The tepid silence that belongs to these old European chateaus is as much a part of them now as it was when they were first built. The thick walls let nothing in but frail sunlight to skim the ornate furnishings. There is something velvety about the nostalgia that lingers in the rooms. The energetic imprints of centuries upon centuries of lives that were lived here are so present, they make the air thicker as you breathe it. You feel like you are living your life on top of it. It is as if each era were nothing more than one more layer of wallpaper layered over the last; and below it, a wall that has never changed.
Since Tuesday, we have been staying at Chateau de Pray, an affable country chateau that was built in the 1500s in Amboise, France that has been converted into a hotel. It has been a wonderful little hidden gem of a haven; the perfect place to be restored by the beautiful French landscape, whilst relaxing into the plush pleasure of luxury. Everything about it, from the layout to the rooms to the staff is cordial. The chef of the gastronomic restaurant at Chateau de Pray is truly gifted. They accommodated my vegan diet by preparing a special menu. Being an obsessive foodie and cook myself, I can tell you that there is a certain caliber of quality that is added to food when it is made by a truly gourmet chef. Given what the chef did with a vegan course, I can only imagine what this chef can do with a non-vegan course. The food was absolutely exceptional.
This European tour I’ve embarked on is particularly grueling. There will be days when I will give a talk, go to the airport immediately after, fly to another city and present the entire next day. Doing this on top of jet lag is too tall an order. So, I decided to acclimate to the time zone and get centered again for three days in the countryside of France.
I have never been to this area of France. It is famous for its castles. There are castles everywhere. They are littered along the riversides like proud, lavish guardians of the land they lay claim to. And I have been touring them. I began on Wednesday with the Chateau de Chambord. The Chateau de Chambord was dreamed into creation starting in 1519 by king Francois I. It is an emblem of the French renaissance; an enormous country castle that is nearly held captive by the hunting woods and Sologne marshlands that surround it. It is the largest castle on the Loire river. I spent the day winding my way through the cross like design of the main building and the various wings. Touring the castle felt surreal due to the mental disorientation of jet lag. Jet lag makes you feel like your insides are made of melting wax that is dripping and pulling your internal structure apart, but in a downward motion. Your whole system (emotions, body and mind) protests like a toddler that has been taken off of the security of its schedule. It is wildly disrupted, but too dazed by the interesting, distracting and totally novel things that surround it to shut down and collapse.
To be completely honest with you, Chateau de Chambord was exquisite, but it is not on my top list of favorite Castles. The Chateau de Chambord, like so many country residences belonging to the gentry, is more of an ornament than it is a home. It was a place for people to merely pass through. It was more like a short vacation spot for those in favor of the monarchy. As a result, it feels more like a museum. The presence of those that resided at Chateau de Chambord is not easily felt between its walls. It is a bit like a trophy wife of a castle. It is architecturally impressive but without ghosts and without the heavy essence of a place that was truly lived in and truly loved.
We spent the rest of the night in a city named Tours, the largest city in the region. In France, a vegan restaurant is like a white buffalo. Finding one is rare and its ‘coloring’ is not conducive to the environment. And a vegan is looked at here like a foreign species; a species whose existence is an insult. But a white buffalo we found! In Tours, I found a vegan restaurant called Tahina. The owner is a man full of heart and passion who transformed his life from implementing software for banks to serving conscious food to the world. His vision is to have these vegan restaurants in every city in France. And for him, this vision starts with this little restaurant in Tours. Starting a vegan restaurant in a meat and cheese loving country like France, is a huge financial risk. Normal restaurants don’t have to face being a niche trade. They appeal to and market to everyone. But this was a risk he was willing to take for his passion. And I have to tell you, selfishly, I am so glad he took that risk. I hope his vision comes to fruition for so many reasons. But one of those reasons is that Tahina makes an eggplant caviar (caviar d’aubergine) that is going to haunt me. The flavor of smoke rides the creaminess around the backside of your tongue in a way that makes it difficult to think or carry on conversation. It’s going to be one of those dishes that I pine for when I am thousands of miles away from France and thus have no way to quench the craving.
On Thursday, We woke early to see the Chateau Azay-le-Rideau and the Chateau Villandry with its famous gardens before driving to my favorite castle I've ever been to so far, Chateau Chenonceau. Chateau Chenonceau is a castle with a female history so deep it bruises. It is built right over the top of the Cher river; so much so that its entire architecture is reflected in the waters. It is a genuinely unforgettable castle and the one I suggest seeing the very most. It was owned by a succession of women, including one of my personal least favorite and most Machiavellian historical figures of all time (Queen Catherine de Medici in the 1500s). It was also owned by one of the most hip historical female figures of all time (Louise Dupin in the 1700s). This castle is everything a person could want in a medieval castle. It is full to the brim with thought forms. The people that felt a sense of belonging there, were so identified with it that many of their ghosts never left it. Louise of Lorraine’s thought form is still attached to one of the gardens. One of the bedrooms, now called Gabrielle d’Estrees’ bedroom is haunted by a female entity whose thought form is imbued with enough energy that she could very easily create poltergeist effects in the physical dimension. And in the kitchens downstairs, the servant’s dining room is the most densely haunted of all of the rooms by far. This room is the most social spot belonging to the chateau. So many years upon years worth of jollity between employees of the grounds and chateau took place there that the vibration left behind by the people is unlikely to ever diminish. The Chateau Chenonceau is a castle that was truly lived in. I am in love with the Gallery, a 60-meter length great hall/ballroom that straddles across the river.
