Tag Archives: Chenonceau

Chateau II – “What a Man!”

What follows is a factual story recounted for your amusement as long as you solemnly make a promise (between you, me and our personal deity) to  read it without judgement or worse a raised-eyebrow cynical appraisal of my action.  If you can’t in the depth of  your heart do so, please close this post and move on.  The ‘dramatic’ event happened two decades ago, at the gloriously beautiful Château de Chenonceau.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

This true anecdote may tickle your funny bone, or you may scratch your head and wonder about why a grown man would behave in such a manner.  Several years ago I and my traveling companion Hélène left the lovely town of Blois early for a quick start to what was planned as another stage in our private Tour de France.   It was exactly on the 19th of April, so she tells me; the sky was a radiant blue however unseasonably cool with a blustery wind adding a stinging bite to near frigid conditions.  The parking lot was some distance from the chateau and as we were walking my lovely friend who had donned a thin, spring jacket visibly displayed ed signs of discomfort by hugging herself and shivering.

Ever the gentleman I rescued her by offering my Coq Sportif ski jacket that I had been wise enough to choose for the day.  Well, we come up to the chateau and just as we are about to cross the bridge leading to the entrance, I suggest that I’d take a photo of her.  I turn to take a few steps back and almost immediately hear a heartfelt, “Oh, no!”  I wheeled around and she was  peering over the stone parapet into the moat some twenty feet below.  Looking down I see my jacket sedately floating down towards the Cher River not far off to the left.

(Twenty years later back to survey the scene – almost nothing changed except for definitely changed hair colour, damn!)

How did that happen? Always fastidious about her appearance (also a tad vain as are most attractive women), Hélène didn’t want to be wearing an over-sized jacket, removed it and set it some distance away atop the parapet.  As luck would have it a sudden blast from a particularly petulant Zephyr blew it off to the waterway below.

Now what? As you can see from the photo, across the moat stairs lead down to the water’s edge.  That turned out crucial to the rescue operation I soon devised.

A rowboat was tethered to the wall a little farther but obviously under lock and key – no joy there.  Without a clue as to what exactly I might do,  I ran down to the steps and that being as far as I could go I necessarily had to make what one might refer to as an ‘executive decision’.  Did I have a clue?  Would I really?

First I put my hand in the water and it was as I feared – ice cold!  No matter, I made a mental calculation that if I felt anything really amiss, such as an incoming heart attack, I’d turn back.  Without further consideration lest I chickened out, I stripped down to my bikini briefs and gingerly so I wouldn’t get my hair wet slipped into the water; now with a stately breaststroke I set off on the rescue mission.  All the while I’m watching my jacket gently sailing down towards the swift flowing river but thankfully an air bubble kept  it afloat.  I’d absolutely not have wanted to dive in after it.  Finally, I caught up to it (perhaps a distance of some 20 metres) and turning around I started back half tossing forward, half pushing it in front of me.  Oh, I forgot to mention that after the initial few strokes my briefs had slipped down to my knees and I had no choice but to removed them and toss them back to where the rest of my clothes were piled up.

Remember we had been the very first car in the parking lot and in the heat of the action I’d not noticed newcomers had arrived on the scene – in fact it turned out to be three busloads of Japanese tourists.  They were now lined up on that same little bridge surely wondering about strange ‘gaijin‘ behaviour – perhaps a Spring Rites ritual?  I didn’t yet notice them but as I swam up to the steps Hélène was now waiting for me but so was a young blond woman who had shown up as well..  Sheesh, I’m stark naked, think I.  Well no matter, I’ll scramble up to the ledge backwards so she doesn’t get shocked by the ‘Full Monty’ but when I turn around there are about one hundred cameras aimed at me.  I decide one is better than a hundred fold and make my way out of the water offering a backside view to the 100 cameras.  (I vaguely hear a spattering of applause and even one cheeky wolf-whistle proving contrary to some opinions that the Japanese do have a sense of humor.) What a lovely young woman she turned out to be!  It took me a half-second to realize when she stepped forward she was holding a large, dry towel to wrap around my shoulders.  It turned out she was a backpacker from Switzerland and correctly surmised I’d need something to dry myself, especially in that temperature.

