Aug 14, 2014

Childless in Paris: Le Marechal


I would just like to take a moment to appreciate the French camp system which has allowed me to be not only friendless in Paris, but also childless for a week, too. Our girls are sleeping at a medieval castle in Burgundy for the week, riding ponies bareback, doing fencing, arts & crafts, Ping-Pong, Casino nights, and whatever other summer-campy things they're doing. I don't know because I'm not there (yee-ha!).


It's the first time in 11 years that I've had a full week away from my kids. I know, you're wondering why Anthony and I have not run off for a vacation this week (never to return, mwa-ha-ha!). And the reason is that this is also the first time in 11 years I've had more a day at home alone without them. So I'm enjoying a staycation instead: this means I get to write, uninterrupted by "Mommy! Watch this!"

The French system of camps is fabulous: they generally train or bus your children directly from Paris to anywhere in the country. Sleepaway camps usually start at age 6-8, although I know from experience that some sleepaway camps take kids as young as 3: When I was at university, I was an "exchange" camp counselor near Biarritz for a month, in charge of the 3 year olds. And while I'm trying not to be judgmental, I would say that, objectively, 3 is too young to sleep away for two weeks. The entire roomful of kids had nightmares basically every night. It was kind of awful, frankly.

But most camps don't start till a more reasonable 6, 7, or 8. There are camps for just about everything you can imagine, in a variety of environments, at all seasons. Yes, there are even sleepaway ski camps during school holidays. The camps are very reasonably priced compared to the US -- around $850 per week per child for most with just a few having large extra charges. Interestingly, horse-back riding camps are not more expensive, which is usually the case in the US. And horse-riding day camps (which the girls will go to later this summer in other parts of Burgundy) are a downright bargain, sometimes as little as $60 for a full day -- 5-6 hours of riding lessons plus lunch. Here, it's the tennis camps that cost the big bucks.

By complete coincidence, we actually visited this castle on a trip to Burgundy, so I have pictures of the camp, the castle, and the neighboring farm, where the horses are kept, before my own girls were part of it. Parts of the castle date back to 980 built first as a fortified hunting lodge by the local bishop, a biological son of King Hugues Capet.


One of the most exciting parts of their camp is that St. Fargeau puts on a huge show each weekend, with 600 cast members and 60 horse-back riders. Most of the cast is made up of volunteers, including the camp kids. It's a really fantastic show (in French) that goes through all of French history, oddly skipping over Napoleon entirely (not a single mention).

More predictably, they skip over the entire Vichy period. The soldiers go off into the mist to fight in World War I, and seconds later, the Americans are coming in to help liberate France from World War II. This is, after all, supposed to be a fairly casual, uplifting show, and while I'm not a fan of whitewashing history, it would indeed be a huge damper to start shipping off Jews to their deaths.


The girls practically ran onto the bus to go to camp, and all eyes were completely dry.


Since then, we have received some letters from camp. Here are some choice excerpts:

"Dear Kazz and Anthony. [Ed note: our children usually call us "Mom and Dad", not by our first names.] I had to right a letter to you! THEY MADE ME!!!!"

Pippa then proceeds to write about her time at camp and closes with:

"I do not miss you, but just pretend I do."

Fabulous. Her next letter reiterates that point, verbatim, but closes with this:

"...but I do still love you very much!"

Well, thank goodness for small mercies.

Gigi's letter is not much better, frankly:

"Dear Mom and Dad, We are being forced to write to you, even though I don't have a stamp..."

THE CHEESE: Le Marechal

Le Marechal is a raw goat's milk cheese from Burgundy. Do I even need to tell you what its unique shape is?  Here, I have the horseshoe turned up to catch all the good luck. Then I eat it.

Le Marechal is a beautiful, unusual, striking cheese, but one that is very difficult to transport and transfer from carton to platter, I must tell you. It's very delicate. But it's a fun twist on the donut shape, and obviously is a nod to the many, many, many horse farms in Burgundy.

It's solid (thank goodness, because if it were a real oozer, there would be absolutely no hope of getting it onto or off of the platter), thick, and creamy. It has a nice, mellow goat flavor -- nothing too pronounced.


Well, this should be obvious. Not only is a cheese from Burgundy, where my kids are currently in camp (allowing me to type this posting in peace), but it honors the horse and all the horse-back riding the girls will be enjoying this summer. I'm jealous!


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