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As we drove through the countryside towards the Burgundy from Paris, we noticed a chateau on a hill in the distance. We decided to investigate and drove up the winding hill past beautiful pastures to a small village. The large blue arched doors to the chateau were closed. My husband dropped me off on the side of the raod so that I could take some photos when a man open the large door to reveal a courtyard covered with grass, wildflowers and a chateau in various stages of renovation. I asked him if I could photograph the property in my elementary French and he happily waved me in. I gestured to my husband to join me, as he speaks French fluently and there was so much I wanted to learn. We began a conversation that lasted well over an hour.
M. Arbousse Bastide, a retired antique dealer owns the 14th century chateau that has three buildings overlooking a valley covered with pastures. Looking down over the misty fields, white Charolais cattle spotted the landscape and quite sounds of the country occasionally broke the silence from time to time. His passion is restoring antiques and he had completely rebuilt one large turret and was restoring another by himself, stone by stone. As he was telling us his story, we walked over a wood plank placed over the moat to the chateau when a lovely woman stepped out. Soft spoken, wearing a long printed shirt, ruffled white blouse and green sweater with long silver hair pulled back with a comb, she began to tell us about her friend’s efforts and love of antiques. A researcher who had worked translating Chinese Scriptures and still living in Paris, she spends the summers in this idyllic setting visiting markets in search of antiques with her friend. She was soft spoken, confidant, a woman at peace with herself and a delight to talk to. Speaking excellent English, she pointed out that there is no heat in the chateau but Monsieur doesn’t mind the cold as only huge stone fireplaces provide warmth. She said that there was a lot of property available in the area that badly needed to be restored. Many foreigners had bought ruins and taken great efforts to give these ancient structures new life and were now living in them permanently.
Monsieur, who had disappeared into the chateau to take a phone call, reappeared and immediately was joined by a crow who flew onto his shoulder and then sat peacefully on his hand. The bird loves to torment him she said, and stole two 50 Euro notes that day giving him a hard time trying to retrieve them. It was obvious that the Monsieur and the crow were friends and enjoy each others company. To our astonishment they invited us into the chateau and we walked into a time passed to an amazingly warm but ancient environment. A horseshoe shaped table facing a huge stone fireplace had church pew for seating and a red table covering. Beamed ceilings and stonewalls with antiques in different states of repair filled the rooms. Fruit and flowers in a multitude of vessels made the stone dwelling feel warm and inviting. Light penetrated the rooms from the windows creating shadows and a glow highlighted antiques. They explained to us that these chateaus were noble men’s homes that were responsible for collecting taxes and performed local jurisdiction.
The chateau is lovingly being restored it to its original state. Well, this might take him the rest of his life, but I don’t think he cared much about that. He was joyful at my amazement, as I wanted to photograph everything I saw, in every space, in every room. As we said goodbye, we gratefully thanked them for letting us snoop into their life. They gave us their email address saying computers kept them connected to the world. In this environment it seemed a contradiction as computers sat on an ancient table in an ancient room, but they were clearly also living comfortably in this century.
Connecting with people of a country has always been the most memorable part of my travels and this encounter will take its place among the many interesting people I’ve been privileged to meet.
Henry Flagler is an example that not everyone has to take the traditional route in life to be successful. We see it again and again that some people defy the norm and do great things. Having left home at the age of 14 he pursued his fortune in the grain industry, salt mining and production business. After joining JD Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews who founded the Standard Oil Company, He helped to establish the business trust, which made it possible to conduct business in many states from a single corporate office. Flagler started the Flagler Florida East Coast Railway and was a key figure in the establishment of agriculture and tourism in Florida. Henry Flagler’s name takes a prominent place in Florida’s history.
Whitehall, his winter home was built in 1902 and designed by John Carrére and Thomas Hastings in the Beaux Arts Style. The home, located on Cocoanut Row and Whitehall Way in Palm Beach is open to tourists. There is also a Café des Beau-Arts that serves lunch Tuesday through Sunday.
Complete information on the tours and the estate can be seen on the website http://www.flaglermuseum.us.
The slide show is a sneak preview of Whitehall.