Apparently only mildly concerned, my navigator/companion was asking how I felt and just about then my entire body, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes started to tingle, something akin to a million bees swarming all over me.  I said, “I feel fine except I’m wondering what is going on with my skin?”  In the meantime she and my good Samaritan were rubbing me down and in about 30 seconds as quickly as that strange sensation had come the tingling ceased.  I had by then put on my dry jeans and shirt and it wasn’t until some years later that I  learned that what I’d experienced was the onset of hypothermia.  After profusely thanking my benefactress we started back up when two uniformed guards from the castle rushed over and invited us to go inside the castle where a rip-roaring fire was  burning in the main chimney.  “Venez vite, il y a un grand feu dans la cheminée pour vous réchaufer.”

Non; merci beaucoup!” I managed to utter with all the dignity I could muster, “In Canada where I come from we prefer cool water to swim in.”  No kidding, that’s the best I could come up with but I wasn’t about to go in and face all those tourists who’d surely snap more photos.  As well, how can you explain that you went in to retrieve a mere sports jacket?

Holding my head high, arm in arm, we marched off in quick-step unison.   Coming to the car I automatically  reached for the keys and that’s when I immediately realized that my imprudent bravado had an unsuspected reward, in fact a felicitous outcome of no small measure.  “Here,” I disingenuously claimed, “here’s why it was imperative for me to rescue the jacket.”  I held out the contents of the right side pocket – the car keys, my wallet with all my IDs, driver’s license and almost $1000 in French money when it meant a good week of traveling expenses.  The day before I’d cashed in a Traveler’s Cheque for that amount.  The bills were just a little wet around the edges but otherwise all was in good shape.  My jacket has zippers on the side pockets and without consciously thinking about it I had closed it almost totally; what marvelous design.  Notice I said, ‘has’ as I still have it but only occasionally wear it so as to prolong its useful life.  Quickly I swallowed a couple of  2-22 pills (strong Canadian aspirin) and would you believe it I escaped the watery incident without so much as a sneeze.

Feeling no pain in the warm car and so it appeared nothing more than a casual afterthought I later asked if she’d had any concerns seeing me in a situation, “Fraught with danger!” I was definitely exaggerating yet wanted her to feel a little guilt for my enforced swim, but only a tad.  Cleverly nimble, Hélène neatly deflected the implied guilt by claiming to have thought while taking this photo, “What a man!” And that she’d genuinely felt a very warm feeling for me for being so bold as to jump in to repair her unfortunate mishap. My ego satisfied I merely nodded in agreement.

For better or worse one constant in my life has been a sense of loyalty, not just to people but to things as well, for example I drive my cars until they are done, kaput, period.  This jacket traveled around the world with me; it’s a stylish black, easy to fold, light yet keeps me warm on all but the coldest days.  In other words I feel a great deal of affection for it and of course having saved the beginning of our European wanderings means I owe it my loyalty.  The day it no longer is wearable it will be honorably retired but remain in my clothe closet as a reminder of when I was young and foolish, oh all right, not that young but still full of vim, vitality and just a tad of welcome impetuosity intact.

Almost twenty years later, my splendid Coq Sportif yet keeps me snug and warm,  This pic was taken last year in Stanley Park following a rare Vancouver snowfall.

Now you are privy to this rather odd anecdote, one that until now only a handful of people had heard about and even they weren’t in on the whole truth.  I always made it a point to underline that I needed to retrieve the keys and my wallet.  The unvarnished truth is I went in for my jacket and nothing else as I’d never thought, not for one second, about the vital contents of that one pocket.  Loyalty, in whatever form it is expressed can only be rewarded, do you not agree?  And come to think of it and please don’t think it a dark thought, rather a happy one – when I’m laid out for the final journey, no ill-fitting suit please, but  let me be decked out in my lovely Coq Sportif jacket, I’ll surely feel snug and safe for the unknown journey ahead.

