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Why I love France: Nikki's trip to Normandy

Why I love France: Nikki's trip to Normandy

Old Oct 20th, 2018, 12:32 PM
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Why I love France: Nikki's trip to Normandy

I’m going to save you some time. In the seventh and final volume of Marcel Proust’s epic work, A La Recherche du Temps Perdus, the narrator reads an article describing a gathering at a salon in Paris. The narrator, who has frequented this salon himself, does not recognize the people he knows there, who are ordinary, vain, and vulgar, in the descriptions of sparkling wit and refined company found in the article.

The narrator thinks that if he had read the article without knowing the people it described, he would have been eager to frequent this center of cultural and intellectual superiority. He recognizes that his entire life, he has based his desires on things he has read or seen, on their depictions in art. And when he sees the place described in the work of art, it does not live up to the grandiose image he has created of it in his mind and he feels deceived and disappointed.

This article shows him that he has been looking at life through the wrong end of the telescope (my metaphor, not Proust’s). That the reality of a person or place is not a diminished form of its depiction in art, but that the artist or writer has taken an ordinary place or person and elevated it to greatness by means of art. That art has transformed the world.

When I visited France in 1972, I remember looking through the train windows and thinking how much the French countryside resembled the Impressionist paintings I loved. And that because of this art, it felt to me like hallowed ground.

It still feels like hallowed ground. I am conditioned to love France by my exposure to French language, music, art, and literature. Also by my French name and by a childhood speech defect that made it easier for me to pronounce a French “r” than an English one.

I meet every other week with a group of friends to discuss forty pages of Proust. I learned through this group about an organization in France that was presenting a weekend in October at the Grand Hotel in Cabourg in Normandy, a locale that was frequented by Proust and which he wrote about in fictional form in his novel. There would be lectures, concerts, and receptions focusing on the role of music and art in Proust’s work. Two women from my group were planning to go.

I convinced my husband Alan to come to France with me. We would spend nine days in France, mostly Normandy, scheduled around the weekend conference in Cabourg. I assumed that he could entertain himself at a French beach resort while I was busy at the conference, even if the entertainment consisted solely of eating oysters and drinking wine along the boardwalk. And for the rest of the time we would drive through the countryside, stopping to taste calvados and camembert, and see some sights I have been wanting to see all my life.

As our plans developed, we learned that other friends would be in France at the same time, so we made arrangements to see them. In the meantime, Alan decided to have knee replacement surgery in August. He asked the surgeon whether he would be ready to go to France in October, and the surgeon said it wouldn’t be a problem. That turned out to be only partially correct. As the date for the trip approached, and Alan was still pretty uncomfortable, we had our moments worrying whether the trip would happen and whether he would be able to enjoy it. But we made the decision to carry on, and we left for France on October 1 as planned.
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Old Oct 20th, 2018, 12:53 PM
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This should be good! Ready and waiting for more.
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Old Oct 20th, 2018, 03:36 PM
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We love that hotel in Cabourg. Several great rooms with the decks practically on the beach. An easy walk into town and the restaurants.
Wish I were there too.
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Old Oct 20th, 2018, 03:51 PM
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Omg! This is getting good, please continue.
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Old Oct 20th, 2018, 05:42 PM
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We are spending our first two nights in Chartres, where we have arranged to meet Fodorites AGMCapeCod and her husband. We are all staying at the Grand Monarque, a short walk from the cathedral. This is a wonderful hotel. Our room is beautifully decorated and quite comfortable. We are impressed by the helpfulness of everyone we talk to at the front desk and in the hotel in general.

We meet up with AGMCapeCod and her husband in the bar, which is a lovely place furnished for groups to relax and talk together on chairs and sofas, so we spend a little time here before leaving for our dinner reservations at Les Feuillantines.

This small restaurant is filled. We all enjoy our dinners. Particularly notable is AGM’s beef bourguignon, which has a wonderful infused taste of wine (and I don’t even like wine). I have a dish of scallops with boudin blanc (white sausage), sautéed potatoes, meat juice, and served on a bed of pureed butternut squash. I think.

After dinner we head out into the streets of the old city of Chartres, which is the scene all summer long of a light show on monuments throughout the city. The illuminations on the cathedral are mesmerizing. They are based on motifs from the stained glass and statuary in the cathedral. They highlight the architectural features and then transform into fanciful patterns in a continuous movement, all to musical accompaniment.



















I suppose there is a question as to whether this is an art that transforms reality in a positive way. The cathedral at Chartres is among the finest works of art anywhere. Is it a travesty to cover it with light so that it resembles something at a theme park? Or is it a contemporary interpretation of the use of light and color that makes the stained glass inside a marvel, playfully transforming the gray stone outside into a kaleidoscope of color and pattern?

I have no answers, but I am very glad we have come to this place when we could see this magical display. It has been a very special night. As we walk toward the hotel, we pass two other buildings that have been illuminated, a library and an ancient church. The ancient church has a control panel outside that people can operate to cast their own illuminations, changing the color schemes and themes displayed on the church.

We finish up the night with more conversation in the bar. Tomorrow morning we will tour the cathedral with Malcolm Miller, who has been interpreting the art of the cathedral to tourists here for decades.

