For the past 20 years, foreign correspondent Roger Cohen has had a vacation house in France. Recently, he decided to sell it. Here’s what happened:
“Monsieur Cohen, whatever you do, you must on no account sell this house!”
I gazed at her, a little incredulous.
“You cannot sell it. This is a family home. You know it the moment you step in. You sense it in the walls. You breathe it in every room. You feel it in your bones. This is a house you must keep for your children. I will help you sell it if you insist, but my advice is not to sell. You would be making a mistake.”
This was, shall we say, a cultural moment, one of those times when a door opens and you gaze, if not into the soul of a country, at least into territory that is distinct and deep and almost certainly has greater meaning than the headlines and statistics that are supposed to capture the state of a nation, in this case one called France, whose malaise has become an object of fascination.
This episode with his real estate agent taught Cohen something about the French character. They are struggling so much today economically because they are a very conservative people, though not “conservative” in the way of Anglo-American politics. They do not like efficiency. They like their own traditions. The idea of the good life in France is different from the same in America. That’s just the way it is. Cohen concedes that he used to believe that all people all over the world wanted basically the same things out of life:
Now I feel I was wrong about that. Globalization equals adaptation to insurmountable differences as much as it equals change. Some things do not change, being the work of centuries.
Read the whole thing. There’s a lot of wisdom in that column.
The weather turned every so slightly autumnal here in Louisiana yesterday. There’s a hint of fall in the air, and I will never be able to greet the autumn, my favorite season, without thinking of France. It has been almost two years since Julie and I took the kids to Paris for the month of October. It was such a wonderful trip. I know we were living in Disneyworld, and that we would likely find daily life in France to be a grind. But boy, do I love being there, among those people and their beautiful culture. I will always go back to France, until the day comes when I am too feeble to travel. And then France will always be on my mind.
Next week at this time, I will be on a flight to Italy, to spend some time in Florence and Ravenna, on the Dante trail. A cousin of mine who visited Florence a few years back said, “Be careful. Florence will cure you of your love for France.” I am pleased to have a fall fling with Florence, but in the end, I know where my heart lies, and I know what is in my heart.