Saturday, June 23, 2012
Rumilly and Aix les Bains, France
It was a lazy morning. I enjoyed a long lie-in, ate a hasty breakfast (pain au chocolate with Laduree tea) and was off in the car with Genevieve behind the wheel, headed to the French Alps. The objective was to get to Rumilly, a tiny village tucked away at the foot of the mountains in the heart of the region known as the Haute Savoie or the High Savoy. Genevieve was born and raised in this idyllic part of France on the border of Switzerland. Over the years, I have spent time with her family here and it was heartbreaking to realize that on this trip, her mother would not be around to greet me as she passed away a year ago. Genevieve's mission was to reconnect in Rumilly with her siblings (who would be traveling from the neighboring regions) to get to their parents' home to sort through decades' worth of stuff, to decide what to keep and what to discard before the house is refurbished and put up for rent.
We arrived in Rumilly at about 11. 00 am and I was disappointed to find that, like many of the little villages that dot the mountains, it has changed, expanded and lost some of its distinctive character. I left my friend and her siblings to their daunting task and with my camera went out to take pictures of the little town. I walked around the Hotel de Ville (really not much more than a Mairie--a mayor's office) and entered the Church of St. Agatha (which I remember well as I used to attend Mass there, almost thirty years ago!). The church is in really poor shape and needs a lot of maintenance. It is very sad how badly it has deteriorated. Outside, in the ancient Hall des Armes (a colonnaded structure perfect for farmer's markets and where I do remember shopping for cheese, many moons ago, with Madame Lisette Tougne, Genevieve's mother), there was a market in progress--lovely cherries, Reblochon cheese--a soft creamy cheese that is a speciality of this region, a Tommes de Savoie (another hard cheese) were on view. Most of the shops were downing their shutters for midi (siesta hour). They would re-open about 2. 30 pm. I have to say that it was simply not the same--there were too many kebab houses which add nothing to the essential French charm of the place). I suppose change is inevitable, but I was not prepared for anything so drastic.
At 1.00 pm, as decided I walked back to Genevieve's mother's home past other small houses with gardens that were a riot of summer color--there was roses tumbling over picket fences, loads of wild flowers everywhere and many hanging baskets. Now that's what I remember so fondly--a French village with red-roofed cottages and red roses! At the little story-book train station, I took a picture--recalling that I had taken the train from there to Annecy, a long time ago.
We had a nice lunch around the communal table: Genevieve's brother Henri and his wife, Carole, her sister Chantal and her husband Frank, her other sister Brigette and her husband Jean-Claude, were present too. Rice and chicken stew and haricots vert with wine and bread and salad and ripe slices of melon for dessert. This was just simple daily French cooking. Simplicity combined with tasty ingredients. It is an unbeatable combination.
Off to Aix Les Bains:
After lunch, because the family needed to continue their mission, Genevieve drove me to Aix Les Bains, about twenty minutes away. Again, I recall passing briefly through this town, years ago, when I had first arrived in France. But, on that occasion, I did not have the opportunity to discover it. This time, I had the entire afternoon at my disposal to explore. On the way, in the car, Genevieve had explained to me that Aix Les Bains is one of those old European spa towns (like Baden Baden in Germany) renowned for the purity of its springs and the medicinal quality of its waters (thermes). People used to arrive there "to take the waters" and, as time passed, these towns grew snazzy with a collection of gracious hotels and tasteful restaurants.
Genevieve left me in the main street which gave me an opportunity to poke my head into the souvenir stores, pick up a few items and enjoy the sculpture sprinkled around town--the war memorial and other bits of stone or metal make interesting visual punctuation points around their rotaries. Aix has its fair share of "touristic" shops but I spent more time around the casino (yes, it has a nice one, similar to the more renowned one at Monte Carlo) and the old hotels.
Dance Party in Aix:
Quite by chance, following the sound of some really rollicking music, I made my way to a square where I found rather rollicking dancing in progress. That was probably the best part of my day. I found myself a table and a chair, ordered a tall Monaco (as all my walking had rendered me thirsty) and had the best time watchaing elderly French ladies and gents boogey. And when I say Boogey, I mean Ballroom dance. It was such a pleasure to see them show off their best moves and their most skillful quick steps! They actually had a DJ who either sang himself or spun their favorite vinyl and their party was simply swinging. Needless to say, I had a fair share of bald, elderly French guys who asked me to join them on the floor for a dance: I lied through my teeth when I told them: "J'aime la musique, mais malheuresuement, je ne dance pas".I must say they took No very sportingly for an answer and left me alone to enjoy the spectacle. It was utterly charming.
At about 6. 30 pm, Genevieve picked me up and off we went to the supermarket so she could buy supplies for our evening meal--as it was her turn to provide the provisions. She made some great choices and soon we were off. On the way back home, she drove me to the Lac de Bourget which is Aix's great lake filled with sailing craft that give the entire marina a very chic ambiance indeed. We walked along the Promenade for a bit and then got back into the car ready to get home for our evening meal. All that walking had stirred my appetite and I was ready to eat again!
Diner Chez Tougne:
Well, there we were around the table once more--feasting this time on a salad of tomatoes, mozarella cheese and basil with a balsamic vinaigrette, tortellini with smoked bacon and ementhal cheese in the sauce, Reblochon cheese with delicious walnut-studded baguette and panna cotta for dessert with a strawberry sauce. Yum!!! By the time we chatted and sipped wine and chatted some more, dusk fell and then nightfall came and it was time to go inside and retire for the night.
I was given a room on the top floor and as I made myself comfortable, I knew it would take no more than ten minutes for me to fall fast asleep--and I was right!