Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Relationship wobbles

It's been a few months since I've written a post on anything really personal. This is at odd to the rest of my blog which chronicles my experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, since 2010. It has always been a frank and honest blog where I've tried to be open but this year has thrown me some serious challenges which I haven't felt safe to talk about on this medium. One is my job which right now threatens my fight to survive on this planet. It's been ongoing but now has reached critical levels. I'll have to tuck any explanation away for now. The other is my relationship with JC.

On the first day of this month, while I was staying the weekend at his place he said I would not be coming over the next weekend. He needed time to think about us. He didn't elaborate. A few minutes later, thoroughly unnerved, I asked him why he had said that. He was clearly uncomfortable but said that with all the ongoing health issues I'd had he really wanted a relationship that didn't have all that. He wanted carefree, penetrative sex as and when he wanted.

For various periods throughout our relationship I'd suffered from chronic pelvic pain exacerbated after love-making, I had frequent urinary tract infections (often a side-effect of menopause). Towards the end of 2011 I'd had the pelvic pain investigated but nothing was ever found and so the doctors ignored the significant problem and were disinterested. It went away for a few months, coincidently, after my chronic shoulder problem started. Adhesive Capsulitis is a nasty debilitating problem for which the only real cure is time, up to two years, and I had it to a lesser degree, in my other shoulder too. I started investigations again but it hasn't revealed anything tangible even though the pain is highly tangible. I kept working and helping JC in his garden from time to time but there were times when the pain from that and the shoulder problem (which is now improving) was so bad I was in tears on the sofa. So, with one thing and another, I supposed he got sick of all that.

I was devastated because there was no warning. Our relationship had seemed as it always had been with us. In fact, it was the only stable thing in my life. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.. Noting my distress he told me he would always be there if I needed something done. I didn't want a handyman, I wanted my lovely  boyfriend. He spent a lot of time listening to me and then insisted that he follow me home in his car to make sure I got there alright. He stayed an hour. The next few days were understandably horrid trying to cope at work and home with immense sadness but he would phone briefly each day to see how I was and he told me he'd been thinking about me a lot, positively.

The first weekend in two and a half years arrived without the usual structure. I was alone at home. He rang and said if I wanted to go out for a drive he would take me somewhere so I wasn't alone. That was nice but he had put me through shit. What could I trust any more? It was great to see him again but painful too - I missed him, especially when I had to drive home at night after seeing him- that wasn't normal. All I could do was take it a day at a time and on a couple of occasions I told him how his attitude and past behaviours were as imperfect as my reproductive machinery. He listened but as usual offered no explanation other than to say his feelings for me weren't as strong as my feelings for him.That seemed to be all he understood of himself or was willing to say. He's not someone who 'feels' much, never cries, never lets anyone get past his waterproof barriers. We're both missing out because of that. He took me shopping and bought me a pair of Armani jeans. I didn't care about shopping but he was clearly trying to do something to find ways to spend time with me. But I was disappointed that all my other qualities and the security of my feelings for him hadn't been enough to offset the fact that because I suffered  he wanted everything perfect for him so for a time I was disposable.

Gradually things have come back to how they were but he never said what he was doing. I told him not to play games with me and he said he wasn't. I had to ask him about our relationship - did we really have one and was it like before? Yes he replied, like before, so I imagine I'll be back there weekends on a regular basis and I suppose he has realised he had more feelings than he thought but he won't say anything. I've seen a surprising amount of tenderness from him recently that I've never seen before- especially as I've struggled with what he's put me through and the horrid uncertainty I am facing with my job. Understanding men is no easier than men understanding women, at least in my experience. This is not something I can forget but I'm trying to roll with it as I spend time again with a lovely man with all his thoughtfulness and flaws. Now I must concentrate on the other major stress in my life- my job.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Road trip in the Beauce region

La route du ble en Beauce is a road trip you take if you want to see the main cereal-growing region in France. It starts not far from JC's home in Ymeray.

It's a big place and took 6 hours to drive between the stages indicated on a map. Animals you'd see are likely to be perdrix grise, a small bird that eats grain, berries and insects and prefers to run rather than fly (hunters target it), and pheasants. The later are very good at squatting down in the fields and hiding.

