Once my time was up in Albi, I got on a bus to Toulouse (which promptly broke down) and made the trip back to Nantes for the last time. The very last time! But before I said my final farewells to my Breton home, I was able to experience one more moment of beautiful Nantes nonsense – Le Royal de Luxe!
In collaboration with the same people responsible for Nantes’ resident elephant, le Royal de Luxe is a street theater company that has been based in Nantes since the early 1990s. Today, it tours the world with its giant machines, and made a long-awaited stop back in Nantes on the very weekend that my parents were to arrive in town. Lucky us!
To mark the beginning of le Royal de Luxe, a huge mural fell from the sky and landed in the middle of Place de la Bourse (ben…plus ou moins, il faut d’abord un esprit enfantin pour profiter du spectacle!). The painting depicted the varied history of Nantes – at times triumphant and innovative, painful at others.
But no matter what, the Nantais are an enthusiastic bunch, and for cultural events they are keen to take part. When I showed up at the mur mystérieux on Wednesday night, it seemed like all of the métropole was there, staring. For minutes and minutes they stared and pointed and chatted with their friends about the scene. It was really quite sweet to see them so curious about the wall – the “ouahs!” and “hou las!” echoed through the streets!
All weekend, giant puppets wandered the streets, making stops at all of Nantes’ main attractions and taking naps in the heat of the day (listen carefully, and you could even hear them snoring!). The star of the show was “el xolo,” a Mexican dog made of light-weight steel, who was accompanied by la Pétite Géante and le Campesino. I saw them parading down les Cours des 50-Otages, each one bigger and more complexly constructed than the last. Teams of people were needed to maneuver each machine, the towering Campesino requiring dozens of puppeteers, called “lilliputiens.” In order to move his huge legs, pairs of men would jump off of the platform from which Campesino was suspended, holding a rope, and the force from their fall was strong enough to bend his knee and allow him to take a step. Then a pair controlling the other side would do the same, moving his other leg, while that first group of two would climb back up onto the platform to jump again…et patati et patata! Fortunately there were more than two teams operating the giant’s legs, but still, what physically demanding work! I’m thrilled that I got the chance to be in Nantes to see le Royal de Luxe in action, especially as it won’t be back for several years (and who knows where I’ll be then)!