The Things… Nantes

Having been in Nantes just under a month I've already said a lot. Despite all that happened my loyalty lies with Nantes. It always will. There I learned the most about life and people. Nantes is where I learned the most about myself. I'm sure some will believe this learning process came from disappointment. Maybe others will believe it came from some sort of French "enlightenment". I actually learned the most from just being there. From sitting on the trams and looking out the windows. From going into the bakery and watching what the children got. From walking around the grocery store looking for Splenda which doesn't exist. From sitting out on my hotel balcony listening to Kanye West's "I'm In It". Nantes was a period of isolation, self-realization … and awakening. 

I missed…


Yeah I thought I was arriving at the onset of Summer where in actuality it wasn't even Spring. Or maybe Spring stays cold. It just never got hot or sunny. Everything was green and in bloom but there was no obvious seasonal change. From what I've read Summer starts in July in north France so I clearly missed it.

The Piscines (Pools)

The first thing I researched in Nantes are things to do. I downloaded an app that talked about the different communities and activities within them. The first recognizable term and photos were of the public pools. I was always prepared to go and wanted to at least see the aquatic baths in the city centre. I remember discussing it but never going.

The Story of Bretangne 

Theres history about the city and its surroundings. Everyone seemed to tell us a different story. Frankly, I never listened when her friend called herself telling us. I honestly just stared at her ass the entire time she was showing us the city walls and explaining the castle/chateau. The chateaus exhibit was very confusing about the start of it all. Besides no one was really stating the differences between Brittany, Bretangne and Breton. All I know is that I saw people get into it over which one ruled or lost or whatever. Sort of like those 1 percenter type intellectual conversations that appear to be a fight but are just word games among friends.

That One Pasta Place

So her friends had some friends that had opened two foodie operations in the city. One day we stopped in the pasta one that had all these lovely little sauces and oils for sale. They were really nice people covered in flour and they gave hugs. We were supposed to go to lunch there so many times but it never happened. Apparently, allegedly she went to one of their places without me. I wasn't really liked at that moment so I wasn't even made jealous by being told what they even ate. I want to believe it was some sort of antipasto with charcuterie and cheeses that was probably made with the utmost love.

Lu Biscuits 

I learned of these cookies being made in Nantes once I smuggled crackers from Rome into NYC. I'd eaten the biscuits and crackers throughout Europe. I could have visited the factory where I originally was. No big deal though considering they've been bought out by some American asshat like Nabisco or Kraft. If I'm wrong, same difference.

Les Machines

We went to see the Elephant but I didn't get to ride him. Nobody else seemed liked they wanted to do it so. I feel the same way about missing prom as I do not riding that elephant. I am forever ruined because I didn't insist upon riding it.

The East Side of Commerce 

We stayed on the safe side where the restaurants and shops were. One visit to the east side revealed a ton of sex shops and a snooty pizzeria. I really wanted to get back on that side but we were told to steer clear. Most of the dirty places had no doors - just meat locker plastic and hand made signs saying "we have poppers". So it was a 50/50 chance we would enjoy it or turn up missing.

I did do the following…

I illegally downloaded "Yeezus" but I simultaneously had my mother buy a physical copy for me. I felt I'd be trapped in the midst of some conversion Interpol bullshit buying it so for the first time ever I did what everyone else does. I also hopped many trains without a fare while listening to Kanye. I did a lot of bad things in Nantes. I carried scissors to cut flowers I saw in peoples gardens… for scrapbooking. I drank way too much Coke. I skipped showers. 

We went to the beach one afternoon. I expected the French Riviera. Instead, I felt like we were in Rhode Island in the dead of winter. We basically were in Rhode Island just inverted. Our visit sealed the deal for my fear of rocks, heights and dangerous situations. I kindly watched everyone else climb the shoreline and hoped someone would fall to their death so I didn't look like such a prude. Unfortunately, no one fell or slipped or tripped. So I was prude sitting on a bench after all.

We went to the club/attraction Le Nid. Theres this big thing about being at "the nest" way up high over the city and being able to see fallen eggs painted on nearby rooftops. I saw one but pretended to see all three. I think it was three. I couldn't see shit - they served liquor in stadium beer cups, I felt the music in my throat and old people were out dancing me. I even think I saw a child.  

