Monday, January 17, 2011

the rest of Day 1, and part of Day 2

In the bookstores I keep an eye out for pretty books of Nancy and the Lorraine region, but there's nothing I really like. They have endless books on the Nancy School of art and all its history, but I'm not so interested in art history. I want to go see it, but not take it home in a book. On the wall would be fine too.
So no photo book of Nancy in all the seasons and corners I won't get to. My own photos will have to do, and I don't find myself taking a lot of pictures. Maybe it's the dark season and the lack of green. Maybe it's the emptiness of the grand Place Stanislas, lined with gilded fantasies but cold and pointless, the monumental fountains in the corners just grotesque.
After a rest at the hotel and another delightful soak, it's off to a small pizzeria for a light dinner. Italian twice in a row while I'm discovering the Lorraine? No, no; they serve flammenkuche as well. A sort of Alsacian version of pizza, with a thin crust topped with cream, onions and bacon bits as a base, then add cheese, potatos, ham, salmon, whatever on top of that (though not tomatos. that would be pizza). If the crust is done properly and not soggy, it's a real treat.
Clearer today than yesterday, so I take a long stroll down the river, to see what becomes of it outside of the city. After a couple of miles I don't really get out of the city, and it's just a straight course with severe banks and nothing in particular. Just as managed and boring as a canal. Maybe if I'd gone the other way...
Around 11 it clouds over again. I find the much-touted Cours Léopold, but if there's one thing the French are really bad at, it's these long "parks" made of gravel, with a couple spots of forbidden lawn and rows of plane trees "trimmed" to within an inch of their lives. Any self-respecting tree should just die from the humiliation of submitting to this butchery.

Hey, what is this??
Along a disused section of railway, the most fabulous graffiti. Wilder than the Trains of Culoz. Here's a little tour.

Then I went on, and discovered that this is the back yard of an art school, the front of which looks like this: Ah, so that explains that.
After an indifferent but local lunch, it's on to the Museum of the Nancy School. Tucked away in a fantastic turn of the century house on what is now a quite ordinary street, I had to go back up the block because I passed it the first time. One of those frenchy, secret places, where on the street there's just a wall - everything of interest is hidden away from view.
Though the glassworks, woodworking, metal sculpting, and painting of the early 20th century are remarkable and a pleasure (as long as you stay away from the overdose of pastels), whole roomfuls of furniture together becomes too much. The huge commodes are fabulous in their details, but they're too imposing, the dining sets too look-at-me insistent. They're not in fact something I want in my house. I'm cured of that late high-school, early college fantasy.
Paul Nicolas, master glassman, was one of the later arrivals at the N-school. His diploma is on display, and an error in his name is crossed out in pencil: Emile replaced with Paul. Must have been a shock to receive this distinguished parchment, so beautifully and officially engraved, and have to correct your name. Personally, I'm accustomed to be amputated of an H, but Emile for Paul!
When I was in Marrakech last, visiting the Majorelle gardens was one of the highlights of the city, an island of calm, gently flowing streams, and lush vegetation. Majorelle too was of the N-school, and you can see how the perpetual spring-summer of this art works well farther south. Here in the north it's more dreaming.
The whole Art Nouveau movement was something of an idyll. It's perpetually pleasant. The colors are soft. I realize that, while I like prettiness, I also want more, and other periods are just as interesting.
Looking at my own photos of Nancy - aside from the birds on the river and the fresh graffiti - I spent by far the most time on the half-abandoned industrial sites along the river, and on the old flour mill and its broken windows. I think I was inspired for that by Bridget Callahan's gorgeous work in abandoned sections of New Jersey.
Because of the annoying way Blogger adds photos to the top of the post, I'll break here and show you those in the next post. Perhaps tomorrow.


steven said...

cool thoughtful ending here. i have been thinking for two years about the industrial side of my little city. i can easily pull the natural out and then there's all this "otherness". i really like graffiti a lot. street art. let's call it that. the link through to bridget's work was really eye-opening and refreshing!! steven

FreeFlying said...

Oh my goodness. I'm just catching up on all of these about your trip. SO jealous. But excited for you because it sounds awesome. (But did I mention JEALOUS?

shabby girl said...

If only all graffiti could be so good! Although I'm usually a soft color kind of girl, I like graffiti in big bold colors!

Eryl said...

I love graffiti, even bad graffiti makes me smile, and the industrial edges of cities are always my favourite places to visit. They're where the real people live, and where the most interesting stories can be found. For me, at least. Thanks for the marvellous tour of Nancy.