The comic scribe tells Dani Shapiro about his attraction to the bucolic roads and rivers of deepest Normandy.
For the past 14 years, I’ve spent my summers in lower Normandy. My boyfriend, Hugh Hamrick, and I live in a 200-year-old stone house in a tiny village called La Bagotière [south of Caen]. There are 12 houses in the whole village. Some are stone, and others are pavillons, butter-colored buildings that look as if they were drawn by an architect to match a child’s idea of a house. There are no sidewalks, no shops. Just a road. If I take a right turn out my front door, the road is flat and I can bike for miles. Each day I take a long ride. I can go for hours and be passed by maybe three cars. Then I come home and go the other way on foot. To the left is “Swiss Normandy”—it’s very hilly. The nature trails are beautiful but I’m afraid of snakes, so I walk along the road. The countryside is so green your eyes ache from looking at it.
If someone had told me in junior high that I’d live in such a place, I wouldn’t have been able to conceive of it. I didn’t pay attention to nature until I lived in La Bagotière. There’s lots of livestock—cows, sheep, horses. I love watching the sheep; why is it that some sheep are afraid of me, and some aren’t?I’ll stop and watch a centipede eating a worm, and realize that I had never once thought about what centipedes eat. This part of the country is really la France profonde. It’s unsophisticated, deep country. If a tourist walked into a village store, the proprietor would say: “Oh my God, where are you from?You came all this way to see us?”
David Sedaris’s latest collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (Little, Brown and Company), is in bookstores now.
- “The Orne River. When the rains are heavy and the river becomes swollen, I can watch for hours. That swollen river is better than television.”
- “Pont d’Ouilly is a village where, every Sunday, people dance on the Orne riverbank. You look down from the bridge and see these people dancing to merry music. It’s incredibly charming and innocent. Widows dance together.”
- “Clécy is a happy spot on the Orne full of wholesome people. French teenagers aren’t sullen like American teenagers.”
- “The Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. No matter how jaded you are, you just have to cry, seeing those crosses stretch into the horizon.” Colleville-sur-Mer; abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/no.php.