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Jean-Luc, Cameron, Joss, Alexandra, and baby chicks
One of the most exciting travel experiences is to meet up with friends from back home while in a foreign country. It was even more fun that Gail was able to get together with one of her closest friends, Cecilia Mourey -- together, they had led the Parent-Teacher Association at the French-American school in California. Cecilia, her husband Jean-Charles, and their two children have just moved to the south of France (they had also presaged our current adventures with their own trip around the world a couple of years ago). At Jean-Charles' invitation, we took a weekend trip together to visit his birthtown, Bourg-en-Bresse.
The Moureys drove up to our house in Crest to spend the night of December 14th before we set out together. Alexandra (9) and Jean-Luc (5) were very excited to see Cameron and Joss again, and the adults as well spent a late evening catching up on times past. On the morning of December 15th, the temperature was -6°C, the coldest we've had so far (we had awakened to our first snow the previous day). Nevertheless, we had to drag the children away from the tree swings to set out on the road. Russell, Jean-Charles, Alexandra, and Joss led in our station wagon; while Cecilia, Gail, Cameron, and Jean-Luc followed in the Mourey's minivan.
Cecilia and Gail catching up on old times (note snow outside)
Bourg-en-Bresse is northeast of Lyon, about a two hour drive from Crest. It is most famous as the "chicken capital" of France -- free-range birds are sold with a seal, a numbered ring, and a certificate of origin, under strict production rules that rival those of the wine industry. Once a year, the region holds a marché des glorieuses where poultry is shown, sold, and entered into competition. (Peter Mayle devoted an entire chapter to this annual event -- which apparently has been going on since 1591 -- in his book French Postcards.)
Our first stop was downtown Bresse, where we had lunch with Jean-Charles' aunt and uncle at their apartment. Aunt Christianne prepared an incredible multi-course formal French déjeuner using all regional dishes: cheese biscuit appetizers, chicken liver salad, potato pancakes, fromage blanc with fresh cream and sugar, and a tarte de la sucre. The highlight was the roasted Bresse capon itself, which was delicious. Meanwhile, Uncle Francois kept bringing out a different drink for every course, including a qir de cassis (blackcurrant) mixed with white wine. (Jean-Charles said that the human body can metabolize one glass of wine per hour. Cecilia wondered how big the glass is supposed to be.)
Our next stop was les glorieuses de Bresse itself. When we entered the municipal exhibition hall, we saw dancers and musicians in traditional garb. We saw booths full of local food vendors lining the walls. And we saw row upon row of chickens, capons, turkeys -- even pigeons -- laid out on tables. They were plucked and dressed; and though their heads were tastefully covered with paper frills, the boys remarked that it was like looking at an army of chicken bottoms. As the onstage awards ceremony droned on in French (including an award for "best new hope of Bresse"), the children finally found a booth that interested them: an enclosure full of baby chicks. Cameron was certain that he had attained a new world's record for having a baby chick sit in his hand the longest.
Jean-Charles, the world trippers, and an army of chicken bottoms
Cameron setting a world record
After a twilight stop for groceries, we stopped for the night at the farm home of Jean-Charles' grandmother Madeleine outside of the tiny village of St.-Jean. The children spent the rest of the evening jumping up and down on the high antique beds upstairs (and threatening to bring down the entire ceiling downstairs). The adults stayed downstairs chatting. And although grandma didn't speak English and Gail doesn't speak French, they found a common language in admiring all of the "old things" throughout the farmhouse.
We had a lazy morning on December 16th. The children all got up early (after going to bed late), but they entertained themselves fairly well. (Poor Jean-Charles had endured a night of stereo teeth-grinding between Jean-Luc and Joss.) Grandma lives by herself and is getting on in years -- she can no longer even go up and down the stairs easily -- so we took care of all of the cooking and cleaning up for breakfast and lunch.
Grandma Madeleine amazed by the new technology of DVDs
We finally said goodbye to grandma -- and Bresse and the Moureys -- in the early afternoon and set back out again. Our two-hour drive back to Crest was nothing compared to the Moureys' five-hour drive back to Nice. But we will be hitting the road again soon, when we leave again in a couple of days for Cameron's ultimate French goal... Paris.
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