After we saw Chateau Chenonceau, we went back to Amboise, where we visited the chateau belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, Chateau du Clos Lucé. It is the place where he spent the last three years of his life. Leonardo da Vinci was one of those people who was light years ahead of his time. He was a vegetarian, which I am astonished by given that it is so hard to be vegetarian in France now, 500 years later. He pioneered inventions in nearly every field known to man. Painting was only one of these fields. He was a mind-blowing inventor. He is perhaps the most famous human polymath. His thought form does not linger in the residence, even though he loved the place greatly. It has been drowned out by all of the projections that tourists who revere him have added to the place by wandering through it and learning about what happened in each room. People from around the world love him so much that the place is full of the vibration of reverence. It is a beautiful vibration to behold. Of all the aspects of the chateau, I am most in love with the view of Chateau d'Amboise from his bedroom. Ironically, this was his favorite as well.
Something that interests me intensely is the way that people who lived hundreds of years ago imagined the future. For example, all of the esteem at the time that these castles were built was about building the biggest and the best possible structure given the money and talent and tools available at the time. The way of progression was that poor people couldn’t afford their own homes at all and the wealthy owned land and buildings. Then the poor could afford tiny homes and the wealthy could own castles. They imagined that as time went on, people would only get more wealthy and more talented and tools would only get better and so they imagined that in the future, poor people would be able to build mansions and wealthy people would build palaces so large, they would cover entire acreages and tower so high, they would reach into the sky. As we now know, what has happened is the opposite. Now, penthouse apartments are all the rage. Today, the progression of human architecture is headed in the direction of tiny houses and eco friendly building. They imagined that the incredible craftsmanship of the artisans and engineers would improve over time. Instead, many of the craftsmen and their craftsmanship along with them have disappeared. Furniture is manufactured at a mass scale. Now, it makes no sense for even the wealthiest people to have a castle because of the maintenance and utilities as well as the wages one would have to pay for an entire staff, especially given that we do not live communally anymore. There is no such thing as a ‘court’. In much of the world, our households only consist of mom, dad and kids. The closest thing we have to the households of renaissance Europe is intentional community and most of them do not consciously practice a social hierarchy.
This morning we woke up in darkness. We packed and drove two hours to Versailles. My friends, the Connan family met up with us there at the Palace of Versailles to tour the empire style buildings and grounds before we had to be at the Paris Airport. The opulence and splendor of the Palace of Versailles is so awe inspiring it cannot be properly described. The complexity of the patterns, abundance of décor and depth of the colors actually crosses the border beyond which it is no longer pure pleasure, but is also painful to look at for the senses. It is overwhelming. Everything for these great kings and ladies was about pushing the envelope of impression and this presses the envelope no matter which century you are living in. It is impossible to say anything negative about the palace itself. But the reality is that the crowd that visits the palace each day is so intense, it is like being in a mosh pit of tourists. The Palace of Versailles is worse than the Louvre in terms of visitors. And to tell you the truth, it took a great deal away from the experience. I so wanted to see the rooms and stare at the relics and listen to the commentary, but it was impossible. It was like being a platelet in a blood stream. Literally, the crowds in every corridor and room were so intense that you couldn’t actually stand still. It was like trying to stand still in incoming traffic. There were so many people, the crowd had its own flow and you were simply caught up in it. Eventually, after rushing through the rooms, unable to think about anything but the people surrounding me and getting swallowed up in the interference of the seemingly infinite amount of information in their energy fields, I got claustrophobic and had to go outside. The sheer amount of tourists that have come from all walks of life, have diluted the palace of any residual thought forms. So much of the palace has been restored that energetically it is more of a depiction now. If seriously dense crowds don’t bother you and you love history or real estate, the Palace of Versailles is something worth crossing the oceans to see. If crowds do bother you and you are looking for a deep and intimate encounter with the past, beware that this is not likely to be the experience that you will have there. I am told that with the exception of Christmas, the winter months tend to be your best shot.
I am sitting in the airport of Paris now. I have taken this short hiatus into the past, having peered through the perspective of those who lived so many centuries ago. In doing so, I have taken a hiatus from my own identity in this life. I have let myself go in order to remember an identity that I used to have, lifetimes ago. It is a life experience I used to love so well. Sometimes taking off the shell of identity renews your sense of self; like taking off old clothes, washing them and drying them out in the sun. Sitting here, back in the year 2017, I am ready to resume. I have lived those lives, I am ready to resume this one. I am ready to teach again.