Tuesday, September 14, 2021

France 2021, Day 6, Nimes (part one)

We were at the Nimes Tourism Office before it opened at 9 am to seek advice about visiting the Pont du Gard, which is between Nimes and Avignon. It is a majestic feat of ancient Roman engineering – an aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water from the Alps to the Roman colony of Nemausus, which became known as Nimes. Nimes is also the birthplace of denim: fabric de Nimes; get it? The tourism expert looked up the bus schedule for us and said told us to go at 1:40 pm and return at 4 pm, marking the bus schedule for us carefully. This sounded like it would work well with our plan to attend Mass at St. Baudile’s at 5:30 (note: if this saint is venerated - or even known - by a large number of Catholics, it is a surprise to me but his animal rights story would appeal to my former professor, Gary Francione).
The Maison Carrée
In the meantime, I wanted to visit the Maison Carrée and the Temple of Diana in the Jardins de la Fontaine like Charity Selbourne, the heroine of Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart. After tea and croissants at an outdoor café, then began walking north. There was a sort of civic fair going on with tables staffed by community organizations. We’d heard about Nimes’ soccer team the previous evening but now we met some supporters of the Nimes’ ice hockey team, Les Krokos. For a second I was puzzled about what a kroko could be, then realized the mascot of Nimes is a crocodile (for some reason relating to Caesar which we never figured out). I said, “Notre équipe est le Boston Bruins,” and these three guys seemed very excited to talk to real NHL fans.
We did the day in reverse order: Charity and David Shelley, the boy she has befriended, start at the Pont du Gard, then travel to Nimes. They park near the cathedral and have lunch before visiting the Arena (which, as I mentioned was practically touching distance from our hotel). Then something upsets David and he asks if he can wait in the Cathedral with his dog. Charity is concerned about him but realizes he doesn’t want to spoil the outing “so I decided to continue my sight-seeing tour of Nimes, but to complete it as quickly as I could.”
The Temple of Diana (exterior)
I saw the lovely pillared Maison Carrée, then I made my way along the stinking street [editor’s note: they must have cleaned up the streets in the intervening 65 years] beside the canal to the beautiful formal gardens which are the pride of Nimes. The heat was terrific, and by the time I reached the gardens . . . even my enthusiasm for Roman remains had begun to waiver.
Doorway of the Temple
Charity contemplates the steep slope that leads to a Roman Tower and decides against it; I climbed a lot of stairs but when I got to what seemed like the top, I couldn’t figure out where the Tower was. The only people I saw at the top were doing Tai Chi and I didn’t want to interrupt them. After two cool drinks, Charity goes into the Temple of Diana:
Imagine Charity sitting and leaning against a pillar
It was like being miles from anywhere. Behind me, back through the crumbled archway, was the hot white world with its people and its voices; here, within, was a little square of quiet and green coolness. Trees dipped over the high broken walls, shadows lay like arras in the pillared corners . . . I sat down on a fallen piece of carved stone, leaned back against a pillar, and closed my eyes. I tried not to think of Johnny . . . it didn’t do any good to think of Johnny . . . I must just think of nothing except how quiet it was, and how much I liked being alone . . .

“Aren’t you well?”

I opened my eyes with a start.

A man had come into the temple, so quietly that I had not heard him approach. He was standing over me now, frowning at me.

“What’s the matter? The heat?” He spoke with a sort of reluctant consideration, as if he felt constrained to offer help, but hoped to God I wasn’t going to need it.

I knew there were tears on my eyelashes and felt a fool.

“I’m all right, thanks,” I said crisply. “I was only resting, and enjoying being alone.”

He raised his eyebrows at that, and the corner of his mouth twitched sourly. “I’m sorry.”
Interior of the Temple; you can see my mother on the right
Realizing she has been rude, Charity accepts a cigarette and reveals too much with her chatter:

“Where did you meet this David Shelley?”

I heard it then. I stopped with my cigarette half-way to my lips and looked at him. His hand was quite steady as he flicked the ash from his cigarette, and his face showed no expression. But there was a look behind his eyes that made my heart jolt once, sickeningly.

He said again, softly almost indifferently: “Where did you meet this David Shelley?”

And looked at me with David’s eyes.

Shelley - Coleridge - Byron. I knew now. I was alone in that quiet little temple with Richard Byron, who had been acquitted of murder on the grounds of insufficient evidence, and who was looking at me now as if he would like to choke me.

He threw away his cigarette, and took a step towards me.
Looking down on the Jardins de la Fontaine; not a lot of people
around to help Charity so she'd better rescue herself!


Cath said...

Hmmm, I think I need to read that Mary Stewart book.

CLM said...

Cath, you would really like it. I never liked her Merlin books but I enjoyed all her romantic suspense novels and (as you can tell) this is not just my favorite of her books but one of my all-time top ten.

TracyK said...

I am catching up, I did not realize how behind I was.

I loved the part about Nimes being the birthplace of denim. That was new to me.

And now I will have to read that book by Mary Stewart also.

CLM said...

I was really glad we included Nimes and appreciated that it was a very walkable city!

Thanks for following our trip!

JaneGS said...

What an absolute treat to be able to backtrack in the footsteps of a favorite heroine! I am a Mary Stewart fan but haven't read one yet! It's going on the list.

Love the pictures.

Excellent post :)

Carol said...

This was the first Mary Stewart I read. She does the atmosphere of place so well. Loved your photos!