Friday, 20 September 2019

Vincennes - highest keep in France

The Capetian monarchs established a hunting lodge in the forest of Vincennes, not far from Paris, in the 12th century. John II (1350-1364) initiated work on a keep nearby. This was during the Hundred Years War. His son Charles V completed it around 1370. It is 52 m high. There was a protective wall with nine towers around it and work started on a gothic masterpiece, the Chapel.

For centuries, monarchs took refuge here. Henry V of England died in the keep (donjon) in 1422 following the siege of Meaux.  Louis XIV did some sporadic building here but finally settled at Versailles in 1682. The stronghold thus lost its status as a Royal residence but from the time of the French Revolution it became a major arsenal. It was modified by Napoleon I. Then it became a state prison for a long time. Notable prisoners included Nicolas Fouquet, Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade. Mata Hari was shot there for spying.

During the battle for Paris' liberation in August 1944, Waffen-SS German soldiers arrested and executed 26 French policemen and members of the French Resistance at the Chateau. After learning that Paris had been liberated by Allied troops, the SS soldiers set off explosions at Vincennes, badly damaging parts of the fortress.

Some minimum fitness is required to climb the stairs inside the keep, to access various levels. You can visit the chatelet terrace which gives views over the whole site. Charles V's study can be viewed. He worked there a lot, assisted by two secretaries in the two adjoining turrets. Walking around the ramparts is interesting, as the King would have done the same walk during the Middle Ages. It was later covered over. We know there were painted walls but the colours and designs have been lost over time. Some ancient graffiti still remains.

Inside the keep there is the council room. It would have been used for receptions and working meetings between the king and his advisors or even as the King's bedroom if necessary. Other levels contain the bedchamber which has a nice fireplace. The King would have put his best manuscripts in a chest placed in the window recesses. Painted rafters, though damaged and faded, suggest what the exquisite interior decoration might have been. The treasure room did not, alas, contain any treasure during the visit.

We did not get to visit the chapel. It was closed for a very lengthy lunch break and we had not been warned when we arrived, so that was annoying, but though styled like La Saint Chapelle in Paris, it is not as impressive so we didn't mind so much. The relics of the Crown of Thorns were temporarily housed there while the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris was being readied to receive them.

The restoration work on the keep and walls is well done but there is still much to do.

Apartment buildings for the King and Queen need doing. The King's building is being used to house France's military archives so researchers can easily visit it. The Queen's building seems to be locked and rather destitute, awaiting significant funds, I imagine.

This site is worth a visit. I hope in future an effort will be made to re-establish gardens there as it's a rather sterile site, especially in the heat of summer.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Chateau d'Anet - disappointing

Here is an example of lost history that begins with a great story but can be a disappointing tourism experience. Mostly it's about Henri II and his favourite mistress Diane de Poitiers. Naughty goings-on, of course.

Diane as born in 1499 and married Louis de Breze who was 40 years her elder. Through this marriage Diane was often called to the court of Francois 1. Her skills and interest in hunting went down well with various men. In particular she caught the eye of of the second son of the King, Henri. Diane's husband died at Anet in 1531. She genuinely mourned him.

Although Henri was married to Catherine de Medici he took Diane as his secret mistress. Henri came to the throne in 1547 and in the meantime Diane was busy enlarging and improving the Anet property. She added monograms of herself and King Henri which can still be seen. Gradually the relationship became less and less secret; the court often visited Anet for entertainments and, of course, Catherine de Medici was not happy but she bid her time.

Henri died violently in 1559 - killed by an arrow through the eye during a tournament. The new king was still a child so Catherine, his mother became regent. Diane tried to make peace with the most powerful woman in France by returning the crown jewels to her but Catherine remained dangerous and confiscated her magnificent chateau at Chennonceau. Diane stayed a refugee at Anet and designed a tomb for herself which you can visit.

Over the centuries the estate was handed down, sold, put on hold, changed. As with most chateaux, things deteriorated during the French Revoltion and many things of value were stolen and lost. In 1804 Diane's damaged estate fell into the hands of a new owner who demolished major wings of the building, felled all the trees in the park.
The chapel was untouched. The inhabitants of Anet town were not happy about the vandalism and riot ensued.

