“Keeping it Covered” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 8, 2018 – Fridayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

A grimace of pain settled among the wrinkles on the elderly, white-haired lady’s face as she stooped to adjust the strap on her white sandals. She continued slowly, gripping a younger man’s arm.  The open sandals were flat with no cushioning for her feet, and no protection for her toes from the stones on the pathways.  What if a torrential rain appeared suddenly, and streams of water rush and gush on the narrow lanes? The sweet lady’s feet would be soaked, and she would need to grip the young man’s arm even closer, or possibly slip in her flimsy sandals.  I thought that a good pair of sneakers, or boots, would be perfect for the occasion, but she probably wanted to look her loveliest with pretty, new shoes.  Sophia Loren said it best in an old beauty book that I read years ago where she advised that painful shoes are not attractive enough to erase the excruciating look of hurt on the face. Another piece of Ms. Loren’s advice for elderly ladies is to keep covered, not exposing flabby arms and blue-veined legs. Well, she didn’t say the last part which I added for imagery.  I will suggest that ladies of certain age keep their feet covered, knowing from personal experience that feet do not age well either.  All of the years of wearing the latest toe-pinching fashion are revealed on the feet in ways that are only pretty to a podiatrist’s bank balance.   Let’s walk, or hobble on from this subject in whatever state of dress, or shoes, that you prefer.


Entering the Abbey of Fontenay, wearing my black Sketchers, blue cotton pants, polka-dot long sleeve shirt and polka-dot hat, I was keeping under cover, following Sophia’s beauty counsel.  The classification as a UNESCO World Heritage site was enough to draw us through the doors, but quite honestly I was there primarily for the photography of the ancient cloisters, archways and painted tiles.  The play of light and darkness is a photographer’s dream – even for a non-professional.  (The intro picture above is my favorite with the man and his dog in the ancient setting.)The Abbey of Fontenay was founded in 1118.  The abbey was very wealthy from the twelfth century to the fifteenth century, but it went into decline in the sixteenth century.  Sold as a state property in 1790, the abbey was bought in 1820 by Elie de Montgolfier, a descendant of the inventors of the hot-air balloon.  In 1906, Edouard Aynard bought the abbey and undertook massive restoration works.  The Abbey of Fontenay still belongs to the Aynard family. The first building we entered was the forge (53 meters long) which was built by the monks at the end of the twelfth century.  Iron ore was mined on a hill that overlooks the abbey, and thanks to the water power generated by the stream of Fontenay that had been diverted by the monks, the hydraulic hammer activated by the water wheel could work and beat iron. The innovative industrial plant produced bars, tools and other implements that were sold in more or less nearby areas.  The Insight Guide says: “The self-sufficient monks had vegetable gardens, a dovecote and trout-filled ponds.  Curiously, most manual work seemed to fall to the frères convertis, the lay brethren… Fontenay has no belltower, tympanum or colored glass … The capitals are only decorated with natural foliage, acanthus leaves and aquatic symbols inspired by the marshy setting.”

I thought of tagging along with my daddy to Mr. Boles’ blacksmith shop where metal pieces were crafted for use at my daddy’s woodwork business. The smoky smell and black soot in the forge was the same as the blacksmith’s building which was like an old barn, nothing to compare to the elaborate stone building at the abbey.  I liked standing by my daddy, listening to the men laugh at corny jokes and watching the sparks of fire fly into the air.  I was allowed to run across the sandy road to see a red-haired friend, Lillian, where we played with hula-hoops and then I asked my daddy to give me money for ice cream at the small community grocery store. Those were good times!

The last scenes of the 1991 movie Cyrano de Bergerac were filmed by a fountain at the abbey.  In the romantic twilight, Roxanne cries, “C’est vous …” to Cyrano.”  Jim could have cried the same for me, but he knew I was in the gift shop.  I found a heavy book that I wanted, but I knew it would tilt the scales on our baggage weight limit.  I checked Amazon for “l’armoire de Mamie” when we were home in Alabama, but I didn’t find it.  I decided to check again a few days ago, and I found it.  I should have the heavy book, filled with wonderful photos of French ambiance within a few days!


