Author Archives: Claudia Suzan Carley

Quarantine in Paradise, 2020

When I travel in Europe, I love to regale city dwellers that I meet with pictures of the wildlife outside my windows in my Rocky Mountain home. I always start with the yearling bear who tried to open my door and get in a few years ago.

No, you can’t come in!

He and his mother and brother were awake and hungry after a long winter of hibernation.

They found some ant traps outside (the green gizmo on the ground). I was worried that I’d carelessly poisoned them. A wildlife officer set my mind at ease. She said that if a bear ate about a hundred ant traps, s/he might feel a little bit peckish.

Springtime in the Rockies

I live on a ridge in a house perched above my smallish town. Seeing wildlife is always a thrill. Neighbors call each other about sightings, but we miss a lot of them as life goes on for the animals who were here first.

I live on the edge of a protected wildlife area. Moose are some of my favorite visitors, winter and summer. They drop by often to feast on my trees and shrubs.

My strictly-indoor cats like them, too.

This lady moose hung around for several days this spring. She was especially pretty and gentle. I’m still hoping she might return with a calf.

I am not so fond of mountain lions. I can tell if they stroll alongside the house in the middle of the night because my cats go wild. In winter, they leave tracks. Their long tails drag in the snow.

They’re big, they leave big tracks, and they pretty much eat what they want. That would include my cats, or (shudder) possibly me. I don’t go strolling around alone at night. But they are not known to stalk humans in these parts, at least so far.

Mountain lions are magnificent animals, but I don’t particularly want to see the one that’s been hanging out in my neighborhood lately.

I love foxes, though.

I hope they always feel welcome in our tall grass which we never mow.

My last trip to Europe was in December, before the pandemic grounded me and everybody else. The ski mountain shut down on March 15 and the town went on lockdown. The normally-bustling spring break season was a bust. I’ve never seen the town so empty. Everything closed, and locals hunkered down. Our hospital has only 42 beds, so we could not afford an outbreak. Our assisted living/nursing home had several cases of the coronavirus and several cherished elderly residents died. But compared to other places, we’ve been lucky.

During the Great Quarantine, most of us stuck close to home and waved at each other on frequent walks in our neighborhoods. We amused ourselves as best we could. One of my neighbors encouraged Silly Walks. Where’s John Cleese?

We’ll get some snowy days. In fact, last summer I arrived back in town after a trip in a blinding blizzard that dropped two feet of snow on June 25. But right now, the snow is mostly melted. Rivers and streams are rushing.

In the past couple of weeks, the valley has turned green and all the fruit trees have burst into blossom. Shops and restaurants are beginning to open. Most of the locals cheerfully wear the still-mandatory masks in the grocery store. The health-care and grocery-store workers, and fire and police personnel, are our friends and neighbors. We are deeply grateful to them.

I’d love to get on a plane and wake up in Paris or London or Vienna or Copenhagen. Or anywhere, really. But for now, I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am to ride out the pandemic in a peaceful mountain town, my idea of Paradise.

Social Distancing 101 in Eyam, the Plague Village

In the year 1666, the residents of a little out-of the way village in Derbyshire, England became reluctant heroes of the Plague Year. Eyam (pronounced “Eem”) had between 350 and 800 residents in 1665. Between September and December of that year, 42 residents died of the bubonic plague that was devastating England. By the end of the fourteen months of plague, at least 260 villagers had died.

The contagion subsided in the cold winter months. But it returned in force in warm spring weather. By the spring of 1666, many families were desperate to leave–nearby villages had nowhere near the same high rate of infection. Even in faraway London, the rate of infection was much lower.

But on June 24, 1666, two village rectors took a courageous stand that no doubt saved thousands of lives. William Mompesson, who was new to the area and not popular, gathered the villagers and after much debate, persuaded them to self-quarantine. He enlisted the help of the previous rector in his arguments. It was clear to everyone that isolation in the village very likely was a death sentence for most of the people. But somehow, for the good of those in nearby towns and villages, they agreed.

William Mompesson, photo from BBC article cited below

Mompesson promised to relieve their suffering as much as possible and to stay with them to the end. He preached to the parishioners in a clearing in the woods rather than risking close contact in the church. He did as he promised; he survived, but his young wife died after nursing villagers for many months.

