French cities don’t change much. I left Nantes in 2001 and I can still find my way around easily, much to my parents’ surprise. Sure some businesses closed and new ones opened, but the streets, the landmarks and the public parks are the same, and even the various districts’ atmosphere hasn’t changed—Commerce is still a bus and tramway hub, Bouffay is still the bar district, etc.
That’s why I was so surprised when I went back in 2008 and found out that a new neighborhood had come alive: the famous “île de Nantes” (Island of Nantes). The former shipyards and building sites were previously off-limit (in fact, I can’t remember visiting the Island of Nantes ever before 2001, despite living less than a kilometre away) but had been nicely rehabilitated as part of an urban project.
Finally, something new in Nantes.
Since then, it seems that the city is moving into an artsy bohemian direction. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Nantes’ beloved Socialist mayor since 1989, was recently appointed as France’s Prime Minister under Holland’s new government but he left quite a legacy. Nantes is now seen as a cultural hot spot, and tourism is heavily promoted.
This summer, “A Journey to Nantes” art project (“Le voyage à Nantes”) kept the crowd entertained. The 8.5 kilometre-long “cultural urban trail” across the city, from one landmark to another, was spiced up with various street art projects, from tree houses to urban playgrounds.
I must admit I simply don’t get contemporary art. Even though I consider myself an artsy person, to me, a tree painted white is… well, a tree painted white.
Most of the installation art left us puzzled, even though some amused me, like the section of wall on top of a ladder at Bouffay.
One of my favourite places on the trail was the top of the Tour Bretagne. The 472 ft office building from the 1976s is the third tallest building in France outside of Paris—and between us, is quite an eyesore (and an economic failure, as most of the office space is empty and has been since the 1970s!). It has always been off-limit to visitors, but this year, the top floor was converted into an art project: a bird nest/bar. Well, really, between us, it’s a bar, I don’t see the artistic side of it…! But at least, it gave us the chance to go to the top of the tower and to see Nantes like I had never seen it before.
You can see all the pictures taken in Nantes on Flickr.