Friday, June 20, 2014

‘The Summer Solstice and La Fete de la Musique’ by K.J.S.Chatrath

A lady Police Officer in South of France (Not the one mentioned in the incident below). Photo source with thanks:kakanow

Here I was in France again, this time in summer and on some new pretext. The summer in France, though the most popular part of the year, some how does not excite me. Of course it is nice, bright and cheerful, and the sun almost refuses to set in – there is light all around till11 p.m. But when the temperature crosses 30 degrees Celsius with no provision for air conditioning in the living spaces – not even the lowly fans – one starts remembering the heat of India. An Indian does not go to Europe to be confronted with the warm weather like back home! This was the kind of weather when I decided to take a conducted tour to the South of France. I had been to this part of earlier but had somehow missed Nice and Monaco and here was a trip which promised to fill in this gap.</p>

After an overnight bus trip from Paris, we reached Nice (pronounced ‘niece’) on the 21 of June in the morning. That is the day of the “summer solstice” in the Northern Hemisphere which marks the gradual lengthening of the nights and shortening of the days. We were told that since the hotel rooms would be available only from noon, we could take a walk on the seaside road. It was almost uncomfortably warm, even though one was on the sea side. Ultimately we reached hotel rooms around noon.
At the reception we were told that it was the day of the ‘Fete de la Musique’ or the Annual Music Festival where there would be free public performances in various parks and open spaces starting from the evening.
At the first sign of sun slightly setting in, I was on the road towards the part of the city where the biggest event was slated to be held. On nearing the venue one found scores of people, young, the not so young and the old moving towards the park. The roads were, as usual full of cars but the police force was out in full numbers. For reaching the park one had to cross the road with the heaviest traffic. I waited patiently at the traffic light to cross the road.
And then I saw a stunningly beautiful lady cop. She was in the prescription blue dress with a cap perched on her head at a very stylish angle. When the lights turned amber and then red, suddenly this charming cop jumped to the middle of the road, put her hands on her waist and faced the traffic daring and forcing the cars to stop at once, while one of her male colleagues signaled the pedestrians to cross the road. I watched her spellbound forgetting to cross the road. And the lights turned green. This beauty glided back to the side walk near to where I was standing and I had a closer look at her.
She was not thin or skinny but looked radiantly healthy and cheerful. One has seen women in various stages of dress and undress but this fully clad young lady possessed a rare charm and was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She seemed to be totally engrossed in her responsibilities and what is more, fully enjoying the job. I stood there as if in a trance till the lights changed colour again. This time I was conscious of the fact that I was to cross the road. But I just could not move so spellbound was I of that lady. After two more change of lights, when she would jump into the middle of the road and then come back to where I was standing, I noticed her looking at me quizzically.
That was the time when I was fumbling with my camera wanting to take her photo. Her look made me nervous. We are used to fearing the police and a look, a gaze, even though friendly, and even though from a lady cop makes us nervous. I feared the thought of her jealous and perhaps over-zealous male colleagues coming to her side and taking me to my first visit to a French Police station. So hastily, though quite unwillingly, I crossed the road.
I few years later, I had the opportunity to visit the Arctic Circle and be at the northern most human habitation on the globe North Cape in Norway on another June 21. There I saw the strange spectacle of sun shining brightly at 12 at night. It is aptly called “The Land of the Midnight Sun”. Another year and on the 21st June and I was in Iceland where the sun did not set that night and it was burning bright even at midnight and two days later I saw the same phenomenon in Greenland. More about that in another post soon. But the most memorable ‘summer solstice’ day in my mind remains the one with the story of the French lady cop.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

'20th Century French tourism poster ads up for auction at Christies' by Natalie Mortimer

16 June 2014:A series of 20th Century tourism posters created by illustrator Roger Broders are to be sold off at auction at Christie’s this week.
The Art of Travel auction, which takes place in London on Wednesday (18 June), features a host of Broders’ posters promoting French tourism destinations, including the French Riviera and Grasse. .. … “

For reading the article please click at the link below:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

'Inca trails, French cave and an Indian stepwell vie for World Heritage status' informs K.J.S.Chatrath

Chauvet Cave, France, original 20,000 years old. Museum replica photo source: Wikipedia

‘… …Submitted by France, the Chauvet Cave, located in a limestone plateau of the meandering Ardeche River in southern France, contains some of the earliest known paintings, drawn more than 30,000 years ago. The grotto has more than 1,000 pictures - many of which feature animals such as bison, mammoths and rhinos.

