Saturday, January 30, 2021

Magic in the Village

The winter days are grey and foggy in Bourdeilles, but look closely and you’ll see a little sparkle in the main street.  A young lady has dared to open up a shop in the practically abandoned center of the village. Her name is Pauline. Her’s is a gutsy adventure, but this is exactly the sort of madness that a small village in France needs.

If you don’t live in Bourdeilles and you drive through too quickly you’ll think that it’s a ghost town, but if you slow down and turn your head at just the right moment you will notice some happy lights twinkling in a window between gloomily closed shutters. You’ve spotted Bourdeilles’ newest spark of life. A little grocery with so much more to offer than you would imagine - L’épicerie Abracada’vrac— ‘the magic little grocery store for buying in bulk’. I just call it the magic shop.

Pauline is the third generation on her father’s side to live in Bourdeilles - the eighth generation on her mother’s side. She didn’t grow up here, but spending all those summers and school vacations with her grandparents gave her a taste of village life. After a few years working in the city she and her partner made the decision to slow down life and to start a family smack dab under one of the tallest castle towers in France. Pauline’s dream has been to open up a little grocery. The couple worked out that they could create a shop in the basement of their home under the castle. Like shop keepers of days gone by the family lives upstairs and the commerce is downstairs (if you look carefully you’ll spot the baby monitor on the checkout counter next to the register..). This all encompassing way of life has been disappearing, but lately there is a small revival as some young people are trading the hustle of city life for a quieter one in the country.

It’s a bit of an adventure to shop at Abracada’vrac. There is no parking lot at the entrance. You either have to park your car by the river and wander up, or below the church and wander down. Walking from my house, I pass under the castle tower and through a multi-centuries canyon of houses, equipped with empty shopping containers. Shopping here is BYOC (bring your own container). The shop entrance opens abruptly onto the street. The door handle is decidedly 1940’s French and I have to mind the couple of steps down into the warm and welcoming shop. Pauline greets me with a wide smile that sparkles with enthusiasm. You can’t help but be caught up in her pride for what she has created.  A pride that is shared by the community. She courageously sent out a request for seed money. Where times are always a little tough the concept of crowd-funding isn’t something you find in a small village in France. It ain’t easy to ask, but ask she did. She is encouraged by the enthusiastic response of the folks of Bourdeilles. She in turn invested in the community by hiring a local furniture maker to help plan and build the custom shelving for the awkward, cramped space. They have quite successfully created an atmosphere of simple elegance.

Here’s what I’ve spied in the magic shop so far— black licorice, spicy crackers, several choices of pastas, beans, flours and rice. I’m currently obsessed with a rice that comes from the Camargue region of France. There are olive oils from Provence and walnut oil from our region of Aquitaine. There is a section of cleaning products from detergents to toothpaste. There are household and baby care items that are practical and pretty at the same time. These make great little gifts.

It’s going to take me awhile to organize the correct containers for shopping and storing what I buy at the magic store. I’m enjoying having a practical use for my milk bottle caddy and all the apple juice bottles I’ve been saving. I might have to spring for some more mason jars with wider openings for filling. My goal is that our pantry will look more like a calm photo in a country living magazine than the spoils from a rampage in a dollar store.

Pauline has done the hard part for us. She screwed up the courage to launch herself into risks and long hours of work in order to concretely do something about her conviction that the long term global cost of our shopping habits is not acceptable. Wrapped up in this conviction is also the desire to help animate our little village. Now it’s up to us oldies to grab a basket and some jars and enjoy the magic and sparkly light offered by this little épicerie in our small village in France.

--join her on FaceBook  Abracada'Vrac-Épicerir Vrac Bourdeilles  


--a couple of other "frenchie" food sites I'm enjoying on instagram  

- katedecamont


Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Man who wanted to be King of America

I’m constantly tearing out articles that catch my interest from our local newspaper The SudOuest. This a quiet region so the paper uses a lot of non-news stories as filler.I love it when the filler piece is both local and historical. Especially anything to do with a French/American connection. A good pandemic exercise is to make a big pile of all my newspaper clippings and see what jumps out at me. Here’s a good one.

