Sunday arrived and we were all a bit exhausted. We slept in, snuggled a ton – ate breakfast, did homework, had lunch and then hit the road for Vaire-Le-Grand (thanks for photo and info to http://v.l.g.free.fr/)
This chateau, located only about 20 minutes away from Besancon, was built in 1713 for J.A. Boiset, the first president of the Besançon parliament – and it is a lovely jewel of a place. The chateau used to hold an eleventh century castle, destroyed in the mid-1400’s by the forces of Louis the 11th. The ruins remained until Boiset came along and the current chateau was raised. It became the location of the first ever classic French garden in all of Franche Comté. The Chateau became the home of many famous people (including Madame Pompadour, a notorious mistress of King Louis the 15th) and has served many other functions until both the house and the gardens were restored and opened as a museum starting in the mid 1990’s. It was a bit hard to find – I’m sure I mentioned before how Google Maps doesn’t do the French countryside all that well – but we managed to get there.
On the way we passed this amazing field of rosebushes. It even had a sign post next to it and you could write and get a catalog – apparently they sell the plants once a year for you to put in your own garden. Roses are everywhere in our part of France, they are used as road borders, in gardens – they seem to like the Bisontin climate. We took a small drive through the town as well – it seemed quite old with winding roads and stone houses. I loved this old stone house, right. It is quite common to see these houses in French villages with tractors or other farm vehicles parked right outside their doors. They probably roll out of bed in the morning and commute to the field. In France, farmers commute – but in the US, it’s one of the few professions left without a long drive!
We then got to the Chateau. The weather was great and we had fun seeing all the volunteers dressed up in period costumes. This must really be a popular place because it was very crowded and there were at least 30 or 40 people wandering around in Jacobean garb. (Or as Callie would say, princess dresses) Lots of wigs, high collars and cravats on the men and hoops and lace on the women. There were also teens and even children dressed to the hilt. They should have sold some of these clothes – I would have been sorely tempted! We spent a long time watching 4 couples demonstrate some of the traditional dances. The intricacies of the steps and the obvious social customs that went along with the dance were fun to observe. Everything was very subdued, no skin touched skin (they even wear gloves) and the amount of time you were with only one partner was extremely brief. Despite all these efforts to be proper, there was obviously also plenty of opportunities to flirt, if you were so inclined. The ladies had to continually lift up their giant skirts to avoid stepping on them and they looked enchanting just swishing over the floor. I was wishing my mother was there – she would have looked perfect in this garb! We wandered around the house, appreciating the old furniture and the music being played on traditional instruments. I liked the way this house was fancy, but not overly ornate. When I was at Versailles, I felt like I was under attack, overwhelmed by all the ostentatious wealth. This house seemed like people could actually live in it – and be comfortable. I loved this one bedroom – it had tapestry on the walls that matched the bed canopy and featured delicate Asian inspired paneling along the walls. I could live here! We were talking as we walked and actually got interrupted by one of the workers. She is an American studying in France until Christmas and wanted to know our story. Great to have a chance to chat in English! We went back out front and spent a long time just looking at he building and appreciating the view it had over the little town below. What a wonderful location!
After we finished out front we headed to the gardens. The formal French garden became very popular in the 17th century and the epitome, of course, is supposed to be Versailles, where we went this spring. I wasn’t so very impressed with the Versailles gardens, but I was enchanted at Vaire le Grand. It was all stately and tasteful and grand – but not too perfect and sterile. There were also all these little hidden things – like this miniature labyrinth tucked next to the house. The kids loved that thing! They found a very cool spider hanging off one of the bushes and, as I was trying to take a photo of it, a bee flew into my hair. This wouldn’t be a problem, usually, except, for whatever reason, it got tangled up in the hair behind my ear and it couldn’t get out. It was buzzing and buzzing madly trying to escape. I stopped what I was doing and basically started freaking out. It’s terrible, sometimes, being faced with your own hypocrisy. I always tell the kids things like: “Bees don’t sting you unless you really bother them.” or “Just hold still and it will go away.” or (my personal fave) “Just don’t panic and you’ll be fine.” Well, all that is great until you are the one with the bee stuck in your hair. I started to jump up and down a bit and babble frantically in André’s direction “Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me, help me help me!” He claims he was heading over as fast as he possibly could, although he had no idea what the hell was going on. To be fair, I’m sure he was coming and more eloquence on my part probably would have helped. Unfortunately, my brain seemed to have left the arena when my overwhelming panic arrived and, to me, it felt like several minutes passed by when I was clearly in distress and no help was forthcoming. Plus the only sound I could hear was the frantic buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz in my ear. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer and reached up - STING! Voila, no more bee and also the arrival of my husband – and a group of about 20 tourists on a guided visit. Of course, I was totally embarrassed and did the only natural thing, the only thing I really could do – blame André. For some reason, this approach did not end up with me getting the sympathy I, as the victim, so clearly deserved. Do you know that bee stings hurt? And I mean, not just a little. Those suckers are feared for a reason. I kid you not, that the area behind my ear was so sensitive I had to remove my glasses and the poison from the sting spread clear down one side of my neck to my collarbone – making it painful to turn my head – for two days! Even now, 5 days post sting, the itchy bump is still there and my neck is not quite right. We wandered off into the garden, discovering some little sailboats to play with in the fountain. I had myself a nice cry and regained my sanity enough to apologize for my irrational behavior. “Sorry André, I know it wasn’t your fault” and “I’m OK now, but see kids, what happens when you panic?” Practice what you preach – it’s more than just a saying.
We spent another half hour or so enjoying the French garden. A French garden (thanks wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jardin_francais) is the attempt to correct nature by enforcing symmetry. It attempts to embody the triumph of order over disorder. It features lines of trees, water, shaped boxwood, topiaries and sculptures. This was all happening at Vaire Le Grand – but the entire right side of the garden was a set of smaller and unique portions – each hidden until you were inside it, and each completely different than the one before. The kids loved the surprise aspect of the place and had a great time running around and pretending to hide from the bad guys. At one point Callie said excitedly: “Come on everyone, we have to go into the thicket!” Thicket??? Where does she pick up these words??? I mean, she’s not hearing English from anyone but us any longer, right? I also saw, again, the American we had met in the house and accosted her (in what I hope was a friendly fashion). I am just still so lonely and friendless and perhaps, I could find a new friend. I mean, I always tell the kids, if you want to make friends, you just have to take a risk! (And we all know about the valuable lesson I just learned about practicing what I preach). So, I got brave, approached her and gave her my email and the blog address, she seemed interested, but 5 days later, no contact. Oh well… at least I have you guys to talk to, sort of, in a one sided, still feeling completely lonely kind of a way.