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Historic and Culinary Landmarks of France

France is famous for many of its historic monuments: Who doesn’t immediately picture the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe when they think of Paris, and who hasn’t heard about the Lascaux Cave with its prehistoric paintings? Today they are not only landmarks, but also important witnesses of ages long gone. Depending on their location and their nature, monuments can interact with their environments in very different ways. The maintenance and restoration is a complicated matter that experts in various fields are involved in.

Metrohm France application engineer Agnès Millet joined Steven and me to meet with one of these experts: Ann Bourgès, a researcher in the field of stone and earthen materials at the Laboratory for Research on Historic Monuments, or LRMH for short, which is located close to Paris in the town of Champs-sur-Marne. «All monuments react to their environment in one way or another», Ann explains to us. «When a monument exhibits unwanted changes, we have to diagnose what happened to the material and decide on measures to restore the monument, or in some cases to at least maintain its condition to avoid it gets any worse.» In addition to the actual diagnosis and restoration, the LRMH carries out research on the maintenance and restoration of monuments.

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Steven and I, fascinated by Ann’s explanation of her work on historic monuments

A Beautifully Hidden Lab

We had some trouble finding the LRMH when we first got there: our GPS sent us directly to the Champs-sur-Marne castle, but we didn’t expect to find any labs in there. It turned out that the LRMH is in fact located in the old stable of the castle, a building hardly less charming than the castle itself.

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Reproductions of known murals at the LRMH done in various techniques and on various materials to study restoration techniques.

One of the instruments that Ann uses in her daily work is an ion chromatography system from Metrohm. This is used to measure the concentrations of various salts in the monuments’ material. Salts can alter the appearance of monuments, for example through the use of cleaning products. They can also enter porous materials through the ground. Depending on what the monument permits, usually carrot-sized samples are drilled out of the monument, ground, and dissolved in water. The concentrations of compounds like chlorides or sulfates are analyzed in this liquid and compared to reference values for the material. On the basis of analyses like these, the researchers make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment for the monument, for example, a salt removal. This is not necessarily straightforward, as the monument’s geometry, fragility, etc. have to be taken into account.

Experiencing France Through the Taste Buds

Another cultural aspect that the French take at least as much pride in as their monuments is food. With Steven, I had a guide who really appreciates good food and showed me as many facets of the French culinary world as he could in the limited time I had in Paris and Lyon. This meant not only typical French food, but also international cuisine that has become part of the culinary landscape of France. We had everything from Japanese and Vietnamese to Italian food and typical food from the town of Lyon, which is served in restaurants called bouchons.

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The Metrohm team that worked at the Metrohm booth at the Forum Labo exhibition in Lyon having dinner at a typical bouchon Lyonnais. Don’t come here if you’re not very hungry!

Memories from Lyon

Even though my week in France was dominated by rain and clouds, on Thursday, we got lucky and the sun finally broke through for a few hours. We used this time to go on a bicycle tour of Lyon. You’ll find many little details in the streets of Lyon that tell you about its history. For example, Lyon used to have a very strong textile—in particular, silk—industry, which has left its mark on the old town: you will find that the ground floor of the old buildings in Lyon have very high ceilings. They were built this way so that the looms that were used to weave silk would fit. Nowadays, creative minds have turned these buildings into beautiful stores, cafés, or work spaces. Another architectural peculiarity are the traboules, hidden passageways built into buildings of the old town (you’ll only find them if you know where they are, so it’s good to have a local guide like Steven). In the distant past, people used them, for example, to avoid the busy streets when carrying bulky rolls of silk. Later, in World War II, French Resistance fighters used them to get away or hide from the German Gestapo forces.

Today’s Lyon unites this old history and modern architecture and life. The bicycle paths are always filled with people riding the Vélo’v, Lyon’s rental bicycles that are free for rides up to 30 minutes. The cityscape is characterized by the two rivers Rhône and Saône, which merge in Lyon. The piers are meeting points on nice days where people sit together with some beer or wine after work. All of this creates a great atmosphere.

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Photos from our Lyon bicycle tour

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