Sunday, June 29, 2014

France 2014: Drive Back to Paris - Audes, La Borne

After leaving Bargemon, we had a week to travel back to Paris before catching a flight home to Toronto.  Our goal was to stay in different towns and cities than the ones we visited on the way down to Bargemon, including a spending some time at our friends' Bed and Breakfast in Souesmes.

We decided to spend our first night at a charming inn called Auberge Magnette just outside of the tiny village Audes, which we were told was the geographical centre of France and had a population of around 450 people.  Since it was almost a 7 hour drive to get this far, our plan was to have a quick dinner and early night. While the room was cheery and pleasant, we were surprised by the size of the bathroom, which was exactly like one that you would find on a cruise ship.  It was so small that Rich could  touch both sides of the walls by stretching out his arms.  The restaurant area had just a few tables and was filled with memorabilia from the comic strip Tintin.
Prior to dinner, we went for a stroll around the surrounding area.  We regretted that we did not have more time to enjoy the complementary bicycles and beautiful bike paths that ran along the Canal de Berry.  Instead we settled for a stroll, enjoying the pretty scenery while trying not to be eaten alive by the mosquitoes.  At one point, we noticed several schools of little fishes clustered together in the water.

Imagine our surprise when we found these same little smelt-like fishes available for our dinner.  We started off our meal with a tasty sangria, followed by an appetizer of breaded shrimp on greens.  We're pretty sure the fish options for the main course came straight out of the canal.  Rich went for the little fishes while I chose a seared whole white fish.  For dessert we each had a slice of pecan/nut pie with ice cream.

The next morning, we left bright and early en route to La Borne, a pottery town where just about every residence was occupied by a potter with a kiln in the back and a pottery store either attached to the property, or along the main street.  We arrived so early that most of the pottery shops were closed, but we did find a few that were left opened but unoccupied and requested that you to ring the main house if you wanted to buy something, or just leave some money.

The Centre of Contemporary Ceramics was also not open yet, so we killed time by exploring the woodlands that surrounded the village.  It was eerie walking through one portion of the forest, since the branches of the trees swirled in a circular pattern that made it feel like you were walking through a wind tunnel.  On our way back to the main street, we ran across a patisserie that had the best looking (and tasting) Paris Brest that we'd ever eaten.  The pastry was light and chewy and stuffed with flavourful chestnut cream.

By the time we finished breakfast, the pottery museum was open. The Centre of Contemporary Ceramics displayed works both from local La Borne artists as well as invited internationally recognized ceramic artists.  Many of the exhibition pieces were sculptural, depicting whimsical figures and characters.

Even the more typical pottery creations such as teapots, vases or bowls were unique in their shapes, glazes, textures and decorative adornments.  Each piece was a stunning work of art.  A large kiln was found in the back of the museum and probably supported the "Working with Clay" classes that were held on the premises.

The gift shop contained more functional but equally beautiful items for sale.  We were very happy that we managed to visit this fascinating museum but were disappointed to learn that the second pottery museum (featuring more historic pieces) was closed and we could not find the third one, but learned later that it too was closed on the day that we visited.

Our next stop was the Jean Linard Cathedral, located just outside of La Borne.  This place was really incredible and had to be seen to be believed.  Jean Linard was a potter, sculptor, painter and builder who was obviously influenced by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.  He built his family home and workshops using recycled materials found in demolition sites including beams, rafters, door frames, tile, and stones.  He spent years adding features to his home including decorating the building facade and pathways with brightly coloured mosaics, adding a turret, furnace chimney, and whimsical sculptures to the roof.

Beginning in 1984, Linard spent the next 26 years building a chapel and church that eventually became his Cathedral.  He decorated the back wall of the bapistry with more vibrant mosaic tiles.  Scattered around the expansive property are giant mosaic shrines that pay homage to Jesus, Mohammed, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Buddah, Martin Luther King, Gaudi, Picasso and more.

Innumerable sculptures made from found objects such as pieces of glass, empty wine bottles, metal beams and rods were scattered throughout the  grounds.  Linard's use of multi-coloured ceramic tiles and mosaics channeled Antoni Gaudi's works, especially the brilliantly vibrant steps that reminded me of the snake-like mosaic bench in Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona.
The sculptures were even prominently displayed within the house, along with paintings and drawings, presumably by Linard, who died in 2010.  The property was put on the market in 2012 but the house and cathedral have since been designated as historical monuments.  A non-profit association has taken up the task of organizing shows, exhibitions, expositions, conferences, and artist-in-residence programs on the site.

After thoroughly exploring the grounds of Jean Linard's Cathedral, it was off to Souesmes to visit our friends and stay in their Bed and Breakfast - Le Moulin d'en Bas.

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