07 March 2009

Quiet here

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.

The pond out back is full of strange shapes

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.

One of the local roads paths

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.

Looks like we'll have a lot of lilac flowers this spring

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!"

Spring is in the air when the sun shines like this

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.

This is my N.C. home town — more water than land

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.


  1. Hi Ken,
    What a strange picture ... When I opened today's blog and saw only the top of the first photo, I thought it was some abstract painting. Great shot! That pond surely has artistic potential! Martine

  2. '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.'

    Slightly rose-tinted specs here I think Ken. The French are pretty good at strip malls – Chambray-les-Tours, eastern outskirts of Bourges, even the eastern outskirts of Bléré – on a minor scale.

  3. Jim, I know about Chambray-les-Tours and the east side of Bourges. When were you last in America?

  4. Ken, I think someday every foot of highway in the US will be lined with stores, fast food, gas stations, and churches. It’s sad, because natural beauty is being destroyed wherever ground is leveled to build big stores and bigger parking lots. Maybe the economic downturn will save our natural landscape.

    France respects its agriculture too much to let that happen. They do a better job of creating agricultural and industrial zones.

    We’re lucky, like you and Walt, to live in a fairly rural area. It's 4 miles to the post office, 4.5 miles to a place that sells pizza/videos/milk, 13 miles to a small supermarket, 40 miles to tofu and organic anything. In one direction we can drive 25 miles before we pass a store or gas station. This has its pluses and minuses.

  5. Hi Carolyn, I know what you are talking about. Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages to living so far from shopping. The advantage of being far away is that you organize your life to minimize the number of trips you need to take. Most people live so close to the strips that they spend their whole lives there, driving from store to store on a daily basis.

  6. Oh boy big box stores, don't get me started. I try to avoid them like the plague. Interesting that all retail in the US is in dire straights except Wal Mart. The same stores are every where across the US selling the same things. Your roads in NC look just like Edwardsville IL. You're right Ken the Americans go shopping and the French gather their family when times are tough. I think that is very telling.

    It looks like spring is coming to your town and I am looking forward to your pictures. Love your blog and I am glad you're back.

  7. Hey Ken, you got frog or toad spawn yet?

  8. Hi Linda, thanks. Yes, I can imagine that where you are is like where I was. It's all the same in the U.S. these days.

    Hello Susan, no frogs or toads yet. It's toad time. I can't wait -- and neither can Callie.

  9. Back there, you never walk anywhere except in parking lots and inside the big-box stores.


    In some places they have valet parking so some people don't even walk in the parking lots. I was surprised to see that in and around Dallas when I was flying there for business in the late 90's.

    Funny word verification: ancrer

  10. It is hard to find a happy medium here in many parts of the US, in my opinion. Shopping is a good and necessary convenience, but so much that is done in many areas of the US these days is the cheapest construction, adding nothing to the landscape. Small-town US these days has fallen prey especially to ugliness in the way of highway strip malls. Still, in more affluent areas, the problem grows, too... we have a new "fad" coming in now to replace enclosed shopping malls. I forget what the term is, but the resulting presentation is a couple of miles of parking lot with big box and typical strip-mall stores, one right next to the other, but all stretched out so far, that you have go back to get into your car after each store, so that you can ride to the next store you want to go to. If you want to hit Target, Office Max and Home Depot, you have to drive to each one. It's annoying.

    If you move to a spot that is at all country-like in setting, you're a far drive from any quality products, though... certainly no baguettes being delivered!!!

    I'm sure France is falling prey more and more to the big-box stores, but smaller towns still seem to be able to exist, with protection of their aesthetics and history... at least more so than here, I believe.

    p.s. 82°(27C) here yesterday!!!!!!!!!!! It was nutty! My sister in Boston still has 8-12 inches of snow that fell Monday, and we're getting sunburned walking at the Botanical Garden :)) Today it's 70s (around 23C).


  11. @The Beaver, that valet parking doesn't surprise me too much. When I lived in California, my feet never touched the ground. I walked down my stairs to the car, drove to the office, took a few steps on the paved parking lot surface, and entered the building. That was that.

  12. Judy, I agree with you entirely (and I envy you your "strange" weather). One reason Walt and I decided to relocate ourselves to France was the existence of a small-town life free of big-city stresses but not isolated or remote. We have to drive to Blois or Tours for some shopping, but for everyday errands we have all we need here in a pleasant environment.

  13. Your town in North Carolina - it's on the coast but where? It looks lovely although I would rather be in France.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?