En vol

En vol
Image de la superbe chaise de l'artiste SAB

mercredi 8 août 2012


Perhaps only a few of you will have heard of the French region called Auvergne, as it is not as popular as the Riviera, Normandy, or other more touristic parts of the country. It is a great pity because it is amazingly beautiful, and has a lot to offer to visitors.

I was personally introduced to the area in the 70’s, when, as a young teacher I did not have my say – I just had to settle there and put up with its rural aspect, so remote from the glitzy Côte d’Azur I had lived on all my life.
To be honest, it took me a while to adjust, and as I was thinking I would never be able to do so, I was (fortunately?) “removed” by the Education Nationale and appointed to a job… in Nice.
Since then, I have returned with pleasure to an area that has much to offer: cheeses, volcanoes (extinct!) and, believe it or not, blades. Not blades of grass however, blades as in knives.
The small town I lived in at the time is the “French Sheffield”, or a smaller equivalent of the German Solingen, namely it is the capital of knives.  Its name is THIERS.

One thing I learned there was to respect knives, and anything that has to do with them and their makers.
The city was a small one – still is. Competition was hard, and many of the small manufacturers had to close shop, as copies of their production were made cheaply in other parts of the world, if you see what I mean. The classics lost their attractiveness…
But recently a few creative minds there got together and came up with an answer to the crisis by creating and manufacturing a new type of knife, that they adequately named “Le Thiers”. It is designed according to very strict regulations by a “guild” of manufacturers. Just take a look at its shape, isn’t beautiful?

When I last visited the place recently I went directly to my favorite knife store, owned and run by the Chambriard family: all the kitchen knives I own come from there. 

I bought the first ones back in the 70’s, and being of amazing quality, they are still sharp and efficient. Mind you, no drawer-treatment for them, I stick them onto a magnetic rack that respects their precious blades.
Respect. Here is the key word. The reason I go to that store is that I thoroughly enjoy listening to the members of the Chambriard family talk about their knives. They express such enthusiasm, know-how and respect for their trade that one has to fall under the spell. Few people I know still show such love for what they make and sell.
Take another look here, at the shop’s website, the videos are in English, and so is the brochure.
(I know... hard to read!)

There is, however, a major issue at stake, every time I listen to these people talking about their passion: how can you refrain from buying too many of the knives? You are tempted to buy one for each of your friends, and the French tradition says they should give you a small coin in exchange for it – otherwise the blade might cut your friendship! (Which has never proven to happen)
So, you watch, you weigh, you compare the objects. The handles can be made of wood, of cast iron, of ebony, bone or horn. The blades can be carbon steel or stainless steel. How can you make up your mind? Just watch these and you’ll understand the difficulty of the task!

Eventually you will choose one of them and its blade will be perfect to peel tomatoes, the best ones in the world: my friend Gabriel’s:

Like all those living in that part of the country, Gabriel shows generosity and fidelity that are as strong as the blade of a Thiers knife: they last a lifetime and even longer.

If you were around, we would toast together both the people and their crafts, for the wine there is good too, around Saint Pourçain!
So… next time you visit France, please skip Paris. Hop on a train and visit AUVERGNE!

 Cheese anybody?


4 commentaires:

  1. Hi Cathie,

    I loved Auvergne! I did not know about the knives, however. Wish I did. My friend who lives in Paris, Nicole, has a very tiny house in Auzon. I did some bike riding out of that area where I enjoyed the back country, quiet roads, and we hiked to the top of one of the better known volcanoes (can't remember the name). I agree, it's a beautiful area and I would love to go back sometime.

  2. Salut Catherine!

    Another very interesting and original article you have written here - and in both French and English. I have visited the Auvergne a number of times while on the way further south.

    Many English-speaking people will know of the Auvergne and its pre-historic volcanoes because of the advertising by 'Volvic', the 'volcanic' bottled water. Did our pre-historic ancestors really outwit Tyrannosaurus Rex by swigging a bottle of this explosive drink?

    At Clermont-Ferrand they have a hypermarket named after the pre-historic mammoth - using the French spelling and pronunciation. Well .... OK, you can find the same chain of hypermarkets all over France. But surely the Auvergne is the natural home of the woolly mammoth?

    Another thing the Auvergne brings to mind is the image of the former President, M. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, "Monsieur L'Auverge". I remember him being filmed on the ski slopes of the Auvergne and then being interviewed wearing one of his trademark sweaters beside a warming log fire.

    M. Giscard d'Estaing must have been taking his daily allocation of the miraculous waters of the Auvergne. He seems to have been around in public life forever, or at least since the days of Tyrannosaurus Rex!

    However, the two main things that come to my mind about the Auvergne are as follows:

    1. The 'Viaduc de Garabit' railway arch bridge in the Cantal department, designed by an architect with the name Gustave Eiffel. I think the architect went on to design something at Paris - just what was the thing he designed in Paris?

    2. The Georges Brassens song "Chanson pour l'Auvergnat", even though it was written before I was born. In my opinion this is surely one of the most profound songs of all time - in any language.

    The Auvergne is a beautiful region and the people are warm and friendly. After your article, Catherine, I know they have fine craftsmen as well.

  3. Thank you Joseph for this most interesting comment!
    The song you like is, of course, part of the French version of this blog post. Check it out! I did not think it would make much sense to those who are not familiar with the language, but you are a special one, being so knowledgeable about all aspects of my country.
    Oh, just one thing: I don't believe the "Mammouth" chain stores are still around - replaced by Carrefour, far less pre-historic! There are however farms breeding the animals there, besides the cows which give fabulous milk for those cheeses.

  4. Tough luck for the poor mammoth. Now it is extinct even in the Auvergne ! It is ingrained in my memory since the late 1980s. Such is life !

    En français:

    Tant pis pour le mammouth - il est maintenant disparu, même en Auvergne! Il est ancré dans ma mémoire depuis les années quatre-vingt. C'est la vie !