Thursday, June 7, 2012

Treasure Hunt on the Loire, Part Deux

The "Rough Guide to Brittany & Normandy" has nothing good to say about St-Nazare except that it's easy to find an inexpensive hotel room, but we founds lots of interesting things there.

What dominates the view as you come into the St-Nazare inner harbor is an immense, truly awesomely vast, concrete thing.

"What the heck is that?" We asked each other.

What it was, we finally pieced together over the next hour, was once the Germans' main U-boat base for the Atlantic, where the U-boats came to be repaired and rearmed between missions. The immense concrete structure (480,000 cubic meters of concrete) was meant to be bomb-proof and it was. The subs in its 14 "pens" were safe. At the end of the war, the Allies could not destroy it from the air and finally resorted to fire-bombing the surrounding town to make it impossible to live or work near it. St-Nazare was the last French city liberated; the Germans held out here longer than anywhere else.

And there it sits. Apparently it would be impractical to demolish it (how long would it take, and where would you put all that broken concrete?) so the city of St-Nazare is trying to "domesticate" it as part of a massive project to "reconnect the town to its port," a project they call Escal'Atlantic (Atlantic stop-over).

The ramp is pedestrian access to the vast roof of the thing.

One of our Estuary Art installations was up there and another visible from it. So we went up.

Once you are on top, it still isn't clear what you are seeing.

The Estuary Art installation on the roof of the U-boat base is a pair of gardens by Gilles Clément. "The Garden of Sedum and Grasses" is an extensive array of planting beds and a water feature placed in between the ribs of the roof.

"The Trembling Garden" is a small forest of aspen trees that grow up through the great cement cylinders that dispersed the explosive effect of bombs.

Tourists read history boards mounted on the walls of the pit. The Trembling Garden is beyond them, to the right.

The trees grow up through the cement cylinders.

From below you see how each tree grows from a large container.

From the roof of the sub base we could see a large part of the another Estuary Art instatllation – Felice Varini's "Suite of Triangles." Not very impressive, we thought.

Some red triangles on some roofs? Meh.

The original lock stands across the inner harbor from the sub base. The monumental concrete roof protected the subs from bombs while they waited for the lock to drain or fill. Notice the tourists on the roof of the lock – some of them, no doubt, contemplating the "Suite of Triangles".

So now we moved to the roof of the lock, from where we saw many other red triangles painted on buildings around the harbor: grain silos and factory buildings. From most locations they seemed like just random splashes of color.

Oh, there's triangles over there, and there... So?

But if you stand in exactly the right spot on the roof of the lock...Oh!

Do click through on this and see how neatly they all fit.

Down below the sub base, not part of the Estuary Art set but ought to be, is Jean-Claude Mayo's "L'Abolition de L'Esclavage" (The Abolition of Slavery). It was constructed on the remains of an old ferry dock to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Abolition in France.

The timbers are meant to represent the ribs of a slave ship.

There are three bronze figures, one of a man in chains, one of a person climbing to freedom, and a third of a freed slave "contemplating the future."


The day's not done; continue in Part Trois.

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