Old Is The Color


We’re all getting older all the time, a fact that has been forcefully brought home to me this week by having two birthday boys in the house at once.  But no matter how old they get, they’ll never be really old, not by French standards.


Here old is measured in centuries, as in “we’re having a hard time finding plumbing fixtures for this part of the house that was started in the 13th century.”  There a bad side and a good side to this: on the one hand, you feel like an upstart newcomer being from a country that’s younger than most people’s houses, but on the other hand, you’re not dragging the weight of all those centuries around with you everywhere you go.


When the Greeks invaded Gaul they brought the idea of stone cutting with them.  Lacking power tools, each and every stonecutter left the imprints of his daily work for us to gawk at thousands of years later. 


Then the Romans showed up, knocked down most of the work done by the Greeks, and introduced plumbing to the land.  Lots of their plumbing still exists here,


since it was built to last forever, unlike the plumbing in our house which was built to last until the plumber put the check in the bank.  In fact, dealing with the plumber has aged us more than any six birthdays combined, and we’d pretty much prefer to move into an unrestored Roman ruin than call him again.


That might actually be easier than it sounds, since around here just about every time you put a shovel in the ground you end up uncovering some priceless bit of antiquity.  If I dig in my garden at home I might find that pair of pruning shears I lost a couple of summers ago, but that’s about it.  It all kind of puts you in your place, if you think about it.


What trips me up, even more than the plumbing, is the idea that whatever I think here, wherever I think it, it’s all old news.  People have been here for so long already, thinking what people think, doing what people do, for more time than I know how to imagine.  There’s not a lot new under the sun here, which is at once the charm and the heavy burden of the place.


Buildings are in layers, modern atop Roman piled on Greek built over Gallic as far back as it goes, a busy warren of human life through the centuries.  Ideas here are like that too, each new thought is sifted through the filter of a long, long history of thought.  It’s hard to leave one’s mark on generations to come, unless one is a plumber, and then all bets are off.  Coming from a country where the new and the now are valued more highly than whatever happened there and then, it’s an eye-opening experience.

Living as we are in a land that’s been invaded countless times, our house, like many houses, is behind a locked gate set in a stone wall.  Strangely, this does not make me feel safer and more secure, but rather, in dark moments, I feel trapped.  We’re starting to talk about going home.  It’s a long conversation.

Explore posts in the same categories: At Home In France

9 Comments on “Old Is The Color”

  1. Lori in PA Says:

    Ah, Abra, you bring to light a thought process I have dimly glimpsed during my much shorter trips to Europe. The burden and the blessing of a long history — it made me wonder why Europeans have any interest in coming to the states, when pretty much the oldest thing we can show them on the East coast is St. Augustine — a mere stripling compared to what they live in and around.

    I will be thinking of you from time to time as you have your long conversation, as I have been throughout the last months. Is it strange to have a cyber-aquaintance say that to you? Your words touch me often, and they have awakened an interest in your and Shel’s well-being. Bless you.

  2. Abra Bennett Says:

    Actually, a French dinner guest told me the other night that he really has no interest in visiting the US. He says that although he likes Americans, the country seems too young to have anything interesting to see.

    Lori, I love it when my cyber-acquaintances think about me. After all, you’re the reason I write. If it weren’t for caring readers, there would be no French Letters.

  3. Jim Says:

    Lovely pictures and I absolutely covet the sunshine as shown in the last one. We’re having our usual 40 degrees and damp. Maybe you’ll bring back a bit o’ sun when you come home. We’re looking forward to seeing you.

  4. Eden Says:

    We would of course love to have you back in our midst, but I caution strongly against making any decisions under the influence of plumbers!

  5. Well, if you come home we certainly hope you’ll continue photography and recipes, as well as great commentary. Happy, healthy birthdays to Eric and Shel. We wish them many, many more. We wept when we returned home and saw a for sale sign in Margaret’s yard! Thank you so much for sharing your blog with us! hugs. elaine & jerry

  6. Jeanne Says:

    A friend of mine from England told me once that while she appreciated the history that was part of her daily life, she had nothing of the natural beauty of the American Southwest (she was on a trip to the Grand Canyon at the time) and how she wished she had more of that at home. Personally, I loved the rolling hills of England and the neat hedgerows and fields; and how the land looked well-lived in.

    It’s snowing here; I’ve forgotten what sunshine looks like! Thanks for the beautiful pictures!

  7. Nancy Says:

    Happy, healthy birthdays to Shel and Eric, indeed: continued good health for Eric; regained good health for Shel. This is the first time I recall seeing you refer to coming back as “going home” instead of “going back”, and that speaks volumes. As you wrestle with demons, decisions and the burdens of time around and within you, I’ll be thinking of you and saying the occasional prayer for you both.

  8. Sometimes it’s very peaceful to live in a settled countryside, shaped by the hands of men over thousands of years. Sometimes it’s burdensome. Sometimes it’s exhilarating to be faced with wild – apparently untouched – landscapes. Sometimes it’s terribly lonesome…

  9. MickeyM Says:


    You’ve managed to get through a year and a half without showing (at least in the blog) any serious symptoms of culture shock.

    It’s rather surprising that it took so long. It, too, can pass if you wait it out. Or not, in some cases.

    Of course, having the medical issues puts one more layer on top of the normal culture shock process.

    All of us writing ladies would love to see you again, but we also love the blog. If you do come back, you know that you’re going to have to start a Bainbridge Letters blog for your international following!

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