Bon Marche

If I were to go shopping on a grand scale, or window shopping (in French, the term is “leche-vitrines” – licking the windows) Bon Marche is the place to go, I was advised. It has more warmth and “chic” than others.

It is a grand, very elegant, department store. Emile Zola based a book on it to record the growth of consumerism among Parisian women, particularly, as there’s no doubt that they are, or at least were, the target market – as shown in these posters:

The first photo I took was of a statue on the ground floor. It seemed to be echoing my own thoughts: “Get me out of here!”

I had to admit it was spectacular.

With greenery and a lantern roof:

Some startled birds were in a corner.

I was much more comfortable when I found the books and stationery section. These two looked pretty happy too:

Nobody, except me, looked twice to see a dog in the store.

There were life-size sheep too:

The July sale was in full swing.

I went along a block to the delicatessen and homewares part of Bon Marche, in a building just as huge as the first and similarly modelled on the covered market that it once was.

The wine section was at the lower level:

There was everything you might need to make cocktails:

Or to pamper your pet:

Interesting, beautiful and a little exhausting!

Just words

I jotted down what I saw as we travelled from Nantes to Paris. Green and gold were the predominant colours. Lots of trees grew along the roadside and divided pasture and there were large areas of forest.

The golden fields (feel a song coming on?) were dotted with large round bales. In others, harvesters were busy. This area is known as the granary of France.

There were herds of cattle – never more than about forty beasts – and mainly Charolais – the white cattle, but also brown and white or black and white or even brown-red like Scandinavian cattle. There were calves in some herds. I saw some sheep, some goats and some horses.

There were extensive maize (or corn, as in corn-on-the-cob, but could have been the similar one grown for animal feed) crops and some fields of sunflowers. The only irrigation I saw was on maize crops. In each case there was a large hose reel with a single jet of water arcing out across the field.

On the roadside I could see broom, yarrow, ragwort, blackberry, fluffy grasses and ferns or bracken. At one point there were bulrushes in a ditch. There were feathery purple flowers and smaller purple flowers which looked like a kind of heather.

I wasn’t sure what all of the trees were but I did identify some poplars, pines and eucalyptus. Sometimes there was ivy growing up the trunks of trees and clumps of mistletoe in the tops. Other trees were clearly plantations with straight rows. Later, I identified willow, rowan and buddleia and what looked like a macrocarpa hedge.

The farmhouses were stone and grey, white or cream, with slate roofs. There were stone and corrugated iron farm buildings, often open-sided and I could see hay bales or animals inside. Sometimes there were large metal silos. Newer houses were cream with orange roofs.

There were fruit trees from time to time, in long rows and covered with nets.

The land was undulating so you could see for miles across fields and forested valleys to towns on a hill, with a church spire in the middle.

I was on the lookout for Chartres Cathedral and was rewarded by the sight of its twin spires, blue-grey on the horizon. The highway curved west and suddenly, in a break in the trees, there it was, its green roof clearly visible.

Off-boat excursions

The cruise wasn’t all about life on board. We had an evening cruise on a smaller boat on the Erdre River.

The medieval town of Angers was wonderful: towers, winding streets, old buildings and the “Apocalypse” (best translated as “Revelation”) tapestries.

No photos of the tapestries; the room was dimly lit and I didn’t want the flash to go off. They were too extensive as well. It was best just to look. Our guide carefully explained details, symbolism and how to see the images with fourteenth century eyes.

Here’s a detail from the front of the wooden building above:

The carvings went on up each level of the house, often with humorous elements.

More castles were on the schedule.

Azay Le Rideau was charming, on a gorgeous morning:

Nearby, in a village street there was a grape vine in a pot – mulched with corks!

We had lunch in a cave restaurant. There were many caves along the hillside used as storage or cellars or as outdoor rooms.

The renaissance gardens at Villandry are in private ownership; restored with the help of the American wife’s inheritance.

There is symbolism in each quadrant of the garden. The hearts in the top left symbolise romantic love, but it goes from frenzy to disaster in the other three parts!

I enjoyed the kitchen garden and browsing in the garden shop amongst plants, secateurs, trowels and owls.

Chateau Usse, apparently, was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty.

Here she is!

