February 8, 2010


There is a little town in the Loire Valley where 3,000 souls live. It is called Baugé. I have posted much about this little town as it is the meeting place of all les Joly. Every time I go there, I am continually impressed by things that I do not know or recognize. This is a town where three boulangeries compete and every citizen is intimately aware of each one's strengths (the best croissant on a weekend morning and at which times) and weaknesses (the worst cakes or éclaires for a celebration), a town where one of the chateaux of the Duke René of Anjou (15th c.) presides at its axis. This is a town in which you often feel like no one lives - where the metal volets (shutters) block out any peep you might have had of the inside of people's stone homes. This is a town where the market day is an occasion no one misses, where everyone gathers and everyone subsequently lives off the fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats brought to that market square.

It is also a town where delicate vines cover old stone creating coarsely textured surfaces.

It is a town where there is one cinema, housed in an old horse carriage. There is a new film every couple of months.

And finally, this is a town with a Super U. When I utter the name of this large hypermarché, I am mocked because I often just pronounce the "U" like an American (= you). To me, the name of this place seems directly borrowed from an American strip mall.

Now of course, the French have a very different way to pronounce their plain "U"s. This way does not exist in English. Here is a short lesson from this gal that I think is hilarious.

1. Open your mouth.
2. Say O.
3. Draw out the O until your lips are where they would be to make a W sound.
4. Purse your lips as tightly as you can.
5. Keeping your lips pursed, say E.

Voilà the French U!

OK, now back to Super U (pronounced correctly). Super U is a special space in a town like Baugé. It is a place where the town people, who spend most of their lives meeting at the market and at the three boulangeries and in the streets of their small town, can finally masquerade as strangers/voyeurs. Thanks to the very nature of a place like Super U, the people of Baugé come here to spy on each other. There seems to be an tacit agreement, everywhere in the village recognition is required, but in the aisles of Super U, the famous "Bonjour" might even be shrugged off. So, I like to come to Baugé to openly watch people scrutinizing out of the corner of their eye, over the aisles of cheese and the mounds of milk containers, spying.

The French battle against globalization, in light of Baugé and its Super U, suddenly makes a lot of sense.


Mike said...

I love these little towns in France. My wife and I like to stay in Vouvray when we're in Loire Valley.

Anonymous said...

Looks exactly like I imagined the town in Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris!

Jill said...

I followed the instruction on how to say a proper french "U" but I don't think I even came close.

I'm facinated by this post. The thought of people who know each other, together in a place where they can get away with pretending they don't know each other. Love it!

Nice photo's too. It's a beautiful little town.

sara! said...

Lovely pictures, and a nice story with the twist in the end :) I like your blog - hope you don't mind I am following it.

Unknown said...

Hi Emilie !
While reading your post about Baugé... I was about to cry. I'm a native of Baugé and I'm now living in Ireland (excuse my english).
What you say about my native town is... exactly that ! I miss it so much...
As for Joanne Harris : she's spent all her summer holidays in Anjou when she was a child - her grand-parents were French, living near Angers.

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