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A few days ago I started to write about the party which was recently held at the château, not hosted by us, but by our builder, Monsieur Noray and his team. And a shindig it turned out to be: a night of fine cuisine, wine, spirits, music and happiness. Local residents, international authors, and village Mayors joined the celebration. The château warmed and charmed us all, perhaps a sign of its former life.

But today I received an email from one of our facebook family, Caroline. I read her email and was speechless. Caroline had translated an article written in a local paper in 1896 which described so beautifully a party held at Château de Gudanes. After reading this, I simply stopped typing my party story and instead felt the need to share the story written over 100 years ago, aptly titled ' The Workers Party'. 

I'm hoping you have a little time to read this. It's inspiring, the words winding their way to the wonders of wisdom. 

 L'Express du Midi 

Tuesday, July 28th, 1896

Regional news

Ariège

A workers' fete

 

It probably still counts for a lot, even in these democratic times, to have a prestigious name; But it is even better to live up to it. It is all very well having a great fortune; but it is even better to use it usefully and nobly.

 

These philosophical reflections often came to mind when I attended the memorable, sparkling fete which was held last Saturday at Chateau de Gudanes.

 

Gudanes is a chateau dating from the time of Louis XIV, situated in the middle of the Haute Ariège, overlooking the village and the valley of Les Cabannes, between the spa towns of Ax and Ussat-les-Bains.

 

The setting certainly was beautiful.

 

Opposite was the fertile plain of Saint Martin; on the left, the hilly, grand avenue which leads from the church up to the chateau, beneath a dome of thick branches.

 

 

On the right, behind the beautiful, large property, the valley of the Aston, so vast, so cool, where the sound of the torrent merges, day and night, with the noise made by the many hammers from the Chateau-Verdun factories.

 

 

Add to this the fact that it was a splendid evening, that the night was calm and peaceful, and that at one moment the moon suddenly appeared from behind a nearby peak and lent its pale clear light to the fete.

 

The Chateau provided a wonderful backdrop. 

 

The great courtyard, and the large rectangular lawns, which the chateau terrace looks down on, formed an exceptional ballroom. Almost three thousand Venetian glass lanterns hung above the heads of the dancers or were strung between the trees of the grand avenue, giving the party a fairy tale atmosphere.

 

As rockets and fireworks were let off from half-way up the nearby mountainside, and roman candles lit up the old ruins of Chateau-Verdun, carriages arrived by the grand avenue, filled with dancers from Ussat, followed by a group of donkeys from Ornolac, which were also decorated with different coloured lanterns.

 

 

The ball was open to all, and from one end of the valley to the other, everyone had hastened to participate in the joyful festivities. The policeman in uniform rubbed shoulders with the bourgeois gentleman in evening suit, and the elegant working class girl stood opposite the country woman in her Sunday best. All the houses had emptied and the whole community was there, with no distinctions of class or political opinion.

 

 

For whom or what was this cheering crowd? Which saint's day was being celebrated? Was it some sort of local festival?

 

It was none of these things. The reason for all this pomp and joy was the homecoming of Monsieur Xavier Baudon de Mony with his bride.

 

To tell you the truth, it seemed as if the entire valley had made it a point of honour to compete against each other in order to provide a reception and a welcome worthy of the daughter of our Ambassador in London. 

 

 

 

What was particularly interesting and truly heart-warming about the whole event was this:

It was not the lord and lady of the chateau who threw the party, wishing to include the local population in their happiness.

 

The fete was organised in their honour by the local agricultural and industrial communities.

 

 

Here is a show of gratitude by the people, which upholds that well-known saying: one good turn deserves another.

 

I am a little bit of a philosopher, and sometimes, in my spare time, an incorrigible optimist.

 

So when I managed to tear myself away from all the excitement, and return to the calm of the peaceful night, I kept thinking about what I have told myself many times before: If all great llandowners had this fine attitude of living on their property, and if all factory owners lived amongst their workers, if all those who have inherited a fortune knew how to use it to improve the lives of the people around them, things would get much better...

 

We gave Monsieur Noray some Australian wine, vegemite and boomerangs. And guess what he shared with us on the night: a boomerang represents: what goes around comes around! Truly spoken from his heart.

