“Almost Paradise” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_2881What inscription would appear on the gold plaque below an oil portrait in an ornate gold frame, displayed at the grand chateau staircase, if the splendid image peering back was my face? Oh, that is an easy one! Let the engraving begin: “Francophile and Passionate Garden Lover – Debbie Ambrous

The Love Garden - Later as the flowers mature, bright colors will burst within the hearts and other shapes.

The Love Garden – Later as the flowers mature, bright colors will burst within the hearts and other shapes.

I couldn’t help it. I grew as the flowers grew in Granny Bryan’s garden, following in her footsteps and snipping begonias to root in clay flower pots. Seed catalogs arrived in the mail, and they were just as much fun to read and feed my imagination as the Sears Roebuck catalog. I was learning to transplant, propagate, mulch, fertilize and prune before I reached my teens. While I’m still not an expert, the language of flowers and plants is deeply instilled.

Terraces provide many viewpoints of the gardens.

Terraces provide many viewpoints of the gardens.

People of the same persuasion are drawn to Chateau Villandry and the immense gardens, and others immediately fall under its spell. This landscape is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Villandry was built in 1536 by Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for Francois I. Only the keep remains of a medieval castle that was razed in order to make way for the chateau. In 1754, the Marquis de Castellane, who came from a noble Provencal family, purchased the chateau and had it redesigned to meet 18th-century standards of comfort. In 1906, the chateau was bought by Joachim Carvallo, the great-grandfather of the present owner. He created 16th century-style gardens that were in perfect harmony with the architecture of the chateau. Each room enjoys its own unique view, particularly of the gardens.

Doesn't this scene touch your heart?

Doesn’t this scene touch your heart?

Jim and I arrived mid-day on a sunny day, better than a rainy one, in mid-May. A gray-haired lady was seated on a bench with a gentleman, and his arm rested tenderly on her shoulders – a scene of love for each other and for the gardens. I understood and shared those feelings. My heart beat faster when my eyes were filled with the beauty of the gardens, lakes and the chateau. I needed my own bench to sit and reflect.

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. – Luther Burbank

Like-minded tourists were stooping to admire the flowers and their cameras were clicking away. We smiled and talked with a few including two pretty ladies from Thailand. I promised to include their pictures in the blog. I hope they didn’t lose their notes, like I lost mine.

Notice the people on the tower on the background - a soaring view of the gardens.

Lovely young lady who modeled her gardening hat on the shady terrace – Notice the people on the tower on the background – a soaring view of the gardens.

The young women were dressed prettily with sunhats poised as UV protection.

Children played on the lake banks and skipped along the pathways.

We saw a family playing together at the tennis court and thought it could be family members from the chateau since the grounds were private. A happy dog was petted and pampered in the sunshine. IMG_2862


Since we didn’t have an invitation to join them, we moved along to drink in the rich beauty of the magnificent garden.

"Honey, will you watch the children while I go to the bathroom?"  Dads are in control.

“Honey, will you watch the children while I go to the bathroom?” Dads are in control!


Swans played daredevil at the edge

Swans played daredevil at the edge

Then it was time for lunch.

We didn’t bring a picnic lunch, so we left to eat at an outdoor café along the Loire River, a short distance away. After a leisurely, peaceful meal in the breeze, imagining how wonderful it would be if I could live there and follow this routine every day, I forced myself to return to the gardens – almost paradise!

IMG_2872IMG_2981IMG_2875I couldn’t possibly include the pictures of the interior of the chateau in this one post. Another time, we can walk inside to see the paintings (no portraits of me inside) and climb the circular staircase in the tower for a birds-eye view of the gardens. Ya’ll come back!
I anticipate a few very busy months, so I will only post every two weeks instead of weekly. I wish I could say that I will be spending all of my time, busily gardening at Chateau Ambrous. I do hope to fit in some of that personal joy.IMG_2978What are your plans for your flower gardens? Do you enjoy the planning and planting almost as much as the flourishing finale? Let’s hope the weather cooperates. Agreed? Don’t forget to leave your comments for others to enjoy and perhaps a few suggestions for me.

The history and commentary for the gardens and chateau were derived from the tourist brochure.  All photos are the personal property of Debbie Ambrous.

“A Bell is Ringing” – by Debbie Ambrous

The village of Villandry beyond the walls is enticing.

The village of Villandry beyond the walls is enticing and beckoning us to come along its narrow winding lanes.

A simple procedure without complications, uneventful, I must admit. Yes, that was the truth of the matter. Telling the story of my minor surgery in comical, whimsical words was as silly as a cat chasing a ball with a bell inside. The soft ball bounces hither and thither, and the bell rings, luring the cat to pounce again. Smile, we must. Simple pleasures often fill our needs as much as the deep and rich.IMG_1995-2

The bell kept ringing. My story was not weighty or serious, but it was an expression of how I felt through a minor ordeal. Sharing the ups and downs with others provided an outlet of relief for me. Yet, when I had scarcely finished the last words, I heard that a dear friend had serious heart surgery and another was due for intensive surgery on her neck. IMG_1996-1The bell sounded louder, no playful jingling. Their stories are more important and must be heard compassionately by those who love them, and possibly by strangers who will benefit from their experiences. In the telling of their stories, there is healing.

