Loire 5 - The Château de Chenonsore

Our plans to visit the Château de Chenonceau made me a little afraid.  

Famous for gardens, architecture and a history coloured by powerful women, the Château is pretty cool, and Michele’s enthusiasm for the place was powerful too.  Before our trip, she read several books about two of the ladies: 16th century Henry II’s wife Catherine de’ Medici and her rival, the King’s mistress Diane de Poitiers.  We talked about this and other Chenonceau stories, many times in the weeks leading up to our holiday in the Loire Valley.   

But, as I said, I was a little afraid. Not of the powerful women past and present. But of my foot.

It hurt a lot.

I had plantar fasciitis, an inflamed tendon along the heel.  Not the ideal companion for a walk of some 120 kilometres down roads, through forests, and across vineyards. But there was little room for backing out.  So, I rested my foot and braced for the first leg of our holiday through the La Forêt d'Amboise to Chenonceaux (the town with an 'x').

I hoped the pain would be intermittent.  It was.  Only every other step hurt.  No Pain. Pain. No Pain. Pain. No Pain. Pain. And so on for that inaugural seventeen kilometres.

It makes it hard to daydream and just relax; instead I found myself paying a lot of attention to the terrain and the details of the walk. 

“Does it hurt less on flat surfaces?” “Or did the broken mud and rocks help by alternating pressure points?” “Should I tie my shoe tighter or loosen it a bit?”  “Where are we now?” “How far?” “Could a cab find us in the forest?”

You could say I savoured the walk that day as the location and ambiance of every step, or at least every second step, is burned into my memory. 

We arrived at Chenonceaux in mid-afternoon and checked into the Hotel Rosarie.  At the front desk, we learned that Elenore Rosevelt once stayed there, and I was impressed. 

The room was nice, but the grim, grey visage of a woman in black stared down at us from the wall.

“I wonder if she is Rosarie – that is a woman’s name isn’t it?”

“Maybe the artist caught her in a bad mood.”

“Maybe, she had plantar fasciitis.”

The Chateau was still open for the day.  It was three blocks away. Michele’s enthusiasm and the look on possible Rosarie’s face nudged me out the door for another walk that day.  It soon seemed like a mistake. Three blocks was enough to push the pain into the barely bearable. Limping and wincing, I suggested we split up at the castle so Michele could be free to explore the place she had read so much about.  

I visited it too, but I did it by walking a few metres and then sitting down, walking a few more metres and sitting down again, each time hoping that the old wooden benches were for that purpose not works of art or parts of the displays.

I found that the sitting and resting gave me time to reflect and notice things that not everyone catches - like how the intertwining of Henry and Catherine’s initials create the letter D on the ceiling of the bedroom. 

I would have missed the full effect of the gallery hall without sitting long enough for the crowds to move on.  And outside, if you sit down on the rail by the bridge, you notice the boaters and the flow of the River Cher. (Cher - there’s another powerful woman).

Michele found me by the tower and wanted to walk around the gardens.

I couldn’t do it and instead sat on another bench, one overlooking them. 

This was not bad either.  Again, I rubbed my foot and told myself I had been given an excuse to rest, to be more observant, and absorb another vantage.  

I thought about all the people who walked around these halls in high heels and what it meant to be a woman in those times.

As we walked back to the Rosarie, I noticed something I had missed on the walk down to the Chateau.  

It was late April, time of the Presidential elections, and we passed posters of Marine Le Pen. Once again, I winced.  

This time, I thought about other features of French history, Catherine de’ Medici’s role in the persecution of the Huguenots, about my foot, and how we react to the pain that comes our way.

If we ever go back to the Loire, I hope my foot flares up again, or, rather, the memory of it and of how to see pain, not as a reason to be afraid, but as a prod to stop, reflect, and look at things from a different perspective. 

So, I wrote this.