In The French Countryside

So, I’ve got a number of blog posts planned for future weeks detailing what, specifically, I’m doing here in France, what I’m eating, what I’m drinking, where we’re working, et cetera. But I thought at first I’d just try to pass on a little bit of this world on the other side of the pond, just in terms of what stuffΒ looks like. Every time I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been struck by how different human civilization is over here than at home, simply by virtue of having been “civilized” for a longer period of time. For instance, in America, you never see castles just hanging out on the mountainside. Here, they abound. There’s practically one around every corner, always perched loftily on some hill several hundred meters above the valley, idly deteriorating into shrubbery and moldy stones. From afar, you can see them as they were meant to be seen – seemingly impenetrable structures that evoke images of unspeakable wealth and power.

The view of Chateau Ribeauville from… Chateau Ribeauville #2! Actually, there were THREE Chateau Ribeauvilles, but we only made it to 1 and 2. Not joking when I say there are a lot of castles around here.

But once you reach them, you realize the truly destructive power of nature. In only a few hundred years (incredibly short on the geologic time scale), these castles have been entirely reclaimed by nature. Only the crumbling stones remain as a testament to their former glory.

Sure does make for a beautiful view, though. That’s the town of Ribeauville down in the valley.
This is from inside one of the lower sections of the castle. I find it fascinating that while castles were originally meant for warfare, they can hold such neat little corners of tranquility. The surrounding forest was beautiful.

Another difference: Here there are far more flowers. There are whole galaxies of them, an entire universe of swirling, multicolored clusters of flowers. Either I’ve completely overlooked the presence of these flowers for my entire life in America, or they’re simply far more ubiquitous here. I remarked upon this fact to Julian, one of the kids in my host family. His response was simple. “Duh. It’s spring.” (In French, of course.)

Flowers by the riverbank in Ammerschwihr. One of the most simply beautiful little locations I’ve ever seen. It’s a tiny little piece of yellow, green, and violet perfection right now.

And of course, because I’m so taken by them, I can’t resist bringing them home to brighten up our somewhat spartan living quarters.

The view out my bedroom window, currently. It wasn’t a bad view to begin with, but the flowers really bring it to a whole new level.

The towns and cities are different, too. Everything’s built closer together, or right on top of each other, which makes for a much more efficient use of space. You can still go next door to get to the baker or the butcher shop, but it’s no more than a fifteen minute walk to the vineyards in any direction from the city center. .

If not for the cars, this would look more like a photograph from four or five centuries ago. Not that they had photographs then. You know what I mean. This is in Ammerschwihr, the town I’m living in.
One thing I still can’t figure out is why all the houses are painted so vibrantly. I guess we do the same thing, but somehow it seems different over here. Ammerschwihr again.

And then, of course, there are the vineyards. The countryside. The gently rolling hills, the omnipresent, vibrantly green trees, the mountains in the distance. The wide-angle lens scenery. I don’t have a wide-angle lens (or even anything other than an iPhone, right now), but I did my best to capture the pristine, simplistic beauty of the countryside.

Not bad for an iPhone camera, huh?
The lighting was so striking this day (same as the previous picture). It made the whole valley light up like some insane dream.

Of course, it’s not like we don’t have those things in America, either. Especially in Oregon, I was surrounded by so many ruggedly beautiful sights that sometimes driving through the Willamette Valley, it was difficult to keep my eyes on the road for wanting to drink it all in. But the beauty here is different, somehow. It’s less wild, and at the same time less civilized – by which I mean, perhaps, that the difference between the towns and the countryside isn’t as stark as it is in America. It’s like there’s not as much conflict between nature and human nature here. The two can co-exist more peacefully.

Finally, here’s my favorite photo of the outdoors that I’ve taken so far. I saved it for last because it’s not really exemplary of anything French or European or exemplary of anything at all, perhaps. It’s just a pretty picture.

I like the tension created by the bars in the front – like it’s somehow forbidden or dangerous territory across the bridge and in that barn. Like it houses a werewolf or something. Or maybe just a very bright source of light.

Disclaimer: I absolutely edited all these photos. I’m not very good at shooting in color, and the iPhone gives a pretty limited scope at that. It’s not very good at capturing the colors I’m seeing with my eyes. So, yes, I did digitally edit them and, in some cases, I used Instagram filters to mess with the lighting in ways I can’t do otherwise.