Christmas. I have a home here in France, temporary though it may be, but I am starting to feel like it may be time to move on. I still haven't talked to the head of the history department about trying to find a way to stay as a student without actually enrolling in any program, but as I watch the level of my bank account go down, and the number of places in Europe and elsewhere I want to see go up, I begin to think that if it's a choice between remaining in France for another year, or seeing more of the world, the world will win. Désolée, chère France.

I didn't make lace last weekend, but I did rip up the socks I'd almost finished knitting, and started a scarf instead. Armelle gifted me with one of the hundred or so pairs of knitting needles she has in her stash, so that I wouldn't have to fuss with doing a long row on four short double-pointed needles. I thought about doing some sort of lacy pattern but decided that it would be more relaxing to not have to think about what I was doing, so it's a 49-stitch-wide plain moss stitch in two shades of dark green. I'd bought six skeins of yarn in Norway, and while three of them are a forest green I realized when I put them together that the other three are more of an olive green. So I'm making random stripes with the two colors. It's a soothing occupation, and was a good thing to be doing while sitting in the living room with various Chevrier relatives who'd come over to see Floriane's new baby girl Aria (Seb's new niece); I could follow the conversations but not be stuck there staring at my hands, but not be rude by doing something like reading a book, and it was easy to chime in or respond to questions.

I'd taken several gluten-free baguettes for the weekend which, after my long time getting used to non-wheat bread, taste pretty good, especially when heated up. Armelle was not particularly impressed, and though they were too bland. Well, yes. But they soak up vinaigrette and the sauce from the artichauts à la barigoule and the lemony pan juices from roast chicken and the last mustard-smeared bits of confit de canard that Armelle adds to her choucroute garnie.

The stretch of buildings between the church and the center of town is one of the older areas of Saumur, a neighborhood called Fenêt that runs along the riverbank under the shadow the fortified walls of the château. In the Middle Ages, when the pilgrimages to the holy healing fountain were at their height, Fenêt did a brisk business in religious articles, and was home to many patenôtriers who made rosaries. Religious pilgrims have been replaced by tourists, and the neighborhood now caters to people on the château circuit, or doing the "Loire à Velo" bicycle route.

You have to watch where you walk in France, whether that's in the street or on the sidewalk or through the woods on a rutted path. Like cigarettes, dogs are ubiquitous, and many people are generally less than polite about cleaning up after their pets. Some must, of course, otherwise we'd be knee-high in dog shit here, but even threats of 35-euro fines don't ensure compliance with the rule. The Saumur town council would like to remind people that "like owner, like pet" is not a compliment.

Although there was no one around when I started out my walk at 2pm or so, by the time I got back to the center of town near 4pm there were many people walking around enjoying the sunshine. I took advantage of a sheltered table at a small restaurant near the river and sipped a glass of Crémant de Loire from one of the many local vineyards while listening to snatches of passing conversations. Sunday in the sun in Saumur.

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