The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Zip City; or, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere


The economic upheaval of WWII and its aftermath led to a number of demographic changes in France, the most important of which was a large-scale shift from rural to urban life. Cities (especially Paris) started sprawling, and young people fled the small towns of La France Profonde (lit. "Deep France") in search of jobs in the cities.

While small-town life carries on and some people cling militantly to ruralism, the truth is that many villages, especially in the Massif Central and the Southwest, simply no longer have any economic engine and are becoming ghost towns as the older residents die off, the boulangeries shut down for lack of customers, and the markets have fewer and fewer vendors each year. This trend is being reversed somewhat in Provence and the Dordogne, both of which are flooded with Brits drawn by rock-bottom real-estate prices, and the restaurants and building-supply stores that cater to their needs.

On our recent trip to Nice, we stopped in this village, Pont-sur-Loup, to tour the Florian candy factory there. This was largely a reward to Boog for behaving on our visit through the Fondation Maeght modern art museum, but interesting enough to deviate a few kilometers off the main road.

The factory's works are very simple and low-tech. There are no robots or automated processes or even assembly lines per se--just large kitchens where fruit and chocolate and sugar (and interestingly, flower petals) are mixed together, then another room where things are baked or dried, and another room for packaging.

The factory's setting is simply stunning--deep in the gorge of the swift, rocky Loup river, with cliffs towering on both sides and the soaring, crumbling piers of its older namesake bridge pointing at the sky. It was rather late in the day as we finished the tour and I snapped a few shots in the fading light as we walked back to the car through the village.

"Village" is probably too strong a word for it now. Pont-sur-Loup is a wide spot in the road with a few houses and some vacant storefronts. My GPS navigator didn't list it, and mappy.com doesn't either (Le Bar-sur-Loup is just downstream). Besides the candy factory, there is a lonely tabac/presse and that's about it.

It was oddly appealing, though--V asked me why I was taking pictures of random buildings and I really couldn't answer.

This abandoned hotel really appealed to me visually, with its Art Deco details. Something about it reminds me of a Led Zeppelin album cover. Check the gunsight window at upper left, and the flying-saucer balcony over the portico... rad. There was also a really awesome terrace on the back of the building overlooking the waterfall. Why, if I had a few kiloEuros to blow, I could get this place fixed right up and... aw, there I go.

This is about 20 minutes' drive from Cannes, by the way (and importantly, on the far side of the autoroute); I suspect you'd have a pretty good view of the Med from the cliff tops.

Across the bridge, this vacant brasserie--it's hard to read the faded paint of the sign, but it's there-- still had chairs stacked inside on the other side of its broken windows.

I don't know if this is one of those dying villages of France, or merely one that never really was much of a place. Someone obviously still cares, though; note the planter boxes hanging on the bridge in the first picture.

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