Châteaux de la Loire

“It’s said, a man’s home is his castle and I won’t argue but sometimes it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship to trade up.”      Le Fabulist – ‘On second thought’.  

Wandering through a diverse countryside that combines bucolic charm spiced with unexpected dramatic vistas is a passionate journey for anyone who appreciates a glorious ancient history, inspiring architectural achievements, a sparkling cosmopolitan culture coupled with a respected and well-maintained artisan class, world-class cuisine and unequalled array of wines.  Of course I’m referring to France, and in all humility I claim it’s the unvarnished truth and without apology for loudly proclaiming my love for the beautiful country of my birth.  I will now share with you some of the highlights I discovered touring the dream-like Châteaux de la Loire, in particular Chambord, Chenonceau and Blois.  There are dozens to be seen and admired but I will concentrate on only three and a few miscellaneous photos that I consider interesting enough to be included.

(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)

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The Loire Valley is an outstanding landscape of great beauty and a cornucopia of cultural jewels.  The river meanders through historic towns and villages, pleasant cultivated lands, abundant vineyards that produce fine Rosé wines and of course has a world-wide reputation for being home to dozens of splendid castles once the playground of French nobility and today the custodian of architectural splendour, art and history.  It’s worthy to note the Loire Valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Chenonceau’s unique design and its splendid Grand Gallery, sixty metres long and six wide spans the River Cher; it was the setting for many a glorious royal gala where amorous intrigue was the rule rather than exception.

The chateau was designed by Philibert Delorme who combined a Renaissance flair with Gothic architecture, it was completed in 1430.  After several owners it was seized by the Crown and eventually Henry II offered the chateau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers – some gift!   Unfortunately for her upon the death of her royal lover, she was expelled by a jealous Catherine de Medici, then Regent of France while awaiting her son’s Francis II assencion to the throne.  She then made it her favourite residence adding more formal gardens and extended the gallery as seen in the photo across the width of the river Cher.  Sumptuous parties and the first ever fireworks display in France attested to her affection for the elegant castle.  The romantic shenanigans continued when yet another mistress took over in 1624, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Henry IV’s favorite courtesan; no wonder it is often referred to as ‘Le château des dames’.   Since 1840, the chateau is classified a Monument historique and the second most visited after Versailles.

A more appealing view of the chateau, I’m sure not be wrong in this assessment.

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A touch of esoteric lore – during WWII, one bank of the Cher River was under Nazi occupation and the other side under the control of the Vichy Government.  Many people escaping the German Gestapo, Jews especially and hunted underground fighters, were surreptitiously  guided to relative safety across the Grand Gallery, a rather handsome escape route all things considered.

 Chic, refined and generous, a fine broth of a king!

One of the  classically  laid out gardens for the guests to stroll about as they played out their romantic dalliances.

The stables – I should be so lucky to have such digs!

At the very first dazzled glance, the out-wordly royal Château de Chambord will  seduce the most jaded traveler.  I’ve had the good fortune to admire the Taj Mahal up-close and to my mind this imaginative, oriental-tinged, cupola dominated structure is every bit it’s equal in unsurpassed architectural fireworks minus the crowds, not a mean advantage.  The North façade is the most familiar view, especially appreciated by  photography enthusiasts who depending on the sun’s angle can almost always count on lovely reflections in the facing moat, built strictly for decorative purposes – a two for one shot. 

