Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nancy, day 1

Arriving in Nancy, it's begun to rain. Not pouring, but enough to make a look around on foot with all my stuff for a place to stay just Out. Fortunately, Nancy is one of those modern cities with a tramway going right through all the most important bits of town. Including the train station (Clermont, get a clue!), of course. A 24hour pass will be just the ticket for me.
Alas, it is so crowded and foggy on the tram that I can't see much of anything at all aside from the elbows and faces next to me. We pass a couple of small hotels that I can look into on the return trip, all take-your-chances places. I'm more in the mood for boring but reliable, rather than Mom & Pop but gross and/or noisy.
This end of the tram is at the University Hospital complex, and lo & behold, what is there across the street but one - two - three mid-range chain hotels. The first is booked up tonight, but the second has nonsmoking space for me. Forget the third.
After dropping off my stuff and using the bathroom (at last! don't even think of using train toilets unless you're seriously ill) it's off to see just a bit of Nancy. By now it's 5, still raining on & off, and getting dark. It is also the first week of the winter sale season. So. A bit of browsing is in order. Nothing too radical: I've got to haul my luggage from train to train and across Paris and Clermont with my own two hands. In fact, I end up getting nothing, but it's fun to try stuff on.
My room has a treat for me: a bathtub. Not much interested in going out on the town tonight, I spend instead an eternity in blissful bathing. My house in Aubière has only a shower, so I can only relax in a hot bath when travelling. And most of these cheaper hotels I stay in prefer to maximize profits by keeping the rooms and bathrooms as small as possible. Not so this particular Ibis. Not only am I bathing, but I can walk around without smacking anything with my knees. And my bathroom is grand. Not huge, just normal. But so much bigger than at the house!
So I laze about in the tub. I can sit and rub the callouses on my feet (a trick in the shower). I can lie back with my head on a towel and feel the air bubbles on my back tickle their way to freedom. I can scrunch down until my ears are under water, and listen. The world of sound is so peaceful in the bath. Just the sound of my own breathing, hear from the inside, and my pulse going back and forth in my ears.
In the morning it's off to discover Nancy. There's a river, and some canals. Shopping. Big official buildings, and Art Nouveau. Nancy is home to one of the major schools of Art Nouveau, and remains a center for painting, so the art museums are of interest, both the Museum of Fine Arts on the grand Place Stanislaus, and the Museum of the Nancy School, on bus route 123 or somesuch.
This morning it isn't raining, so I decide to check out the waterfront first. A very pleasant stroll is available along both banks of the Meurthe, where space is given in case of flooding. Good move, since it floods all the time. Some of these other cities on rivers, where they've shoehorned it into one concrete channel, you have to wonder what they were thinking.
There are swans and geese and cormorants and coots ("waterchickens" here). Joggers and old men reading newspapers and parents with toddlers. A rower in a 1-man shell is pursued by two men in a motorboat, who shout advice. Another rower goes peacefully up and down the river, unharassed. The only downside is the sad accumulation of trash in the reeds along the banks.
In spots of urban renewal, apartment blocks with huge river-view terrasses are going up. In other spots a river-industrial life is fading away. No longer a significant way of transport or power (and why? renewable power is so popular these days!), factories with docks or mills stand vacant or nearly so. Once the largest flour mill in the country, the Moulin de Paris straddles a canal, five stories of broken windows. Getting closer reveals a thrumming noise from the buildings farthest from the water, however, showing the mill is not dead, just not river-driven. The 21st century activity fits into a fifth of its former space.
Wandering back to the Place Stanislaus, with its grand gilded gates, it's far past noon and time for lunch. I end up having Italian, in spite of being in the heart of Lorraine, but it's what looked best at the moment. My favorite cuisine, Italian...
The Museum of Fine Arts is full of students. People of 15 to 25 line the steps, are scattered around the floor, require stepping over, with their sketch tablets on their knees, working away. Groups of children are being led around and lectured. A young man enthousiastically explains to 20 of them how Picasso is not in fact breaking the rules of perspective with his double portrait, but is taking them to new heights.
Whatever Picasso did or didn't to the rules, I just think his work is ugly. Move on.
Leaving the Fine Arts, I discover I missed the whole Art Nouveau section. It's in the basement! I just thought there wasn't any Nouveau aside from a few paintings, simply because there's a whole museum dedicated to the period elsewhere in town. Well. I'll see that tomorrow.
After all that walking about, only seated for lunch - I didn't get to sit at all in the museum, all available surfaces being occupied with France's artsy youth - and passing in front of the n-ieme hairdresser's, I decide to sit for a haircut. At last. I've been meaning to get a cut for a month now. The stylist barely understands my accented french (I hardly ever have that problem any more) and is alarmed that I want my bangs out of my eyes (and in fact short enough to not be in my eyes next week, either), but I am the customer. I am foreign and I am queen. I have a scissors at home, if need be.
Really, it's a nice cut. I'm very pleased.
Photos with the next post - it's time for dinner!


Titus said...

Great post! Dead jealous, but great post!

'I am foreign and I am queen.' Love it.

Eryl said...

Your description of taking a bath is bliss! I don't have a tub in my house either, but soon... (though I've been saying that for 16 years).