They really are the most dim-witted birds with suicidal tendancies. People scare them but they have no fear of cars and in fact seem to be attracted to them. I've lost track of how often I've been driving at open road speeds and had to slam on the brakes for a cock or hen. It's usually a daily massacre on the road from where I live to work so it was no surprise to come across some of these silly birds on the road trip [can you see it?]

The other sort of bird you see a lot of in the Beauce is aoliennes or wind turbines since the area is generally plat with enormous fields and lots of wind. Other things with wings are the old windmills which are only there as curiosities and tourist attractions. I'm quite familiar with how they work and especially the pivotting sort. Here's a closeup of the mechanisms.          

They are quite majestic on the landscape, you can't miss them, surrounded by the flat plains covered in brilliant yellow and green.

One of the windmills had some little cabins on wheels parked nearby. These are very old.Originally they were little 'huts' for shepherds and their dogs to spend the night, then wheeling them along to the next location as they minded the flocks. Such an uncomfortable arrangement.

Yet another feature of the Beauce is the very large ancient farms. They were built in stone and featured house, accommodation for workers, barns, storage for equipment, walled gardens. They are impressive in size but the inhabitants appear to have no interest in making them aesthetic so no flowers or trees around their inner courtyard. Bare ground, messy stacks of things. Many are disintegrating though others are clearly inhabited and truly working farms.

Though most of the Beauce is flat, windswept and cropping there are little pockets of woods and dreamy little streams. This being Spring I found their aspect charming. Along the sides of the road, at intervals, you can see calvaries, wild orchids. Cruisng the updraghts are birds of prey, falcons looking for mice, voles, baby animals. There seemed to be a lot of these birds. And , of course, there are the black crows everywhere - intelligent birds that don't get dun over on roads. They have even inspired the design of kite-like bird scarers to discourage pigeons from eating sown seed.

We stumbled across a decaying chateau stuck in the middle of nowhere, the Chateau de Cambray.
On 28 March1575  François Lambert, advisor to the King of France bought Cambray. On the left is the old chateau dating from the 15th century, The central part in stone was dedicated by Louis XIV, between 1650 and 1700. The two wings were built later. There's supposed to be an Orangerie for functions but I couldn't see anything that looked functional or welcoming. Just the building in the left-hand corner was inhabited and the main chateau was shuttered and very sad looking in a truly bad state. It must have been wonderful once with its 4000 hectares of French gardens and forests. At least the lawns were mowed. I wonder what happened to all the furniture.

 Crops grown in the region include wheat and rapeseed (yellow flowers), sunflowers (not many of those now as they are less profitable), maize and peas as animal fodder, white sugar beet for biofuel.

You can see what it looks like after it is harvested and while it's waiting for collection.

It's not an exciting road trip. I'd suggest following the Route for the first half of the trail and then doing something else because after fields and windmills for a few hours you've had enough.

  Photos by F Harrison and JC le Roy

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

In search of Puss'n Boots at Chateau de Breteuil

There really is a fairytale castle. It's in a good state of preservation and is well worth a visit.

The Château de Breteuil is located 35km from Paris, in the Chevreuse valley. Built in the 17th century, it has belonged to the Marquis de Breteuil since 1712. This chateau encloses wonderful pieces of furniture, and reminds us of the history of this family along with the history of France, with 50 waxworks from the Musée Grévin.

 The waxworks include several famous people; Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Edward VII Prince of Wales, Gambetta. These personages had personal dealings with the family who inhabited the castle. The same family has owned the property since 1604 and were closely associated with French royalty. You can see influences of Versailles in the panelling and decoration.
 The 18th century decoration includes lots of lacquered pieces of furniture, Gobelins tapestries, royal Swedish tableware and paintings of French Kings or the Breteuil family. The masterpiece is the "table de Teschen", encrusted with 128 precious stones; it was offered to Louis-Auguste de Breteuil by the Empress Marie-Thérèse. The chateau is surrounded by French gardens and English gardens.

There aren't a lot of flowers but there are hedges, pools, fountains, a pigeon tower. The forest trees are magnificent. I especailly admired the frog pool or Grenouilliere which, alas, was uninhabited on this occasion. The lawn walk to it is bordered by magnificent rhododendrons which were not quite in flower.
 Beyond this pool you can see a wonderful vista of forest and lakes in the Chevreuse Valley with every shade of green imaginable. The property is enormous.
There is an old glaciere. This is a very deep well covered by a brick structure. In winter, the ice off the lakes was brought into the glaciere and compacted. It was so thick it stayed frozen for months and provided a great way to conserve food. Ice could also be taken into the chateau for meal requirements. 

