About a month ago was up in the northern part of France, thanks to my friend CHM. He has family up there, and he had business to attend to. He asked me to go with him and serve, partly, as the chauffeur for the trip.
On a day when CHM was busy in the town where his family comes from, I decided to take a drive to two towns just slightly farther north. Those towns are Cambrai and Arras — I posted some pictures of Arras earlier — and both are in Flanders, the Flemish area of France, just across the border with the old province and current region called Picardie.
There was something I noticed immediately. As soon as I had driven 40 miles north, I started getting radio stations in Flemish (related to Dutch) along with the regular French-language stations. If you listen carefully and tune your ear, you can start understanding a little Flemish, because it's very close to English both historically and linguistically.
In fact, Cambrai didn't become French until 1678, when Louis XIV took it away from Spain, which back then had control over the region that is now Northern France, Belgium, and Holland.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Cambrai was that I have heard about it all my life, or nearly. I started learning French at the age of 14, in high school, and by the time I went to college (or "to university," as non-Americans say) I was studying French literature. Cambrai was famous for a 17th-century writer and academician named Fénelon (b.1651-d.1715), who came to be known as the « Cygne de Cambrai » – the "Swan of Cambrai" — because of his graceful writing and enlightened mind. More about him later...
Visiting these places I've always heard of but never seen is one of the joys of living in France. I remember clearly the first time I saw Paris and Notre-Dame cathedral, of course, in 1970 — not to mention Aix-en-Provence. And the cathedral in Rouen in 1972, as well as the Château de Chambord in 1973. The white cliffs along the English Channel, the rocky coast of Brittany, the Mont Saint-Michel, Toulouse, Cognac, Chartres — and on and on.
Now I've seen Cambrai and Arras. When Walt and I moved here, I thought we would spend the rest of our lives traveling around France. It was a whole country to explore — you could never see it all, and as CHM says: « Tout est à voir en France » – "Everything is worth seeing." The traveling continues, even though I don't go as far afield as I once thought I would.
We have a dog and a cat, a garden and a house to take care of. The dollar is low and the price of everything (especially fuel for the car and food in restaurants) gets higher and higher. But the fact is, we are in France. Every place in France is worth seeing, but then again every place in France is just like every other place in France, in many ways. Living here, I feel less driven to see it all and am content to go traveling less frequently.