The chateau remained empty and abandoned until purchased by the dowager duchess d'Orleans who was daughter of the Duc de Penthievre. She died less than 9 months after purchasing it and her son, the future King Louis-Philippe, couldn't afford to retore the property so it was sold and resold. Some restoration work occured once it was purchased by an architect and this drew the attention of the Ministry for the Interior which classified parts as historical monuments and accorded a substantial subsidy.

The old park had been designed by Le Notre (Louis XIV's famous garden designer) but was now unrecognisable. Years passed, it changed hands. During 1914 the owner turned it into a Red Cross hospital. The property suffered greatly during WW2 with outlying buildings bombed and up in flames with all their furnishings and books. The German military occupied it. Fighting around it in 1945 . saw the surrounding forest destroyed. Restoration has taken place over the years and it is still of some interest but it is far from what it was in Diane's day. In fact only a third of the main chateau remains, the gardens are truly boring, most of the interesting landscape features are long gone.

While the chapel is now pretty much in it's original state, as is Diane's tomb (having had bits retrieved from being cattle troughs) the rest of the place is disappointing. Most of what is left is not open to the public, only a few rooms. They contain furniture from Diane's period, which is quite a rare thing these days, as well as collectables over the centuries. You are not allowed to take any photos inside the chateau. You are not allowed in the park. It is not a pretty site. The bare minimum has been done around the back of the chapel.

The visitor experience could be so much improved if a potager or medicinal garden was reinstated and if more rooms were available for viewing, even if the current owners have their own private areas which they use over winter months. It would be helpful if a display of the various changes to the estate was available for viewing. One could allow visitors to stoll along the man-made lake, have some refreshments etc. Alas none of this is possible. The owner, who must have plenty of money to own the property will be supported, to some extent, by subsidies from the State to keep it maintained.  Parts of the front buildings have rather large fissures and seem to be out of use.

Yes, I know very well it takes a lot of money to keep these places going but to attract more visitors and to give them a better experience the management will need to create a longer and more interesting experience for them. We arrived on a very hot day and there was nowhere to get a drink. It seemed to us that the owner was Ok letting us see a few rooms for a fee and couldn't be bothered otherwise. Well, that's the impression I and others comment on.

They have a minimal shop where I bought a copy of an engraving of the original estate in Diane's time as an example of true Renaissance achievement.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Conciergerie - a temple of death

If you are exploring the Ile de la Cite, in Paris, and you are planning to visit the Sainte-Chapelle, you might as well tack on a visit to the Conciergerie, right next door.

Originally built over the remains of a Roman palace, the first small palace of Merovingian kings was turned into a grandiose castle by the Capetian dynasty's successive kings. Philip Augustus, Louis IX and Philip IV transformed it into a residence.
 The Conciergerie, an important remnant of the palace, provides a remarkable example of 14th century civil architecture with the Salle des Gens d'Armes (1302), Salle des Gardes and the historic kitchens.
Other than the Saint-Chapelle, the lower parts of the the palace are all that remain of the medieval royal residence. They served the needs of the king and his family and substantial staff, totalling 2000 people.

Almost the entire lower level of the palace was turned into a prison in the 15th century; you can visit the dungeons, as well as the Chapel where Marie Antoinette was held prisoner during the French Revolution and which is now dedicated to her memory.

The site is presently used mostly for law courts. It was part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cite, which comprised the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice and the Sainte-Chapelle. During the French Revolution hundreds of prisoners were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed by guillotine at various locations around Paris.

Three towers survive from the medieval Conciergerie: the Caesar Tower, named in honor of the Roman Emperors; the Silver Tower, named for its supposed use as the store for the royal treasure; and the Bonbec Tower, named for the torture chamber that it housed. The building was extended during the reigns of later kings, with France's first public clock being installed about 1370. The current clock dates from 1535.