 

Our experience renovating in France couldn't be better.

 

à bientôt, et merci Caroline,

 

Château de Gudanes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These whispering walls,

They tell a story,

Will you listen,

To all of their glory?

Once upon a time, I would wake, always far too late, to walk out the door for work and never quite feel that I had ever slept a wink. But life dominated by a château has woken me up! Now, I am up and out the door just as dawn appears over the mountain summit. Dense cloud blankets the valley, like layers and layers of white waiting to be unveiled by the warmth of first light. Bird life fills the crisp, cool air with melody. 

Layered with thermals, gloves and camera, I head to the château gates, and stare for a few seconds as I take it all in -  a land of make-believe, a world of fantasy and fairytale. The sound of black crows echoing from far in the valley, and black horses making their way across the terrace make me think of past kingdoms, both fact and fiction.

I prepare myself for the solid, heavy, and nearly impassible gates. Turning the padlock key, I can't help but pause and think about how many others have done this before me, and as I heave open the gates - how many have passed through?

Back in the château's heyday, the original owner, the Marquis of Gudanes, Louis Gaspard de Sales (aptly named King of the Pyrénées) put on quite a show at the front gates. Invitees from far and wide, okay I can drop some name's here, Voltaire, Diderot and Rosseau to name a few, were presented with a spectacle. Footman lined the avenue from the gates to the front of the château with fire lit torches as horse drawn carriages hoofed it by.

As I walk the same route, I can faintly see the path which once existed. 

Last week we had the pleasure of a visit from the Chief Architect of the Monuments Historic from Paris. In fact, it was more of a history lesson than an inspection of the work to date. He explained the history before the construction of the current chateau - how the site dates back the 12th century, and its purpose as a fort during the religious wars. It was destroyed by fire in the 1500s. I found some old black stones in the château months ago and have kept them in a cupboard, curious!  

When we bought the château last year we were led to believe that the back section was of little interest. Now, we have realised it truly is the diamond in the rough! The Paris architect explained that the painted ceilings date to the 1600s, and that the recently discovered frescoes depict the history of the region.  Layers of plaster on the walls need to be carefully lifted to reveal the painted works that hide behind.

The delicate, colourful walls have slowly revealed themselves to us; whether by chance or by choice, who knows!

The region, the site, the château, has a way of weaving you to think and feel differently, and to hear the sounds of the gentle whispering walls. 

 

 

Poem extract: Maria Lattice

 

Growing up, Mother's day was always celebrated with the same anticipated routine:  a strong cup of tea, vegemite with toast, a rose handpicked from our backyard garden, all presented on a tray to our awakening mum. Later that morning we would pick more flowers together and carefully arrange small bunches. Wrapping the stems in silver foil and placing them into a plastic bucket was the final preparation for our annual pilgrimage to the local cemetery. We would spend hours, searching for graves of close and distant relatives, perhaps eagerly awaiting our arrival on this special day! It wasn't unusual to pack the thermos, a polony sandwich and deck chair to sit and chat about cupboard skeletons. 

My mum died from Alzheimer's disease some years ago. But even up to her passing, I would pick her up from the nearby nursing home, ease her into the front seat of the car, kids in the backseat, tightly holding buckets of flowers and water, dogs jumping over everyone, and begin our day together. 

And so today, I have made the annual pilgrimage, not just to the cemetery, but back home to be with my family and share this special day together. It was a long trip home, but family, traditions and memories are just too important. 

As it turns out, my dear mum, created a tradition that I've never let go. 

 

 Happy Mother's Day from Chateau de Gudanes

You may be wondering about the title. Do you mind if we abbreviate Chateau de Gudanes to CdG, just for this post?  Two years still fumbling and bumbling with the d’s and the g’s is somewhat embarrassing...

But moving on, the time has arrived to share our vision for CdG- an appetite wetter, for setting the stage, as to where we are headed.

At the moment the consolidation (first) phase is in progress, and will finish June this year. We were hoping to move onto the next phase and, basically, hurry the whole thing along. Head down tail up! Allons allons allons! But now, with a change of heart, our outlook has turned and twisted in a new direction. Rather than a private residence/ rental, we are now focusing on CdG becoming a public venue, to be shared with all.

