Bread and Roses

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During a recent visit to France, planned more for viticulture than history, it became impossible to ignore all the military monuments and cemeteries in the green fields and vineyards of the lush farmland north of Paris.  This land was historically connected to America’s participation in World Wars I and II. Everyone had a story that connected them to the horror during those long years of battle. Conversations about grape harvests, architecture, gastronomy, and even bread all led back to, “The war…”

I Met A Man Who Loved His Bread
By Richard Frisbie

M. Boizard is a lifelong baker who collected bread related items as he baked his way into semi-retirement. Now, M. Boizard tends his collection at the Musee du pain; but I think of it as the Bread Museum.

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We met on a bridge near his home in Fismes, France. I’d stopped to photograph the blossoming crabapple trees that stood next to a picturesque little mill along the La Vesle River.  When he learned I was American he pointed said that our 28th Division took the bridge in 1918, after a weeklong firefight. “Hundreds of Americans were killed to liberate my village,” he said. Then he invited me to his home – or so I thought.

This occurred all over France. Two Thousand and eight was the 90th anniversary of World War I’s end. France had been commemorating the anniversaries of various battles for the previous four years until the culmination of ceremonies on November 11th. I was walking in French and American soldier’s footsteps. Everywhere I went the French people treated me as if I’d been in the Verdun trenches with them.

Forget what you might have heard about the French. They remember the World Wars better than we do. After all, the fighting happened in their back yards. They haven’t forgotten America’s help winning, either. I was received warmly wherever I went. And so, I accepted Mr. Boizard’s invitation.

With his little English and my nonexistent French it is no wonder I misunderstood. It wasn’t to his home we went, but down an alley next to the bridge, where I found myself in his bread museum. Outside he had a large German wood-burning oven on wheels, which is still towed and used at events. There were also two antique tractors, one French, circa 1957, and the other a 1955 English version. Both were once used to harvest wheat, and both still run.

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It’s far more difficult to describe the inside of the museum. There was so much stuff packed into one large room that, at first, my eyes couldn’t focus on just one object. Gradually, though, I discerned a path, beginning with early bread making implements and eventually leading up to the present time.

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Everything related to bread and bread-making art

was under this one roof. There were tools and machines for mixing, shaping, baking, twisting, rising, even for harvesting and reaping the wheat. I even watched an English video that showed how French bread was made. With floor to ceiling displays it was obvious that bread was truly his passion.

There were some models and images of local windmills where the grain was ground. He told me that in World War I the Germans machine-gunned the blades off the windmills because the French Resistance used them to as a landmark to locate enemy bunkers and stored munitions. That meant the French were often without flour for bread until the American liberation. That explained why he also had three flour sacks on display labeled “US FLOUR.” The soldiers who saved the village brought the ingredients for the French (and every other cultures’) staff of life. And, there’s nothing more important to a Frenchman or woman than bread. It’s no wonder the Americans were treated like heroes!

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Over flutes of champagne he showed off his proudest memento. It was the newspaper account of his induction into La Commanderie de France des Talmeliers Bon Pain, the organization of French bread lovers. His homage to bread, his museum, earned him an honorary membership in this prestigious fraternity of bakers. It also earned him mention there as a man who followed his passion to create an incredible bread monument.

For more information:
Musee du pain:  03 26 48 00 13
Admission: 3.5 Euros

Official French Government Tourist Office: www.franceguide.com

Air France:  www.airfrance.us

Meuse Department of Tourism: www.tourisme-meuse.com

La Marne Tourism Office: www.tourisme-en-champagne.com

Tourist Office of Reims: www.reims-tourisme.com

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I Met A Man Who Loved His Willows … and Helped Save a Rose

By Richard Frisbie


duberose11France’s Champagne region is known for its baskets woven from willow branches. In fact, the French National School of Basket Weaving is located in Champagne. So, the next time you think of Champagne, think baskets, not bubbly, and you’ll win the admiration of Dominique Brochet-Lanvin.

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Dominique Brochet-Lanvin, along with his wife, son, dog and a few rascally puppies, calls Botanique de la Presle their home. It is an arboretum, nursery and a labor of love in the French countryside outside of Epernay in Montagne de reims.

Dominique is a salixophile, or lover of willows.  “There are 500 to 600 varieties of salix” he told me. “No one knows for sure. I’m trying to collect them all here.”

When I told him that I only knew of the weeping willow, he said: “As we say in France, that is the one that hides the rest.” Then he told me a charming story so typical of the French.

“Before he died, Napoleon requested that a weeping willow be planted on his grave. It became the custom for everyone who visited his tomb to take a cutting home to plant. His weeping willow spread around the world. Now, what he couldn’t conquer in life he has dominion over through his millions of willows.”

The bread, the wine and now the willows are the reason I love the French.

Willows have many other uses. During World War I the French lined their trenches with woven willow panels to hold back the earthen ramparts. Near St. Mihiel I actually got into some of the trenches. The German trenches were original, with walls and bunkers made from huge blocks of stone. The French trenches were reconstructed with fresh willow walls, illustrating the impermanence of their battlements. What they built for temporary protection from the barrage of enemy shells often became semi-permanent as the trench warfare dragged on for years. And all those years their willows kept them company.

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Back in the arboretum, as a light rain fell, Dominique walked me through his willow collection. It was perfect gardener’s weather for admiring the various black, yellow, green, and contorted stems, each with their different size and shape catkins, or flowers. Tall, short, multi- and single-trunk bushes and trees, all willows, competed for my attention. When I recognized the pussy willow I realized that where I used to know only two types of willows, now I knew two hundred! And still the collection went on.

We toured over 1000 feet of perennial beds bordered with short woven willow fences before finishing our walk in the old fashioned rose garden. Here Dominique showed me a prized specimen of the La Marne rose he and his wife rescued from extinction. Originally named in 1915 for the Battle of La Marne, this blood-red beauty was nearly lost until they discovered a “forgotten” specimen in a relative’s garden and propagated it. Today, the Botanique de la Presle proudly sells descendants of this noble antique. While the last French veteran of the Great War has been laid to rest, the La Marne rose lives on, a testament to the hardy French stock and the toils of two gardeners of Champagne.

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For more information:

Botanique de la Presle: www.jardin-brochetlanvin.com
Official French Government Tourist Office: www.franceguide.com
Meuse Department of Tourism: www.tourisme-meuse.com
La Marne Tourism Office: www.tourisme-en-champagne.com
Tourist Office of Reims: www.reims-tourisme.com
Air France: www.airfrance.us

Richard Frisbie is a food wine and travel writer; a bookseller and publisher of New York centric books; and a newspaper columnist who resides in New York’s Hudson Valley. Online, his articles appear here, on Gather.com, GoNomad.com, travellady.com and the many websites of EDGE Publications. He also writes for regional New York magazines such as Adirondack Life, Life in the Finger Lakes, and Kaatskill Life. Richard can be reached at Richard@globalfoodie.com.