My brother-in-law’s mother’s family comes from the Pyrenées area of France. I was motivated to see if I could find some trace of that family while I was here. We went in search of Esquiule—an almost unpronounceable, but lovely little village east of Bayonne and southwest of Pau. The Michelin atlas highlights particularly scenic drives with heavy green lines. We chose to take one of those routes to Esquiule and to explore the countryside. We had lunch in Orthez, which sports an interesting 13th-14th century fortified bridge over the river Gave de Pau.
|French on top, Basque below|
|Madame et Monsieur chatting|
bathing room and, evidently, the communication center.
Just as Madame came in and plopped herself down on one of the beds for a mini-rest, he sat at his computer and opened an Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of names separated into ranges of years. Her head popped up and down, encouraging us to sit down around the table while her husband did his work. She was interested in where I learned my French as I explained my long-time interest in the language and the country. She seemed pleased. We were more a novelty than anything else.
Monsieur pulled up the section that included birthdates in 1891 and scrolled down to the “Js” where he found, miraculously enough, no fewer than five people—three of them siblings and one of them, perhaps, a cousin. I photographed the screen after he struggled to print out the page and after biting my tongue from saying “Si vous me permettez. . .” (If you’ll allow me. . .) so I could highlight the page to print. He then turned to weddings and found another. But there were no deaths, which might indicate that the family deserted the town before anyone kicked the bucket.
We got a photo of our helpful gentlemen who happens to be the organist at the church nearby and clearly the keeper of the town’s records. He told me that he put that list together over the years using what information already existed plus announcements in the paper—a labor of love, it appears.
After Madame established that my brother-in-law’s family was Basque about which she was pleased--this being Basque country to the core, we said our thank-you’s and crossed the street to walk up to the church on the other side of the café. The town is small enough so that the cemetery is between the café and the church itself. A small cemetery, I wonder where they buried all those citizens who lived here so long ago, though maybe most of them left with my brother-in-law’s family and died in other parts where the cemeteries are larger.
No boule court here. It’s Basque country, if you please.
Driving out of town, we looked back to get a glimpse of the town and the snow-covered Pyrenées in the background. What a view. As we turned the bend at the edge of town between two farms, we nearly ran smack dab into a lovely cow, followed by his owner and dog. We all had a good laugh—except the cow.
We finished our tour of the area, leaving Esquiule and the ridge on a one-lane road that passed homes and farms scattered here and there, pulling over to give the right of way to a piece of farm equipment or creeping by another that had pulled over for me. France is one of the most automotively-civilized countries I’ve ever driven in. Very few horns, attention to yield signs (and there are gazillions of them) at round-abouts (and there are gazillions of those, too), attention to temporary traffic lights installed where there’s construction in the road, passing on the left—ALWAYS—and then returning to the right lane—ALWAYS. I digress. . .
This is yet another physically breathtaking part of France. I’m sure we’ll never run out of them