Loire 2 - Water and Watching

“I want to get one with rushing water,” I said to my wife. “Maybe even one with me standing over it.”

I wasn’t talking about the bathtub or bidet. I wanted to get a souvenir photo with water, Loire River water, water flowing around l’île d’Or  - the island at the upper rim of the town of Amboise.  

Amboise has a lot of photogenic material; the sprawling Royal Château with its ornate chambers, grim passageways, geometric gardens, and quirky chapel. Below its walls, medieval buildings and streets beg to have their pictures taken.  

Even better visuals lie a few kilometres away at Clos Lucé, the manor where Leonardo da Vinci spent is final years thanks to the French King, François I, and the nobles and peasants he plundered and taxed to pay for it.

When Leonardo arrived here in 1516, the packs on his mule carried the Mona Lisa and the other paintings that eventually ended up in the Louvre.  He also brought his famed notebooks and drawings.

Today Clos Lucé (evoking the Virgin of Light featured in its chapel) celebrates its ties to the great artist and thinker with a museum, a park, and installation art - the latter having been inspired by those materials.  

Thanks to the volunteer efforts of IBM employees, the imagined inventions and designs described in Leonardo’s drawings and notes have been built as working models: some full scale, some in miniature, some inside the home, and some operating outside in the park.

Again, more material and more spots for travel souvenirs.

But I wanted a photo with water.

Leonardo lived in comfort and esteem in Amboise.  But with age creeping into his hands and his enthusiasm, he didn’t paint, draw, or invent much.  He planned parties, thought about armaments, dabbled in architecture and thought a lot about water.

The few surviving pages in his notebooks that clearly associate with his final days in Amboise concern the flow of water and include intricate drawings of the Loire as it squeezed around l’île d’Or. For me, this meant that a walk over to the island and a few shots of the water at its western tip would bring me as close to Leonardo’s memory and mind as anything in Amboise or in the museum.

 Da Vinci was immensely curious and committed to figuring things out for himself from recorded, measured evidence. 

You can feel this attitude rubbing off on your mind after reading a few dozen pages of his notes.  Though I struggled with some of his writing, 
those sections on water intrigued me not only because of the link to Amboise, but also because I couldn’t figure out how da Vinci managed to see the ebbs and flows in the detail that he did. 

To my mind and my eye, rushing water moves too fast to recognize any patterns let alone record and understand.

Standing over the river on the motorcycle-busy bridge, we not only photographed exemplary water but also easily video recorded it on the iPhone.  

We took other shots of waterfalls at Clos Lucé.  

They made souvenirs of the kind I wanted, and we prepared to leave for Chenonceau the next day.

That night, watching the water in very slow, adjustable motion on the phone, I was satisfied, but lacking illumination.  I did not feel any closer to seeing the things Leonardo recognized with his naked old-man eye and the image-recording technology of five hundred years ago. 

Today fluid dynamics research draws on slick animations, and some scientists would regard Leonardo’s observations and insights as trivial. But I am not one of them and remain in awe of a brain that could generate its own simulations and images of complex patterns from simple, but careful observation.

I thought about this a lot in the following days as we walked down the streets, through the forests, and across fields that have not changed that much since Leonardo’s time and his slow trip from Italy to Amboise.   

It struck me that the trick may not be to slow down the water, but to slow down the water watcher.  Leonardo lived in an era and in a way that put him in harmony with slower things, with thinking in a slower way, and with the capacity to imagine in detail - all framed by a lifestyle conducive to careful observation, contemplation, and reflection.

Though 21st century technology opens up new opportunities to learn and create, it may impede other, more fundamental human skills.

I am not sure how to recapture this ability and this way of thinking.

But it seems to me that one might have better luck standing over the water than racing by it on a motorcycle.