“First Day” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 3, 2018 – Sundayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

Kitchens sell houses more than any other room, just ask any smart realtor.  Whether they feature mansions, or tiny houses, the kitchen is top of the list.  I was ecstatic to see our rental home that I had searched the internet world to locate was perfect, especially la cuisineLa Renaissance has a large modern kitchen which is fresh, bright and airy. Yet, it has kept the French character with doors from an antique armoire that open into efficient storage shelving.  Typical Burgundy tiles covered the kitchen floor as they were from hundreds of years ago in this region.  The old kitchen sink is still at the front window, another remnant from the past that would have drained to the outside years ago.  Jim was happy in his element with a superbly efficient modern range, and I loved the view over the tile roofs from the kitchen sink.  The pretty white cabinets held all of the pots, pans, dishes and utensils that we could possibly need.  Since we had shopped at the markets in Avallon and Saulieu the previous day we had our groceries stocked away including coffee for breakfast.  Wandering downstairs, happy to begin our first full day in our new house in Noyers, we had a meeting of the minds immediately.  Sweaters and jackets from the coat rack at the front door were slid on quickly, and we were on our way to buy flaky croissants and a crunchy baguette to enjoy with coffee for our breakfast.

Wait!  It’s Sunday and the boulangerie is not open!  No need for alarm since we inquired about this crucial situation when we shopped at our local grocery store Vival for necessities on our arrival in Noyers on the previous day.   The nice lady at the store kindly divulged the information that she would have our bread on Sunday.  She knew what would really matter on Sunday morning when sleepy tourists awakened.  But back to our short stroll to the Vival which was only a little more than the walk from our house in Alabama to the top of the circle, but definitely much more interesting.  No offense intended to our Alabama neighbors!Turning the corner from our house onto Rue de l’Eglise we passed the neighbor’s house across the street which I would see more than any other during our stay.  The friendly lady was on her front porch watering the stunning, red geraniums when we walked in the direction shown on the sign pointing to Centre Historique Commerces.  The sign is accurate about the history in abundance, but the commerce is far from the definition you may expect.  However, this small village has an abundance of what you really need!  On the peaceful street to the right, a bicycle with a Vival sign on the basket was parked in front of a house. I thought that I would want one like it if I could live in this village so I could feel the rush of riding on the colorful streets, feeling the fresh air and smelling the scent of honeysuckle and roses.  Could you see me on a turquoise bike with a baguette and a bouquet of flowers peeking from the straw basket at the handlebars?   Honeysuckle vines were covered in fragrant, yellow flowers, and pink climbing roses wound their way up the old stone walls of the houses reaching out to the blue skies.

Large red arrows directed cars to turn left with the street blocked for pedestrians only on this Sunday morning.  A few vendors were setting up their displays on the cobblestone streets, and my inquisitive mind and itchy shopping instinct kicked into gear with a reminder to come back later.  We turned left along the lane under the archway where multiple ancient wooden carvings decorated the building walls.  The tourism brochure description says: “Under each saint there is an angel, one holding a shield and the other holding a scroll.  In the center there is an empty recess under a gothic gable and underneath an angel with a shield.  In the corner of the house stands the sculpture of a bearded bourgeois holding a shield in his right hand and an axe in his left hand who might have been a militiaman.  The house is also called the house of the “Compagnonnage” as Companions used to do their apprenticeship in this house.”   I couldn’t believe that I would have the pleasure of walking here each day with new treasures to find and savor.  A long rose cane loaded with beautiful blooms had fallen and arched into the lane, not that it would ever matter to me except to love the rambling beauty.  We continued under another archway into a square with tables and umbrellas surrounded by ancient timbered buildings.  There across the street was Vival – open for hungry tourists – after we waited for the motorcyclist to zoom past.   Warm bread was wrapped in paper for our eager hands.Should I describe the breakfast scene?  Oh, you’ve heard me tell-all about the Normandy butter for our warm, crunchy bread and the flaky croissants with melting chocolate inside.  We can skip over that part and you will miss the calories.

