The next Montaigne essay is “Of the Education of Children.” This one should be very pertinent and perhaps illuminating, but I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t mean to discuss it in this post. I really have the bit between my teeth to talk about Reims and to mention some things that I’ve seen in the past couple weeks but haven’t really talked about. Lucky you!
Yesterday I went to Reims with a smattering of teachers from Hippolyte Rémy and Madame de Lafayette. There were ten of us plus one infant. The drive to Reims went quite quickly. It became immediately apparent that the lady in the driver seat was quite a talker. She spent the entire drive turned around talking to me and Sandrine, a Spanish teacher from southern France who works at both collèges and has an amazing, yet subtle, southern accent. This woman must have suffered for her love of conversation; I don’t know how one could contort one’s back like that for two hours and not feel a little twisted up afterwards. We (yes, Sandrine and I did manage to get in a few words edgewise) talked about local politics, about teacher placement politics, about the different university systems in place in France, Spain, and the States, about the legal profession, about the ubiquity of Parisian beggars and gypsies, about noisy Italians and how twilight at Mont St. Michel is stunning enough to shut up even them…
Then we got to Reims and mosied on over to Notre Dame de Reims, the cathedral where 25 kings of France were coronated over the course of 600 years. The cathedral is adorned with 2,303 sculpted figures, and in addition to the traditional style of stained glass windows that can be found in other gothic cathedrals it also sports some stained glass windows from 1974, created by none other than Marc Chagall.
After soaking in the history of the cathedral we walked across the street and sat down for a leisurely and delicious lunch that stretched for nearly two hours. I, myself, started with escargots and then for my main dish had veal kidney, but others ordered sweetbreads and andouillette (tripe sausage) as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Kidney, by the way, translates to rognon culinarily and rein anatomically. Rein is pronounced the same as Reims minus the ‘s.’)
Then we explored the Christmas market, which put the Christmas markets at the Champs-Elysées and La Défense to shame (and promises to put the Columérien Christmas market to shame as well). Each of us had a cup of Caribou (yes, like the animal), which was mulled wine with whiskey and sirop d’érable, maple syrup. If you didn’t deduce this already, the drink is Québecois.
On the way back from Reims I was drifting in and out of sleep in the back seat, when I was awoken by an exclamation of “O! mon Dieu! C’était un sanglier! Est-il mort?!” Yep, the car in front of us, carrying four teachers from Coulommiers, hit a wild boar that was crossing the street. Thankfully it was a glancing blow and the car wasn’t too damaged, but we all stopped and some went looking for the roadkill. Except they didn’t find it. They weren’t sure if it limped away or if, during the time that we were reeling on the side of the road wondering what to do—whether we should drive over the crest of the hill to see what happened or just leave, some lucky country bumpkin found himself a Christmas feast and took it home to his family.
It had all the elements of a great trip: good sights, good company, good food, vin chaud, and a little bit of boarish excitement. If only I could convince people to take such trips every weekend my exploration of France would be much easier and more convivial.