May, 2018 – EXTRA day – of the Burgundy, France Journal
Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday
The leap day in February is coming next year in 2020, with no extra day this year, or last year. Who wants an extra day in the wintry cold with dreary gray skies and frozen walkways? What were the timekeepers thinking when they gave us 24 extra hours of frigid weather? Why not give an extra day in May with warm sunshine, blue skies and fragrant flowers in the garden? Forget the thoughtless timekeepers! I hereby proclaim this extra day in May as officially open for your enjoyment!
How did an entire extra day appear at the end of May, 2018? Blame it on my Canon camera which downloaded evidence of an extra May 31st with photos from the far south of Burgundy. I know that I didn’t go there on the same day as the garden visit north of Beaune. The following day, June 1st, was moving day to Noyers, so no match there either. I’m surely not ignoring this day of 150 photos, and I’m not worrying about how it happened. I will just bask in an extra day of May and tell you what happened.
Here’s the plan. We will leave the house immediately after breakfast, promptly, not dilly-dallying over coffee, or stopping to admire the new blooms in the garden. We will drive south to Chateau Cormatin with apartments described as the grandest Louis XIII (1628) remaining in France, with painted, sculpted and gold-leafed paneling and ceilings. The chateau is fully furnished with tapestries, a vast stone staircase (1623), picturesque kitchen and drawing-room decorated in 1900 for an Opera director. Surrounding the architectural masterpiece are 25 acres of ground, flower borders, extensive box maze and an old-fashioned kitchen garden. Are you excited? There’s no time to stop at any charming villages, amazing chateaus, vineyards growing up hillsides or farmhouses with roses at the front door. Got that?
Here’s what really happened. We were in the car driving from the rental house almost on time, about three blocks from the house when this conversation happened. We rounded the corner in front of Chez Camille where big trucks compete with mad French drivers, and on this day road repair equipment was part of the traffic circus. In the midst of this confusion, I said, “Jim, please find a place to park. I need to get photos of the atmospheric Chez Camille and the cute murals on the outside walls. This is my last chance since we leave tomorrow!” I heard groans and muttering coming from driver Jim as he negotiated through the monster truck noises and waving flags of the repairmen, but my almost-French Jim parked in true French fashion on the curb.
Considering my risk of life and limb, be sure to notice the cute, bright red Caravelle, a sports car manufactured by Renault from 1958-1968. Pietro Frua used the floor plan and the engine of the Renault Dauphine to design the rear-engine, rear-drive natty car. Returning to our non-sporty rental car before anyone took issue with our parking place, I chatted away about the elegant lady with hat and gloves in the mural, asking Jim if he remembered how women always dressed in their best for Sunday, trips to the doctor, luncheons and all of that. I described a pastel pink batiste cotton dress with a full, swishy skirt that I wore when the Caravelle was on the road. On my wrist a Caravelle watch kept the time with a gold bangle bracelet. Jim was quiet over there on my left-side, driving down the long road stretching along past the wide-open fields of white cows and yellow flowers. Maybe he was listening, or perhaps he had his own memories playing out like the colorful murals on the wall.
Silence reigned on the road past vineyards with red poppies and roses at the end of the rows. In the interest of truth-telling, I did require one photo shoot of vines in the valley with one workman diligently doing whatever they do. Can you find the fellow in the vines? It was just a quick stop, like I promised. Honest.CHATEAU SERCY
In the middle of nowhere, a chateau appeared like a vision in a dream, something only a romance novelist could create. This was a chateau that the driver Jim could love since it only required a pull over by the road with a convenient place to park in front of the lake. Weeping willows gracefully edged the mirror-like surface of the lake with a rowboat at the edge, seeming ready for me to step inside wearing finery like the ladies from the past. I quickly found that the Chateau Sercy is privately owned and only on rare occasions can one get any closer. Chateau Sercy dates from the twelfth century. My eyes were drawn to the wooden palisade and I discovered that its openwork oak frame resting on stone corbels is from the fifteen century and it is probably the only example from this period still intact in France. The palisades were designed to send projectiles through the gaps. The Sercy family owned the chateau from the time it was built until the sixteenth century when Philibert Sercy died accidentally during a wedding in Lyon. From that time it did not fare well with disrepair and sacked during the French Revolution and a major fire. Thankfully, despite this long, sad history, it is truly easy on the eyes and stamina for two travelers with weary bones, but adventurous plans.
Have you referred to the plan for the day? Apparently, plan “A” was slipping further and further away. I had already deviated 3 times!
Another big digression was ahead. Jim was driving south according to the plan when the road crested above the town of Buxy. I could see the charming, medieval town spread below with a very tall building with cylindrical towers, ascending into the sky. A tiny bridge was suspended between the towers. I felt scared out of my wits at the thought of walking from one side to the other. But I had to see this incredible structure close-up. Jim turned off the road without grumbling or referring to plan “A”. He parked in the town parking lot making a quick note that we were next to the karate training place. A bathroom and food were next on our agenda. We purchased sandwiches at the boulangerie by the florist and passed on the chocolate stilettos in the pastry case.