The dungeons, which have not been used for the last thirty years, are twenty-three feet in length by eleven and a half in height. Depending on the financial resources of  prisoners they could have a personal cell or have to share with many others. They could be afforded pen and paper and occasional visitors or they could be lying on the floor in communal excrement.

Marie Antoinette spent her last days here and went through the normal prisoner preparation for the guillotine. Her young son aged 10 who became known as Louis XVII (though he was much too young to be crowned, even in monarchist times) died a miserable death here from sickness and neglect. Only one of her children, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, lived past the age of 11, survived the Revolution and went into exile.

There are various exhibitions including audiovisual ones you can view during your visit and there is a souvenir shop. There isn't much available in English, alas, other than a couple of books. Notable things to see are examples of locks and bolts, the flood level indicator to show just how high the Seine flooded in 1910, a prison guard's office and an administration office.

Visitors can view the largest fireplaces I've ever seen by visiting the site of the old kitchens. They were built in 1350-1364 by John the Good. There's nothing else to see there though.

There's a fair bit on the Revolution. The prison quickly filled with suspects, accused of threatening the Republic. A visual presentation allows you to follow the lives of prisoners whose conditions depended on their own financial resources.

Palais de la Cite
2 boulevard du Palais
75001 Paris
Average length of visit 1+ hours

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Royal Chapel Dreux is a stunning necropolis

This is a 19th century building that houses the remains of royalty and their relatives from the Bourbon-Orleans family. The site itself at Dreux stretches back in time to 1023 though before that it was probably a Gallo-Romain site designed to protect the roads from Paris to Chartres. It was also at the crossroads of Viking incursions and skirmishes between various duchies.

A castle with eight round towers was constructed with a massive circular keep just after 1137 and vestiges of this can still be seen.

The town of Dreux and its region endured terrible suffering during the Hundred Years War and in 1421 it ended up in the hands of King Henry V of England. Over the centuries it was owned by various princes of the Bourbon family and ended up being partly demolished due to neglect. In the 18C the French Revolution had a bad effect here as the revolutionaries dug up and despoiled the graves and bodies of various nobles who had been interred on the site. Bodily remains were thrown in a ditch. In 1794 the great keep was blown up to use the stones for other things.

With the restoration of the Bourbons, the Duchess d'Orléans returned from exile and built a chapel which was completed in 1818 and the first of the coffins to house her family's remains was installed. Her son became Louis-Philippe, King of France in 1830 and he thought the chapel too small. It was radically enlarged and improved to the finest standards and it's this version we can visit to day. It showcases outstanding 19C craftsmanship.

The stained glass windows are, in fact, not your usual sort. The factory of Sèvres was commissioned to supply them but the old techniques had been lost. The director of Sèvres, who happened to be a mineralogist, conducted research and came up with some stunning results for painted glass.  The themes are all religious/political/allegorical.

In a side part of the chapel there is a set of beautifully executed painted glass works which one is not allowed to photograph. The detail is stunning and the lighting effects quite awesome. Mostly they feature depressing religious stories to do with Christ but somehow the light coming through behind the paintings lifts certain parts in an uplifting way.

The chapel was badly damaged during World War Two at the moment of liberation in 1944 when German shells struck several windows. Some windows could never be repaired as those skills have been lost.

The carving of the recumbent stone statues is very fine and different to what you usually see in cathedrals because this site is relatively modern. The sculptors have endeavoured to suggest the types of materials worn by the dead. They have carved to simulate lace, velvet, silk and the effect is impressive, natural and lacks any sense of the macabre.

This is an archaeological site too but with many of the stone coffins broken and ransacked with the contents dismembered and thrown away, most coffins would not hold much these days. The more modern section contains tombs for certain members who aren't actually interred there as their remains cannot be repatriated from sites such as Malta.

The stories behind many members of this family are sad, tragic, full of greed and ambition and some good works but in the end... exile and failure. The other branch of this family which was more directly associated with Louis XVI, Louis XVII and lastly Louis XVIII also failed politically though distant relations are still in existence  - the ones who survived the various revolutions, exile and world wars until the present day.

