Monthly Archives: March 2009

Bone collectors

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by Mike

We’ve lucked out again and found ourselves staying on the grounds of an 11th century chateau near Poitiers – it’s in the middleish of France. Azure’s cousins (hi!) were caretakers here back in 2002 and Azure stayed with them for what’s become a legendary stretch of three months of roaring fires in the medieval fireplace and drinking games and long dinners and various other shenanigans. This year, having nothing to do and no more scooter, we decided to head to the chateau for the end of our trip.

The chateau seems to collect characters, one of whom is Patty, an American ex-ish-pat who’s living on the chateau grounds for now but nothing’s ever really declared here. Where will you live next year? Eh. What did you do for a living back home? It doesn’t really seem to come up. What’s the latest on the financial cri- don’t even think of bringing that here. Here’s one thing I’d love to share about her, though – she collects bones for soup stock. She boils the bones “to nothing” over days, mixing them with lettuce or brandy or whatever’s around and adding water as needed. Her last stock was 72 hours of boiling. We haven’t tasted one yet, but I’ll write about it when we do.

During the days we walk the treed trails on the grounds, we work in the garden, we cook a little lunch, we investigate mysterious buildings on the 50-acre property. The days are great. Night, though, surges onto the place. It paints the windows black, it suffocates flashlights. It squeezes my ribcage until it itches and it makes footsteps sound like faint music. Night sneaks into every empty room, making noises along the way, and waits, and you can hear your breath the whole time. The chateau is enormous, it’s too big for the night.

At dinner Patty talked about the ghosts. There’s one that sits down on the edge of her bed while she’s sleeping, she can feel the impression. Someone else talked about a man in a long coat coming into the room at night and speaking French. Apparently the long coat man has been seen a couple times here – he belongs to the chateau, the story goes. I was wondering what I’d do if I came face-to-face with the man in the long coat one night, too late, maybe too drunk. I’d like to think I’d talk to him and find out what he’s about. But that’s not what I’d do.

After the ghost stories I stayed up to take some night photos of the chateau from the entrance. It was midnight and clear, a moonless night. Here’s how night photos usually go – I click the shutter and start counting. I look up at the stars, I look for other angles I could try, I listen to the night until I get to whatever I’m counting to and then I close the shutter.

Here’s what happened last night on this ancient property: I clicked the shutter and started counting. I was counting to 50. When I got to 10 I heard footsteps in the trees that never materialized into a person. I noticed that the vapor from my breaths wasn’t disappearing and I wondered how many breaths the air could accumulate. When I got to 20 I could sense someone was behind me. I looked over my shoulder into the thick darkness but I kept sensing they were behind me after I’d turned. At 30 my heart was racing and I was taking shallow breaths so I might be able to hear anything coming at me. My ribcage was itching and I was imagining my death. At 40 the tree I was under burst into noise as an owl decided to flee right at that moment. At 50 I closed the shutter, grabbed the camera without looking at the photo and sprinted back to our room where Azure was waiting for me.

So that’s what I’d do if I saw the man in the long coat – I’d sprint.

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(this was written on the wall when we got here….)

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Fatherlessness

by Mike.

This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art in the chateau:

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It’s hanging in one of the master bedrooms – the room, in fact, where Joan of Arc slept when she stayed the night.

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It says, “FATHERLESS – Oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still.”

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I want to do a re-enactment of this, maybe holding a cat up to a picture of a dog.

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Railing shadows

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by Mike

Last night I met some very nice railings in the chateau’s stairwell.

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The Daily Grind

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by Azure

The chateau will always need something done on it. When one project is finished, another shows up. I was glad to see that this hadn’t changed since the last time.

Our current project is repainting the windows for the reception hall. The caulk was old, so we took the rotting stuff out and laid new beads. On Tuesday, we will start the painting.

It had been sunny in the mornings with clouds coming in later. It rained the first two nights we were here, but now the forecast calls for blue sky days everyday.

Mike will lay the caulk and I will do the finish work, since I have more experience from boat detailing. His job takes a little less time than mine, so he has some extra time for taking photos around the property or napping.

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While you are working, it is common to hear the birds, a particular big man at the chateau likes to talk a lot. Patty will talk back to him, just to show him that he isn’t that big afterall, but he doesn’t get the message. He just keeps cooing.

You also find some kitty problems from time to time which need to be dealt with.

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At night, we have found a new best friend in the hot water bottle that Linda gave us. It stays warm and keeps our feet toasty all night long.

