We had gone first to visit Andelys and her boyfriend Matt in Budapest. Had a wonderful week with them there. Then the day before we were to travel together to France, Lufthansa workers announced a strike. We scrambled to get tickets to Paris on SAS. Andelys decided not to join us, as she was too worried about getting back in time for classes on Monday. She was right to worry, but not because of the strike. As all the world knows now, Paris was hit by several terrorist attacks on Friday, November 13, 2015. The city convulsed with pain and fear.
Joseph and I had arrived in Paris the night before, checked into a hotel, had a fine dinner at Au Bougnat, and had gone to bed. We got up at 3:30 a.m. on the 13th to get out to our rental car at the airport and drive to Lonlay l'Abbaye in time for our scheduled appointments with the banker and the mayor in the village. So it was dark when we left Paris that morning, and dark during our hellacious drive out of the Parisian network of suburban autoroutes that wind around each other like the snakes on Medusa's head. We stopped for coffee and some sanity about an hour outside of Paris and waited for the sun to come up.
The rest of our day was pleasant enough as we arrived just in time to reschedule our appointments with everyone in the village and to have a nice lunch at the Relais de l'Abbaye. The Relais is a wonderful surprise, primarily a weekday restaurant that serves a delicious two or three course lunch at very reasonable prices, including wine if you like. The restaurant appears relatively small from the outside, but is a real tardis, opening to several large rooms in back and a lovely small terrace that must be delightful for sitting outside in warmer weather.
Mayor Derouét also invited us to the village's celebration of Remembrance Day on Sunday, the 15th. There was to be a mass at the Abbey for the "anciens combattants" and a small ceremony at the war memorial in the square in front of our house. This was something we wished we could attend, but we had already booked an apartment in Paris for the night of the 15th,and were likely to leave before the ceremonies. On that Friday, the 13th, we were already very tired from having been up so early, so we left and went to bed early. We had no idea of the horrors that transpired in Paris while we slept.
Next morning, the SkyNews channel, CNN and others were all covering the shootings and bombings in Paris the night before. Our emails were full of concern from friends and family who wanted to be sure that we were not in Paris. We were still in a state of near disbelief as we walked down the hill to sign some documents at the bank. Monsieur Bergue, the banker, and his assistant were very friendly and efficient, as always, and we spoke of the Paris events only briefly, as if we had all just had the same bad dream.
Joseph and I spent much of Saturday glued to the English television channels, trying to sort out this tragedy. We had planned on returning to Paris early on Sunday morning, but there was talk of road blockades and a state of emergency. Sue Griffin, who keeps Katie's house in order, stopped by with her husband to tell us that we were welcome to stay a few more days if we wanted to, as they had no other immediate guests in the week following us. We were grateful to hear that, and emailed Katie to tell her that we would like to stay through Sunday night.
Knowing that Lonlay l'Abbaye and the surrounding villages' stores would be closed on Sunday and Monday, we went to the store for provisions in Domfront, and notified friends and family that we were ok, and not in Paris. Afterward, we joined a few of the villagers at the bar. The mood was somber because of the attacks, even a bit angry, but was gradually lightened by the good company of the friendly locals, and a dog who entertained us by sitting at the bar and eating cheese puffs.
Immediately after, all were invited by the mayor to the "vin d'honneur" at the community room, where there was another presentation of the colors, and Mayor Derouét introduced us to a charming French couple from Versailles, Hedvige and Jeremy, who are planning to buy a home in Lonlay l'Abbaye. As he explained to all of us, the mayor sees his job as being to welcome all to the village. He is clearly very successful at this, as we felt very welcome as Americans, and were flattered that he spent his time with us on such an eventful day. We also enjoyed talking with Hedvige and Jeremy - mostly in English - and meeting Monsieur Durand, who is one of the village's most successful long time residents.
The marshland around it was given by Eleanor of Acquitaine to a loyal servant, Robert le Saucier, and a manor was built with this entryway in the 12th century. The unusual wooden roofs were added in the late 16th or early 17th century. We were sure we had taken a wrong turn, as the road that leads to this ruin was like a cowpath. Astonishing that it still stands, although a Renaissance manor that accompanied it burned down in 1880.
Back in Lonlay, we walked through our "fixer-upper" house once more to take stock, and prepared to leave the next day. I also took some more pictures of the village. Below are some photos of Joseph in the living room of our house, followed by pictures of Lonlay l'Abbaye: the Mairie and Abbey viewed from the bridge, the pharmacy, a storefront for rent that would make a great toystore, a statue of the Virgin Mary in the corner of the old boulangerie, our house framed by November fruit, and the war memorial highlighting both French and American sacrifice.