A breakup tour of Rouen, France
Rouen, France. The Normandy hamlet where Jeanne d'Arc was tried, convicted, and burned at the stake. 583 years later, Rouen would be the site of another of history's great tragedies: Rouen resident Amélie B. torched the heart of her American boyfriend Josh H., burning our six-year relationship to cinder, and then, just as the English did with Jeanne, scorched it twice more to reduce it to ashes so that no one then, or in the future, could collect any souvenirs. Heart still smoldering two years later, join Josh d'Sam on this tour de broken couer of Rouen.
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Rouen
Amélie a Sorbonne-educated artist, one of our first dates, after she moved from Paris to Rouen, was at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was dusk, and Amélie tucked herself into my lap and rested against my chest as we watched Impressionist masterpieces projected on the musee's outside wall. I thought 'I could do this moment forever.' I thought a lot of things back then. The second largest collection of Impressionism paintings in France.
In anticipation of this visit, Amélie had Craigslisted her way to two barely-working bikes we had yet to use. Then, on a random night in August, we suddenly, unanimously, agreed we were starving. (Dickens, her dog, tongue-wagged he could also use a change from eating our underwear.) And so we biked down to the Domino's by the Seine, me screaming I didn't understand French bicycles or traffic laws, Amélie screaming back that I needed to peddle faster, the pizza was getting cold. Ashamed to be eating this Americana, I tried to balance it by ordering the only-in-France Forestie (crème fraîche, mozzarella, smoked bacon, onions, ham, mushrooms, oregano).
Picking them up, we balanced the pizzas on our handlebars as we rushed back to her apartment. Scratching the box, Amélie turned to me and said, in the cutest accent and inflection to ever leave a bouche, "Zis is going to be goooood!"
Falling asleep that night Awake with heartburn that night — Amélie under one arm, Dickens under the other — I thought the same.
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Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Art aficionados will recognize this cathedral from Monet's set of paintings, in which the Impressionist master captured the church's spires during various times of the day and year. I told Amélie he probably just had a problem letting things go. Amélie told me it reminded her of someone she knew.
A chocolatier famous for its signature desert, larmes de Jeanne d'Arc (tears of Joan of Arc). These chocolate-covered almonds make a great apology gift for your girlfriend's brother, who you'll offend in one of your depressed stupors. Also consider grabbing some madeleines to apologize to the cashier after spending more time than you should have trying to explain your bit, "Is Joan of Arc crying because of the cost of her chocolate tears?" Definitely grab a box of macarons for your girlfriend, who'll you have to apologize to after you call her back into the store so she can explain to the cashier what you were trying to say, and both turn red and look like they're going to be creating a fresh batch of tears.
What time is it? Half-past bringing up your exes again? A quarter to I-should-have-been-there-for-you-more-when-your-mom-got-sick? 18:I-drive-jokes-into-the-ground-and-don't-know-when-to-put-down-the-pen-and-think-of-you-for-a-second? Check the time remaining on your collapsing relationship on this fourteenth-century astronomical clock (one of Europe's oldest, working time-pieces).
Place du Vieux-Marche
Did we even go here? I don't even care.
Nicknamed "Little Boulangerie Rose" for its pink façade, this bakery serves up classic French desserts (croissants, baguette, ennui et chocolat). It also serves up Amélie's favorite sandwich, which she got hooked on during the winter and biked over to pick up almost daily. So it's also the perfect spot when, not able to be there on her 30th birthday, you decide to contact a bakery and pay them to write on her favorite sandwich, in their signature frosting, "Joyeux Anniversaire!" Traveler's tip: begin learning French when you get together around her 24th birthday, or you'll have to rely on a friend of hers who claimed they spoke better English than they did and wound up calling and arranging the above not at Chez Catherine, but at Chez Whoknowswhere.
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St. Maclou's Church
Built in the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture, the cathedral's barbed façade can best be viewed from the open window of one of Rouen's signature half-timbered buildings, an apartment just across the street where, listening to the bells of the cathedral strike 10, a Rouen resident called her boyfriend in Los Angeles, and while he was asking about her return trip to Paris, she suddenly started crying and, before the clock reached 10, told him that she's sorry but this is the end, she's breaking up with him, please don't contact her, she's given this a lot of thought and it's for the best and goodbye.
Josh Herman is a writer who lives in Los Angeles, where he's doing the best he ever has. Azou: please contact him should you need a bulk order of tears.