Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Daily Life at Fontainebleau

The French newspaper La Croix recently ran a story about daily life at Fontainebleau--daily life in the twenty-first century. The paper interviewed security guards, cleaning services, gardeners, cashiers, as well as administrators in order to better understand what is involved in maintaining this historical treasure and keeping it accessible to the 450,000 people who visit each year. Here are some interesting facts from the article, which is in French:

  • The palace contains 1500 rooms; the grounds cover about 300 acres.
  • Security's biggest fear is fire, which would directly menace eight hundred years' worth of tapestries, furniture, wood carvings and art objects
  • Boars in the park and bats in the eaves often set off security alarms.
  • The public rooms are dusted for 45 minutes daily before opening.
  • It takes the palace horlogier (clock specialist) two hours to wind the forty working clocks in the various salons each day.
  • The cashiers claim the politest visitors are the Japanese; the rudest, the French.
  • The palace welcomes 45,000 students, from grade school through high school, each year. There is a specific tour for each level, supported by an Internet site to prepare the students and teachers for the visit.
  • The French court spent time at the château de Fontainebleau continuously up until 1870. The palace's collections include 40,000 pieces (textiles, furniture, objects from everyday life).
  • Fourteen gardeners take care of the gardens and park.
  • A fontainier (fountain specialist) oversees the water system. A canal, various basins, and seven fountains are fed by two aqueducts and a water-tower. Most of the water system was constructed by François I and relies on nineteen regional streams.
  • The grand canal is drained every forty years, revealing various discarded objects. Three years ago, an elderly couple committed suicide by drowning themselves in it.
  • The jeu de paume (tennis court) was constructed in 1601 by Henri IV and is one of only three operational jeu de paume courts in France. About sixty players use the court to play the original game.
The article includes a slide show of the grounds and people at work there.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

photo: 3268zauber

"Une rose d'automne est plus qu'une autre exquise."

"More exquisite than any other is the autumn rose."

Théodore Agrippa d'Aubigné (1552-1630)
French poet and Huguenot chronicler
Les Tragiques (1616)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"François I: le Rois des rois"

I just watched and want to share with you "François I: le Roi des rois," an episode of France 2's television series Secrets d'histoire. First aired in August 2011, the episode is available for viewing on the internet. It boasts beautiful photography of François I's châteaux, interesting anecdotes about his life and relationships, and critical insights into his reign by leading French historians and writers. Definitely worth watching, even if you don't speak French. You can find it, divided into three parts, on Dailymotion: part 1, part 2, and part 3. I was greatly pleased to see that Monique Chatenet, an historian who has written definitive works on Fontainebleau and the sociological role of architecture in the establishment of François's kingship, contributed to the show.

Check out the official Secrets d'histoire website for other episodes of interest, posted in their entirety.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Forbidden Fruit

First grade. Late October. Art class.

Assignment: Draw a pumpkin. Not any pumpkin, but the "follow-the-teacher's-instructions-EXACTLY-so-they-all-look-the-same" kind of pumpkin.

Little parochial-school me did as she was told. I'm a fairly decent artist, so my pumpkin actually resembled the ripe orange fruit. But that pumpkin looked so lonely sitting there in the middle of the page. A page with room along the margins. Plenty of room for me, lover of words that I was even then, to prove that I not only knew how to draw a pumpkin, but I could spell it.


I scrawled beneath that merry orange globe.

It looked so cool.

So cool that Robert, sitting next to me, wrote the same thing on his.

The teacher, however, did not think it cool.

Remember, this was forty-odd years ago, back when "invented spelling" was not tolerated, much less encouraged.

Besides, I had not only disobeyed the teacher's instructions, I had tempted a classmate into sin. (Did I mention my middle name is Eve?) Had I been older, I'm sure she would have marched me right off to confession.

Instead, she took my paper and Robert's and tore them to pieces in front of the entire class. A strident warning to any of the other students who might have contemplated following us down the path of verbal insurrection.

The mute, proper pumpkins she hung the around the perimeter of the room. For the next few weeks, every time I looked up I was reminded of my transgression. Forgive me, Father, for I have misspelled.

But I didn't care. For the first time in my life, I had used the written word to declare my independence. I had refused to let the expectations of others stifle me. It was a heady feeling.

I look back on that incident and frankly, I'm surprised. Surprised that teacher didn't scare my love of words right out of me. Surprised I ever had the guts to pick up a pen--or crayon--again.

If anything, it only made me more determined to use them.

