Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Don't Miss in Paris: Musée National du Moyen Age

I found a sublime hideaway in the heart of the Latin Quarter. So what if the gift shop was packed with tourists from Espagne? (Yes, tourist season is upon us in the nation's capital.) Blvd St Germain may be crawling with visitors but the small museum is still blissfully tranquil.

The setting is magical. Housed in the 15th century Cluny Abbey, the musée was built on the site of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the 3rd century. Descend into the chilly basement frigidarium, and the cavernous space-- dimly lit and lined with statues and artifacts from the site-- will guarantee goose bumps pocking the spine.

Outside, the beautiful medieval garden recalls the landscape of the Middle Ages: there is a ménagier, or kitchen garden, with vegetables perfect for hearty winter stews, traditional medecines garden planted with nine herbs, and a contemporary sculpture positioned in the middle of the terrace. Commissioned in 2000, La Forêt de la Licorne is named for the spectacular tapestries on display in the museum. Collectively called La Dame à la Licorne, the series of six colorful wall hangings each depict one of the different senses. (The photo below is dark, but I'm guessing the pictured tapestry is all about "touch.")

Inside, the architectural details are stunning (check out the ceiling of the chapel, at right). And I thoroughly enjoyed the collections: manuscripts, armor, stained glass windows, religious sculptures and paintings. But the most fascinating of all are the objects from everyday life: the hefty metal keys are still used across France to this day. (Whenever I go for a jog, I must deal with stashing the enormous, awkward house-key, a small archaic vestige of a culture filled with many.)


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