The city of Nantes, in western France, was chosen as “the most livable in Europe” a few years ago. It’s a very pretty city, poised between Brittany and Les Pays de la Loire. Some of my favorite spots there are the Passage Pommeraye, the brasserie La Cigale and the Jardin des plantes. The Passage Pommeraye, built in the 19th century, is a small arcade that is more notable for its architecture than the stores inside. Like the Passages and Galleries in Paris, it’s a relic of a beautiful era. It was a favorite filming location for director Jacques Demy. The Passage has been classified a national historic monument, just like the lovely art nouveau brasserie, La Cigale, which was also a Demy film location. La Cigale opened in 1895 and is covered in exquisite ceramic tiles made by Émile Libaudière. And for my final favorite place in Nantes, the Jardin des plantes was established in 1688 as a garden for medicinal herbs but has grown into an English-style garden with 11,000 species. It’s a lovely oasis next to the train station as you’re coming to or going from Nantes.
There’s a famous fable by Jean de La Fontaine known as La Cigale et la fourmi. La cigale is translated as “grasshopper” in the English version of the fable, but it should really be translated as “cicada,” that big insect whose distinctive song fills the air in the south of France. In the fable, the cicada plays all summer long while the ant industriously prepares for winter. When the cicada asks for help when winter comes, the ant gives the cold reply “You sang, did you? That’s nice. Now dance.” The fable has become part of French life, along with the expression plus cigale que fourmi (ploo seegal kuh foorme), which means “more cicada than ant” or “more spendthrift than thrifty.” I always feel sympathetic for the foolish cicada, maybe that’s why I enjoy brasserie La Cigale. Surely you can’t be blamed if your cup of coffee and croissant takes a little longer than usual as you linger in this lovely setting.