Friday, April 26, 2013

What Was Old Is New Again

After nine months living here in Tours, I don't really look around, sometimes, and appreciate where I am. That's why it was nice to have my friend Pat from Rivers Edge Chèvre here for a few days, and even nicer to have good weather so that we could walk everywhere. I'm not a huge success as a tour guide, unfortunately, because she kept asking questions I couldn't answer, like why there were big iron cross- or S-shaped bars nailed into the walls in many of the older buildings. But I have looked it up, now, and they're called anchor plates, and are used to "keep masonry from splaying" according to one site. Now if Mom and John ask me the same question, I'll be prepared. Actually, John probably already knows.

After a few days of really nice warm weather, the trees and flowers are all in full bloom; today it's getting more and more overcast, with rain in the forecast, so I'm not sure how many of the apple blossoms we saw will still be on the trees by the end of the weekend.

We took the #7 bus from right outside the apartment to the end of the line on the other side of the Loire, in the area called Ste-Radegonde, which was a separate village before being incorporated into the Tours metropolis in the mid-1950s. There are still many old buildings but lots of new development as well, and we made our way down the hill to the riverbank past a mix of 18th to 21st century homes, and one construction site where renovations had opened up the wall so that we could see the half-timbering underneath.

Most of the time I don't stop and think "you'd never see that in the United States" when I'm looking at butcher's shops but it's true, you'd never see horse meat being sold. We tasted some horsemeat sausage that was quite tasty - yes, Leah, I've now eaten horsemeat, sorry - and if it wasn't being sold in such a large portion, I might have bought some to take home. But we also had a day of walking, and I wasn't sure how well it would hold up after several hours in the sun. Maybe next time.

We walked across the Loire, back to the old part of Tours with the château and the cobblestoned narrow streets and the towering cathedral and the crumbling Roman walls. On the way across the bridge on the bus that morning, Pat saw the large white building at the end of the Pont Napoléon that connects downtown Tours to the commune of St-Cyr-sur-Loire, and while I couldn't tell her what it was then, I've now looked it up. It's the Abbaye de Marmoutier, or at least that's what it used to be. St. Martin of Tours established a church there around 600CE, but the Vikings pillaged it two hundred years later. Starting around the end of the 10th century, things were rebuilt and the site was an important Benedictine community for 700 years or so, but after the French Revolution, when all of the Church property was taken over by the State, the monastery was disbanded, and it was turned into a military hospital. Most of the original buildings were destroyed around 1820. Between 1847 and 1905 the site was rebuilt and became a girl's school and convent, but that religious community was dissolved in 1907 when the buildings were repurchased by the State; however, it became Church property again in 1920 and the nuns of the Congrégation du Sacré-Coeur came back for the rest of the 20th century, and the land and buildings are now the Institution Marmoutier, a Catholic preschool-through-highschool.

So of course we had to hit all the highlights, from a tour of the cathedral to a drink in the old plaza (lemon juice and water for me, violet syrup and water for Pat). Some of the restaurants bordering the plaza don't serve lunch after 2:30pm and we sat down at one of the outdoor tables belonging to one such, but since we were headed to the Les Halles marketplace when the stalls reopened at 3:00pm we decided to just rehydrate and relax, and then get some sorbet and gelato at Tutti Gusti. I had apricot and black currant sorbets (excellent combination) and Pat tried four flavors of ice cream: crème fraîche, which she said was excellent, pineapple (that might have been sorbet), pistachio (a close second place finish), and coconut. Newly fueled with sugar, we were ready to hit the market.

The many varieties of cheeses, the nose-to-tail butcher's displays, the baskets of bread cubes to sample at the bakeries, the bits of almond-paste macaroons set out to tempt us, the bright colors of the vegetables and fruits and the tempting terrines and pâtés and salamis and sausages ... it's hard not to get hungry in Les Halles. I took Pat around to all four of the cheese stalls, but we ended up buying everything at the Pascal Beillevaire site, because they have good butter and I thought the vendor was really cute (I didn't mention the second reason to Pat at the time). But it turned out to be a good choice, because we bought a very delicious sheep-and-goat's milk cheese (advertised as just sheep, but described in the vendor's book as a mix) called Mouflon, made with thyme-steeped milk. Fantastic. I ate more of it than I should have that evening.

There's still more to Tours that I've not seen, because I haven't walked every mile of every street, but I think we hit the highlights, and after playing tour guide in Tours, I'm more grateful than ever that I've got the chance to be here. For a while longer, anyway ...

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