Friday, December 30, 2005

Where is Aveyron?

When we moved to Aveyron from the Touraine region, most of our French friends didn't really know where Aveyron was. Some seemed to think we would be living on the sea; others imagined us in the mountains. For some we were going to a very cold climate, for others we were headed to the warm climes of the South of France. There is a little truth to all of the above -- except the sea part -- because Aveyron is a large and varied department. I often say it is in the Northeast of the Southwest, but some consider it the Northwest of the Southeast!

Aveyron is a French département, and as such has a number: 12. You can see exactly where Aveyron is by finding département 12 on this map.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lost in Aveyron

My Aveyronnais friends often ask me how I "got lost in Aveyron": Comment tu t'es perdue en Aveyron? In other words, they want to know how an American -- certainly from a major city full of skyscrapers -- could end up in their peaceful, rural département. There are only a handful of us in the Rodez area, and for the most part our spouses are French, and often Aveyronnais. My husband, though, is from the North of France, which makes my presence here even more of a curiosity.

The simple fact is that we came to Aveyron because my husband found a job here. We had been living near Tours, but he liked neither the area nor his job there, and got an offer to work in Rodez. I must admit I didn't know what I was getting into! A lot of French people barely know where Aveyron is, and I had only a vague notion that we were going back to the South. We had started our life together in Albi, which is resolutely part of the Southwest, and I was pleased enough to be headed back in that sunny direction.

I didn't know at the time that we were moving to one of the most rural and isolated parts of France, yet one of the most charming and dynamic. It is hard for me to realize that 10 years ago, Aveyron was just a spot on the map to me, that I knew nothing of its customs, geography and tourist sites. Somehow, now, it is difficult for me to imagine life elsewhere in France. I am lost in Aveyron.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Snow on the Aubrac Plateau

Although we didn't enjoy a white Christmas in Aveyron this year, we were able to admire the snow on the Aubrac plateau. We live about forty-five minutes from this small mountain chain, and I am comforted when, despite global warming, I can get a glimpse of snow on the mountaintops. It's a beautiful place to ski and hike, and in spite of the increasing presence of tourists, it retains its authentic atmosphere.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Lights in the Village

I found my first Christmas in France to be a bit gloomy. Alsace is famous for its Christmas markets and decorations, and Paris at Christmastime is a sheer delight. I, however, was living in Albi, and Southwest France in 1990 didn't seem to have much Christmas spirit. I missed Christmas lights on houses, Christmas music and Christmas cookies. The very term "Christmas spirit" was untranslatable, and nobody seemed particularly merry.

Now, as I drive through my village and see the significant number of houses decked out with Christmas lights, or as I do my grocery shopping to the tune of "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Let it Snow", I feel a certain ambivalence. The season is indeed a bit more jolly than before, and I do like Christmas lights and Christmas carols! But this rampant Americanization of French customs can't help but be alarming. If the French put as much energy into resurrecting some of their own customs as they do in buying up American traditions, Christmas could certainly be a lovely time here, while remaining French.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The New Provence?

According to a recent study, the little-known department of Aveyron, in Southwest France, will become as famous as "Gordes, l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgues or Saint Rémy de Provence" in 4 or 5 years.
Say it ain't so! As an American who has lived in Aveyron for 10 years, it is difficult to imagine what this future fame would entail. Traffic jams to go to a local market, as one can see in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgues? Old farmhouses being bought up and renovated not just by "les Anglais", as is already the case, but by the rich and famous?

And yet, and can this jewel of France NOT be discovered by throngs of tourists seeking the latest, authentic French destination?

It will happen. It is happening. So share with me my little corner of "la France Profonde" -- before somebody like Peter Mayle gets to it!