The cave was closed off by a rock fall around 20,000 years ago and remained sealed until its rediscovery in 1994. More drawings are expected to be found in remote parts of the grotto. …’

‘…India, meanwhile, is hoping to have its Rani-ki-Vav stepwell on the banks of the Saraswati River in western Patan listed. Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water," it is divided into seven underground storeys of terraced walls with pavilions and buttresses, according to its official nomination document. … …’

For reading the full article please go to the following link:

'Alice in Paris' by K.J.S.Chatrath

Oh to be young and be in Paris! It was way back the early eighties that I got selected for a year long training programme in Paris. I still cannot forget the day I reached Paris after counting weeks and days of waiting. However, the first few days in Paris made me feel like a bewildered Alice in Wonderland as everything appeared to be upside down. Having been brought up in an educational system based on the British Model, the Gallic words and definitions appeared strange indeed.

Since the training course that I was attending related to the International Economic Relations, it was inevitable that the omnipotent World Bank and its affiliates got their appropriate share in the lectures and discussions. When the International Monetary Fund or the I.M.F. was referred to as F.M.I. in French, I thought that this would be one of the rare cases where the French equivalent appears to be the reverse of the English word. But alas, more surprises were in store for me. I soon discovered that the United Nations Organisation or the U.N.O. was called O.N.U. in French and nearer Europe, the European Economic Community or the E.E.C. was called the C.E.E.! Similarly the Palestine Liberation Organisation or the P.L.O. was O.L.P. in French. While in the economics and finance I noticed that while we in India have our Panjab National Bank or the P.N.B., the Parisians are equally proud of their P.N.B., which is really the acronym for Banque Nationale de Paris.

As I was in an academic atmosphere, certain interesting similarities or dissimilarities relating to the educational system came to light. For some one who had passed through the college stage of education in India with more than insignificant amount of hard work and study, I was stunned to find that the college in France means the secondary school and not college as in India. What was however, most amusing was the fact that while class sixth in the French education system is equivalent to class sixth of the Indian system of education, after passing that class in France, one moves to class fifth and not to class seventh. Similarly after passing class fifth, students are promoted to class fourth and then to class third to class second and ultimately to class one which is really the equivalent of tenth class in India. And when I noticed that what is called ‘French Leave’ in English is called the ‘English Leave’ in French, I was not really surprised as by then the mind was prepared for almost anything.

Quite naturally I did not spend all my time dealing with academic issues only. Looking around, I found that ‘bras’ did not mean the thing worn by the ladies but the arms, of females as well as of males. We in India are used to imagining chiffon as a variety of extremely expensive and sophisticated cloth used by the rich snooty ladies. It was really a shock to know that the word in French means just a piece of cloth or rag and nothing more! Of course by then I knew that ‘preservative’ in French does not mean the chemical added to jams and jellies to make them last longer but the ubiquitous condom. While on condoms I may mention that the predecessor of the present day condom, ‘the French letter’ is called ‘a capote anglaise’ or the ‘English hood’ by the French and the dreaded AIDS is known as SIDA in France.

Would all this would I be wrong in recommending to the famous Jaspal Bhatti to visit Paris at once for getting some ideas for his “Ulta-Pulta”?

(This middle was first written in 1996 when late Jaspal Bhattis Ulta-Pulta series were a hot favorite on the TV.)

'When strikes threaten French summer arts festivals...'

Avignon Festival, France. Photo source:

What happens when you ask a non-francophile about a strike/s in France during summers? His response, most likely would be something like: ‘Bon, ban….C’est normal, n’est-ce pas?

Let us go to the news:

‘Strikes threaten French summer arts festivals’ screams a headline. But the strike this time is not the taxi and the metro strike but something akin to the French love for culture.

