Bon dimanche

Dimanche après-midi sur l’île de la Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat

Sundays are sacrosanct in France. Despite the fact that an ever-diminishing number of people attend church, the tradition of Sunday as a day of rest is still going strong.

Shops are closed, although some supermarkets and food shops are open on Sunday mornings until noon. Open-air markets do a booming trade until midday, after which everybody goes for lunch and all business activity ceases. Everyone wishes each other “Bon dimanche!”

Un dimanche – Paul Signac

In France, Sundays are for leisure pursuits and family. Aside from essential services like transport, police and hospitals, nobody works.

Sunday lunch can be an all-afternoon affair. It often ends in a long, post-prandial walk to aid digestion. Then it’s a light supper and early to bed in anticipation of the new week. Monday, not Sunday, is considered the first day of the week.

La promenade du dimanche – Carl Spitzweg

I love Sundays because they are different from the rest of the week. My North American, consumer self used to rail against the French refusal to authorize Sunday openings of stores (other than in the pre-Christmas period, when exceptions are allowed). But I’ve finally come around to the French way of thinking. The fact that the tradition is kept up means we get a true day of rest. Even if you spend it working around the house, gardening or going for a long hike, it is a needed break from the regular routine.

Un dimanche campagnard – Gabriel Dauchot

This morning the sun is shining, a small plane is droning somewhere overhead and my to-do list is on hold. I will take the time to catch up on my reading, sit outside and have a coffee while the birds chirp. I will enjoy what we call the ‘pause dominical’, the Sunday break.

What does Sunday mean to you?

Droit de passage

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There is a law in France that stipulates that private property owners must guarantee a ‘droit de passage’ – right of way – to the public who wish to access the waterfront bordering their property. ‘La loi littoral’ states that a band of 3.25 meters must be accessible along the shore to allow people to walk along the water’s edge.

The law is not always enforced, but it seems that in our corner of Lake Geneva, there has been a recent movement to ensure access. So it is that we set out on Sunday on one of the sacred rituals of French life – la promenade du dimanche. A walk along the lake to discover if what we had heard was true.

Our village, like most small towns in France, publishes a quarterly newsletter. It always starts with a short editorial from Madame la Maire, usually a lecture on how we all need to be better citizens (less wasteful, more law-abiding). This pontificating annoys me but presumably not the French: it seems they are like school children who expect to be told off by the teacher.

The recent edition contained a short mention that it was now possible to walk along the lake all the way from our village to the scenic town of Nernier. Une belle balade, it said, to be enjoyed by one and all.

As soon as I read this, off I went to look for the path; predictably, I could find no trace of it. This generally happens any time I try to explore new territory in France. Husband is much better at finding his way so this time we went together. We both enjoy the outdoors and had set ourselves the goal of doing more fun things together.

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Down we went to the port des pêcheurs on Sunday morning and still found no trace of where to begin our walk. There is a wall with a few metal steps leading up to a concrete dock area but this is part of (presumably) the fisherman’s yard. There is no sign indicating anything. We peered around but seeing no one, did not dare to enter. So we went around the property to a small path that seemed to lead in our direction. This soon ended in a field which led us up and away from the lake. The only way to get back to the waterfront was to cut through a rather muddy farm field, which we did, taking large pieces of the field with us as souvenirs stuck to our shoes. We ended up back by the lake and began walking along the shore. This was so overgrown as to be barely passable in spots. We ducked to avoid branches and stepped over wet stones, trying not to slip. Eventually a path of sorts emerged, with small signs for hikers.

Along the way we observed many old properties that were either abandoned, windows boarded up and no signs of life, or simply shuttered for the season. Some of these were magnificent old houses fallen to ruin; others more recent with high fences and more money than taste put into creating Disney-like landscaping.

The lake was calm and beautiful in the soft light of early spring. Swans and ducks circled peacefully. There were no boats or signs of human activity on the water, although we did pass several other people out walking.

I wondered how this happened? High waters? Natural erosion?

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All along the waterfront we observed a strange kind of algae, which had dried to a sort of white vermicelli. It was everywhere.

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One couple we spoke to said that the reason you had to start from the fishing port in our village is that the private property around the Château is closed off to the public. Hmm. A rule for the plebs and another for the nobility? I think I’ll suggest that to Madame la Maire as a subject for her next editorial.

Still, it was a beautiful walk and fun to discover so much of the unseen side of the lake.

Do you have a favourite Sunday stroll?