Loire 1 - Leonardo's Razor

When I think of the town of Amboise, the Chateau Clos Lucé, and Leonardo da Vinci, I want to get a shave.

Not because of Leonardo’s later-life commitment to growing a long beard, but rather because of his life-long commitment to growing his brain.

When I found out that our holiday in the Loire Valley would take us through Amboise and past the manor where Leonardo spent his final years, I was thrilled and wanted to use this as an excuse to study his work and life anew.  I bought three different versions of his notebooks settling on one that seemed readable and visual.

Leonardo’s persistent curiosity and thoughts on art, science, and technology rub off and tweak the way you look at things.  But some passages seem like fragments of thought and confound, and I might have put the book aside had I not seen explicit references to Amboise and the Loire River.  This spurred me on to the end of the notebooks and presumably stuff written near the end of his days.

He shifted from science, engineering, and artistic technique to just telling stories.  Funny stories.  

In one, a priest travels across the Tuscan countryside sprinkling holy water on the plants, the pastures, and the people.He enters the great artist’s studio and sprays a few drops on unfinished paintings.

When the painter moves to protest, the priest stops him and says “Say not a word, I will receive my rewards one hundred-fold from the heavens.”  As the holy man leaves the villa, the artist, presumably an avatar for Leonardo, goes up to the second floor and dumps a hundred-fold of the water on the priest.

It cracked me up.   It was only a little funny, but I laughed most thinking of Leonardo da Vinci as a humour writer.

The story that touched me the most though was one about shaving and a razor.  In it, the razor is an anthropomorphic character.   He, the razor, shines brilliantly when opened up and remains sharp when at work.

But Mr. Razor is a lazy guy and thinks that cutting through the gnarly beards of the peasants is beneath him. He likes it best when he is closed up inside the nice warm cover and at rest. Eventually, the razor gets his wish, and the barber leaves him alone.

But he slowly rusts up and is of use no more.

By this point, you know he is not talking about a razor but rather a person and more specifically a human mind. When it is open and active, it is brilliant.  Closed and idle, it seizes up.

Leonardo was about my age, mid-sixties, when in Amboise and thinking about such things.  I could easily relate and resolved to try and buy an antique razor in the Loire as a souvenir and reminder to keep an open mind.

But about a week before we left I found myself telling Leonardo’s stories to my barber at the Beacon Hill Mall in Ottawa. He pulled open a drawer and picked out an old razor in its case and gave it to me.  I tried to decline, but the barber insisted saying he had three old ones like it.  But he said this one was at least eighty-years old. Later, I read online that the company named on the blade stopped manufacturing this model around 1890.  

The razor sits in a glass display case in my den – opened up, shining, and inspiring.  I am definitely going to take all my haircut business to the Beacon Hill barbershop from now on. But it doesn’t seem like enough. 

So, when I think of Amboise, Clos Lucé, and Leonardo, I also want to get a shave.