Generally, Dear Readers, we are not the envious type but this week we fell prey to that character flaw. We had the opportunity to join a private visit to one of those small, perfect chateaux that dot France like an abundance of wildflowers in a meadow.
For most people, a chateau is a very dear proposition and those who buy them now do not, as in the past, also acquire an army of unpaid labourers to work the land and fork over the crops for the owner to sell for a tidy sum. Nor are chateaux tax-free, as all life once was for the nobility who owned them. They require deep pockets indeed and most chatelains clearly do not have them. So many of the chateaux that we have visited are crumbling ruins exuding the rank odours of damp and rot, the stone walls long ago having lost all mortar, so that stones drop out of the walls and towers alarmingly. Most of these places were emptied of their treasures over two hundred years ago by rampaging, revolutionary peasants. What was not destroyed on the spot was sold off or, if of precious metal, melted down and then sold. Visiting a chateau is often a lesson in gloom.
The chateau in question, however, was a world away from those sad shells. Its residents claim to be direct descendants of the builder and that the family have lived there for over a thousand years. The rooms are cluttered with enough ancient riches and portraits to induce one to believe the claim. All is beautifully maintained, with not a hint of rot or mould to be smelt, the plaster not cracked, the drapery not moth-eaten.
We assure you, Dear Readers, we were not swooning with longing for any of the shiny detritus of the ages, lovely though some of it was, until we were shown the room pictured above. At that point, envy, in all its intensity, swept over and enveloped us like the molten lava of Vesuvius swept over and enveloped the souls of Pompeii before they could kneel and say a prayer. We had come upon the family archive, a room, we were informed, that was filled with archive boxes containing over three thousand documents about the family and the chateau, dating back to the year 1055. "Oh please," our heart begged, "Let us see, let us read. Open just one carton..." Alas, no. The guide urged the group to move along and out into the extravagantly beautiful courtyard, never to see that wondrous family archive room again.
©2022 Anne Morddel