January 12, 2008

La vie de chateau, as they say

Posted in Exploring, Les français tagged , , , , , , at 9:15 pm by Lauren

The French guests or Mimi and Jack or someone had named the blog “La Vie de Chateau.” It was meant to get everyone revved up about the weekend and make plans. It only intimidated me more about what we were in for, heading to a chateau in Normandy for New Year’s Eve. But revved up we were, from before we woke up on Sunday, December 30th, scrambling to do some last minute preparation.

We lost out on about five hours of “la vie de chateau” and it was my fault. For some reason, I really thought we could run our errands and return in time to leave for the train station. Instead, we ended up at the ticket counter, purchasing our tickets as our train pulled away. The next train was at 7:35 pm. Allen, Elizabeth, and I lugged our baggage back home; what else would we do in the next six hours?

After a little rejuvenative card-playing, the three of us returned to the train station at Montparnasse and took the very long walk to Montparnasse 3 Vaugirard, where our train would depart from. (We realized that even if, earlier in the day, we’d been able to get to the counter a few minutes sooner, we’d have had too far to go to catch the train anyway.)

Our train ride was an hour and a half, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time for me to cover myself in glitter as I finished writing Christmas cards. We unceremoniously arrived in L’Aigle, in Basse-Normandie, and bumped off the train. Jack was there to meet us, as promised, and drive us to the castle.

The castle (a Google Maps search for the address actually lists it as Le Chateau, 61390 Courtomer) belongs to Jack’s boss, Bill, whom we all heartily toasted at supper. Bill had purchased it for a mix of business and pleasure, hoping to renovate it and then rent it for conferences and weekend getaways. Renovate it he did – and then he discovered that he could not comply with the insurance requirements for a commercial rental because certain improvements were banned by the historical protection of the castle. Since no one would be there over New Year’s Eve weekend, Jack and Mimi asked for use of the castle and arranged a celebration there.

I can’t express how excited Allen and I were to be invited to a castle for New Year’s. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “We’re going to spend New Year’s Eve in a chateau in Normandy,” you’ll understand. (No?) And when we told them that Elizabeth had planned to spend New Year’s with us, they graciously invited her along too.

Jack drove us through a thick fog to Courtomer and the castle. “I hope you don’t get scared,” he said of his driving, “I like to try things I see on TV.” Fortunately, with the fog we couldn’t have known if we were about to veer into an embankment or boulangerie anyway. (We did see a creepy crucifix rise out of the night at one point.)

Sunday night we claimed rooms and joined the rest of the group for dinner around 10 or 10:30 pm. Mimi and Jack’s group of French friends (which would grow to about 30 total people before the clock’s hands hit midnight the next evening) had put together a simple meal of potato gratins and cold chicken. Allen sat next to Joachin, and the two rattled away in French for over an hour. Elizabeth and I ended up next to Mimi, who gave us the story of how everyone was connected (in English). I’m sorry to say that I spoke far too little French over the weekend, though I did speak a lot compared to a normal day in Paris. After a very loud and hectic disruption when someone set off an alarm in the castle, Allen crawled into bed just after midnight, and Elizabeth and I followed in another hour, so that we’d all be well-rested to explore the area the next day.

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