On our last full day in Burgundy, we were circumnavigating the Lac des Settons in the Morvan national park when we passed a house off the side of the woodsy road with a sign out front advertising something about pottery, and another sign reading “Ouvert.” “Stop!” I cried. “Turn, turn!”
Now, when we travel, I don’t really need to acquire souvenirs… in part because we travel so much, we could easily have filled up our home by now with miniature Eiffel Towers and mugs from every German Christmas market.
[Fine: we have mugs from every Christmas market we’ve ever been to.]
[Sigh… and once I bought a miniature keychain with the Eiffel Tower on it but they were three for a Euro and we split the lot with friends, OK?]
But what I really like to bring home is handmade stuff. Something that will make me think of the place and of the craftsperson. Sometimes this means local olive oils and wines and jams. In the non-edible realm, I like to knit, so I’m alert for handspun wool; and I definitely have some sort of pottery radar. I can’t explain it. I just find it. And buy it. And the amazing thing is that often, not in a big tourist city, but in some little town like Grottaglie, or Ceret, or Moux en Morvan… it can be amazingly affordable.
Anyway, we pull into the lot in front of this house, and I go up to the glass door. Peering in, I can see very cool-looking pottery, and lights on, but no people. A sign on the door again confirms “Ouvert.” I try the handle and it’s unlocked, but I feel weird about going in. Tim nudges me to just go for it, so I step inside (suspecting I am about to be arrested or something) and call, tentatively: “Bonjour?” I wait a moment and nothing happens, but I realize I can hear a radio, so I try again, a little louder: “Bonjour?” … and finally all-out holler: “BONJOUR!” After about the fourth time, a man emerges from a door at the back of the shop.
He’s definitely the potter: he’s wearing sweats and smoking and covered in artistic stains. I ask him if the shop is open and he says yes; he speaks a small bit of English. I wave Tim in from the car. The shop is called Faiencerie du Morvan, and we were both very taken with the artist’s style, with the colors of his glazes (including some metallic ones) and the shapes he employed. I, pragmatically, began talking about Christmas and suggesting that so-and-so might like this or that; and Tim found a mug he became very attached to; and we gradually accumulated a pile of objects near the register. The man (realizing that we were going to dither) came in and out of the room, as did a dog and a cat.
Probably forty minutes later, we exited carrying a large cardboard box packed (gently) with goodies. I was still raving about the shop when I noticed: the front driver’s-side tire of our rental car was utterly, completely flat.
Ugh, I thought, inflected with the maximum amount of sigh and apprehension. I mean, we were in the middle of nowhere, and I was picturing us having to phone French AAA (if there is such a thing) and wait forever for someone to come and who even knew what else, plus we were hungry and it had been raining steadily.
My husband, to his credit, had other ideas. Had he changed a tire before? Yes. Once, and it had been in a simulated, Boy Scout-esque environment (“Boys, today we’re going to learn how to change a tire…”) more than fifteen years ago. Undaunted, he handed me the pottery and starting taking pieces of metal out of the trunk.
Mercifully, the rain let up as we moved the car to a more level side of the parking area. A few minutes into our endeavors, the potter came outside, curious as to why we hadn’t left. Tire problems were outside our shared vocabulary, but when we pointed at the obvious problem, he gave a knowing “Ah,” and then went to find a rock we could brace the jack on.
The French potter at first supervised while Tim began elevating the car. But before too many minutes had passed, he was crouching in the mud and cranking on lug nuts and generally being extremely helpful. The rain held off, and within thirty minutes their combined efforts had the full-size spare on the car, and we were all giving it the final inspection. All of this was managed with only a few sentences of communication, and at the end the man invited Tim into his workspace to wash his hands.
On the way down to France in the car we’d been listening to a podcast of very basic French phrases. To be honest, I’ve already forgotten all of them except one. The lesson that taught us “thank you” had us repeat “merci” over and over again before instructing firmly that “merci beaucoup” was only to be used in a situation where the person had gone “above and beyond” what common courtesy would require. Be stingy with this one, it seemed to be saying.
And so we had no problem at all choosing our words as we set a box of pottery carefully in the backseat.
Faiencerie du Morvan:
Lac des Settons- Route Touristique, La Ferme du Lyonnet, 58230 Moux en Morvan; +33 (0) 386760534