“France’s busy summer arts calendar has been thrown into disarray by a strike protesting proposed reforms to the country’s unique system of subsidies for unemployed artists and technicians. In cities like New York or Los Angeles, artists struggling to make ends meet often tend bar or wait tables to scrap by.

In France, however, many arts and entertainment workers on both creative and technical ends of the spectrum are spared the necessity of a “day job”: as long as they fulfill certain requirements (notably the ability to prove they have been paid for 507 hours of work for their craft over the last 10 months), the government offers compensation and social protections during periods of unemployment… …”

Please click at the link below to read the full article from France24:

Friday, June 13, 2014

‘It’s never too old to travel and have fun’ by by Kishwar Desai

Photo source: Le Vieux Campeur, Paris.

‘It is now well known that travel actually boosts confidence, and even challenges the brain, possibly preventing Alzheimer’s or dementia, as one learns constantly while on the move… …’

Please click at the following link to read the article:

… Would you like to take a look at my other websites-, & blog www.indianheritagephotos.blogspot;; … Contact address: …

'Liens Indo-Francais-Points de mire' by S.L.Kukreja

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

‘Paris je t'aime! by Meraj Shah

You may like to read ‘Paris je t'aime! by Meraj Shah.

Please click at the following link:

Photo source: Robert S. Donevan, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Transport chaos in France

Photo source: SNCF website

One may be a Francophile, but one can not pretend not to see the present transport chaos caused by strike in France.

You may like to read the article 'Travel chaos as France hit by dual rail and taxi strike';

Hoping that normalcy will return very soon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

'Equality redefined in Paris' by Raj Kadyan

Here is an interesting middle on the Parisian metro by Mr. Raj Kadyan in today's The Tribune , Chandigarh: 'Equality redefined in Paris'.

Having travelled in the Paris Metro hundreds of times over the years, I find it impossible to agree with Mr. Raj Kadyan's observation that "Several smokers indulged freely". I have never, ever, seen anyone smoking in the Parisian Metro.

'To attract tourists from India, France builds wax statue of Maria Sharapova near Eiffel Tower' (Satire)

Eiffel Tower with Maria Sharapova.(Photo source: Fakingnews link given below)

Here are some extracts from an article appearing in "The Faking News"

"Paris. Encouraged by the reactions of people, especially Indian Twitter users, to Maria Sharapova’s photo shoot pictures near Eiffel Tower, French government has decided to build Sharapova’s wax statue near Eiffel Tower. The step is aimed at attracting tourists from India....

After seeing Indians reacting so enthusiastically, we thought, why not make Sharapova a permanent feature near Eiffel Tower ....Experts are seeing it as a well calculated move by the French government to boost tourism in France....

Growing Indian middle class is a big market, and their obsession with beauty is what French government is targeting at, explained a business analyst...."

For reading the full article please click at the following link:

Photo source: Robert S. Donevan, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Monday, June 9, 2014

'Recherche du temps perdu*'

With temperature crossing 45 degrees C. today in the city that I live in, in India, I am reminded of cool blue waters and floating icebergs that I saw in Greenland.

Recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past)....(*With apologies to Marcel Proust)

'The French Reaction'-Steely resolve to punish the rapist' by K.J.S.Chatrath

Joan of Arc: (Photo Source: Wikipedia.)

When we are struggling with how to handle the unfortunate incidents of rape being reported from different parts of India, a small report in a newspaper caught my eye.

More than 500 male students and staff at a French school underwent DNA tests in April 2014 in a bid to discover who raped a 16 year old girl in a dark school toilet… The tests covered 475 high school students, 31 teachers and 21 others present on the premises on the day of the rape…DNA tests come back negative in hunt for French school rapist

Further investigation is likely to continue.

