Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Because we'd been planning on going to Nantes today, and because we delayed our departure by a day because of the orange-level weather warning, we were kind of on hold, and spent the day trying to shelter ourselves from the storm. We somehow managed to go outside during highly dramatic moments of the storm. The rest of the time, we spent reading books (a fresh haul from the library hard-won by Mac and Eleanor who left under a sunny sky and came back soaked and thoroughly whipped by the wind not 20 minutes later - the weather!), and just hanging out - Oliver and Iris built a carrot factory (I really don't know what it is with carrots and the kids these days, but there you go), and Mac plunged into the latest Asterix (La Zizanie - very uninspiringly translated as Asterix and the Roman Agent) which is hilarious. Sweet Eleanor tuned out for an afternoon nap, but Oliver and Iris were gripped. At some point, I will gather my thoughts as to why Asterix is so funny and write about it our here.

But for now, all is eager anticipation for Nantes. The Machines de l'Île are going to be astounding, amazing, unheard of, never before seen, not to be believed. They are part of the really smart renovation of the shipyards, which died out in the 1980s and, as far as I can tell, fulfill every Jules Verne fantasy anyone could ever have. They are fantastic creatures that move, and some of them (the 40' elephant we're hoping to ride, for instance) can hold people in their bellies or on their tops, and others will be part of an enormous fantasy carousel. Here's a video from their web site to give you a sense/a hint of what's to come:

Machines de l'Ile video:

Découvrez Les nouveautés de la Galerie des Machines de l'île de Nantes sur Culturebox !

Pretty spectacular, eh? Let the 19th century come alive!!! There's a kind of 19th century circus, Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum marvel aesthetic to it all. We'll also be able to visit the Galerie of animals.

The Jules Verne Museum is quite nearby (nice sound effect on the website, eh?) and we'll go there after the Machines. Mac is bravely reading all of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Oliver and Iris are greatly intrigued by submarines and giant crabs (understandable), so we're excited. I imagine that we'll be pretty beat by the time we make it back to the hotel, but I've also learned that the promise of the Simpsons in French at 6:30 p.m. can motivate even the most tired kid (lessons learned from Mont-Saint-Michel). :-)

The next day will be all about the Castle and Cathedral quarter. The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul was started really late in the history of cathedral building (1434) and it will be my first huge Flamboyant cathedral. The recent restoration really gives it a striking shiny whiteness - wow! Inside, there's the tomb monument of François II and Marguerite de Foix, the parents of Anne de Bretagne. Anne de Bretagne has always been poignant and interesting in my research: she was, in brief, Louise de Savoie's chief rival in the latter's quest for her son's ascension to the throne of France. Or rather, any male children of Anne de Bretagne were rivals to Louise's François. Anne de Bretagne (and one could, and people have, could go on for thousands of pages here) was an absolutely remarkable and heartbreaking woman who married two French kings (Charles VIII (1491) and Louis XII (1499)) - the four children she bore Charles VIII all died in infancy; of the eight children she bore Louis XII, only two daughters survived, Claude (who died when she was 25) and Renée. 12 children, and two survived - it's hard to imagine that kind of heartbreak; and then the political pressures of producing a male heir on top of it all (it was her father's lack of a male heir that, in brief, made the absorption of proud, independent Brittany into the Kingdom of France possible. You can see how badly France wanted Brittany, as it kept marrying its kings to Anne!) When Anne's last child, a boy, was born a stillbirth in 1513, Louise knew that the throne was François's (he had already been betrothed to Anne and Louis XII's daughter, Claude de France). It's an epic rivalry, and chilling in its own way - these women waiting for pregnancies that will determine history...

All this to say that Anne of Brittany build a beautiful tomb monument to her parents, François II and Marguerite de Foix. The element that especially intrigues me is the representation of the 4 Virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, and (yea!) Prudence) - I was thrilled to find out that Prudence is at Marguerite's feet (any association of the complex virtue of Prudence with women is worthy of examination - it was (thanks to Aristotle) understood as a very masculine and political virtue, indeed, it was the very heart of politics) and has a very complicated double representation: a young woman with a mirror (the future) and an old man (the past) - Prudence has to look both to the future and the past in making her prudent decisions (it's this "two-faced" quality that will discredit the virtue as a moral virtue in the 17th and 18th centuries, when absolute truth, as opposed to pragmatic prudence, will be the moral and political goal/high ground). We'll see if I can get the kids excited enough about this for me to take gobs of pictures - can't wait!

Excitement will be readily available at the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany - it has a moat for starters (woo-hoo!) and lots of towers and cool rooms and is incredibly impressive. We'll finish here and there seem to be lovely gardens all around, so barring any more gale-force winds, we'll frolic and then head on home Friday afternoon!

I end tonight with this picture of my studious little Iris. At around 4 p.m., she decided that she absolutely had to go to the library - she was so insistent, and she asked in French (and we have this "rule" that if they ask in French, we can't say no - so far, it hasn't gotten us into too much trouble, but so far they've really only asked for "pain et Nutella" (bread and Nutella)!), so I couldn't say no. Out into the driving wind and rain we went: the wind and rain were pretty intense (I can't even imagine the coasts!), so much so that poor Iris, when approaching her favorite fountain, was thoroughly soaked by a gust that sprayed water from the surface of the fountain far outside its bounds and directly onto her!). Into the warm, cozy library we entered. I headed straight for the fairy-tales and legends section, but Iris herself was immediately drawn to the non-fiction section: science books, history books, machine books. I love discovering this little girl - I think that she differentiates herself from Oliver (who is all about fiction and legend all the time - e.g., a carrot factory!?!?) through her love of non-fiction and all things documentary. She pored over this book for a good hour, and even showed her Mamie a great picture of an anteater on Skype later that evening! Off to Nantes, then - see you on Friday evening!

1 comment:

  1. Ah, speaking of Jules Verne--I've been to the Lagoon where he established his underwater hotel. It's a tiny little pod in a murky little lagoon which, for a heafy price, you can dive down to (30 feet below sea level) and stay for the night. Apparently they even have room service! It is in Key Largo where I like to do my scuba's the link, the kids will be very amused, I'm sure:

    Simpsons, in any language is okeedokee with me!

    And your first flamboyant Cathedral? Anne, um, aren't all cathedrals kinda flamboyant? I guess, it's all about perspective. I hope you are having fun on your outing-can't wait to see pictures. when will they start posting my posts I wonder?