At 4.30pm a group of performers act out selections of Perrault's fairly tales. Throughout the chateau and outbuildings you can view displays of these tales such as Puss'n Boots, Cinderella, Tom Thumb. In the grounds is a little house with a sound and mannequin display telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood. There are animated cats doing things in various rooms and there are many dioramas of various historical activities mostly centred around mealtimes.

During the French Revolution the owner was only a child so the chateau was spared and consequently there is all the original furniture, books and ornaments still in place. Paintings given to the owner by Louis XVI are proudly displayed as are the family ancesters. One was Gabrielle Emile de Breteuil who was fond of science (unusual in those days). Voltaire was deeply in love with her and his works (original) are on display as is the furniture created to illustrate the fables of La Fontaine which was made in 1771 and has always been in the chateau.

The chapel contains two stained glass windows form the cathedral of Chartres, very nice, and there are priestly vestments on display as many noble families had members in the clergy.

Marcel Proust was inspired by the Marquis de Breteuil and was a guest at the chateau around 1900.

This is one of the more interesting chateau to visit because it's still original and tourism works for it. I actually thinks there were parts of the grounds I missed because i wasn't atentive enough to the map. Never mind - still a good visit.

The Facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ch%C3%A2teau-de-Breteuil-officiel/280436375301433

Monday, 13 May 2013

A prehistoric garden where I learn how to make fire

Just how easy is it to make fire the old fashioned way, the ancient way? Turns out it's easier than you think so long as you have the right tools.

There are two ways to get fire started- creating sparks and using friction. With the right sort of stones struck together the sparks come easily. You need to have a special mushroom that grows on trees. It's large and highly flammable. Inside the mushroom it's fibrous and a spark or two that hits it will, with a tiny puff of breath, start to glow and then to flame. You add some dry fine straw and blow judiciously et voila! It catches fire and away you go.

Can't find the right stone or fungus? No problem. 

Make a small bow with wood and string. Twist a hard stick of wood (thin) into the string and then pop the end of the stick into a small depression in a softer piece of wood. Sore hand? Just use something hard on the free end of the stick to protect your hand. Pull the bow back and forth; it should automatically turn the stick in the hole in the other piece of wood and it can do this consistently and rapidly once you get your action right.

I came close to getting smoke with the second method but other visitors to the Jardin de la Prehistoire were quite successful in producing large flames.

It's an educational visitor centre in the town of Auneau, 70km south of Paris. On the first Sunday of the month at 3pm there is a guided tour from a charming, knowledgeable man.

He explained the time line and where prehistory fits in. We learnt how to pick stinging nettles without being stung and that you can make a nutritious soup and poultices, bandages from this plant. Other plants were discussed for their nutrition or medical properties used in prehistoric times.

The rushes were used for spear throwing and building huts.

It was interesting to be inside a facsimilie of a prehistoric home and see how cleverly people had used the resources from their environment. It was all very sustainable back then. Bee hives were raided first by bears and then by the humans who were spying on the bears for just that purpose. Stones rubbed together made flour from seeds, honey and nettles were added to make little cakes.

Later on the visit we had the opportunity to try cakes made in this way but I wasn't that hungry. There were displays of weapons for hunting and fighting, various types of habitation, burial customs, making clothes from animal skins. I already knew quite a bit of the information but there was still new stuff to discover.

As we turned a corner we were confronted by a model of an Auroch - ancient and very large beasts which were not bison. They took a bit of skill and luck to bring down for food and proved rather dangerous to tackle.

The tour lasted 2 hours. It's clearly a place popular with school groups and the educational style suits all ages. Apart from learning about plants etc it's also an archeological site. You can visit  http://prehistoire-et-histoire-du-pays-de-auneau.fr/  for more info and to watch fire-making videos.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Chateau de Dampiere - needs a lot of work

 The chateau de Dampiere, in the Vallee de Chevreuse, is a private chateau in a bad state of repair. It's seen several French Kings stay there and surived the revolution amost unscathed due to the protection of the villagers. The chateau and it's extensive grounds have been in the Luynes family since 1663 but there has been a grand home there since 1551.

Photography inside the buildings is forbidden as the family stay there from time to time. It's off the beaten track so it's not a popular tourist destination and seems to suffer significantly from lack of funds.

