Ma Normandie

Since I received my TAPIF acceptance letter, I have been googling my future home region whenever I have a spare moment (and sometimes even when I really don’t have a spare moment). I still have the occasional wistful thought about Grenoble or Montpellier, but mostly I am just really, really excited to be going to Caen. My excitement has only increased as I connect with other future teaching assistants via Facebook and peruse the blogs of former assistants for any useful tidbits of advice. As I call, text, Facebook message and WhatsApp every one of my family members and close friends to tell them the news, one question keeps coming up: “Where exactly is Caen/Lower Normandy?”  For this reason, I thought I’d write a blog post with some basic information about the region. I’m lucky enough to know a fair bit about Lower Normandy already, not only because I passed through with my dad, but also because I have had to do two major research projects on a region of France since high school, and both times, my region was Normandy (fate? coincidence? You decide!). So without further ado, here are some fun facts about my future home!

1) “Normandy” is not actually a region of France.

Lower Normandy on a Map
Here is France … and here is Lower Normandy!

Surprised? Yeah, I had no idea either until last year, when my prof informed me that Normandy was not, in fact, a region. Merci, Jean-Jacques! It turns out that Normandy was a region until 1956, but then it was split into two regions: Lower Normandy (capital city: Caen) and Upper Normandy (capital city: Rouen). Who knew? But wait, there’s a plot twist! Six months ago, the French National Assembly actually voted to reduce the number of French metropolitan regions from 22 to 13. That means that Lower and Upper Normandy are going to be combined into one region again! This coming January 2016, while I am in France, the two Normandies will be officially joined together to form la Grande Normandie.

Lower Normandy departments
The three départements of Lower Normandy and their capital cities. I know, French territorial organization is really confusing.

(It also looks like there is a bit of a disagreement about whether Rouen or Caen will be the new regional capital. For any French speakers out there, here is a link to an interesting video and article about the debate.)

2) It rains there. A lot … Unfortunately, the stereotypes are correct. According to Météo France, I can expect 126 rainy days in Caen per year on average, which is about one third of the year! I write this as I sit by the window, looking sadly out at the rainy skies of Halifax and realizing just how much gloomy weather affects my mood. Uh oh.

3) … but on the plus side, there are some amazing sights to see (especially if you’re a history buff).

Mont Saint-Michel Waterway
Definitely going back here at some point.

Always wanted to see the Mont Saint-Michel, the stunning Benedictine abbey off the Atlantic coast? Come to Lower Normandy! Do you dream of walking on the same beaches where British, Canadian and American soldiers landed on June 6, 1944 to liberate German-held Europe? Come to Lower Normandy! Do you yearn to take a look at the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century, 70-metre-long embroidered cloth depicting the Norman conquest of Britain? Come to Lower Normandy! Is a trip to William the Conquerer’s birthplace at Falaise Castle, or to his burial site at Caen Cathedral, on your bucket list? … yeah, you get the point.

4. The region is primarily rural. Like, really, really rural. According to my report on Lower Normandy from last year (and I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s reliable, since I spent ages on that thing), only 65% of Bas-Normands live in cities, which is 20% lower than the national average. And only fourteen towns have more than 10 000 people! Knowing that, it’s not very surprising that Lower Normandy’s economy is based on agriculture, specifically dairy and cattle farming. The region is also known for seafood and apples. Sadly, the shortage of economic opportunities outside of agriculture means that a lot of young people are leaving Lower Normandy to look for work elsewhere. But all of this agricultural production also means that …

5. Lower Normandy is a foodie’s paradise.

Camembert
Considering my description of Norman cuisine, I really should have included a picture of an apple.

Do you love seafood? Apple pies/cakes/desserts? Apples in general? Apple brandy (le calvados)? Apple cider (the kind with alcohol)? Soft cheeses like camembert? Basically anything cooked with large quantities of cream? Well, I certainly do. And I have a feeling that I’ll really like eating living in Lower Normandy. (And maybe also gain a ton of weight. Just sayin’.)

6. The region has produced some pretty outstanding people.

The Gleaners
“The Gleaners” by Jean-François Millet

William I (the Conqueror), François de Malherbe (the poet), Erik Satie (the composer), and Jean-François Millet (the painter) are all from Lower Normandy. There is a lot more that I could say about Lower Normandy, but those six reasons alone are enough keep me busy planning out everything I want to see and do once I arrive. I’m particularly excited to explore whichever city, town or village I get placed in (please let it have more than 10 000 people, though!). But that will have to wait, of course. How is October so far away?!! Until next time, I leave you with this lovely song about Normandy that I discovered in high school. À bientôt!

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