place du Martroi

27Sep10

I have a day off. Not because I think I deserve one, but because the driving regulations in France prohibit the presence of a commercial vehicle on the roads. In all likelihood, The Black Maze might be exempt on the grounds that it is entertainment on wheels, or that it is educational….but we’re not going to wave a flag of dispute in front of the gendarmerie. So I get to spend a day wandering round the fine city of Orleans. I’ve been here before, about 15 years ago, during one of the epic road trips to the Cote d’Azur I took with Sara Liney, but now there’s more opportunity to explore – apart from the fact that it’s sunday, of course, and La France est fermée.

On closer inspection I can get into the Cathedral Sainte Croix with its stained glass depictions of the liberation of Orleans by la jeunesse Jeanne, I can get into La Maison de Jeanne d’Arc where I see replications of her figure and story in print and sculpture. I can get in to the Musee des Beaux Arts where there are several magnificent oils celebrating her arrival through the streets of Orleans in 1429. At each museum I am asked my nationality and am greeted with a stifled snigger. Perhaps it’s because my French is so merdre, or perhaps…. after nearly 600 years I am still blamed for the burning of their martyr?

Joan is everywhere. She is an industry, largely dating from the mid-Nineteenth Century. The Boulevard bearing her name, the bronze statue, the proliferation of her myth in print. Amidst the problems of the emerging Republic (Napoleon III) she could be used as an anchor-point to the Ideals of Liberte, Egalite and …the other one. It was the Age when Wagner was reappropriating the proto-nationalistic mythologies of the Rhine-maidens and also the Age in which the Merrye Old England of Shakspear was being championed. Stratford-upon-Avon remained a sleepy little market town until Matthew Arnold and the mid-Victorians got hold of its famous son and held him to ransom.

La Musee des Beaux Arts does have some excellent pieces tucked away. Amidst a welter of 18th Century portraiture a wonderful collection of local artist Leon Cogniet, a Raymond Mason (he of the destroyed public sculpture that once proudly stood Centenery Sq. in Brum) and the stunningly sexy Tamara di Lempicka oil ‘Saint-Moritz‘, which was a great surprise to see. Much smaller than I’d imagined but which I could’ve studied for hours.

The ordeal of driving a 7.5 tonne truck across Europe, seulement, seems not so bad after all. No need to play the martyr. Off now, from the Loire south to Bourges, then Clermont and beyond – destination Montpellier.

some more pics…

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One Response to “place du Martroi”

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