Remembering France

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Remembering France

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

The balmy temperatures of last weekend allowed for a respite on my back patio, which led to a memorable flashback to a late spring trip several years ago to a nice address in the city of Conques in France’s Southern Pyrenees.

A retired French journalist whose flat in Paris became my home away from home on summer trips to the City of Lights, Francois Pelou was always the consummate host.  He traveled the world.  He knew kings, heads of state, and global personalities such as opera singer Maria Calas.  He interviewed Lyndon Johnson, one-on-one when LBJ was President.





Francois covered the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.  He was based in New York when John Kennedy was assassinated.  He flew to Dallas on the CBS jet with Walter Cronkite to begin coverage of the sensational event for Agency France.  I have spent many hours in his flat and other stomping grounds of his throughout France, always eager to cock an ear to his recall of his life and career.

A fascinating raconteur with a deep and abiding love of the French countryside, Francois was friends with countless people from all walks of life.  He introduced me to vintners of little-known vineyards in the countryside which produce exceptional wines, farmers in the small villages whose work ethic equals that of those in Tift County, Georgia, and virtuoso chefs at the rural crossroads of France where the living is as easy as it is in Oxford, Mississippi and the pace enhances longevity and brings about unforgettable memories.

Here’s the way I remember my last visit with my French friend.





Francois’s family home in Conques was built on two levels on a hillside by his family in 1758.  The antiques of his ancestral home would blow away any aficionado.  

The hearth beside the kitchen looks how it must have looked in the 1700s when it was built.  There is a cooking apparatus that swings over the fire.  On each side, there are small alcoves where family members and neighbors probably sat and warmed themselves while exchanging gossip and small talk.

The streets of Conques are made of stone.  Tourists flock here to learn about a young Christian girl named Foy, who refused to make a sacrifice to pagan gods and was put to death on orders from a local governor.  Pilgrims making their way from Le Puy to Galicia—a trek akin to those enthusiasts who traverse the Appalachian Trial—stop here to visit the local cathedral and soak up the hospitality of Conques.  

With a flat in Paris and a vacation home in Conques, Francois has the best of both worlds: the cultural options of France’s capital city and the peaceful and laid-back pace of Conques and its inspirational solitude.  

Our evenings were spent in sprightly conversations, accompanied by local Marcillac wines, one in particular, “La Sourire de Ste. Foy (The Smile of St. Foy).”  You must be the beneficiary of an invitation to Conques from Francois Pelou to enjoy the wine from the grapes from his backyard vineyard.

One Sunday in the mid-eighties, after a lovely dinner and good wine, which is a staple of dining throughout France, even in the smallest towns, we arose on a quiet morning for coffee which was followed by a pleasant walk.

Then at noon, we enjoyed a local chardonnay, and Francois and his friend, Bernadette, roasted chicken on the grill.  Vegetables and salads were enhanced by herbs from his garden—everything fresh and nutritious.  We were humbled by cathedral bells ringing inspirationally in the background, making us feel uplifted and grateful.

I am not a soldier, never the warrior type, but I think I would willingly give up my life if the world could live as harmoniously as Francois Pelou’s friends live in Conques.

Lunch was followed by a nap under a light blanket.  You could hear the murmuring waters of the Dourdou River in the valley below as you drifted off to sleep.   

Would I be so lucky to return to Conques for another Sunday lunch with my friend?





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