Nancy: France Fails To Work Its Charm

Posted on November 16, 2014 by

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We arrive at Nancy station. Oh dear. ‘Heart’ Nancy posters, cards, key rings, the usual tat. Would rather make up my own mind, only just arrived. So American. So Un-French.
The taxi is dirty. Does it reflect the city? Afraid so. Unkempt. Uncared for. Inelegant. Unloved. No gawping in estate agent windows here.
And what’s that hideous edifice? A pile of bronze aortas. The one at the top is gilded. Heart of gold? Symbol of Nancy? If so, the real symbol may be its tram system. All fur coat, no knickers. Miles of overhead cables, but no track. Nancy has one tram line, Line A. Did it run out of money?
We are here to see Nancy’s famous art nouveau. More Oh dear. More like spot the art nouveau details. What a let-down. Sixty-seven Must See buildings are listed. We visited every single one. Some are more Amityville than Art Nouveau. Less than a handful are worth seeing. With the benefit of hindsight, we would pass on the buildings and head straight for the museums.
Nancy must have been wonderful once, back in the 1900s when Monsieur Gallé and friends founded The School of Nancy. Then, it rivalled Paris as an art centre. Today, it’s well, awful. Disappointing. Stevenage-sur-Meurthe. As it was all over by 1914, Nancy is trading on its reputation.
The Americans liberated Nancy from the Germans in 1944 in The Battle of Nancy. Didn’t see any permanent public evidence of gratitude. Perhaps Nancy is not grateful?
The Brasserie Excelsior is billed as ‘a jewel of the Art Nouveau movement in a stunning Art Nouveau setting’. There is no doubt that it once was. Not today. The entrance is blocked off so we can no longer see what the architect intended we saw when entering. Diners are directed around the corner to the side entrance. The one which leads to the toilets. Chefs in less than pristine whites huddle outside drawing on their ciggies. Inside, a waitress, surely trained by Harvester’s, shook a rag of crumbs wiped from the tables, on the floor. Once lovely vases are chipped and flaking ceiling paint makes it all look a bit sad. Trading on its reputation. We had planned to eat there but changed our minds. Instead we spent our euros in the wonderful Taverne D’Arbois. Perfect food, perfect wine, perfect service.
The cathedral (1748) is also a bit of a let-down. Usually the cathedral is the main draw in any French city, its piéce de résistance. This one looks like an afterthought as if Nancy said Oops! We forgot to build a cathedral!
Still. Nancy certainly has its compensations. Place Stanislas is awesome as are its museums. The Museum of the School of Nancy is special with its impressive collection of art nouveau fabrics, glass, ceramics, bookbinding, furniture and stained glass.
The Fine Art Museum and its collection is breath taking. Awesome. Its six hundred pieces of glassware by Daum has no rival. Paintings by Rubens, Delacroix, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Manet, Modigliani, and Picasso are all there. Best of all, because it was unexpected, is a door labelled Keep This Door Closed (shades of Alice in Wonderland) Surreal. Open it and inside, with room for one (we cheated so that I could have my photograph taken) is an explosion of coloured lights reflected in a myriad of mirrors all, apparently, floating on water. Disconcerting. Exciting. Psychedelic. Magic.
The Monastery and the Museum of Lorraine in the Duke’s palace in the old town has beguiling reconstructions of the interiors of old, traditional, houses.
We were just in time to see Place Stanislas in all its golden glory. Truly magnificent. It looks as if an architect designed it with a fisheye lens. By the time we left it was covered by an ephemeral garden, which was definitely surreal. Go through one of the magnificent gates on the square and there is a real garden, fifty-two acres of it. So big it has its own dinky zoo. And a Rodin! We were also lucky, because it was Open Day, to see inside the spectacular Town Hall on Place Stanislas.
Another one crossed off Places To See Before We Die.
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