Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real. – Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days
I am surrounded by suitcases many open and half filled, the sun streaming in the windows of this apartment that we will leave in just two days. Cartons are stacked high to the ceiling, rolls of packing tape, bubble wrap and stacks of cookbooks fight for floor space and taunt me, knowing full well that this chore should be long done. I separate out the things we will need with us before we will have the chance to unpack as we begin greeting guests and running the hotel just days after the move, and I separate out the things that we will leave Simon who stays on in the apartment until it is sold. I am excited about leaving Nantes and starting a new life; although I have loved Nantes, I am relieved and content to leave this place we have lived for close to twelve years, a record for us anywhere.
It isn’t that I won’t miss Nantes. I will. I love this city, the charm of her beautiful old buildings of white stone and black ironwork, her massive stone mascarons, the leering, jeering, cheerful faces that peer down at us from overtop doorways and windows keeping the evil spirits from entering the buildings they are engaged to protect. I will miss the astonishing and charming incongruity of those old buildings, still elegant and proud, reminders of Nantes’ turbulent, stunning past, standing side by side new, gorgeous, contemporary buildings, signs of her present and her future, buildings not of stone but of iron, wood, glass and cement, brilliantly dressed in silver, blue, orange, black & white, buildings that twist and turn and bend at odd angles, buildings that curve gracefully, buildings that incorporate the old and the new, buildings sprinkled higgledy-piggledy all over this modern town that we have grown to love so well.
We will miss her gardens which bloom throughout the city, Japanese gardens on the Ile de Versailles, exotic gardens built under the graceful metal vaults of former smelting works on the Ile de Nantes or sprouting from iron, cement and steel of what was once the city’s shipyard, and the botanic gardens in a graceful yet lively haven between the art museum and the train station, the one beautifully classical, the other horrendously modern. I have loved watching Nantes change over the years, her rehabilitation, her urban redevelopment having begun just as we moved in a decade ago, the largest urban development program in Europe, old, obsolete, rundown neighborhoods reborn, seething with activity, bursting with culture, color and creativity, new homes, university buildings, offices, restaurants, art galleries and shopping areas.
I will miss our long, leisurely strolls along the Erdre River or longer treks along the Loire. I will miss our picnics in the Muscadet vineyards just outside the city. I will miss the exciting gastronomic landscape of Nantes that I have watched grow and take shape, a slew of talented young chefs opening cozy, convivial restaurants and gastropubs. I’ll miss our favorite kabobs-frites place and the friendly, joyful owner, the charming Ramses, and the Turkish restaurant where we love the scrumptious Turkish pizza. Oh and we will miss our “Italian” pizzeria, warm and cozy, with bunches of plastic onions, heads of garlic and red peppers hanging from the beams overhead, where we have spent many a convivial Friday evening in front of the roaring wood-burning pizza oven chatting and laughing with our sons over pizzas or ossobuco and profiteroles or tiramisu, drinking bottles of fizzy Lambrusco under the watchful eye of the two Pinocchio’s, one all in wood, the other stuffed fabric.
And I’ll miss being near my sons.
Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them. – Jules Verne
But the excitement of living in Nantes has faded away and we often find ourselves standing on the sidewalk in front of our apartment building, having set out for a walk, muttering “Where to? We’ve seen it all so many times it is all a bit boring now.” And heading back inside just to plop down in front of the television or a cup of coffee and a book. How long until a city becomes mundane, tedious? And we won’t miss a city that is just a little too dirty, a little too noisy, a little too impersonal for us. The rumble of the tramway below our windows, the riffraff that hangs around outside the supermarket, the dirt on the sidewalks and walls left ignored and unattended. The traffic in and out of the city.
So, I will be saying goodbye without a regret, with only the imminent daily absence of our sons – until they come visit us – to weigh on my heart.
But. That is simply our way, how we are made, how we have always been. We love adventure. We live for adventure. And change. We are bitten by wanderlust, husband and I are, and are happy to turn our backs on a city that we have come to know much too well, a city that no longer has secrets to share, secrets to reveal, in order to discover a new one.
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself. – Soren Kierkegaard
We are eager to reinvent ourselves. We are hungry to discover Chinon, the city and her history, and have been reading up on Jeanne d’Arc, Rabelais, Balzac and Charles VII; we are enthusiastically looking forward to getting to know the region’s wines and winemakers, the food and produce, cheese, truffles, saffron, and the producers who supply the hotel with walnuts, pears, apples, strawberries and the other fruit that will go into producing the jams and jellies we will serve every morning to our guests. We are impatient to discover more closely the beautiful châteaux of the Loire that encircle the hotel and Chinon.
And we are anxious, nervous, excited to learn the ins and outs of the hotel, the clients, get swept up into the rhythm of the work, the days and the nights.
We have slogged through the roughest weeks and still have the final push – packing up our apartment for the move; we have negotiated, finalized and secured our bank loan, we have suffered through the medical exams for the insurance, our dizzying initial training period at the hotel. And now we approach the official signing for and purchasing the hotel. We are in the process of creating a new website for the hotel and my son helped me create and launch this, my new Life’s a Feast.
You cannot be wimpy out there on the dream-seeking trail. Dare to break through barriers, to find your own path. – Les Brown
And so we leave the city of Jules Verne for the city of François Rabelais. One inspired us to dream big, look towards and create the future, an author who stood for adventure, discovery, and courage, the other, an author satirical, bawdy, intellectual and epicurean. And I wonder what this means for us!
I go to seek a Great Perhaps. – François Rabelais