The Earl of Devonshire from his grand family seat at Chatsworth promised to provide food and supplies if the villagers isolated themselves. Items were regularly left in a certain location and the donors never made contact with the villagers. Aristocratic Chatsworth, with its vast profitable lands and countless residents, was worlds away from the humble working-class village of Eyam. It still is. The Cavendish family, owners of Chatsworth since 1549, still owe a debt of gratitude to Eyam villagers.

Photo from BBC article cited below

By August of 1666, villagers were dying painful, gruesome deaths at the rate of five or six a day. A woman named Elizabeth Hancock lost her husband and six children over a period of eight days. She had no option but to drag their bodies outside and bury them herself. (Later, another villager survived the illness and took over the job of burying victims).

At the time, no one knew the cause of bubonic plague, or how exactly it was transmitted. There was no effective treatment, and the death rate was about 30 to 90%.

The plague had arrived in 1665 in Eyam in a bale of cloth which contained infected fleas from London. A young tailor’s assistant named George Viccars opened the bale and found the cloth damp, so he hung it in front of the fire to dry.

Photo from BBC article cited below

The heat of the fire activated the fleas. Incubation of plague once a person is exposed takes only a few days. George Viccars was dead within the week, the first plague death in Eyam.

Today, Eyam is a sleepy village whose main feature is its church and graveyard, plus stone cottages with plaques naming those who died.

The church features a Plague Window that tells the sad but inspiring story.

Three of the above photos are from the BBC article cited below. Unless otherwise noted, photos are mine.

I highly recommend a book about Eyam in the year of plague, “Year of Wonders,” by Geraldine Brooks.

As the world deals with a new and dangerous pathogen, the coronavirus, we will most likely see many similar stories. Some people will selfishly hoard food and supplies, but some will also act with quiet heroism. May we support our scientists and caregivers, and may we treat each other kindly.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35064071

Here is a more recent article about Eyam:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/03/02/bubonic-plague-coronavirus-quarantine-eyam-england/

Downton Abbey Locations: Irresistible for a Fan

I managed to get to Highclere Castle, the “real” Downton Abbey, on a day it was closed to the general public. Now, I have no claim to fame and I was not invited to take tea with the current Countess, but I was armed with a yearly pass from the Historic Houses Association of England. Reading the booklet’s fine print, I let out a very unladylike whoop–it was covered! Hopeless fan of British eye candy that I am, I was not about to miss my chance.

We arrived at the estate in sunny Hampshire on a day when a fleet of classy British sport cars were parked on the grounds. Lord Grantham and his faithful golden labrador were nowhere in sight.

Full disclosure: my husband had seen exactly half of one episode of the TV show, but we share a fascination with British country homes. It’s always fun to be on the inside looking out of those imposing windows.

Alas, no photos were allowed inside, but after a short time cooling our heels outside the famous front door, in we went. Is that door-knocker a wolf? He’s just a little intimidating, for sure. Inside, the house looks exactly as it does on TV and now in the movie. No photos are allowed, but I can’t blame the owners. Visitors moved through the lush rooms quietly, not rushed, murmuring about their favorite scenes.

The movie’s other stately home location is Harewood–pronounced “Harwood,” of course. I never get British pronunciations right until I’m either corrected or I hear them from somebody who knows better.

Harewood is in Yorkshire (where Downton Abbey is supposed to be) and it’s very grand indeed.

In the recent movie, set in 1927, it’s one of the homes of Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. She is married to Viscount Henry Lascelles, later the Sixth Earl of Harewood. He had a reputation for being difficult, especially after possibly suffering from shellshock in World War I. Also, he was fifteen years older than the Princess. But I can’t find any evidence that she ever considered leaving him, as in the movie.

Princess Mary was beloved for her gentle nature and her service during the Great War, including her gift packages in 1914 to every single British and Indian soldier, nurse or anyone who had a part in the war effort. The packages included tobacco, a pipe, cigarettes and a lighter in a brass box with a picture of her face. Those who did not smoke received boxes with sweets and such instead.