That shows a steely resolve by the State to punish the rapist...Bravo France! "> ">

Cannes Film Festival, 2014

This was the official poster of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Yes, that is Marcello Mastrioanni, my favourite actor on the poster. (Photo source: AFP)

Boulevard de la Croisette along the waterfront.(Photo source: Wikipedia)

You may like to read an excellent comprehensive article on the recently concluded Cannes Film Festival, 2014:‘67th Cannes Film Festival - When Film Worlds Collide’ by Anne McCarthy ; Please click at the following link to read the article:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

'The Hotel de Ville, Paris, opens its renovated Tourist and Information Office..'By Diane Stamm

Photo by Diane Stamm

" On May 19, the Hôtel de Ville opened its renovated tourist and information office at 29, rue de Rivoli, on the north side of the building. Called Paris Rendez-Vous, not only is the office a bright, user-friendly space where visitors can pick up a souvenir or two, but visitors can also find all kinds of tourist information, including free maps and pamphlets, and get free Internet access. In addition, in keeping with its tradition of holding exhibitions about Paris, the office is hosting an inaugural exhibition through July 19... ...

Called “Le Parisianer à l’Hotel de Ville,” it is a display of fifty covers by fifty artists for an imaginary magazine, called Le Parisianer, in a style intentionally modeled on The New Yorker magazine. Based on visitors’ comments overheard throughout the exhibition – such as “Je l’adore!” – it is charming everyone with its wit and aesthetic. And at an imaginary 3.95 euros an issue, it’s a steal.... ...

An idea conceived by the Association La Lettre P, which promotes the graphic arts and graphic artists – the “P” stands for, among other things, pinceau (brush), paper, and print – artists, cartoonists, and illustrators were tasked with creating their own vision of Paris for covers of the imaginary magazine. The results are charming, sassy, and delightful interpretations of Paris... ...

In addition to tourist information, Paris Rendez-Vous also sells books about the history of Paris and how to manage in the city. But the free information includes a pamphlet in English on covered passages in Paris – the precursor of malls but with a lot more charm – and one called Paris For You!”, also in English and which is a comprehensive guide to everything from what to see to where to shop to what to eat in Paris. It’s as good a guide as you will need for a short visit to the city.. ...."

Paris Rendez-Vous, Hôtel de Ville, 29, rue de Rivoli, Paris 4th

Open: Mon–Sat 10am–7pm; closed Sun and holidays

Metro: Hôtel de Ville – Line 1; Châtelet – Line 4 Le Parisianer à l’Hotel de Ville through July 19

For reading the full article of "Bonjour Paris" please click at the following link:

Friday, June 6, 2014

'Brave Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives defending the freedom of France' by K.J.S.Chatrath ******************************************************************

New Retirement Rules in France a 'major step for mothers'

“New retirement rules 'major step for mothers':Under a reform that removes one of the inequalities between men and women in France, all of mothers' time on maternity will now count toward their retirement. It's a 'major step for women," says the French health minister. The French government has acknowledged what most new mothers already knew: taking care of a newborn is work.

As a result, all of a mother's time on maternity leave will now be counted toward her retirement. Under the old law women could only validate the first trimester of leave per child, even if the legal duration exceeded that time, Le Monde reported… …” For full article go to:


'Provence, France' by K.J.S.Chatrath

Looking for a holiday idea? Have you considered Provence in South of France?

Read a detailed article by Anthony Peregrine at the following link: of the photo:The same link


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Former Indian Army Chief General J J Singh's son elected to a French Municipal Council

(Photo taken in Barbizon art village, near Fontainebleu in France.)

J J Singh’s son elected to French municipal council: In what has been described as a first for the Sikh community in France, the son of former Army Chief General J J Singh has been elected to a municipal council in Normandy… For full article please read:


"La Fête de la Musique" at the Alliance Francaise, Chandigarh

I am happy to share the following message received from the Alliance Francaise, Chandigarh:
The AF Chandigarh is proud to present you

"La Fête de la Musique" (world music day) 2014


June the 21st - 7pm to 10pm

Venue : Alliance Française de Chandigarh

Registration is open from now till the 19th June

“The music everywhere and the concert nowhere” : that is the spirit of the Fête de la Musique, born in France in 1982 ! It is a way found by French Ministry of Culture to bring people out on the streets to share their talents and music. It first happened in Paris and ever since, the festival has become an international phenomenon, celebrated on the same day in more than 460 cities in 110 countries. Join us on this very special day !

