Doors of La Rochelle

Les portes de La Rochelle make me want to paint with watercolors.

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But first I have to photograph them, because I’m not even CLOSE to ready to have anyone see me attempting a watercolor. Besides, the French are rather private people and would not be likely to appreciate me camped outside their door, no matter how artsy I looked. So instead I took a gazillion photos (as quickly as possible).

4 Navy Full Image

Delta Taupe

Alley WoodCrooked Bright Blue

Blue Grill with Balcony45 Wood Electric7 Aqua

18 Cross Slight Crop

6 Soft Blue

8 Burgundy

 

I love all the colors against the soft buff and cool grey of the stone. Maybe I will actually get out my paints. I’ll let you know. But if you do first, send me a photo!

Double Doors

Postscript: I know I posted all of the above only half an hour ago, but David helped me realize that the visual metaphor pictured above may be too obscure, and a few words may be in order. I’m ending this post with the photo of an open door with something beautiful behind it, because that’s what this whole experience feels like to us. Between the challenges of the logistics and the language barrier, it really did seem sometimes that it would be impossible to take this journey, yet here we are, and it’s amazing. It feels like we’ve stepped through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia — a completely different kind of place in some ways — with all the essentials of life more richly appreciated, because we’re out of our routine: the refreshment of a perfect little garden in the midst of a stone city, the sensory treat of glowing produce piled in abundance at the outdoor markets, the ambiance of cozy little restaurants in tiny side streets, the laughter of children, the delight of a smile shared.

We are profoundly grateful for this opportunity and hope you enjoy sharing a bit of it with us. Better yet, we wish you your own open door with beauty behind it. We’d love to hear all about it. And don’t forget to send photos!

Good to Know

When you travel out of your home country, one of the most challenging tasks is deciphering signs, and some of them are important, like the sign at the cemetery advising when to leave to avoid being locked in overnight. Seriously. Good to know.

And this one:

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Don’t touch this. Got it.

And this one:

(Beware of the dog!)
(Beware of the dog!)

Even without knowing French, you’d understand this sign if you saw this on the other side of the fence:

Le Chien
Le Chien

He did NOT like having his picture taken.

Some signs are easy to understand:

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I bought un nouveau chapeau in this shop, since we’re spending so much time out in the sun. (And because it’s super stylish, let’s be honest.)

Some signs are sort of inspiring, in a vague, literary way:

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“Street of the Brave . . . er. . . Certain-Style-of-French-Poetry”?

Some are just slightly beyond my level of French:

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think this means: “Fashion worn by dogs and cats” but I’m not sure about the à portée de part. Glancing in the door, there seem to be lots of posh pet things, but since I have neither dog nor cat, it’s not really something I absolutely need to know.

Some are cheerful:

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It doesn’t really explain what kind of food is offered, but at least they seem to be in a good mood. (It says, “The sun shines for everyone Restaurant”)

Some make you go, “Huh?”

I seriously have no idea.
I seriously have no idea.

So if you stand here . . . what? . . . you’ll make friends?

How about this one? This means pedestrians yield to traffic, right?

Who's yielding here?
Who’s yielding here?

But whenever we wait, the cars all stop (well almost all), just barely in time, it’s true, but they stop, and the drivers tend to look a bit irritated that we’re not halfway across already. But there are just enough cars that don’t stop to make us believe the yield sign is actually for us. Wouldn’t that be REALLY good to know?

Some are completely incomprehensible. Even my French tutor doesn’t know what this one means:

IMG_2920Is it saying: “No cars, no bikes, no pedestrians and all you lawbreakers who are going to come this way anyway, go 20 km/hr”? That can’t be it. The road has to be for someone, and lots of us use it all the time. But today I noticed this exact sign, but without the red stripe a block earlier, so now I have a new theory. The first sign with no stripe is saying, “I don’t care if you’re a car, a bike, or a person. Don’t go over 20 km/hr because you’re all sharing this tiny street.”

Ruelle shared by cars, bikes and pedestrians.
Ruelle shared by cars, bikes and pedestrians.

At the end of the block, with the red-striped sign, I’m going to go with, “All bets are off. Go as fast as you can.” Based on how these little cars scream around bends, I think I’ve got it.

Onward and upward. Here’s to greater understanding wherever you are!

 

Kite and Wind Festival of Châtelaillon-Plage

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage
Festival du cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

This past weekend was a full one  with Easter, and the Saturday happenings in the Vieux Port. Then on Sunday afternoon, our friends Jacky and Pascale picked us up and drove us down to the Festival du cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage. Châtelaillon is a coastal village just south of La Rochelle boasting a long beautiful beach with a promenade stretching out alongside it.

