The topics of this blog are Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Duke of Richelieu, and the IDEAL CITY built on his command next to his magnificent CHÂTEAU on the borders of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou, in France.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Moat gardens

The cité ideale was originally completely surrounded by walls and a continuous wide moat. The little river Mable was diverted to feed the moat and protect the town walls.  Since the foundation of the town in the 1640s, many generations have hoped to benefit from this moat in various ways, as its ownership was common and, once the cardinal himself was buried, was the question; is there anyone who would object 'if I borrowed a bit'?
Holes were cut in the town walls for windows.  Original agricultural sheds, built against the town wall's interior, magically expanded into the moat and developed windows too.  The wide watery moat was reduced to a narrow trickle, and the  dry moat almost entirely backfilled.  So convenient to have a close (and free) water supply for one's vegetable garden in the summer.

Bâtiments de France want to row back; to recreate the majesty of the original concept, and around the Chinon gate, on the town's north face, this majesty can be seen, as the moat area is owned and controlled by the town itself.

But the passion for gardening, together with the French passion for 'something for nothing' has resulted in some rather fine furtive kitchen gardens.  While some have lazy or absentee gardeners, some, such as the two below, are as 'trim as a trivet'!

see Richelieu Locations on the right for an aerial view

Thursday, 28 May 2009

from Richelieu towards the Atlantic

The little stream, the Mable, flows round the cité idéale of Richelieu.  In a few kilometres to the north it is subsumed into the bigger (but still little) river Veude.  This river in turn flows into the big river, the IndreTouraine - the hinterland of the city of Tours - is in the départément of Indre-et-Loire (number 37).  The Indre flows into the Loire west of Chinon.  The long and mighty Loire, the only unregulated river of central France, flows into the Atlantic ocean past Nantes to the west.

These pictures show the Indre at Rivière (sic!), where the Veude flows into the Indre. Wide views of sandy banks, bodies of trees, traditional flat-bottomed fishing boats.

A tiny street arrives at the river so suddenly that it has an unusual road sign that requires little explanation or translation to a tourist from any country!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Preface to the play "Richelieu or The Conspiracy"

a play in five acts by Edward Bulwyer-Lytton, First Baron Lytton,1803-1873
 wrtten in 1839
 “The administration of Cardinal Richelieu, whom (despite all his darker qualities) Voltaire and History justly consider the true architect of the French monarchy, and the great parent of French civilization, is characterised by features alike tragic and comic. A weak king; an ambitious favourite; a despicable conspiracy against the minister, nearly always associated with a dangerous treason against the State. These, with little variety of names and dates, constitute the eventful cycle through which, with a dazzling ease, and an arrogant confidence, the great luminary fulfilled its destinies. Blended together in startling contrast, we see the grandest achievements and the pettiest agents;  — the spy — the mistress — the capuchin  — the destruction of feudalism — the humiliation of Austria — the dismemberment of Spain.
Richelieu himself is still what he was in his own day, a man of two characters. If, on the one hand, he is justly represented as inflexible and vindictive, crafty and unscrupulous; so, on the other, it cannot be denied that he was placed in times in which the low impunity of every license required stern examples; that he was beset by perils and intrigues, which gave a certain excuse to the subtlest inventions of self-defence; that his ambition was inseparably connected with a passionate love for the glory of his country; and that, if he was her dictator, he was not less her benefactor. It has been fairly remarked, by the most impartial historians, that he was no less generous to merit than severe to crime; that, in the various departments of the State, the Army, and the Church, he selected and distinguished the ablest aspirants; that the wars which he conducted were, for the most part, essential to the preservation of France, and Europe itself, from the formidable encroachments of the Austrian House; that, in spite of those wars, the people were not oppressed with exorbitant imposts; and that he left the kingdom he had governed in a more flourishing and vigorous state than at any former period of the French history, or at the decease of Louis XIV.
The cabals formed against this great statesman were not carried on by the patriotism of public virtue, or the emulation of equal talent: they were but court struggles, in which the most worthless agents laid recourse to the most desperate means. In each, as I have before observed, we see combined the two-fold attempt to murder the minister and to betray the country. Such, then, are the agents, and such the designs, with which truth, in the Drama as in History, requires us to contrast the celebrated Cardinal; not disguising his foibles or his vices, but not unjust to the grander qualities (especially the love of country), by which they were often dignified, and, at times, redeemed.
The historical drama is the concentration of historical events. In the attempt to place upon the stage the picture of an era, that license with dates and details, which Poetry permits, and which the highest authorities in the Drama of France herself have sanctioned, has been, though not unsparingly, indulged. The conspiracy of the Duc de Bouillon is, for instance, amalgamated with the denouement of The Day of Dupes; and circumstances connected with the treason of Cinq Mars (whose brilliant youth and gloomy catastrophe tend to subvert poetic and historic justice, by seducing us to forget his base ingratitude and his perfidious apostasy) are identified with the fate of the earlier favourite Baradas, whose sudden rise and as sudden fall passed into a proverb. I ought to add, that the noble romance of Cinq Mars suggested one of the scenes in the fifth act; and that for the conception of some portion of the intrigue connected with De Mauprat and Julie, I am, with great alterations of incident, and considerable if not entire reconstruction of character, indebted to an early and admirable novel by the author of Picciola.”
London, March, 1839.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

