“Celtic Lady Secrets” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 6, 2018 – Wednesdayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

In a land faraway, many centuries ago, lived a young lady of mystery, a Celt Princess, bedecked with jewels. Imagine finding a grinning Medusa among the stones of a field on the banks of a river, not yet knowing that this was the beginning of a major archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.On January 5, 1953, when I was a young child, playing with my dolls in Alabama, a startling discovery was made by Maurice Moison near Châtillon-sur-Seine, France.  An excavation of the site below the Mont Lassois oppidum (a Gallo-Roman fortified town) near Vix was led by René Joffroy continuing in the snow and cold and ending in February with the unearthing of a large, magnificent 24-carat gold necklace, or torque, within the tomb of a woman now called the Lady of Vix.  Her burial took place around 500 B.C. with the body laid in cart, or chariot, with many items of jewelry leaving no doubt of her high status.  She was between 30 and 35 years old at the time of death.  Who was the Lady of Vix?  There is no clear answer since the Celts living on Mont Lassois were a people with an oral tradition (no writing) and they left no written evidence of her.  Celtic tribes then controlled a trade route leading from the Seine to the Mediterranean and lived by barter, trade and patronage.  The imagination easily takes flight.  In 1953, Paris Match portrayed her as a fair-haired princess with her head adorned with the torque.  In fact, the torque is worn around the neck.

VIX KRATER

The grave of the Lady of Vix had never been disturbed, and it contained remarkably rich offerings known in French as the Trésor de Vix.  The treasure includes a large amount of jewelry and the Vix Krater, the largest metal vessel from Western classical antiquity with a height of five feet, four inches and 450 lbs. in weight.  Kraters were used for mixing wine and water, common in the Greek world, and this krater could hold over 1,000 liters of liquid!  The vase proper was made of a single sheet of hammered bronze.  The three handles are decorated with a grimacing gorgon, a common motif on contemporary Greek bronzes. Notice the neck of the vessel which is made of a bronze ring inserted into the main vase.  Eight chariots are shown which are drawn by four horses each and conducted by a charioteer.  Notice the braiding of the human hair and the horse’s maneNotice the snakes on the vase!  It has been suggested that the krater, the largest known Greek bronze vessel, should be seen as a high-status gift exchange connected with the trade of wine from the Mediterranean for raw materials from Northern Europe.

We admired the vase in the Museum of the Pays Châtillonnais-Treasure of Vix in Châtillon-sur-Seine, a city which is classified among “the most beautiful detours in France”.   I did the best that I could with the photos since the objects on display were protected behind thick glass, or other substance, that reflects light and other images, not a good photography setting. The museum contains specimens of bird-life collected in the early 1900’s.  Ex-votos (statuettes presented as thanks of healing to the deities) and statuary of the ancient and medieval times were on display in many other rooms of the museum. It was in one of those rooms of silence with a solitary lady dressed properly for the occasion that I accidentally flipped my camera’s plastic lens cover across the room.

It hit the floor, whizzed past the lady’s legs, bouncing and rolling, echoing blim, Blam, rattle-rattle, blip!  The pretty lady in the yellow dress kept reading the display while I turned red with embarrassment and my internal giggle-box turned upside down.  I clamped my hand over my mouth to force the laughter inside so hard that my eyes were bulging.  Jim looked at me with an expression that said, “Let’s get out of here before they throw us out!

RUGBY and the RIVER

Traveling in France is always a journey of discovery with interesting things to see in unexpected places.  On our return trip from the museum we drove through a wonderful leafy tunnel with plane trees towering overhead on each side of the road and just ahead a beautiful water feature with a children’s playground in the distance. I wished I could stay and see the youngsters on the merry-go-round, but I could only satisfy myself with a photo of an old rusty, rugby sign I searched for info on this sporting event, evidently worthy of a sign and monument for the village.  It was probably the 2004 Six Nations ChampionshipFrance won the competition, also winning the Grand Slam.  Ireland won the Triple Crown, sweeping their matches against Wales, England and Scotland.  I just never know what I will find when I ask Jim to stop the car!