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage
Festival du cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

Not too hard to see that vent could mean wind, but I love the word for kite, cerf-volant, which would literally be something like deer-flying or stag-flying. How great is that? There was even a team of four guys that performed a choreographed ballet pour quatre cerf-volants, with four kites “dancing” in tight formation to music.

But this was not just for kites, it was really a celebration of the wind and all the beautiful things the wind can send aloft or set fluttering. Like these:

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

And these:

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage

This was another event for all ages:

Petits Kite Flyers
Petits Kite Flyers: The Launch
And it's up!
And it’s up!
Festival de cerf-volant et du vent de Châtelaillon-Plage
And another launch . . .
And it's up . . . a little!
And it’s up . . . well . . . a little!

I’ve never really liked the wind, but this event gave me a new perspective. There were hundreds of people who were enjoying the wind and grateful for it and I found myself full of gratitude too: for the colors and the smiles and the laughter of children, and especially for our friends for inviting us to share this with them. How can you not love anything that makes you look up?

Le Week-End à La Rochelle

Vieux Port, La Rochelle
Vieux Port, La Rochelle

Weekends in La Rochelle everyone heads for the vieux port, where something is sure to be happening. The waterfront cafés are bustling.

La Rochelle Cafe Cropped

The children are entertained.

Cours des Dames, La Rochelle
Cours des Dames, La Rochelle

The students . . . well . . . today they were engaged in the Nautics Games, which involved wearing odd things and jousting with boats:

Nautics Games Jousting: The Prep
Nautics Games Jousting: Phase One — Let’s Talk About it (45 minutes)
Nautics Games Jousting: The Prep
Nautics Games Jousting: Phase Two –We Promise We’re Actually Starting Now (10 minutes)
Nautics Games Jousting
Nautics Games Jousting: Phase Three — The Battle (30 seconds)

Since preparing for the battle seemed to take forever (that may have been the low tide’s fault), the sidewalk performers had a captive audience. They’ll do anything to vie for your euros and centimes.

Cours des Dames, La Rochelle
Cours des Dames, La Rochelle

Some are more successful than others at keeping the attention of an audience. We saw a guy yesterday standing with one of those arm-brace single crutches, who would occasionally lift up his crutch and burst into song, singing into the hand grip part as if it were a microphone. There would be a little enthusiastic singing, then some I-can’t-remember-this-part vocalizing, then a little more singing, all offered with a twinkle in his eye as if he were giving us all a little gift. Okay, the music was not fabulous, but he got a lot of smiles, and a rather surprising number of tips. I guess Elizabeth Berg* is right, metaphorically and literally: “It is never about how good your voice is; it is only about feeling the urge to sing, and then having the courage to do it with the voice you are given.”

Sing on!

*See the Quotes page for some newly posted quotes from Elizabeth Berg.

 

Finding Peaceful La Rochelle

I’m taking a month off from school, and instead will be working with a tutor a few times a week, so I have much more time during the day to join David in his rambles. Since this week is Holy Week, I’ve spent a little more time than usual in meditation and quiet. Even here in this relatively bustling tourist city, there are oases of peace to be found.

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I glimpsed this very photogenic door at the end of a tiny alley one day as we were walking home from the port.

Alley Cross Door Cropped

Although David visited le cimetière last year, I’d never seen it, so Monday we walked over there. We took a winding backroads route, so it took a while to find an opening in the wall, but we eventually got in. There’s a sign at the entrance that warns you to leave by 17H45 (5:45 p.m.) if you prefer NOT to be locked in for the night. Duly noted. Don’t think we would have liked that much quiet (or that kind–the locked-in kind).

Cimetière de Saint-Éloi
Cimetière de Saint-Éloi

There is a new section, but most of the cemetery is quite old and lovely and very peaceful.

Cimetière de Saint-Éloi
Cimetière de Saint-Éloi
Cimetière de Saint-Éloi
Cimetière de Saint-Éloi

I’m running out of synonyms for gorgeous. What is this stunning tree?

Today we went into Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle. It’s undergoing restoration at the moment, but was silent and beautiful inside, with tranquil nooks for prayer and meditation.

Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle
Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle
Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle
Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle

I hope for you a week permeated with peace and an Easter overflowing with joy.

Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle
Cathédrale Saint-Louis de La Rochelle

He is risen!

