Living In A Castle Tower
Chatteau de Clisson (Clisson
Castle) is on a huge property of 600 acres. It was built in the 16th
century and has dozens of buildings scatteed throughout its estate,
mostly sub-let to tenants, with farmers sub-letting most of the acres
for grazing cattle and sheep. One of these structures is a tower on
the opposite side of the property, in Boisme (15 mins. by car, south
of Bressuire, in the west of France). And this tower was my home for
the entire week I spent with my hosts, Roger and Nathalie and their
2 young children, Melanie (5) and Edouard (nearly 2).
In fact, there's still
a secret tunnel under the cellar which leads into the fields about
100 metres (110 yards) away. I didn't go into it. I don't think anyone
has for a very long time. But that's because it would probably be
very damp, and obviously pitch black, and the thought of having to
claw your way through centuries of cobwebs and dead rats is definitely
a deterant, not to mention the possibility of walls caving in at the
most inopportune time. Well, that was what I was told after eagerly
asking to venture into this exciting passageway. But, it wasn't to
I'm sure I've never stayed
in a round room before, but this room was a perfect circle. From the
outside, the tower still looked old and historic, even though, for
convenience sake, the upper section (which had obviously served well
as a military lookout and defensive structure some centuries ago)
had been chopped off long ago, leaving only 2 levels still standing.
But the inside had been completely renovated.
The bottom level had the
main entrance which led straight into the kitchen, and the 2nd level
was the children's playroom, where a corner (?) was cleared away to
make room for my matress. And I can tell you, there's 51 little blue
and red tugboats on the thin strip of wallpaper circling around the
very top of the round, white bedroom wall. I mean, that's all I could
see as I lay in bed looking at the ceiling. It's a wonder I didn't
end up counting tugboats in my sleep!
Did I say '51' tugboats?
I wonder if Roger and Nathalie realise this.
In France, the number 51
is regarded as being very lucky. This was brought to my attention
when I was given a Pastis aperitif to drink with the brand name '51'.
I didn't think much of the experience at the time, and only noted
that it reminded me of the popular Greek spirit, ouzo, because it
had an anaseed taste and went milky white when water was added to
Many windows and doors
had been added to the tower to let more light into what would've been
a very dark, but secure, structure when it was first built. And with
walls 90 cms. (3 ft.) thick, each opening would've been quite a huge
task to accomplish. And the French must've been very short back in
those days because one of the doorways leading to the back setion
of the tower was about 10 cms. (4 inches) shorter than me! And I only
noticed this after knocking my head on it in the first few minutes
after my arrival.
"You need to watch
out for your head there," Roger said after the damage was already
done. "And the other place to watch out for is the beam above
the staircase," he added with a painful expression on his face,
obviously recalling more than one painful experience over the last
couple of years.
Thank goodness he warned
me about that. The staircase was the only way to get to my room and
I had to go up and down it several times a day. So every time I came
close to the 30 cm. (12 inch) thick crossbeam, I'd either duck my
head under it, or if I'd remembered at the very last moment, I'd lean
so far back that I'd have to grab hold of the rail tightly so I wouldn't
lose my balance. But I'm pleased to say that my head never clashed
with the staircase beam, though I remember having it brush through
my hair on a couple of uncomfortable occasions.
Have I mentioned that the
French treat mealtime as an art? Well they do!
In France, families eat
at the table together (very rare in Australia). And every meal is
cooked (very rare in Australia). And for their main meals (lunch and
dinner) there's always 4 courses . salad, followed by the main course
which is always accompanied by wine, followed by cheese and bread,
and finally dessert which is always capped off with coffee (very rare
in Australia . or at least it was very rare for me!) Yet they're not
overweight! Unless they only do this when they have a special guest
staying with them.
But last night (Saturday)
Nathalie put on a royal feast for a couple of friends of hers, and
luckily I was still around to be included.
The dining table had been
set with matching tablecloth, chinaware and napkins, and on the guests'
plates she'd placed a neatly wrapped gift for each guest. Then once
the guests arrived (at 8.15 pm) we went straight to our seats at the
table. Even the children joined us, though their bedtime was usually
around 7 pm.
Roger had explained to
me that eating a main meal in France was usually a 2 hour affair.
But last night I lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes before eventually giving
up, stuffed to the eyeballs!
And here's the courses
we went through .
1- Dried slices of apples
and individually wrapped cubes of cheese (with trivia questions inside
wrappers) already adorned the table.
"These are appertisers.
They will build your appetite," Roger assured me.
"Not a very good idea
if you're on a diet," I responded, remembering that I was still
about 8 kilos overweight.
2- Aperitifs were soon
offered. I couldn't resist trying something new . whiskey and iced
tea. Very pleasant taste even though Roger had poured me a strong
3- A large green salad
made up of lettuce, apple, cheese, cucumber and tomato was our entree.