Last edited by Nikki; Oct 20th, 2018 at 05:58 PM.
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Old Oct 20th, 2018, 06:08 PM
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I'm a confirmed Francophile, too. Thanks for this lovely report.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 12:03 AM
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Enjoying your report. Wondering about a plot twist if you are referencing Proust.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 01:19 AM
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Wonderful report and I expect it will only get better. Fabulous photos!
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 01:47 AM
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Add me to those following your great report
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 04:08 AM
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Lovely description so far and wonderful photos. I'm looking forward to more!
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 06:28 AM
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On Tuesday, October 3, we have an appointment for a private tour with Malcolm Miller. We walk to the cathedral and meet our friends Gomiki and her significant other, who are staying in Paris but take the train to Chartres to join us on the tour.

I have wanted to see the stained glass in Chartres ever since a French teacher showed pictures to the class when I was in junior high school. I remember them vividly. I have similar memories of pictures of the stained glass at Sainte Chapelle in Paris. I did finally get to see Sainte Chapelle many years later but I have not yet gotten to Chartres.

I am not disappointed.

The cathedral has a good number of people visiting, but I imagine it is much more crowded in the summer. Last night, we were practically alone as we watched the light show outside, but there are tour groups here during the day. We meet our guide and take seats to listen to him describe the scenes on some of the windows. He talks us through the significance of the bible stories as seen through the lens of medieval Christianity.













Some of the windows were sponsored by groups of tradesmen, and there are depictions on signature panels of the water carriers, coopers, carpenters, shoemakers, and others whose guilds financed the project.

After examining just a few of the many windows inside, we move outside and learn about the symbolism of the statuary depicting the last judgment. There are lines of saints and sinners depicted in the stone over the arched doorways. Those whose clasped hands have fingers pointing upward are going to heaven, while those whose fingers point down are going the other way.





Our tour ends outside and our guide goes off to meet another group. We head across the street for lunch. I enjoy a salad with smoked salmon and a platter of charcuterie and cheese, and we marvel at the circumstances that have brought us all here at this moment to see one of the great artistic wonders of the world and have lunch together in a French café when we are more accustomed to sharing meals outside on our deck on Cape Cod. And, for not the first time, we wonder at the chance that drew us to the internet message board which brought us all together.

After lunch we wander around to the other side of the cathedral and then behind it past the Musée des Beaux Arts, where we can see a labyrinth in the Bishop’s Garden. We say goodbye to Gomiki and her significant other, who are taking the train back to Paris, and AGM and her husband walk off toward the lower part of the city, while Alan and I spend some time on a bench enjoying the view. Alan then returns to the hotel while I go back into the cathedral for more photos and just to spend as much time as possible gazing at the glass that I have waited so long to see.


Last edited by Nikki; Oct 21st, 2018 at 07:06 AM.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 07:33 AM
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And, for not the first time, we wonder at the chance that drew us to the internet message board which brought us all together.>>

oh, please add me to the group of people who do that frequently, Nikki. How lucky we all are to have met in this somewhat serendipitous fashion.

I loved following your journey on FB, and I am enjoying this even more, mainly because of your lovely prose, as well as having another opportunity to see the photos you took which are gorgeous. I'm sure I have some photos of Chartres somewhere but none of the light show which must be a reasonably new feature I think. I liked the idea of being able to control the light show yourself on the other church - only perhaps in France.

More soon, I hope.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 08:04 AM
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Thanks for writing!
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 09:37 AM
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Great report. I saw Chartres after dark a number of years ago -- my photo reports show the city after dark starting at "reply #9".

Chartres - July 2011 | Any Port in a Storm
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 10:28 AM
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I am really enjoying your trip report and photos. Hope your husband did OK with his knee.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 11:03 AM
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Yes, Chartres has some festivals / atractions. La fête de la lumière as you witnessed (superb pictures, thanks) and in the winter they have a mini Xmas market with a iceskate place. Where we foudn ourselves eating oysters with a glass of Chablis while the kids were skating. Great amtosphere.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 11:04 AM
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Am stopping at the French 'r' Nikki! In French class, we used a pencil on our tongue to find it. Back to your TR!
*******

What a super idea re Proust, Nikki. Gorgeous Chartres photos! The tour gives one so much more info. How cool to meet up with the AGMs and Gomikis!

More soon please!

Last edited by TDudette; Oct 21st, 2018 at 11:11 AM.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 11:14 AM
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TR in medical french has quite naother meaning actually.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 12:54 PM
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TTT to follow this lovely thread.
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Old Oct 21st, 2018, 01:53 PM
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Dinner is at the Restaurant Saint Hilaire. This is probably the best dinner of our trip. I have a wonderful dish of small scallops with their roe, in a sauce so good it requires a second basket of bread to mop it up. This is followed by sweetbreads in another delicious sauce. Please pass the bread. And oh yes, the cheese course. They bring one for Alan and it is enough to share among the table, but it looks so good that AGM’s husband ends up getting another just to be sure. And oh yes, the desserts. I no longer remember what they were but a picture is worth a thousand words.








We had thought we might see some more of the lights around the city, but my feet are shot and we take a taxi back to the hotel. You can’t do everything.

We finish up the evening at the hotel bar. We all have a glow from spending such a glorious time here. Or maybe it’s the Calvados.

In the morning we meet for breakfast in the hotel, which is a terrific buffet. I concentrate on the cheese section, and on the bread and artisanal jam. All through the trip there is wonderful bread, butter, and cheese. We say good-bye to AGM and her husband, who are heading off toward the Loire, and we go in our own direction.

This day will be spent driving through the countryside of Normandy with the goal of reaching Cabourg by dinner time.

Last edited by Nikki; Oct 21st, 2018 at 01:56 PM.
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