Saturday, 29 June 2013

Chateau de Maintenon

Madame de Maintenon was the mistress and secret wife of King Louis XIV and the governess of his illegitimate children by Madame de Montespan. She was born Francoise d'Aubigne in 1635. She met Scarron, a rheumatic poet who was 22 years her senior. He died 8 years later leaving her in a desperate situation but she found support in the high society circles frequented by her late husband and it was here that she met Madame de Montespan who would change her life.

In 1669 the widow Scarron began working for madame de Montespan, the mistress of Louis XIV, living away from court and from prying eyes. In 1673 the children were legitimised and so she moved to court. Her love and care of his children moved the king to become close to her. He gave her generous financial support and with that she bought the chateau. She enjoyed living there but was becoming influential at court and found herself within the intimate circle of the king. After the death of the queen she married the king and followed him on all his travels. In 1698 she bequeathed her estate to her neice as she had no children of her own.
Photographs may not be taken of the interior of the chateau, unfortunately. It's a little run down in places but still shows a glimpse of what it must have been. My favourite room is the Gallery. This spectacular room, entirely decorated by Duke Paul de Noailles shows the history of the Noailles and Montmart families who were later owners of the estate.

Around the 13th century, we know that the chateau already existed. It was renovated during the time of Louis XII and in 1674 bought by Madame de Maintenon (Francoise d'Aubigne, widow Scarron). The main extension from 1686 onwards are linked to the building of the aquaduct and the king's visits to the chateau. After 1688 Madame no longer stayed there.

The interior was remodelled in the 19th century. In 1983 Monsieur and Madame Raindre, current owners and descendents of the Noailles family, bequeathed the estate to the Maintenon Foundation to ensure it's preservation. Income from tourism and the golf course funds it's preservation. In 2005 the Eure et Loir General Council took over the management of the chateau.
 Recently the gardens were completely redone more to the style of the gardener le Notre who was involved in redesigning them for Madame de Maintenon from 1676.

The chateau was severely damaged by Allied bombing raids in the second world war but was listed as an Historical Monument in 1944. It was restored and opened to the public. The restoration took 15 years and Monsieur Raindre refurnished the chateau with pieces from his own collections.

The ruins of Louis XIV's aquaduct are very much in evidence. Unlike Maintenon, Versailles had no water to feed the fountains and lakes or the 1400 waterfalls that the King wanted active day and night. Despite the famous machine of Marly water quantities soon proved insufficient. An alternative source was sought.

 In 1683 ,Louvois, Superintendent of Buildings, comissioned the surveyors of the Academy of Sciences to divert water from the River Eure to Versailles. It would be taken across the grounds of Maintenon by a siphon and through the air so a structure that would have superseded the Romans went under construction in 1685. It was ambitious and had to take water over 50 miles, composed of three levels of arches, reaching a height of 240 feet.

 It was never finished. Due to expensive wars the coffers were empty by 1695 and the project was abandoned. A monstrous folly.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Eure et Loir and broken plates

JC and I decided to introduce Professor Andrew French to some French countryside. Andrew is a professor at a college in Michigan USA and the person I work with most closely on that international teaching programme.

After a quick visit to the Abbaye Vaux de Cernay in the Vallee de Chevreuse we headed to Chartres.

First up a lunch in a cafe. Here are the guys getting to know each other over a bottle of something red. JC generously paid for our lunch and was the driver for the day.


Well fed and watered, we headed off to see how the restoration was going at the Cathedral. The cathedral has been in a process of being cleaned, inside and out, for the past few years and this may never stop. 

It is a thousand years old and never been cleaned. Over the years I've seen the wonderful progress being made. Last time I visited the choeur was under plastic and behind barriers. This time it was revealed in all it's colour and detail and magnificence.

A woman was practising singing some sort of ancient religious piece. It fitted into the surroundings very well. Most Sundays there is a short organ concert at 4pm at Chartre cathedral but we couldn't wait for that. JC was impatient to show us a monstrosity of bad taste and weirdness.

La Maison Picassiette is the work of Raymond isidore, born at Chartres in 1900. He didn't have a lot so he built a little house and some years later, while on a walk he collected bits of glass and porcelain with which he decorated his home. it seems he didn't know when to stop. 

This place is truly over the top. He even created a garden and throne and decorated everything, as you can see, as mosaics, even the bed and table. Nothing escaped.

In 1956, he enlarged his house and continued, alone, to decorate the new surfaces up until his death in 1964. 

 La Maison Picassiette, is an example of raw art without thought of how long it would last, outside of any artistic school, and eventually became classed as a Historic Monument in1984. 