I tried to go to the Saturday Markets as much as I could. I went alone several times just to get a feel for what it would be like living there. Even with headphones blaring I could not drown out the noise of the language I didn't understand or speak. I was forced to interact with the different dealers and people banging into me. This experience and the access to so many things and people at once is what convinced me to want to live in France. I just felt that everyone was so lucky to have everything they ever wanted every week rain or shine.

I went to almost every shoppe and grocery store. I did a lot of "window shopping" while there but I wasn't afraid to try anything. If I couldn't afford it I made the effort to sample it, try it on and walk around pretending to buy it. There was something very bittersweet about being a long term tourist. I needed to buy groceries over trinkets. I tried to keep a healthy balance.

We went to a Delerium Cafe. To many this was like going to any old bar but to a few this was like going to Never Never Land. I felt the later and I bought a t-shirt.

I ate ethnic street food. I was always fascinated with the street food and kebab culture in Nantes. It seemed to be one of the biggest mainstays. When told not to eat it I remained curious. So one night I treated myself to a sausage of sorts covered in frites with a 50 cent beer served from a keg standing on a box.

We went out - a lot. We experienced many "French" discotheques. For this I am most proud because I never expected her to want to dance let alone dance longer than me. Most times I didn't dance because I was sort of shell-shocked that I was inside of a traditional discotheque complete with cigarette smoke, LED lights and short men.

I went to Fete de Musique which in my eyes was like a one night street version of Coachella. Having never been to Coachella or any other concert really I felt very cool. I had no idea what I was listening to, I don't know if it was anyone famous but I was enjoying myself enough that I forgot it was cold.

I ate Foie Gras - traditional and fried. I also had St. Jacques aka Scallops. These were all unintentional eats. The dancers ordered the foie gras and we both tried it being anti-meat. I can't deny that the texture sort of ruined it for me but the flavor eventually won me over especially with the fried version. At another spot she ordered a pizza with scallops on it. I tried a slice and I actually liked it. First and last scallops I ate were in New Jersey in 2003 when my nieces ordered Chinese on Christmas Day. They tasted like erasers so I gave up St.Jacques. 

What I learned…

When Thai food is served with various greens like lettuce, basil and cilantro you are expected to wrap your food in it. I considered myself a Thai food enthusiast until we'd sent back a plate with the "garnish" only to watch other Americans wrap their spring rolls up. What we eventually realized is we were way closer to Thailand than it was in proximity to the States. So what we were eating was actually authentic and we'd probably never had the real anyways. Makes one wonder is star shaped cucumber and pickled chile even a thing there.

Pretty much every home, apartment, flat and hotel had black out shutters for sleep and weekends. Someone takes great care to ensure everyone including outsiders get a great nights sleep and a closed off weekend. Also winding staircases and tiny hallways can't prevent you from moving because every move I witnessed showed an elevated lift that propelled self movers to their balconies for seamless moves. We must like carrying sofas and California kings over here.

Grocery stores allow you to buy single juices, waters and beers. This is a European thing but I thought people were stealing left and right. It isn't anything to rip open a six pack of Evian and take one. Then the cashier prorates the cost. Also, Cuba isn't sanctioned. So for the first time I could drink her rum, eat her food and it was like among the "ethnic" foods.

Drinking and driving isn't illegal. We watched a group of guys drive in the middle of a road construction zone and then get out holding beers to fix the cones back. Also taking your child and or pet to the bar, children smoking & drinking or rolling a cigarette on a train are quite normal sightings.

Things like bananas, limes, avocados and jalapeños are luxuries. Oh and cilantro is coriander but we're the only weirdos that call it cilantro. Oddly enough restaurants will offer guacamole and consistently be out. Bars will allow you to ask for lime but always present you with lemon. I never saw corn and I seriously don't think its allowed. Tomatoes were 23 Euros a kilo so I didn't have those at all.