Harewood as it stands today was built beginning in 1759. The money came directly from the slave trade. Henry Lascelles, an earlier ancestor of the current owners, went to Barbados at the age of twenty-one and made his family’s fortune by astute, and apparently ruthless, exploitation of interests the family already had in sugar, cotton, rum and tobacco production–and in running slave ships.

The year 2007 was the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire, which happened in 1807. The Lascelles family had already sponsored research into the original source of their wealth, something very few British families did. In the Bicentary year, they sponsored a whole range of talks, tours, lectures and theatrical performances on the subject of slavery. Many if not most of the stately homes I like so much share the same history, but very few acknowledge it.

My old guidebook from a visit in the 1990s does not mention the slave trade at all. To their credit, the current owners have produced a new guidebook that not only tells the sad story, but tells how to access the actual historical records online.

The original Henry Lascelles may not have enjoyed his ill-gotten gains all that much. In 1753, he killed himself by slashing his own throat. (I have to wonder if his death was really a suicide, but that’s the story in the house’s current guidebook, above). His son Edwin Lascelles immediately began planning a grand house on the property he inherited.

The slave-trade money certainly bought beauty and luxury.

Robert Adam was a young Scottish architect, recently returned from studies in Italy and on the way up the social ladder when Edwin Lascelles hired him. The hallmark of Adams’s style was elaborate symmetrical plaster ornamentation on every flat surface, and especially on every ceiling.

Capability Brown designed the extensive grounds and gardens.

And Thomas Chippendale furnished the entire house from top to bottom.

Chippendale’s hall chairs, designed especially for the grand entry hall, were never sat upon–they were purely decorative. No doubt anybody like me, who might have plopped down in one, was never left alone in this most intimidating room.

Today, Jacob Epstein’s monumental alabaster sculpture “Adam” dominates the grand hall. It was made in the late 1930s and arrived at Harewood only in 1961. One wonders what “Downton Abbey’s” Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, would make of this Adam.

Anglophile that I am, I’ll always fall for the beauty and romance of a way of life that only existed for a very few people in a very brief period of time. But I’m happy to see the true cost of such beauty acknowledged as it is at Harewood.

Child Portraits in Paris

Detail from Portrait de Werner Miller, Ferdinand Hodler, 1899, Musee d’Orsay

I love portraits of children. After a recent trip to Paris, I have a new favorite collection of them. The one above is newly-acquired by the Musée d’Orsay. (They had to do extensive restoration–the paint still has obvious cracks). It’s by the influential Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, 1853-1918. He carefully observed reality, but believed that the artist should go beyond appearance to reveal the underlying structure and essence of the subject. Young Werner Miller looks to me like a stern old man in a child’s body. Or maybe he’s a child clenching his fists in an effort to escape from an old man’s stiff pose?

Detail from “L’Enfant a la Poupee,” Henri Rousseau, 1904-5, Musee de l’Orangerie

Henri Rousseau painted this girl with a doll around 1994-5. She’s a beautiful child, but she also looks strangely mature. She looks self-aware, dead serious, possibly thinking intently of her future. Is the doll on her lap her adult self, upright and a little rigid? Could be. Then again, maybe she’s going to grow up to be a heartbreaker. Maybe the doll is a man that her future self will tame. She remains an enigma, in the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Detail from “La Petite Marcelle,” Berthe Morisot, 1895, Marmottan Museum

Berthe Morisot was one of the very few women Impressionists. She had a special rapport with children. I like that she didn’t seem to require them to play up to the viewer. (Of course, I know that the French tend to think people who smile are stupid. I try to remember that when walking along a Paris street, smiling my wide American-tourist smile at everybody I pass because I’m happy to be there). Berthe Morisot was married to Eugène Manet, brother of Édouard Manet. The Marmottan Museum on the outskirts of Paris has a large collection of her work.

Detail from “Julie Manet,” Pierre August Renoir, 1887, Marmottan Museum

Julie Manet, the daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet, had her childhood portrait painted by Pierre Auguste Renoir, no less. Renoir had a particularly sunny outlook; he must have encouraged not only the child but also her cat to smile.

Julie Manet, unknown photographer, Public Domain

The Marmottan also displays a photo of Julie as a young woman. Sadly, both her parents died, leaving her an orphan at age 16. But she was cared for within her circle of artistic friends and relatives. Her uncle, Edouard Manet, also painted her, she became an artist herself, and she lived to the ripe old age of 87.

