January 12, 2008

Exploring the castle grounds

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , , , at 9:17 pm by Lauren

On the 31st, we woke as early as could be expected and tripped down the winding stairwells to the kitchen. No sooner had we asked what there was to see that we disappeared outside to see it. So we headed off through the unpaved tracks towards the old cemetary and church. Leaving the castle, we crossed the bridge over the moat (an actual moat!). To our left and right, flanking a circular lawn with a tall, ornate gate on the far side, were seemingly abandoned (certainly not renovated) buildings. To the right was a stable and an area for riding. To the left was a long barn. We followed the road to the right until we were walking in a muddy track towards a barn stacked to the rafters with hay. To the right of the barn (near the stables) was an old aviary with holes in the roof where shingles had rotted or fallen away. But we soon realized that we couldn’t access the cemetary from the barn and fields; there was mud and then barbed wire. We could see it though – right in front of us, with three goats standing at the fence. We backtracked to take the road (which made me very nervous).

When we arrived in the cemetary, the goats were gone. (Ghosts of goats?) Some of the gravestones were in disrepair, cracked, or moldy, or sinking into the ground. Many were part of a reclamation process. Allen reminded us that graves were only leased for 99 years. (Then what?) Inside the tiny church, plaster cracked away to reveal an earlier painted wall. No goats there, either.

Our shoes were already soaked through when we tackled the other half of the castle’s outbuildings. In the long barn to the left of the castle’s courtyard, Allen saw a white owl fly from the rafters into a more secluded room (that we couldn’t access). Elizabeth and I determined that there may have been pigs in one of the nearby buildings, based on the feed troughs set up inside. Then we discovered the cows, bulls, and calves, and we took picture after picture (most of which I have now deleted, saving only the cow pictures worth keeping). We finally trudged back to the castle to take off our wet shoes.

We may have been back in time for lunch. I remember green salads, enough that they weren’t gobbled up as quickly as the one had the night before. And there was wine at every meal, so much wine that you’d thinking someone had emptied out their cave. Someone very nearly did; one of the guests worked for a vintner and had brought reds and whites from several different years. We were to drink what we liked and as much as we wanted, and we’d settle up at wholesale prices at the end of the weekend.

(We had been very intimidated by what everyone had promised to bring. This person would be buying all the champagne (from Champagne, of course) at a discount – was 24 bottles enough? Another was getting the foie gras, from Bretagne, because that’s where the best is made. Everything was direct from the producteur. Someone else made a buche de Noel. We couldn’t compete and threw our hats in with those that would be paying their share at the end of the weekend. In all, this turned out to be just under 50 euros each – about $75 for two nights at a castle including two lunches and two dinners and the equivalent of an open bar from arrival to departure.)

After lunch, we got out the card decks, and Allen, Elizabeth, and I did what we do best. We had hoped that we might entice some of the French to play and thus win a few friends in a low pressure social situation. (Or at least, they may have a better hand at the French language, but we could certainly win some respect with our prowess at our own card games.) Though we issued invitations to everyone who passed, no one seemed interested. (Later, Elizabeth pointed out that this might have been because we were sitting on the floor.)

Allen left around 4 pm. He was missing the party because he had to fly back to the States on the 1st. His boss had planned a training that started on the 2nd, and although he insisted that Allen could fly on the second and just come to the training when he got in, there was no way that Allen could have avoided missing the entire first day of a three day training. He flew out on the 1st. He could have stayed for the party, and Jack and Mimi were doing there best to find a solution to keep him, but he would have been too worried about waking up early and catching a train to get him back on time. We said goodbye; he wouldn’t be back to Paris until January 17th.

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