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Country drive through Southeastern France

47170 Sainte-Maure-de-Peyriac, France
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Behold Napoleon's trees and sullen sunflowers Sainte Maure De Peyriac  France

Behold Napoleon's trees and sullen sunflowers

Like nearly all the little fiefdoms in southeastern France, the first thing you see as you approach Sos through the fields is the church steeple jutting out above the hill line. Then you enter the square and drive pass the village's patisserie, its boulangerie and its cadre of little old women gossiping in the shade. The trees along many of the roads here grow in neat, straight lines. I learned from my 17-year-old French cousin that they were planted not just for their aesthetic appeal, but under the orders of Napoleon who wanted his soldiers to march in the shade. Thoughtful guy, that Napoleon.

Now, however, the French government has outlawed the continued planting of these trees and has even ordered many of the trees chopped down. The reason, my cousin explained, is to prevent motorists with epilepsy from having seizures as they drive through the dappled shade.

What struck me most in this pleasant area are the fields of sunflowers. When I visited in early September, I had just missed the flowers in their full glory. After a summer of sunbathing, of wind dances and sweet pollination, their petals were withered and the flowers had gone to seed. I saw them as they stood sullen, bowing their heavy heads. Nearby a small church where medieval graves were still covered in offerings and candles, the sunflowers seemed to also to mourn the dead. Or maybe they just hunched their shoulders, shunning the bright blue sky and grieving the memory of their lost beauty.