The visits are in French and I found the acoustics of the buildings with their echoes made it very difficult to catch what was being said.

There are clear echoes of some of the types of panelling to be found at Versailles and the roofs are clearly of Mansart design.

 For those of you who can read French, here are some notes from the official site:


1551     Charles de Guise, Cardinal de Lorraine achète Dampierre et y fait de nombreux embellissements.
1574     A sa mort, il fait de son neveu Henri, son héritier. Ce château est représenté par Androuet du Cerceau dans son ouvrage « Les plus excellents bâtiments de France » parut en 1579.
1590     Après l’assassinat d’Henri de Guise, son fils cadet, Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Chevreuse en hérita. Il épousa en 1622 Marie de Rohan veuve du connétable de Luynes.
1655     Le Duc de Chevreuse donne Dampierre à son épouse laquelle en 1663 en fait à son tour donation à son fils le Duc de Luynes.
  Depuis 1663, Dampierre a toujours appartenu aux Luynes.
1675     Le petit-fils de Marie de Rohan, 3ème Duc de Luynes, gendre de Colbert, fit raser le château jusqu’au rez-de-chaussée. Il édifia alors le château actuel sur les plans de Jules Hardouin Mansart et de Le Nôtre pour les jardins et le parc.
    les Rois Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI viennent à Dampierre. La Reine Marie Leczinska y fait de fréquents séjours et occupe l’appartement situé à droite du salon.
1789-1794     Le Duc de Luynes et sa famille n’émigrent pas. Ils restent à Dampierre pendant la Révolution. Ils sont arrêtés, emprisonnés, mais le château et leur fils sont protégés par les villageois. Ils sont finalement libérés.
1839     Le Duc Honoré de Luynes, savant et mécène, demande à Ingres de doter Dampierre « d’une œuvre qui soit à la fois un trésor d’art et une haute leçon de morale ». Ingres peindra « L’âge d’or » dans la galerie du 1er étage où sous la direction de Duban travaillèrent aussi Hippolyte et Paul Flandrin, Gleyre, Duret et Simart. Ce dernier exécuta pour cette salle la restitution au quart de la statue chryséléphantine de Minerve. Dans le grand vestibule peint par Gleyre et Picot on plaça la statue de Pénélope endormie de Cavelier.

Friday, 10 May 2013

A date with an Abbey

As of the first of May JC suddenly decided to change the status of our relationship. I'm now trying to adjust to a situation that is very ambiguous. He's still interested in spending time with me and invited me to visit the Abbey Vaux le Cernay in the Vallee de Chevreuse.

It's now a collection of hotels, restaurants and conference rooms but hundreds of years ago it was a Cistercian abbey.

The weather was pleasant as I strolled around ruins and gardens, fountains and birds, statues and wildflowers.

Here's a potted history from their website:

1118: Founding of the Vaux-de-Cernay Abbey by a group of monks from Savigny Abbey (in Manche).

1147: Affiliation with the Order of Cistercian. The estate decides to enter into a self-sufficient life: water is used to drink, for fish farming to provide food, for sanitation and energy for the mill.

1226 - 1247: Abbatiate of Thibault of Marly and zenith of the monastery.

14th Century: Decline of the intellectual and material life.

15th Century: Abandonment of the building after the 100-year-war.

16th Century: Attempts at rectifications. Reconstruction of the south gallery and monastery.

17th Century: Repair and maintenance of buildings, spiritual revival.

18th Century: Considerable construction at the start of the century then abbey debilitated by heavy costs.

1791: Sale of abbey furnishings and property.

1873: Acquisition of the park and buildings, which had been used as a quarry since the revolution, by Baron Nathaniel Rothschild. Reconstruction of the estate.

1945: Purchased by Mr Amiot, airplane constructor. The estate served as a research ground for over thirty years.

1988: Bought by Mr Savry. The estate is redeveloped as a high-class hotel and restaurant.

1989: After 6 months of construction, Vaux de Cernay joins the ‘hotels particuliers’ group. Architecture: refurbished as a high-quality hotel/restaurant, Vaux Cernay Abbey regains its vocation in hospitality.

 You can stay over, dine in various restaurants but it's very expensive to do anything. A lovely setting, picnics are prohibited.

Check out    http://www.abbayedecernay.com/en