Pilgrimage to France Part 2

When I last left you, Charles and I were just arriving at Chateau Grand- Rullecourt, in the Pas de Calais, France, the home of our friends Patrice and Chantal de Saulieu O’Toole de La Chamonerie. Quite a name! We hadn’t seen them for 28 years, and although we thought we were going to be staying at their son, Laurent’s summer home in Pommera, a last minute change took us to Grand-Rullecourt, and Laurent’s parents.

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The Chateau in all its glory

If you check out my previous blog: https://suddenly70.ca/2017/09/27/pilgrimage-to-france-part-1/ you will get the background of our relationship and I won’t be accused of repeating myself. At any rate, we drove up to their gorgeous chateau along a very impressive driveway and parked outside one of the doors at the front. Almost immediately Chantal came out and we embraced. Patrice was a bit slower in arriving because as we learned later, had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless, he gallantly bent over my hand and kissed it in the way that only a noble Frenchman can.

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Riki and Chantal in the back garden of the chateau

Chantal was full of vigor and excitement, and after Charles dropped our bags in the bedroom where we had stayed so many years ago, now very much improved, and used as a rental as part of their B&B contract, we got the grand tour. So much had been enhanced, and now was finished, and quite glorious with many details, and little notes everywhere explaining the provenance of each item of furniture, paintings, etc. Their home was a showcase of a very different era.

As you can see in the exterior photo, the chateau is long and narrow with many rooms for entertaining and visiting, all filled with art, and some with musical instruments. A particularly lovely old piano, albeit out-of-tune, graced the main salon. You could almost see from one end of the chateau to the other if you looked from the right vantage point. We went from room to room with Chantal who was our personal tour guide. Of course almost all of her explanations were in French, but we got most of it.

We even went upstairs to their private quarters, and saw the little rooms where our sons stayed those many years ago. There was a fine chapel and a wonderful library. The kitchen, a goodly distance from the dining room, was modernized and huge, and when we had dinner later we noticed that Chantal used a doorbell type ringer to call the two women who assisted with serving the meal.   There was written material everywhere telling about the chateau because it is not only an active B&B property, it is also a listed historical property. From what we understand, that is the way to reduce the exorbitant taxes; use your home for tours, and share in its history.

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one corner of the salon
with my favourite roses in the garden,Charles looking at the written history, the chapel and a view of the main salon.

The home welcomed Joan of Arc in 1431, a year before her death, and the King of England on December 7th 1939. The Marquis de Hamel-Bellenglise rebuilt this house in 1745. It was also used as a military hospital in 1924, occupied by the British in 1939, and later by the Germans. After the war it was a holiday home for children. This giant house still has its original foundations. The de Saulieu family acquired the castle as their home in 1988. We visited them a year later. See: chateaux-chambres-hotes.com

a wonderful gardening wheel barrow

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We had our tour of the chateau and the gardens, and went to freshen up in our room before dinner, being very careful not to unpack because we were leaving the next day for Laurent’s home, or so we thought. I brought a skirt to wear with a pretty top because I remembered the formality of the evening entertainments, and rightly so because Chantal was in a dress as was her guest, a Spanish woman called Rosita. Her charming husband, Arnaud and Patrice wore jackets, as did my Charles. We are in the middle of the countryside with cows outside, but this dress code prevails, quite charming really.

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dressed to sing and sing and sing

Before we went to freshen up for dinner Chantal arrived singing something adorable like” coo coo” and brought with her a stained, old piece of sheet music with Offenbach’s Barcarolle. This hyperlink is well worth listening to with Elina Garancia and Anna Netrebko in the famous duet. I started to sing and Chantal so dearly wanted to sing with me. So began our practicing of this piece. I sang the soprano part which I have sung many many times, and Chantal set about to learn the mezzo line. Chantal plays organ in the local church, and I believe also sings, so she was pretty enthusiastic about our singing together. If you have been following my blog you will know that I am a retired Opera singer, see: riki-turofsky com. Our rendition was not exactly like the two ladies on the excerpt, well not even close, but it was fun and definitely passable. More about this to come.

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Dinner was quite delicious, a salad of chicken livers that were quite yummy, although not one of Charles’ favorites, but he managed to eat them, a small pintade or guinea hen garnished with a cooked pear from a tree outside, potatoes and mushrooms from the garden, cheese, and a tart with fruit also from the garden, for dessert. We retired early in anticipation of our tour in the morning.

After a simple breakfast of croissants and coffee our private guide Faye Domonkos from Living Memory Tours, arrived at 9:00 in her small rental car and we headed off to Vimy and a day of visiting memorial sites and cemeteries from World War 1. It is impossible to describe the feelings we had during this full day of touring. Faye was excellent and knowledgeable, and is Canadian so we could relax our French comprehension for the day. We like to hire private guides when we travel so we can get the inside story. Guides also know the personnel at the sites and once you acquaint them with what your expectations are, a good guide will take it from there. Faye was amicable, knowledgeable, and thoughtful.

