Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tourist In My Own Town

Just like I rarely went to Multnomah Falls or the Pittock Mansion unless there was someone in town from out of town, so I tend to not wander around Tours for the sake of wandering these days, unless I have a visitor. I've had one visitor so far, so I haven't done much wandering; my weeks have settled into a routine of freelance work, reading, walking when the weather's nice, and weekly lymphatic massage. Shopping at the natural foods store and the Saturday farmer's market and the Friday mobile meat truck, and cooking, and eating way too much, especially of the many different kinds of salami and pâté and rillettes available. I haven't been this carnivorous in a long time. But my friend Jean extended her Italian vacation for a week in France, and we spent the afternoons walking around the center of town.

We went to the botanical gardens, which were laid out in 1843, sponsored by a local medical professional and originally dedicated mostly to pharmeceutical plants. They've got the gardens divided out into various sections now, with herbs in one area, butterfly-loving flowers in another, edible plants in a third, and so on. There's a small petting zoo in the middle, a stream running from north to south through the length of the park, dozens of non-native trees planted around, and some exotic birds in a mossy pond.

We wandered in and out of some of the many churches in Tours, and strolled along the south bank of the Loire for a while. The flood markers are so high above the current water level it's hard to imagine such a rise in the river, but the botanical gardens were under two meters of water back in 1856.

The Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours sits on the location of the first church in Tours back in the 4th century when this area was known as Caesarodunum and then Civitas Turonum; St. Martin and then Gregory of Tours built and rebuilt the cathedral, which was destroyed again in the 12th century in the fighting between England and France, and finally rebuilt over three centuries and five architectural styles into its present form, which it has held since around 1550. Because of its position on one of the main pilgrimage routes to Compostela and its central importance in early Christianity, Tours became the seat of power and the residence of kings from the Middle Ages until the 17th century.

The many châteaux of the Loire valley were built by wealthy lords who traveled with the kings. I hope to visit several of them over the next year, as some of them are quite beautiful. The château in Tours is rather plain, notwithstanding its royal history, a blocky turreted affair that's been standing at the edge of the Loire since at least 1044, between the river and the cathedral.

There's an art museum there now, as well as an upper gallery space that holds rotating exhibitions. Right now it's a retrospective of the paintings of Gilles Cormery, a local artist who died back in 1999, and who appeared to have some issues with his relationships with women, or at least that's the impression I got from his works. I liked a few of the pieces but most should not be Googled by anyone under 18, and I am not moved to nominate him for one of the Infinite Art Tournament play-in spots. However, I rather liked the composition of this one, with its cats.

Ever since 1874 there's been a Wednesday flower market along the Boulevard Béranger that runs through the center of town, and these days (though perhaps in those days as well) other vendors have congregated on the end of the multiblock aisle, selling clothes and cutlery, buttons and rugs, furniture (Jean saw a chair she really liked) and tulip bulbs (she bought some which were unfortunately later confiscated by customs at the Canadian border) and hats modeled by disturbing mannequins. I've never bought flowers there, because the cats in the apartment knock over things constantly, and there's no space on the desk in my room, at least not until I clean it up. Which might be an impetus for doing just that, as I really enjoy a nice bouquet of flowers, especially in the winter. I do not think I will buy a hat.

I might not get another visitor until spring, but I'm glad I was reminded to keep my eyes open, to wander down side streets just because, to take photos for the blog even if I'm already used to my surroundings, and to get out of the room once in a while to see what I can see in Tours.

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