Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend in Franche Comté

View through my window in Nans sous Ste. Anne
Last weekend I enjoyed a rejuvenating weekend in the French countryside, courtesy of my friend of some 20 years, Tim Hundsdorfer. (Tim is another of my ASL brethren.)

Friday morning, I set out from Barcelona, as told. My objective was Lyon, France, where I hoped to rendezvous with Tim at the train station. He and his wife, Susan had graciously offered to host me at their home in Nans sous Ste. Anne, which is a small hamlet nestled in limestone hills in the Franche Comté region of France.

I arrived in Lyon just a bit late. The train from Barcelona came in a half-hour behind schedule, but still managed the 400 mile journey in 5 hours. That's an average of 80 miles an hour. When you consider that the trip included some half-dozen stops along the way, it's apparent that high-speed rail is a viable alternative to air travel. We need high-speed rail in the USA.

Tim was there, at the train station. We spotted each other as soon as I came in from the platform. It's difficult to describe the feeling that came over me, seeing an old friend in a place so far from home. Relief, happiness, reassurance... all of that, and more besides. Like finding a bottle of water in a desert.

Roman amphitheater in Lyon
We got reacquainted very quickly. We still had a drive of nearly two hours to get to Tim's home out in the country, but before we left we had a look around the city.

Lyon, France's third most populous city, is young, by European standards. The Romans founded it in 43 BC, making it just a few years shy of 2000 years old. And, although the Romans are long gone, Lyon still has a lot of evidence of their tenancy.

A hill east of the city is the site of the remnants of an amphitheater. Next to the amphitheater (which is still used as a venue for concerts today) there is a museum that has a large collection of Roman antiquities: sculptures, tiled mosaics, weapons, coins, pots and vases, and more.

Roman sculpture

Pottery shard: those Romans sure loved their pornography
After the museum, we hopped into Tim's Volvo and made the drive out to Nans sous Ste. Anne. By the time we got there, night had fallen and darkness blanketed everything beyond the reach of the headlights.

I was introduced to Tim's lovely and warm wife, Susan, and their much-loved greyhound, Ned. I did my best to be good company that evening, but I was exhausted and Susan, a very empathetic soul, got me settled into the guest room. The complete darkness outside and the silence of the country were quite a contrast from the previous weeks I'd spent in big cities (New York, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona). I soon succumbed and slept the sleep of the dead.

The next morning, I awoke to a stunning pastoral setting. The air was cold, much colder than the mistral-warmed Mediterranean lands to the south. Wooded hillsides exploded with fall colors. Limestone cliffs framed the setting.

Nans sous Ste. Anne in the fall
Nans sous Ste. Anne is a hamlet of maybe 100 to 200 souls and everyone knows each other. Tim and Susan are "the Americans" in town. Their neighbors all know them and they're involved with the community. Susan works as an occupational therapist in nearby Ornans and Tim is the chairman of the community activity committee.

Tim and Susan
That first morning, the three of us (and Ned) took a good walk around the village. The region is popular with climbers and spelunkers. There are numerous caves and waterfalls. Our path took us past several.

Limestone caves and waterfalls
Limestone and water
Nans sous Ste. Anne was the birthplace of Gustav Courbert, one of the forefathers of the Impressionist movement of French painters. There is a museum in Ornans dedicated to Courbert and his work, which we visited on Sunday.

A painting of his homeland, by Gustav Courbert
When Tim told me about Courbert, I joked that history is so replete with famous Frenchmen that every settlement in France --city, town, or hamlet --must surely have one or two which it can claim as its own. We ate lunch at a restaurant that overhung the Loue River. 

Ornans on the river
Vines scale the chapel wall
The next day, after a visit to the local fromagerie, Tim drove me to Besançon, where I would catch the train to Paris in the evening. On the way, we stopped at a lonely memorial, out in the middle of a cow pasture. The memorial, placed by the grateful French citizenry, stood at the site where an American B17 bomber crashed in 1945, near the end of World War II. A marker listed the names of the six US airmen who perished in the crash.

As a citizen of the United States, I was touched by this remembrance of my fallen countrymen. It endeared the people of France to me even more.

Memorial to American airmen from WWII
Colorful French countryside
Tim and I said goodbye at the Besançon train station. He and Susan seem happy in this pastoral setting, far from the land of their births. I can understand why. It's beautiful country. And the people seem genuine and kind.

I'm so grateful to them both for showing me a part of France that I never would have seen otherwise. And for providing a place for me to feel at home, a place where I didn't feel like a stranger.

Tim and Susan, thanks for everything! All my best to you. (And to Ned, too, of course.)

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