HOME /// 400 Day LETS Odyssey - CONTENTS

400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

When I was told I'd be living in a castle tower, I imagined something quite different!

FRANCE - Bressuire (1 week)
Week 15 of World Tour

1. Living In A Castle Tower

Chatteau de Clisson (Clisson Castle) is on a huge property of 600 acres. It was built in the 16th century and has dozens of buildings scatteed throughout its estate, mostly sub-let to tenants, with farmers sub-letting most of the acres for grazing cattle and sheep. One of these structures is a tower on the opposite side of the property, in Boisme (15 mins. by car, south of Bressuire, in the west of France). And this tower was my home for the entire week I spent with my hosts, Roger and Nathalie and their 2 young children, Melanie (5) and Edouard (nearly 2).

In fact, there's still a secret tunnel under the cellar which leads into the fields about 100 metres (110 yards) away. I didn't go into it. I don't think anyone has for a very long time. But that's because it would probably be very damp, and obviously pitch black, and the thought of having to claw your way through centuries of cobwebs and dead rats is definitely a deterant, not to mention the possibility of walls caving in at the most inopportune time. Well, that was what I was told after eagerly asking to venture into this exciting passageway. But, it wasn't to be.

I'm sure I've never stayed in a round room before, but this room was a perfect circle. From the outside, the tower still looked old and historic, even though, for convenience sake, the upper section (which had obviously served well as a military lookout and defensive structure some centuries ago) had been chopped off long ago, leaving only 2 levels still standing. But the inside had been completely renovated.

The bottom level had the main entrance which led straight into the kitchen, and the 2nd level was the children's playroom, where a corner (?) was cleared away to make room for my matress. And I can tell you, there's 51 little blue and red tugboats on the thin strip of wallpaper circling around the very top of the round, white bedroom wall. I mean, that's all I could see as I lay in bed looking at the ceiling. It's a wonder I didn't end up counting tugboats in my sleep!

Did I say '51' tugboats? I wonder if Roger and Nathalie realise this.

In France, the number 51 is regarded as being very lucky. This was brought to my attention when I was given a Pastis aperitif to drink with the brand name '51'. I didn't think much of the experience at the time, and only noted that it reminded me of the popular Greek spirit, ouzo, because it had an anaseed taste and went milky white when water was added to it.

Many windows and doors had been added to the tower to let more light into what would've been a very dark, but secure, structure when it was first built. And with walls 90 cms. (3 ft.) thick, each opening would've been quite a huge task to accomplish. And the French must've been very short back in those days because one of the doorways leading to the back setion of the tower was about 10 cms. (4 inches) shorter than me! And I only noticed this after knocking my head on it in the first few minutes after my arrival.

"You need to watch out for your head there," Roger said after the damage was already done. "And the other place to watch out for is the beam above the staircase," he added with a painful expression on his face, obviously recalling more than one painful experience over the last couple of years.

Thank goodness he warned me about that. The staircase was the only way to get to my room and I had to go up and down it several times a day. So every time I came close to the 30 cm. (12 inch) thick crossbeam, I'd either duck my head under it, or if I'd remembered at the very last moment, I'd lean so far back that I'd have to grab hold of the rail tightly so I wouldn't lose my balance. But I'm pleased to say that my head never clashed with the staircase beam, though I remember having it brush through my hair on a couple of uncomfortable occasions.

Have I mentioned that the French treat mealtime as an art? Well they do!

In France, families eat at the table together (very rare in Australia). And every meal is cooked (very rare in Australia). And for their main meals (lunch and dinner) there's always 4 courses . salad, followed by the main course which is always accompanied by wine, followed by cheese and bread, and finally dessert which is always capped off with coffee (very rare in Australia . or at least it was very rare for me!) Yet they're not overweight! Unless they only do this when they have a special guest staying with them.

But last night (Saturday) Nathalie put on a royal feast for a couple of friends of hers, and luckily I was still around to be included.

The dining table had been set with matching tablecloth, chinaware and napkins, and on the guests' plates she'd placed a neatly wrapped gift for each guest. Then once the guests arrived (at 8.15 pm) we went straight to our seats at the table. Even the children joined us, though their bedtime was usually around 7 pm.

Roger had explained to me that eating a main meal in France was usually a 2 hour affair. But last night I lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes before eventually giving up, stuffed to the eyeballs!

And here's the courses we went through .

1- Dried slices of apples and individually wrapped cubes of cheese (with trivia questions inside wrappers) already adorned the table.

"These are appertisers. They will build your appetite," Roger assured me.

"Not a very good idea if you're on a diet," I responded, remembering that I was still about 8 kilos overweight.

2- Aperitifs were soon offered. I couldn't resist trying something new . whiskey and iced tea. Very pleasant taste even though Roger had poured me a strong mixture.