Tombs of particular note:
  • Louise-Marie-Adelaide de Bourbon-Penthievre (1753-1821)The dowager Duchess d'Orléans who built the first chapel
  • King Louis-Philippe (1773-1850) and Queen Marie-Amelie
Their brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, wives and cousins are here. In a lower crypt not open to the public is the heart of Philippe d'Orléans (1674-1723), Regent of France and who was Louis XIV's nephew and thus regent to LouisXVI.

What surprised me me about all this is that it seemed to be common practice to remove organs from royal corpses and inter them in coffins in different places.

For more than a century the Chapel de Saint Louis has remained a necropolis reserved for funerals and memorial services but these days it also welcomes weddings and christenings of the young princes

Henri d’Orléans, Count of Paris and pretender to the defunct French throne, died in January 2019 - exactly 226 years after his distant cousin Louis XVI was guillotined in Paris.
His death, aged 85, was announced on Facebook by his son  Jean-Carl Pierre Marie d’Orléans who was born in 1962. So, the ancient Capetian dynasty lives on.

Sunday, 1 September 2019


Carcassonne is a French fortified city between Toulouse and Montpellier in the Aude department.

From a distance it is really a sight to behold. Gallo-Roman, it's a one-of-a-kind aged 2000 years. Following the demise of the Romans, the Visigoths took over.

The fortified town is made up of two concentric walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attacks by seige machines. One of the towers housed the catholic Inquisition around the 13th century. The walls have a drawbridge and ditch. There are lots of houses  inside because it really is a city. The modern stuff is around the outside.

It is famous for its role in the crusades when the city was an Occitane Cathar stronghold. Other Cathar castles and constructions exist but they are mostly very much in ruins, crumbling away on rocky promontories in the general area.

In 1659 the border province of Roussillon was transferred to France and so Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. The fortifications were abandoned in favour of commerce, particularly woollen textiles, until the end of the 18th century.

Carcassonne was demilitarised under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided to demolish it. That decision caused an uproar and a campaign to save it began. Architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc took to restoring it in 1853 while he was finishing restoration work on the Saint Denis Basilica in Paris.

It was a controversial restoration because he covered over the towers and roofed them with slate, which never occurs in the South of France. He should have used the usual clay tiles. Still, his efforts have created something well worth preserving and it's a key tourist destination. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Carcassone is very touristy and also relies on manufacturing and wine-making for its economy.

As a site it is impressive, and we took a guided tour as well as a very bouncy jaunt around the outside by a little train. The train has English language options but the guided tours are only available in French. The crowds were uncomfortably thick, the souvenirs tend to be kitchy and much the same sort of thing as you find at Mont Saint-Michel. Food outlets pepper the place.
Aside from the little train, you can take a carriage ride but I felt sorry for the two horses slogging it out in the heat, even though they wore protection.

You can visit the church/cathedral which is much as you would expect. It is in active use in the city. Many people walk the ramparts and visit the chateau. We didn't because of the crowds. The population of Carcassonne is around 50,000. That would be inside and mostly outside the fortifications.

Despite this being a very commercial site I bought nothing there. JC bought a sweat shirt but an hour later left it behind at a cafe and forgot about it until walking back all the way to our lodgings on the other side of the Rhone. You should beware of pick-pockets too. I had the good fortune to have a room across the Rhone so I could see Carcassonne floodlit at night. That was great but the mistral was starting to build up a head of steam which meant a light jacket at night was a good idea.

There's a train station and a small airport. It was really odd to see heavy modern passenger planes flying low over the cité.

You can combine a visit to Carcassonnne with a visit to Toulouse or Montpellier . We arrived from Millau and a drive through the Gorges du Tarn.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

When dreams die twice - man behaving badly

I've come to France to spend 3 months with JC to see how we could reconstruct a life more long-term together.

He has disappointed me several times in the past but since I left France 19 months before recently returning, he has kept in very regular contact via Skype and little parcels, some containing personal items from his dead mother. There is an attachment and a connection. We have never stopped having a relationship, despite the distance.

He has explained through emails that he bitterly regrets letting me leave and that it was the most idiotic thing he has ever done in his life. He missed me and thought about me all the time. His head was constantly full of memories of things we had done together and the traces of those remain at his home.

