"Oh, Say Can You See?"
(Many pictures again today.  Thanks for your patience.)
June 30, 2000

(The WVU-Vendéens and their friends stroll through the park of Le Puy du Fou, June 30, 2000)

We begin our final excursion today under a heavy fog the would hang over Vendée into the afternoon.  This is not such bad news, however, for the summer sun here can be quite fatiguing and we will be outdoors at the grand park of Le Puy du Fou much of the day.  Our trip to inland Vendée is in some ways all the more charming under the mist.


Before arriving at the park, we make a traditional stop in Vendrennes, a village famous for its "brioches vendéennes".   Those who know Marie-Antoinette, may remember that some quote her as saying "Let them eat cake."  The "real" phrase was "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," and it may be in her honor that Vendée's favorite bread is the sweet, spongy "cake" of the French Revolution.


The Puy du Fou is located on the site of a major battle of the Vendée Wars, the Revolutionary times when the nobles and peasants here rose up in defense of God and King. Much of the park's historical and cultural themes are based on these years of the late 1700's.  As the park has grown in popularity, it has also expanded its the historical repertoire to includes other great moments in the life of the French nation.  Here Jennifer and Cindy are greeted at the entrance to the park by a medieval knight in shining armor. 


Last weekend Dr. V. Lastinger and I had a wonderful visit in Les Sables with Lara Meisel, a former student of ours who now lives in nearby Tours.  As you may remember, Lara is soon to move to the town of Mulhouse on eastern France.  Since she and her husband Pascal (right, in the Pittsburgh Steelers cap) had not visited le Puy du Fou, they join us today taking advantage of this chance before moving away from the Loire Valley to the Valley of the Rhine.  They are joined by Lara's friend Emma who has come across the Channel from her native England.


Many exhibits in the park recreate traditional arts that have been replaced by more modern practices.  Until the relatively recent introduction of firearms, the art of hunting was often practiced with the use of birds of prey trained to respond to human commands.  The falconers at le Puy du Fou still possess an amazing rapport with these swift and ferocious beasts of the sky.


Here a few falconers work with giant vultures that they send across the medieval walls of the original castle of le Puy.   It is a truly wonderful sight to behold!


After and exhilarating morning in the park we all gather for a relaxing picnic lunch.  Here Madame Atayi and Madame Dupont enjoy the company of their host "children" Ryan and Manieka.


Lara and Emma (left) are old friends who originally met when they were training to teach English in French lycées.  This Sunday, it likely that Pascal will be more interested in European football than the fate of the Steelers.  The France-Italy match-up on Sunday promises to be a real thriller.


The Diochin and the Heitz siblings join Rebecca and Jodi at today's picnic.  The Puy du Fou is a perfect outing to share with our hosts and hostesses.


The art of the horse was perfected by the medieval Franks, who conquered much of Europe on their mighty steeds.  Charlemagne's armies would be the fastest and most mobile in the world.  Their use of the stirrup, the saber, and the lance would make them almost invincible, and they would give the name of their favorite animal the "cheval" to a way of life we call "chivalry."  As the centuries rolled on the Normans and their English subjects would pose a major threat to the kingdom of the Franks.  These western regions of France would be some of the most fiercely contested, especially since Eleanor of Aquitaine had united her possessions with those of England.  By the 14th century the frequent skirmishes had escalated into general warfare as the English, based their own blood links to the French royal family, claimed the throne of France for themselves.  Thus began the Hundred Years War that is reenacted here in this incredible spectacle.


The Hundred Years War would see major developments in the strategies and technologies of warfare, but most importantly national heroes like the Black Prince and Henry V on the English side and Du Guesclin and Joan of Arc on the French side would establish mythologies of national identity that were unknown to the lords medieval times.


When the long war finally ended, the confused lines that distinguished the English from the French were clearly drawn.  Two great nations were born, and soon the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castilla would create a third world power called Spain.  These new nation states would create a period of relative peace and prosperity at home and would allow them the luxury of making war abroad.  The land that drew their attention had largely escaped the ravages of the great wars, thus allowing developments in trade and in the arts would astonish the rough soldiers from the North.  Italy would now be the object of every monarch's eye.  The Renaissance would move north with the returning soldiers, and a new style of castle would replace the old.  The castle of pleasure would make the castle of war a thing of the past.  The facade on the right is in fact a replica of the facade of the "new" castle of Le Puy du Fou, a Renaissance style typical of old Vendée in its use of red brick instead of the white "tuffeau" used further up the Loire Valley.  The site of Le Puy is exceptional in that is has ruins from both periods, a medival castle razed by the English in the early 1400's and a Renaissance castle partially destroyed in the Vendée Wars of 1793.


The love of animals in France extends well beyond the art of horsemanship.  Dogs are of course the favorite animal in France today, as any walk in a city street might easily (but not always happily) demonstrate.  There are an amazing variety of animals here at Le Puy as well.  Jennifer Lawrence, however, has no trouble telling the sheep from the goat!


Each area of the park of Le Puy is a re-creation of some past era.  Here we stroll down a street in the area devoted to the Middle Ages.


Next year the park looks forward to opening a new area devoted to the Gallo-Roman period.  Here Jennifer and Senan share a few moments with a Roman soldier who supervises the pavilion near the site of the Roman Stadium now under construction.


The artisans in the park are masters of many ancient skills.  Here we see a forge where swords and knives are made using technologies that were perfected many centuries ago.


Many of the spectacles in the park recruit participants from the audience.  Thanks to a few eager students pointing in my direction, yours truly has been drafted to play a part in a reproduction of the Viking invasions of the 10th century.  That's me, dressed in the blue shirt and the yellow pants and holding the forward end of the wild boar.  My hair turned white when I learned that the show includes being chased by a pack of real, live wolves!


The only thing worse than being chased by wolves is being chased by Vikings.  Fortunately, a change of costume behind the scenes has transformed us actors from peaceful villagers into raging Norse invaders.


After a long day at Le Puy du Fou, we return to Les Sables d'Olonne.  An evening stroll on the remblai is often on the agenda.  Cindy, Jennifer, and Manieka are also on the remblai this evening and we introduce them to Madame Stéphanie Meunier (second from right).  Madame Meunier is Dr. V. Lastinger's sister.  She now lives in Bordeaux and has come to Les Sables for a visit.  Today is the first official day of summer vacation in France, and it's a traditional time for families to gather in resort towns like Les Sables.


We are all out a little later than usual this evening because the city of Les Sables has scheduled a fireworks display over the water tonight.


This picture does little justice to a first-rate sound and light show that is enhanced by a storm out over the Atlantic.  Distant bursts of lightening over the sea are almost as impressive as the show itself.

As the grand finale ends, we are all glad to return home to a good night's sleep.  We'll need that rest next week as WVU-V itself draws to and end and as many of us make ready for our return back to the US.

 Stay tuned to WVU-V!

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