On this occasion, the Alliance Française Chandigarh will hold an open stage. You are all invited to share your talents on stage (dancing, singing, instrumental music...) this 21st June !

All you have to do is to fill the form attached to this mail or available at the Af front office and return it back to : or to the cultural coordinator : Laure Guyot (basement of the AF Chandigarh)

Everyone is welcome to bring their friends along.

Free registration.

Musically yours !


'The French Connection: St. Tropez Celebrates India...' by Prof. B.N.Goswami

The French Connection: St. Tropez Celebrates India gives a peep into the private lives of the Europeans, particularly the French in the Punjab by Prof. B.N.Goswamy. Please click at the link to read the article:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Henry Jacob: Speak French? Non, Anglais:

Photo source: The Gulf Times

What is so offputting about language? Or culture? When yours truly started learning French some years ago, the French teacher issued a stern caveat that could scare the living daylights out of budding Francophones: Don’t speak in English…. …Click at the following link to read the full article:

Really creative writing is from Indian subcontinent, Africa now: Florence Noiville


Florence Noiville

Florence Noiville is a French writer and literary critic for Le Monde. Visiting India, Noiville spoke with Srijana Mitra Das about Indian writing, French literature… …Click at the following link to read the full interview:

'Drole langue Francaise - Funny English Language' by K.J.S.Chatrath

Some years back I had written a few pieces on the subject of French words and phrases which sound strange to the English speaking world. Recently a fellow traveller from Australia with a fantastic sense of humour, Ian Jungwirth, put up some interesting such words on his wall. Supplemented by some more from the internet here we are.

In English, Franglais means a mangled combination of English and French, produced either by poor knowledge of one or the other language or for humorous effect. Franglais usually consists of either filling in gaps in one's knowledge of French with English words, using false friends with their incorrect meaning or speaking French in such a manner that (although ostensibly "French") would be incomprehensible to a French-speaker who does not also have a knowledge of English (for example, by using a literal translation of English idiomatic phrases). Let us take a look at a few of these.

Allons enfants de la patrie - Come on, kids, let's go to the party (With due respects to the French National Anthem)

Coup de grace - A lawn mower.

La deviation pour chauffeur de camion - My driver likes camels.

Pas de deux? - Father of twins?

Mange tout - You're pretty mangy yourself.

Pain prune - I cut myself with the secateurs.

Chaussee deformer? - Are you a contortionist?

Parke le char - My tea is cold.

Suivez la piste - Never mind, follow that drunk!

Moi aussi - I am an Australian.

Using a mix of English and French words in a sentence:

Longtemps, pas voir. – Long time, no see.

Je vais driver downtown. – I'm going to drive downtown. (Je vais aller en voiture au centre-ville)

Je suis tired. – I am tired. (Je suis fatigué)

Je ne care pas. – I don't care. (Ça m'est égal OR Je m'en fous)

J'agree. – I agree. (D'accord)

France, land of Gauloises, eyes 'no-brand' cigarettes:

PARIS: France is considering a move to brandless packets to curb smoking, instituting one of the world's toughest anti-tobacco policies in the home of chain-smoking singer Serge Gainsbourg and no-filter Gauloises cigarettes…. Click at the link below to read the full article.

British Queen's large hats & the French Government

The British Queen's large hats have led to a hasty change of plan by the French government over what car she should travel in during next week's trip to Normandy. (Source:


Seven places in France that should definitely be on your bucket list,says Editor of TNT magazine

'Seven places in France that should definitely be on your bucket list'- By Editor TNT magazine


According to the latest figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, France remains the world’s most visited country, with over 83 million international tourist arrivals.

But what exactly makes France such an attractive holiday destination? TNT magazine suggests 7 places for a visit in France.

(i) The French Riviera: The Côte d'Azur...Nice...Cannes...St-Tropez etc.

(ii) Normandy D-Day Beaches...and Mont Saint-Michel...Rouen...Bayeux...Honfleur etc.

