Serendipity: (noun) finding something good without looking for it.
Serendipitously, the Château continues to reveal its past, drawing us closer to unravel and untangle the memories dwelling within its silence. Many discoveries have been stumbled upon quite by chance, as in this case where plaster simply fell from the wall, revealing a 17th century painted fresco (below).
Or, unearthed and examined with the help of expert restorers and historians. The past, that which is right before our unskilled eyes, unfolds, shown and explained with such respect and tenderness.
Two restorers recently joined us onsite, Claudie Thomas from Toulouse and Frantz Wehlré from Paris. Frantz departed Paris one fine morning, declaring in an email 'he was falling in love with this castle and would be enchanted to work on such a beautiful project.' I picked him up from the train station, just down the road, mystified by how someone can arrive looking so good, on an overnight train. But then again, I am in France...
Claudie opened her fascinating portfolio to pages of photographs, detailing the work she has done to preserve and reconstruct frescoes and painted effects on the walls and ceilings of historic monuments worldwide. Claudie teaches these techniques to fine art students in Toulouse and eager to involve them in the restoration. Frantz stood and looked on, in awe of Claudie's portfolio, despite the centuries of painter decorator restorers in his family.
Walking through the Château, in the company of restoration experts, is a history and architectural lesson all in one. I listened attentively, wishing I could keep up with fast French, but I'm still at a stage where I am translating word by word.
I found, that despite the many times I had walked past this fountain in the front salon (below), I had never contemplated its use. Frantz explained that cold drinks (I'm thinking champagne!), and ice-cream, would have stayed chilled for hours, kept cool in the ice filled marble basin, and refreshingly served on long, hot, Pyrénée summer days, in forest green glassware. The glassware that we in fact found inside the "hole in the ground". The remains were likely 17th century, perhaps venetian, with twisted patinated stems, now displaying signs of an iridescent sheen, from the effects of time and burial.
Nor had I noticed the small detail in the fireplace, or the painted marble effect behind the old wood trim.
As we continued 'le tour' Claudie talked of the architectural changes, which took place during and after the French Revolution, in particular the destruction and erasing of family crests in the noble estates of aristocratic families. Walking towards the northern aspect of the Château, Claudie recognised such defamed painted beams.
Later that day, Frantz, set to work, collecting paint samples and accessing the extent of prior water damage to frescoes and painted walls. Claudie returned to Toulouse eager to incorporate student workshops onsite in 2015.
The passion they felt in life for restoring and painting was boundless. Frantz went home on the train, back to Paris, promising to return, falling in love with a castle after all.
That evening I sat on the Château steps and thought about the stumbling upon and the tripping over some discoveries along the way, knowing there is more to unveil with frescoes, beams and painted walls behind plaster and placard waiting patiently to be brought to light.
Dreaming and wondering, I imagine the Château being the mastermind and measurer of its own serendipity, not as a commander or master, but to gently steer and guide the journey, allowing time to remember the past and giving longing for the future.
Chateau de Gudanes