Editors: Jules, Patrick and Hazel.
The Perception of Country Life by Students Living in The City
It is easy to be swept up in the rapid pace of the big cities in France, but to find a little calm, one can escape to the countryside. There, the style of life is more serene, the people more casual, the streets lined with historical buildings. It is easy for us, the students who live in Toulouse, to forget that all of France doesn’t have the same “Toulousaine” culture of commercialisation and rapidity, where one can find distractions day and night. Similar to the American campuses that have all the amenities necessary for the amusement and learning of the students, the city has a similar environment. Dickinsonians profit greatly from the clean air of the countryside and from the discovery of other ways of life.
Nearby to Toulouse are located the Pyrenees. Just an hour and a half to the east, they are a part of a grand landscape of Southern France. In the Pyrenees, life is very different than life in Toulouse. When Jules went to the Pyrenees, she found that the scene was completely stunning. The lake water was clear and turquoise, and little trouts sparkled in the sunlight. Beech trees surrounded the lake, the leaves just starting to change color. She saw troupes of goats and sheep and herds of cows. She described the hike to be bucolic.
The French have a true appreciation for nature, and it shows in all facets of their life. In the mountains, we saw a life connected to the Earth. Every house was constructed with local stone and almost every one had a small farm or “jardin” to raise vegetables or livestock. The inhabitants have to respect the environment because they can see how they depend on it. It is very simple, but different from the United States when we frequently swap a respect for the environment for convenience. More and more, we see that the French have an intrinsic respect for nature, as it is such a natural element in their lives.
Frequently foreigners think that the French live a slower and more decadent life, one that is tied to vacation and eating. Yet we believe that this is just an appreciation for health and nature, rather than a desire to not work.
The presence of religion in French society is quite varied and it manifests itself in different ways for each individual. We got the chance to observe religion in the different environments of France. Jules went to the south of Toulouse to a village called Tarascon-sur-Ariege and found that it is not refined like the small tourist towns of Carcassonne or Albi. It is on the border between France and Spain. On Sundays, only one restaurant in the downtown area is open and during the night Jules saw just one bar open. She found that the city stresses the importance of religion: there were some monuments and buildings devoted to images of God. Actually, there was a type of patrimony program in the first church. The church itself was full of golden statues, elaborate stained glass windows and masterpieces depicting dramatic scenes. At the same time, there was a sense of disrepair within.
An attraction close to Toulouse is the trail of St-Jacques-de-Compostelle. It is a well known pilgrimage which is rooted in the traditions of Southern France. The pilgrims come there for the historical experience, to participate in the tradition or for the religious aspect.
Whatever be their motivation, all the pilgrims seem to share a common aspect which is that they like hiking. And many of them had come to see the reliques and go to mass in the Cathedrals. Pilgrimages are not easy; the pilgrims recount their difficulties in going up and down so frequently, their luck to have found a masseuse in a lodge, the blisters that hurt their feet, and the joy of something as simple as being offered a coffee by former pilgrims along the trail.
During a dinner with the pilgrims, an American student felt the conviviality between the pilgrims to have met people who share a similar way of life with them (during their pilgrimages) and to exchange experiences.
Actually, the ways in which the French show their religion is not black and white. Julien wrote about the complexity of the French religious identity: “Not all French speak about religion in the same way and they don’t express their religious identity (if they have one) in the same way. On paper, “la laïcité” has the goal of guaranteeing republican equality in the government and in society. However, in the discourse that we see today it is clear to me that there is still a debate over the concept of laïcité on paper and of its practice in French society. I find that even if we don’t have the French concept of laïcité in the US, there is a true similarity in the complexity of the subject in the two countries.
Interdependence Between the City and The Countryside
The differences between the countryside and the city in France are similar in the U.S. The towns (particularly those that lack big attractions) are a little more isolated, a little less on-demand. It was lovely to visit the French towns that are not strongly commercial, but at the same time the presence of advertisements indicates that tourism is important for their economies. It seems that the exchange of culture and people between the two types of communities is essential for the health of both. The question of gentrification versus the preservation of history is present everywhere, from the neighborhoods of Toulouse to the countryside.