June 14, 2014- Having framed Amiens’ natural boundaries, which are its lifeblood, and its spiritual symbol, the great cathedral, it’s a good time to take a circular visit to the nuts and bolts of the city.
From my hotel (on the left, below), I took a walk down to Tour Perret- an apartment complex that is given gravitas, by dint of its tower-like design.
Among the many lovely churches on my route was L’Eglise Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart), a center for the near north side of town, behind the train and bus stations. This area is home to many immigrants and lower income French folks. It’s lively, and I did not feel either unwelcome or unsafe, during my walkabout.
After saying a few prayers in the courtyard, and greeting a couple of residents, including a child on a skateboard, I went past the train station, and took note of Hotel Carlton, a British import.
To the east of the train station, there is a different parish, even more needy than the area around Sacre Coeur. This is Le Parrois Sainte Famille. Here, there is an active Food Bank and Soup Kitchen, with a Catholic High School attached.
I was impressed that there were so many in school on a Saturday morning. Then, I remembered that this is routine in France.
Those African and Caribbean people of letters who have had an impact on the people around them are remembered in France, though they may not have felt so honoured during their lifetimes. I recall reading the works of Frantz Fanon, the conscience of Martinique, misunderstood during the De Gaulle era as a “Stalinist”. Aime Cesaire, also from Martinique, was an exemplary man of letters and served as a mentor to Fanon, as well as mayor of Fort-de-France. Although he was drawn to Marxism, Aime turned away from that philosophy after the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian revolt, in 1956.
A square in north Amiens honours him today.
After heading east from Square Aime Cesaire, I found the preserved house, and a square dedicated to, the masterful Jules Verne. Here, I had one of my less laudable moments. In a few minutes of intense concentration, I was approached by an enthusiastic young man, whom I mistook for a beggar. He was politely, but firmly, dismissed. In retrospect, I might have learned something about the place from him.
Here, though, is the preserved home of Monsieur Verne. He spent his last years here, and passed away in Amiens, in 1905.
Jules is shown with young people reading, in the memorial sculpture of the square.
A pleasant addition to the squares of Amiens is the gingko tree. This much was pointed out to me, by the aforementioned student.
Leaving Square Jules Verne, I came upon this roundabout, with figures of the Jacobin period standing vigilant watch on the traffic.
I crossed Boulevard Jules Verne, and headed for La Coupole. En route, this slice of Amiens’ northeast side invited a photo.
I also spotted L’Eglise St. Esprit.
The tympanum shows St. Martin of Tours.
Lunchtime was coming, though, so on to La Coupole it was.
Here is a gem: Restaurant Himalaya. Indian cuisine, served in the French style, is second to none. Madame Celine, the French wife of the establishment’s Indian chef, is a most energetic and gracious hostess. I thoroughly relished the Lamb Vindaloo, naan with various spreads, and separated milk dessert, in this lovely atmosphere. I would find out later, from an Indian couple who were headed home to Lucknow, via Paris of course, that there is a strong connection between France and India- and not just in Pondicherry and Mahe.
It was nearing 2 PM, and time for the hard-working proprietors to rest, so I walked through Cirque Jules Verne, and squares dedicated to Annie Fratellini and Arlette Gruss. Mlle. Fratellini was one of France’s most famous circus clowns, and a talented singer and actress, as well. Mlle. Gruss was also a circus performer, who taught the performing arts for several years, across France. The circus in France, during their heyday, was more focused on the prowess of humans than the forcible humiliation of animals.
Across from the Cirque and La Coupole, is L’Eglise de la Paix. Here, a young girl was teasing her little brother, stopping when she saw me approaching. I was glad to be a source of relief to the poor child, and was also gratified by these sights.
Perhaps most gratifying of all was this plaque, memorializing Corine Seguin, who was murdered by Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas, in 1988.
I also passed a Polish church: L’Eglise Matki Boze Czestochowski, en route to the Grand Marche. This is hardly surprising. Immigrants from east central Europe have flocked to French mill towns for over a hundred years.
I knew the end of my afternoon walkabout was coming, upon reaching Hotel de Ville d’ Amiens (City Hall).
This is also the area of Grand Marche, which includes the Flea Market.
Amiens is filled with many great landmarks, but has not neglected the present, or the future. L’Universite de Picardie is a full-service, research-oriented institution.
So it went, and I found yet another eclectic and cosmopolitan community, taking the bull of life by the horns, and welcoming visitors with great gusto. I could easily come back to Amiens, for a slice of life at its finest.
It’s good to see that the churches were preserved during two wars, and the modern seems a combination of rebuilding and normal progress. Amiens seems to be a lovely little town!
Amiens is indeed a lovely, eclectic town. I enjoyed it immensely.
When I read this, I realize what a vast establishment is the Catholic church. I have heard of this place. I love reading the historic background of the place.
The Church is indeed vast, but in France, the churches are all owned by the State, which is responsible for maintaining the areas of the cathedrals that are open to tourists. Thus, one part or another of any given cathedral is always covered in scaffolding.
I have been moved by the total beauty of Paris, Rouen, and Amiens. Your journey is so well documented that I think Aram will enjoy it in years to come, maybe inspiring his own European trek. The prose is also beautiful. I very much appreciated the view of the Gare du Nord because when I was in Paris in 1986 or so, I caught a train there to Albertville in the French Alps to attend Franco-Swiss Winter School. I truly lived through your explanations and the photos of France, rekindling my desire to work on speaking French again at French Club every month and keeping in closer touch with my French-speaking Baha’i friends. I especially liked the statues in each cathedral, especially Sacre-Coeur. Thank you, Gary, and many more travels to you!