Detail from “Portrait de la fille de Jenny Le Guillou,” Eugène Delacroix, 1840, Louvre

Eugene Delacroix painted the daughter of his loyal servant and dear friend, Jenny Le Guillou, in 1840. Sadly, the child had died young. The portrait was posthumous. Jenny herself became increasingly important to the artist, fetching his paint from the shop and critiquing his work. She was with Delacroix when he died in 1863. It’s a lovely and sensitive portrait, and heartbreaking too.

Detail from “Deux Fillettes,” Vincent Van Gogh, 1890, Musee d’Orsay

Vincent Van Gogh painted these two little girls in 1890. I could look at this deceptively simple painting for hours. The child on the left is a serene beauty; the one on the right is not so pretty. In fact, she looks like an old woman, resigned but already grumpy about her lot in life. But there they are, sisters or maybe friends heading into their lives together.

All the children I know are going back to school in the next week. I wish them all happiness, plenty of new crayons, and childhoods long enough for them to grow into their best selves.

Egeskov Castle: A Danish Midsummer Night’s Dream

This year I am in pretty-far-north Minnesota for Midsummer’s Eve, but I have to say that Minnesotans don’t celebrate the Longest Day of the Year with much panache. So I’m hearkening back to my Scandinavian travels by remembering Egeskov Castle on the island of Funen in Denmark.

Egeskov was built in 1554 by one Frands Brockenhuus. I’m guessing it has stayed more or less within the same family; it’s still the home of the much-hyphenated Count Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille.

The Protestant Reformation brought civil unrest in addition to actual civil wars between various noble families in the 1500s. So they tended to fortify their castles. This one was built on oak pilings in the middle of a lake, at one time only accessible over a drawbridge.

The name “Egeskov” means “oak forest.” Legend has it that it took an entire forest to build it.

If I could read Danish, I’d know more about the military history of the castle’s families. Anyway, I think the armor on display looks impressive and I’m willing to believe it’s authentic. I do have to say, I’d be tripping on my own feet in the footgear, though.

There is plenty of military hardware on display too.

And like all European aristocrats, the family clearly enjoyed hunting in their private forests.

Want to imagine genteel aristocratic life in Victorian Denmark? Mannequins are happy to demonstrate how it’s done.

The beloved author Hans Christian Andersen was a regular visitor. He was born in the nearby town of Odense.

He used to amuse the ladies and children after dinner with paper cutouts, all accompanied by stories.

At some point, a friend of the family lavished years of work on a fantastic dollhouse, Titania’s Palace, which came complete with its own fairy mythology.

The British Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited as preteens.

I like the fine details of castles. Everywhere in the castle there’s exquisite wood carving and cheerful Scandinavian painting.

I love costume displays. Egeskov shows outfits that family members actually wore.

Head to toe, the Counts and Countesses of Egeskov were all set for any occasion.

One family member somehow acquired a section of a gown being made for Marie Antoinette. Now the embroidered pieces look a little forlorn, grafted into a plain white gown. (The room has a rather gory display of a bloody guillotine, which I could do without).

Of course I can’t help thinking that if any of my ancestors found themselves anywhere near Egeskov, it would be as servants.

The family has done a great job of monetizing their Renaissance castle. I’m sure it draws crowds in the high season of summer, but attractions are spread out all over the grounds in various outbuildings. Any one of the collections would be a destination all on its own.

For example, the vast vehicle collection is really fun. How about a sleighride through the forest?

Yes, but I want the crocodile sleigh!

I think my favorite thing in the entire visit was a luxurious but homey camping truck, apparently custom-fitted in the 1950s. Now that’s my idea of camping. It’s my idea of Danish hygge, too. I want it!

Back in the castle, the attic houses a fantastic collection of antique toys.

The attic itself is pretty interesting–many more of those oak timbers.

And there’s a legend that if the life-sized doll lying in the middle of it all is ever moved, the entire castle will sink into the lake at Christmas.

But right now it’s midsummer. Someone is returning from the long day’s celebration to this cozy room in the castle.

