Monday, January 9, 2017

French Doors

     All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go . . . It's early morn, the train's blowin' its horn, leaving on a jet plane later tonight. But before I go, one last post from France.

A collection of photos that gives new meaning to French Doors.

Don't know when I'll be back again . . .

Au'Voir France . . .

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Clerics and Doctors at Poitiers interrogate Jeanne D'Arc

     Although Joan of Arc is mentioned a lot in films and books and memorials (over 20 statues worldwide), plus canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholics, her history always seemed a bit fuzzy to me. I unenthusiastically took this photo (below) of her angelic statue at Poitiers. She seemed to be everywhere. I had seen her last summer at a garden in Quebec City, at Montreal the summer before, and recently at the abbey entrance on Mont Saint Michel  . . . so my attitude was "another statue of Joan of Arc" ho-hum.

..... the statue was a few feet away from the "Palace of Poitiers" which I had depicted on an earlier post. I decided to research her significance here at Poitiers.

     And it is quite an interesting story. The Hundred Years' War with England was going very badly. She was a French child of a peasant family (a child of a warring culture, as her country was at war off/on approximately 65 years prior to her birth). At a terribly young age, she claims she had visions of helping her countrymen (the French) win battles with England. Folks told her she'd never be able to fight battles looking like a girl, so she cut her hair and dressed like a boy. Folks donated armor, a horse, other things to her. This horsewoman had a winning way!

     She became a media darling, for lack of a better word, but in a very controversial way. A cross-dressing woman fighting battles because "God told me!"? Skeptics claimed she must be the devil's child, and in a very religious Catholic culture, those doubts took on a life of its own! So, the French elite summoned her to appear before the clerics in Poitiers to interrogate her. Is she, or is she not, a child of the devil? They definitely needed all the help they could get to win battles with England, but she had put a religious-spin on her motives, "God spoke to me!" Up till then, the battles between France and England weren't religious ones, just ordinary bullying monarchical land-grabbing ones. So, that's why she came to Poitiers, to appear before the many clerics and doctors at the Palace of Poitiers (also known as Palace of Justice, photo above). She was interrogated for three weeks or so during March - April 1429 (plaque below memorializes those interrogation events on the 500th anniversary in 1929).

     Maybe because I'm a Libra, I find courtroom dramas fascinating. The transcripts to her many interrogations over those three weeks didn't survive, but there are recorded events (click here for the most interesting story) because there were many witnesses. She was interviewed by numerous clerics and doctors to determine her sanity, motives and emotional health (a cross-dresser with visions from God!). Now keep in mind, the French dearly wanted to believe in her, they were losing battles with England. Maybe she WAS sent by God! I think they were optimistically cautious about her. She apparently was a very forceful imposing young lady. When asked what French dialect God used to speak to her, she replied "A better one than yours!"

     And what happened at the conclusion of her interrogation weeks at Poitiers? The clerics and doctors announced to the monarchs and powers to be that this lady was a good Christian, a good Catholic girl, never idle, and that the King should make good use of this girl.

     And when England captured her in 1430, approximately one year later after her many contributions in helping France fight its battles, they were so worried about this media darling (maybe she was a child of the devil) that they burned her three times to make sure the devil in her was burned, too. When she was reduced to a handful of ashes, her ashes were dumped in the Seine River. But it wasn't until May 16, 1920 that Pope Benedict XV canonized her, making her a Catholic saint.

     And now, I finally understand why the French have so many statues of Joan of Arc. She is dearly beloved here.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Poitiers' Cathedrals, survivors of the Hundred Years' War

     About 200 years before the "New World" (North America) became a conquest target of both the French and English monarchical rulers, those monarchs were constantly at war. Known as The Hundred Years' War, from 1337 to 1453, the French and English were on the battle fields in France between truces. Basically, England wanted France. One of those battles was The Battle of Poitiers in 1356 which England won. In 1346, an English nobleman Henry of Grosmont set part of this building ablaze.

     The wall is part of the Palace of Poitiers, and during pauses in the Hundred Years' War, reconstruction would take place between 1388 and 1416.

But statues are crumbling . . . see the nets to keep debris from falling?

It's still remarkable that it survives.

     Many of the buildings and cathedrals in Poitiers were damaged following battles during the Hundred Years' War. A medieval chronicler wrote, following the September 19, 1356 battle:

...From that time on all went wrong with the Kingdom and the state was undone. Thieves and robbers rose up everywhere in the land. The nobles despised and hated all others and took no thought for the mutual usefulness and profit of lord and men. They subjected and despoiled the peasants and the men of the villages. In no wise did they defend their country from enemies. Rather did they trample it underfoot, robbing and pillaging the peasants' goods

     Then, 400 years later during the late 1700s, the French Revolution (somewhat of a civil war) resulted in more stolen and damaged artifacts to buildings and cathedrals.

     One of those old cathedrals is the Saint Pierre de Poitiers; construction began in 1162 by Henry II of England.

It's also the largest medieval monument in Poitiers.

     But the most fun cathedral (for me) was the Church of Sainte-Radegonde because of this side door. I suspect this is an original door (when it was dedicated in 1099).

This is the same door, inside view.

Immediately next to the outside door was another door constructed with brass tacks, leather (tufted hair/material stuffed inside) and modern spring hinges to keep it closed.

The main entrance is more grand.

When I entered the front door, I was surprised at how bright and cheerful it looked.

It's beautiful.

     The Church of Saint Hilaire (below photo) was dedicated in 1049.  It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998 as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.

This is the interior view.

And the last cathedral on my walking tour, the Notre-Dame la Grande.

It was dedicated in 1086.

It's known as Romanesque architecture.