The CWGC or The Commonwealth War Graves Commission manages all the sites. The CWGC is responsible for the commemoration of almost 1.7 million members of the Commonwealth forces who gave their lives in the two world wars. As this year is the centenary of the First World War and Canada’s 150 anniversary, we decided to make our personal pilgrimage to these sites specifically to Vimy, where 60,000 Canadians died fighting.

We arrived early and could see the immense memorial from a distance. It was designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward and is awe-inspiring, to say the least. We both had read the brilliant novel by Jane Urquhart , called The Stone Carvers and had a romantic idea of the sculpture and how it was made. Nothing prepared us for the beauty and glory of this incredible, massive monument. Nothing prepared us for the heart-rending expressions on the faces of the sculptures of the man and woman, within the sculpture. They seemed to be crying for all the young men who were like their sons. Faye wisely left us to wander and touch and photograph this revelation in white. We saw the thousands of names memorialized in the stone.

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many views of Vimy, Faye, our tour guide with Charles, and trenches

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graves, an official guide, names of the dead soldiers inscribed, the Newfoundland monument, and sheep safely grazing

Then we went to the battlegrounds and explored the trenches. Charles went on a tour of the tunnels that I omitted, as I am a touch claustrophobic. I passed some valuable time in the Visitor’s Centre, and viewed pictures and read historical documents, and Faye joined me with some explanations and answers to my questions. We walked through the pasture surrounding, and tried to imagine the battle of Vimy Ridge.

After a few hours there, we visited the Canadian cemetery with its rows on rows of white tombstones. We went to Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery, the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, and walked and walked. We even came upon some sheep grazing. I had brought a stone to place on a grave as it is a tradition to leave a stone at a Jewish grave, a way of signalling that someone has visited and remembered. Faye helped us find one in the Neuville-St. Vaast German War Cemetery. Mine was not the only stone left. I shed a tear or two. and we visited the Somme American Cemetery .

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Faye treated us to lunch at a charming British Tea Room, which not only had delicious grilled sandwiches or panini, but also good beer, and many war artifacts which the owner was happy to show and describe. After lunch back to our drive and more walking and learning. Apparently, we had walked about 10 kms and we both were ready at 5:30 to return to the chateau, and prepare for dinner at Laurent’s home.

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Before I had a chance to change, Chantal greeted me with the music and we set about to sing. Then I dressed up once again. Obviously Patrice appreciated my efforts as he exclaimed when he saw me ‘comme tu est belle’ or ‘oh you look lovely’. That was nice. Now we had packed our suitcases and just as Charles was about to take them to the car, Chantal informed us that although we would be having dinner at her son’s, we would not be staying there, as there was no place for us. We lost something in translation as I truly remember Marie-Caroline’s invitation. Darling Chantal looked at us and said, ‘her English is short’. I thought that our French was not very long, and laughed. We then put our cases back in the room and the three of us (Patrice excused himself) headed off to Pommera for dinner, giggling all the while.

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Laurent and Riki 28 years ago and Laurent in his living room-salon. Jean with champagne and table waiting

What a delightful surprise and warm welcome. There was our summer son, see: https://suddenly70.ca/2017/09/27/pilgrimage-to-france-part-1/, his charming wife, and two grown children ( he has four, but the others were away) waiting outside to greet us. Imagine how excited we were to see Laurent in his home, all grown up and hosting us. And what an evening it was. There were nine other invited guests all lively, some young, some not so young. Everyone seemed in a mood to celebrate and before we knew it Jean, the oldest son present, was opening Taittinger champagne and passing around flutes.   We stood in the salon and ate some nibblies and I wandered into the dining room where the door was open to the garden on one side, and a table was set beautifully with a red cloth and many glasses.

dinner at Laurent

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views of the chateau, restoration that is ongoing, Laurent’s horse, the chapel

The oldest son, Remi, had entered the priesthood a few days earlier, and already was at the seminary, and Beatrice, the oldest daughter was in Paris where she was studying to become a doctor. Louise, their second daughter, a charming young woman, helped serve throughout the evening. We were seated at the table, with me between Jean and Laurent. We had much lively conversation, although in French. The meal was superb and cooked by Marie-Caroline, Laurent’s wife. We started with a delicious salad of shrimp in a rosé sauce, followed by scallops that were fresh and yummy and in fact were the central part of a deconstructed Coquille St. Jacques. Laurent poured a savory Pouilly-Fumé that was nice and cold and Jean assisted with all the clearing, as did Louise. Wonderful cheeses followed the main course, and then desserts of a meringue type cake, one in chocolate, and one in fruit.

After dinner we retired to the salon once again and Chantal magically pulled out the music to the duet we had practiced and announced that we would sing! I had consumed a large quantity of alcohol and certainly didn’t feel en plein forme- in great shape, but we began and everyone cheered us on. Charles recorded it with his smart phone and I promptly erased it. Nevertheless, it was all in good fun. We left and returned to the big chateau and went to bed quite delightfully happy.