Sweet dreams!

A postscript: on June 21, the first day of summer 2019, I drove cross country from Minnesota to the mountains of northwest Colorado, only to encounter several inches of treacherous slushy snow and blizzard conditions on the mountain passes. So I won’t be complaining about whether or not the Scandinavians of Minnesota celebrate Midsummer properly. Hey, it’s all good!

Heartbreak at Notre Dame in Paris

I’m shocked to see the images of Norte Dame burning today. I was just there in December, and I took it for granted that it would always be there whenever I was lucky enough to return to Paris. I would not dream of visiting Paris without going inside to be awed once again by the majesty of Notre Dame.

But it appears that a fire started under the spire and spread rapidly. When I visited, I could see scaffolding around the spire; I understand major repairs were going on. The image above is a picture of a TV picture.

Now the news is that the entire roof has collapsed.

It is just unthinkable that a place of such beauty and spirituality is on fire. After all, the Cathedral of Our Lady was built between 1160 and 1260, and has stood through all the centuries of tumultuous French history since then.

I always think of Gothic churches as sort of fireproof because they seem to be made of stone. But actually much of the structure is wood.

Who knows whether Notre Dame can be rebuilt, or even whether the fire can be put out before it’s reduced to a pile of rubble. We can only hope the cathedral has guardian angels watching over it.

Azay-le-Rideau: Island Dreaminess and Bats in the Belfry

Once upon a time a beautiful chateau rose up on an island in the middle of the River Indre…well, not really.

Actually the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau began as a 12th-century fortress built to protect the road between Chinon and Tours, where it had to cross the River Indre. The site saw a lot of violence over the next few centuries, including an episode in the Hundred Years’ War when 350 soldiers occupying it were executed and the existing building was burned to the ground.

Finally, in 1518, one Gilles Berthelot acquired the property and set about building himself a grand Renaissance chateau. Gilles was the Treasurer of King Francois I, and the King allowed him to cut timber from the nearby Forest of Chinon. A lot of trees were needed to build on the swampy ground. As in the city of Venice, timbers had to be driven vertically into the ground to keep the stone chateau from sinking.

Naturally, Gilles featured his King and Queen prominently in his facade. That’s the fire-breathing salamander of Francois I and the meek ermine of his Queen, Claude.

The central stairway is one of the main architectural features.

I’m a big fan of stone corbels, like this dog guarding his bone from another dog.

Other stone figures are more fantastical.

Sometimes it’s all just a bit much, though. Time for a nap?

The chateau fell into decline in the eighteenth century. All the furniture and art was sold off. Since it became the property of the French government, it’s been refurnished in grand fashion.

I especially liked a bedroom lined with handwoven rushes–very cozy on those chilly evenings.

I have no idea who this lady is, but she’s lovely.

So what’s under that steep oh-so-French roof?

The attic is where the King’s forest timbers really shine.

The roof is a real feat of engineering, sixteenth century style. The original workmen’s marks survive. Everything had to fit together perfectly. It still does.

The colony of about fifty protected bats must enjoy the airy spaces.

Down on the ground, the thing to do is to circle the chateau, admiring the Renaissance grandeur reflected in the water.

And to make plans to come back.

Chateau de Fontainebleau, Favorite Digs of Napoleon Bonaparte

Of the many facades of Fontainebleau, the grand double stairway where the defeated Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte said goodby to his loyal troops is the most famous.

But on my visit a few months ago, a temporary fence stood maddeningly in the exact spot I’d need for a good photo with the French national flag flying above it. Maybe someone was tired of tourists taking selfies there.

Inside and out, renovation at Fontainebleau goes on constantly. It’s impossible to see everything on one visit.

Invariably, parts of the chateau are closed. It’s not particularly visitor-friendly, either. English is used very sparingly inside. There’s an audio guide at the ticket window, but on one visit a request for one was met with a Gallic shrug. All the used audio guides were piled up at the exit and there seemed to be no plan to haul them to the entrance. So I had to wing it with my marginal French to read placards. (I generally figure that I can read about one word out of three. I’m way worse at understanding spoken French). Still, I’d go to Fontainebleau any time.

