Friday, April 2, 2010

The Fountains of Nîmes

Nîmes is a city I've been slowing getting to know. When visiting I am most often on the arm of my vintner, and thus not necessarily paying attention to how to get places, where I'm at, etc., To say that my usually good spacial orientation is askew in this city is to put it mildly.

But as with many things, this too shall slowly change. I now have an Iphone... yes, I've succumbed. And I must say that the map app is something I'm now completely addicted to.

I've always loved maps. I love the Gallimard book of maps and the metro lines for Paris. A city I've never ever been lost in thanks to this handy tool (long ago transferred into the hands of a former au pair who also found it very handy).

I love having a bird's eye view of a city, orienting myself, sensing where I am and what general direction I need to head in. And I like that reassuring feeling of seeing the name of a street on a wall just where it is supposed to be.

Yesterday I went to Nîmes to lunch with JP and to do a bit of shopping for his brother and sister in law who both have birthdays this weekend. I went by train as my car was in the shop. And, with my handy map app guiding me, it was a piece of cake strolling up the main avenue in front of train station, crossing a boulevard and angling over to meet up at the Café de la Grande Bourse just beside the Roman Arena. It is just so much less obvious that you're a tourist when you're looking at a little phone, rather than pulling out a guide book or turning a map around in your hands! A bit of discretion goes a long way.

The city of Nîmes has done some major renovation work on the area around the Arena. I have memories of visiting ages ago with Erick and being shocked that cars circled the Arena, deeply blackened by the exhaust fumes. Well, this is no longer the case. The two thousand year old monument is now protected with vast and handsome open spaces, often the sites for seasonal fairs, events and more.

Old Nîmes is a lovely warren of little streets, chic and less-so boutiques, cafés, restaurants, etc., It is a city lived in by its inhabitants. There is plenty for a tourist to see, but, with a diverse and relatively stable economy, it doesn't depend on tourism for its existence -- in direct comparison to Arles, Avignon, St. Remy de Provence, etc., As such, it has a very different feeling.

But, let me not convey that it isn't a city worth visiting. Quite the contrary. I love strolling through the gardens situated atop the ancient Roman fountains and baths below. You are truly upon a city swirling with water beneath. Arches, cascades, the coolness of moving water... Not to mention a few ducks enjoying a bath. It is beautiful, calming, serene, with just the sprinkling of lovers and kids and their parents to make it all seem right.

An important monument in Nîmes is the Maison Carrée -- the Square house. A rare vestige of domestic Roman architecture. It is currently undergoing drastic renovations on its four facades. Akin to the Roman Arena in Arles, it is in the hands of modern stone sculptors replacing the much eroded stones of the past two thousand years with newly and sharply chiseled Corinthian pedestals, complete with leaves, swirls and more. I'm not certain if this is wonderful or sacreligious. In any case, no one asked my opinion. And whether fully renovated, or there in all its eroded glory as a witness to the passage of time, it will remain an impressive structure, faced by the modern art museum across the boulevard, and circled by shops, cafes and more.

Not to be missed through the summer months is the city initiative called les Jeudis de Nîmes. These Thursday evenings are times of hanging out in cafes and restaurants till late. Dancing the tango 'en plein air', enjoying an evening artists' and handiwork market, and much more.

We shopped and browsed, considering possibilities for these two people so dear to JP. Then we found the cafe where we often dine before dancing in the summer, enjoyed a salad and savory tart and then headed off in our separate directions. I had an hour to kill before my train, and JP had a dentist appointment awaiting him back in Vauvert.
T'was a lovely interlude to my week! And even more pleasant I think was simply strolling on my own after lunch seeking that perfect post-meal pastry... and taking in the beauty of the garden.

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