Walking uphill we met two little friendly, scruffy dogs at the front of a narrow house with what seemed to be a picture of a matador in the upper window. The friendly dogs couldn’t tell us where to find the tall towers with the scary bridge. I don’t know how you can hide two soaring towers, but they were out of sight for awhile. Eventually, we hit the mother lode with winding streets, flowers at doorways with ancient lintels and a sundial with words that seem to mean: “I do not mark the time with beautiful days.” I do love the beautiful days, but I’m just thankful for life itself. Scruffy dogs, velvety chocolate high-heels and a very patient husband are the beautiful bonus!
Are you still with me? I hope so. This is a fairly long blog story. Maybe I should have warned you.
Finally, we arrived at Chateau Cormatin which was the last to be built (1620-25) by Jacques de Blé, a favorite of Marie de Medicis and a regular attendant at the Queen’s palace (the Luxembourg in Paris), he commissioned from Salomon de Brosse, the royal architect, the designs for three monumental doorways, two of which survive to this day. The family motto: “du Blé forever” Do you have a family motto?I was anxious to see the garden which is created in the spirit of the baroque period, with approximately thirty acres of parterres of flowers, a box-wood maze with belvedere and aviary, a potager, open-air theatre, water features and outstanding trees. The topiary animals and shrubbery bordering the garden, like the outline of dragon’s back captivated me, along with the many flowers in the potager. When the bell rang for our tour, I didn’t want to leave the remarkable garden.I’m sure you would like to know some of the scandalous history as an insider before we enter the chateau. Notice closely: “The long avenue of lime trees was particularly favored by the poet Lamartine, who was a frequent to the chateau – so frequent indeed that Jacque’s daughter, the Comtesse de Pierreclos, bore him a son of this dalliance.” Now you know. Here’s another bit of intrigue: “To preserve his memory a statue representing the Second French Republic was erected in the courtyard in 1849. It has survived but – decapitated!” Whoa!!
Inside the monumental doorway, our sizable group listened to the guide explain that “the building contract specified that the walls were to be whitewashed with no sculpture, no painted decoration. This is vastly different from the apartments that were so richly decorated only five years later. This decision in lack of decoration was linked to philosophical theories of neo-platonic philosophy with metaphysical virtues assigned to numbers and geometrical shapes. A staircase born from mathematical calculation was therefore understood as a simile for the universal order. Plato taught that superior beauty is expressed only in abstract and pure forms.” Therefore, this area of the staircase has only the interplay of lines, colors and light.”
Step inside the grandeur of the apartments and you are in a different world of luxury. In 1896, Raoul Gunzbourg, director of the Monte-Carlo opera, bought the chateau and entertained in sumptuous style with such stars as Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt.
Do you entertain your guests in the bedroom? In the early seventeenth century, the bedchamber was the main room in an apartment. It was public, or private, according to the time of day. Once the marquise was up, friends, children and servants would enter freely without knocking. People would gather in the bedchamber as if it was a drawing room, and they would eat there! Maybe it was the warmest room in the house.
“The décor makes use of many symbols since the right choice of symbols was valued as a proof of culture and moral elegance. The ceiling is painted blue, the color of faithfulness. On it are depicted cut flowers which symbolize good deeds. To please God, good deeds must be renewed constantly like cut flowers, which wilt rapidly. So, you see the symbolism which was thought to bring harmony into the room. The lower wall panels depict baskets of flowers and fruit, symbols of fertility.”
“The walls are covered in textiles which were changed according to the season with silk in summer for coolness and woolen in winter to insulate the cold walls. In winter, it was necessary to have tapestries all around the room and even over the doors and the bed.”
I was ready for a bathroom, but not the privy closet for the royals! However, it had one thing going in its favor. Privacy! This was the only truly intimate room: only the houses of important people had them. “Here one could escape from the company of others. Hence the later term “boudoir”, or sulking room. This was a room for reading, resting, taking a bath or taking meals when it was very cold in the bed-chamber. These rooms should have had an even more sumptuous décor, but work ceased upon the death of Jacques du Blé who was killed during the Protestant revolt. His wife decided to adopt deep mourning. By this she hoped to help her husband’s soul to leave purgatory and enter paradise. She had four children to look after, but she had a mourning room furnished in the south wing which was hung with black cloth, even the bed had black hangings.” How sad!
The kitchen lifted my spirits, in fact so much that I didn’t want to leave as quickly as the guide requested. Then, in the last area I saw something unexpected. There was a table just like mine at home! I tried to tell the guide that I had a small table just like it. No joke! No one seemed interested. Compare the two below and tell me what you think! Which one is from a chateau and which one was purchased at a thrift store forty years ago? (You must admit there is some similarity. My table is on the left.)When we were leaving and I was rushing to the bathroom, Jim asked if saw the painting of the “Father of Botox” in the chateau. You can always count on Jim for fractured culture!!
Our tour is finished and our extra day in May is at an end. We packed it full of treasures and surprises. I loved having you along while the minutes of the extra day ticked along.
I promised a bonus day, totally unexpected. I hinted that Monty Don might appear on the page again, and while that didn’t happen I can imagine him chuckling at the fun of the garden at Chateau Cormatin. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he took a private tour. Next time, Jim and I will move from Arnay le Duc to Noyers, further north in Burgundy, a new region to explore. Thanks for coming around to visit the blog!
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All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.
If you enjoyed this story, perhaps you would like to read “Heart of the Lion” Just CLICK the link to read this much shorter story from 2013.