When my wonderful friend Kat disappeared to Montreal for three years, to study and work with JEM (Jeunesse en Mission, or YWAM), she came home with not only increased love for the French community in general, but also for one member of this community in particular: Joël, from the south of France. They were married in 2008, and much to my delight, moved into a house within walking distance of our apartment in Winnipeg. However, whenever I talk about these dear friends to others, the reaction is the same: “Wait… He’s from the south of France? And they stayed here??” While though there are many good answers to these questions, it was only after finally having the chance to visit his beautiful home and family in les Cévennes that I could truly appreciate the enormous sacrifice Joël made by moving to Canada.
Les Cévennes, a low mountain chain winding between the Languedoc Roussillon and Auvergne in the South of France, are a unique region of France. The only French national park in the low mountains, the région Cévénol is filled not only with incredible natural beauty, like beech forests, chestnut trees, ancient oliviers, and the clear waters of the Gardon rivers; but is also home to many layers of fascinating history. From the brief but bloody Camisard wars, to the long years of peaceful resistance by the Huguenots against a tyrannical monarchy; from ancient trade routes with Asia and the silk worm industry that brought wealth to the Cévennes in the 19th century to ancient tombs of Celtic tribes dating from the last millennium BC, one would need a personal tour guide to thoroughly appreciate the richness of this region (and fancy that, we just happened to have one! :D)
En route (well, “en route” in a “I’m a Canadian and have a rental car, so no distance is that far!!” kinda way) to Les Taillades, where Joël’s parents live, we stopped in Toulouse to visit Joël’s sister Hélène and her husband Yannick, and the third member of their household:
Helene works as a social worker in a community épicerie, or grocery store, where we spent our mornings volunteering. At the épicerie, clients with financial needs can purchase good quality food at a fraction of the price, while receiving one-on-one financial counseling from the trained staff. It is an amazing alternative to a soup kitchen, since it not only empowers clients through the independence to choose their own food, but it also gives the clients tools to address the root causes of their difficulties in order to break the cycle of poverty.
As we drove from Toulouse to Les Taillades, plains began to softly roll into hills. Joël’s parents, Mado and Michel, met us at the Anduze bus station. Michel just retired this year after twenty-some years of running Le Musée du Desert, a museum chronicling the history of the Huguenots (French Protestants) in the Cévénol region. It was evident that they were loving the luxury of retirement – sleeping in, long afternoons playing hilarious Scandinavian lawn games – but old habits die hard, and almost immediately upon greeting us at the bus station, Michel’s inner historian rose to the fore.
Michel obviously knew his stuff: As we stood in the street receiving his history lesson, a young guy walking by stopped and exclaimed, “That’s true, man! I’m glad somebody knows the real history of this place!”
After so many years of friendship with Kat and Joël, it was so special to finally see the places and people that have inspired so many of their stories. Mado and Michel were incredible hosts, making sure that we experienced la vraie vie française.
Our private tour of Le Musée du Desert
Le Pont du Gare: the tallest aqueduct ever constructed by the Romans (1st century AD)
Hélène, Yannick, Mado, Michel, Nico, Clémence, Laure, Mami… Merci encore pour une visite inoubliable. Votre générosité était un bénédiction énorme. On est hâte à vous voir bientôt – soit en Winnipeg, soit encore à la France! Gros bisous!! xxx