Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives Things to Do
Markets bring trade and prosperity to a town but they also create and leave behind a mess. I have got used to seeing road sweepers replaced everywhere by mechanical street cleaners but I don't think I have ever seen a clean-up as efficienct, organised and fast as the one we watched here.
With military style precision small army of cleaning operatives and serious looking vehicles moved onto the parade ground - sorry - market place - as the last of the traders' vans pulled away.
There is something very satisfying about watching people at work particularly when they do what they do so well. They obviously had a routine and everyone knew what to do and in what order. Maybe there were a couple of supervisors somewhere, a couple gendarmes stood by chatting now and then with members of the workforce.
It was all very good humoured. Bigger and better machines took over, almost in tune. Every scrap of lettuce leaf, squashed tomato or general litter disappeared and in no time at all it was as if no market was ever there. Well worth hanging about at the end of the market to see a job done so well.
The original church connected to the Benedictine Abbey was built in 1012 by an aunt of William the Conqueror. It was the war between William's sons that resulted in its destruction by fire. It was rebuilt and restored in the 12th and 13th centuries and, for a long time before the Revolution in 1789, the rich and powerful Abbey and Church dominated the town.
Today its towers dominate the skyline. Seen from a distance and in aerial photos it looks like a great Gothic- Romanesque cathedral.
There has been ongoing change and restoration; some work is still underway in the Abbey complex.
From what I could gather the interior is much altered. The modern windows portray the history of the town and are said to be well worth seeing. I would have liked to have also seen the copper strip which is laid into the floor and runs through part of the nave. It is erroneously called the Meridian - which may explain a bar restauranr called the Greenwich in the Market Place.
Unfortunately in September the opening hours are limited and we did not have time to book a guided tour (which can be done through the tourist office).
As you walk through the cloisters you pass the entrance to the old Chapter House. This was originally the administrative centre of the Abbey where the monks met to discuss its business.
At the time of the Revolution in 1789 the monks were forced to leave the Abbey. Subsequently much of the building was sold off by the new Republic as dwellings. (amongst the crumbling wing that still remains in private ownership there were signs that some rooms are still occupied as apartments.)
After the Revolution the Chapter House became a staging post for horses from local stables and, after falling into disrepair, was purchased by the Town Council and eventually restored in 1991.
Further restoration in 1999 equipped it as an exhibition gallery to exhibit the paintings of a famous local artist.
Andre Lemaitre was born in 1909 in Falaise. When he died in 1995 he left over 4000 paintings.
Twelve of his large canvases depicting notable Normans are displayed in the beautifully restored 13th.C. building. Its gothic proportions, graceful columns and vaulted ceiling make it a perfect gallery.
The 12 works on display are - to me - heavy handed works that show little of the gentler hand displayed in other Lemaitre works I have seen elsewhere, and even less of the Impressionist influence to be seen in much of Lemaitre's work.
A self portarit in gouache is also exhibited.
Admission is free during the opening hours of the Tourist Office - around the corner but in the same building.
I remembered eating at this restaurant, on the corner of the Market Square, many years before on a cold, wet day, when we enjoyed a cheap nourishing casserole meal in the warmth of the interior.
This time on a warm, sunny day the terrace tables began to fill quickly as soon as the market closed down and we took one of the few remaining vacant tables. Most were taken by local people - usually a good sign.
We ordered the plat du jour which was inexpensive and everybody else seemed to be ordering it.
Our meals were OK but the chicken lacked flavour in spite of the sauce of unknown variety that surrounded it. And I wondered since when did it become the norm to serve such huge amounts of frites? I remember always wishing for a few more than the dainty servings that used to accompany a meal.
Not for the first time during this trip I wondered if it is still possible to find the kind of freshly cooked simple, traditional dishes, served with a bit of style one used to find as part of a menu du jour. Perhaps it is the recession, perhaps the march of the fast food culture.
But the service was pleasant and efficient, and from our terrace table we had a grand stand view of the remarkable cleaning activities of the council workmen in the market place.
Favorite thing: One of the features I like best about travelling in France is that, with few exceptions, every community, from tiny hamlets to country towns and cities invests in their surroundings by arranging beautiful planting schemes.
Roadside verges, the centres of roundabouts and traffic islands are all enhanced by colourful displays. Variegated foilage shrubs, stately "architectural" plants and flowers of every type and hue combine to brighten even dull urban surroundings.
Not once did we see any sign of vandalism - no uprooted and scattered plants, no tubs or troughs overturned or hanging baskets upturned.
This same civic pride can be seen in private gardens so that visiting different towns may seem like travelling through a never ending park.
In St. Pierre-sur-Dives geraniums predominate and must be awarded 1st prize for their stunning impact.