Life on board

Going on a river cruise was a compromise which has turned out to be rewarding. Canal boating was all booked up, and this seemed the next best choice.The Loire Princesse is a small paddle steamer. Most of its guests are French. Here are some aspects of life on board. Best of all are the river views. This was at Bouchemaine this morning: calm water with fish rising.We docked at picturesque villages, and could watch bird life – gulls, egrets, cormorants, white herons and grey herons – as we moved up or down river.Charolais cattle and chateaux featured in views, and wind farms.We went through a lock as we arrived at, and left, St Nazaire.Here we are heading out to the Atlantic before turning into the Loire again towards Nantes:Paddles powered our bateau. Here, they can be seen from the reception area and from my balcony:Here is my cabin:Here are the life rafts!We had beautiful meals, exercises on the sun deck, a great concert by two local Breton folk singers, and well-paced, informative visits to chateaux, vineyards and gardens.We could book a visit to the wheelhouse. It’s a serious business negotiating sandbars, channels, bridges and tides.We saw the crew in action as we docked or set off.A different cocktail was featured every day.There were books and games in the bar too.The crew went a little crazy on football night – as did the whole town. This is one of the chefs:But were highly professional otherwise.Now the cruise has returned to Nantes, and we disembark tomorrow.

A steampunk world

The wasteland left when the shipyards and iron industries ceased in Nantes has been replaced by a fantastic world of machines. In steampunk style, creative people have assembled an array of attractions in late 18th century style but on a massive scale.The carousel has three levels.First creatures of the seabed:Then, creatures which swim in the water:At the top, things which float on the water surface. I rode on this boat, operating the tiller, while it bucked up and down on the waves, emitting water vapour.It seems very fitting for the town where Jules Verne lived.I had been looking forward to seeing the huge elephant.He can carry many passengers.Not today, however. Perhaps he’d blown a fuse?There were other fantastic creatures which you could see operating. An aviatrix in scarf, helmet, goggles and gloves flew a canvas and wood flying machine – too difficult to photograph. This creature is inspired by tropical plants:Here are some others:The people who develop and make the machines are planning this next:Already you can climb up into this part of it:They are creating an imaginary world as Jules Verne did, inspired by the ships which visited the port bringing specimens of strange animals, insects and plants and stories of fantastic forests and undersea creatures.

Holiday House – off to the Bach

As I explored each room at Chenonceau I felt how wonderful it must have been for Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici and Louise of Lorraine to have such a place for a summer retreat. It had an open, airy, feminine atmosphere after the masculine Chambord we’d visited in the morning. Wouldn’t my friends and I enjoy a week here in the summer!Chambord had its charms such as an abundance of towers,a circular stone staircase, charming detail in down pipes and window latches,and bees and butterflies in the garden.Chenonceau had an immediate, warmer appeal. Perhaps it was the donkeys The kitchen garden – also full of bees and butterflies –or the Bentley in the garage, the way it is built over a river (the Cher),the ancient trees,or the floral art in nearly every room.Despite the hot day, the chateau was pleasant inside with its long, bridge-like layout and windows open on each side.It had warmth and charm,some grandeur,but didn’t overwhelm. This is probably because it has been a women’s retreat, not designed to impress in a fist-shaking kind of way as Chambord was. The flowers had a softening effect.People were boating and could pass under the chateau.There is a drawbridge. An ideal holiday bach, don’t you think?

Jardin des Plantes

Funny how places seem to look different when you revisit them. Maybe it was the hot weather or taking different paths.That street art was on the way, near Rue Moufftard. I loved the Botanical Gallery, particularly these lovely, detailed drawings.The last one was in a section about the chemistry of plants.There was a box displaying New Zealand woods:I took this picture because I liked the little lamps on the left, used to illuminate the display. Everything was very carefully done.The labyrinth was closed for restoration, but there was a wild garden with a bee house.Here’s a closer view of a bee house:I liked the herb garden and the prickly plants like this:The tropical house was impressive.There’s an old wall beside it, which reminds me of the Roman presence in the area, and the Roman arena nearby which I sat in for a while on the way to the gardens.Inside the tropical house:Here’s a long view of the gardens:There’s a Natural History Museum and a Zoological Garden as well, which I didn’t visit. I was impressed by this huge tree and thought sadly of our ailing kauri.This group of young people were declaring their principles as I walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg on the way back to the hotel.And finally on a botanical note, these are the flowers I gave the lovely manager/owner of my little hotel to say thank you for her help and for the enjoyable conversations we had about lots of things, but mostly about books!It’s a literary hotel and not just because of its library, including this:One of the night managers who turns out to be an expert on Alexander Dumas, told me about Emile Zola’s book about Bon Marche, and was reading a variety of translations of Hamlet. Somehow, once again, books become significant on this trip!