Perhaps my quest for publication is nothing more than a desire to prove to Miss Fitzgibbons that now I can spell. But I don't think so. It's more than that. It's a declaration of who I am.

I'll prove the naysayers wrong. Someday, I'll hold a published novel in my hand and this time they won't be able to wrest if from me.

I wonder whatever happened to Robert. I don't remember his last name.
Maybe it was Ludlum.

photo credit: Evan Swigart


"SCHOOL" was the prompt Susan Spann suggested to our writing group this week. The other members' posts can be found here, here,  here, here, here, and here. Join us! Link back to your own memory of or meditation on school.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

Portrait by Titian

"My cousin Francis and I are in perfect accord--he wants Milan, and so do I."

Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor

Monday, October 15, 2012

A December Surprise

Imagine for a moment that only two years after the 9/11 terrorist attack, President Bush announced that he was inviting Osama Bin Laden to pass through the United States on his way to Canada. Not only would the President guarantee America's worst enemy safe passage, he intended to organize parties and receptions at each of the cities along the route, culminating in an extravagant gala at the White House, which was being completely redecorated for the event. And, by the way, no politics would be discussed at all during the visit, for fear of forcing Bin Laden to make, for politeness's sake, concessions he otherwise would never consider.

What would your reaction be? SURPRISE, surely, if not outrage.

Such must have been the reaction of the French populace when they learned that their King, François I, had invited the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to pass through France on his way to Ghent in 1539. Charles V and François had been mortal enemies for over a decade, ever since Charles captured François at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 and held him hostage for more than a year, releasing him only after receiving a huge ransom, François's two sons as hostages, and the king's pledge to marry his sister Eléonore. Seemingly perpetual war broke out between the two monarchs after François returned to France, with François determined to regain both his honor and the duchy of Milan, lost at Pavia. The campaign of 1536-38 was particularly devastating to France, with Charles invading and laying waste to huge portions of Provence. Encouraged by the Pope to unite against the Turk, the monarchs entered an uneasy truce in the summer of 1538. Then, in 1539, when Charles needed quick access to the Low Countries to suppress a rebellion there, François, to the consternation of many, invited the emperor to pass overland through France rather than travel by sea.

Of course this overture had political motives. François hoped to obtain through friendship what he had failed to win through war. In an effort to secure Charles's promise to marry his daughter to François's youngest son and grant the couple Milan as a dowry, François spared no expense or effort on this extraordinary visit. He met Charles in person in southwestern France and traveled with him north all the way to Paris. Cities along the route staged elaborate entries; François entertained his royal guest at his finest châteaux with feasts and jousts and pageants. A month of sumptuous December festivity left the sober, somber Spaniards aghast at the French king's extravagance. As promised by the connétable de Montmorency (the chief promoter the king's new strategy), the subject of Milan was never broached directly while Charles was on French soil. Showered with expensive gifts and words of affection, Charles departed, promising to reach a decision regarding the proposed marriage soon.

And what decision did Charles reach? Surprise, surprise -- the wily emperor decided to keep Milan and marry his daughter elsewhere, humiliating François a second time and ensuring continued war between France and the Empire for years to come.

Surprised to see his strategy fail in such stupendous fashion, the connétable de Montmorency could hardly be surprised to find himself disgraced and banished from François's court.

And you -- don't tell me you're surprised that I think this a splendid setting for a historical novel!

This post is my contribution to my writing group's new weekly topic challenge. Author Susan Spann, author of the forthcoming ninja detective novel CLAWS OF THE CAT (Thomas Dunne, 2013), will propose a topic on her blog each Monday and we each of us will respond. Marci Jefferson (author of THE DUCHESS OF RICHMOND, St. Martins, 2014) posted her response on Susan's blog. Amanda Orr, working on a novel set in New Orleans, "the poor man's Paris," posts about a surprise 9-months-in-the-making and its effects on her writing. Feel free to join in and post your link in the comments below!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven."

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) 
English statesman and martyr
Letter to his daughter Margaret
July 5, 1535, eve of his execution

I love you, Dad.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Recreating Henry VIII's Crown

King Henry VIII's crown, which was melted down by Cromwell's government in 1649, has been recreated in minute detail according to images in royal portraits and information from inventory accounts. Harry Collins, who retired this year as royal jeweler, crafted the crown using Tudor metalworking techniques. Historic Royal Palaces donated the materials, which cost an undisclosed five-figure sum. The crown will be on display at Hampton Palace after October 27. Read more here and watch the fascinating video.