4- A deep, dark, red wine
with a unique flavour came out to accompany the main meal.
5- The main course was
tenderly roasted veal with deep-fried potato puffs about the size
of ping-pong balls.
6- A basket of bread and
a large plate with 4 different tasting (and shaped) cheeses introduced
the final stages of dinner.
7- A large raspberry tart
(or flan?) was disected on the table. I was so full I had to stop
after having only one piece.
8- And finally we finished
off with a choice of percolated coffee or tea. I don't usually have
black coffee, but I did last night.
At 10.30 pm Roger
marched the children upstairs and then began the battle to try to
get them to sleep. And by 11 pm I was really stuffed, in more ways
than one! So I politely excused myself and went upstairs, dodging
the dreaded crossbeam along the way, until I was once again amongst
the serenity of my lucky 51 tugboats.
Castles and German Butlers
"You are welcome to
come and stay with us in our castle," went the invitation. "But
I hope you like animals, because Mouphassa, our pet lion (retired
from a local zoo) is very friendly. But don't worry, he's been defanged."
So how could I miss out
on such a rare opportunity. I mean, how many people do you know that
have lived in a castle and had photos taken, cheek-to-cheek, with
a fully grown lion (with or without teeth).
"Roger, my German
butler (and my partner) will meet you at the bus depot and drive you
back to the castle," were the pick-up instructions. So all I
had to do was get to Bressuire. I looked forward to this extraordinary
adventure with great anticipation.
Sure enough, Roger met
me at the bus depot. And soon we were driving back to the castle.
Actually, we drove past the castle.
"You'll be staying
in the castle tower, which is a few kilometers further away,"
Roger explained. "See that high wall? That's the lion enclosure.
All the lions are kept in there."
"I thought Mouphassa
was a house pet," I confessed with a sense of disappointment,
realizing that my cheek-to-cheek photos probably wouldn't eventuate
"We had Mouphassa
with us up until last year. Now he's been put out to pasture with
the other lions," Roger said.
Finally we arrived at the
tower. But I couldn't see it!
"Where's the tower?"
"That's it right in
front of you," Roger said. "The round building. It used
to be very tall, but it had the top chopped off about a century ago.
Now it's only 2 stories tall. But at least it's still round."
And from then on, it was
downhill all the way.
So the castle tower turned
out to be only a fraction of its former glory. And there was no Mouphassa,
or lions of any description. And (surprise, surprise) Roger wasn't
really a butler. But he WAS German. And he did have a sense of humour
(which some people would claim is a rare enough experience anyway).
Gee I can be SO gullible
3. My First Public Performance of The Glory Of Athens
Apart from being a real
joker, Roger was also a great promoter. I was only staying in Bressuire
for one week, but he'd organized the best possible event I could've
asked for . the first public performance of my play, The Glory Of
I arrived in Bressuire
on Sunday and Roger had booked a hall for my play for the following
Friday at 7pm.
"You will be interviewed
by 2 journalists at 11 am this Wednesday," Roger said, "and
the articles will go into the Thursday issues."
So every day, while the
children took a nap in the early afternoon, I'd rehearse my play in
one of the run-down barns, eventually being able to ignore the curious
looks from the old farm-hand living in an adjacent dwelling and even
a wild tortoiseshell cat watching from a safe distance at the entrance
to another farm building.
The articles were quite
prominent in both newspapers, slightly smaller than an A4 size and
included a photo of Roger and myself. And many people got to see it.
Almost everyone we met on Thursday and Friday commented on it, and
for the very first time in my life, I began to feel like a real celebrity.
On the Thursday we met
Paul and Monique who have a Hot-Air Balloon business. They had a flight
booked for that evening to take an old couple up with a couple of
teenagers, and I could come and watch if I wanted. I did. And they
seemed to be just impressed by my newspaper article as I was of their
part-time Hot-Air Balloon business.
The articles described
me as a 'globe-trotter'. And at the launching ground, Roger had proudly
shown the old couple the newspaper articles which they read from beginning
to end with great interest. "Can I come with you?" the old
man said jokingly. It was a response I was used to getting in every
country I visited. If they were serious and I'd said yes, I'd be traveling
with a hundred people by now!
"Please come and see
the play," Roger said to every English-speaking person we met.
And like any other numbers-game, some of them did show up, including
one of the journalists.
aren't renowned for being able to speak English very well (if at all),
especially in such a small town as Bressuire (18,000 pop'n), so the
audience wasn't a big one. But they were good audience, laughing at
most of the jokes, and staying back to talk with me after the play
ended. Thankfully the newspaper review (my first) was very positive.
I'd given a very passionate performance with a positive and inspirational
message. And my audience had been 'moved'.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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