three musketeers in a boat

One can rent a rowing boat for 7€ an hour and have a water-borne luncheon on the parc's canals. The present jetty is located near to the public entrance of the parc close to la place du Cardinal, just south of the town.

Hellmann's Mayonnaise & the duc de Richelieu's chef

So how did mayonnaise come to be? Allegedly, the origins of mayonnaise go back to the wars in 1756 in Minorca. In the kitchens of the French 3rd Duc de Richelieu, his chef was preparing a feast after the Duke had defeated the Royal Navy at Port Mahon. 

One of his dishes was meant to have included a special egg based dressing. To his horror, he realised that he had 'run out of' cream that was an essential ingredient of the dish he was preparing... He decided to use olive oil in place of the cream and beat it into a rich sauce together with the eggs. He named his new concoction 'Mahonnaise' in honour of the Duke's victory at Mahon.... 

The Hellmann's brand of mayonnaise was a product of a German born Richard Hellmann who emigrated to the USA in 1903. In 1905 he opened up a delicatessen in New York. The delicatessen was renowned for the delicious salads that contained a mayonnaise which had been prepared by his wife. Her mayonnaise proved so popular that Hellmann began selling it in jars in 1913. 
Over the years mayonnaise has become extremely popular and Hellmanns is the leading brand capturing over half of the market. Hellmann's have since introduced light variety with less fat and fewer calories.

INGREDIENTS: soyabean oil, water, whole eggs, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavours. 

Monday, 18 May 2009

Le p'tit château

The dastardly Boutron was responsible for the demolition of the cardinal's château in the 1830s - sold off bit by bit as architectural salvage!
The parc was sold off too.

I had always felt a little nervous of the petit château, protected as it was by many 'Keep Out' notices.  Now that the parc is managed by the Conseil Général of Indre-et-Loire rather than the Sorbonne, the co-owners, deeper access seems to be permitted than before into the parc's recesses.  So I took a walk towards the isolated neo-classical villa that looks out onto the gardens of the old château.  And although its style is far from that of the 17th century, what an elegant building it is. Carl Friedrich Schinkel does Andrea Palladio in French! But of course, being in little lost Richelieu, its glories are faded, the structure unloved and there is a mood of general neglect.

The daughter Boutron sold bits of the château for forty years. Then in 1846 Mme. Boutron-Chapuis gave the old château to her nephew Jean-Francois Mélot, who in turn sold it on to banker Hyacinthe Laurence in 1852. It was he (she?) who had the Petit Château built.  Architect unknown. Sold on to Paul Hulin and then again to the family of the Parisian banker Heine, who restored the rest of the park with landscape designs by the Bühler brothers.  Finally bequeathed to the Sorbonne, the part of the University of Paris of which the cardinal had been rector - proviseur - in the 1630s, by the last and 8th duc de Richelieu.

Administered jointly by the town and the University, the Petit Château was a 'grace and favour' perk of the incumbent vice-rector of today's Sorbonne.  The Conseil Général d' Indre-et-Loire took over the efforts of the poor & tiny 'most beautiful village in the universe' * in 2005. 
So to today.

