Burgundy prides itself on its provincialism, its claim to the mythical status of France profonde, deepest France. Immersion in provincial life is one of the chief pleasures of Burgundy. A balloon flight over rolling countryside reveals gilded roofs, pointed weathervanes, fields and sunflowers and Charolais cattle. A smooth descent may alight upon a boldly painted barge, a bicycle race or a Burgundian wedding. Such cameos may be glimpsed from the ground as easily as from a hot-air balloon. “Good wine is an inward emotion”, said Henry James; so is provincialism. Behind the lace curtains are cultured farmers and cunning vignerons. Burgundy has its fingers on the pulse of provincial France.
Burgundy is neighbourly in the warmest sense of the word. Wine-growers will help rivals with a troublesome harvest, either as an individual gesture or through the wine associations. A sense of solidarity pervades the Cote d’Or vineyards. Gevrey-Chambertin is sleepy and smug – typical wine country. Ten acres, the average patch, produces a good living. The sleek cars outside vignerons’ homes in Nuit-St-Georges and Fixin are proof of what the Fisc, the tax office, terms signes extérieurs de richesse. Traditional market towns thrive, such as earthy yet appealing Charolles. At the Wednesday market, tough farmers bid for the prized white cattle as well as pigs, sheep and chickens. Farmers gossip below the orange-tiled roofs while, between the canals and the scruffy allotments, bustling traders sell every form of paté and sausage Pragmatism and continuity are a recipe for success in the land of plenty. The setting of Charolles, within the spiritual triangle of Taizé, Cluny and Paray-le-Monial, means that the church is central. There are summer concerts in Romanesque chapels, and folklore festivals, often followed by a rich entrecote Charolaise.
Dijon is Burgundy’s window on the world, a city that has grown without sacrificing its soul. Outsiders would say that its soul was always resolutely provincial. At heart, Dijon is bourgeois and conservative, a city of civil servants, academics and office workers drawn to the Burgundian good life. Dijon’s gastronomic fair is a byword for Burgundian sumptuousness as well as cuisine. Its bustling ethnic markets seem untypical for Burgundy: Italian and Algerian traders jostle for space; a gipsy has trained a mongoose to seat on a pony and beg. Yet behind the exoticism are Burgundian signs and symbols. La Petite Flamande sells snails beside stalls stacked with jars of mustard; nearby, bourgeois students join Dijonnais matron in browsing for junk. They are bound by a mercantile yet convivial approach that embodies the spirit of this countrified capital, and of Burgundy itself.