The French desert


There is a saying in France, that this is country is “Paris and the French desert”, underlying the emptiness of the countryside, compared with the capital. It’s vastly insulting for anyone not living in Paris, and overall, quite true.

I went today from an average city, around 100k people, to, arguably, the middle of nowhere, and traveled through the northern parts of the country. The weather was aptly rainy, a constant drizzle. But mostly I went through many small villages, and did not see a soul.

These French villages, and I lived in one until I was 18, are charming,  lots of old houses, the town hall converted from the old school where boys and girls were segregated, and the flower pots all along the way. And ye old church, of course. But when you get through one, you hardly see anyone. People take the car when they need to go anywhere (an American habit, now that I think of it). You are so far from anything useful (by French standards), that you can’t walk there (and people don’t bike in these areas). So, they don’t walk the streets, and you don’t see them. They’re either home, or someplace else, but definitely not walking in their village.

Thanks to my trusty google maps gps, although still trying to make me use non existent or unpaved dirt roads, I didn’t really get lost. I even followed a canal for one hour, with a dedicated bike lane, smooth and flat, a cycling delicacy. That came to an end rather abruptly, as expected. And so I went back to small roads circling through ghost villages.

While travelling through the Somme area, I was reminded that this is the place where my grandfather fought in the First World War, one century ago. He had a war journal that I typed into a website some time ago. If you want to read his story, you can find it here :


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