On the train riding home from Nantes yesterday, I asked my friend Barbara, should I title my Blog ‘Nantes’ or ‘Barbara’s Birthday’ and with that cheshire cat smile of hers, she said ‘Barbara’s birthday in Nantes’. So I compromised. For no good reason, I just like the title!!
Nantes, the sixth largest city in France, holds a unique place in French history. Originally in Bretagne, it is now the administrative seat of Loire-Atlantique department. In the mid-20th century, France changed the regions of France and made Rennes the centre of Brittany and created Pays de la Loire with Nantes as its centre. The vast majority of Nantes would prefer to be Brittany and consider themselves Bretons. Pays de la Loire says it could not exist without Nantes as it’s largest city and port.
Whatever its history, Barbara picked Nantes to spend her birthday and off we went last Friday. We stayed in an AirBnB in the heart of Nantes, walking distance to all the attractions, of which there are many. We could have easily stayed another 2 or 3 days.
Our first stop was to the Chateau des Ducs des Bretagne or Chateau d’Anne of Brittany. It was late in the day after the trip from Paris and rather than take the 10euros tour to the large and informative museum inside, we opted to walk over to the Tourist Office–Barbara’s favourite first stop! We stood in the courtyard and knew we’d like to walk the ramparts at some point. The chateau has been completely renovated.
At the tourist office (french tourist offices for those that don’t know are a must stop. Kind people will pull out a map and show you how to get to suggested sites. There is usually a gift shop with wonderful postcards and things from the region. I always leave with lots of little booklets that I end up tearing apart and putting the photos in my journal!), we decided we’d return in the morning and take a self-guided tour with a talking box.
We headed “home” stopping at Monoprix, which was conveniently placed on the RDC of our building, for good food that would make a quick dinner. After eating, out came the map and the booklets and we plotted when we would do what.
The next morning, Barbara’s birthday, I called on Paul McCartney to serenade her with “You say it’s your birthday” in true rock and roll style. Then I looked out the window. Everywhere I looked, every space of sidewalk, every inch of street and concrete was full of tents and floating stores. It was the once a year Braderie de Nantes/Giant Sidewalk Sale.
After a pow-wow, we thought there was no way we could do the self-guided tour. We’d be caught up in a sea of people wherever we turned. We thought we’d brave the crowds immediately and go to Passage Pommeraye.
Paris’ many passages had nothing on this three story passage. As with the Chateau, it had been completely renovated and cleaned up. In fact, what struck me during the entire day was how clean and new Nantes looks. Nantes’ city centre was destroyed by American bombs during WWII. The Allies eventually took back the city but the decades following weren’t kind to Nantes. It wasn’t until 1989, under a new Mayor, that Nantes finally experienced economic growth and developed a rich cultural life. And in the years since 2010, Nantes has been cleaning to show off it’s rich history. Between the cleaning and the 20th century building, Nantes has the feeling of a newer, contemporary city. It’s median population is the youngest in France. But Nantes puts money into small everyday things to keep the city clean. At the end of Saturday, around 10pm, I looked out the window and there wasn’t a trace left of the huge sale. Fifteen boxes were piled up at the corner to be taken away by the garbage truck and a machine with rolling brushes was covering the sidewalk, vacuuming into its insides any debris that could have possibly been missed. Very impressive.
From the Passage we went to Place Royal but there were too many stalls and too many people so we pushed through that and found our way to the Musee d’Arts de Nantes, another icon that has recently undergone a huge renovation. The museum houses art from the 13th century to the 21st century. The modern art is located in a part of the museum appropriately called the Cube and looks nothing like the rest of the museum. It is large enough for installations yet paintings and photographs don’t get lost.
From the museum, we worked our way up to Cathedral de St. Pierre et St. Paul. We really wanted to make it to the Prefecture by 4pm at the latest. I had learned that there would be a March for our Lives in Nantes and both Barbara and I were anxious to be there and march. So we gave the Cathedral short shrift as they say. Our hearts weren’t in it.
So we wound our way to the Prefecture and spotted a small crowd of people huddled together. There were probably 20-25 of us but that is a lot when you think it’s France and not Paris where most people are paying attention to American politics.
In fact, we didn’t march at all but formed a circle while Alison, the head of DA, read moving excerpts from speeches, from the surviving HS kids and a wonderful letter from the Obamas to Parklands School. As I stood there listening, I was remembering that it was 50 years ago that I was protesting the war in Vietnam, campaigning first for Gene McCarthy and then Bobby Kennedy, that MLK was murdered in April or May of ’68 and Kennedy in June. I prayed that these High School kids could do for Gun control and murdering children what my generation did to stop the war in Vietnam.
Extraordinary statistics were cited. Since 2001, the number of school killings in each country one by one were mentioned. The largest being five, I think. Whereas in the US, we have had 217 since January 1, 2018. It’s hard to write that.
We made our way back to the apartment a bit thoughtful. Stopped at Monoprix for the birthday dinner (we wanted to go to La Cigale but it was full so you will have to wait to hear about that wondrous place till tomorrow).
Cabaillaud cooked in demi-sel beurre and herbes de provence.
Roasted rutabaga cut up to look like french fries.
Green salad with dressing of oil, vinegar, and mustard.
The final present of the night was that we lost an hours sleep BUT no longer had to do mental acrobatics trying to figure out how to align with the US who changed clocks two weeks ago.
Stay tuned for Nantes–Part 1