I'm not just talking about the fact that people are very polite, although that is a big part of creating that civilized feeling. At the boulangerie, at the charcuterie, wherever, they stand patiently in line, exchqge 'bonjours' with the clerk when it is their turn, and when the transaction is completed, exchange 'merci, au revoirs' also. We have been in small bars where the newcomers greet all of the patrons on entry. I would never think of just leaving money on the table and departing without saying 'merci, au revoir' to the server. That would not be civilized. France expresses her passion for civilized living in many other ways.
As I am composing this, I'm sitting on the patio of our B&B high on a hillside above the small city of Millau in south central France. This is 'causse' country, the land of limestone plateaus which are separated one from another by river-cut valleys, steep, deep and rimmed with fantastically-scuplted cliffs. Until recently, this valley of the Tarn River was a major gap in the autoroute that speeds Parisians to the Mediterranean. The old road climbed steeply down one side of the valley and up the other, forcing large trucks and those Parisians with their tiny cars pulling camping trailers to creep down and then up again. The grand solution was to leap across the valley by creating the Viaduc de Millau, a 2.4 Km long, 270 meter high bridge that joins the adjacent plateaus. The statistics only begin to convey the daring design and engineering achievement that have created this breathtaking, enormous work of installation art that soars lightly across the sky. Leave it to the civilized French to transcend utility in favor of art and, not incendentally, create a new tourist attraction in the bargain.
Yesterday we visited the famous cheese-ripening caves at Roquefort. Leave it to the French to elevate a yucky mold to a gastronomic delight. Quelle civilisee!
Our hosts here at the B&B are producers of some of the sheep milk used for Roquefort, specializing in the organic milk. They feed us organic yogurt for breakfast along with home-baked bread, home-made jams and their own honey, all organic. Only the juice comes from a bottle and it too is organic. Their sheep are quite civilized. There are sheep dogs, border collies, but they mostly ride in the quad with Monsieur as he leads the sheep to and from the milking parlor. All 600 docilely follow along, very civilized animals.
For someone who is accustomed to the the wild and empty spaces of the American West, the French countryside is incredibly civilized. Every square meter, it seems, is managed. The forests are all planted in rows and the hedgerows are neatly manicured. Every roadside monument has its neatly tended flower border. Even in the mountains where one might think that cultivation would be impossible, tiny meadows are mowed by small tractors and the hay hauled down the hill loose instead of in bales. If the terrain is too difficult for machines, animals are turned loose for the summer. You might be hiking along and find yourself face to face with a small herd of large white cattle. All this civilization of the wild has its downside, of course, since it's hard to get truly away from everyone. But on the positive side, that mountain trail almost certainly leads to a bar restaurant, handily situated just where the thirsty traveler would want it. Now that's civilization.
Bad connection--pardon the typos!