In 1979, when I was twenty-one, I traveled abroad and worked as an au pair for a wealthy family in the Loire Valley. The small town of Songais where I lived was charming, but I was also drawn to the nearby larger town of Tours. Shortly after my arrival, Madame and I drove to Tours and she helped me sign up for classes at the Université François Rablelais. I had lots of questions about the city, so on the way back to the car, she paused at a tourist office and obtained a brochure detailing some of the highlights of Tours. Here is an excerpt from my memoir, French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley.
“This pamphlet is written in English, and it will give you some additional information about Tours. It really is a remarkable city.”
“Thank you. I can’t wait to look at it.”
I opened the brochure, studied the photographs, and read all the information twice
Tours is located in the central part of France in the Loire Valley between the Atlantic Ocean and the town of Orléans with a population of about 140,000 people. It boasts some of the finest wines in the world and many people believe the “purest” French in all of France is spoken in this vivacious city. The magnificent Saint-Pierre-des-Corps train station, built in 1898 of iron, stone and glass, the 13th-century gothic Cathédrale Saint-Gatien, and the municipal botanical gardens are all huge tourist attractions. Referred to as “the Garden of France,” a person can be transported back in time by visiting its lovely parks and historic quarters, especially la Place Plumereau. Often referred to as Old Town, la Place Plumereau is known for its 15th-century medieval style houses in a square with open-air cafés, art galleries and eclectic boutiques. Tours also has a lively nightlife thanks to the large student population.
Tapping the pamphlet against my lower lip, I pondered the differences between a larger, more exciting city versus a smaller, quaint rural town. Both of them appealed to me on different levels. Songais offered me the opportunity to connect with the Dubois’s family, their relations, and townspeople on a personal level. Tours, on the other hand, presented prospects for friendships and romance while I studied French at the university.
My mouth slid into a subtle smile. I didn’t have to choose. I could have both. The possibilities were endless.”