ANCY LE FRANC

A rural road winds through woodland and farms to Ancy-le-Franc, a village with a Renaissance chateau modeled on an Italian palazzo.  However, I wouldn’t want to fool you.  We didn’t go this route on this particular day in May.  We took this jaunt on an earlier day, and in fact I mentioned in a previous blog that I would save it for later.  Just wanted to see if you are paying attention!?    Considering the classic, restrained, symmetrical forms of the exterior, you would never expect the over-the-top interior.  Ancy has the most opulent décor in Burgundy, rivaled only by the Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin.  It was likely decorated by Primaticio, a Bolognese artist working at Fontainebleau.  It is virtually a royal palace: French kings from Henri II to Louis XIV slept in the gilded chambre du roi.As I walked through the glorious rooms, I was most impressed by the flooring underfoot which is incredible when you consider the walls and ceilings covered with Olympic gods.  The arched ceilings are decorated with grotesque figures, mythical monsters and satyrs.  I captured a photo of Jim looking upwards after he said, “I surely wouldn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see all of that weird stuff on my ceiling!We will finish with the beautiful paneled chambre des fleurs which is a riot of pansies, roses and tulips.  Views of gardens were beautiful.  I’m leaving with a promise to show photos of this chateau from a visit years ago with a much younger Jim and Debbie lurking in the background.In the last blog story I said we would tour an incredible museum in Châtillon-sur-Seine.  I followed through and grabbed the ball and ran with rugby. Then, I went for extra points with an Extra-Fancy chateau in Ancy-le-Franc.

Next time, we will take a trip down memory lane and meet new people in a village where we considered buying a house many years ago. Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

You can read more about France, including more about Burgundy.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.  (I apologize since I forgot to add the link for the book in the last blog.  You can always simply search for “A French Opportunity” on Amazon if you prefer instead of the link.) Please feel free to share this website with others. 

Would you like to receive an e-mail notification when each story is posted?  Look at the top of the page on the right-hand side for the area to enter your e-mail.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“All Shook Up” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 5, 2018 – Tuesdayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

I spotted Elvis in the Chateau Époisses dovecote!  Does that shake, rattle and roll your bones?  I lured Jim inside the dovecote saying Elvis – the King – was inside.  He knew from my sneaky grin that something suspicious was up.  Inside the tower, surrounded by over 3,000 nesting places for the doves, he didn’t see Elvis perched anywhere.  Before Jim could ask me where Elvis flew away to, I pointed to the picture of Elvis de Montreal’s sculpture by her husband, but Jim was more interested in the bird nests above not an ancient historic Elvis without a guitar.  I thought I would impress him with the photo of Queen Elizabeth II who visited the chateau, but Jim said, “This place must have been smelly as all git-out with a ton of bird-droppings from 3,000 birds swarming in and out!”  I wonder what song lyrics Elvis would write on this subject.ÉPOISSES

Époisses became a seigneurial house in the twelfth century with the family of Montbard. It belonged from 1237 to 1421 to the family of Mello who received Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, in 1377.

Époisses is known for a different type of smell, referring to the Époisses cheese.  One article said, “There’s no way of putting this mildly – Époisses is a stinker.  According to a BBC story from 2004, Époisses has been banned from French public transportation systems because its odor is so strong.” We bought some when we were in Arnay-le-Duc, and I would say if you cooked cabbage in the kitchen and opened a package of this cheese, you could have an explosion of odor!  Époisses is a strongly flavored, slightly salty, slightly nutty, very creamy, 50% fat, cow’s milk cheese which is washed in brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the local brandy.  It had its beginning in the sixteenth century within a community of Cistercians, and local farmers inherited the recipe two hundred years later.  Napoleon was a big fan of the cheese.  But I would say that Elvis of Memphis, Tennessee probably would not have liked it on his favorite peanut butter and banana sandwiches!Continuing our tour of the grounds since the chateau interior was not open until July, we admired the Tower of Conde with its beautiful masonry with alternating layers of differently hewn stones, a rarity in Burgundy.  According to a local legend, the Prince had admired the countryside seen from his window and regretted that no balcony was there to enjoy such a beautiful view in comfort.  Upon returning from the hunt on the same evening, he found the balcony had just been built according to his wish.  The view from the upper windows must be glorious with gardens of 500 roses and my other favorites such as lavender, tulips, peonies, hydrangea and magnolia. The property has been owned by the same family since 1661; the descendants of Guillaume de Guitaut devote the best of their energy to maintain the old house by continuing the conservation of this exceptional site. The library contains many letters written by Madame de Sévigné, a regular seventeenth century visitor.  I was amused to read some of the quotes.  Madame de Sévigné begins: “At last I left Époisses, but I have not left the master of this beautiful castle.  He came to drive me here.  There is nothing so easy as to love him… He is very wise, this man.  However, I said to him now, seeing him awake like a hotpot of mice: ‘My poor Monsieur, it is still early morning to go to bed, you are still very green, my friend.”  I must remember the quote of being like a hotpot of mice.