Nantes role in slavery re-educated me. Their commemorative displays were more informative and honorary than just a bunch of antiquities of slavery. It was refreshing to see that slavery was not just a "Black" problem. Most displays were very up front about the global participation and how the human race was affected as a whole. It wasn't just my peoples blood in the Loire River but the blood, souls and spirits of many Europeans, Latinos and South Americans. I don't like the idea of convening with the dead but I do like seeing something other than involuntary seating charts and log books of unknown names. I can now say I saw the relics and heirlooms of surviving people - actual currency with brown faces on it, jewelry etc. I learned what had been omitted. I also learned what generations of people before me thought we never had. There were many Afro-Caribbean and African people who were not enslaved or colonized that flourished. Now I have proof that we're not all just kings & queens, slaves and then picket sign holders. Theres a lot more to humanity and our "coming of age" so to speak dotted in-between and all of us have been enslaved in many ways than one. 

Caudalie is the nectar of the Gods. Stop at every single pharmacy and slather yourself in the Divine Huile until you glisten. Sadly Sephora is clearing this out as we speak and American women are giving it horrible reviews saying its too oily and stinks "weird".

That Buzzfeed is accurate in that everything we love here is illegal over there. There are no sugar substitutes, crazy preservatives, margarine products, hormone induced meat, farmed fish or genetically modified foods for sale. If the vegetable or fruit is not in season you wouldn't be eating it. If it doesn't have real butter it doesn't exist. Only one sugar is on the table at the restaurant and most times you'll get unrefined sugar or a cube. Try looking for a variety of frozen foods over fresh ones. You'll be empty handed.

No one wants to discuss God or your soul or your premonitions or superstitions. You are what you are. No more no less. There is no fate or deja vu or fantasy. Make your way, maybe have luck but don't think some miraculous talent will fuel your life - all very nihilistic views that I somewhat agree with. Maybe that is why it was explained to me by several people that the Christians lived "over there". They were like outcasts or lepers.

France has a waste not want not approach to life which can be rewarding. So I tried to finish all my drinks and embrace the five second rule for all other things. However, witnessing moms drop things and put them into their babies mouths was very unnerving. 

French women have the most effortless get up and go look. They do not stink. They do shave. They just don't own combs or brushes. They all wear neck scarves for function. We are just hipsters and many, many years too late. We also spend half our lives brushing our hair to no end where I think most French women don't even invest in hair ties. I saw a lot of women with long hair simply tying a strand around a large section of hair aka practicing the act of chignon.

In Conclusion…

I can't believe I'm saying this but I learned to eat. I found that breakfast didn't revolve around milk. I found that lunch never really had to be on the go. The same goes for a proper drink or coffee - which are both taken seriously and slower than everyone else in the world. I decided to learn more about what I had been eating versus what I was eating now. I took a very scientific approach to trying new things and staying satisfied. Some days that meant eating two grapefruits which is something I never ate or getting a carde (I have no idea why I used this word) full of miscellaneous pastries. I stopped trying to find an alternative to everything (fat-free, low calorie, organic) I really wanted to eat and just ate for once in my life.

I also found out that I am very spoiled. I walked into a speciality store I'd been buying most of my skin products since I was thirteen. I found that everything was double the price, in Euros - which meant it was triple the cost of what I'd been spending. The items I used generously were luxury, niche items that most women that looked way better than me could not afford. I also noticed low-end items were much better quality than some of my higher end American items. It was an eye-opener to be faced with choice on what to buy and if I could afford to buy. The reality was some of the stuff I just had to have was unnecessary and apart of something way bigger than me. Once without a lot of that stuff I discontinued buying it. I lost a great part of my vanity in Nantes. 

I witnessed a lot of strange, archaic methods of selling and serving food in Nantes. I did experience other open air markets, grocers and restaurants elsewhere but my original experience resonated. There is a strong fear that if we eat unrefrigerated, cross-contaminated and exposed food items we will grow some bacteria and die. Well its beyond fear it is fact. However, in this place people are taking unwrapped raw chicken and placing it in the same reusable bag with their fruits, vegetables and other exposed groceries. They even take a cooked chicken and place it in a paper bag then toss in a few potatoes cooked at the bottom of the rotisserie. I'm not sure if this is to protect your other items from oil or keep other items from impaling the crispy chicken skin.They are also serving raw dairy items in open air markets only being chilled by store bought ice. There are people selecting things like olives and pickles with their bare hands. There are dealers slicing apples and oranges with pocketknives and allowing patrons to taste the slither off their blade. These are all proud presentations by food and business enthusiasts who know a lot more than some kid that works for code. I'm not claiming that anyone hasn't gotten sick or died but everyone seemed quite okay with this. Same goes for the un-refrigeration of juice, milk and eggs. Also the drinking of non-distilled and bottled water over the span of a week or more. The exposure and touching/picking of bread. These things all appear to be quite normal. 

