Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Visiting Le Mans & Paris

The Roman walls in Le Mans, the best preserved in France

This time of year the days go past so quickly that I can't quite keep up! That seems odd, as the days are also very long indeed. The birds start singing before the sun appears on the horizon, around 5AM and the spine-tingling calls of the owl pair, who live in the castle turret, don't begin until after dark, which is close to 11PM. So many daylight hours! And yet here it is several weeks since my last posting, and I can hardly account for the delay.

During the intervening weeks, we went to Le Mans, and I spent several days in Paris with Emily and her children while Jos was in London directing a show. Here's a taste of each.

Le Mans is one of France's ten biggest cities, although, truthfully, no other city in France can really compare to Paris. Still, Le Mans has its charms and it is the capital of our department (the Sarthe). All our administrative business takes place in Le Mans and it is our closest really large city. You can find just about anything you need in Le Mans and it has sites as old as ones you find in the capital. Le Mans has always been an important cross-roads and was founded long before the Romans settled there in the 2nd century.

The walls which surround the old town are the best preserved in France and one of the most magnificent examples of Roman engineering from the entire Roman empire. They were built about 290 and have been standing ever since, even though there is no foundation. They are literally just bricks stacked gracefully one upon the next and grouted with pink mortar. Le Mans was called The Red City by the Romans because of the distinctive red wall. Below the walls they have planted a very lovely strolling garden. This is either new, or we have just not stumbled upon it before.

Generally when we take a trip to Le Mans it is for some practical purpose, either to file business papers or to shop for items not available in our more local area. All those errands take place in the new city, which is as uninspiring as many big cities constructed after the war. Big ugly cement box-like buildings, sprawling shopping centers, wide busy thoroughfares. Old town is another thing entirely, and I decided I wanted to take the time for a stroll through it again, as we hadn't visited in more than a year. We began by having a really delicious lunch in the main square, at the top of the city. The day was very fine and I enjoyed sitting in the sun on the terrace.

Afterwards we poked around the tangle of narrow streets and I took photos of the lovely old buildings.

Le Mans is built in layers, with newer structures constructed above earlier building works. The city winds ever upward, rather steeply in some places. At the apex of the hill you find the grand 18th century restoration style homes, with their slate roofs and stone or stucco facades.

At the top, the climber is rewarded with a breath-taking view of the new town and the river Sarthe winding through the urban landscape.

On some of the lower levels you have remnants of the 16th-17th centuries, the old studded doorways, the layers of ancient brick, constructed as our house was during the renaissance period.

There are also traces of the Middle Ages, half timbered buildings, carved wooden ornamentation and sculpted stone doorways.

Traversing the quiet byways of old Le Mans is always a pleasant activity for me. We didn't make it to the cathedral this time, which is a marvel unto itself, displaying the oldest stained glass window in France. I save that for another day and another post.

One of our errands in Le Mans was to purchase some frames and mats for a series of prints I have been working on this year.


I planned my arrival in Paris to coincide with the end of the year celebration/show for Quinn's school. It took place at the City Hall across from the Buttes Chaumont, a gorgeous setting. Quinn called it his "castle show." Each of the five classes sang songs and did a bit of dancing. It was a joyous celebration. Quinn's is the youngest group, and they went first. It's quite impressive to see what a group of three year olds can perform on their own!

Quinn was very proud of the bow tie made by his mother. He looked wonderful in his dress up clothes.

After the performance, the whole group of parents, grandparents, teachers and children went across the busy road to the park for a get-together/casual picnic. It's so great to have this incredible space as an extension of the school. The kids go to play here practically every day.

The school population is very diverse. It's a bilingual school, so the French parents who enroll their children are interested in broadening their personal horizons. There are also a lot of parents, like Emily and Jos, who live in Paris but are not French, so Quinn meets children from all over the world.

I don't think I've often been to this park without seeing a wedding party. It is such a romantic setting and the justice of the peace is just across the road.

There are acres of lawn for sitting, miles of roads for walking or riding,

And a big lake for skipping stones, or watching remote controlled boats skimming across the water. Here is Quinn with his friend Ulysses.


Zinnie is just about five months old. She's arrived at that charming age where she engages with you, flashes bright smiles, turns over and grabs the brightly colored objects offered to her.

She seems to be a very happy little girl. She looks so much like Emily to me.

Quinn is an attentive and entertaining brother for Zinnie. He is quite sweet with her.


Back at home, I meet Mr. Lizard every day just after lunch. He sun bathes with me while I drink my coffee.

One day last week, after dinner, and the Wimbledon matches were completed for the day, we walked up to the garden to watch the sun set over the old city walls. It was peaceful, warm and majestic.

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