Wintery Visits

Today I received a gardening catalogue in the mail with a message written across the front page in big red letters: “Préparez le printemps dès aujourd’hui.” Get ready for spring time today. Wait a minute! It’s been winter for only a few days! Let’s take it one season at a time…I intend to enjoy myself this winter, savor the calm, warm myself by the fire, and forget all about gardening.

One of the pleasures of this time of year is visits with family. Rick’s youngest son Darwin and his wife Alex came from San Francisco to stay with us for a week in the countryside of northern France. It was their first time at the maison. We took a drive down to the Loire Valley to show them some sites.

Lavardin is one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages (most beautiful French villages) of which there are 156 throughout the country, chosen and named by a private organization. This was our first stop, only about a 35 minute drive from home. There is a ruined 11th century castle on the hill overlooking the town which is extremely picturesque, but my favorite site, of which I never tire, is the church with it’s 12th century frescoes which were uncovered during restoration some time ago underneath a layer of whitewash which had been there since the 17th century when the naive art of the Middle Ages fell out of fashion. Luckily it’s back in now.

On our walk to the chapel, Darwin discovered a Chinese Lantern flower in its winter incarnation. I grow them in our garden, but I always pick them and dry them in the autumn rather than leaving them to transform themselves. I never understood why they are often called Love in a Cage, but now it’s obvious.

Amboise is the city where Leonardo da Vinci died. His patron, François I, king of France from 1515-1547, lived in the beautiful Château of Amboise, which rises like a wedding cake on the banks of the Loire river. We passed through here on our way to Chenonceau, our favorite Loire Valley Château.

I wanted Darwin to see Chenonceau because of its extravagant floral arrangements. He owns an upscale flower shop in Walnut Creek and is a master floral designer. Unfortunately all the arrangements were Christmas decorations, rather than the typical displays. They seemed a bit tacky to me. I had imagined that there would be far fewer people there on a winter day, but I was completely wrong about that too. It was more jammed than at any time we’d been there.

Despite all that I enjoyed the details, like the disintegrating tile floors in the foyer, and the beautiful leaded glass windows.

In one of the upstairs rooms, which is painted all black, Darwin took a gorgeous photo of Alex which he made into a very nice photo etching the next day.

photo by Darwin Harrison

We are wishing all our friends and family a very happy new year.

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