Flavigny-sur-Ozerain; The Poet and the Actress find 'Chocolat' Village

Last week, while Jo was away skiing in Crans-Montana with some of her students, I wiled away some of the late hours watching old movies I'd recorded on the Swisscom box. One of them was Chocolat. Jo and I had seen it together back in 2001 way before I went through my Juliette Binoche faze. I remembered the movie as an interesting and warm study of people, small village politics and in some small way highlighting how the Catholic religion defamed Christianity by using male dominance to dictate what constituted sin. In this particular scenario, by using a fearful idea of God (emanating from the resentful mind of the village mayor) to decide on and dish out  punishment to the local sinning constituents, through the manipulation of the newly appointed, parish priest.


The cathedral
Juliette's chocolaterie
The courtyard beside the chocolaterie

Enter Juliette Binoche and her daughter, their new chocolaterie  and a little later Johnny Depp and town life will never be the same. The obviously French village setting for Chocolat got me interested enough to Google it before I went to bed and voila. There it was. Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, about three and a half hours away from Lausanne in Burgundy France. A Google map and Bookings.com search and ten minutes later I have a surprise getaway planned for Jo and I for this weekend.

Now Jo loves and hates surprises. She loves that I manage to spring them on her occasionally but is not that keen on waiting for them to unfold. Nevertheless she is excited when I tell her I have an adventure planned for Saturday morning that involves a sleepover. And yes that she'll need to bring our passports. Jo loves inter-country adventures. And this week after very average weather I also needed a creative charge-up. Cold and bleak are definitely not my favourite colours.

We did manage to get away early and after fuelling up I gave Jo the name of the town to put in the Doug-Doug (the name of our GPS). 'Yes, it is in France Jo.' But quite logically no bells were ringing and the 'Can give me a clue.' questions began. I sensed a flatness to the unfoldment of my romantic idea. To make it easy I told her to think Chocolat. And thankfully that was all I needed to say. The mood was set and we were headed toward the Jura mountains and a couple of days of fun in the cold.

We arrived at Flavigny-sur-Ozerain's, panoramic hilltop location around eleven am and without a map began one our usual self-guided tours. It was definitely on the 'bloody' cold side and for a change we'd both made good layering choices including accessories. Within a few minutes and only a couple of narrow, housed lane ways we found the town square which included the cathedral central to the movie and just off the square, the facade for Juliette's chocolate shop. After that discovery we were pretty pleased with ourselves and spent the next hour following the allure of the streets and yellowstone-stocked homes, down and around until we wound up back at the cathedral.

Our  tour guide

I have seen tens of thousands of movies in my lifetime and can almost remember every one of them. I love the mediums of art that they represent. And I know they aren't real, but I have to admit I sometimes forget that fact. In Chocolat, the village is alive in the late winter and early spring, small streets , shops, salons and overflowing church services, all full of local characters and kids. In real life, late winter in Flavigny, there are 332 registered residents. Most of them stay in side in the warmth between November and February. Notices fluttering off doors tell us that all the galleries and cafes are closed until the 10th February. In our  Cook's tour we come across three locals, a really friendly black and white cat and a gentle although not an entirely soothing north wind. The cat did the whole tour bit with us which made us feel welcomed. And thankfully one of the locals we met owned the 'epicerie' (grocer shop), situated in a sunny location beside the cathedral. Okay, so the grocer shop doesn't do barista coffee but they do have a folder with local Chocolat set photos in it and madam heated up some apple flan for me to go with the Cafe au lait and Jo's chocolate chaud.

Our new black and white 'chat' friend waited patiently at the door until we were finished but headed off home soon after when we began our journey back down to the car park. All I (we) can say is do yourself a favour and make the trip to Flavigny-sur-Ozetrain the next summer or springtime you are around this way.

The best tree house we've ever seen

My favourite building in Flavigny

The rest of the weekend was a scenic and sensual, impulsive exploration of anything within twenty kilometres of Flavigny. We found our way through the ambience of the French rural countryside complete with random castles, abbeys, chateaus, the canals of Burgundy, medieval towns and sites where in 56 AD Julius Ceasar  conquered the Gauls in warfare then seduced them with culture and art. And only a breath away in Saint-Seine, there trickled the source of that inspiring river of bridges, art and love.

We spent the night at a B & B in Villeferry, a one street village with twists and deviations, overlooking a babbling stream and mill pond that harmonized the long hours of winter darkness until the soft grey light of morning spoke (did I steal that line from somewhere?). By then abundance had delivered six brand new poems to my notebook and Jo's book was  equally overflowing with innovative substance.

Over breakfast we tried to work out the how and why of the creative flood, but couldn't nail it down. Then I thought back to the movie Chocolat and I'm pretty sure I found the answer. It was the wind, the north wind up there in Flavigny, blowing ever so gently and igniting the glowing embers within the artist's heart.

Alesia (within the artist's heart)

By lamplight I write
not through sorrow
but for morning
as it trickles light
and the sounds of starlings
behind embroidered curtains drawn.

I am in my fantasy
forbidden in the heart of Burgundy
by clouds of late winter.
My lover, and love's partner
in this life of hills and valleys
bathes freshness back
into her flesh, so to begin
a day where new intrigue awaits
behind abbeyes, doors and windows.

Already we have strong sentiment
of this place, in Flavigny
Semur and the allure
of streams that attract
to that first bridge where the Seine
begins it's journey
towards the city of art and love.

And now, as the actress and the poet
prepare for the practice
of another day
I draw to the curtains
behind fading candle-light
to reveal the reign of naked fingers
midst the hue of winter's  forlorn disguise.

Rob Swales (c) 2012

Deli in Semur

Jo's new cannisters
Our breakfast view
A house in Villeferry
One of the 290 locks on 375 kilometres of the Burgundy canals that join the Seine to the Rhone


  1. So tell me Poet, will you still find such worlds of inspiration to fill your journals with beautiful thoughts and words, back in the antipodes?

    Thanks for sharing the magic Rob.



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