Editor’s Note: With the pandemic and lockdown fading fast in the rear view mirror, I proposed to my son Pat that he join me in visiting our cousins in France this summer. To my delight, he signed on. While Pat was limited to a week due to his job constraints, I was no longer so encumbered so I planned a two week visit. The French branch of the family began when my mother Mary Gwinn Bowe‘s sister, Nancy Gwinn, married Frenchman Jacques Riboud in 1933 in the Chindrieux church you see above. Two generations later, besides Riboud offspring, there were now Lacombe, Kuhn and de la Chapelle relatives for Pat and I to spend time with and get to know better.
The plan was for me to be met in Paris by Jacques and Nancy’s youngest child, Jean Gwinn Riboud and take the TGV Train with him from the Montparnasse station to the Atlantic port city of St. Malo in Brittany. From there we’d make the half-hour drive to Cancale. There Jean Gwinn and his wife Myriam Ronciere Riboud have a summer house on the English Channel just west of Mont Saint-Michel. In 1993, I had happened to be present in Cancale when Jean Gwinn and Myriam closed on their purchase of this home. Here is the picture I took then of the proud new owners of the Montcalm house.
Getting there was not half the fun when I drove with Jean Gwinn from the train station in St. Malo to Cancale. Half way there I noticed that my belt clip with its iPhone was missing. I concluded it had to have fallen off somewhere between the St. Malo train station and my climbing into Jean Gwinn’s car. Back we went to the St. Malo station’s Lost & Found. No luck. Having once lost my mobile phone some years earlier, I recalled that the Find My Phone app on the phone helped track it down when it went missing. I immediately called my wife Cathy in Chicago for help. She then used her iPhone to fix the location of my missing device. It appeared to now be far from the train station in a distant residential area of St. Malo. With this temporary progress, Jean Gwinn and I drove on to Cancale. We picked Myriam up, and headed to their favorite port area restaurant, Chez Victor. Dinner for the three of us was the largest seafood platter I’ve ever seen in my life.
The next morning we connected with the family at the address Cathy discovered. From them we learned that my phone had been found just outside the train station in St. Malo. Jean Gwinn promptly drove us to the family’s tidy home and I was reunited with my not so long lost device. I was happy to give them a finder’s fee for their trouble, and they seemed happy to receive it. The mother’s teen age son had recently lost his phone, so the reward money no doubt was quickly applied to its replacement.
With the phone hassle mostly behind us (the repeated attempts of the finders to log in had locked me out and made the phone useless), we drove to the small St. Malo harbor on the Rance River estuary by the world’s first tidal power station. There we embarked on a Rance River Tour upstream of the power station’s associated dam. We proceeded past the twin bridges of Pont Hubert and Pont Chateaubriand before retuning to the dam pier.
Next we were off to the home of Myriam’s 100-year old mother, Monique Ronciere, on St. Malo’s Avenue John F. Kennedy on the Brittany coast.
Joining her was her son Patrick Ronciere, his wife Catherine Ronciere, and their grandchildren, Colin Ronciere and Alexa Ronciere.
The next day Jean Gwinn, Myriam and I set off from Cancale late in the day on the drive to nearby Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. With many of the monastery’s shops and restaurants on the lower level closed due to persistent post-pandemic labor shortages, it was less crowded late in the day than usual for late July. While I lacked the stamina that had taken me to the Gothic church on top in earlier years, this time I contented myself with stopping to take pictures at the lower level chapel.
Returning by train to Paris the next day, Jean Gwinn’s sister, Livie Riboud, immediately helped me get my iPhone restored to full working condition by working her magic and navigating the zoo at the Apple flagship store on the Champs-Elysees. With my phone trauma now completely behind me, I had a chance to catch up at dinner with Myriam and Jean Gwinn’s computer programming son Thomas Riboud, whom I hadn’t seen in years.
The next morning I set off with Livie and her longtime friend Marie Christine Bergeron, whom everyone calls “MC.”
Our objective was to Drive from Paris to the Chateau Gilly near Dijon in the wine country of Burgundy. We planned to spend two nights at the Chateau Gilly itself, with our days in Burgundy spent looking at some of the extraordinary chateaux and castles that dot the area in the day. The first of these, the Château du Clos de Vougeot, was a fascinating castle built by 12th-century Cistercian monks, with wine cellars, original wine presses and a vat house. With many cousins of Livie being members of the Latour family, she was also able to arrange a private tour of the Maison Latour Winery in nearby Aloxe-Corton near Beaune.
With several bottles of Maison Latour vintages left over from our wine tasting event, we drove straight through to the apartment in an old farmhouse I had rented in Chindrieux, Du Vents Dans Les Arbres. Our quarters were in a part of the house that had been recently gutted and renovated. Our backyard view gave us a great look at the north end of nearby Lac du Bourget and our front yard had a fine view of the Chindrieux Church and the adjacent cemetery where many Riboud and Latour family members are buried.
Between gatherings with the family at the nearby Riboud, Lacombe, Latour homes adjacent to one another in Praz, Chindrieux, Pat and I:
- visited Abbaye d’Hautecombe, the Cistercian then Benedictine monastery that served as burial place for members of the House of Savoy;
- took a boat tour of Lac du Bourget at Aix-les-Bains;
- lunched high above the lake at Les Terraces du Lac in Annecy;
- attended a festival at Château de Clermont organized by Cecilia Lacombe Kuhn that was filled with music and included a performance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ;
- saw the small boats navigate the Rhone River at Chanaz; and
- had a grand family meal nearby on the Rhone River at La Guinguette de l’Etang in Vions.
Not surprisingly for a family visit, the best part of the whole trip for Pat and me was meeting new family members, getting reacquainted with the older ones, and exchanging all the tidbits of family life and gossip that makes families families. These are the people present at one time or another at our gatherings, including those in Chindrieux On the Terrace at the New House, and On the Porch of the Old House:
Anne Latour Chauvel (Pucette), Armand Noel Chauvel (Mano), David Chauvel
Elouann Jacques Corderoc’h, Josephine Riboud Corderoc’h, Mae Corderoc’h, Yann Corderoc’h
Cecilia Lacombe Kuhn, Ann Catherine Lacombe, Augustin Lacombe, Clement Lacombe, Henry Lacombe, James Lacombe, Sacha Lacombe, Sophia Lacombe
Gaspard Riboud, Jean Gwinn Riboud, Myriam Riboud, Olivia Riboud, Theodore Riboud, Thomas Riboud
Alexa Duriez Ronciere, Colin Ronciere, Catherine Ronciere, Monique Ronciere, Patrick Ronciere
Everyone couldn’t have been nicer to Pat and me on our visit. In spite of the normal distances that separate us, we were treated by all as an important part of their family and, God knows, we certainly feel that way about all of them. That being said, organizers par excellence Jean Gwinn, Myriam and Livie Riboud, and Cecilia Kuhn really went way out of their way making sure Pat and I had a time we’ll long remember.