- The Readiness is All: Southern France, Days 0-1
- This is not an exciting post: Southern France, Day 2
- Èze You Is or Èze You Ain’t My Baby?: Southern France, Day 3
- Life’s a Beach, Then You Nap: Southern France, Days 4-8
- Sic transit gloria Nice: Southern France, Days 9-10
- Roll Up For the Mystery Tours: Southern France, Day 11
- Finding the Sources of It All: Southern France, Day 12
- Chamwow? More Like Chambord: Southern France, Day 13
- There Was A House in Old Orleans: Southern France, Day 14
- A Down Day, and a Look at Les Sources: Southern France, Day 15
- There Are Gardens…: Southern France, Day 16
Trivia time! Where did Leonardo da Vinci die? Was it a) a midair helicopter collision, b) in a hayfield, sliced in half by his own invention the horse-propelled scythe scissors, or c) in bed at le Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, France? Take your time, I can be subtle and devious with my misdirecti- C, you say? That was fast. Well yes, party pooper, he died in 1519 in Amboise, having been the revered guest of King Francis I for several years prior to that. Despite being at the end of his life, his output in Lucé was prodigious even if much of it remained conceptual. We had a chance to learn all about this, and see some fascinating exhibitions, during our visit to Clos Luce on our way out of town.
Le Château du Clos Lucé is mere minutes away from the center of town and royal Chateau of Amboise; this is not an accident. When Charles I “invited” Leonard to ply his trade in France, he made a gift of the nearby manor house for a residence and workshop. It was here that Lenny spent the final years of his life, continuing his work on water (for a treatise that never came together in time for publication before his death) and laboring on assigned tasks such as the never-built palace “Romorantin”, a sort of uber-planned community that was very sketchily begun before Charles set it aside in favor of a more cost-effective project in Chambord. If you know what Chambord is you are probably chuckling in bemused startlement that it could be considered cost-effective. If you don’t know, well, we’ve got you covered in our next post. (Woo! Teasers coming before the end of the post now!)
Whatever le Château du Clos Lucé was, what it is now is a strange, quasi-theme park on the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. As weird as this sounds, it was surprisingly effective. Put it this way: we’ve been to a lot of exhibitions that did much worse jobs of trying to illustrate and give context to an artist’s output. (The new Picasso Museum in Paris comes to mind.) First of all, in the chateau itself are exhibits of the rooms he made use of – fine, ok. The furnishings may or may not be authentically his but are at least period-correct. Samples of his writing and work are somewhat amusing copies; having replicas of his notes in the study is one thing, having the Mona Lisa in the dining room is quite another. On the other hand, there was a small space with period furnishings, set behind a glass wall, that projected an astonishingly-good 3D scene of two actors portraying Leonard and his servant in conversation. Like, cutting edge stuff. Don’t be surprised if da Vinci headlines next year’s Coachella.
The basement of the chateau is given over to some really fantastic exhibits on some of his more famous designs, such as the “tank” which truly is a genius-level piece of evil engineering, topped only by the scissoring-scythes that were powered, and pushed forward, by a team of horses hitched to a framework behind (natch) the blades. Picture it – a pair of stallions racing forward with a rider atop one of them, only instead of it being a cart before these horses it’s a pair of giant scythes, oriented horizontally, and scissoring back and forth as they are shoved toward you at great speed. Ye gods and little fishes. One of the reasons we are so high on these exhibits is because they’ve done some very clever animations that show exploded diagrams of each device, then piece the design together in a way that demonstrates how it all goes together, and then shows it in action. The polish on these things isn’t Industrial Light & Magic or anything, but it’s competent work and well thought out.
On the spacious 35 acre grounds of the chateau, they have built models of his designs, and even practical examples of some of the more-thought-out concepts like his bridges. (His self-powered glider plane looks like something out of a South Park episode involving self-propelled unicycle cars. IYKYK.) Then there are (at least) two different exhibition spaces. One of them is the museum, featuring more models of his architectural work and copies of his notes on same; additionally, they have a space to show Leonard’s visual arts work, e.g., paintings and sketches. The trick is, they don’t own any of these things. So, instead, they’ve designed a variant of those artist immersive experiences that had been all the rage a little while ago. I must admit that we got irritated at what we got for our thirty bucks (or whatever it was) when we went to see one of them, but as a throw-in on our admission fee at Lucé it was a lovely diversion and exploration of his work. It was particularly effective how images of some of his sketches would appear, and then overlain with one of his finished works to show how they were instrumental in working out how to create the final piece. Once again, the curation of Clos Luce is really top notch.
So, as I said, they don’t actually own any of da Vinci’s work. However, they apparently have developed good enough relationships to borrow things occasionally, and while we were there they had the Vatican-held, and unfinished, “Saint Jerome”, which they displayed with a sampling of other works to put his in context, and then the piece itself, all by itself, in a large otherwise-empty space. It was nice to be able to spend quality time with the work in relative quiet – three cheers for the shoulder season!
With the exhibitions examined and the gardens explored, it was time for us to move on. We were already checked out of our accommodation in Amboise and so we hit the road directly, heading for Cheverny. There, we made camp at a simply amazing place called Les Sources de Cheverny. It is worthy of more description than ought to be here at the end of a long-ish post, and so we’ll pick up with that next time. DOUBLE TEASER. But, descriptions of hotels aside, we did still have a lovely dinner that night at a spot called Le Rendez-vous des Gourmets, a deceptively simple looking spot just a few minutes down the road. We were having second thoughts when we walked in, compounded by the fact that you can see into the kitchen from the entryway and the chef at work looks like your uncle. My uncle. Everybody’s uncle. Polo shirt, jeans, glasses, salt-and-pepper hair. He gave us a smile and a wave as we walked in. Hrm.
Turns out, Uncle Billy can cook. Lisa chowed down on pike fish … cake-salad thing, followed by chicken paired with sweetbreads (don’t look at me, she’s the zombie), while I had a pea velouté (soup) with salmon tartare, followed by a hard-to-describe concoction of, basically, thinly sliced and perfectly prepared beef. All of it delivered with exquisite presentation. I’ll never doubt the cooking of my parents’ brothers ever again. Happily sated, we made for our new digs and burrowed into the blankets, thus to prepare for another day out.