Meeting “Viktor” at Passage Pommeraye

Anyone who had been to Nantes knows that there is an irresistible shopping complex in the heart of Rue Crebillion called Passage Pommeraye. This 19th century shopping arcade connects rue Santeuil and rue de la Fosse. Though small, as it was only meant to bridge two streets, I find Passage Pommeraye one of the most beautiful shopping centre in the world, both in terms of aesthetic and history.

Passage Pommeraye was built in 1840 and was declared one of city’s historic monuments in 1976. The grandiose staircase and the second floor are decorated with Renaissance sculptures on both sides while large, Romanesque beams support the second and third level. Under the glass roof, on a bright sunny day, the products being sold in those elegant boutiques look a little more enticing.

As historic as it is for Nantes, Passage Pommeraye is also very memorable to me. It is where I met Viktor and where I started travelling the world with him.

The story behind it

For months, I have been lusting for a red, patent-leather Alexander McQueen bag being sold at 50% discount in an online store. It was the color of elegance and character, a bag that is befitting any woman who lives life to the fullest (which I’d like to think of myself). I wanted it so badly and  was already determined to starve for two months just to have it.

Until my job took me to Nantes a week ago where I fell in love with another bag.

After spending 15 hours on the road, sleeping at a gasoline station and a parking lot, eating breakfast at two in the afternoon and a business dinner that lasted until eleven in the evening, I was finally allowed two hours to explore the city of Nantes. It was a beautiful day, the temperature permitted me to bask under the sun without having to put on two layers of jacket.

The city centre of Nantes is composed of imposing white buildings, narrow alleys, La Place Royale with it’s huge fountain, Passage Pommeraye and all the shops around it.

Naturally I gravitated towards the shops without really intending to buy anything. While finding my way to the famous passage, I was arrested by the smell of macaroons emanating from La Maison Larnicol, the patisserie of famous pastry chef George Larnicol, located at the entrance of the Pommeraye. From the ones I’ve tasted, his were the only macaroons that can rival those of Laduree.

There was a group of photography students gathered at the side of Maison Larnicol, taking the challenge to photograph the famous passage on a very bright day when the glass roof allows the blinding sunlight to shine on the stairs. It was a challenge that I failed to overcome as evident from the pictures in this post. There was a classy French woman standing on the top floor, facing the students. I thought she was a model for the group but when I tried to take her picture, she turned away. She could have been the perfect model for Passage Pommeraye, French, very chic and has the looks of grandeur that this shopping centre has so successfully displayed.

Climbing the stairs of Passage Pommeraye was a unique experience. Unless you live in Nantes, it will take you some time to reach the top because of the urge to inspect each and every statue. Every time you walk up and down the stairs, the statues are like  little children watching your every move, guessing which shops you’ll walk into.

Only after passing the rows of statues did I actually enter a boutique, a jewelry store selling amber. After poring through the variety of rings searching for one to match the set I got from Tallinn, I walked out of the shop disappointed.

A fateful glance

Beside the amber store is Le Tanneur, a very old brand of leather bags which started in the 19th century. The bright coloured bags displayed on their window first caught my attention but after taking a closer look, I decided that I already have enough candy-coloured bags.

But just before I took the final step out of the store, a brown mail bag stopped me in my tracks. It was lovely and big enough to carry all my books, my laptop, my wallet, my camera and all the little contents of a girl’s bag. So I went back inside, looked at the tag price and frowned. It was half the price of the red bag I’ve been lusting for but it was still expensive. I was already prepared to let it go when I thought – it’s the color of my shoes!

“When you fall in love with something, you should never let it go.”

That was an advice I heard a long time ago and it kept on ringing on my ears after I told the sales lady that I’d look around first. It took me two more trips in and out of Passage Pommeraye to finally decide that I’m going to buy it. But even then, I was still doubtful.

Because you don’t just throw away almost half of your month’s salary for a bag  that you will regret the next month.

To be sure, I went back to the car, took my shoes and brought it to the store. Yes it was a perfect match – a reliable pair of leather boots that threads through snow and rain  but still remains beautiful and a mail bag that fits my whole desk which I can easily sling on my shoulders while biking. It seemed like I found the perfect everyday bag.

“But is it not a man’s bag?” I asked my translator.

“No, I find it very feminine,” he said but I thought the lady behind the counter was saying something different. Because I do not understand French, I dared not argue. After all, I am in love with the bag – how it matched my shoes, its distinctive leather smell, the soft feel on my skin, and it’s five compartments. It was beautiful and practical.

My knees were shaking when I paid for the bag and please do not think that I am over acting. I have never paid for a bag that expensive and to be honest I felt a bit guilty about it – to the point that I sent money to my family the moment I had access to bank transfer. I came from a poor family where indulging in material things, very expensive ones, is never really a norm.

The lady gave me a brochure when she handed me my bag. While eating at Taverne de Maitre Kanter in La Place Royale, I read the brochure, luckily in English, trying to look for my bag in the ladies’ section. But it wasn’t there. It confirmed my suspicion that my mail bag is a man’s bag. And he is called Viktor – from the 2011 Spring/Summer collection. Ironically, I didn’t even thinkt of bringing him back to the store.

“I’ll take him all over the world,” I told my companion, while lovingly looking at Viktor.

“Let’s drink to that” he said as he raised his Ricard and I, my Muscadet for a toast.