Thursday, August 19, 2010

French Finale, Bits and Pieces

There are extensive vineyards on the plateau above the town of Montsoreau. This windmill is in the middle of one of them. It looks like it was designed by Hieronymus Bosch.

This is the front of the church of Notre Dame la Grande in Poitiers. It dates from the 10th and 11th centuries. It's profusion of statues seems almost Hindu in its exuberance.

This is a detail of some of the statues. They've had their heads removed. This was probably done during the French Revolution when stone saints were being beheaded, along with kings and aristocrats.

This statue is in the Cathedral in Nantes. It is one of four wise virgins guarding a tomb. How having an old man's face on the back of your head, makes you wise, is not clear to me.

This is a very serious conversation which cannot be interrupted by a brass band in Nantes.

Madame Le Chef, myself and two friends were forced to consume this plate of charcuterie and cheese in order to keep body and soul together while we waited for a late dinner reservation at another restaurant in Nantes. Travel can be rough.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Locks on the Pont des Arts

If you faithful and much appreciated readers are getting tired of our French trip, there are just two more posts on that subject, including this one. The Pont des Arts is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Seine between the Louvre and the Institut de France. The only panoramic shot of the bridge I could find was taken in winter 2005. At that time of year it's almost empty.

On summer evenings, however, it is covered in a very well behaved crowd of people (mostly young), sitting on the deck of the bridge, eating, drinking and hanging out. In the picture below, from this summer, an intense heat wave has just been broken by a storm, which is why people are wearing jackets.

You'll notice things on the wire mesh behind the people. They are locks.

Since we were last on the bridge in 2008, this ritual has become really popular. Lovers write or incise their names on locks and fasten them to the wire.

The Bureau Chief thinks this could be tempting the Fates, but supports the optimism of the young. "Only time will tell", the old farts say.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mother Superior Jumped The Gun

Fontevraud Abbey is a beautiful and interesting place.

During its almost 700 year history as a religious institution, it always had an abbess in charge of it. From early on these women were from very powerful noble and even royal families. In the Middle Ages and later, if noble women did not marry, their only other option was to become a nun. Various of the abbesses did not worry too much about the virtues of humility as demonstrated by these wonderful murals from a chapel at the abbey. Where's mother superior?

She's there when Judas betrays Jesus.

And another mother superior.

Is there at the descent from the cross.

The abbey became a prison during the French Revolution and remained so until 1963. Now it's a secular cultural site. Some contemporary artists used the image of the nuns in conjunction with other things in a piece described as, "Chimera of yesterday, chimera of today".

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


This time of year, in 2014, will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. There will probably be plenty of films and TV shows about it. Steven Spielberg already has one in the works. Below is a plaque I photographed in the cemetery de la Bouteillerie in Nantes.

It says, roughly, "In this military square lie 1781 soldiers, French, English, Belgium, Russian, Polish and German, victims of the war 1914 - 1918".

I assume this plaque was put up between the two World Wars. I doubt that after their defeat and occupation in WW II the French would be broad minded enough to include the Germans on it. But this was possible after WW I because the utter futility of the war was so obvious. Contrary to the propaganda of the time, none of the belligerents were monsters like the Nazis. Aside from the republic of France, they were a collection of empires and kingdoms, most with some elements of democracy, their monarchs all related, engaged in their ancestral business of taking land and treasure from each other. Everybody thought the war would be over in a few weeks. Nobody understood how utterly deadly the technology of war had become.

The United States got into it late (and for no good reason). It was the the European powers that suffered the millions of casualties. In all the small towns in France there are monuments like this:

and this:

When you consider the size of the towns and how many names are on the monuments, you realize that a huge part of a generation of young men was wiped out in the war. Maybe that's why, when WW II started a mere 21 years later, the French had a hard time rising to the occasion.