03 July 2011

Cambrai and other trips

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.

Houses and buildings around the main square in Cambrai

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.

Two café-restaurants in Cambrai named after birds

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...

No matter what French town you're in, you'll likely find
a charcuterie resembling this one

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.

Another view of the main square in Cambrai

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.

And then what French town doesn't have a restaurant
named L'Escargot?

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.


  1. Le Cygne de Cambrai ... but also, maybe, because Bossuet was known as l'Aigle de Meaux?

  2. It's the truth Ken, when you live somewhere you are less inclined to travel within it.
    I'm making a conscious effort to explore parts of Scotland I don't know well now we're back. Clive doesn't know tehe Isle of Skye (nor do I) so we plan a trip there. And a weekend in Edinburgh!
    By the way, thanks for teh older link to Arras. I just called Clive in to read it. He spent about a year there in the 70's working and has wonderfully fond memories of the town. So much so that when we planned our move from the US to France in 2005 he wanted to go to Arras. But when he went house hunting in late November it was -8C and he decided he couldn't live there so we set our sights on Cognac instead!

  3. Bonjour CHM, here's something I found on the web: « On oppose Bossuet à Fénelon, comme Racine à Corneille, Rousseau à Voltaire.

    En effet, Bossuet évêque de Meaux, contemporain et même maître de Fénelon, est décrit comme un homme autoritaire, intransigeant, représentant l'éloquence, la vigueur intellectuelle d'où son surnom "d'Aigle de Meaux".

    Par opposition Fénelon de caractère plus doux et d'esprit ouvert, d'une nature féminine, d'une douceur fuyante a été appelé le "Cygne de Cambrai". »

    Craig, I understand about the cold temperatures up north. And the rains! The Loire Valley was our compromise. I'd love to live in the south of France, but my allergies wouldn't give me any peace down there.

  4. Is there a town anywhere in Europe that isn't beautiful?

  5. Starman,
    There is a small town on the southern end of the estuary of the Somme River that is called Cayeux and the saying goes as follow: "Qui n'a pas vu Cayeux, n'a rien vu d'affreux."

    Je connaissais l'opposition de Racine et de Corneille et celle de Rousseau et de Voltaire, mais j'ignorais celle de Fénelon et de Bossuet. J'ai dû lire des passages des Aventures de Télémaque dans ma jeunesse.

  6. I'm glad you got to experience Cambrai.

    I think I like traveling to France to recapture the pleasure I had as a teenager with my first visit. Everything was a novelty then, plus my senses were sharp. The language is a big part of why I love France.

    I also like sharing France with friends and I loved taking my kids there on a camping trip in the 80s. If I lived in France like you do, I think I'd like planting myself and wouldn't need much time traveling.

    There is a lot to see in Alabama, but I haven't seen it yet...maybe someday. There is always more to see, but often being in the moment where you live is best.

  7. Ken

    Don't know whether you watch " les racines et les ailes" on France 3 but it does reflect what CHM said " Tout est à voir en France".
    We are getting new ideas for future trips to France

  8. That's an area that I'm très peu familiar with, so thanks for the cool photos and info :)


  9. Hi The Beaver, we watch "roots and wings" every time it is on and we want to go see every place they highlight. But doing it all is another story. Never short of ideas...

  10. Beautiful Art Nouveau woodwork and lettering on that char..cute...ery shop front... now, how can I chisel it out to act as the doorway to our barn?

  11. Ken, on our recent return from England, we stopped in Arras. Your blogpost about Arras was the reason. We only stopped for about an hour, time to walk a bit around the big square and then wander over to the city hall square and have a cup of coffee. I was surprised to see the old store fronts in what looked like their original decor. Somehow I guess I thought more would have been destroyed in one war or another. It was a nice surprise.


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