* an ironic quotation of Jean de la Fontaine 1670

p.s. December 2010
Having just seen a repeat of a TV film on Richard Wagner introduced by Stephen Fry, I noticed how similar this house design is to that of the Villa Wesendonck in Zurich; home of Mathilde Wesendonck, Dirty Dick's Muse for 'Tristan and Isolde' .

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The relocated Salon de Thé

The Salon de Thé was formerly located in the Grande Rue. But when the cadeaux-foto shop that was on the corner of the place du Marché fell vacant, they decided to move to move their shop to this much superior location.  (see the location map to the right). As before, the shop is half antique shop, half souvenirs and trinkets  and half tea shop (three halves...?). Now it also offers meals that compliment its other services, joining the other commerces who provide varied catering around the newly re-ordered market square. It offers a welcome alternative to the cafés and bars, and looks very pretty in its sunny location.  Its 'smile' really enhances the mood of the new square and follows the long-term urban design policy that concentrates such facilities in the identical twin squares, rather than in the length of the Grande Rue itself.

Although at the exact moment that the three pictures above were taken the street tables were empty, this is usually far from the case. The tables in the charming interior tea room clink with tea cup noises of an afternoon.

A Saturday mass for Saint Hubert

On Saturday 18 April 2009, the little church of Saint Martin de Rilly, a few kilometres from the cité idèale of Richelieu, held a hunter's mass at which the local trompes de chasse played the service's music and the image of Saint Hubert, patron saint of hunters, was paraded.  The young curé more-or-less succeeded in incorporating the slaying of wild beasts into the Christian homily, although he asserted that he himself was no hunter of little creatures.
The ritual showed how innocent ancient rural traditions live on in la france profonde, without being a part of some modern touristic construct, as are the more grandiose events of venery at the château de Chambord, not so far away.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Old postcards of Richelieu

Chums of Abbé Henri Proust, Claire et Nick,  have supplied these postcards that show the town in the early part of the 20th century.  They make the town look pretty crumbly, don't you think? 
The most fascinating is the overview of the much 'younger' parc.  The version of the parc that we know today was mostly the work of the Heine family, as much as that of the first dukes of Richelieu, already long gone in the 1870s.
The absence of today's central rose-garden on the courtyard of the old château gives a rather pleasing open space at the absolute centre of M. Lemercier's composition for the cardinal. Rather as with the old layout of the place du Marché; our 19th century grand-fathers couldn't resist plopping something down in the centre of an open space!

The renovations start at 16 Grande Rue (1)

The next Grande Rue hôtel particulier of the original set of 28 identical mansions that is to be restored is number 16, on the western side of Grande Rue, flanking rue Traversière, the median street.  (see the new Google map for its location). As one can see in the three overall pictures of this building above, it was in an almost derelict state, and was a rather upsetting prospect to interested passers-by visiting the town.

It has now been emptied and stripped back to what remains of the original buildings.  The original staircase the the main building is missing in its entirety, although the workmen say there is a fine staircase in the dépendance (extension) on rue Traversière.  The house's interior is skeletonised at present and one can see the three main fireplaces of the old building, one above the other. The beamage of primary beams (les poutres) and secondary joists (les solives) is clearly visible. Originally there were little hand cut tertiary joists between the solives that supported a floor made of lime, straw and soil that might support either tiles or 'floating' oak plank floors. 
Intermediate 'mezzanine' floors inserted into the generous classical floor heights over the years have been removed. 

This particular house's site was purchased originally for a M. Francois Le Coeur, procureur du duché-pairie de Richelieu but was passed back to chancellor Séguier in 1634 who arranged that another (now unknown) actually build the mansion. As usual, it was constructed by developer Jean Barbet to the cardinal's authorised plan and cost the sum of £T10,000 (livres tournois).

Behind the main house each plot was allowed to develop in its own way within a rather more flexible specification.  And these extensions were added to over the succeeding 400 years (surprise!).  This particular house has a rather elegant set of dépendances although it is hard to say which are from the seventeenth century or from later periods.

Monday, 11 May 2009