Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is a small, medieval village in east-central France, one of literally hundreds of charming villages found throughout rural Europe. It’s the Olde World with an “e” that so captivates us New World Americans.
The movie “Chocolat” starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche was set in Flavigny. That and an amazing candy made using anise seeds and a 1200 year-old recipe is Flavigny’s claim to fame.
There are a couple of Flavignys in France, but there’s only one Flavigny on the Ozerain River. That’s why my sister and I had such a hard time finding it on a map. But we had to go.
Flavigny and World War I
Much of our journey following Grandpa Eastman’s footsteps through his service in World War I was based on generalities. We knew when he arrived on French soil and we know the big battles that took place at that time, but specifically saying he stood on this spot on this date was an uncertainty.
But we knew without a doubt that Grandpa was in Flavigny. In his own handwriting in papers we found long after he had died, Grandpa wrote of spending Christmas 1918 in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.
After the war ended on November 11, Grandpa’s unit began moving south, eventually to sail home via Marseilles in May 1919. They spent the winter in Flavigny and Grandpa was sick with what we assume was the Spanish flu that ravaged much of Europe that winter.
“was ill from Dec 9 with influenza until Dec 31. slept on the floor without medicine or fire in Flavigny on the third floor of an abbey,” he wrote.
Anise Seed Candy in Flavigny
The abbey still stands in Flavigny, as it has since the eighth century. Today it is home to Les Anis de Flavigny, a candy company that follows a centuries-old recipe created by monks who once lived in the village.
We toured the factory and bought some candy, and then had a few minutes to chat with Catherine Troubat, the third generation of her family to own the candy company. She told us that yes, the abbey had been used to house American troops that first winter after the war and her grandmother volunteered to care for the sick and wounded.
It gave us goosebumps to think that her grandmother might have nursed our sick grandfather nearly 100 years ago.
As we tasted the candy, we remembered that our grandmother often had a similar candy around her house. It’s not easy to get Flavigny candy in the United States today and this would have been in the 1960s and 70s that we remembered these treats at Grandma’s house. Could it have been the same? Did Grandma order this candy from France as a tribute to the care they provide Grandpa when he needed it most?
How we wished that we had asked Grandma about it. How we wished we had asked Grandpa more about this incredible period in his life. But how fortunate we felt for this opportunity to step back for just a few days and share these experiences with our Grandpa, and that he left us with so very much.