Sunday, November 15, 2015

No being ends in nothing

 After a long week, juggling French class and upcoming programs in Bangladesh and El Salvador that had me working across 4 continents, the weekend finally arrived. I had considered going to Orleans to see Joan of Arc's old stomping grounds, but decided to hang closer to home for what amounts to my last weekend in Tours.

Friday evening was quiet, and I hung out at a local pub called Mr. Cool's, where I played darts and pinball with my friend Francesco. As I was about to leave the bar, news of the attacks in Paris were starting to filter in. I returned to find a lot of messages on Facebook and email, asking me to check in and indicate I was safe. I did so, and went to bed around midnight.

Saturday morning, I headed over to rent a bicycle for the weekend. As is the case in Tours at the bike rental place, I can rent a bike for 2 days, but the store is closed on Sunday and Monday so I get to return it on Tuesday morning, so I actually get it for 3.5 days. A good deal, me thinks.

I got the bike, and headed out on the Loireen Velo trail that crosses the the Loire valley and river until the trail reaches the Atlantic and Mediterranean. I had been planning on going to Amboise—about 27 km away from Tours. I had considered taking a bus or train there and biking back, or biking there, and taking a bus/train back, but I got a wild hair and just decided to do the whole route, a lil more than 50 km. I realized that while 50 km sounds like a lot, it was really just 30 miles, which is only a little more than I had been doing in Boulder.

I headed out on the quiet trail, burning my way to Mountlouis where I had visited last time. Since I knew the terrain and knew where I was going, it did not take me long to get to Mountlouis, some 15 km (10 miles) away. I crossed Mountlouis, and passed on through vineyard fields dormant for the winter. The open countryside under the wide blue skies were beautiful. I had the fields to myself, save for some grazing horses. I admired the rich Loire terrain as I passed through, and tried to imagine it in spring bloom.

I passed through small hamlets and along lakes and the turgid Rive Loire until I spied Amboise from afar with its gothic tiered royal chateau that once housed Charles VIII and Francis I. After biking for 27 km (~17 miles), I was famished. I parked my bike under the royal chateau and wandered under the old clock tower down medieval lanes.

I wandered back into the main square, and stopped for lunch at a recommended spot called Chez Bruno. I sat outside, under the limestone fortress and had an immaculate lunch. The formula midi was a salad nicoise and a steak au poivre et frittes for 13 euros—not bad at all. The place was known for its local wines, and I washed down the nicoise with a semi-sweet, semi-dry white aptly named memoire de Loire, and the steak with a nice glass of red. I had biked my way there, I figured I had earned an extra glass of wine.

After lunch, I headed over to Chateau du Clos Luce, the chateau where Leonardo daVinci spent his final years. That was when things got interesting.

Originally known as Chateau de Cloux, the manor was built in 1471 (on the foundations of a 12th century manor) by Estienne Le Loup, who was bailiff of King Louis XI. In 1490, it was bought by King Charles VIII, and served for centuries as a royal summer residence for the kings of France.

It was King Francis' sister Marguerite de Navarre who convinced the regent to extend an invitation to Leonardo. King Francis admired daVinci's genius, and sent him an invitation to take up residence at the royal chateau. DaVinci accepted the royal offer, and in the autumn 1516, he set out from Rome on the back of a mule across the Alps, along with his faithful disciple Melzi and devoted servant deVillanis. Leonardo brought a few other things with on his saddle bags on his mule venture across the Alps: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the unfinished St. John the Baptist, which he would complete in Amboise.

When daVinci arrived to Clos Luce, King Francis told him, “here you will be free to think, to dream and to work.” Leonardo daVinci was named “First Painter, Architect and Engineer,” and received a formidable allowance of 700 gold ecus per year; the king also financed daVinci's projects and work. The regent asked in return simply to have the pleasure of hearing daVinci speak, and watch him work.

DaVinci spent the last three years of his life at Clos Luce, thinking, tinkering and studying the lush gardens. He devised new inventions, wondrous celebrations and plans for a model chateau at Romorantin, as well as plans to connect the Loire with the Lyon region by a system of canals.

Leonardo daVinci saw that his days were drawing to a close. He wrote, “No being ends in nothing” and soon took his final sacraments. He reportedly wept on his death bed, for having offended the Creator and the people of this world for not working at his art as he should. He then passed in peace, and took his last breaths in the chateau before he joined “the Creator of so many wondrous things.”

I toured through the room that daVinci spent the last three years of his life, and saw his spiraled bed frame and old notebooks and manuscripts. I also visited the bedroom of Marguerite de Navarre, who had been wise enough to first think to bring daVinci to France. I visited through salons and a 15th century chapel for Anne de Bretagne, as well as a great hall where daVinci entertained important guests. I also visited the kitchen fed the vegetarian da Vinci.

More importantly, in the basement there were models and designs of the genius of da Vinci. I got chills as I looked at his brilliant works. The man was centuries ahead of his time. I just shook my head at the models of his inventions for civil and military engineering feats (the man made a tank and machine gun cannons in the 16th century!), mechanics, optics and hydraulics. The sheer brilliance of daVinci's creations were astounding. The thing that most moved me was daVinci's invention of the bicycle. Here some 5 centuries later, I had used daVinci's invention to get myself here.

And I was reminded of my visit to the museum of Archimedes in Olympus in Greece (“Give me....and I will move the Earth”), the last time I found such an incredible outlier.

Nearly in shock at daVinci's brilliance, I wandered out into his gardens, where daVinci studied nature to learn the ways of the world. DaVinci took his inspiration for creation by observing the natural world around him. I saw the gardens, where he studied the ways of the world. And I walked through the park where they reconstructed some of daVinci's inventions like double-tiered bridges to help move the flow of traffic as a means to fight pestilence. There were working models that littered the landscape, it was an impressive display.

I wandered through the last exhibit that showcased daVinci's time in France, and his role in bringing Renaissance advances to the Loire Valley.

The whole visit left me speechless.

The afternoon was getting a little late if I wanted to get back to Tours in the daylight. I realized I would not have time to visit the Chateau Royal d'Amboise, but it has lasted for a few centuries so perhaps I can return to it another time.

I set back out on the road back through the fields and meadows that I had passed on my comings. The return was long and my old knee was starting to ache, but I made it back victoriously to Tours. I rang my bike bell as I pulled into my residence. In the end, I had biked almost 54 km, nearly 34 miles. Not bad at all!

PS: I did another 30 km on sunday morning, biking the other way to Savonnieres and back.  That leaves my weekend total to around 80km or 50 miles. 

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