May 5, 2017

Wildly Imaginative: Sauvaget


You know those moments (and election seasons) that make you simply despair for humanity? Well, a visit to Les Machines de l'Ile in Nantes is the antidote to that. It's a testament to the best in humanity: creativity, wonder, joy, innovation.

Plus, now I get to say that I've actually seen with my own two eyes my baby being flown to be in a stork's basket (OK, it's a heron, but still).

Les Machines de l'Ile (which literally means "The Machines of the Island") are located in Nantes, on an island in the river. The area used to serve as a site for shipyards, sites for naval construction.

When the space became obsolete, it sat empty for a while until a visionary theater director convinced the city council, in 2004, to let him and his partners use the space for this most unusual museum. It opened in 2007 and later that year won a special jury prize for innovation in tourism.

It's easy to see why. It's seen as the intersection between the mechanical dreams of Leonardo da Vinci, the industrial history of  Nantes, and the worlds created by Jules Verne.

Animal by animal, they are building a mechanical wonderland. Here Pippa, who is pretty deathly afraid of spiders, especially after being attacked by a few huge ones, faces her fears. She is smiling in the photo only because she was too embarrassed not to, but off-camera, she was squeaking and hopping around nervously.

Then people get on board, and control its leg movements, light up the eyes, and move it around. It brings it to life.

Creations range from the small....

...to the not so small.

Many of these woodland creatures and birds are meant for the Great Heron Tree, which will be an enormous tree, filled with bugs and birds, including two Great Herons like the one Gigi got the chance to ride (pictured above). Future visitors will be able to fly in the Great Herons also, over gardens surrounding the tree. Since this is still early days, with construction having debuted just in 2014, this prototype of a few branches currently sits outside the museum. The final home will be in a more natural park setting -- naturally. Where else would you put an enormous, bug and bird-filled, metal tree?

Here's the view from the tree-top at the moment, overlooking one of the carousels.

Being that it's a carousel at Les Machines de l'Ile, the creatures are rather more fantastical than your average merry-go-round horses. Also, in many of them, you can pedal, pull the levers, and manipulate the mechanics so that your beast moves. It puts a whole new level of strategy into watching it go round, deciding which animal you want, and running toward it when the ride stops.

And that was just the little carousel. Head over to the Marine Worlds Carousel, which opened in 2012, for the wacky underwater experience. Except here the fish, sea creatures, and submarines fly. This is where you really see the Jules Vernes influence.

All of these machine-beast are just so dream-like, that grown-ups of all ages join their kids. I myself fly this particular pirate fish skeleton after the elderly gentleman and his family have their turn. Gigi sits up high and controls the mouth and front fins and head turning, while I sit lower and control the side fins and the tail. I think we do a tremendous job of flying our fish; at least, we make it back alive, so we must have done it just fine.

This is, needless to say, just a fraction of the photos I have. And, frankly, it would be too long to include everything, so I'm saving the actual highlight of the park for the next posting, a part deux, as it were. Yes, that's right: I haven't even told you about the best part yet. I can't possibly show you all the photos and videos I have of this place, so you'll just have to use your imagination. I know the museum's creators sure do.

THE CHEESE: Sauvaget

Sauvaget is a raw goats' milk cheese from Deux-Sèvres, a department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine whose name harkens back to the word "sauvage" meaning "wild". This is the area that is home to some of the most fabulous goat cheeses in the world, and so the Sauvaget is part of a grand tradition.

Knowing its provenance, I expect great things from the Sauvaget, and I'm happy to report that it's no disappointment. It's a thick and thirst-inducing sort of creamy. Underneath the golden-white, toad-skin crust is a snowy-white interior filled with the obvious flavors of butter, cream, and salt but also less obvious ones like dried flowers.


The animals at Les Machines de l'Ile may not actually be wild in the savage sense, but there's no doubt that they are wildly imaginative. This cheese has wildness in the name, and happens to be made very close to Nantes, as the crow (or mechanical heron) flies.


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