Next on our agenda was a chateau which we found closed, but an interesting diversion was across from our parking space.  An enterprising lady had antiques and junk, a brocante, in her stone out-buildings.  I love these places crammed with fun stuff to rummage through. Jim talked with the lady while I examined everything from old linen to wooden clogs.  I finally settled on an old thé (tea) container.  The price shown by the canister set with four pieces was three euros per piece.  When I didn’t want the whole set, she changed the price to five euros for the one item.  Enterprising, indeed!  She had two rusty sel (salt) containers, planted with flowering pansies on the barn door, but I forgot to ask about them after I encountered the inflated high price of tea containers.  I would have loved the one with blue lettering to pair with the sel container on my kitchen wall.  I’m only teasing about the high price, especially since we met in the middle at four euros.


Flavigny has been described as a fairytale setting with a sweet center.  But there’s more to this village than a pretty face and a box of candy.  Julius Caesar, so it is thought, set up one of his military camps on the hill before defeating the Gallic army at Alesia.  In 1590, King Henri IV set up a parliament here to counter hostility in the assembly at Dijon. The guidebook spoke of a recent controversial right-wing order fighting for changes within the religious ranks, but I say: “Take me to the candy store!”  The abbey at Flavigny is the only place where the famous Anis de Flavigny sweets are made, and it boasts the Site Remarquable du Goût status. The candies are available in many flavors including cassis and café!  If you are there at the right time, which we were not, you can tour and see the process with a culinary tradition which dates back to the time of King Louis IX.  (A school group was touring when we were there.) The recipe for this natural product has remained unchanged since the sixteenth century.  I was drawn to the ice cream instead of candy, so we sat at a nice table by the window and rested under cover away from the sun.

While I was enjoying my citron sorbet, I noticed an absinthe dispenser with the perforated spoons atop the glasses.  I’ve read that the glass is filled with about two fingers of the liquid, and a sugar cube is placed on the perforated spoon.   Then water from the tap drips on the sugar cube through the spoon into the glass of absinthe. This concoction is a highly alcoholic (110 to 140 proof) drink which is distilled from wormwood, bitter anise and fennel.  Legendary artists and writers believed absinthe induced creativity, leading to heavy consumption in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  This explains why the drink was known as the “green fairy” and the “green muse.”  Van Gogh was known to drink three liters a day.  Advertising posters at the time showed women marveling at the wonders of absinthe saying it cured every problem from indigestion to menstrual cramps.  The wormwood used in absinthe contained a substance known as thujone which was believed to have mind-altering properties.  France outlawed absinthe in 1915.  In 2011, the country lifted the ban, and distilleries have brought a modern day revival.  They won’t have me as a customer.  I will continue to use a strong glass of Luzianne iced tea to induce creativity.  Although, the tag on my last tea bag said it was specially blended for putting your feet upThe charming narrow streets wind past shops and homes with beautiful roses and window boxes overflowing with colorful flowers. The house numbers are matching, designed in black in the same fashion for each home.  While I was angling my camera for a shot down the street, I noticed a lady on the balcony on the opposite side of the street.  Except, it wasn’t a real person, just a realistic painting of a lady! As we made our way around the village with only a handful of other visitors, we saw other paintings of people from the village on the stone walls.

What a clever idea!  Did you know that Flavigny-sur-Ozerain and its vineyards were used as the location for the film “Le Chocolat” in 2000, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp?

PINK HOUSESLike I said, I was not under the influence of absinthe.  However, the owners of these two houses in the photos are apparently very creative.  Would you like to live in a pink house covered in pink roses?  I know that I would love it, especially if the rosy, dreamlike house is in France!  I asked Jim if he would buy a pink house in France for me.  He said, “Yes!! Sure, as long as I don’t have to wear matching pink pants and a pink hat.”  Do you believe him?We didn’t meet Johnny Depp, but we walked the same streets in our own version of “Le Chocolat” allowing the lure of sweet flavors to have its way with us at our own pace and personality.

In the last blog story I said we would see another UNESCO site and find a village with anise candy. We found the candy and I surprised even Jim with the absinthe history.

