A (Junior-High) Dream Come True in France

My French adventure began in the ninth grade—in a classroom with a tall bearded French teacher called Mr. Kavanaugh. Mr. Kavanaugh adored la belle France—often showing us French films or playing the music of Edith Piaf—and his enthusiasm for the country was infectious. I nursed those fanciful high school moments into a dream of visiting and maybe one day, living in France.

Years later, my dream came true…and I got the chance to visit the town of Brantome in the southwest region of France called the Dordogne. It was love at first sight.

I was captivated by the tall limestone cliffs bordering rivers far below. On each side stood fortified castles, which were fought over throughout history…and the landscape was green as far as the eye can see. It fulfilled many of my first adolescent fantasies of faraway France.

And I’m not the only one who’s been enamored of this historic town. Tourists, both French and foreign flock to Brantome, to see its historic beauty: the oldest clock tower in all of France…the grottoes that housed the original pre-Christian inhabitants with mysterious carvings to view…or the miniscule museum dedicated to Desmoulin (who experimented with making art while in a séance-induced fugue!)….

But for me, a vacation in Brantome was not enough. In the first month after I arrived, I was dazzled by what this town had to offer. I saw fireworks over the pont coude (an ancient L-shaped stone bridge), a jazz concert in the garden of a medieval chateau, bought homemade foie gras at the local butcher, and danced at a disco costume ball at the local firehouse. I was more than convinced—I could happily trade my corporate city routine for this lively country life.

These days, I still enjoy the cultural pursuits Brantome has to offer, such as violin concerts in churches dating back to the 13th century…and I love to shop at the village markets for the delicacies of the region, which are produced and sold the same way they have been for generations.

I also love to interact with the locals. The people here are vibrant and diverse in their opinions and interests. And, contrary to many warnings of their disagreeable and guarded nature, I find the French more than willing to welcome me once they see my efforts to integrate. I may not be great at it but I always speak French and participate in local life.

But the thing I appreciate most about my life in Brantome is the “savoir vivre” of the people here… knowing how to live well and, at all times, doing it elegantly.

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