"I want you to come back. If you came back things would be very different. We'd do more things together. When I lost you I lost the engine for my life," he said. "I'll never forget how I felt as you went up the escalator to board your plane at the airport. It suddenly hit me what I had lost," he said. "I regret hardly ever telling you I love you but I do, I really love you and I'm in love with you."

I explained that I missed him too and would love to come back but that I couldn't do that immediately due to needing to provide a safety-net for myself as well as meeting NZ superannuation requirements. (You have to destroy the life you have built up overseas and come back so you can apply for the super. Ridiculous).

Swirling around that was, as always, my enduring passion for France. Anyone who really knows me knows that is the place I belong. I never felt the culture of NZ matched me and while I lived in France for more than seven years I never once missed NZ. The French Republic seem to have been so impressed by my dedication to France I was granted naturalisation in double quick time after I applied.

One day this year he said that if I came back he wanted to marry me. He knew that was no longer necessary as I had already obtained my French citizenship. "But it's something important. It's symbolic of the way I feel about you and us. You are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with." I was impressed. It was huge.

My birthday was approaching and he asked me what I wanted. "A ticket," I said. "A plane ticket?" "Yes," I beamed. His face tightened and he brushed it off saying, "I can do that any time. It's not a problem for me. No, what do you want in your parcel? he asked.

I was a bit disconcerted but the conversation moved on. A couple of months later, during a Skype session, I explained that I had been disappointed by his disinterest in having me spend time with him despite his previous declarations. He said that he had to now be honest and that in fact he had a girlfriend. That when he saw that I was building a house, he didn't see that I could consider leaving it for him and anyway, he was lonely. I was shocked that he had been dishonest for a year though I understood loneliness all too well. It was a lengthy 5-hour conversation and I was clearly very upset. I told him goodbye.

He panicked and later said he'd get rid of the girlfriend. "Do you love her?" "No," he said "and I never will. There's something in that relationship that is missing. It's you I want," he said. "The sex is OK with her but I have come to realise that even if our sex isn't perfect because of your post menopause difficulties it's enough for me. It doesn't matter when it's you I want." That meant a great deal to me.

He sent me money for a ticket and we discussed the medium and long-term future.
I was happy that he had made up his mind, that we would now start to do some planning together. I told him I didn't want any bad surprises like women hiding behind curtains. I was clear I don't share my man and I was coming to start a new life with him.

When I arrived at Paris Charles de Gaulle there was no evidence of any woman and none during my entire stay but although he was happy to see me he didn't seem to be behaving like a man who has just recovered his lost love. He had very little sexual interest in me and made no effort in that department at all. His own sexual performance was worse than ever, not at all romantic, and I became more and more concerned but didn't want to rock the boat. I simply told him there was no need for him to have any distance with me. I was his Kiwi still and he could trust me. He could take off his emotional waterproof. I had come with an open heart, I said, even though I was understandably anxious. But the anxiety grew because something wasn't right. He never said anything like, I love you. He never discussed our future.

Eventually after 2 months of trying to get closer to him, during a trip south at Carcassone which was supposed to be the high point of the trip for me, I finally dragged the truth out of him and it took three days to get it all out. He'd justify, omit facts, feed me bullshit, blame me for 'not changing' when in fact his decision had been made before I arrived.

He had told the other woman they were finished. That Kiwi was coming back. She got upset. She was so upset he realised he loved her so he changed his mind and didn't tell me before I took my plane. Huh??????

He watched me working hard in his garden for weeks to get things nice and he said nothing. He listened to me talking about plans for the future and ideas I had for us but he said nothing.  He went on holiday with me which was supposed to be romantic but he said and did nothing of the sort.

"I love two women, both different," he said. " I'm a normal man. Men are animals." I was really not impressed by that. I was beside myself at the magnitude of the betrayal. He had invited me under completely false pretenses.
"When were you going to tell me?"
"I don't know."
"Were you going to say something before I left to go back to NZ?"
"I don't know."