(iii)Paris:Paris gets more than 45 million visitors every year. Visit the Arc de Triomphe...Notre Dame...the Louvre...the Seine...the Eiffel Tower...Montmartre etc.

(iv)The Palace of Versailles:This palace, which once housed the Kings of France, consists of hundreds of rooms...keep a full day for this trip.

(v)Provence: The Mont Ventoux...the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vines...the gothic Palace of the Popes in Avignon...the rich wildlife in the Camargue...the Roman walls of Arles etc.

(vi) Alpine ski resorts:French resorts...Courchevel...Chamonix...Val d'Isère...Tignes...Les Gets...Sainte Foy etc.

(vii) The Loire Valley:300 beautiful castles...rolling green hills...historic villages...vineyards...rivers etc.

For full article please read:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

'La Belle Langue' by K.J.S.Chatrath

I live in a town called Panchkula. It borders on Chandigarh. I came across this bright and colourful handbill by chance. I have no idea how good this particular language teaching Institute is, but I am happy to observe that more and more youngsters are trying to learn the 'belle langue'. And what does 'La Belle Langue' mean? It no doubt means French (Sans aucun doute c'est le Francais!) While learning French, one also gets familiar with the rich culture of France.

Bon chance et bon courage!

The fundamental French values

A fundamental value and essential principle of the French Republic is secularism.

“France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic, guaranteeing that all citizens regardless of their origin, race or religion are treated as equals before the law and respecting all religious beliefs.” states the Constitution of 1958. The “freedom to practice religion” has been recognised since 1905 when the loi sur la séparation de l'Église et de l'État (Law on the Separation of the Church and State) came into effect. Far from being a weapon against religion, this text returned all religions to the private sector and established state secularism in the public sphere. The French State does not favour any one religion and guarantees their peaceful co-existence in respect of the laws and principles of the Republic.

In application of the secular principle, the law of 15 March 2004 prohibits all clothing or other attire displaying religious worship to be worn in schools.

French Revolution

This undeniable event in our history put the end to a monarchy with divine rights. From this point on, France no longer saw itself as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”. France established itself as a benchmark country for Human Rights and the concept of secularism progressively became one of its protective frameworks. On 12 July 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy introduced an initial severance following the nationalisation of the Church's properties. Secularism crossed a threshold with the Concordat of 1801, which placed the church under the guardianship of state power, creating civil marriage and the civil state in particular.

The Jules Ferry Laws

The year 1882 was crucial because it marked the beginning of the separation of the School and the State. The Jules Ferry laws established free mandatory and public education and secular instruction. Since this time, the question of secularism has remained closely tied to the sphere of the school.

The Law of 1905

This law definitively sealed the separation between the Churches and the State. It abolished the Concordat of 1801 and put an end to the system of “recognised religions”. It was the beginning of so-called French secularism, which proclaimed the freedom of conscience and guaranteed the freedom to practice religion. One historical exception: this law does not apply in Alsace-Moselle.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

