A Travellerspoint blog

The Chateau was Overwhelming

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Given the success of yesterday, we thought it would be a good idea to go out again and see another site. We settled on a visit to the nearby Château de Lunéville. (Ben laughed at the name, appropriately enough. Personally, I think it would really suit my friend Marianne and her family, for obvious reasons). Myriam and I set off together while Thierry, busy preparing for a week-long trip to Lyon for work, planned to join us later at the chateau. I had heard a few people talk about the chateau in very glowing terms, saying I really should see it while I was here, and that it resembled a 'petite Versailles.' Having been so impressed with Versailles when I saw it twenty-five years ago and awestruck by its spectacular rooms, mirrors, tapestries and gardens, I was quite excited to see a smaller version.

We arrived in light drizzle, received a map of sorts and tried to decipher it. It wasn't entirely clear where we were to start so we just picked a building and proceeded up the stairs. Entering a small room at the top, we saw a lone man sitting at a table. He beamed when he saw us, explaining he was a historian and could tell us about the chateau and answer any questions. A family had come up behind us and the father dubiously asked how long this man's talk would take. The historian promised he would only take 'dix minutes' so the five of us sat down. Grinning from ear to ear, the professor then proceeded to take us through what I can only imagine was a very thorough history of the building from medieval times to present day. Every few minutes, a new group of people would poke their heads in, at which point he would explain to them, yet again, that he was a historian and was at our disposal for any questions we might have. Even his great enthusiasm for his subject could not appease the growing discontent I felt as he went on and on and on, in French of course. I was eager to see the rooms and knew we could run out of time as we did yesterday if we weren't careful. Finally, 25 minutes later, we escaped and entered our second building. Interesting though it was because it showed some signs of the German occupation during WW II when they used it for barracks, it was very rough and decayed. Where are these glorious Versailles-like rooms, I wondered. We skipped across the courtyard, briefly taking in the black slate roofs and balustrades atop them. Entering the next section, which advertised the chapel and ducal apartments, I felt sure we would be upon the pageantry soon. However, it turns out the phrase 'Versailles-like' refers to the architecture only; all of the rooms had been stripped bare of everything and sent to other chateaux across Europe years ago. This chateau had then suffered several fires and occupation by both the German and French armies so was in quite a state. Some parts have been renovated but only to their basic condition.

Near the chapel, we were approached by a local guide who talked to us for ten minutes. She went so fast I couldn't really understand anything. Myriam asked if I understood all of it and at that point, I realized there was a real disconnect between what she thought I could understand and what in reality I can actually comprehend. I had this sudden gush of disappointment, loneliness, failure, and feeling misunderstood well up within me, and together with the impatience I had been harbouring, it all came together in a perfect storm. I quickly found the word 'abattu' (overwhelmed) in my electronic dictionary and indicated I needed a rest in the gardens for a few minutes. There were so many French people here! And I couldn't understand them! And they couldn't understand me! I didn't want to see them! I didn't want to hear them! I felt like I was trapped in a French movie and couldn't escape! A stroll around the gardens (which were actually quite pretty) and a few deep breaths later, I regained a pleasant facade. Thierry and Myriam looked concernedly at me. Thierry said it must be because I was very tired, Myriam blamed the grey weather, and I held menopause firmly responsible.

After I got home, I had a much-needed sleep and felt much more refreshed and normal again. Myriam took it all in stride, saying she had felt similarly when she was immersed in English for two weeks last year. I realized anew how important it is to have the ability to share one's more complex thoughts and feelings at various junctures in order to express deeper emotions, have richer discussions and work through quandaries; I suspect that is true for most. Without that outlet, because of the language limitations, I now recognize a tension builds in me. I think days like this can be tallied up as a 'personal learning opportunity.'

Posted by mzemliak 11:13 Archived in France Comments (3)

Lorraine History Relived

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Each year, there's an event in France called Journées Européennes du Patrimoine. For two years, over 16 000 sites, both public and private, are open free to the public for visiting. While many of them are museums, galleries and historical buildings open throughout the year, others, such as the back rooms of Nancy's city hall, are only open to the public once a year. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity (but didn't get out of the house till 3 PM)! Hence, it was a bit of a mad dash where we took in several sights within a three hour period.

We first went to Villa Majorelle, designed by Louis Majorelle, a designer and cabinet maker who was a key player in the introduction of art nouveau to the city of Nancy. His house encapsulates the design movement of the times (circa 1900) so has many interesting aspects: its grand staircase, magnificent terrace, strong gables, intricate iron work and elaborate fireplaces.

