Sept. 22-24: Rouen, France
As I exit the train station in Rouen, the church bells are striking noon. Birds take flight from surrounding steeples. A stiff wind blows in my face; I wonder why I didn’t wear warmer clothing. Essentially, I’ve packed nothing of consequence.
I head towards lunch on the old town square near where Julia Child ate her first meal in France. During those days of ocean travel, Le Havre was the arrival port, Rouen a convenient stop en route to Paris.
For me, Rouen was an 90-minute train ride from Paris on the line to Le Havre. A destination onto itself. I’m here for three days alone, exploring, refueling.
Things I love about Julia Child:
She ate unabashedly.
She loved to cook.
She adored butter.
Her laugh. Her nonchalance when a recipe went asunder. The joy she found inherent in a good meal.
I too love to cook and eat—to form my memories of place through its food: A huge earthenware bowl of chocolate mousse passed table to table at Chez Janou in Paris. A 25-course New Year’s Eve meal in Rome with my daughter, Taylor, that ended with the waiter pushing aside tables so we could dance. An eggplant dish with a carafe of white wine in a secluded coastal restaurant on the island of Hydra. My family sat for hours, watching the sun set while the owner/waiter/cook rethatched chairs. My firsts: fried zucchini blossoms in a tiny osteria in Florence, lemon chicken soup in Athens, roasted goose in Budapest, alfajores in Buenos Aires.
Today, lunch is delicious. A crab and cucumber salad followed by succulent pork ribs unlike anything I’ve ever tasted and served over potatoes more melted than mashed. A glass of Sancerre.
My memories of Rouen take root.
I wander in the afternoon. A trio of museums. The burial site of the heart of Richard the Lionhearted in the cathedral. The immolation site of Joan of Arc. Miles of timber-framed houses from the Middle Ages listing gracefully across narrow streets.
I stop for tea. Check into my hotel. Take a nap.
I’m seated on a chair at the square in front of the cathedral as the sun sets. The higher tower, the Tour de Beurre, was allegedly funded through money collected from parishioners who ate butter during Lent. I remember my husband’s friend Steve declaring a Lenten timeout as he drank a beer one Saturday evening in March decades ago.
A group of high school girls are dancing in a circle in front of the cathedral door. Couples canoodle on wooden lounge chairs. Toddlers practice toddling across the square. I start the book Mad Enchantment about the life of Claude Monet.
Monet painted the cathedral in Rouen more than 30 times. These paintings are on display in the Beaux Arts Museum in Rouen. In the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. And scattered in museums and private collections across Europe, the United States, Japan.
I watch the church facade change as the golden hour turns blue. I pencil in a trip to Giverny for next Friday.
Workers scamper home.
The cathedral bells strike eight.
I’ve always loved the sound of church bells.
I’ll tell the rest in photos:
Categories: Exploring France