The other woman likes sex, has kept all her hormones and is younger than me by a few years but is less attractive and less intelligent, he says. Someone told me she has inherited a ton of money and is rich. Despite his not being able to perform like a man usually does, because of his prostate surgery, he prefers that other woman who is a civil servant with a cushy life of stability and financial comfort, who has not lost her dream, has not taken any risks to be with him and has not seen thim through bad times and surgery, not suffered his silliness and who hasn't stood by him and believed in him as I have. On the other hand we've had our relationship almost everyday for 8.5 years. She's used to being the third wheel, I refuse to be one.

He accepts he said those lovely things to me, including marriage and "I meant them at the time," he said. But.... he just changed his mind because a woman who is used to being dishonest herself by cheating on her husband with  JC 20 years ago, had a few tears, spread her legs to persuade him to keep her and eats a greater variety of foods than I do. Sheesh, can't compare with that can I?

"She knows how to use her female 'weapons' to keep me," he said to me in a disparaging way.
"Well, I could have done that too if I thought to devalue the rest of me and hadn't had the misfortune to get older. I'm not interested in 'playing' a man and manipulating him. I want him honestly," I replied. " After what you said to me this year I thought you felt that too," I said. " I came here loaded up with products to have a better sex life but you never gave me the chance."
"Yes, well, that wasn't good what I did," he said.
"Will you marry her?" " No."
"Will you tell her that you said you wanted to marry me?" No answer.
"Do you think you will want her for the rest of your life?" "I have no idea," he said.

He's actually now keen on having sex with me, more so now the secret is out but, of course, I have said no way, I'm not being used, thanks very much. What's the point in giving away my integrity and dignity to someone who doesn't choose me? In the meantime, before I leave France and him again, I have to put on a brave face in front of his daughter and grandson who are staying a MONTH with us and don't realise what has happened. They probably think I'm just here for a visit but they have met the other woman. JC has no spare beds so I have to sleep with him and go though the shock and betrayal and adjustments in situ. I feel like vomitting. People who know me are assuming I am having a great time and may well end up moving to France. Well, no.

During the 14 July celebrations in the village I was coldly snubbed by his best friends who live nearby. I was lonely and humiliated. JC had noticed but said nothing to me or them. None of his other friends have invited us to spend time together but they have all met his mistress recently. I have to wonder what JC has said about me, really. When I asked him he only said he'd said he loves 2 women. Huhhhh???????????????
I'm gobsmacked. For all his faults he never came across as this duplicitous. He usually treated me kindly and made big efforts to please me.

I had thought JC was the best person I have had a relationship with. He can be really awesome - a hard worker, generous at times, intelligent, organised, talented and good looking. He can also be very set in his ways, controlling and boring. We each have a mix of good and not so good but I believed him. If you don't believe your partner how can you have a relationship? "There's a stain on your soul now," I said to him.

Some of you have met him and you thought he was a good guy, if a little proud. He certainly can be and he has many great qualities which is why I love him, and he has done a lot for me over the years but, I have only just today learned from someone who has known him for 20 years, that when I had suggested he send me the ticket to come to spend time with him he had thought that very amusing, that 4 days after I had left France in 2017 he was in the arms of this other woman, that while I was at work when we lived together he was out with numerous other women. He tried to hit on her years ago, she said, but she told him no, she's married. "He's very clever and he has the money to get away with anything," she said. "He thinks he's some untouchable god." The magnitude of the lie I have been living is very hard to deal with.

Some of you have commented that in seeing us together it's obvious he loves me. I thought so too. This seems a pretty cowardly and twisted kind of love now.

Well, well! It's hard to describe what he has done to me. Devastation. Humiliation. Lies, betrayal, lack of communication, death again of my dream. He had offered me another chance at my dream to be with him in France I had thought, and I grabbed it, though not without talking to friends, my daughter and a counsellor first. There were two things in play here, my feelings for him, and my feelings for France which for much of my time in France, have unfortunately been interlaced. I was anxious about the trip before I left but my counsellor said " When you're 70 Frances, will you regret not going to find out, to try again?" " Yes, I would," I replied.