Next time, we will travel through golden fields of grain to a beautiful house where we stayed in 2005. Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

You can read more about France, including my solo trip when I walked that steep hill in Vezelay without Jim.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.  If you prefer you can simply order the book directly from Amazon.  Please feel free to share this website with others.  Would you like to receive an e-mail notification when each story is posted?  Look at the top of the page on the right-hand side for the area to enter your e-mail.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Looking Back” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 7, 2018 – Thursdayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

The village of Vezelay, one of the most beautiful villages of France, is approximately twenty-four miles from Noyers-sur-Serein where we were staying in an atmospheric restored village house. Jim and I are not strangers to Vezelay since we have visited a number of times over the years.  In fact, we arranged to meet a realtor fifteen years ago who showed a house to us in a nearby village, and another in country hamlet.  (Be sure to look for the link below to see old photos from that time.)   I couldn’t remember the name of the village with the stone house which could have been purchased for less than most new cars.  Then, as we were driving to Vezelay I saw familiar landmarks that jolted my memory into gear.  I asked Jim to turn around, and we drove into the village looking slowly along each street until we found the house which is still in good condition, seeming like it was only yesterday, except the fence had a fresh coat of paint. (Upper right photo shown below with surrounding village photos.) Jim parked across the street so I could capture photos of the house and relive moments from the past.  I redecorated the house in my mind and dreamed of living there when we returned home after the viewing with the realtor, but I worried about leaving the house empty since we were several years from retirement, and what about my mama who was still living at that time?  Hopping on a plane in France to fly to Alabama if she needed help would be costly.  That along with other reasons stopped my dream from becoming reality.  Did I make the right choice?

I was standing by the house, camera in hand, by a grape arbor belonging to the next-door neighbor when a gentleman hidden under the vines spoke to me in French.  Or, maybe I spoke to him first.  I don’t remember.  I was trying to use my few words of French, and he replied the same until one of us said something in English.  Then we realized that English was our common language.  I explained about my interest in the house next door and how we missed out on the purchase years ago.  He was friendly and on impulse he invited us to join him in his courtyard under the grapevines with the sun filtering though and casting shadows which drifted like the images from the past in my mind. The polite gentleman, Bryan, is a writer of military history.  His wife, Margaret, who was probably puzzled by the appearance of strangers at her table did a quick recovery and welcomed us like she was expecting a couple from Alabama to come through her garden gate.  I wrote quick notes when I was in the car with the words “red shirt and blue & white (hat for sun)” scribbled in my pad, and now I don’t know who wore what, but either way they were charming.  The petite courtyard was filled with flower pots and an antique sewing machine frame with tabletop added in the corner creating character among the trailing vines and flowers.  I found a similar cast iron Singer sewing machine frame and used it as a bedside stand, but after accidentally stubbing my toes on the iron frame a dozen or more times, the pain-inducing antique found itself by the road again!

Bryan and Margaret were expecting company, just not us!  Chantal and Johnny, a younger couple, arrived and we were introduced like we were meant to be part of the morning get-together.  Our more or less impromptu group enjoyed coffee and cookies at the table with its lovely decoration.  The local couples shared stories about their village life with lots of laughter, and we added a few stories of our travel adventures.  Chantal wore a pretty blue shirt with matching earrings which I admired.  I didn’t ask to take a photo of the group since I thought we had invaded their privacy quite enough.  (I have not included the name of the village for the same reason.)  We are tremendously grateful for their nice hospitality to us since we dreamed years ago of being their next-door neighbors without knowing them.  I believe we would have been very happy with Bryan and Margaret just steps away.



One long, steep street lined with interesting shops, galleries and cafes rises upward to Vezelay’s basilica at the top of the hill.  Vezelay and the basilica are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  The most notable event in the history of the basilica took place when Richard the Lionheart and Phillippe Auguste embarked on the 3rd crusade from this basilica.  If you dislike history lessons, you will be happy since I do not plan to write about all of the relics and sobering, dark events of the past.

Right away, I won the car-spotting prize of the day with a knock-your-eyes-out, bright yellow Sports Matra!  Matra was a small company that won Le Mans more than once in a car using their own V12 engine, and again the Formula One title and other major road race events. The Matra Murena is a mid-engine, rear wheel drive sports car that was produced from 1980 to 1983 by the French engineering group Matra.  The factory was located in Romorantin-Lanthenay in the Loir-et-Cher department in central France.  Jim should be proud of me for locating this rare vehicle and the info on the stunning car.