Shopping à La Rochelle

On of the best things about all this walking is discovering wonderful little shops like this one:

Nicolas, rue des Merciers
Nicolas, rue des Merciers

We popped in here the other day to find a gift for our friends, Jacky and Pascale, to thank them for their great kindness last year. One of the gentlemen inside the shop helped us and we ended the exchange with the traditional, “Merci. Au revoir!” and left. Since “revoir” means to see again, people will often add the specifics of exactly when they expect to meet again, like “à demain” (see you tomorrow) or “à dimanche” (see you Sunday), but you only add that part if you are actually expecting to see someone at the specific time or day mentioned, so unless you’re a very regular customer, au revoir is usually all you hear and say when leaving a shop.

While making our purchase, I had admired a bottle bag with handy dividers, but left without buying it, then remembered all the bottles we’re constantly toting, changed my mind, and turned around and went back immediately. The vendeur was a bit surprised to see us back so soon, but of course sold me what I wanted and even told me the French for it–sac compartimenté, since I know you’re wondering–then concluded the transaction with the traditional “Au revoir” but this time added “À tout à l’heure!” (See you in a few minutes!) What a comedian. Made us laugh, though.

Wine Guy Comedian
Wine Guy Comedian

Shopping takes on a whole new feeling when you’re living sans voiture. Anything you decide you can’t live without must be fetched on foot from some distance, and everything you buy must be schlepped home. Beverage consumption has to be choreographed so you don’t run out of milk, juice, wine, vodka, etc. all on the same day. The water’s safe to drink, of course, but doesn’t taste fabulous, so we also buy bottles of drinking water.

On the plus side, we’re getting lots of exercise, seeing lots of gorgeous flowers along the way:

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And there’s a posh new shopping bag in the house this year from the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, with a reproduction of Jan van Eyck’s The Madonna with Canon van der Paele (click link to find a better visual and the art history lesson). I’m sure the original is stunning: vibrant and colorful and unusual–since it depicts a vision–but I didn’t get it at all at first. I thought it was some sort of time-warp version of the classic adoration of the magi theme, with a priest in full jeweled splendor, a knight in armor, and some balding white guy (the canon) instead of the magi. Despite my ignorance, it classes up the schlepping considerably. I call it “Baby Jesus Goes Shopping.”

Baby Jesus Goes Shopping
Baby Jesus Goes Shopping

I don’t know if our nearest neighbor speaks English, but if so, she may have been surprised the other day to hear me call back to David in the house, “Don’t forget Baby Jesus!”    

La Rochelle à Pied

La Rochelle is a very walkable city–which is fortunate for us, since we don’t have a car here–so we go everywhere à pied (on foot).

Rue Bujaud
Rue Bujaud

David, especially, is getting very comfortable with les petite rues (the tiny streets), since he walks quite a bit while waiting for me to finish class. I admit to taking the bus to school in the morning, because the sun is not even up at 7:45 a.m. and it would be a chilly 45-minute walk. (You can put away the wimp-meter–I know.) David, on the other hand, now meets me at school, after having walked all the way, plus some meandering for purely exploratory purposes .

La Porte Dauphine
La Porte Dauphine

This charming bit of history is not even a major park, just a refreshing bit of green space we encounter when we walk home sometimes. We take different routes on different days, some more green that others, but even the centre-ville routes have les petit jardins here and there.

La Rochelle -- un beau jardin
La Rochelle — Un beau jardin

If you read the Reconnaissance Mission posts (specifically Il y a du Soleil), you may remember the artist with the origami. This is the mini-park where he attempted to keep his artwork upright last year. No artist there at the moment. This photo was taken this past Sunday–through the bars. Apparently this gem of a garden is private.

One of the great things about La Rochelle is that there are loads of sidewalks that are covered with beautiful stonework arcades (pronounce ar-cahd, even when plural). This one happens to be empty of people because all the shops are closed on Sundays.

Les Arcades, La Rochelle
Les Arcades, La Rochelle

Super brilliant idea, les arcades, because no umbrella is needed, and when the streets get crowded, les parapluies can be a bit awkward to negotiate. David tends to think I’m about to put his eye out (likely true). Consequently, j‘adore les arcades. But amidst all the stone, flowers are very welcome, like this glowing jewel of a tulip I eventually noticed blooming in a little strip of soil next to the bus station.

IMG_2713I’d hurried by it daily for a week, oblivious, until the day I had my camera in hand, which slowed me down considerably. All kinds of details sprang to life. I’ve been told that life takes on a whole new dimension when you try to draw, paint or photograph it, and I’m finding it true. As Vivian Swift* says, “See as much of life as possible, but take time to notice it too.” (And keep your art supplies handy!)

*See the Quotes page for more from Vivian Swift and others.