We didn't stop there. We went on to view something else equally 'special' and very decorated, another historic monument  but more conventional. The Chateau de Maintenon, which I will write about more fully in the next blogpost.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK

How do you chop down large trees when you are all alone with no-one to help? How do you do it safely?
Jean-Claude demonstrates his efficient techniques. Hardly a day goes by right now when he doesn't chop down at least one tree. They are very tall and taking sun off his house. It's a great excuse to bond with his closest friend (other than me), his chainsaw.    These particular trees are Thuja, also known as Northern White cedar, an evergreen conifer.        
Having chosen the tree, you need to attach a rope to it. What if the tree's too tall to climb and too dangerous? That's where his extendable hook thingee comes in handy. He attaches a rope to the tree which is attached to an even longer rope which is attached to a tightening doofer.
Attach this to a sturdy tree in the vicinity or something else unbudgeable and start tightening until the rope is taught. There must be tension on the tree to be chopped so that it falls in the right direction and not (as has happened) on his fence.
Now comes the fun part. Cut a large wedge out of the trunk. Do Ncut all the way through and don't cut too low as you may need a bit of stump for leverage when tto remove the stump later. Remember you can always cut more later but if you cut too much're stuffed.
Now start ratcheting and increasing the tension on the rope attached to the tree to be removed. Note that the open V is cut in the direction you want the tree to fall. This tightening can take a bit of effort.
As the strain increases the tree will fall in thgee direction of the cut and the tension will ensure it doesn't wander. Now theere's the messy job of cutting off all the little branches, cleaning the trunk and chopping it up to make things or use for firewood. At present he's using it to make enormous compost bins and a cabin to tore firewood.
Part of the cleanup includes shredding/ pulverising all the branches and foliage. This is bad news if you have sensitive eyes and lungs and the dust and resin can play havoc with these. Wood can fly into your eyes so you need a breathing mask with an appropriate filter, JC has several mask for several jobs. There's the one for wood, there's also one for protecting the eyes but without breathing assistance, for using the weed trimmer.
JC is well-endowed with tools to make all his efforts a success. He likes solving practical problems. His workshop is even more impressive than my Dad's was .And at the end of a lumberjack's day in France there's the pinot, what else?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Lifting morale - take it to the air

I'm in a very serious situation here in France. It's probable that I'll lose my job and with that JC, apartment, belongings, dream, France. The exact nature of what I'm going through cannot be revealed at this time but it's so bad I'm in tears quite frequently. Good stress valve but not fun or productive. I told JC I needed to be distracted from the hours I spend sending out CVs, searching for needles in haystacks, thinking of possible creative ways to save myself.

So we went to Espace Rambouillet which is a natural park containing some animals and lots of large forest trees. It contains four separate sections:

The Forest of Eagles contains aviaries of predatory birds, the Savage Forest which contains small deer and wild boar, the Deer Forest containing stags and does and aurochs in a natural environment, and Green Odyssey which is a suspended trail.
Let's start with the latter. There are platforms connected by very swingy walkways several metres from the ground. The platforms contain educational presentations and that was mildly interesting. Topics covered  nuts, mushrooms, squirrels, trees, forestry methods in the massive Rambouillet Forest. The swinging walkways can induce a bit of motion sickness so I made sure I went first to minimise that. It's safe and well designed.

 On the left is a bee hotel, yes it really is. The various wood shapes have small holes drilled in them to encourage wild bees (who don't live in hives) to take up residence. Bees are vital for the health of the forest.

We walked along forest trails wanting to see wild animals. The wild animals are not silly, they try to stay as far away from people as possible, especially screaming kids, so the viewing areas didn't afford any real view without powerful binoculars, which we hadn't brought.

 In the distance we saw some deer and some aurochs but nothing else for all the walking we did so we didn't bother finishing the main walk. 

What I was most interested in was the demonstration of birds of prey. We were introduced to hawks, buzzards, vultures, falcons. I tried to take videos but things weren't all in focus (Ii need a loupe to see in the sun).

 The ranger doing the commentary was very knowledgeable and experienced though I couldn't understand all of it.
We were warned not to eat anything in front of the birds, not to raise an arm etc or we might get sampled. Yep, those beaks and claws are designed to shred carcasses.

Many times driving past fields I've seen the small birds of prey hovering in the air over one spot for ages, obviously keeping an eye on a mouse, rabbit, viper or some other small animal.

Despite fresh temperatures, we enjoyed our time at the park but were disappointed not to see more animals. However, it's not a zoo.

Test your photography skills on the bird show.