A visit of the castle of Blois


Castle of Blois, Loire river valley, France

Yesterday was another fun day during which I could put into practice many of my favorite ideas.

I had my kids. I have them every other week end: four boys, 14, 12 and twice 8. But only the twins were available to come with me, the other two had various parties to attend. So I thought: oh well the yin yang principle says: In every idea, concept, representation, situation, or fact, there lurks its contrary somewhere, more or less hidden, and this contrary reinforces the first part. A young French judo champion, with a beautiful name, Gabrielle Deflorenne, met on the TGV last May reminded me that. She told me that she once in a while would fight with David Douillet. I said : "But come on, how you can fight with David Douillet?", and she answered: "N'oubliez pas que le judo consiste à utiliser la force de son adversaire..." (Don't forget in judo you use your opponent's strength...) Well so I thought OK I'll take advantage of this and give all my attention to the twins. They often don't get first attention because of the two brothers before them.

Secondly, I've this principle of every day doing one new thing selected more or less at random. So I decided to take them to visit the château of Blois, about 150 miles from where they live as well as from where I live. We arrived in Blois around 2 o'clock in the afternoon (the noon meal was just chocolate bars purchased in a grocery store on the way - but please don't tell their mother).

The château of Blois is marvellous, located on a hill slope above the old medieval city, overlooking the river, at the beginning of the Val de Loire. It was started by Louis XII, the second husband of Anne de Bretagne after Charles VIII to make sure Brittany would remain solidly tied to the kingdom of France, and this time Anne not be tempted by the Habsburgs like Alienor had been by the Plantagenêts. We are then at the end of the XVth century, which began with Johann of Arc, that helped end the Guerre de Cent Ans. That war started because the sons of Philippe Le Bel had no male descent (or so we were told at school when I was a pupil) and the king of England, who had married Philippe's daughter Isabelle, not satisfied to have had, almost two hundred years before, our queen, claimed our kingdom as well. This château is full of history. I can't but always picture for instance the plump Marie de Médicis, scared, sliding down a scale to escape the mild prison where her son had put her.

A second part of the castle, its most famous one with a beautiful outside stair shaft, was built by François 1er and Catherine de Medicis, and a third part strangely results from the destruction by Mansart of a section of the Louis XII buildings to put in its stead a XVIIth century style stodgy aisle. This was by order of Gaston d'Orléans, brother of Louis XIII, who thought he would become king, but then oops Anne d'Autriche and Louis XIII had a late son.

My idea was that the children would fill up their minds with images and facts which would feed their thinking for years.

The guide was so interesting that the visit was a great experience, like a spiritual one I had, some years before, visiting a cistercian abbey near Aix-en-Provence with the woman I loved, when the guide at the end of the visit began to sing gregorian songs in the chapel.

We began the Blois château visit: the guide told the group that after the French Revolution the State authorities, realizing the architectural and artistic heritage needed to be preserved, launched Les Monuments Historiques, under the direction of Prosper Mérimée. The renovation of Blois was attributed to Félix Duban. The castle was in such a state of dereliction that Duban had to reinvent many things. The epoch being romantic (Hugo, Scott, Dumas), he decorated many rooms with dark colors, halberds and such likes, and others with what we call nowadays an artist view. Alexandre Dumas, when he visited Catherine de Medicis study, was so intrigued by the funny contraptions to show/hide books that he decided this was her "poison room", and he wrote it in a book, "La Reine Margot", the subject of which is the French religious wars of the end of the XVIth century: the fight between the Protestants (conceptual, free, rich) and the Catholics (accumulative, interested in showy riches, less entrepreneurs). I'm used to telling my students "Commerce does not mean Money (that's the accumulative view), it means Exchange (that's the more conceptual view)", but that's another subject.

The guide explained that it is now interpreted that Dumas (a fourth negro - a fact that has always disturbed the French bourgeois - they don't always understand things these chaps! Yesterday I was talking to a bourgeois catholic, and she was telling me she is friend with Protestants and "even with Jews". I said: "What you say is dangerous". She said: "Why? because of Islam?" And I thought: "Oh shoot, why bother explain?" Even an ex-Prime Minister of France once made a similar blunder) that Dumas was a novelist not an historian and that the funny book cabinets which protected the books and made them difficult to reach were most probably intended to be a representation of the humanistic idea that knowledge requires efforts to reach.

I asked: "Information or ideas?" The guide asked: "Why?" I said: "Because for information this is over." "Why?" "Because of Internet." And I briefly expounded my views.

Some members of the group of visitors, mildly miffed that there seemed to be a separate conversation taking place between the guide and me, said: "But on the Internet you have to sort out all the good from the trash." "In books and newspapers too," I said.

We proceeded - each of us in conference with our thoughts. (Diderot used to call his: my tarts.)

We reached the room where the Duc de Guise, the chief of the Catholic party was murdered by order of Henri III, because he was so powerful that he threatened the throne. The guide asked the audience with much conviction: "And you know if Henri III had died - and he had no kids, we are told he was a homosexual - who was to succeed him?"

Théophile, much interested by the visit, as well as by the group dynamic, blurted out: "His cousin!", while Vivien, hands locked in the back, was contemplating a painting of Henri IV entering Paris.
- Yes, answered the guide, and it could have been Henri de Guise, or Henri de Navarre. But Henri de Navarre was a Protestant...

Anyway with the death of Henri de Guise, the head as said of the Catholics, and, the year after, with the assassination of Henri III himself because at Blois he had also ordered the death of Guise's brother, a cardinal, to be on the safe side, Henri de Navarre became Henri IV.

That's when, accepting to become a Catholic, he said: "Paris vaut bien une messe" (Paris is well worth a mass).

I think I reached my goal of giving the kids food for thought, i.e. food for future pattern recognition and foreseeing.