The Path of the American

American Way-crpt If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been having a tough time with an unresolved leak in my building that is damaging my dream home. Toxic mold has grown, forcing me to stay away from my beloved Paris place; I even had to rent another apartment elsewhere in Paris for the month of August. My most recent escape was to Burgundy—Bourgogne—to meet up with my friends, Geoffrey and Christophe, who were already there to celebrate Christophe’s 40th birthday. I called it, “running away,” but it turned out to feel more like a homecoming.

train station

The train station reminded me of the station in my rural hometown.

We stayed in the 300-year-old ancestral home of Geoffrey, in a tiny village of 200 inhabitants, near Vezelay, in Burgundy wine country. While it sounds like the stuff of travel journals, it felt more familiar than strange—the little 19th century train station, the winding country roads through farmers’ fields, the local café where everyone gathered at the end of the day. It all reminded me of where I grew up: a sleepy, verdant corner of northern New Jersey. In fact, everything triggered a familiar feeling, a memory—and with each one, the fear and loathing of my Paris experiences sloughed off like dead skin.

The garden where we ate lunch every day. Idyllic.

The garden where we ate lunch every day. Idyllic.

“Sit, eat, drink,” were the first words I heard when I arrived. It was lunchtime, and the family was gathered around a table in the garden enjoying an aperitif under a cloudless sky. Geoffrey’s dad poured me a glass of burgundy from an unlabeled magnum-sized bottle, and I knew immediately I was going to stay an extra day. I ended up staying two extra days. Family around a table—eating, laughing. I thought of ma’s epic Memorial and Labor Day feasts in the garden of our own family home, now sold. This was what was missing from my life and I was going to soak up as much of this as I could.

road by the house-crptThe countryside was intoxicating and disarming; I walked every day, exploring, taking nearly 1000 photographs. I was supercharged with inspiration, finding beauty in the ordinary things—the chipping paint on a door, a scarab beetle clinging to a blade of grass, the sunlight on the parquet floor. Whatever had been twisting my guts in a knot was beginning to let go. Each day I grew happier, felt more secure, more hopeful. Burgundy was lifting me up and bringing me back to earth at the same time.

A Place of Salvation

Bronze shells mark the way for religious pilgrims

Bronze shells mark the way for religious pilgrims

One morning we took a long walk up the mountain to the famous Basilica in Vezelay, following the pilgrims’ trail marked by roadside crosses and embedded with brass scallop shells for St. Jacques, each lovingly polished to a high shine. This region of Burgundy is a spiritual destination for those seeking meaning, healing. Salvation.

One pathway brought a different kind of salvation. “They call this, ‘Le Chemin des Americains’,” Geoffrey said as we turned onto a road that ambled up the hill toward Vezelay. “The Path of the Americans.” It’s not the real name, I would learn, but what the locals have called it since the day 70 years ago when American troops used it to drive out the Nazis. Salvation. Healing. The place is full of it. No wonder I was experiencing a shift in my soul.

Crosses along the roadside. Believers leave rocks on them.

Crosses along Le Chemin des Americains

The path of this American, I thought as I walked along my namesake road. I was on my own path to healing and salvation, my own pilgrimage, and Burgundy was the tipping point on my journey toward a new life. I would return to Paris restored, refreshed. Healed. Even though my apartment was in a worse state than when I left, I remained uplifted. It was just a leak, after all. There were greater problems in the world, and greater joys to be had, like those found in Burgundy, which would not be eclipsed, nor expunged from my soul.

It’s funny how far I had to go to come back to what matters. I found it in a place that reminded me of my hometown and my childhood in the country. Such a profound experience in such a simple place. “Maybe you needed to come back to this,” Geoffrey mused, “to help you get to where you are going next.”  

Just a handful of the nearly 1000 images I shot in Burgundy:

View of the garden

View of the garden

The church in the small ancestral town of my friend.

The church in the small ancestral town of my friend

shutter detail

Detail of the shutters on the 300 year-old house

flowers in wall

Flowers growing from the original fortified wall around Vezelay

9 responses to “The Path of the American

  1. so beautiful Lisa…now that’s a change of scenery!

    love those bronze shells…I really have to go to that part of France..so interested in the ww2 sites ….and you need to visit there often..a train ride away.

    how is the leak?

  2. Thanks! A great column. The agonies of Paris home maintenance are put in perspective by your experience in la France profonde.

  3. You did a good thing , sometimes when life gets overwhelming, one needs to recharge the batteries and make things simple, And this sounded like the perfect place to recharge!

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