We found a place for sandwiches a short distance from the chateau and decided to eat outside since it was a lovely day.  I lowered myself into a plastic chair and my personal hind-quarters met a soggy, water-saturated foam cushion.  An overnight rain had left a wet booby-trap for me.  At least no one was around to laugh at my wet pants except Jim.  I had one more surprise ahead when I asked the owner for directions to the toilet, and she pointed upstairs.  The stairs led to her personal home through the living area to a nice bathroom.  Since I had wet pants, she may have deduced that I needed the facilities in an emergency!

MONTREAL

Now, let’s turn around and go to Montreal and see if we find any of Elvis’ relatives since the ancient Elvis originated there.  Actually, we started our day in Montreal and went to Époisses as our second stop.  But I decided to begin the story at the dovecote.  Montreal is a small medieval village with the main portion for pedestrians only.  This area is entered through an imposing gateway with several arches through the fortified walls.  The gateway is called the Porte d’en Bas (Lower Gate).  Many old streets wind up the hill past historic houses and colorful gardens.  A lady rushed home, up the old stone steps, greeted by her tiny dog.  Across the street an elderly woman watched every move that I made when I grabbed photos of old wells, a rusty blue tractor and charming houses with white shutters.  This village atmosphere reminded me of our street at home that forms a circle with a garden of sorts in the center and neighbors who watch out for each other, inquisitive about what is happening.  The neighborhood-watch-lady finally was bored with my activity, or decided I wasn’t a threat to the community. There are six French municipalities that bear the name Montreal, and they are part of The Montreal Association of France and Europe.  Representatives meet each year and a trip to Canada and the United States will be organized in September, 2019.  I would select this Montreal in the Yonne department of Burgundy as the most beautiful.After covering every nook and cranny of the petite village, we found a toilet at the parking lot.  The light switch wouldn’t work, so I left Jim on guard duty while I left the door open and went inside.  After using the facilities so I wouldn’t wet pants on the road, I quickly reached to turn on the water to wash my hands.  In the semi-darkness, water gushed out like a fire hydrant, soaring upward after hitting a shallow sink and showering my face and chest.  I flew out the door like a hotpot of mice!  

Across the street, a rusty sign with two gentleman dining and drinking together had the wording Les Deux Comperes.  I thought that the description of two long-term partners fit Jim and me, through thick, thin and unexpected showers!

SEMUR EN AUXOIS

Once we were on the road to Semur-en-Auxois, we discovered the road that we wanted to take was closed.  A quick session with the map and we were on a different road with fun sights along the way like the cute garden characters at the edge of a village, the saxophonist mural on the wall of a café and an ancient bridge spanning the river Serein. Two men consulted in the street, like Jim and our neighbor who comes over to teasingly tell Jim he is doing something wrong in our yard, planting a shrub too deep, or using the wrong fertilizer.  Jim matches the neighbor with a comeback, but he definitely isn’t as skinny as the fellow in France with the striped shorts.  Jim brought to my attention that the police station (Gendarme) was closed for the day in one of the villages.  Wonder what would happen if our local protection took a day off. Finally at the entry to Semur-en-Auxois after our detour, another photographer had the prize position for a photo of the turret bastion perched above the River Armancon.  That was totally alright with me since I am not that fool-hardy!  Semur is stacked around the four towers of its castle keep. Once again, Madame de Sévigné has her say about this beauty spot and beats me to the punch.  Madame called Semur and the farmland “a delicious valley”.  We went in exploration in the late afternoon heat with less joy than what we had in the dovecote looking for Elvis. 

A couple wandered the hot streets ahead of us with “Love” written as a lyric on the pretty lady’s shirt.  Elvis would approve.

“My hands are shaky and my knees are weak

I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet

Who do you thank when you have such luck?

I’m in love

I’m all shook up!

Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!”   All Shook Up – by Elvis Presley (portion of the lyrics)

I was feeling all shook up, but the cause was too many up and down cobbled streets in the hot weather, instead of L-O-V-E!   I feel like I am letting you down since Semur is a treasure trove of history, gorgeous scenery on the rampart walk, towers and architectural gems to discover and more!  We returned on another day and hopefully I can add more in the future.Knowing when to go home and rest is as important as looking for the next delicious valley and hotpot of mice!  And, as Elvis always said in his Southern drawl: “Thank you. Thank you very much!”

In the last blog story I promised that Jim and I would go to Montreal and Semur-en-Auxois.  We added the capitol of stinky cheese to the itinerary.

Next time, we will see an incredible museum in Chatillon-sur-Seine. Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

You can read more about France, including more about Burgundy.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or KindlePlease feel free to share this website with others.  Would you like to receive an e-mail notification when each story is posted?  Look at the top of the page on the right-hand side for the area to enter your e-mail.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Cats, a Chateau and Chablis” – by Debbie Ambrous

June 4, 2018 – Mondayof the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

Cats do not pose for their portrait like a window box of flowers!  Indeed, no!  On a sunny morning in France while Jim was meandering down the lane to buy our breakfast goodies, I was coaxing the neighbor’s cat to come closer and begging the uncooperative subject not to skedaddle through the door’s cat-flap againSpeaking softly like a lover in pursuit of a pretty lady, I cajoled in cat-lover language, but she wasn’t fooled by my masquerade.  She knew that deep inside I was a dog-lover with affection for golden retrievers, and she wasn’t going for a two-timing photographer.   But I got her majesty’s photo anyway!

After the feline photo-shoot, I laid out the ambitious plan for the day as Jim savored his last sips of coffee.   Without proper attention from this subject either, I proceeded:  “I saw tall brick chimney towers off the road a short distance from town.  Could we drive out the country road so I can get some photos?   A hamlet about five miles away has a rental house shown on the internet, not a vacation house, but a cozy stone house with a modern interior for less than $500.00 per month in rent.”  Jim’s ears were perked up in alarm like the gray tabby cat, and his green eyes were suspicious as well.  I knew I could lose Jim through the cat-flap if I didn’t change the subject fast, so I went on: “Do you remember Chateau Tanlay, the one with the tall obelisks at the entry and a moat with water and lily pads?”  While he digested all of that and the strong coffee, I rushed on ahead:  “I’m saving the best for last.  Chablis, the village, the vines and the wine are near the end of our ramble.”  A smile spread across his face, and I suggested that his handsome face would be more appealing without the crumbs and the smidge of raspberry jelly.  I held my finale for the day in secret, not mentioning the tiny village of Beru amidst the grape vines.  Let’s go!

We found the brick chimney towers, and I walked cautiously around the ruins on the look-out for snakes and vicious dogs.  Jim sat in the car, ready to drive the getaway vehicle at any sign of danger, hopefully with me inside. The tiny hamlet with a church, farmhouses with charming windows, more cats, and rambling roses was adorable.  A short distance from Noyers, the rental house was perfect for someone, but sadly not me.  Garden room was sparse, not enough room for all of the flowers I would want.  Back to the internet in days to come, I will dream and plant seeds for the future.Driving further north, the landscape changed entirely.   Jim said, “Toto, we must be in Kansas!”  Grain fields were all around us, uphill and down with vineyards no longer in sight.  The fields were green, but they turned golden in the days to come. CHATEAU DE TANLAY