'A visit to Nantes, France' by K.J.S.Chatrath

I was visiting Paris and was fortunate to have got an appointment in the University of Nantes with one of the most distinguished French Historians. Nantes is situated at a distance of around 400 kms from Paris. I promptly booked myself in the prestigious French Train a Grand Vitesse or TGV (pronounced tay-yay-way, ‘tay’ as in ‘Terey’ or yours in Hindi) routes. The train, which starts from Gare de Montparnasse, took just over two hours to reach Nantes. It was a totally noise free and remarkably smooth ride. Nantes is a city with a population of about 8 lakh inhabitants.
Poster in Nantes tourist office
Since I had some time before my meeting, I took the opportunity of visiting some main attractions of this city. I went to the Tourist Office who guided me with a good map of the city showing the important tourist spots. I was a little intrigued to find in this office, a poster depicting sketches of two elephants on the top.
As I was pressed for time, I decided not to pursue this point but to leave on my tour of the city. Of course I did succeed in unravelling the mystery of the elephant symbol a little later in the day. That will come subsequently, but first about the most well known personality that Nantes has produced - Jules Verne who was one of the pioneers of science fiction and wrote about travels underwater, in air and in space. Jules Verne was born in Nantes's Ile Feydeau not far from the Loire River. Thereafter he spent the last fourteen years of his life, in this city. Nantes is justifiably proud of this illustrious son and has established a museum in his name called the Musee Jules Verne. There are two statues of Verne in Nantes, one in the Jardin Des Plantes and the other, a more recent work in bronze in the Mediatheque.
One of the little known facts about Verne has been his special connection with India. An Indian researcher Swati Dasgupta is of the view that Verne's sympathy for the Indian freedom struggle is patent in at least two of his books. It is also claimed that the famous Captain Nemo was inspired by a post-Mutiny Nana Sahib and that the British obscured these aspects for over a century.
The Tourist Office of Nantes organises a guided walking tour to various places where Verne lived and different places inspired by his works. This tour, called “Nantes sur les pas de Jules Verne” or “In the Footsteps of Jules Verne” is conducted at 10.30 am on all the Saturdays between 12th February and 12th November.
There is a very unusual museum in Nantes inspired by the writings of Verne. This permanent exhibition called the ‘Machines of the Isle’ is at display in the warehouses of the former shipyards of the town in Nantes. It was created by two artists,Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice. Perhaps the most famous of the exhibits is the Mechanical Elephant. There is an interesting story about this elephant. A show was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Jules Verne's death, by the two French cities of Nantesand Amiens, funded by a special grant from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. It was in French and was called La visite du Sultan des Indes sur son éléphant à voyager dans le temps (Visit From The Sultan Of India [The Indies] On His Time-Travelling Elephant) and was mounted by the Royal de Luxe theatre company. It consisted of a huge moving mechanical elephant, a giant marionette of a girl etc.
This show was performed at various locations around the world between 2005 and 2006. It was subsequently discontinued and the elephant dismantled. But the mechanical elephant had so caught the imagination of the people that the same artists created a 20 feet tall replica of the elephant in 2007, as part of the 'Machines of the Island of Nantes' pernmanent exhibition.
And from fun and frolic of mechanical elephant and the India connection of Verne, one moves to a dark period of Nantes’ history pertaining to its role in the slave trade. In the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries the despicable slave trade was changing the faces of Africa, Europe and the Americas. While it depleted the able bodied strength of Africa, it gave the economy of Europe a boost by creating demand for production of goods and articles needed for purchase and movement of the slaves. Europe also benefited by transporting these slaves in its ships to the Americas. Americas of course used the slave labour for converting virgin lands into profitable agricultural farms.
Such was the magnitude of the slave trade in Nantes and elsewhere in Europe, that it overwhelmed the economy. It was, what has been termed “a triangular trade.” European ships carried European goods to Africa, exchanged them for slaves, took the slaves to the Americas and returned to Europe loaded with sugar, tobacco, coffee, cacao and other tropical primary produce. It is reported that there are records to confirm that 3,829 slaving "expeditions" left from France between 1707 to 1847. Out of these 1800 are said to have been launched from Nantes alone and carried around 500,000 captured men and women from African ports and transported them to the Americas. This resulted in an amazing economic spin off for the town.
However, Nantes, unlike other cities which were in slave trade, very courageously and admirably brought it’s past into the open for all to see. Under the auspices of the "Les Anneaux de la Memoire" Association, it held an exhibition on slave trade and slavery in 1993 in Nantes. This token gesture was, in a way its acceptance of, and atonement for, it having been an active player in the slave trade. Let us now move to a less serious and more sweet subjet related to Nantes - biscuits.
