The Heart and Soul of France: France’s Mairies


Tomorrow, all attention will be focused on the vote for France’s new president, but the heartbeat –and the soul of France is found in its mairies (town halls). Paris has not only a city mayor, Mayor Delanoe, but also mayors for each arrondissement.

If your travels take you through France’s towns and villages, you’ll note that the Mairie or Town Hall of many towns is buzzing with activity. Just to give you two examples in Normandy:

Here are Patrick Gomont, Mayor of Bayeux and 1st Maire-Adjoint Michel Lerée at the Bayeux inauguration of the Reporters’ monument on May 2nd.
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Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007

Although we have just met Mayor Gomont for the first time at the inauguration, we had the good fortune to meet his 1st Maire-Adjoint, Michel Lerée and Michel’s wife, Jeanne, when they ran a linen and men’s clothing store on the main thoroughfare in Bayeux, Rue St. Jean.

Just to give you an idea of the extraordinary hospitality offered in Bayeux, we had arrived in the couple’s shop, asking if they knew of any lodging available for the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. M. Lerée said, yes, he knew of a place we might be able to stay. He suggested we stay ‘chez lui’.

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In fact, Bayeux had prepared lodging possibilities in private homes for veterans of World War II. Lerée and his wife, Jeanne, had already promised lodging for U.S. veterans who never arrived! At the time of the 50th Anniversary ceremonies, the mayor of Bayeux was the present-day senator, M. Jean-Léonce Dupont who continues to take an active interest in the city (he was present at the Reporters Monument Inauguration).

We’re deeply impressed by the way Mayor Gomont has built upon and continues to expand initiatives conceived by Senator Dupont to make Bayeux a beacon – first town to be liberated during World War II. And now, 1st town in Europe to create a Reporters’ monument. Continuity of vision can only be achieved by great men (in my very humble opinion).

A huge project to create a walkway along the Aure river which courses through the middle of town has already begun, and in theory, many years from now may one day allow walkers to walk all the way from Bayeux to the beaches.
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Chris Fuller and Jeanne Leree on a portion of the riverside walk in Bayeux
Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007

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Pierre Espaldet, Mayor of St. Aubin-de-Scellon (Eure)
Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2007

Another good example of mayors in Normandy who are thinking of the ‘big picture’ would be St. Aubin de Scellon’s Mayor, Pierre Espaldet. Unlike Bayeux, St. Aubin-de-Scellon is primarily a farming village with 350 residents in the Eure Department. About 40 minutes inland from the channel, the focus of day-to-day life may differ in same ways from Bayeux which receives many visitors each year to receive its world-famous Bayeux Tapestry. St. Aubin-de-Scellon, nevertheless is far from isolated in mentality. Many of its residents are extremely well-traveled, and knowledgeable about the far corners of the world. Mayor Espaldet has worked over the years to promote the St. Aubins-de-France, an association of 73 villages named after the patron saint of small villages – St. Aubin. The association is international in scope because it includes St. Aubin villages from Belgium, Jersey and Switzerland as well as France. Each year, a St. Aubin village acts as host to as many of the St. Aubins that want to attend the weekend event which includes parades and presentation of regional products. This is just one way of continuing the village traditions and keeping the village’s role as a kingpin of French (and European culture) in the public’s eye.

If you plan on spending any time in France, be sure to acquaint yourself with the local ‘mairie’ or town hall where you live. This is an ideal source of information about events and activities.