Everyone has a chateau

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Written Friday, January 23.

Friday’s Route

Azure and her cousins found some magic when they were caretakers at a beautiful chateau near Poitiers in 2002. For three months they cooked in the immense kitchen and played cards and drank (etc.) by the fire and they listened to music over the occasional “flushing” of the chateau, which I still don’t understand. Neighbors stopped by with homemade Pineau and once a hunter dropped off a pigeon shot on the chateau property. Azure chopped off its head.

A statue of Joan of Arc, who stayed a night in the same room Kim & Adam slept, stands in the 50-something acres of French woods. The town church makes up part of the property’s wall, and on Sundays the bells ring and you can hear people singing. Azure, Kim and Adam had this all to themselves that fall. I was lucky enough to share it with them for a week.

Azure and I have decided that it’s impossible to recreate magical experiences, and you can only be let down when the attempt doesn’t match the original product, because of course it won’t. So it’s best to just let it be what it was and try to conjure new magic in new places. However, today I visited the chateau and it was exactly the same as I remember it.

I write about this chateau in France and you might think, “Holy smokes! A chateau!” but as I’ve been touring I’ve been discovering that there must be thousands of chateaux in the French countryside, sometimes on a small road I’ll be driving and out of nowhere rises an enormous lawn behind a 10-foot-high iron fence and at the top of the hill there’s a proper castle, five stories, towers and turrets and everything, but not a sign to be found, like it’s normal or something. They’re just there.

As an American I expect superlatives, I find myself wanting to read, “This chateau was constructed in the 9th century by a count who later served as counsel to Charlemagne…” or something like that. Something that tacks it to our narratives. The little sign outside Azure, Kim and Adam’s chateau at St. Julien L’Ars has a few words about its construction, then a note about one of the previous owners that goes something like this, “The only thing notable about her is that she died in a famous Parisian market fire in 1890.”

History is part of life here, there’s so much of it. Each place has too many stories to tack each one to an authoritative cultural narrative. We don’t have stories in the US like this – I’m sure there were native settlements where Factoria now “stands” but there aren’t any plaques, it’s not part of our heritage, it’s not part of our daily lives to use the steps that have been used by the past. So when I see a sign that says, “Roman bridge –>” I get all excited because history’s always been something separate, intangible and illustrious in my mind, like Plato’s Forms. But here it feels the stories and objects suffice, free of historical relevance, they don’t need to be connected to our narratives to have their place. The people living today will add their trash to the heaps that have been left before, right on top, until next year. Even if that lady didn’t do anything that the sign maker considered notable except die in a fire, I’m sure she had a life with love and pain and there were people whose own lives were changed when she died early. History is taught from the top down, though time is more like a swamp where everything consumes everything else over and over again. Who’s to say what’s important?

In Salorno, Italy I visited a castle on a hill that had been bought, renovated and reopened as a tourist attraction to “add to the local culture” or something like that. One of the local guys said that before it was renovated they used to go up there and sit on the walls and drink all night, but now it’s fenced off and the townspeople don’t have access unless they pay.

Blogs totally change the depth of the historical record, and I have to admit that when I write I’m keeping in mind that this is a record of my life that might be read 1000 years from now. Even if it’s never anything historically important, or if it’s only one of thousands of chateaux, it doesn’t need recognition to have value.

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3 Comments

Filed under Travel

3 responses to “Everyone has a chateau

  1. Kim

    Great post Mike!!! I love seeing the chateau & knowing you were there! šŸ™‚

  2. Ellen

    History is one of the most amazing things about living in London, too. Everything is amazingly old here, and there are little plaques everywhere about the famous people and things that happened on that site. Sometimes there are multiple plaques on the same building, spanning centuries.

    Right near my office is the road “London Wall,” which of course has remnants of the London Wall on it. Amazing.

  3. Kim – check out the Flickr page for more photos of the chateau, the newly renovated chez and Patty.

    Ellen – I think I saw the London Wall – is it Roman?

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