We want to open wide the doors, for you to see CdG in its raw state (before we move onto our next phase). Not as a museum piece, but as it stands now with its “wabi-sabi”; beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. We want to accept its patina and wear, like an old, favourite, worn and frayed, cashmere sweater that you can’t bear to part with. 

 But still safe and secure to wander through, explore, touch and feel the past.

 We look forward to you visiting CdG one day, and sharing your thoughts, and ideas, for its future design and use. If this is not possible for you, don’t worry, we will continue to keep you-up-to date with photos and stories online, and soon there will be a comments page on the website.

Now going flat out to:

Clean up the front terrace and restore the front façade.

Install bathroom facilities. At the moment, the CdG is uninhabitable. With no permanent electricity, plumbing or water, the local village public toilet is getting hammered!

 Simply sharing some bathroom ideas:

 And setup a popup café for 2015 - you just can’t look at any ‘point of interest’ without a pit stop. Sometimes you have to sit, stop for a moment, enjoy a drink (I am going to say this: a shameless coffee in a BIG mug overflowing with milk and froth!), take it all in and breathe.

Dreaming of a cafe like this in one of the front salons (This photo is from an exhibition held at the Petit Trianon in Versailles).

aprilblog71

After contemplating and catching our breath, the next phase will focus on further utilizing the chateau for commercial activities such as permanent café, weddings, conferences, photo shoots and accommodation. This is planned, all being well, for summer 2016.

Naturally this phase requires planning approval and, just to keep you up to speed, last week the dossier was submitted  to the local council and the Monuments Historic. Once approved, we look forward to sharing the chateau plans. Plus, the Chamber of Commerce from Toulouse and Foix took a tour through CdG- and offered some government grant assistance, given CdG is a listed monument. Meanwhile, the fluid engineers are expending a great deal of time trying to solve the all important, ideal energy source , needed to heat and power up CdG. Being energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, geothermic heating is our preferred option.

The restoration and the future design is all to do with ‘treading lightly’.  It’s our philosophy for CdG.  This isn’t a fast-food setup, but rather a gentle process. The history of the chateau, and the beauty of the region, deserves respect and a certain stillness.

Over the past year, we have “grown up”, and are now taking responsibility in forging the way towards the future of CdG. The future has to be sustainable in every respect. It is our priority to not only care and preserve CdG, and the environment, but to do this in a way in which our story will be remembered as gracious and softhearted.

Joyeuses Pâques, Happy Easter,

Chateau de Gudanes 

If ever there were written words, that made the most sense of this whole adventure, then these would be it - 

"It's impossible," said pride.

"Its risky," said experience.

"Its pointless," said reason.

 "Give it a try," whispered the heart.

(author unknown)

 

My dear friend sent me this, and it felt just like the perfect fit to explain why we ended up with a derelict, abandoned chateau in the south of France. Naturally, impossible at times, with sleepless nights and scary moments...

 ...risky business for sure (somehow we missed the movie 'Money Pit'), and completely illogical. But in 2011, we drove into a petit village, the GPS gently guiding us to our destination, and all of a sudden we looked up and couldn't believe our eyes. The chateau had found us!  We drove to the front gates and remember thinking,  "Is this for real?" 

 

 And just like that, the idea of a small, rustic, renovated, rural farmhouse that we originally set out to buy, flew out the window, along with 'impossible', 'experience' and 'reason', into a land faraway.

Two years, and reels of red tape later, we took ownership. And despite delays, stumbles and fumbles, it has never felt pointless - the joy is immeasurable. 

I am sure you feel it too; with your words of encouragement, interest, and genuine thanks for mending this historical chateau.

"It has a heart, a soul and a presence even in its current state. This is a dream that has reached out and moved many many people"

"There is magic in the air"

"You are not on this journey alone"

"My greatest admiration for love of beauty against money...romance will never die with people of a great heart."

 Clearly this isn't about logic and reason. It's about a whispering heart, wishful for us to give it a try.

Already beyond our wildest dreams - we are on this adventure together.

A bientot!

Chateau de Gudanes 

 

 Photos: Chateau de Gudanes and courtesy of Carla Loves Photography at http://carlacoulson.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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