3- A large green salad made up of lettuce, apple, cheese, cucumber and tomato was our entree.

4- A deep, dark, red wine with a unique flavour came out to accompany the main meal.

5- The main course was tenderly roasted veal with deep-fried potato puffs about the size of ping-pong balls.

6- A basket of bread and a large plate with 4 different tasting (and shaped) cheeses introduced the final stages of dinner.

7- A large raspberry tart (or flan?) was disected on the table. I was so full I had to stop after having only one piece.

8- And finally we finished off with a choice of percolated coffee or tea. I don't usually have black coffee, but I did last night.

At 10.30 pm Roger marched the children upstairs and then began the battle to try to get them to sleep. And by 11 pm I was really stuffed, in more ways than one! So I politely excused myself and went upstairs, dodging the dreaded crossbeam along the way, until I was once again amongst the serenity of my lucky 51 tugboats.

Playing bowls with Roger.

2. Lions Castles and German Butlers

"You are welcome to come and stay with us in our castle," went the invitation. "But I hope you like animals, because Mouphassa, our pet lion (retired from a local zoo) is very friendly. But don't worry, he's been defanged."

So how could I miss out on such a rare opportunity. I mean, how many people do you know that have lived in a castle and had photos taken, cheek-to-cheek, with a fully grown lion (with or without teeth).

"Roger, my German butler (and my partner) will meet you at the bus depot and drive you back to the castle," were the pick-up instructions. So all I had to do was get to Bressuire. I looked forward to this extraordinary adventure with great anticipation.

Sure enough, Roger met me at the bus depot. And soon we were driving back to the castle. Actually, we drove past the castle.

"You'll be staying in the castle tower, which is a few kilometers further away," Roger explained. "See that high wall? That's the lion enclosure. All the lions are kept in there."

"I thought Mouphassa was a house pet," I confessed with a sense of disappointment, realizing that my cheek-to-cheek photos probably wouldn't eventuate after all.

"We had Mouphassa with us up until last year. Now he's been put out to pasture with the other lions," Roger said.

Finally we arrived at the tower. But I couldn't see it!

"Where's the tower?" I asked.

"That's it right in front of you," Roger said. "The round building. It used to be very tall, but it had the top chopped off about a century ago. Now it's only 2 stories tall. But at least it's still round."

And from then on, it was downhill all the way.

So the castle tower turned out to be only a fraction of its former glory. And there was no Mouphassa, or lions of any description. And (surprise, surprise) Roger wasn't really a butler. But he WAS German. And he did have a sense of humour (which some people would claim is a rare enough experience anyway).

Gee I can be SO gullible sometimes!

3. My First Public Performance of The Glory Of Athens

Apart from being a real joker, Roger was also a great promoter. I was only staying in Bressuire for one week, but he'd organized the best possible event I could've asked for . the first public performance of my play, The Glory Of Athens!

I arrived in Bressuire on Sunday and Roger had booked a hall for my play for the following Friday at 7pm.

"You will be interviewed by 2 journalists at 11 am this Wednesday," Roger said, "and the articles will go into the Thursday issues."

So every day, while the children took a nap in the early afternoon, I'd rehearse my play in one of the run-down barns, eventually being able to ignore the curious looks from the old farm-hand living in an adjacent dwelling and even a wild tortoiseshell cat watching from a safe distance at the entrance to another farm building.

The articles were quite prominent in both newspapers, slightly smaller than an A4 size and included a photo of Roger and myself. And many people got to see it. Almost everyone we met on Thursday and Friday commented on it, and for the very first time in my life, I began to feel like a real celebrity.

On the Thursday we met Paul and Monique who have a Hot-Air Balloon business. They had a flight booked for that evening to take an old couple up with a couple of teenagers, and I could come and watch if I wanted. I did. And they seemed to be just impressed by my newspaper article as I was of their part-time Hot-Air Balloon business.

The articles described me as a 'globe-trotter'. And at the launching ground, Roger had proudly shown the old couple the newspaper articles which they read from beginning to end with great interest. "Can I come with you?" the old man said jokingly. It was a response I was used to getting in every country I visited. If they were serious and I'd said yes, I'd be traveling with a hundred people by now!

"Please come and see the play," Roger said to every English-speaking person we met. And like any other numbers-game, some of them did show up, including one of the journalists.

French people aren't renowned for being able to speak English very well (if at all), especially in such a small town as Bressuire (18,000 pop'n), so the audience wasn't a big one. But they were good audience, laughing at most of the jokes, and staying back to talk with me after the play ended. Thankfully the newspaper review (my first) was very positive. I'd given a very passionate performance with a positive and inspirational message. And my audience had been 'moved'.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

About the book

James Taris web sites