Monday, May 28, 2007

Trip to Montaigne

The trip to Southern France that my wife and I made would become quite philosophical. We went to Sarlat, where Étienne de La Boétie had lived, we were in Descartes, the birthplace of the philosopher who has given his name to this town, and between both visits we were in the Château de Montaigne.
When we arrived at the gate just before ten o’clock, it was still closed. After ten minutes waiting we still couldn’t go in. we decided to call. Just then a young lady in a car came with the key. We walked through a long lane to the reception and bought tickets. Another young lady accompanied us to the famous Tour de Montaigne and opened the door for us. We were the only visitors.
To the left a staircase went up. To the right we saw the chapel where Montaigne used to attend Mass. We entered it. It was a small room with an altar in a niche. Only a few chairs in front of it. The ceiling blue with stars, like heaven.
The stones of the staircase were worn out. We reached Montaigne’s sleeping room on the first floor. The bed and the other furniture were not original. The room had an extension, where Montaigne could sit and listen to the Mass on the ground floor.
The study on the second floor looked larger than the sleeping room. However, that was not possible, for the study was exactly above the sleeping room. So, it is here that Montaigne has written his famous essays! Walking up and down the floor, taking a book from one of the bookcases, reading it, developing his thoughts. The library of 1.000 books – many of them he got from his friend Étienne de La Boétie – is not here anymore. After Montaigne’s death, his daughter has sold them. Only a few have been found back.
At the left, there is a writing table with a chair, facing the middle of the room. Also this furniture is not original. All round wooden horse saddles from Montaigne’s time on stands, a model of the castle, a statue of the philosopher. In the wall, the holes where the bookcases had been fixed can still be seen. On the beams of the ceiling, Montaigne had painted Greek and Latin inscriptions.
To the right of the staircase, a doorway leads to a little room with a heath. In winter, Montaigne stayed here. On the walls paintings with pictures from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. They are a bit worn off but still visible. There is also a text saying that Montaigne resigned from his office as a councillor at the parliament of Bordeaux, because he found it annoying and because he wanted to lead a quiet life until his death. But Montaigne was only 37 years old! Times have changed.
We went back to the court of the castle and walked to the terrace outside of the walls, enjoying the view from the top of the hill. Far away we saw the castle of Montaigne’s younger brother.

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