It is quite likely that anyone who has visited France would have tasted and relished the “Petit Beurre’ (meaning small butter) square shaped LU biscuits. At the same time it is quite unlikely that anyone visiting the town of Nantes would miss noticing the beautiful dome of the erstwhile LU biscuit factory building near the Railway station. The origin of the Petit Beurre goes back to 1886, when Louis Lefèvre came out with an original square butter biscuit (In French the word biscotte means a rusk, while biscuit meaning a biscuit/cookie or a sponge is pronounced as bis kuee.) at this factory at Nantes. And now for the romantic part. His wife’s name was Utile and so Louis decided to take the first letter of his name ‘L’ (from Louis) and add the first letter of the name of his wife ‘U’, (from Utile) and ‘LU’ biscuit company was formed. It is said that the traditional LU packets of Petit Beurre contain 24 biscuits to match the 24 hours a day!
‘LU’ Tower
After the LU company moved elsewhere the building remained unused for years till there was a talk of pulling it down. And the French love for culture stepped it. It was decided not to demolish the building but to renovate it and use it for some other purpose. One has to admire the French creativity. Remember the way they transformed the old “Orsay’ station in Paris to a world class Museum- La Musee d’Orsay! Similarly it was decided to retain the facade of the dome and so also the alphabets LU. But it was LU as a short form of the ‘Lieu Unique’ meaning the unique place. Thus was born the ‘Lieu Unique’ (Unique Place), a cultural centre created in the shell of the former biscuit factory. This is a perfect example of flowing with the rhythm of continuity while absorbing the change. But this Centre has been planned not only to be different but also to be unique- and hence the name. The Centre has five departments- of plastic arts, theater, dance, music and books and these continue holding different programmes. The facilities include a restaurant, a bar, a book shop, a creche and the latest addition - a Hammam. One can climb up to the top to reach the platform of Gyrorama to take a different view of the city.
The Triumph Column
A short walk from the LU Centre takes one to the impressive Triumph Column called the Colonne Louis XVI in the heart of the town. It was designed and built under the supervision of Dominique Molknecht in 1823. And not far from this column and to the north of the Chateau in Place St-Pierre, is the famous St. Peter and St. Paul's Cathedral. Construction of the building began in 1434 with the facade, continued in the 17th century and was completed between 1840 and 1891. In the past, a number of important events have taken place in this cathedral – perhaps the most important being the signing of the Edict of Nantes on 13th April, 1598. This edict issued by King Henry IV of France, formalised civil equality between the Catholics and the Protestants in France and in a way put the country on the path of secularism, tolerance and civil peace.
St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral
The Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany is the oldest historic building in the city, besides the Cathedral. It has seven towers set into its curtain walls. It was built in the late Middle Ages by Duke Francis II and his daughter, Anne of Brittany, to defend the independence of the Duchy of Brittany, then under threat from the Kingdom of France. The Chateau also houses theThe Nantes History Museum. There is a tram station named “Chateau Duchesse Anne” in front of the Chateau.
Chateau Duchess Anne
Yes, tramway is the easy and cheap mode of conveyance in Nantes and the Nantois, as the residents of Nantes are called, are as attached to it as the Parisians are to their Metro. The first tramway in Nantes opened in 1879 and closed in 1958. It was notable for its pioneering technology. The present tramway was re-introduced to the city in 1985. It is the first 'new generation' tramway to be built in Europe, reversing the trend of tramway closures that had being going on since the middle of the 20th century. It is efficient, inexpensive and does not pollute the environment. Incidentally Paris started its first new generation tram way line called the T-1 in 1992- years later than in Nantes.
Alas due to constraint of time, I could not have coffee at the famous Brasserie la Cigale, praised by some as one of the most beautiful restaurant bars in France. Started way back in 1895, it smartly describes that its philosophy can be summed up in just three words- tenderness, freshness and quality. Its interior is said to be in pure art deco style. I do hope to catch up on that coffee on my next visit to Nantes. And at the end, while I may not agree with the views of the Time Newsmagazine on a number of issues, I do agree with its 2004 choice of naming Nantes as the most livable city in Europe.
Some Practical Information: Usefull websites:,;
Address of the Lieu Unique: 2 rue de la biscuiterie. Entry from Quai Ferdinand Favre, near the Railway Station.
The visiting time for this Centre is from 15.30 hours, on one designated Sunday per month, from May to October. One needs to buy a ticket for 3.5 Euros and a make a reservation in advance. This includes a visit to the Tower.
Photos text and copyright: K.J.S.Chatrath
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