We then visited the Église des Cordeliers, a church with a plain but imposing main sanctuary, and learned some of its history. It stems from the fifteenth century, when Lorraine was an independent duchy and was attached to the ducal palace so many of the grand dukes of the time used it as their final resting place. The tomb room is really striking; shaped as an octagon, it has a beautiful white and black motif and is naturally lit from a portal above. That, together with the choir stalls, were my favorite parts of the church. After Lorraine became a part of France, the church became important to French royalty as well, with folks like Marie Antoinette stopping by to pray on her way to get married to Louis XVI. We learned of its vandalism during the French Revolution and subsequent restoration.

We stopped in for a hour long visit to the Ducal Palace, which offered us some Lorraine history and demonstrated the turmoil of the area as both Germany and France claimed it at different times, when it lost its independence. France is actually celebrating its annexation of the area exactly 250 years ago this year. We walked around the old city, much of which I had seen before but it definitely deserved a second look, as did the main square La Place de Stanislaus. We rushed into city hall with five minutes to spare before closing but could not see any of the interior.
All in all, it was a very interesting afternoon.

Posted by mzemliak 03:28 Archived in France Comments (5)

Elusive Papers

Friday, September 16, 2016

I look forward to Fridays now because that is one of my Emmaus days. There were no prospective thieves or shenanigans occurring today, or at least, none that we witnessed. I had a bit of time to scout around the place to see what else they offered. I mean, why not, if I've got a half empty suitcase...? I was actually looking for a Scrabble board for Myriam as they only have a junior version and I feel, philosophically, that every household should have a decent Scrabble board. However, the one game the King of Toys could find for me was a 'lux' version costing 10 euros, way over my budget because I'm not even sure they'll play it -- they may not harbour the same fascination for the game that I do, although it is hard to believe some people have other views about Scrabble. In the furniture area, I noted a couple of interesting items that I haven't seen in second hand stores in Victoria: there is an old dentist instrument panel as well as not one but three prie-Dieu (!) for sale. Or maybe I'm just not noticing them in Victoria...

One conversation topic today centered on how common it is in France now for people to order food for their evening meal. My colleagues suggested that many people, particularly the younger generation, order in three to four times a week, relying on 'McDo, pizza, Chinois, ou kebab' for their nourishment. When I tried to confirm that with Marine later, she affirmed it, but said 'Pas Chez Poirot!' As I've described, most of Myriam's time away from school work is committed to shopping, prepping, cooking, freezing, and cleaning up from healthy dinners.

Today, I met Halim, Mustafa's uncle. He, too, is a recent immigrant from Algeria, having arrived in February. He recounted how, in Algeria, he worked for a large telecommunications firm and had held a good job there. However, he felt it was time to follow his brother and take his family to a better country, so, for the time being, he is working at Emmaus. He says it's been an education and humbling to work there with people from different walks of life and different backgrounds; he enjoys the 'mélange.' He and my colleagues then got into a faster discussion on the political problems in Algeria, it being a dictatorship, and I was lost for much of it. I could then tell that they moved on to religion (would sex be next?), Halim's opinion being that extremists were of an entirely different religion than non-radical Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The topic of jihadists and extremism comes up fairly often in France, I'm finding, likely because it is a common topic on the news and they are so active in France right now. Mustafa, too, hopes to be just a temporary resident at Emmaus. He has completed his engineering degree in Algeria and is taking master's courses online waiting to get into a Paris university. It seems that the primary issue is getting 'French papers' -- I discovered that is what is holding back Jean-Paul, the Congolese man with the computer degree . I don't know how long, complicated or difficult a process it is to get one's papers here. But obviously, it cannot be easy.

Posted by mzemliak 12:52 Archived in France Comments (1)

Salty Chickens and Dirty Sweaters

Thursday, September 15

This morning, I had a few verbal successes on my errands to the post office, the bakery, and the pharmacy to pick up Myriam's medication order. I didn't have to explain to anyone first that I didn't speak French well -- I think it was pretty obvious -- and I was able to have some conversations with full sentences, always preferable to the disjointed phrases and insistent pointing routine I've employed other times. Also, I was happy to locate the much sought after dental floss at the pharmacy as it doesn't appear to reside with toiletries in the supermarkets.

I have been meaning to explore the museums in Nancy so today was my chance for discovering what the city offered in that department. Walking towards the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I was momentarily distracted a bit by the shopping along Rue St Jean but it afforded me some brief discussions with the store personnel so I counted it as homework. Feeling a bit peckish, I decided to forgo the fresh fruit that beckoned from the local Carrefour and selected a warm 'croque-monsieur' instead. Hannah had introduced us to these wonderful sandwiches which she learned how to make while in France; they are France's version of a grilled cheese sandwich and consist of a series of layers (bread, emmantal, ham, emmantal, bread, emmantal) all toasted under a broiler. While I still appreciated Hannah's homemade version more, this brought back tasty memories. For anyone who loves cheese (and who doesn't, besides Abby?), this is a must. (The related 'croque-madame' has a fried egg on top.)

