"Umm, I was married for 25 years, then came out."
It wasn't a conversation I had planned on having. I had met my tour companions and my driver/tour guide at 6:40 in the morning near the Louvre in Paris. Our destination was northern Burgundy (Bourgogne). I had been up since 4:45, and we had about a three-hour drive ahead of us.
The driver didn't appear to be "Mr. Personality," but then again, neither did I at that early hour. There were only two other people on the tour, a couple of ladies from Texas with broad accents and frosted hair who appeared to be somewhere between 60-80 years of age. It was not a particularly auspicious beginning, and I set my expectations for the day quite low.
There wasn't much conversation for at least an hour as we headed south and I dozed. After we stopped for coffee and a croissant, Olivier, our driver/guide, decided it was time for a bit of conversation. I had had the impression earlier that he'd rather drive bamboo shoots under his fingernails than take the three of us to Bourgogne, but he livened up quite a bit after some espresso.
Olivier asked if this was the first time we had been to France. I replied that I had been before and, after a moment or two of hesitation, added that I had served a Mormon mission in Paris many years ago. "I used to Mormon," I said, "but no longer am." "What are you now?" he replied. "Nothing," I responded.
|Me with Bev and Pam in front of vineyards in Chablis|
Bev and Pam, the Texas ladies, seemed to be quite intrigued by my statement that I am no longer Mormon. "How did that come about?" Bev inquired in her extremely broad Texas drawl. "If you don't mind me askin'?"
"Well," I replied, "that's a long story."
"Well," she retorted, "we've got lots of time."
I laughed and shut up. I frankly wasn't sure how two Texans and a French guide would respond to learning that I'm gay.
Our first destination was the Château de Bazoches (pictured in the photo above), the home of Louis XIV's military genius, the Maréchal de Vauban. I had never heard of the guy but was fascinated to learn about him and his importance in the history of France. I was also enchanted by the location of the castle. Already on the way there, as we drove through picturesque villages and through scenic valleys, I realized I was falling in love with Bourgogne. This attraction was confirmed as I looked out upon the views from the castle's windows and overlooks.
I had spent several months in the Loire Valley on my mission and had visited numerous chateaux. I had also served in Brittany and in southwestern France while a missionary and have more recently spent time in the French Alps and Provence; but Bourgogne presented a charm to me that I had not experienced elsewhere in France.
These feelings of attraction only intensified when we moved on to visit the nearby village of Vézelay, selected as one of the prettiest villages in France, home of the Basilica of Mary-Magdalene, originally a Benedictine Abbey. Again, I had never heard of it or the basilica and was fascinated to learn that Richard the Lionhearted and King Phillipe-Augustus had met to pray here prior to the launch of the Third Crusade.
As Wikipedia states: "Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached there in favor of a second crusade at Easter 1146, in front of King Louis VII. Richard I of England and Philip II of France met there and spent three months at the Abbey in 1190 before leaving for the Third Crusade. Thomas Becket in exile, chose Vézelay for his Whitsunday sermon in 1166, announcing the excommunication of the main supporters of his English King, Henry II, and threatening the King with excommunication too. The nave, which had burnt once, with great loss of life, burned again in 1165, after which it was rebuilt in its present form."
|Roman arches inside the basilica|
I was even more affected, however, by the enchanting views of the surrounding countryside and the charm of the village. The effect was completed by a charming lunch in the middle of the village consisting of Boeuf Bourguignon and accompanied by local red wine.
After lunch, we headed to Chablis for some wine tasting. On the way there, Bev piped up at one point and said, "Soooo, Joseph ... We're still waitin' to hear about you no longer bein' a Mormon and all ..."
"Okay," I submitted. "I was married for 25 years, and then I came out. So, like, I'm gay. My wife and I divorced, I left the Church, and I met an amazing man with whom I spent 4-1/2 wonderful years before he died of prostate cancer."
Silence. Olivier looked over at me but managed to keep the car on the road.
I can't recall exactly what was said, but both ladies made it clear very quickly that they were totally "okay with it." "Well," Bev said, or maybe it was Pam, "we knew you were handsome and all, and seemed real nice. So I guess we're not too surprised cuz seems like gay men often are so sweet and handsome and all."
There was more back and forth. Discussion of how open and accepting they are. Then Bev asked, "How old are you? If you don't mind me askin'" Sweet, direct, Bev.
Of course, I responded with my usual response to this question: "How old do you think I am?" They looked at each other. Pam went first: "Oh, 44, 45?" Bev chimed in: "Well, I was gonna say 45, too." I laughed, thanked them, then told them I'll be turning 59 in a few days. They exchanged expressions of astonishment. I just soaked it all in.
Then it was Pam's turn to "take the floor." She conferred briefly with her life-long friend, Bev, then decided to take the plunge.
"Well, my younger son is gay, so of course I am open and accepting."
There followed a discussion about me and my family, Pam and her son and numerous other topics. Lots of laughter. It was amazing to observe and feel the change that came over all of us as we shared things with total strangers as we drove down a road in northern Burgundy.
We went on to enjoy a wine tasting in Chablis and an uneventful drive back to Paris. I felt that Olivier was totally sincere when, upon dropping me off near the Louvre, he shook my hand, smiled and said that he had really enjoyed the day. Bev and Pam, from their perches in the back seat, offered lots of goodbyes, bon voyages and good wishes.
It was a good day.