Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Amiens to l'Ile de France

After I made my last post in Amiens, I went to the cathedral and spent a couple of hours wandering around the vast Gothic space glued to an audioguide, under soaring arches and surrounded by towering stained glass, statuary and frescoes. Half the time I was standing in the wrong spot while the audioguide described what should have been in front of me, so I have not retained as much as I might. Unforgettable, however, was the relic of St. John the Baptist's head. I was skeptical, but lined up to check it out. I had a hard time getting a look in because the believers were unable to leave the spot--touching the outer glass over and over, kneeling, prostrating, murmering prayers. When I was finally in front of it, I took a good look. It was brown and leathered and wizened, as you might expect of someone's head that has been around for 2000 years. I could see reflected in the glass the woman behind me whose lips were moving ceaselessly. I felt I had no place there and slipped away, leaving the others to their devotions.

And pedalled down the road in the sunshine, still on the Green Meridian line. I had wanted to stay another night in Amiens (and enjoy my first hotel room and the music festival) but it was June 21, a Saturday of weddings and the day of nationwide music festivals. There was no room to be had--not at Hotel de Normandie nor at any other. When I arrived at the municipal campground about 25 km down the road in Ailly-sur-Noye, I found it with grass waist high and broken toilets and sinks--abandoned and spooky. So I pedalled the 2 kilometres back into the town and presented myself at "l'Office de Tourisme" where luckily I was the only visitor at the time. The woman there made about fifteen phone calls and did some internet searching to find a "chambre d'hote", a bed and breakfast, about 40 kilometres away. It was already 5:30, so I had a gift of an evening ride with the sun slanting sideways across my path, illuminating the wheat from the side. And the chambre d'hote turned out to the be the best place I've stayed yet--a large country house in a town of 150 people, 50 houses, one church and one town hall. I have a hard time remembering the town's name (Assainvillers) but not the comfort of my upstairs bedroom overlooking a field with a grazing horse, the creaky wooden floors and tapestries on the walls; and the hospitality of my host, Mme Zogas. (It was she who told me that the fields of little blue flowers that put me in a live impressionist painting, the plants with the tall slender dark green stalks, are "lin", flax.)

From there I landed myself in l'Ile de France for several days. In Chantilly I had the pleasant surprise, while taking in my "first" view of the chateau, that it wasn't--I had been on this lawn in 1980, picnicking with three of my cousins on Camembert, baguettes and wine. I don't recall if we visited inside the chateau; we may have as I do recall AB complaining in our group journal that the two youngest cousins' visits inside chateaux were perfunctory, lasting only ten minutes. This time I put all to rights and spent a few hours there and at "Les Grands Ecuries", The Grand Stables, where is now housed a horse museum. The place is huge, and they've filled it up with anything you can imagine related to horses--horses in history, war and hunting; horses in other countries, anatomy, bridles and bits, merry-go-round horses and hobby horses, toys, postcards, paintings . . . a place for horse lovers.

The chateau itself is filled with art and books--the wealth to amass such a private collection is staggering. One room has 36 windows of medieval glass work relating the story of Psyche and Cupid. The Duc D'Aumale, the last resident (until around 1890), was a passionate book collector and had acquired many rare volumes. They are lined up around the room and to the ceiling, with access by a balcony, their coloured leather covers and gilt titles providing a dignified yet glittering decoration for the room.

I spent a few happy hours in Senlis as well. The Romans occupied the town for three hundred years and left a sturdy four-metre thick wall around the town for posterity. The cathedral was first built in the Gothic style between 1150 and 1190. When I arrived a funeral was in progress, so I roamed around the outside. Made of local limestone, it has green tufts sprouting out of the walls and under the balconies. You can't very well powerwash an historic monument. To add to this organic appearance, birds and butterflies populate the walls. Later, when the bells were tolling the funeral procession out of the church, I was sitting in the square looking up at the birds swoop at speed around the belfry. One zoomed right up under the belfry's shutters (which looked like flying up the belfry's nose). l didn't see it reappear, and the next bell tone sounded muted, so l can only guess at its fate.

Once I got the chance to go inside, l found the church beautiful in its simplicity of line and light, which comes in from on high through tall stained glass windows, warming the yellow gray limestone. l sat for a while feeling serene. Not so many tourists to bump into, no audioguide bossing me around.

Then I pedalled west back to Chantilly through the Chantilly Forest, espying over the chateau wall now and then the pensive back of some piece of statuary, and then the chateau from the opposite direction, with the Grand Stables stretched out behind.

And thence to Auvers-sur-Oise, site of Vincent's final frenzy of painting . . . next post.

Orleans, 1631 km

1 comment:

Kris said...

Chi oi,
The fragment about "lin" in Assainvillers is superb - I could actually see the grazing horse from the window of your auberge. And the accompanying picture of "lin" makes your writing even more authentic. Keep writing such stuff - it's great.
Chuck mai man.