Catastrophes, on a global scale and personal, have deep and emotional stories to be told by those who have survived and endured. Sounding sharp and clear as a bell, the hurt is uttered in agonized words, repeated to anyone who will listen. “He just went to the store for bread and eggs. I set the table and started the coffee. I thought he would be back in just a few minutes …” “The roar of the wind was like a freight train. It was so dark and she wasn’t moving…” Painful stories, ones we want to end with happiness, but sadly that is not yet.

Careful!  Hold my hand!

Careful! Hold my hand!

Jim and I saw a documentary about a typhoon in the Pacific. A young Father stood in a structure with little except the frame remaining. He pointed to a corner and said, “We huddled in this corner together, the whole family praying, and the building ripped apart around us.” With a big smile, he said, “We are so thankful that all of us are alive!” I know he and his family will tell that story many times over! The bell will peal out in happiness!

Yes, there is a time for a whimsical story like a silly cat chasing a ball with a dinging bell. With this image in mind, I remembered a cat in Villandry, France, with a “Don’t mess with me!” attitude. He would probably annihilate a toy ball and dare you try that again! I met the cat with the tiger personality on a narrow street leading to the corner gourmand café, and with quick movements I proudly captured his picture. He is a fitting mascot and representative for today’s tale.

What flowers blossom, hidden in the gardens beyond this gate?

What flowers blossom, hidden in the gardens beyond this gate?

Jim and I walked the streets in the village and peeked through a gate to the magnificent Chateau Villandry and Gardens – my most anticipated visit! (If you read a previous story, you already know that Jim’s favorite in all of France is Mont St. Michel.) IMG_1989-1IMG_1999-5IMG_2000-3IMG_1980-1We had arrived in France in mid-April and planned to stay until the first of June. I was biding my time, waiting for the perfect profusion of flowers in the massive gardens.IMG_2004-2

Were the flowers ready for me yet? We waited a little longer, but the time was coming for my sunhat and camera.

I thought of the old Beatles song “Till There Was You” when bells were ringing and flowers were blooming and not even noticed. Not at all, till there was you.

There were bells on a hill
But I never heard them ringing
No, I never heard them at all
Till there was you
There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging
No, I never saw them at all
Till there was you
Then there was music and wonderful roses
They tell me in sweet fragrant meadows
Of dawn and dew
– Till There Was You – The Beatles

Ya’ll come back!   Don’t forget to leave a comment.  Tell us about your cats!  What do they chase?  Does your cat have a personality like a lamb, or a tiger?  Are you inspired by survival stories?  I know that I am.   On another day, we will return for a wander in those beautiful gardens and a royal tour of the chateau.  We will notice those flowers and possibly hear bells chiming in the enchanting village of Villandry.

Where do we go next?  These are very old Michelin sign posts.

Where do we go next? This is a very old Michelin sign post.  Lignieres is 9 kilometers that way



“Get Low” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_5134-1Promises of travel appear on these pages with France as the prime destination. Variety is the spice of life, so other journeys with their high and low points are presented for your enjoyment, or occasionally sympathy for me. Visits to dermatologists, gynecologists, ophthalmologists and even a colonoscopy specialist were voyages beyond the ordinary. Puzzling over a title for a doctor, I asked: “Jim, what is the name for a doctor who performs a colonoscopy?” Quick on the spot, Jim answered: “Glad to be of help. He’s an anal-ologist!” On that note, Jim backed the Jeep from the driveway and asked me to look at the walkway to view some droppings of manure pellets, scattered here and there. He said, “I think some type of wildlife was here during the night.” Seeing only a few black dots of stuff on our cracked concrete, I told him: “Probably possum poop. My coffee wasn’t strong enough for this type of conversation early in the morning.”

We continued on the road to Dothan, Alabama for my final appointment with the doctor after the surgery on my eyelids. I can see much better and friends tell me that I look prettier. Aren’t friends the best of all? With that checkup behind me, we had a nice lunch and headed back home. My camera was on the backseat, ready for any good shots for the blog and especially for the Google Photo Challenge that I mentioned earlier. The subject for the week is: “Get Low”. Now, I don’t know if I need to get low in position to take the photo, or if the subject of the photo should be low. I had a couple of ideas. I thought it would be cool to catch a photo of cows from a lower perspective of the legs with the udders in good focus.  We passed fields with cows far away in the distance.

Come back.  Don't run away!  I want to make you FAMOUS!

Come back. Don’t run away! I want to make you FAMOUS!