You might say I am well rid of him and you are right but all those years of shared experiences and leading me on to the extent of letting me come over over thinking I was starting a new life with him is pretty hard to take.  I suppose I'll get over him as I have with previous faithless men but it's hard losing all possibility that I can see for a life in France. I could live there legally and buy a house there but retirement would not be enough to live on, thanks to NZ's policies against anyone who spends any time living overseas. He knows all this, "I'd really like to see you succeed with your dream," he told me.

This time in France could have been marvellous and I believed it really would be, given the facts presented to me at the time but what has happened is not something I will forget for the rest of my life. I'm hurt by the magnitude of the dishonesty and betrayal. He's a happy chappy now it's out in the open. I just have to suck it up and suffer but I am obliging him to listen to me whenever I describe what I am going through, and my struggles. I have other commitments here such as a student of English that I'm preparing for a professional exam, friends and ex-colleagues who wanted to catch up with me and I couldn't ruin the arrangements for my housesitter by suddenly abandoning ship and flying home. But being in the place that was my home and that I thought would again be my home, with JC now - it's hard.

Maybe in his way he does love me and he wants to stay in contact. He knows I will be alone, missing France, mostly unemployed and unable to supply all the material needs a person has. He says if it was only about sex we would never have lasted this long. That's probably true but why bother with me so much when he has so many others who know 'their place'. Why play with me like a cat with a mouse? He's trying to be nice but it just doesn't cut it. He doesn't regret his decision, just that his behaviour has cost me so much and been truly apalling. He lied at a magnitude I never expected though I wasn't blind to possible risks in believing he wanted me. I am trying to process this disaster and move on, again.

Have I wasted so many years of my life on a scoundrel like this? This is not a lesson in life, I have nothing to learn from this. Men can be shit? Yeah I know that, women too. I had already left him and France. Couldn't the universe have just left it at that? Why the premeditated torture?

I have no direction for my life, am still alone and still desperately looking for work but strangely the dream which seemed to have died during my stay with him hasn't really. That little kernel of stubborness which has helped me survive in the past keeps making its presence felt.

I have no idea how to make my dream of spending my life in France a reality but then I didn't expect to ever get the chance to live and work in France the first time - hard as it proved to be - nor to have an expenses-paid trip to France in 2019 where the price was severe heartbreak, humiliation and embarassment. We just never know, do we? Some of us try to make good things happen, some won't try for fear of making a mistake. Me, I'm a crazy woman, running out of time to do meaningful things in life, but not ready to sit alone at home waiting for the grim reaper. I deserve better than this.

I know what I want and if I can't have France and a man who loves me and wants to KEEP me I want cool experiences, happiness, people to share life with but a bit less negative drama.  I would love to 'belong' somewhere, at last. Coming back to visit France just consolidates what we all know - that this is my country and the place I enjoy and appreciate in its amazing variety and closeness to so many other interesting countries. I don't want to live without it. Can I still find a way? Is that possible?

Photos go backwards in time from the last photo of us this year, at Versailles, to the first photo ever taken at his place, in early 2011.

If you want to know how this all started you can buy a copy of my book by clicking on the picture link on the top right hand side of this blog. My author name is Frances Lawson. Will I write a sequel? I am asked. Not unless there is a happy ending. 

***A note on aging sexuality:
Many women (not all, of course) have a disastrous time during and after menopause, I discovered during research on this in 2005, yet we are lead to believe it's a natural process and has temporary annoying symptoms. Mid-life and later women don't want to talk about it, especially with younger women, they said, because the experience and its consequences are so negative. Their men are often not supportive and can even denigrate them in public. JC never did this to me but he silently judged me on every performance yet did nothing I suggested to help me. I drew the short straw and ended up losing most of my normal function and interest but this didn't stop me wanting to please my man and risking medical consequences from the products I desperately tried to get back to 'normal'. A vicious cycle began with me being criticised for not making enough effort and this led me to lose trust, and made it harder to give 100% of what was left to me though I only ever said no to JC once in all our years together.

