11 June 2009

Meeting new neighbors, taking a drive

Yes, I'm driving two hours north and then planning to come home the long way. I want to go to Gien to see the château there. The last time I was there was in about 1980. Gien is a town on the Loire River some distance east of Orléans. It's famous for the china made there.

Then I might drive south from Gien to Sancerre, just to see that famous wine town again. The last time I was in Sancerre was with Walt in October 2000. It's a pretty town on a hilltop, with nice views out over the Loire and the surrounding vineyards. it's about a 2-hr. drive from Sancerre to Saint-Aignan, due west.

The sun is out this morning, and it is supposed to be a nice day. Walt and I thought back and realized that the last time we were more than 40 miles from Saint-Aignan in the car was about a year ago. I went to Paris with the car a couple of times last June. Nowhere much since.

Got pick some more of these cherries tomorrow morning

What's been going on here, besides the rains that won't stop? Yesterday, I went out for a walk with Callie between showers. We went out into the vineyard, circling around the north side near the donkey pen, where Callie likes to go. It was muddy but the dog doesn't care and I had put my waterproof hiking boots on.

I notice a person off to the left, slightly up a hill, examining the vines and immature grapes along a row. What's he doing there, I thought, and who is he? (It was probably more like: "Who does he think he is, out in our vineyard?") I get pretty possessive and protective for somebody who just happens to live nearby and who has no title to the land the grapes are planted on.

Wild flowers growing out back — peas of some kind?

As the dog and I circled on around and came back to the gravel road, I saw that the intruder was a new neighbor, a Frenchman who lives down at the bottom of our road. I've seen him out there a few times before with his dog, a very shy Brittany spaniel named Vasco. Vasco is 4 years old and is more afraid of other dogs than he is of people. He's nervous around Callie, for pete's sake.

The man, whose name, I gather, is Gérard, obviously wanted to talk. We stood and chatted for a minute about I don't remember what. When I said I was going to continue my walk with Callie, he said okay, and he and Vasco began walking with me. That was fine by me, as long as we were walking, because walking is why Callie and I go out there. It looked like it might start raining any minute, and there was a strong wind in our faces, the kind you have to lean into to make any forward progress.

Nice weed in the vineyard

One subject of conversation led to another, and after talking about the vineyard and my having lived in California before moving here six years ago and his having spent his whole career in the Paris region before moving to Saint-Aignan two years ago, he started telling me about his life.

He said he came to Saint-Aignan because his sister and his brother live up in Contres, 10 miles north, and he had been coming here to visit them for 30 years or more. He's 57 years old and took retirement at a fairly early age (like me). I don't know how his siblings ended up in Contres, but Gérard said he didn't have any other family connections in the area.

He said he didn't much like Contres — "too flat" and growing too fast was his verdict. He told me they are building a bypass up there to divert traffic away from the center of the town. That's a good thing, because there always seems to be a traffic jam in Contres (pop. maybe 5,000). The main street through town is very narrow, and if two big truck meet there sometimes one has to back up and find a wide spot to let the other get by. It's a mess.

We're going to have tons of peaches in a couple of months

Gérard said that out of all the towns in the area he had always preferred Saint-Aignan. It's got charm. He likes the vineyards and the opportunities they provide for walks with the dog. The landscapes and skies are beautiful.

He asked me what I do here, and I told him not much. I mentioned the blog, and he seemed to know what that was, and told him that besides blogging I cook, keep a vegetable garden, and walk the dog. People come to visit. The winters get long, but I like the life here.

Since he asked me such a personal question, I figured I could ask him the same thing. He said he had retired at the young age of 55 after working for 41 years with the SNCF, the national railway agency. The labor unions representing SNCF employees are (in)famous for having negotiated very cushy contracts that provide for retirement as early as age 50 for the railroad workers.

Gérard stressed that he had paid into the government retirement system for 41 years, which is longer than required. And he pointed out that he had gone to work at the SNCF when he was 14! He said a lot of young people went to work very early back in the 1960s. His father was not a government employee and was proud that his son had found a stable employment situation.

Gérard's son, however, finds it hard to conceive of working for more than 40 years for a single employer. "How could you not get really bored after a few years," Gérard said his son wanted to know. Well, I had a lot of different jobs as I worked my way up into the organization, is Gérard's answer. Those days of working for the same company or government service for your whole career are ending in France.

I think they've largely ended in the U.S. too. My father, for example, worked for the government for his whole career, from the age of about 23 until he was in his mid-50s. He had 35 years' service, I think. Then he retired.

Another rose-in-the-rain shot

The longest I ever worked for one employer was 6 years, from 1992 to 1998. I started on Jan. 27 and I got laid off (by Steve Jobs and Apple) on Jan. 27. That wasn't my last job, but by 2002 I was ready to toss it all in, and lucky enough to be able to do it.

Since a dozen or more houses have been built down at the bottom of our road since we moved here in 2003, we will likely be meeting more and more people like Gérard in the near future. There's more foot traffic up and down the road now, with people taking dogs and children for walks in the vineyard. We're trying to get used to that.


  1. Love the pictures! And the writing! Sky is cloudy, but blue up in the Paris area.

  2. Hey Ken, coming to France in September with my 18 year old daughter. Thought we could rent an apartment in Paris as our base... any advice? Vida x

  3. who says the french aren't friendly? sounds like Gerard will be a nice addition to ur area. My children think nothing of hopping from job to job either.....stability isn't in their vocabulary.
    Vida, I like the lodgis agency....u can choose the area of Paris u want to stay in & prices r very reasonable...lodgis.com

  4. I enjoy these life stories.

    The pink flower looks exactly like my sweet peas. They're almost over here.

  5. I think they look like sweet peas, too. Do they smell... sweet? We have some wild ones that look just like the tame kind, but have no scent. And the wild ones are all purple. Varying shades of purple, but purple.

  6. we visited Sancerre as well and luckily went west a bit to Chavignol and its wonderful cheese house and Bourgeois wine shop - what nice people and generous samples and guidance - town also has a very good restuarant we were told but we didnt have time to try it before setting off to Chinon!!

    give the town a try for great cheese and wine!

  7. Vida, sorry I'm so slow in answering comments right now -- I'm really busy. For Paris apts., try the Slow Travel vacation rentals page. They have customer ratings and a lot of them. Good luck.

    Dale, I tried to go to Sancerre last week but didn't make it. Haven't been back there since 2000, and it's only 60 miles from here. But we have the same kinds of wine and goat cheeses right here in Saint-Aignan...


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