Now with the dishes cleared, let’s rush back to the pedestrian-only section of the village where vendors must surely be ready for me and my shopping bag.  Sunday was not a market day for Noyers, so I was curious about what was happening and didn’t want to miss out.  I made a bee-line to the sunny square, leaving Jim in my dust.  This square is called Place du Marché au Blé (The Square of the Corn Market) where fairs and markets used to take place attracting merchants from the whole of the Burgundy region.  Due to its fine geographical location on the border of three provinces the city became very prosperous.  The most important market was the corn market that took place every third Thursday in the month.  No corn was on sale on Sunday, but a white panel van with triangular hot-pink canopies was the feature, and no other tables were loaded with goodies that women love.    A couple of white-haired gentlemen were selling beehives and other items for the beekeepers and their honey production.  I explained that my cousin Pam and her husband Joe have beehives and the tastiest honey in the U.S.  I added that Pam makes wonderful soap, also.  I knew most of the French words for this conversation, and maybe they understood.  One of the white-haired gentlemen, elegant and convincing with clipboard in hand asked me to sign a petition about some environmental issue concerning the bees.  He is right to be concerned.  They were disappointed that we were not in the market for buying beehives.

We walked on through the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall Square) where the town hall with a long history of destruction, renovation and two fires still stands.  The foundations date from the fourteenth century with the main building from the fifteenth century and the front from the eighteenth century.   After the second fire which destroyed only the front part of the building it was rebuilt in a Louis 15th or pure baroque style.  A bust of Louis 14th was placed above the door but it was removed during the French Revolution.  You should also notice the fifteenth century “Yellow House” with carved beams and corbels.  In 1830 the square was called the Square of Lafayette.

We drove through this beautiful square each day when it wasn’t closed to traffic.  Imagine driving through Ponte Peinte au Ponte d’Avallon (The Painted Gate or the Gate of Avallon) daily, bumping along the cobblestones, watching for cars and people.  This gateway entry into the village was built with limestone dating from the first half of the thirteenth century.  The side facing the town was originally covered with the Lords of Noyers’ coat of arms.  On each side of the gate there is access to the watchman’s room on the upper floor and from there to the rampart walkway on the walls. We walked on through and around to the left so we could ramble along the Serein River.  In 1778 the city walls were knocked down, and the stones were used to fill up the moats and to cover part of the river bed where the Serein was flowing alongside the city, thus creating a path along the river.  The filling up of the moat and river has buried the lower parts of the thirteenth century towers except for the last tower.  Charles-Louis Pothier, a Burgundian composer and lyric writer, lived in the 5th tower known as the Old Tower where he found his inspiration for writing popular French songs.  It is easy to understand why this area would be inspirational for an artist.  Jim and I felt lulled under a spell of peacefulness as we walked in the sun and shade by the water, stopping to admire the intricate woodwork on the houses, or the brilliant blue flowers growing by the tall metal fences.  Across the waterway, we saw farm land and birds swooping and landing on the old wooden fencing.  A mother in jeans with two baguettes in the crook of her arm rushed along with two children and a dog by her side. Joggers were out for their daily run.  At the edge of his property with a weed-eater in hand, a gentleman was busy keeping up the curb appeal.  Half-hidden by branches, a fisherman was tucked away by the riverbank. I located the house with green timbering and stone that I saw in a painting in a window.  Climbing high above, a jet soared into the clouds unaware of the peaceful scene I was enjoying by a small garden, fenced along a stone wall. Leaving the river walk, I turned right to stride uphill toward Ruelle du Four.  Another lady was ahead of me wearing pants that should have never left the closet, a reminder to never wear baggy pants no matter how comfortable they are.  The exclamation point at the top of the street seemed to punctuate baggy pants off the fashion list.

Near the pharmacy, a dispensing machine for les préservatifs (condoms) was on the wall of a building.  Quite often, I’ve seen the machines in France.  But they are not found on the street in our town, or any other in our area to my knowledge.  I was all set for a photo of this unique item in another larger French town.  While I was standing on the sidewalk in the larger city, I raised my camera and just as it flashed a pudgy arm reached to the dispenser in front of me.  As I lowered my camera, I locked eyes with a short, balding middle-aged man.  He quickly averted his eyes and went away as fast as his feet would carry him.  Jim and I laughed at the memory of this incident.  While we were walking back to our rental house I told Jim, “I read about a man who went to buy sausages in one of the travelogues of France that I enjoy reading while you do your thing, whatever it may be.  I could just see him in the market with other men hanging around, probably sampling the sausage like we so often do under the big umbrellas in the market.  Well, he announced to the vendor that he would like to buy sausage, but they must have no preservatives!  The men had a great laugh at the weird American who asked for no préservatifs (condoms) in his sausage!”   Jim replied, “What do you want for lunch?  You killed my appetite for sausage, so what will we have?”

In the last blog story I promised that Jim and I would spend our first day in Noyers.  We did as planned, but we were even more ambitious and went to tour a castle which I will include in a future story since I had too much story from this one day!! 

Next time, we will go to Tanlay, Chablis and Beru. Thanks for coming around to visit the blog!

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All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.