The next day we booked Laurent, Marie–Caroline and Louise to go into Arras for lunch with us. Twenty-eight years before we had also lunched in Arras. Charles drove the five of us and managed to park in a very tiny spot on the main street. It was exceedingly hot so we all stopped at a little boutique where I purchased a light t-shirt to wear. We decided to ascend the Belfry or bell tower that is in the centre of the town square. It is considered a jewel of Flemish architecture and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. We took the lift up to the first level and then walked up 40 plus stairs to the top. Now we went in single file and all was well until the bell was sounded unexpectedly and I thought I would lose my cookies. We arrived at the top to a wonderful view of the surrounding area.

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different views of Arras, the giants, bell tower, the flemish architecture and Louise

Then of course lunch in the square took some time. I had a shrimp salad and the others a smoked salmon plate. After some cold drinks we headed to the Wellington Tunnels.  Arras is in the middle of war country. Charles and Laurent went underground while the three women viewed a video, got caught up with emails on our phones, and relaxed until the men returned from the freezing cold adventure 20 meters under the ground where 20,000 soldiers of the Commonwealth prepared a surprise for the German troops and arrived just a few meters from them on the morning of April 9, 1917. These tunnels were created by New Zealand tunnellers to link quarries together.

After our day’s excursion we returned to the chateau where Laurent and family picked up their car. We promised to share a light supper with them in Pommera before we headed off on our journey to Normandy. We toured Laurent’s summer home, that I believe is actually the unrestored Chateau of Pommera, and saw that indeed there would have been no where for us to stay. We marvelled at the mystery of our visit. His home had been under restoration for the last 10 years and we climbed up through scaffolding to see the rooms on the second floor, including a charming chapel. We met his horses out in the pasture, Italia and Chloe, and learned about Laurent’s rides to chasse, hunting the stags. Not my kind of thing as an animal lover, but a fascinating very social sport for those who partake.

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Jean and Duc

We enjoyed a quiet family night with the two kids; Jean who it turns out is a lovely water colorist, studying law, and Louise who is not quite sure what to do with her career. We ate prosciutto, baguette, ripe melon and cheese, and fondled their large brown lab, Duc.

Then we headed back to Grand- Rullecourt and sleep, only to wake to a massive storm with lightning and tons of rain. It was Wednesday and the day of the formal luncheon that Chantal had planned in our honour before our departure. We had a light breakfast and then Chantal arrived at our end of the chateau with the music. We sang the duet about three times and Chantal was visibly delighted. Charles and I dressed, and packed up our suitcase as we were departing for Normandy right after the lunch. Naturally I pulled out the skirt and pretty blouse, and he wore a jacket.

Wonderful odours were emanating from the kitchen as the two women from the village, and a chef, had arrived and were doing their preparations. Chantal and I sang after we were dressed. She was so exhilarated. The guests arrived at 12:30. Again the Spanish woman, Rosita and her husband, and a charming couple who had recently moved to the village after having lived on a houseboat in the Seine in Paris. Lots to talk about with them, and finally a gentleman who was American by birth and related to Walt Whitman, and who was a retired diplomat. He had driven one hour in the rain just for the luncheon.

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The table was beautifully appointed and the food tasty; fois gras to start, then beef tournedos, baked tomatoes, tiny green beans wrapped in bacon, all served with yummy wines, and then a fluffy dessert at the end. After coffee we went to the salon and you guessed it, Chantal brought out the music and we did our duet. Talk about singing for your supper. We were much better than previous attempts and the performer in me let out a few big high notes, and I allowed myself to be passionate. Much applause, bravos, smiles, and thank you’s ended our afternoon. Charles videoed this again on his phone, and I can assure you that it will not appear on u-tube in the near future. As a former professional opera singer my standards are extremely high, however, the best standard for this performance was the delight and joy I perceived in Chantal.We both had fun.

 

After that, Charles and I quickly changed for the rain and the road trip, bid our adieus, and started the long drive southwest. Charles carefully watched his wine and food consumption during the meal, and was very awake for our trip, me, not so much. About 5 hours later we arrived in Normandy.

There is still more to come about our Pilgrimage to France. Please join me.

Bisous or kiss kiss.

Riki

 

 

5 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to France Part 2

  1. We too visited the Vimy monument, the Visitors centre and the trenches and had a lovely lunch in Arras in sight of the Belltower. We visited Ypres and Passchendale, the field hospital where James McCrae wrote in Flanders Field and the whole journey through the remnants of the pales where so many lost their lives in WWI was particularly moving as both my grandfathers had fought in those places and returned to Canada from that war. Looking forward to comparing notes soon!

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  2. The pictures of the chateaux are really lovely. I loved that large rug in Chantal’s living (One of them?) room. Such a gracious life, eh? good for you for singing with her. And I appreciated you info re the war sites you saw. They are on my planned itinerary. xo C. >

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