     Today is market day, very near my hostel. In keeping with French tradition, I will eagerly look for an inexpensive Kings' Cake to celebrate Epiphany Day.

     PS: Bought a Pauper Kings' Cake (apple instead of creamed almonds inside, only $4) and my prize inside was Chloe the Cat. Very good, too; flaky and buttery pastry.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Poitiers, Romanesque city of Narrow Streets

     I recently arrived by train to the large city of Poitiers. Back between the 10th and 12th centuries, this city was the capital of the largest principality in the Kingdom of France. "Noble" men and women's ancestors were born here; such as Diane de Poitiers, King Henry II's favorite mistress.

     This city (according to a brochure) "mixes ancient and contemporary dynamism", which is spot on. See the new buildings along the Clain River and the crumbling old fortress-like wall from the 12th century or earlier? Everywhere I walk in Poitiers, is a blend of old and new.

     Finding my way around in a strange city that speaks a language I don't know has its challenges. Merci for Google Translate! One of the first words I learned upon arriving in France three weeks ago was "piscine" which means swimming pool. Those of you who follow me regularly know I'm always in search of an indoor heated swimming pool to swim laps. And the other word I learned was "auberge de jeunesse" which means youth hostel; I use hostels frequently in my overseas travels. So, upon arriving in Poitiers and finding my way from the train station to bus number 17 (on the advice of the hostel's email), look what I see when I get off the bus . . . .

     I had to do a triple-take! The youth hostel and the municipal swimming pool are within 50 feet of each other. And yes, I had a swim in that pool which was delightful.

     My exploratory day of walking around the "old" part of the city was like entering a time machine, back to the medieval ages. I took all the usual tourist photos, so I won't bore you with those right away.

     The promotional material for this city claims this region is renowned for its goat cheese, especially its Chabichou (never heard of it). I saw these cheeses in one of the thousands of little boutique shops in the "old" part of the city.

But at approximately $50 USD per pound . . . not today.

The other mouth watering window was this one . . .

     I wondered what the little "king's crowns" symbolized on those pies? I researched it when I got back to the hostel. Aha, those are Galette des Rois which are Gallette pastries for Kings. And tomorrow is January 6 which is the day the French typically eat these pastry pies to celebrate the day of Epiphany (click here for explanation). I also suspect they insert one of those tiny crowns (see center of photo?) in each pie. But at approximately $18 USD per pie, I think I'll pass on that, too.

     While walking around the old part of the city, the most amazing thing that shook-up my analytical organized efficient mind was all those charming but crooked streets. I'm not one to shy away from structural challenges (I designed a pentagon gazebo with the mathematical help of my sister who's a whiz with formulas), but I wonder why the medieval folks insisted on building wavy, crooked and asymmetrical streets and alleys? It complicates the construction of the walls of each home; adjustments of 10, 20, 30 and/or 40 degrees were made, plus adjustments of interior walls. But the charm is its non-uniformity; every house has its own unique dimensions.

The alley above is angled, the alley below is curvy.

This crooked intersection below defies logic. See how the home to the far left encroaches on the sidewalk?

     I don't know why this all amazes me. Can you imagine the twelfth century horse and carriages traveling down these crooked, wavy, asymmetrical alleys? 

Maybe these crooked alleys were determined by rain run-off?

I wonder, too, who lives in these old homes, and where do they park their cars at night?

     Ah! See how the third house (far right below) is at approximately a 10 degree-angle to the second house? I've wondered which came first, the offset homes or the crooked alley? Most likely, the crooked alley came first, but why? Especially in an age of horses and carriages when it'd be really hard to maneuver?

Such are the things I pondered today on my exploratory walk of the old city.

     I will post again tomorrow; too many photos to post here today. But, two more observations . . . French folks have an affinity for beautiful sheer linen curtains on their front windows. The amazing thing about it all, I have never seen two alike. These curtains aren't sold by Walmart or Sears or JC Penney. I could do an entire post with 50 photos of the French windows facing the street, each is beautiful and unique.

     And by the way, remember the fellow traveler who sat a piano at the Rennes train station (click here for my YouTube video). He played three classics by memory; I was impressed. My first reaction was "Where's his money cup?" assuming he was a struggling musician soliciting financial aid among a captive audience. But there was no money cup, only his traveling bag. 

     The following week at the same station, while waiting for a train to Solesmes, there was a fiddle player accompanying a man playing the piano. After their song, they shook hands, said a few words with mutual grins, obviously complete strangers, and each walked away in different directions with their respective traveling bags.

     A short time later, this man sat his traveling bag down and banged out a song by memory on the piano.

     Then this old man sat down with his bags and played a few short songs.

     I suppose natural-born performers find a captive audience irresistible because this young man stopped near the piano to juggle a bowling pin up and down his arm for a few minutes.

     Then a young teen sat down and played a few songs. Like those before him, he seemed just as oblivious to us train travelers as we were to him. I'm pretty sure none of these amateur pianists were playing for praise. Probably just personal joy.

     I'm getting to my point, oui :)  When I arrived at train stations in Saint Pierre des Corps and in Angers, and finally in Poitiers, there was a piano in each main train station waiting area. And, folks (mostly men, which seems strange) were almost lining-up for a chance to play. Isn't that amazing? France has so many delightful surprises.

     Tomorrow, I will show you a few old cathedrals . . . .

Post-Script January 6, 2017: Did a little research on Medieval Age Urban Design and the issue of haphazard, asymmetrical street design is an academic topic that's been researched and written about. The theory I like is that chamber pots were often emptied into the streets, and with a heavy rain, one hoped for a flushing action to wash the excrement (animal manure, too), to the river. Makes sense to me  . . .