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The building took twenty years to build by King François I so he could be near his married mistress (what else might have been expected from the nobility in those hedonistic days?) but was never completed.  Imagine this was conceived as a ‘hunting lodge’ as the king maintained his royal residences not far off at Blois and Amboise castles.   The massive structure is built in Renaissance style and although never proven some of the interior might have owned its appearance to none other than Leonardo DaVinci who was befriended by François I – in fact, the ultimate Renaissance artist lived out his life nearby at Clos Lucé a comfortable manor  house  adjacent to the Chateau Amboise where his benefactor and close friend François 1 often resided.  He is buried at the Chapelle de St. Hubert in Château Amboise.   As a personal observation I find it incomprehensible the government, artistic community or the Italian people in general have not set forth a hue and cry for a return to his native soil of the physical remains of surely one (if not the greatest) of the most accomplished  artist, inventor and philosopher ever.  Let me quote Benevenuto Cellini, a splendid artist in his own right who said, “There had never been another man born in the world who knew as much as Leonardo, not so much about painting, sculpture and architecture, as that he was a great philosopher.”  Indeed, the spectacular surroundings tends to make one think lofty thoughts; really, I assure you as I demonstrate below. 


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The park grounds are considerable and if one takes the time to stroll along the numerous verdant lanes there are always splendid photo-ops to be captured, as you may appreciate below, one of my all-time favourites.

The chateau is set in the midst of a 13000 acre game reserve where red deer are free to roam; it is enclosed by a 31 kilometre wall (21 miles).  In comparison Vancouver’s Stanley Park is a mere 1000 acres and New York’s Central Park is measured at a paltry 843 acres.  Okay, the latter two mentioned are within city boundaries, and not bad at all all things considered.

The immense natural reserve park features grassy and forested areas; a secluded observation cabin for photographers or simply to sit quietly, watch and recharge one’s depleted batteries.

Viewed from the South Facade the chateau’s special features are enhanced by their proximity.  Whether this is the original main entrance I don’t know other than that’s the visitor’s entry point, either way it’s ‘formidable’ from any angle.

The elaborate roofscape has often been compared to the skyline of a town and it is a fact that Francois I commissioned the construction to have the appearance of minaret dominated Constantinople.  The chateau features 128 metres of façade with more than 800 sculpted columns; within there are 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces and some 84 staircases; it may be that the main double-helix open staircase, a spectacular centerpiece of the building was designed by Da Vinci although it is more conjecture than a proven fact.

 

This photo is à propos of nothing except I have a great affection for clouds with  ‘personality’ that enhance my idea of a great background for a photo.

The rear facade of the Château de Blois seen from the central town level.  I never fail to take plenty of shots of the magnificent evergreens that provide such a lovely  frame.
Seen from the upper level, the plaza and a fitting entrance to the castle.
The medieval castle was constructed over several centuries, from the 13th finally completed in the 17th – it’s comprised of several buildings set around one principal courtyard.  With 564 rooms and 75 staircases and a fireplace in each room, including 100 bedrooms for guests and retainers it is one of the largest castles in all of France.
The chateau is classified a ‘Monument Historique’ and a great tourist draw for the present owner the town of Blois.  Fine local Loire wines are no drawback either.  
It was past closing time but there was a gap in the gate so I snuck in just so I could snap the one photo of the famed stairwell.
A very familiar sight, the chateau’s most renowned feature is the famed spiral staircase in the Francois I wing.  It is often found in illustrated books depicting unusual or particularly attractive  architecture.  
 
Blois with a population of 50 000 is a prosperous town that as in many European cities close off streets to car traffic either in central shopping or historically important areas.  Marvelous – why we are so damn in love with cars in North America always baffles me.  Worse, when given a choice many merchants don’t want to bar car traffic for fear of losing business as I discovered for myself when it was proposed for Stevenson, British Columbia, (shame on you, dim-witted merchants).  Dumb is a relatively kind word  as in so many other instances of urban mismanagement by uninspired city and business leaders in North America.  Of course city coffers are augmented by the ever expanding usage of parking metres.  The City of Vancouver is particularly intent in finding every feet of sidewalk it can install yet another coin guzzling eyesore.  Ignorance is rampant; it really hurts the local businesses that pay the taxes and rent.  I have an apt phrase for this –  ferocious stupidity! 
Across the bridge spanning the swift Loire River and on to other scenic delights, food, wine and pleasant encounters with the locals.  A bientôt
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