I was happy to find that the Musée des Beaux-Arts includes an impressive variety of religious paintings from the Renaissance, landscapes ('paysages'), still life (amusingly translated as 'natures mortes'), 18th century portraits, and contemporary art. I tend to prefer the works from the Renaissance era and true-to-life depictions myself; however, a stroll through the contemporary art area is always fun because it usually includes some interesting pieces that surprise me for their value as art. In previous art galleries, like the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, we've seen such installments as snow shovels, a row of bricks, and even a free-standing toilet pass as art. Therefore, I wasn't too surprised to find a series of works that were merely different types of chairs on display, by someone named Jean Prouvé. It was only after I came home and researched him that I discovered he was actually a local designer and architect who created, among other things, some innovative designs for domestic, school and industrial chairs. Obviously, I got things very wrong. I also discovered a very cool little room which admits a single person, who then isolates themselves by closing the door. The whole display consists of mirrored walls and ceiling and about thirty hanging lights similar to Christmas bulbs. The cascading mirror effect places the viewer in the middle of a galaxy of coloured stars, an interesting experience in infinity. In Europe, what we would know as the second floor is actually called the first floor ('premier étage'), as the French give the street level the name of 'rez-de-chassée.' After traversing the three floors above, I made my way down to the 'sous-sol' (basement), where they keep the collection of art nouveau and art déco among the fifteenth century walled fortifications of the city.

Returning home, I had lots to recount about my day. There was a lot of energy in the kitchen as I was baking a cake and Myriam and Marine were making dinner. Nico was loitering nearby. We conversed about a number of activities and the kids helped me with my pronunciations. This came after I witnessed Marine putting her mom's sweater on top of her own so that dinner prep didn't dirty her own clothes. I chastised her for this but unfortunately what came out was: "I see you put on your mom's chicken so that yours wouldn't get salty." (Chicken is 'poule' while sweater is 'pull' and salty is 'salée while dirty is 'sale.') With her laughing at me, the intended parental harangue did not have the effect I intended.

Posted by mzemliak 05:48 Archived in France Comments (3)


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I can't seem to get over the way young people here don't offer their seat to older people on the bus. Now, I'm not just saying that because no one is offering me a seat -- I feel well enough to stand, thank you. But again today I saw an instance of four young louts hogging seats while an older person remained in the aisle. I don't feel brazen enough (yet) to challenge any of them and perhaps it wouldn't do too much anyway. Myriam told me of an experience her friend had where she witnessed an obviously pregnant woman requesting a young man's seat because she was tired and being refused.

The big news at Emmaus today was that Alpha got his head shaved on Saturday. If I knew he was going to go and do something so drastic, I would have asked him to pose for a photo earlier. He is on holidays so I shall have to wait for his return to see the new look but all say it is quite the change. Apparently, during lunch on the weekend, he exited for a bit to have the deed done and came back afterwards, relishing the attention and saying 'Oui, c'est moi!' to all the staff who didn't recognize him.

Other news was that I got a marriage proposal today, from a young Algerian named Mustafa, who felt I should consider a second husband. Even though he had quite the soccer moves, showing off for a staff person's little girl, I wasn't tempted.

Lunch proved to be an interesting affair. As usual, the table was already set with the customary accompaniments (salad, cheese, fruit, bread) when we arrived. Within a few minutes, the main course was brought out and I saw that it was a beef stew of some kind, with puréed potatoes again. I selected a couple of pieces of meat and ladled on the gravy. When I started cutting the meat, I found it kind of tough and the shape of that piece looked to be the tip of something. I tasted it and while it was definitely beef, it wasn't the taste I was used to. I asked my neighbour what it was and she told me 'langue,' holding out her tongue for added effect. For a few moments I found myself tongue-tied but then completed my meal with the others. They let me know receiving cow's tongue was a rare occurrence; I'm still not completely sure whether they thought that was a good thing or not.

In the evening, Marine invited me to go see a movie with her. We decided on 'Nerve' as the best option for me, given that it had lots of action and wasn't highly intellectual. Before going, I read a detailed synopsis of the plot, the first time I have ever done that before the movie. It ended up being totally necessary and I was glad I had sacrificed suspense for comprehension. As I always eat popcorn with every film I go to, I continued the tradition here, despite it costing $9 for a large-sized bucket. Gulp. Instead of each of us getting the small size, I suggested to Marine that we share. Only after we were settled in the theatre did I admit that my own girls never share with me now because I generally eat it so quickly and they cannot get a fair share. However, I found out we were kindred spirits in this regard so all was well. In France, they never have butter and salt on their popcorn, preferring a sweet caramel drizzle. I found it more palatable than the tongue.

Posted by mzemliak 11:16 Archived in France Comments (4)

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