04 June 2010

Rouen, 7 years ago

Seven years ago, when Walt and I came to live in France, we first drove up to Rouen, in Normandy, to spend a few days with friends there. They lived in the center of town near the old marketplace and the cathedral, and they had a studio apartment they let us stay in. The pictures in this post are ones I took on June 3, 2003.

I lived in Rouen for a year in the early 1970s. I was 24 years old and I had a job as an English teacher in the illustrious Lycée Corneille — formerly called Le Collège Royal — there. It was a part-time job, and my purpose for being there was to improve my French. I made good friends and my French was pretty much fluent by the time I went back the the States.

One of the symbols of the city of Rouen is this old clock
in a tower over one of the main streets.

In 2003, the great Canicule — the weird European heatwave — had already started, but we didn't know it yet. The Normandy climate is essentially damp and cool, but by early June seven years ago the weather was already hot and strangely sunny.

Buildings around Rouen's Vieux Marché — the old market.
The one in the middle all decked out in red flowers is La Couronne,
the restaurant where Julia Child had her first meal in France.

The reason we were in Rouen was that our friends who had the studio apartment were going to lend us some sheets, towels, and other essentials that we could take with us to Saint-Aignan. Those things would tide us over until our container arrived in July, with the furniture and other belongings we had shipped from California. I thought we might buy a car there too, but we ended up driving the rental car down to the Loire Valley.

Walt and 11-year-old Collette in front of
the Eglise Saint-Ouen in Rouen

Rouen is a magnificent old city with one of the most impressive cathedrals in France, two other fine churches, and the old tower where Joan of Arc was supposedly held prisoner before she was burned at the stake in the city's old marketplace in 1431. Historically, Rouen was considered the capital of Normandy. Victor Hugo called it « la ville aux cent clochers » — the city of 100 church towers. The novelist Stendhal called Rouen “the Athens of the Gothic era” for its great architectural treasures.

The city of Rouen is an open-air, living architecture museum.

Rouen is also a big port city. Ocean-going ships come up the Seine from Le Havre to unload their cargo. The historic center is on the right bank of the Seine. On the left bank is a newer urban area, and the whole metropolitan area has a population of half a million. There's a new tramway that runs underground through the old part of the city. Rouen less than 90 minutes from Paris by train.

But Rouen in not just a museum — there are many
nice cafés and restaurants to enjoy too.

I haven't spent nearly as much time in Rouen over the past seven years, since moving to Saint-Aignan, as I did back in the 1990s. But I'll go back there this summer, if everything works out. CHM and I are planning a trip for the end of July. Walt and I went to Rouen to visit friends in August 2006 — I posted about it here. A few years ago I did a series of four topics about Rouen and the time I spent there in the early 1970s. It starts here, and there's a link at the bottom of each topic to take you to the next one.


  1. We missed Rouen in our travels thru Normandy in 2008 and by your post, we are remiss in not stopping there. How do you absorb all these place in 4 to 5 weeks holiday?
    Next time maybe.
    Thanks for the experience.

  2. Wow, what a joy today's post was, including going off to your earlier posts to read your letters to your ma from your early days in Rouen :) And, what fun to see La Couronne!! Have you seen Julie & Julia yet? As I recall, the scene of them eating sole meunière there is right at the start of the movie :)

    Ken, do you have letters from the years when you were working for Alma, in Paris? Did you recount things about what the new crop of students was like? :)) By the way, how many years did you do that?

    Loved this post and the photos!


  3. love the pic of colette in front of cathedral

  4. Hi Judy, I might have some letters from Paris 1981-82, but all the letters I have are in a jumble. My mother sent them to me when she sold her house in 2005, and I have just sort of dumped them all into a big box. I need to go through and try to organize them.

    But I said things about the students on that program, I might not want to divulge those things now... LOL.

  5. Ken, haaaaaaaa haaaaaaaaaaaaaa about what you might have said about us "kids" on the program! :)) I was thinking the same thing! It is fun, though, isn't it, to see how we all used to write such long letters. My sisters and I used to write letters to each other after they had moved back East, and I still lived in St. Louis with my parents. How different email and cheap long distance (or cell phones) has made communicating!

    You know, many (many!) of my students these days just absolutely HATE having to put a pen in their hands and write. You would not believe how much they whine about actually having to write things out on paper. But, those are my Spanish level-1 students... they are a completely different breed from my advanced French students. :)


  6. Beautiful pictures and post. Thanks. I must make a side trip to Rouen next time I visit France.

  7. Your blog today and comments are just about my favorites. I love seeing La Couronne- you could guess that since I ate Julia's meal there with our friends.

    I don't think I'd seen Collette's photo in front of the magnificent cathedral- so lovely, plus I loved hearing your back story before we met face to face.

    Judy, your comments about letters home got me reminiscing about the letters I have from my trips to France when I was 15 and 20. I haven't looked at mine in a long time. They were written on onion skin paper and later on those fold up thin letters that were the cheapest way to go.

    Hopefully, next winter when Ken is shut-in, he will look over his letters, and (after some editing) put them on this blog. I wonder if you are mentioned in them, Judy?

  8. Beautiful city. Maybe I'll get there one day.

  9. Evelyn, let's hope Ken will be gracious enough not to mention what he might have written about me in letters home *LOL* ("And then one of our students went with another one of our students to the boy's au pair house out in the suburbs--though he had been given explicit instructions to have no one over while he babysat-- so they almost fired him, and I had to talk to the family and save his job for him blah blah blah" ). Ahhh.... the poor decisions of our youth! *LOL* Evelyn, my letter memories are the same as yours, on onion skin and aerograms!


  10. Judy, now I'm learning a lot about what went on back then. Nobody told me at the time! You always were a trouble-maker, weren't you? Just kidding of course.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?