West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Mauvaise Pêche!

7 juin 2011

"Mauvaise pêche" indeed: as unsuccessful French children cry out when they play Go fish!, we are literally left empty-handed this morning after our visit of the Criée, the auction hall fish market where the catch is sold upon the return of boats to port.  Due to a combination of a small catch during the day yesterday and a very low tide that prevented boats from docking in the port, the fish auction is long over by the time we arrive, shortly before 7:00 am (as you will notice in the background, it is barely daylight).  But worry not, our guide will still find many things to show us and keep those sleepy Vendéens alert.


A straggling marayeur (a fish dealer) is still working on the last of the fish he just purchased.  European Community sanitation regulations are very strict, and controls are frequent.  Here, the marayeur is cleaning the fish before they are shipped either to fish markets and restaurants.


Jana is full of admiration for those beautiful maigre specimens.  Those puppies can weigh in at over 70 pounds!


Christine, our wonderful guide, who has met several groups of Vendéens, shows us a Saint-Pierre, a "noble" fish.  Notice that Miranda cannot muster as much enthusiasm as Christine or Jenney.  Michelle doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.  You will notice that in addition to Joshua, we have yet another honorary Vendéen this morning--Dominique Vallette, Shannon's host mother, could not keep away.


When the boats are unloaded, fish as sorted by size and category.  Each container identifies the size of the fish, its total weight, and the name of the boat.  This is the purpose of the yellow label in this case of Saint-Pierres.  


Again, Michelle just cannot make up her mind, and neither can Brittany.  Is a sole friend or foe?  If you ask the Lastingkoffs, who had sole for dinner last night, this is about the best fish you can eat.


All right, she has finally decided that a bar is a girl's best friend, though we would like to see a little more enthusiasm as she pets her new friend.


Now isn't that an attractive smile?!!  I always wanted to have a black tongue and two rows of teeth...


Did I just say that sole was the Lastingkoffs' favorite fish?  Well, they also love sardines, and they are already making plans to have a few this week-end.  Slightly dusted with flour, then pan-fried in salted butter, yummm...

Seriously, sardines used to be the the biggest catch in Les Sables, and the town had dozens of sardine canneries.  Remember that a Frenchman, Nicolas Appert, developed the canning process in 1795.  This allowed an explosion of the fishing industry.


Although very picturesque, these birds are definitely not a girl's best friend!  Although similar to seagulls, they belong to a different species, the goëlands.  In breton, their name means to cry.  It could be because of the sound they make, but I personally think that it is because of their detesting habit of ignoring the civilized use of bathrooms can make anyone cry. (Poor Miranda! ;-)


Most fishing boats in Les Sables are small ones.  They fish up and down the coast, although a few larger boats can go for up to two weeks to the Irish Sea.  Most fish here are caught with a net dragged at the bottom of the sea.  You can see the net rolled up at the back of the boat.


Do you notice that everyone is smiling now that we have exited the fishery?  It is time to have breakfast, and we all enjoy brioche with tea and coffee.


Then, we meet Mme Alaster for a walking tour of the city of Les Sables.  Jana, who for the next couple of hours will be re-christened Diana by our guide, is getting her pen ready for notes.


We begin with an overview of the port, the central element of Les Sables.


Sail boats by far outnumber fishing boats these days.


Notice the narrow streets of the fishermen's quarters.  The streets also run parallel to the channel, and both these features help to minimize the effects of the wind.


The Notre-Dame de Bon Port church at the heart of Les Sables was built at the request of none other than the cardinal Richelieu (of the Three Musketeers' fame).  Built in the classical style of the 17th century, the sobriety of the facade is made to skirt the criticism of the Reformation.  No excesses to be found here.

Let me add that this is a church that is very close to my heart, as my parents, grand-parents, and great-grand-parents were baptized and later married in this church.  Although I was married in the United States, I was baptized at Notre-Dame on January 6th, 19..., my birthday. (Dr. O's comment--do the math, it's her 27th birthday!)


The baroque/rococo statues that can be seen in the background, behind the altar, were a later 18th-century addition.


These beautiful houses exemplify what experts call architecture balnéaire, sea-resort architecture.  As the development of trains made it possible for rich city-dwellers to vacation on the sea side, these ornate, slightly over-the-top houses were built.  It is sometimes difficult to resist the temptation to keep up with the Joneses.


We now walk through the Ile Penotte, formerly a fishermen's section of town, a mandatory detour for anyone who comes to Les Sables.  Dan Arnaud Aubin, a resident of this street, has put her talent to use (yes, she's a woman).  Her pieces now adorn many houses in the neighborhood and she has been the topic of many art magazine articles.


Dracula, his bats and rats are a favorite with all of our Vendéens.


Did I mention "over-the-top"?


Now, this is literally so!  The gentleman who built this house loved the horse races that took place on the beach down below during the mid-nineteenth century.  What better way to see a favorite horse?


These houses and apartment buildings are also renowned for their elaborate wrought-iron balconies.



It is not hard to understand why so many tourists will soon invade the beach.


Since the remblai (aka, boardwalk) was destroyed in February 2010 by Xynthia, a tsunami, the town has been working very hard to rebuild it even bigger and better.  Here, we see a completed section, with the Atlantes, our classroom, in the background.  Notice the streetlights, in the shape of masts.



No tour of Les Sables is complete without a walk through the Grandes Halles, the covered market.  Built in the mid 19th-century, it was entirely renovated in 1990 and 1991 to showcase its original technological innovation with steel and glass.


Well informed about Les Sables but famished, we all sit down together for our first lunch together.


We lick our plates clean for our first course, a herring with warm potato salad.


... but we still have room for our moules marinières, mussels in white wine and broth.  Although mussel season is not quite upon us, we still make the best of what is set in front of us.


Finally, we have all kept a little bit of room for our apple tart.


Our next stop is a visit of Clemenceau's house in the nearby village of Saint-Vincent-sur-Jard.  George Clemenceau, a giant of French politics at the turn of the century, is best remembered for his part in the Dreyfus affair, as well as his role as the indefatigable leader of men during World War I and ultimately as the French negotiator for the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, in which France regained the Alsace and Lorraine regions.  I wonder what these four will cook for dinner tonight...


Clemenceau was born in Vendee and rented this small fisherman's cabin for the last ten years of his life.  He spent 6 months of the year here, entertaining friends. (I am sure Kiley and Jenney would have been at the top of the guest list.)


Georges Clemenceau, although a very harsh statesman, was also a great art aficionado.  If this garden reminds you of the impressionist painters, you are absolutely correct.  Claude Monet was one of Clemenceau's best friends and frequently came to stay here and enjoyed this beautiful garden, as do we.


Although this house may seem modest in its proportions (remember its humble original purpose), many of us would love to call it home.


A view from the back garden.


For those of you who follow these pages everywhere, you know that this is a traditional picture...  For easy count and for teamwork, students are divided in small groups that bear the name of famous Vendéens.  This, of course, is this year's Groupe Clemenceau (Brittany, Sam and Kiley), posing in front of its namesake.  Dr. Mike always had a fondness and partiality to this group--and George Clemenceau--so he might very well shed a small tear of joy tonight at the thought of soon joining up with the group in the near future.


It is now time to say goodbye...



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