Yesterday, my roommate Jamie and I were disturbed by our alarms at 6 am so that we could get on the first train out of Issoire. We had plans to spend the day in Vichy, which is just North of Clermont-Ferrand.
When we arrived in Vichy at 9am, it suddenly occurred to me that I should have researched possible things to do in this completely unfamiliar place. I could have at least looked at a map that would direct us to the town center. Without dwelling on my inability to plan properly for anything, we arbitrarily chose a street and started walking, hoping it would lead us to amazing things. Jamie suggested we go somewhere warm and heated for some coffee or food or anything at all that was inside. We soon found a Tabac, which wikipedia defines as “a store licensed to sell Tabacco in France.” You see them all over, and they are usually filled with men drinking coffee. They sell a wide range of candy and useful knickknacks, but they do not sell stamps. Without any contemplation whatsoever, we went in. I was still sleeping at this time, so I ordered a coffee and hoped the caffeine would have an awakening effect.
Anyways one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was sitting in a movie theater watching “Le Monde Magnifique d’Oz” at 10 am. For some reason that I have not yet determined, Jamie and I were the only people in that showing. This was good for me because I needed Jamie to translate the whole way through to give me the authentic English experience, and other viewers may have been frustrated by the disruptions.
After the movie we met up with two American teaching assistants who are in the same program, but quite obviously having very different experiences from us, in this city that has a movie theater. We had a great afternoon with the girls, exchanging horror stories from our classrooms and sharing our expert opinions on how to improve the English curriculum in French schools. We had crepes for lunch and afterwards they took us to a tea salon that served liquid chocolate. I don’t really know how to explain it anymore than: a mug full of chocolate that is thick enough to eat with a spoon, but can also be drunk straight from the mug. In short it was amazing. They showed us where the American Swim team practiced for the 2013 Olympics, the schools where they taught, and the Promenade that runs along the river. We finished by touring through Vieux Vichy on our way back to the station. To add to the excitement, we saw a huge rat that looked like he had eaten a bigger lunch that I had. Obviously Vichy rats have it pretty good compared to the skinny Parisian ones.
Vichy is a beautiful vibrant city and I felt giddy with excitement all day long because it seemed like there was so much to do. The architecture is pretty incredible, which I’m told is because it was never bombed during the war. Apparently Napoleon the third liked to go to Vichy regularly for Spa treatments, and ultimately took it upon himself to “modernize” the city where he bought a number of homes for himself. His first residence is now part of a hotel, and was built in 1861(!). I can understand how Napoleon III felt about his city, as I share similar sentiments towards Calgary. He once said: “I am more pleased here than anywhere else, for this is my creation.”
At the risk of completely stealing sentences off of the Internet, I will try to briefly convey the significance of Vichy during WW2. The Vichy Regime was the French Government, and as such Vichy was the official French State from years 1940 to 1944. This government is commonly referred to as a “puppet government run by traitors” (on wiki), as they willfully collaborated with Nazi Germany. The assistants told us that the history of the town is never discussed, which is why there is no museum or anything like that. They also mentioned that it is especially inappropriate to question how a family came by their wealth, as in many cases inheritance is a result of collaboration efforts.
I hope everyone had a really nice Easter weekend, and more importantly I hope they all ate at least as much chocolate as I did, preferably more, so that I don’t have to feel bad about it.