JC lost his ability to have a normal sex life too. This can happen as men age due to overweight, heart problems, diabetes, medications and, in JC's case, prostate cancer surgery. He's now 74 and for our last years living together was unable to have a normal erection or enter a woman without his painful self-medicating injections. I never once criticised him. This time around he seemed even further degraded to no erection at all and he still has to wear knickers, even in bed, with lightweight incontinence pads for controlling minor urinary leakage.  Currently he has found a new product, he tells me, to give better erections but the side effect is they are painful and last hours too long. But so long as the woman doesn't have any problems then that's OK with him. There are double standards here but the lack of willingness of some men to evolve from base animal instincts to appreciating the rest that a couple can share is destructive as we age. I don't know if it is possible to find an older man willing to accept less than ideal sex in an older woman.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

An evening with Louis XIV at Versailles

I wanted to do something different for my third visit to Versailles. This time I combined the Serenade Royale and the Grande Eaux Nocturnes in the evening. That means I was going to see some entertainment Louis XIV-style in the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) followed by music and fountain displays in the extensive gardens and park, culminating in a fireworks display. The idea is to live slightly vicariously like a courtier during the latter 17th century.

Sounds cool and it was, not perfect but still enjoyable. I'd recommend it.
After standing, queuing a long time, we eventually moved into the reception areas where someone pretending to be the King's Herald seemed to be over-acting for the benefit of kids and families. Sure, you have to be entertaining but the silliness went on a bit too long. The rapid French would have been impossible for many of the visitors to understand. JC said even he couldn't understand most of what was said. The venue tried to speak for itself though.

Next we listened to a female operatic style singer singing songs from the era accompanied by a musician on an ancient stringed instrument. That was great for five minutes of novelty but I was disappointed in the quality of her costume. She sang 3-4 songs which was a little too long to be standing.

A dance company presented some  appropriate baroque ballet-style dancing popular with Louis XIV and introduced some Turkish elements.

It started off well but I couldn't see the point of the dancers disrobing and  the men then wearing dresses unless they were trying to allude to Philippe d'Orleans, the king's brother. Why not just do the dancing well instead of adding in extraneous elements that just devalued it all? The musicians made a good account of themselves. The Hall of Mirrors is long and narrow and this makes watching a show very challenging as you can't see it all.

Following on from that we were lead to the courtyard Cour d'honneur to watch some sword fighting. This was particularly ridiculous. It was just ka-ching, ka-ching and silly banter. Embarrassing and boring to watch. What would have been better would have been a group of musketeers in costume and a group of baddies fighting it out together but with professional epee skills, please.

With the interior entertainment complete we moved to the gardens, queuing to get in again. JC hadn't visited Versailles in at least 40 years and had had preconceived ideas that weren't all that positive. However, when he experienced that evening, he had a rapid change of opinion and could see the great changes that had been made to accommodate modern mass tourism. A lot of cleaning and renovation work has been done. It is a very special place to visit more than once. You cannot see it all in one day. You need at least a 2-day pass.

JC surprised me by refusing to walk around the gardens. His feet were too sore from all the standing around for hours. Mine weren't much better but I was determined to see the bosquets and the grand canal and the basins with illuminated fountains and baroque music. The evening weather was perfect and I wanted to make the most of what evening light was left. I had never seen all the fountains at Versailles playing and certainly had never had a night visit. They were better than I expected. In reality there are only 50 fountains operating these days. In the Sun King's time there were 4 times as many.

This event is well worth doing. We had 3 hours to fill from the Serenade to the fireworks display so I took off, camera in hand, and JC sat on a stone bench.

At just after 10.50pm the fireworks started over the Grand Canal. There were literally thousands of people watching from the steps, the paths, the gardens and the canal. It must be quite a profitable offering. The atmosphere was great and you really can transport yourself into what it might have been like one evening at Versailles in the 17th and 18th century.

The music we listened to inside the Hall of Mirrors and in the gardens featured:
Lully (1632-1687), Monteclair (1667-1737), Rameau (1683-1764, Destouches (1672-1749), Couperin (1668-1733), Charpentier (1643-1704), Lambert (1610-1696).

See the dancing.... 
and some more ...
The fireworks ...