It was a cool, overcast and windy Sunday morning in March 2014. We were about 50 miles from Paris, at my Grandmère’s (grandmother’s) farm. She lives in Paris, but she owns a Château and surrounding 1,100-hectare farm that she calls her “fall retreat.”
Between three and five hundred people work on the farm, the Château and its surrounding shops (some work is seasonal). The shops sell wool, cheese, wine and ice cream produced on the farm, as well as touristy things. Many of the employees live on the farm, rent free. Their homes, owned by the farm, form a hameau (village). I didn’t understand much of this at the time, I was 10 years old.
My Grandmère was dedicating a new store just off the village green. The green wasn’t square, like those in the UK and it didn’t have swings or a slide, as I’d hoped. You’d think I’d know a hamlet my Grandmère owned but this place was alien to me. I’d arrived as part of her entourage but as the presentation ground on, I got bored. So, I took Charles by the hand and off we went.
We (my little nuclear family) were living in the UK then and we were visiting Paris for the Easter holiday. The fall before, as the school year had started, a girl in my grade (4th grade or year 5 in the UK) had been kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school. My Grandmère was “having none of it,” and hired Charles, a burly, red-headed, just retired, ex-NYC cop, as my security, escort and practical nanny. He’d been with me for about half a year, at that point, and we’d become fast friends.
It was the height of the pre-summer, Easter season. In addition to the villagers, there were tourists everywhere, picnicking on the grass, visiting the shops and playing football (soccer). Most of the tourists seemed to have small children that ran around. The townspeople sat on benches, eating ice creams and playing dominoes or quoits, a horseshoes-like game, played on a sand pitch.
You couldn’t mistake the two groups - the natives and the tourists. The towns folk were plainly dressed, the women in simple smocks and sweaters, the men wearing slacks, tweed jackets, berets or tag hats. The tourists spoke other languages - there were Italians, Britts, Germans and even Americans - who wore sports logoed t-shirts, shorts, sneakers and baseball caps.
As Charles and I wandered around the village, I asked, “Can we get a sirop?” One of the most popular drinks, in France, is a grenadine sirop (soda). We stopped and as Charles bought us drinks, I wandered a way off. He found me, moments later, hanging from a tree limb, upside down, my hair sweeping the grass like a broom.
“Stop that,” he’d said, swooping me up and off the branch with his soda free hand and setting me alright. As he picked leaves out of my hair, he said, “Don’t wander away from me like that, you know better.” “Yes sir” I agreed. A moment later, he picked me up and placed me atop a low, four-foot parapet wall that ran around the village. I could feel sharp, rough stone edges through my cotton dress but I drank my sirop and didn’t complain.
“You saved me from the dragon,” I said, after my first few sips.
“What dragon?” he said.
“The dragon that had me in its teeth, over there.” I pointed at the tree where I’d been upside down.
“I saved you from yourself,” he said, as he looked around the square.
“That’s silly,” I announced, “how can someone need saving from themselves?”
“Oh, It happens all the time,” he said.
The event ended and as people began leaving, they filed by us on the sidewalk. The village men doffed their hats and the women nodded a quick curtsey as they passed. “Why are they doing THAT?” I asked Charles, “am I a princess?”
“No,” he snorted, “you’re no kind of princess. They’re doing it out of respect for your illustrious grandmother.” “Oh,” I said disappointedly.
A moment later our car pulled up and we were headed back to the city. “Did you have fun?” my Grandmère asked, “yes mam,” I answered. “Did you behave yourself?” She followed up. “Mostly,” I admitted. She nodded, pronouncing, “That’s how it should be,” as the limo turned onto the autoroute (expressway) and accelerated for lunch in Paris.
BLT Marriam Webster word of the day challenge: Illustrious: a person that’s highly admired and respected.