In early spring, people lounge around Diana’s fountain. (When it’s turned on, her hunting hounds pee big arching streams into the basin).

Napoleon 1er, painting by Anne-Louis Girodet and Jean-Baptiste Mauzaise, 1812

For me, the most interesting part of the huge chateau is the wing devoted to Napoleon, his family, and his exploits. It’s hard to get good photos of the portraits without glare in the long family gallery, but the effect is very grand.

Napoleon placed his nearest and dearest on thrones all over Europe.

Pauline, duchesse de Guastalla et princesse Borghese, Marie-Guillemine Benoiste, 1808

They all had a fine time while it lasted. I think Napoleon’s sister Pauline had the best time of all.

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victorious, photo by Architas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Pauline married a Borghese and as a princess, was sculpted by Antonio Canova between 1805-1808. When asked if she was uncomfortable posing nude, she replied that it was fine: there was a stove in the studio. Also, it was reportedly her idea to pose nude; she liked being talked about. (The exquisite statue is in the Villa Borghese in Rome, where tourists are not allowed to take photos).

Madame Mere de l’Empereur et Roi, Francois Gerard, after 1805

Here’s Napoleon’s mother. What mom could be more proud of her boy?

Napoleon knew how to dress for an occasion. This was one of his many dressing-up outfits.

He liked his help to look sharp, too. This was a coat worn by one of his household staff.

But by all accounts, Napoleon was happiest on military campaign, in his campaign gear.

Of course, the great man was not about to rough it while conquering Europe. He traveled with several wagons full of what he needed for the style to which he was accustomed. His personal tent had a comfy folding canopied bed and a separate work area.

Even on campaign, Napoleon had everything he needed to look good at all times.

Empress Josephine in Coronation Robes, Francois Gerard, 1804

Napoleon attributed a lot of his good fortune to his first wife, Josephine Beauharnais. Sadly, she could not produce the desired heir, so he reluctantly divorced her.

Napoleon himself announced that he was “looking for a belly.” He replaced Josephine with the Habsburg Princess Marie-Louise in 1810. (I think this portrait was painted by Gerard).

King of Rome, painted by Francois Gerard, wearing the ribbon of the Legion of Honor

Cradle of the King of Rome (one of several)

Marie-Louise did produce a male baby, duly named the King of Rome, but his life was short and sad. Things were going downhill for the Emperor.

In his heyday, Napoleon received visitors in his Fontainebleau throne room. His throne featured his emblem, the honeybee. He chose it for its virtues of being constantly at work, constantly producing (honey), diligence, and orderliness.

But military defeats ended it all. On April 13, 1814, Napoleon signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau at this very table. Then he was off to exile on the island of Elba.

The rest of Fontainebleau is a strenuous trek through previous centuries of French history.

Above, that’s Francois I, his fire-breathing salamander, and a nice Diana the hunter that he commissioned.

The grandeur is actually a bit much to take in. And a lot of rooms are either closed or full of scaffolding.

I can see why even the royals of the past needed a little breathing room, as in the spacious balcony where they attended Mass in a chateau chapel. I read somewhere that the congregation of nobles below them were seated facing the royal balcony, their backs to the altar. It seems their job was to watch their betters watch the Mass.

I can see why Napoleon’s Roman-inspired Empire style was a breath of fresh air in his time. Above, that’s a daybed and working desk in Napoleon’s private study.

Fontainebleau is one of the best places to wander through French history, coming face to face with the personalities that shaped it. The town is fun and lively, too. I’d go back anytime!

Chateau Gaillard in Amboise: A Smiling Monk and Oranges from Italy

There’s a new chateau in town, complementing the touristic big guns of Chateau d’Amboise and Leonardo da Vinci’s last home, Clos Luce. (It’s not to be confused with the medieval Chateau Gaillard in Normandy, which was the stronghold of Richard the Lionheart).

It’s a smallish chateau. But it’s an interesting stop because it’s possible to imagine actually living there.

Gaillard is a respite from the main tourist track. The gardens are a work in progress, but they’re peaceful and green. And there are already oranges.

Dom Pacello da Mercogliano was a Benedictine monk with a genius for making things grow. He was also something of a hydraulic engineer; growing things always need water.

