The contrast is so striking. In my home town in North Carolina, it was all wide, flat roads — always 2 lanes in each direction, with a big wide turning lane in the middle — leading to huge intersections with a multitude of red, yellow, and green lights and separate cycles for cars turning left or going straight through.
Here is is narrow lanes with no traffic lights and no turning lanes. There's no need, because there's no traffic. What there is is frequent traffic circles — carrefours giratoires — so there's seldom the need to stop and wait at a light.
There it's big-box store after big-box store — Best Buy, Sears, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross for Less, Lowes Home Improvement Center... not to mention all the chain restaurants — strung out along the wide flat highway, with cars gliding along and drivers driving from store to store. I was one of them. Back there, you never walk anywhere except in parking lots and inside the big-box stores.
Here, we drove 40 miles from the east side of Tours to Saint-Aignan, through Vouvray, Amboise, and Montrichard, and we didn't see a single strip mall. Or big-box store. It's true that shopping opportunities are limited. But it is very peaceful.
When the going gets tough, Americans go shopping, I guess. French people seem to stay at home and cook. At least that's what I imagine them doing while I am staying home and cooking.
And it's so quiet here. I guess that's because there's no traffic. Fewer vehicles means less noise, and fewer people riding the roads means you don't see so much activity. It almost feels lonely.
Yesterday afternoon, old Monsieur Denis was out pruning his grapevines. He has a parcel of land that he planted with new vines about 4 years ago, and they are his project. His son works the surrounding acreage. Callie went out to greet the old guy.
« Il faut qu'il me trouve, votre chien », he said, smiling, obviously pleased— "Your dog always comes to say hello to me!"
Then there was nobody else until I was almost back at home. Callie spied our neighbor the mayor, her husband, and two of their grandchildren taking a little walk out in their yard. The dog went running to say « bonjour » to them too. They scooped up the children, or at least held their hands, so that the dog wouldn't knock them over.
Callie was good. She didn't bark, and she didn't jump up on anybody. She kept her distance and just wiggled with the thrill of actually seeing people, including little people. She doesn't know what to make of the children.
We chatted for a minute. They thanked me for the postcard I sent them from America. They told me they are going to ski in the Alps next week. That's also what French people do — winter sports. It will be even quieter around here while they are away.