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Slow dog days

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by Azure

A quick back-history on where we are staying… In 2002, when Mike and I had only been dating seven months on and off, Mike went to study in Bath, England. Not knowing what to do with myself, I went to visit with the idea that I would travel around Europe on my own for a couple months. As it turned out, my cousin Kim and her fiance at the time, now husband, were care takers at a chateau in France for their family friends from San Juan Island, Nash and Linda. I decided to go visit Kim and Adam for a while. Mike came to visit that Christmas. The following year, I returned with my mother and my friend Cori and my mom’s friend Cari for Kim and Adam’s wedding.

I honestly didn’t think I would ever be back here for any length of time. When we found out that our scooter was illegal, however, it changed our plans more than we expected. A passing comment lead to a call that lead to an email that lead to me calling Nash and finding out that they would be here at the exact same time that we needed a place to go. A quick train ride from Paris led us here, meeting a family that we had never met before in their chateau 6000 miles from where either of us were from.

I was reluctant to come back for a few reasons. First, I felt that the experience that I shared with Kim and Adam in 2002 was so unique and special that I couldn’t hope to recreate it in any way. When I returned for the wedding, it was hard seeing the chateau on such different terms. The first time I stayed here it was quiet, there were only three of us living on the grounds and at night we had all 15 bedrooms to ourselves. There were no rules or schedules and we shared fires and dinners and talks every night. At the wedding, with the place full of people, there were more rules and deadlines and obligations and I had to section off the new experience so it didn’t taint the old in any way.

When we returned this time, I prepared myself to section off another part for this experience. I didn’t know what to expect and it wasn’t really clear what we were going to be doing here. However, upon arrival, we found that this place still cultivates the pace of life that we had become so addicted to the first time that we had visited.

We got in at about 5pm and walked around the property. The place looked exactly as I remembered it. We sat down for a slow dinner with great food and wine and conversation and we sunk into the slowness and haven’t sped up since.

This pace is possibly where my heaven exists and coming from a week of my lesser hell it is only highlighted even more. My heaven is a place where no one has anywhere else to be for long long periods of time. This is a place where people expect to eat together without the television on and where it is expected that it will take a couple hours at least. It is also a place where all of the participants appreciate food and appreciate the process (both Linda and Patty are high caliber cooks and Linda loves to garnish).

I have expressed my love for this lifestyle before, when we were in Brazil with our friends and we all knew we were going to be hanging out every day and every night for over a week. What I was surprised to find is that I am enjoying it so much even with people that I had never met before. I think this place draws it out of you. But also, the people who are found hanging out at a chateau in St. Julien L’Ars in March are also the kind of people who are taking life pretty slow.

I don’t want to seem like I’m all “best time ever” but today was the day I realized that the dinners weren’t going to stop and I changed into chateau gear. Literally. In 2002 my chateau gear was an over-sized navy blue vest with a duck apron underneath. Today I found a floral dress/apron that I put on for the brocciu making and don’t plan on taking off.

Check out a few photos from the last 2 visits to the chateau.
Look how young we are 2002
The wedding 2003

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Brocciu two

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by Azure

I attempted my first unassisted batch of brocciu today in the kitchen of the chateau. Everyone else had gone to the brocante (a big flea market) in Chauveny and Mike and I stayed back to have a leisurely lunch and make the brocciu.

Patty had introduced us to her cheese man who is impossible to get near at the Chauveny market, but parks his cheese van by the Abbey on Fridays and is available for chatting. We had asked him for some “petite lait”, pronounced “petite lay” which, coincidentally, Patty would also love to receive from the cheese man, though not for the purposes of making brocciu.

He brought us two buckets of it to the market (for free) and told us where to go to get the fresh milk. We went to the farm and asked for some fresh milk and they brought us 2 liters for 2.50 euros. A cheap project!

When I started the process today, it looked like everything was going well. I figured out the temperature conversions and did everything right on schedule. We figured out that at the exact same moment that the pot boils, the brocciu arrives. We watched and watched and it started to smell like cake, just as it should. It arrived. The foam on top began to part and we turned off the flame and I dipped my ladle in the pot to scoop it out and there was nothing there. What happened to the brocciu????

We had done everything right, I checked and rechecked the proportions and couldn’t figure it out. The tough part was that I could see the brocciu in the pot, but every time I tried to scoop it out, it went through the holes. I then realized that the woman, instead of giving us fresh-from-the-udder goat milk had given us normal drinking milk. Sure enough, I took a sniff and it was so mild. I drank a little and tasted normal, 2% or maybe even fat free.

Mike said that he hadn’t thought it would go smoothly the first time. I was disappointed, but with the discovery of the wrong milk, I was relieved that it wasn’t human error. I could at least have hope that I could still make brocciu given the correct ingredients.

I have decided to try again. I’ll have Mike call the farm ahead of time and ask for all the correct ingredients. I am determined to get this right before leaving here, so I can be confident that I know how to make it. Stay tuned for its arrival.

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Patty’s Flowers

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by Mike

Patty scatters flowers around the chateau.

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