With all the above consumption of bottled water and various other packaging which is a real thing there was no push to recycle. Hotel staff seemed confused by me explaining why I was keeping plastics in my room. People who hosted us understood why we asked but had no method to participate. As green as Nantes was and is, recycling was a real new concept to the city.There are like no fountain drinks in Nantes only bottles and so much more packaging in the bakeries and grocery stores - plastic triangles for sandwiches, paper boxes for the tiniest little cakes. I loved that there were no plastic bags anywhere but then that allowed for your tea, grapes, eggs, peroxide, toilet paper and rotisserie chicken to be placed all in that same bag? In this there were silly concepts like flushable toilet tissue rolls and the nonexistence of take-away. I guess I never realized my passion for recycling until I was faced with not being able to. 

The lottery is considered a very taboo thing. It is normally contained to a shop designated for just that or in a newsstand, tabac (cigarette/cigar store) or gambling (horses & dogs) shop. All of these places were deemed unacceptable for a women to go in and very off-putting experiences for good, decent men. The sheer act of asking was treated like a lesson in what not to do to be respectable. As much as the French like to smoke they were forced to buy their poison in dingy little stores with loud red awnings. I used to be an avid lottery player and now I think of being shamed for questioning it so I rarely do it. 

For the first time in my entire life I witnessed colorblindness. I watched French people black and white interact and have a common bond in being French. Both "ethnicities" shared the same likes, loves and experiences wherein their individual colors had zero effect. I felt marginalized because of my "nationalism" which screamed that I didn't belong. I watched French moms bump into other at the market and take a moment to allow their babies to interact - a white mother and a black mother. I watched this happen a lot. Even on the train mothers place their babies together to just be babies... French babies. There was never any judgement about race or color.The only separation in this was a large population of Gypsies, Christians, Muslims and Senegalese people who kept to themselves but were never outwardly judged.

Last but not least I learned that existing in a good space is way better than forcing myself to conform to a bad one. I thoroughly enjoyed having my headphones on sitting in the window in my hotel as it rained than being with people who judged me immediately and continued to make me feel bad about my desire to just exist. I was always put into these deep, philosophical debates about life as we know it and then told not to dream. I was told it wasn't permitted. Then I was asked if I could finesse my dreams for the right people I could earn what was clearly free. I guess that was the biggest takeaway and clearly the opposite of this fantasized enlightenment. The irony of sitting with people who begged, starved and morphed themselves into being French to tell me that it was impossible for me without finagling. I was flattered by people encouraging me to stay and explaining how to jump the imaginary French visa I never had but it also troubled me. Then it also occurred to me that Nantes isn't the end all be all. Surely, it is a very nice place to visit and live but if I didn't click with two to six people in Nantes it didn't count me out on my own French experience. The audacity of this silly "crowd" to talk me out of my dreams because I still had them was very dark for me. This notion alone drove me to hate being there but then I would fall in love with the bones of my own dream. I always needed to be pinched. Everything was way bigger than there.

What will I do when I go back...

There was this lovely Italian restaurant in the center that I came to love. We'd eaten there twice and I just couldn't get enough of the place. There is no website. The bar has about twelve spirits. The restroom is all original to the building. I would like to bring my mother there and have the squid ink pasta. Then I will have dessert.That is really all I need when I come back to Nantes. I don't need to move there. I'd just like to exist for a bit just to show myself it is possible and it wasn't just a dream then kindly move on to other things I'm entitled to like breathing and sight and making things reality.

UPDATE: The restaurant outlives friendships - San Marco in Nantes. Still no website. 

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