A Vermont Yankee in Burgundy, France

Goats, wine spigots, and strawberry shortcake like you've never seen before

In my other life—the one where I do not live in a big old Victorian house near the hospital where my dad delivered babies back in the 1950s, and I do not teach free writing workshops at the public library, and I do not drive an old car along a dirt road to visit my 95-year-old aunt, and I do not have pizza on Friday nights with my li'l bro and his girlfriend—I live in France. Wherever I go, I am never far from Randolph, Vermont, my first and forever home. And always, I view things as a Vermonter. I can't help it. Goats interest me. So do tractors and handmade tools. In April, my French husband (actually, my only husband) and I went on a barge cruise through Burgundy that was fab-yoo-liss. If you would like to read the full account of my barge trip in France, you can do so here. Meanwhile, check out some of the highlights, selected with my Vermont friends in mind. 

French goats are very friendly. This one (above) made friends with my husband. Notice the plastic booties. This is so, when you fly back home and they ask on the customs form if you've been to a farm, you can say no. Your feet have not touched French farm soil. Don't ask me why they care. Something about germs, or microbes. Anyway, our shoes did not touch the ground the whole time we were at the goat farm. But we ate some very good cheese.
This is a strawberry shortcake, French-style. We ate it at a restaurant that was in a castle. The little flake on top that looks like a piece of gold is exactly that—a flake of gold. Now, Vermonters do not need to top their strawberry shortcake with a piece of gold. We consider that unnecessary. Our strawberry shortcake stands alone, naked. My mother used Bisquick and didn't apologize. If you ask me, gold is for fillings and the dome of the Vermont Statehouse. Did I eat this little old piece of gold? I did. It went down. It was tasteless. And my mom's strawberry shortcake was better than this one.

I saw these handmade wooden tools at a sixteenth-century monastery where the monks used to make wine. Or maybe it was a fourteenth-century monastery. In Vermont, anything before the Revolution (1776) is ancient history and time runs together—the Abenaki didn't measure time in centuries. I think these are wine spigots, but the tour guide didn't explain, because she was not really into handmade wooden tools. She was British. If she had been a Vermonter, she would have spent more time on the tools.
Cows. White cows. Somewhere to the right of the photograph is a medieval castle, but I was focused on the cows. They are called Charolais, and I could go on for a long time about them, but I will save that for another post. 
This is our tour guide, Laura, the British gal. Super educated, a graduate of some London university that I had never heard of. Plus, she has a diploma from something called "wine school." Here, she is telling us about viticulture, which is the study of grapes. As a Vermonter, I am interested in all field crops. I didn't retain much of the grape lecture, probably because I am never, in this lifetime, going to grow a single grape. But one of my dreams is to set up a tour of France for Vermont farmers, where you get to meet and mingle with French farmers. I will probably never do it, but it's a good idea, and if you want to do it, give me a holler and I'll introduce you to my French farmer friends. I'll be your (to use a French word) liaison. I wish the UVM farm extension program, if it still exists, would set up a Vermont–France exchange program. Maybe they've done it already and I just don't know about it, which is a possibility—there are so many things I don't know. My point is: Vermont has a rich French legacy (just think of all the French names: Champlain, Montpelier, Barre, Vergennes, and so on), and we should be more buddy-buddy with French farmers. We might learn a thing or two about cheese. And they might learn a thing or two about strawberry shortcake.

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