Friday, January 4, 2013

In Search of Lost Time: Nantes, Day 3--Retour Triomphal à l'IES

Saturn decided I had to wake up this morning, not Neptune…the Great Deceiver wanted me to sleep a few more hours. But I had an appointment, an “obligation” if you will…and Saturn held me to it. So I woke up, feeling a little bit of what the French call “wooden mouth” from the night before, and headed downstairs for breakfast.

During my time in Nantes, I studied at a place called the Institute of European Studies (IES). They have centers all over Europe. Students study at IES and also take some classes at the Université de Nantes. I had arranged to come back and visit IES with the current director, Thibault de Berranger. The lady who was Director during my stay, Chantal Rouchet—Madame Rouchet, since I never called her by her first name—had retired the year before after more than 30 years at the Nantes center.

I was almost in tears climbing the three flights of stairs to the center. I was totally moved by coming back. The door was open, so I went in and met Thibault. He is thrilled that I came back and brought me around to meet everyone, including one of the secretaries, Béatrice, who was here when I was a student. She looked right at me and said "You've hardly changed, John!" I couldn't believe that she remembered me. Totally amazing. I even met a few of my old teachers, and I realized that I was finding a WHOLE LOT of lost time.

He introduced me to any students who were around, including two from Gettysburg, near where I went to college, and one from GWU here in DC.
He told me that my French is "impeccable" and told everyone we met about how excellent my French is. I was totally thrilled.

I was in Thibault's office for maybe an hour when the door opens and in walks Madame Rouchet herself! I couldn't believe it. Apparently, Thibault and Madame Rouchet are in touch regularly; she is a valuable resource for Thibault since she was the director for so many years. And when I wrote and said I was coming, Thibault arranged for her to come in; apparently she still lives in Nantes.

To say I was stunned is an understatement. Anyway, we talked about everything: Nantes, politics, movies, all in French of course. It was great. Thibault had to meet with someone so Madame Rouchet and I went into a different room so we could continue the conversation.

Please understand how much it meant to me to see this woman. She helped me so much while I was here and I thought I would never see her again. And to hear her tell other people how fantastic my French was and is? Well, it made me almost speechless, for the second time in two days. I didn't even know how to respond.

I also got a tour of IES, which was rather cramped during my stay. They have a computer lab with Wifi and like 14 PCs now, which of course we didn’t have in 1992. So they now have both the 3rd and 2nd floors. The two classrooms where I spent my time are now the computer lab and a huge library that is a linguist's dream. Everything you could need to translate is in there. Very impressive place indeed.

A current student told me that students are not allowed to do their laundry at their French host families’ homes. A few years ago, one student totally RUINED--as in totally fucked up--a washing machine at a host family's home. So the host families have to do it. I don't know that I'd be comfortable with someone other than my bride or I doing my laundry. Of course I had to wonder what happened there, but I didn’t ask. I mean…how to you practically destroy a washing machine without meaning to??

One cultural tidbit I remembered: When people talk in front of you in France, you are welcome—and in most cases expected—to offer your opinion or advice. In the USA, I try not to butt into discussions that don’t concern me, and might not say a word unless my opinion was directly solicited. Likely I would offer to leave so people could have a private conversation. But in France it’s the opposite. This includes when people are arguing, which to me seems counterintuitive. But that’s the way it is in France.

Anyway, after my protracted visit to my old stomping grounds, which other than the new space hasn't changed that much, I went down to Les Machines de Nantes. This exhibit started last year. A whole bunch of artists, designers and engineers got together to design all types of things that they make in the warehouse, and they work on everything as you walk by. So eventually something you have seen them make goes out on display, and then they make it "live" for all to enjoy out in the open area.

Another project is a carrousel, but this is no ordinary's a carrousel dedicated to sea creatures. You would love it, I'm sure. Riding the carrousel is like $10 as well so I passed, but it's a multi-level carrousel where the RIDERS control the sea creatures. Yes, you read that right. You could be the one controlling the squid, for example, as the ride is going on.

Basically the whole thing is like steampunk on crack. I thought it was impressive but I don't like that style at all. I know how this sounds…it’s hard to describe. Here's a picture of the elephant they created. You can pay to have a ride on top.

I finished my day by heading out to a mall near another hypermarket to see “Les Mondes de Ralph”, which is “Wreck-It Ralph” in English. It’s a great movie and the French translation was awesome. Once I got back to my hotel, I had dinner and headed for bed.

I found quite a bit of lost time, and it was good.


  1. John, I would have totally paid to ride on both of those things of course for some odd reason I'm fascinated by Steampunk. After reading your blod, I have to visit Nantes some, I'm positive I will visit France again someday as I stepped on the brass plate outside of Notre dam the last time I visited lol.

  2. Mikie, I'm sure it would have been at least amusing...but I just wasn't a fan. I'm amazed that people got together for such an endeavor...a lot of work went into it for sure. I think that going in the summer would have been a lot more fun than in the 35 degree weather of the winter, too. :)