Sunday, October 11, 2009


Back to Nature, a vocabulary lesson
The first time I ever heard the expression "une Parisienne aux champs" I was on a foliage tour in France's sparsely populated Massif Central mountains. We were on a back road that seemed to lead to the middle of nowhere, looking for a place to turn around. On the side of the road was a hand-painted "leçons de guitare" sign nailed to a fence near a small house close to a rapid mountain brook, or torrent.

"Une Parisienne aux champs," my French friend said. 


 "Là-bas." (Over there.) As he was maneuvering the voiture, oh sorry, car, a striking young woman had stepped half-way out of the house to watch what we were doing. 

"How can you tell?"

"You know one when you see one," he replied, and I suddenly felt transported to the Ozark Mountains where as a small Oklahoma child I had been on constant lookout for the mythical hillbilly on autumn drives through Arkansas with my parents. 

Une Parisienne aux champs (a Parisian in the fields) is a lyrical and poetic term for a person who has left Paris, by choice or necessity, to live in the country. Usually a discreet soul, integration with the local population in villages and small towns can be more or less difficult, depending on the extent of the chasm between citadins, city-livers and paysans, country folk. 

Une Parisienne aux champs can include someone like the lingerie designer Chantal Thomass who discovered a sleepy village in the Perche Département by buying a country home there--causing the real estate prices to sky rocket. Or it can describe the bobo (bourgeois-bohème) who left Paris to grow hydroponic cucumbers and raise lady bugs or coccinelles, while seeking social mixité (mixing) with country cousins in the Eure. Or, it can quite simply be a young city dweller of modest means who is looking for a better existence in the campagne, country.

Though not as pretty sounding, some say une Parisienne au vert (in the green) instead of aux champs. Another term, néoruraux,  the plural form of néorural,  has been coined recently to also designate city dwellers who have joined the growing exodus to rural zones in France.  Whatever you call these newcomers, for a certain time they have a  je ne sais quoi that makes them easy to spot as they pamper their brand new potagers, or vegetable gardens, and marvel at the first ripe strawberry of the season.
Text & photos ©2009 P.B. Lecron

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