Ever notice how easy it is to come up with a great idea? Starting to put it into
action is exciting. Then you get to the grind-it-out ‘this is work’ stage. Finally you are left
with a ‘Wow this is going to be tough’ part. That is where I am in this book project as I
sit down to pen the chapter on France.
The first challenge is that I made multiple visits to the country; that could be
handled rather smoothly if they were all taken with the same intent but that is not the
case. I visited the country at least three times with very different purposes. Respecting my
own rules I can not dedicate three chapters to one country; though I do have the material,
the project would become overwhelming and result in a series of books that even I would
not consider picking up.
So I have decided to give each of the visits its due, spending a few words and
pictures on the individual trips.
The first time was during the formal part of my Nuffield Scholarship when nine
scholars from Canada (3) Australia (2) New Zealand (2) France (1) Zimbabwe (1) went
to Salon International de l’Agriculture (SIA). When we were told it would be big, that
was an understatement; the show housed every piece of agricultural equipment you could
imagine. It carried through from production to the final produce with several salons
dedicated to the presentation of food products.
The size of the trade fair was astonishing but what was almost as amazing is that
somehow through the magic of translation the representatives of a French winery mistook
fellow Canadian Rod Bradshaw and myself for buyers from a Canadian restaurant. That
led to an invitation to a special area where the samples were flowing freely. I must admit
Rod and I did nothing to dispel the misunderstanding and enjoyed the hospitality for a
few hours. It was just our attempt at research in the way food items are bought and sold
in the international market.
It was at this event that I saw the equipment used to force feed geese a fermented
mash, causing controlled cirrhosis of the liver, which was then used to produce a high-
end pate. I had pictures of the goose in the pen and an auger type utensil that went down
the throat of the bird. Subsequently, upon my return to Canada, it became one of the
better-known images in the presentation I developed for agricultural meetings. This was
the time before Internet when knowledge of production methods around the world was
not as widely known. Also, there was still some shock value in images of this sort when
viewed with accompanying dialogue.
We spent a few days absorbing the sights in Paris. I remember being staggered by
the price of a glass of beer on the Champs de Elise. A $15 beer was expensive by any
standards in 1995, but the feeling was we would only be there once, so carry on.
Our second visit to the country ended the formal part of the course with a visit to
the French scholar at his home. Hosting the group traditionally fell to the previous year’s
scholar but for some reason that was not possible and Jean Paul hosted us. His family
raised Montbeliarde cattle on a farm near the Swiss border. In addition to producing milk
for the local cheese factory, Jean Paul was working with the cheese maker and had more
than a passing interest in the process.
The family proved excellent hosts; one evening we enjoyed a fondue dinner, with
a lengthy discussion on the value of wine in aiding digestion. As beer drinkers some of us
could only fully understand the value of wine in bodily transformation the next morning.
My third visit to France came about during the summer of 1995. Our family lived
in England while I completed my Nuffield Scholarship and took the time to travel.
We visited Paris as a family where the Louvre and Eiffel Tower were must-sees
and did not disappoint. We got the t-shirt from Euro Disney and were happy with the trip.
Upon returning to our home in Cirencester, England we were jolted by a headline
in the paper saying that the St. Michel subway station in Paris, one we had visited only
days earlier, had been bombed by terrorists and several people had been killed.
All three visits came with highlights and lessons. In retrospect, we were most
impacted by our stay with a family in the south of France. Marc was also a Nuffield
Scholar and offered to host us for a couple of days. He was very hospitable while he
carried on business as usual and gave us a true taste of farm life in his area.
His father was staying with him on the farm and one day he was slaughtering a
sheep. Our son Steven who was seven at the time had wandered over to watch the
proceedings and came back to the house telling the story of what he had seen, how
Marc’s dad had slaughtered the sheep and cut it up. I made no effort to hide where meat
came from with either of my children and they understand that farm animals are raised
with that purpose in mind. Everyone can make their own decision on that, but that is the
choice in our family, and also what my daughter has chosen for her son.
The single incident that might have made the deepest impression on me was Marc
telling us there were still bits of ammunition from WW1 on his land. Even after nearly 80
years they were uncovering remnants of the war that was fought on those fields. He took
Steven for a walk in the field behind the yard and returned with three pieces of shells.
“We still lose the occasional farmer when the potato equipment finds a live shell.”
After all this time (1995) there are still shells in the ground.” Marc’s words had a searing
effect on me. I still think about what that time was like: the reality of being on the site of
trench warfare, of how much remained here of the weapons left behind, along with the
lives of those soldiers. My shirt from Disney is long gone, that statement is not.
My ramblings on France draw to a close. It is not easy to pick three or four stories
to represent my time there, but I have tried to select and share some of the memories that
capture both the laughter and the sombre shades of my visit to the country of France.