“The Man who wanted to be King of America”

I’m terrible about keeping the date attached to the clipping, but I do know that this is not an April Fool’s article. This is a factual accounting of a Frenchman that thought it would suit him to be king of the budding United States of America. Here’s how the story goes.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Charles-Francois, count de Broglie, was born in Paris. The year was 1719 and his prestigious father was head of the army of King Louis XV.  Needless to say, the well-connected boy rose quickly in the ranks, eventually becoming a general, the ambassador to Poland, and a secret agent in the service of the King. At age forty de Broglie used the dowery of his new wife, the Princess Louise de Montmorency, to purchase the county of Ruffec. (Which is in our corner of France.) This deal came with a county, a nice village, and most importantly, a title.  De Broglie was now the Marquis de Ruffec.

While de Broglie was amassing his titles and fortunes the far-flung American Colonies were organizing to break away from England and the rule of monarchy. As the English were the sworn enemies of the French, the Marquis de Broglie decided that now was a good time to encourage the king to involve France in this insurrection. He is quoted as writing,”The American colonies are destined to one day form an independent state. Sooner or later it is destined to happen.” His purpose was to help move things along.

Apparently he already had visions of grandeur of what he hoped to gain from this foreign conflict. He wrote a letter of self-promotion to the Baron Jean deKalb, a German born French general. DeKalb had already joined the Continental Army and had strong connections to Washington, Adams, Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. De Broglie wrote, “America needs a political and military leader that can impose and reunite. Someone who is capable of attracting and leading with him a considerable number of the population. You have the power to make known who you think can fulfill this position.” De Broglie’s description of who he thought would fit the bill strongly resembled himself. His pretensions and his narcism were over the top. Earlier in his life he had tried and failed to become Prime Minister of France, he had bought the title of Marquis, so why not try to be a King?

While waiting to see how his political aspirations were being received in the court of King Louis XVI de Broglie jumped into non-stop work. Between his properties in the Charente and his commitments in Paris, he worked day and night. He organized his memoirs, he schemed and presented recommendation and plans for France’s participation in the colonial revolution. He directed mines, constructed a forge for cannons and drained the swamps around his county. He kept up very good relations with all of the military suppliers of La Rochelle and Rochefort, the centers of naval power in France. These resources would come in handy when it came time to launch his ambitions in the Americas.

In May of 1776 de Broglie was part of a small group that secretly sent Versailles a plan of action for France’s involvement in the American conflict. At this point de Broglie still felt it was too early for France to send over troops. He wanted to wait until the American Congress requested France’s aid in ships, armaments, and soldiers.  All to be led, of course, by de Broglie. July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence, moved his plans forward.

 In December of 1776 de Broglie gave instructions to deKalb to lead the way for his ascension towards ruling America. DeKalb was to “suggest” the idea of de Broglie being appointed king without outrightly stating that this was was the final intention. He had even schemed up a royal procession to traverse his future kingdom. By now deKalb was distancing himself from the project, declaring de Broglie’s ideas more than a little crazy - “une folie” (a foolishness or maybe a folly).

All of this scheming and de Broglie had never even left France!  Benjamin Franklin, now the chief diplomat in Versailles, shot down de Broglie’s petition to be sent to America to “represent” France. This opposition  was the end of Charles-Francois de Broglie’s dream of becoming King of America.

Undeterred in his efforts to help the American colonies de Broglie put his energies into financing a voyage for the young Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette sailed from Bordeaux on La Victoire in March of 1777. Lafayette was to play a critical role in America’s road to independence.

De Broglie died alone in August of 1781 near his village of Ruffec. The newspaper article makes a point that neither his wife nor his children were at his funeral.

from - SudOuest, LeMag   written by Jean-Michel Selva