|Chateau Chenonceau on the Cher river
Our past weekend in la vallée de la Loire (Loire Valley) was one in which we caught a glimpse of the former and current lifestyles of the rich and famous. At Chateau Chenonceau, (pictured here) we walked through the opulent bedrooms and the large kitchen and servants' dining room (think Downton Abbey), and we saw how Catherine de Medici competed with her husband's 'favorite' mistress Diane de Poitiers for the most elegant bedroom and prettiest garden and eventually, the ownership of the castle. At Chateau du Clos Lucé, we walked through the Leonardo da Vinci's retirement lodgings and the gorgeous gardens, and at Chateaux Cheverny, we were treated to photos of the current Marquis and his young family who reside on the upper floor and who open their home year-round to the tourists who want to see how the elite live. (This marquis apparently hunts, as the castle grounds include kennels for a pack of hounds.)
Perhaps the differences between how the French live and how we live is related to the different valuations of privacy and security. (Earlier I wrote about French privacy in regard to first names, see Noms et prenoms, Sept. 2012.) The English saying about a man's house being his castle does speak to the idea that privacy and security are important values, and these seem to be valued here on the other side of the Channel as well. Just recently, I ran into a French employee at a local frame shop whom I recognized as my eye-level neighbor. (She and her family live in the building across a street and a courtyard from us, on the same floor as we do, and I recognized her face from having seen her at her window occasionally in the spring and summer.) The woman and her co-worker were startled when I asked her if she lived on a certain street and then suggested we might be neighbors, that perhaps we had seen each other across the street? Perhaps I was being too forward, invading her privacy. On the other hand, the French do seem to focus a great deal on property crime and perhaps she felt a bit vulnerable. The French go to great lengths to protect their things, with the barricades around private family homes, the shutters, the iron bars, and for us apartment dwellers, the ubiquitous buzzers at our building entrances. Perhaps she was feeling protective of both her privacy and personal security. In any case, I was relieved to discover a few weeks later that this French neighbor and I actually aren't all that different. On a very stormy day in which torrents of rain were creating rivers out of the old town streets of Aix, both she and our family were drawn to our windows at exactly the same moment, to watch the amazing weather. Astonishingly, she waved to us, so we waved back, and then, I pointed to the street and gestured with my hands to show how deep the water was. She smiled and nodded, et voilà! We had ourselves a normal, friendly neighborly interaction.
|What we see most days looking out our windows