How do you call a cow? None of the brown-eyed, black and white bovines posed for an udderly-fastastic photo. Didn’t they know their beauty could appear around the world on I-pads and smart phones, possibly singing: “Selena Gomez, will you go to the prom with me?

Around the half-way mark on our drive home is the community of Level Plains, Alabama. A produce stand with big banners advertised boiled peanuts, fresh strawberries, turnips and collard greens. Cattycorner to the veggies and fruit is a junkyard crammed full of old Volkswagens. I’ve noticed the old rusting cars and wanted to snap away with my camera, but the yard was always closed when we passed. Somehow, there’s something lacking in the beauty of the picture when a chain-link fence topped by razor wire is front and center. Jim replied to my suggestion of a quick right-hand turn: “Now let me try to understand this. You’re all dressed up pretty and the fine doctor said your surgery is perfectly good, so you want to celebrate by going to a junkyard!!IMG_5146-1Outside the yard an old tractor and a bright red antique car was parked. I was absorbed in focusing on the old tractor with my camera when a big dog raced through the entry, scaring me out of my wits. I froze while Jim did his friendly, dog-decoy act. As it turned out, we had no worries since the only danger we faced was being licked to death. However, around midnight when the gate is closed, any foolish person expecting a friendly greeting would be sadly disappointed!

I sneaked this photo when he wasn't looking so he wouldn't pin me to the ground and wash my face with his tongue.

I sneaked this photo when he wasn’t looking so he wouldn’t pin me to the ground and wash my face with his tongue.

I hoped to find a good camera angle at a low level of the old Volkswagens, but they were packed tightly together like rusted toys. I wedged my way between the metal bodies of the vehicles, hoping my bright coral, long skirt wouldn’t catch and rip apart. The cars were parked on rusted sheets of metal roofing. I worried that rattlesnakes could be under the cars, or in the driver’s seat waiting to strike faster than greased lightning! A psychedelic snake could have claimed a VW for its winter home instead of a hole in the Alabama clay soil. I squatted on the ground to center my camera in front of a Karmann Ghia VW and heard Jim shout: “Watch out!” Suddenly, the rusty red muscular dog hit me full-force when I was kneeling on the ground. I was already spooked by the snakes, but I didn’t have much time to gear up my fright level since he quickly sent me sprawling on the hot tin roofing. The rusty red dog thought I wanted to play! I laid down some rules, “Listen dog, you don’t show appreciation by licking the photographer and slobbering on her camera lens!” I dusted and buffed the old cars with my swirling skirt and bumbled around on the tin sheets underfoot. We never spoke to the manager since he was busy talking with others in the far corner of the yard. I could imagine the junkyard owner telling his customer, “Oh, I get folks like that around here all the time. Did you see that woman with the swirly, ruffled orange skirt and the glittery purple shirt? She’s a flower child if I’ve ever seen one! She and her honey were probably reminiscing about the The Love Bug, and all of the times they spent at the drive-in theater. “IMG_5140IMG_5145

"The Hood & The Doors" -  sounds like a name for a musical group.

“The Hood & The Doors” – sounds like a name for a musical group.

I told Jim that I still wasn’t sure that I had any photos suitable for my Google venture. With no cows flashing their udders for me, I hesitantly mentioned another idea. “Now, don’t think I’m crazy. I was thinking about taking a picture of an old grave site with a rusted iron fence and a tall green cedar as a background. The name on the tombstone would be hidden, and I could shoot the picture late in the afternoon shadows. What do you think? You have to admit, that’s as close to low as you can go!” Jim looked at me like I had lost my marbles.

Somewhere inside a big plastic storage container bought at the Bed Bath and Beyond store, photos of old Bermuda graveyards, are hidden away. Why did I take those pictures? I saw the juxtaposition of the present with a remembrance of the past through my camera. Did the men buried there build the pastel pink, blue and yellow cottages surrounded by red hibiscus? Did the young children build sandcastles in the pink sand by the crystal clear waters? The picture was intended to capture the moment and honor the people who came before and left their mark. Facing the facts, I asked myself, “Would I want a picture of a graveyard on my wall or a sunny yellow cottage a few steps from a pink sand beach?

We got home before dark and Jim was studying the poop droppings on the sidewalk like Indiana Jones on an Egyptian exploration amid the pyramids. I unloaded my camera bag from the car and he called out, “I really think these are deer pellets. Can’t believe they came as far as the front yard! Bring your camera over here and you can Get Low” for Google.

I had to beg, plead and cajole these few pictures to download into my story.  I will be calling for support next week and following the same routine.  I apologize for fewer pictures than usual.  Do you have an old Volkswagen beetle in your past, or do you drive one presently? I would love to hear about it. Thank you for your comments.

If you would like to see France instead of Alabama jaunts, just CLICK to France-Storytelling and Pictures page.