Further along the street, I was anxious to find the ancient doorway where I aimed my old camera many years ago.  The photo hangs in our home in the hallway where I walk past each day and only occasionally think about the moment I found the faded blue doorway with the basket of cheerful daisies suspended above.  Sadly, the cheerfulness is gone, and the building seems to be falling into deep disrepair.  I posed with my sunhat, encouraging Jim to take several pictures since I am not photogenic and maybe one out of twelve would work.  I was sorry that I hogged so much time when I realized that another lady who was inspired by my performance in the doorway was waiting patiently while I smiled with hat and without hat, with sunglasses and without.  You get the picture.Our leisurely viewing of silk-screen designs, galleries, candy shops, sidewalk cafes and wine shops came to a halt when rain pelted down like a faucet opened full-force.  Conveniently, a café with windows and doorway opened to the street was a few steps away.  We went through the ancient door under the thick wisteria vines, past many green glass bottles along the walls on the old stone floor.  Cabalus was the name of the small restaurant with rooms to rent upstairs.  We sat on wooden bistro chairs under high stone arches watching the cats reclining on the windowsill, or doing their regal catwalk across the floor like they owned the place Water rushed along the edges of the street.  Teachers rushed their students back to class.  Tourists waited in doorways.  We enjoyed our petite meal and waited out the mini-storm.

Leaving the main street and wandering to the crest of the hill there are far-reaching views over the Monts de Morvan and to the edge of the Morvan Regional Park.  Strolling along the narrow, winding streets away from the crowd we found peace and quiet with views of gardens, ancient houses and a bench to contemplate it all.  Dark clouds were still lingering around, so I suggested that we drive to a chateau for an inside tour.  When we stopped at the bottom of the hill for a view of Vezelay, I noticed that someone had left their laundry outside to dry.  Somehow, I think that their clothing got an extra rinse cycle.VAUBAN, CINCINNATI AND WOODEN CLOGS

We were driving along country roads with hedgerows, fields and dark green forest beyond.  Chateau de Bazoches was our destination, a chateau with forty successive owners from twenty different families, but always with two main roots: Chastellux and Vauban.  Meanwhile, as the navigator of our vehicle I was checking the route in my atlas and the GPS map displayed in our car.  Giggling at the screen, I told Jim we were driving along Rue de l’Abbé Pissier.  Jim replied, “Say what??!” Very often the French words has a much different meaning in English, but in this instance it is quite the same since Pissier is just what you would think it is, from what I understand.  Now, that’s enough potty-talk for me.

We reached the small village below the chateau which has an exhibit of special interest for anyone from Ohio in the U.S.  A large model of a 74-cannon ship from 1780 is displayed in one of the rooms of the chateau.  The ship under command of Count de Grasse left Brest for America during the War of Independence.  King Louis 16th and President George Washington created in December, 1783, the hereditary order of Cincinnati.  The Society of Cincinnati still gathers its descendants. I am sorry to say that we never made it up the hill to see the chateau and its sumptuous furnishings since we lingered around the village and explored other narrow roads like the Rue de l’Abbé Pissier.  We saw the burial place of the French military engineer Marquis de Vauban.  He was first buried there but the grave was destroyed during the French Revolution.  In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his heart to be reburied in the church of Les Invalides.Now that wasn’t too much history for you, was it?  After seeing where Vauban was buried after he popped his clogs and hoping no one is offended by that description, we zipped along to see one of the last clog-makers and wood sculptors in the region. 

Romain Doré carves everything from a boar’s head to a wooden goblet.  We found the giant yellow “sabotier” sign, but no one was around.  I thought the brilliant yellow clogs would be perfect for the Matra’s owner!


What a nice day with a yellow car, yellow clogs and yellow pants on a friendly fellow strolling downhill! Our tour was bright as sunshine, or a giant sunflower despite the rain clouds.  We were happy to explore new things and relish our re-acquaintance of the old.

In the last blog story I said we would take a trip down memory lane and meet new people in a village where we considered buying a house many years ago.  Now you know about Bryan and Margaret, the gracious couple who invited us to their table.

Next time, we will see another UNESCO site and visit an adorable village where anise candy is made. Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

You can read more about France, including my solo trip when I walked that steep hill in Vezelay without Jim.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or KindlePlease feel free to share this website with others.  Would you like to receive an e-mail notification when each story is posted?  Look at the top of the page on the right-hand side for the area to enter your e-mail.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.