Chateau d’Argouges was at the end of a gravel drive on acres of greenery. With the beige stone walls, it resembled Cinderella’s castle, complete with pointed turrets, quoins, and massive chimneys. Inside it was furnished with antiques, comfortable beds, and everything you would need in the kitchen, including some stainless steel tools none of us had ever seen before. We were greeted by the owner who lives across the courtyard, shown how to operate the radiators, and directed to the nearest grocery store, because what else could you possibly want to do after nine hours on a plane, then three hours in a car, but SHOP!
The E.Leclerc is exactly like a super Wal-mart, except the shopping carts actually move effortlessly in every direction. We almost missed the lurching, rhythmic, thumping noises that most carts in grocery stores in the US make from a combination of gum and tobacco in their wheels. Perhaps what keeps these carts pristine is that you put a coin in a rack to get one, and only get your coin back when you return the cart. This also keeps the French parking lots from looking like homeless shelters since all carts are returned. We spent an hour in the wine section, bought cheeses we had never heard of, bought baguettes, and ultimately made our way back to the chateau. Oh yes, we did try the ready baked pizza, a culinary adventure best avoided. French cheeses-yes, French wines-yes, French bread, oh yes. Pizza? No.
Our first morning, while two of our party were trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker, the double doors burst open, and we were greeted by Holiday, a Newfoundland, who takes her job of welcoming visitors very seriously. She was a polite guest, a furry, friendly, Frenchwoman who obviously loved Americans. Holiday continued to burst through the doors, without a hint of shame, whenever she detected people in the kitchen or some breakfast meat wafting its aroma through the windows.
The grounds of the Chateau were spectacular. Due to the moderate climate, both temperate and tropical plants flourish. There was an angel’s trumpet by the back door, roses by the pool, and giant hydrangeas that had just finished blooming. The rooms themselves were beautiful, each decorated in some version of Country French—the real thing mind you, complete with antique wardrobes, four poster beds, and toile everywhere. There wasn’t a single room that didn’t elicit a ‘sigh’ whenever we walked in, especially the kitchen. Reflecting the way the French live; buying fresh food and bread every day, the freezer compartment in the refrigerator was tiny with no ice trays, while the fresh food area was huge compared to what we are used to in the US.
The trip to E.Leclerc to find ice trays was another episode in French-American relations. No one seemed to know what we were talking about. Ice trays? In France? One would think that since France has adopted Americanisms of questionable historical value–like Disneyland—ice trays would have long since been embraced. Not so.
The chateau came with its own housekeeper–Amanda—who arrived every day to help us keep the place immaculate. She was absolutely wonderful, never laughing (at least we don’t think she was laughing) at our attempts to make the oven, the dishwasher, and the washing machine work. She began to call me “Marie Antoinette” because I ended up alone on the entire 4th floor of the chateau. “Marie Antoinette” and her American sister, Lisa, attempted many times to converse with Amanda. Amanda would say something, and while I was looking up the words in the phone translator, Lisa waved her hands and arms around in a French American version of Pictionary, certain that Amanda would finally get what we were trying to say. Most of the time we’d all just shrug, the universal gesture for ‘whatever’.
Stay tuned. There is more to come!