Beyond the palace, the canal and the sweeping gardens, further than le Grand Trianon and le Petit Trianon, rests the quiet Temple de l’Amour. Since I always seem to find myself at Versailles with a raging fever (or perhaps always insist on going even when I have a raging fever), I will forever consider le Temple de l’Amour as a place of respite. There I can recline on the sunny steps, rest my forehead against the marble, and recover from the journey through the visual feast that is the palace, and the long walk through the majestic gardens. So peaceful is that place that I’ve even been known to doze off beneath the state of L’Amour.
There are only a few places in the world that serve Duck a la Presse, including La Tour d’Argent in Paris, Otto’s in London, Daniel in New York City, and my house down in Texas. My father bought the duck press some thirty years ago. Last time my husband and I were home they brushed off the brass, ordered ducks and about 50 lbs of duck fat from D’Artagnan (www.dartagnan.com), and started pressing. I can’t boil water, but I can watch, so as follows (vegetarians be warned):
The process actually begins some few days prior to cooking. We liquidated three ducks and reduced the stock down to about one cup, to which we added Marsala, Brandy and Madeira.
The day itself you begin by partially roasting a whole duck. We scored the skin and cooked it for about ten minutes in our wood-burning bread oven. You then chop it up (carnage will ensue—I’m still cleaning duck off of the ceiling) put the breasts aside to finish roasting, and put the rest into the press. You twist the wheel to extract the juice, and may need a few hands to twist the press, hold it and catch the juice in a pan. You add the juice and, traditionally, the duck liver to the sauce to thicken it, reduce it further, and pour it over the finished breasts to serve!
It may not be a process for the faint of heart or the short-of-time, and a duck press may not be your average kitchen utensil, but the effort is more than worth the product. We served it with puffed potatoes cooked in duck fat. The sauce was good enough to drink.
The Château de Chambord is just your average 440-room, 282-fireplace, 84-staircase hunting lodge, with grounds larger than Paris. Suitable for weekend boar hunts, illicit affairs, and elaborate displays of royal power, this little lodge is the perfect retreat for you and several hundreds of your closest friends. Its sheer size and intricate detail compensate for its deficient security. Leonardo da Vinci is reputed to have designed its double-helix staircase, and its roofline boasts more minarets than you thought you wanted.
At the heart of the Château de Chambord lies a double helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It is, in fact, two staircases that begin opposite one another, neither visible from the other. From the ground floor of the massive chateau, these two staircases wind around a central illuminated well, visible to each other only in glimpses through small opposing windows. They twist up to the top of the chateau where they meet in the roof. Legend suggests that this configuration was designed so that Louis XIV, the Sun King, could arrange clandestine meetings with his mistresses at the top. The steps are supposed to be sufficiently shallow that a lady will not tire in ascending them.
One woman I travelled with found the staircase so strikingly symbolic of the marital disharmony and disconnect that resulted in her divorce that she declared the beautiful architectural feature the ugliest place in the Loire. If you visit, have someone you know take the other staircase. The effect of looking over and glimpsing someone on the same plane, going in the opposite direction, and then seeing them disappear, only to reappear in the window another floor up, and finally to suddenly encounter one another, face-to-face, at the top, is uncanny. It feels as though you’ve just taken part in an optical illusion. Even when you understand how the staircase works, you are left with an impression that some sort of magic or trick has taken place.
(Palladio’s illustration of the staircase)
When you learn that the Château Chaumont sur la Loire was built by a fourteen-year-old heiress, it suddenly makes sense. There is something of the sugar-spun Subtlety of the Medieval Banquet about its many white towers and purple pinnacles, its extravagant drawbridge and charming porcupine sigil. Its rooms, though numerous, are comfortable in scale. It sits on a hill above the Loire, and its central courtyard overlooks the river. Its gardens are extensive, if unfortunately modernized.
I had the great pleasure of visiting the château when a summer storm was approaching from across the river. Up in the towers you could see the dark blue clouds come closer, and by the time I made my way out of the castle and back down the hill the clouds were overhead. The rain had yet to begin, but the wind had picked up, the sky was dark, and there was a faintly electric air to the place. The storm reflected the colour of the pointed towers and made the surrounding gardens all the more vivid in colour. I ran the remainder of the way into the valley and made it to cover just as the storm began.
I’ve moved almost once a year for the last ten years. Mostly I’ve been back and forth between Texas and Oxford, but I’ve also lived in France and various other places in-between. Every time I move I’m always certain that it’s for the last time, but I haven’t stopped yet. I blame that wandering impulse on my mother using her maternity leave to travel with me in tow. Just two weeks old, I slept in drawers from Canada to Colorado.
This blog is a testament to many exquisite experiences and happy moments. But then sometimes I get those blues common to the long-term traveller. I call them the Peripatetic Blues, and they often come on during overcast days or sleepless nights, when you’ve been traveling alone or away from home just a little too long, when you feel the distance between yourself and those people and places you love too keenly. I’ve gone nine months without seeing my family, years without seeing my closest friends, and have spent months at a time 5,000 miles away from my husband. I’ve missed births, deaths, and just about every ceremony and rite of passage common to the American youth. I’ve lived most of the last decade out of two suitcases (plus one carryon). On balance, considered in times of greater fortitude and self-reliance, the blues are a small price to pay for the privilege of boundless wandering. And as with all blues, these peripatetic ones pass in time. The pleasures of home are only rendered more acute with every journey elsewhere.