International Writers Magazine: France
Search of Joanie
A serious trek into the life of Jeanne dArc with love and
I am back in France with my husband to continue his research of
his favorite heroine, Jeanne dArc (or Joanie, as we affectionately
call her). A French descendent and dedicated Francophile,
Warren needs at least an annual trek, so this year were
here to tour the region of Lorraine where Joan was born, and where
her story began.
with Jeanne dArc centers on the incredulous nature of her story.
A teenage girl, who could neither read nor write, during a time when
females were not in leadership positions, could actually get highly
placed authorities to listen to her, could rally a nation, and could
lead men into battle, with no experience at all. Was she chosen
by God, as many believe, or did she suffer from a mental disorder?
No matter, she was a real person and a true heroine, especially to her
Were in our rental car headed
for a bed and breakfast in Coussey, next to Domremy La Purcelle, where
Jeanne dArcs childhood home still stands. During the three-hour
drive from Paris, he drives, I navigate. We love the view of rolling
hills, various row patterns of the farmland, clusters of red-roofed
villages, clumps of forests, and a chateau here and there.
The French highway system that is similar to our Interstate is called
the Autoroute, and like ours has gas-mini-mart stops. I always
look forward to what I call French freeway food. My
favorite purchase is a personal size clear plastic tote packed with
a large gourmet sandwich (usually jambon et fromage, poulet rôti
or poulet salade), a small can of Pringles chips, a container of flavored
yogurt and a chocolate candy bar. I include a bottled diet drink,
and Im content for miles (or should I say kilometers?).
As we enter Coussey, we watch on
the left for 47 Grand Rue. We soon see a black sign with gold lettering
Chambres DHôtes above a massive black iron gate
in a high wall. We pull into the graveled courtyard of La Demeure
du Gardien du Temps qui Passi. and are immediately greeted
by our host and shown to our comfy room on the second floor. The
bathroom is large with a claw-footed bathtub draped in netting. Mrs.
Ramsamy offers an optional room with a shower, but we assure her we
want the tub.
On our first night, Mrs. Ramsamy
recommends that we have dinner up the road, just one and half kilometers
from Domremy, at the Basilique du Bois Chenu, built on the spot in the
forest where Joan heard the voices of St. Catherine and St. Marguerite.
The church is nestled on the hillside and is illuminated by floodlights
at night so it majestically dominates the Valley of the Meuse. The delicious
meals are prepared and served in a building adjacent to the church by
traveling missionaries from all over the world. Each young woman
wears clothing influenced by her native culture. When the dinner
seating is about to end, the staff gathers and while one strums the
guitar, they all sing two beautiful French songs.
The next morning we begin more research
on our beloved Joanie. First stop is Domremy-La-Purcelle to see
her house, built in the 15th century, and registered as an historical
monument in 1840. The structure is solid limestone, light beige
in color with four rooms on the ground floor, and more upstairs, which
is cordoned off to tourists. Two of the larger rooms have fireplaces,
and all have windows. Even though the house is empty of any furnishings,
it has a cozy feeling. Imagining a family living here isnt difficult.
Next to the house is the ancient
Catholic Church which her family attended, and where Joan was baptized.
What remains from Joans time is the tower, the old choir, and
a statue of St. Margaret. The nave, which has been remodeled,
displays numerous testimonies to the cult devoted to Joan. Near
the baptismal font is the tombstone of the Arc family. While we quietly
walk around, locals silently enter to pray or light candles, then just
as quickly disappear.
An interpretation center has been
built at the site with a gallery of documents, photographs and paintings,
video programs including her trial transcripts, and the only documented
evidence of Joans ability to write her signature, which reads
Jeanne. In the gallery is also the only painting credited
to be the real Jeanne dArc, rather than an artists interpretation.
For those interested in her story, the 1999 release Joan of
Arc, starring Leelee Sobieski, is one of the most accurate
accounts and an enjoyable well-produced movie.
After our tour, we drive down the
road to Vaucouleurs for déjeuner at Relais La Poste where the
view overlooking the Valley of the Meuse is breath-taking. We
know were sitting among locals as we savor our delicious lunch
because in public the French converse quietly. As we gaze out the window
at the peaceful beautiful place, we are saddened to recall that this
entire area was more than once ravaged by invaders. Having war
on your own turf is a horrific sacrifice so many Americans can hardly
The next morning on the way from Lorraine to Burgundy, we discover the
enchanting walled city of Langres. The narrow streets and centuries-old
buildings entice us to stop for pictures. We learn that its
a Gallo-Roman town, with numerous art treasures, and is listed among
the 50 most beautiful towns of France.
the capital of Burgundy, is another beautiful mediaeval city with
a geographic area much easier to navigate than Paris, and a population
of almost 150,000,compared to 10.9 million. We should tour
the Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne and the Musée
de la Vie Bourguignonne, as both are said to be worth the visit.
But, this is my
only opportunity to do any shopping, so we hit the streets. By
the end of the day, were interested in sampling some regional
fare. We find it at La Concorde at 2 Place Darcy. Over dinner,
we discuss our feelings about what weve seen and learned about
Joanie. Our conversation is very serious until I mention getting one
more shot at French freeway food on the way back to Paris and the airport.
My husband looks at me like a parent looking at a small child and smiles.
I wonder if Joanies dad ever looked at her that way.
© Pat Hood-Miller November 2006
Mt. Pleasant, SC