Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Normandy — In Love with a Lawnmower

After a long and richly wine-ambered dinner with some friendly Finns at the table next to us and our friends the Schneiders who showed up mid-meal at the Bastille-area restaurant Chez Paul where we had last eaten 15 years before on our honeymoon, we slept hard and set out in the morning on the train for Normandy.

Whelks & periwinkles at Chez Paul

Whelks & periwinkles at Chez Paul

We would be visiting with my wife’s friend Anne, whom we had also last seen 15 years before in Paris. Like us, she now had three children and was living the French country dream near the harbor of Honfleur.

The first thing I noticed at Marie’s home, after meeting her husband, children and some Polish friends staying at the house, was a small green vehicle moving casually about the enormous lawn in the backyard.

“That is our robot,” Anne said as we gazed it disbelief. It was of the species Husqvarna, tasked with the unenviable commission of keeping the lawn trim. It cruised slowly and happily across the grass, pausing every so often to turn, or reversing when it bumped into something, its lazy progress accompanied by the gentle hum of its engine.

*    *    *

“Does it ever stop?” my wife asked.

“No,” Anne replied. “Except to recharge.”

Sure enough, at some point, the little rover got tired, made a U-turn, and headed back to its charging station, tucking itself in for a rest.

“It’s so cute!” Leslie said.

I had to admit it. I was smitten.

The lunch table

The lunch table

Lunch was another long, leisurely affair — cheese, saucisson and vegetables with dip, followed by expertly grilled duck breast and sausages with couscous, followed by a cheese platter that included a typically Norman “grilled” camembert; beer preceding white wine preceding red wine.

Throughout the meal, as I tried to follow along with the French and sated my various appetites, I caught myself gazing at the lawnmower robot, making its rounds. There was something peaceful and contemplative about watching it; I envied its singularity of purpose and harmonious resolve.

Grilled camembert

Grilled camembert

Midway through the main course, the lawnmower was coming toward me. I whistled to it, and held out a rib bone. And for a moment, I could’ve sworn I saw a non-existent tail wag. I lobbed the bone, if for no other reason than to complete the motion. The Husqvarna rolled over the bone, uninterested, and continued about its work.

(It is worth noting that our hosts referred to the robot as “he”.)

After lunch, we set out for the coast. Honfleur is a scenic medieval harbor spared, unlike much of Normandy, of the ravages of war. Inspired perhaps by the lawnmower robot, we adopted a breezily casual pace as we strolled amongst its narrow cobbled streets, stopping to let the kids ride an antique carousel, visit an old wooden cathedral built as an upside-down ship by mariners of the past or admire a charmingly sagging block of medieval wooden row houses.

Our friends, now safely ensconced in a large home in a suburban subdivision, used to live here in one of the postcard ancient half-timbered houses so typical of the area on an enchanting cobblestone street. We expressed our surprise that they had moved from here.

Flynn in Honfleur

Flynn in Honfleur

“It is not so easy to live in Honfleur,” Anne confessed. “It’s geared toward tourists.”

Every first shop is a biscuiteur, every second hawks souvenirs, every third specializes in calvados and apple cider. Then the pattern repeats, with an occasional mussel restaurant or jeweler thrown in for variety.

“You cannot live on biscuits?” I offered.

“Exactly.”

Soon, we were driving back toward the train station, a bag of panini to serve as dinner on the train. As I listened to Leslie and Anne speaking French in the front seat, the lull of a long day, large meal and bounteous amounts of wine overcame me. Like the Husqvarna nuzzled into its charger, I leaned against the sunny window and succumbed to a few blissful moments of sleep.

Honfleur

Honfleur

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