King Charles VIII brought Dom Pacello from Italy to Amboise in the late 1400s and installed him in this house a short hike from the king’s grand riverbank chateau. Pacello’s mission was to design beautiful gardens like the ones Charles remembered from Italy. Charles especially wanted oranges, which had never been grown in France.

An important part of Dom Pacello’s work was to figure out how to get water from the Loire all the way up to the chateau gardens high above the river. I gather that was no mean feat, and didn’t work out so well.

After Charles’ untimely death, the monk continued to work for his successor, Louis XII. It appears that Dom Pacello lived in France for the rest of his long life, dying at age 87 in 1534.

Once again after centuries of neglect, the estate has oranges in a lot of varieties. Charles would be pleased.

A family (whose name I don’t know) bought the property a few years ago. They’ve been working hard on restoring it and making it a tourist attraction. Other visitors report they’ve met the family and found them charming. I thought the admission price, comparable to major sights in the Loire Valley, was a little steep. But there are a lot of very positive Tripadvisor reviews. Quite a few visitors felt it was money well spent for the tranquility. People really appreciate a place for kids to run around and adults to relax.

There’s a colorful brochure in English, and apparently one English tour a day. We were in a bit of a rush and probably should have allowed more time to let the place grow on us. I did not see even a French tour going on, but there was a colorful little film (in French) running in a pretty garden shed.

It’s especially interesting to see how the mansion was built directly up against and even had rooms tunneled into the sheer rock wall behind it.

The local stone is tufa, and there are a lot of more humble “cave houses” in town.

About nine rooms of the house are open to visitors. The rooms are pretty and atmospheric. It appears that the family actually lives in the house.

They serve orange juice and orange cake on a pleasant terrace.

The website for the chateau is at

http://www.chateau-gaillard-amboise.fr/pacello-de-mercoliano-eng.html

St. Hubert’s Chapel at Amboise: A Resting Place for Leonardo da Vinci

The Gothic Chapel of Saint-Hubert was built between 1491 and 1496 during the reign of Charles VIII.

It’s perched right at the edge of the wall surrounding Chateau d’Amboise, towering over the town far below.

The chapel is tiny but exquisite. The facade tells the story of St. Hubert. He seems to have been an actual person, born around 656 to 658 in Toulouse. By the time he died on May 30, 727, he had become the first Bishop of Liege.

Hubert was a courtier living the good life of feasting, wearing fine clothes, and hunting in the vast royal forests of various parts of France. But when his wife died in childbirth, it seems he had a sort of midlife crisis. He chucked his royal duties and turned his back on religion. Instead he spent all his time hunting, all by himself.

On Good Friday, while everybody else was in church, he was out hunting alone as usual when he had a miraculous vision. A magnificent stag appeared with a crucifix in its antlers. A voice told him to mend his ways and get back to religious life, which he did. He became known as the “Apostle of the Ardennes,” devoted himself to all manner of good works, and died peacefully in old age.

Hubert became the patron saint of hunters (of course). He was much venerated in the Middle Ages for being able to cure rabies. The cure involved using St. Hubert’s Key, a fearsome metal nail-like brand that was heated red-hot and applied to the spot where an unfortunate person was bitten by a rabid animal. I suppose it worked at times, but I’m betting Leonardo da Vinci could have improved on the method if he’d set his mind to it.

St. Hubert has his very own club today in the UK. It’s dedicated to deer and wild boar management.

https://www.sainthubertclub.co.uk/who-was-st-hubert/

St. Hubert’s story is very similar to that of St. Eustace, but it does seem they were different people who had the same vision. I first encountered the crucifix-in-antlers story on a visit to Canterbury Cathedral in England, and wrote about it. Eustace did not fare as well as Hubert, though. Legend has it that Eustace, his wife and children were eventually roasted alive by the Emperor Hadrian.

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2016/04/29/st-eustace-in-canterbury-cathedral/

St. Hubert’s chapel is lovely and peaceful inside even when there are a lot of tourists visiting Amboise. People duck in to see Leonardo’s tomb, but they don’t linger.

The chapel is a nice resting place for Leonardo, who died just up the street in his last house, Clos Luce, in 1519. And I’m sure he appreciates the visitors from all over the world.