Through our dirty windshield, our view of Chateau de Tanlay was prominently at the end of a long, narrow lane, lined with plane trees.  We parked near the chateau, and Jim doused the windshield with water that he had poured into an empty Pierrier bottle. Folks walking past didn’t roll their eyes, but the look said, “Rich Americans, or Parisians, cleaning the car window with Pierrier!”  I wanted to rush after them and correct their thoughts, saying we are actually on a slim budget and eco-conscious reusing our plastic bottle, understand?  The magnificent chateau was through the gates after a visit to the toilet, a typical one shared by men and women.  With the necessities out of the way, we walked through the gateway noticing the menacing protective metalwork that prevented anyone from crawling around the gates without multiple punctures in vital parts of the body. I read the guidebook to Jim while he peered into the water looking for fish in the moat.  My words rippled on the water for the tadpoles, “Chateau de Tanlay was built in 1553 by Louise de Monmorency, mother of Gaspard de Coligny, the Protestant leader who was murdered in 1572.  In 1704 Tanlay belonged to the financier Jean Thevenin, and has been in the same family ever since.  The Protestants plotted in the Chateau de Tanlay, the home of their leader, Gaspard de Coligny. The Huguenots were persecuted by the French Catholic government during a violent period in the seventeenth century, and they fled the country, creating settlements in the United States.”  Closer to our home in Alabama, across the state line to Florida, Coligny was the leading patron for the failed French colony Fort Caroline in Spanish Florida in 1562.  One exceptional thing that the reformists did was make an earnest study of the Bible and its original languages – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine, or common Greek.  I could have babbled more history, but my words seemed wasted on the frogs in the moat where they were losing interest.Satire and insider jokes are depicted in the witty frescoed ceiling of the corner tower where the Protestant leaders plotted during the Wars of Religion.  The debauched court of Catherine de Medici is painted as an unflattering Juno and elsewhere as a double-faced sphinx.  Diane de Poitiers is a lovely Venus with Admiral de Coligny as Neptune.  Behold a political cartoon on a grand scale!

CHABLIS

Chablis was our next destination, where we hoped to clear our heads of political and religious intrigue.  Farm tractors led the way, swerving around corners and darting into fields like fat bumblebees in pursuit of the sweetest wisteria blossoms. Chablis is a lovely stone town with attractive alleys and waterways.  A young fisherman with flaming red hair was positioned on the riverbank in the sunshine as we entered town. I found the pretty flowering window box, the lead photo for the blog, on a side street. You must admit that the owner is not timid with the paint color on his house.  We met a lady delivering advertisement brochures as we explored here and there, checking the wine shops and searching for a place to have lunch.  The guidebook said: “Chablis is the quintessential vin de luxe and, as such, restaurateurs feel emboldened to over-charge.”  Amen, brother! A recommendation of gougeres, crusty cheese pastries, sounded perfect.  We were content to sit by the river at a bistro table at Marguerite’s, watching the village employees move the heavy flower boxes for the street with a forklift.  Jim was quietly observing this activity while I was engrossed in a recent issue of a decorator’s magazine.  We had a meal and a show with wonderful ambiance.Cistercian monks first planted Chardonnay on the steep slopes beside the Serien river in the twelfth century.  The popularity of Chablis soon spread to the royal courts on the Loire and on to Bruges.  Its elegance and breeding make it a most sought-after wine.  After lunch, carrying a few bottles of wine from our shopping, we walked across the bridge watching carefully for huge farm tractors on the road and checking on our young fisherman to see if he made a catch.  Nothing yet.  Finding our car parked along the riverbank, we discovered it was guarded by an emergency vehicle driver who had his lunch by the water and checked his phone messages.

BERU

The petite village of Beru was on our right a few miles from Chablis on our way home.  We had enough time to add it to our jaunt and enjoy the view of wildflowers and rows of vines that encircle the village.  We parked by an enclosed vegetable garden with roses dripping from stone walls, their blooms like scarlet velvet.  I took a picture of the car’s position and street name so we could find it later, just in case.  That is definitely a hint for you since Jim and his sister lost their car in Majorca, just ask him for the story.  I was not involved!  A sweet elderly lady was seated in front of her house with rows of flower pots.  Another younger lady joined her and seemed to be protecting her, not friendly at all.  Beru was not in my guidebook, but there is plenty to see with colorful windmills and rare medieval sundials A slender lady was working in her garden with a stance that I recognized from my weed-pulling and flower-planting.  I asked permission for photos and we talked gardening and the weather. We drove home looking for odd signs through our dirty windshield, finding the town names of Censy and Cusy.  The red slash through Censy means you are leaving Censy, and we laughed each time and said we were entering familiar territory – Non-Censy!    I thought about sharing another short walk with you, but there is beauty in knowing when to shut-up!  I will leave you with thoughts of Non-Censy until next time.

In the last blog story I promised that Jim and I would have a big day with several destinations.  We crammed a lot of sites and history in this day with 233 photos downloaded. 

Next time, we will go to Montreal, not Canada, but France.  Semur-en-Auxois is part of the agenda, an amazing day!  Thanks for coming around to travel with us.

You can read more about France, including more about Burgundy.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or KindlePlease feel free to share this website with others.  Would you like to receive an e-mail notification when each story is posted?  Look at the top of the page on the right-hand side for the area to enter your e-mail.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.