Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Un Château à Vizille

Roman soldiers likely came marching down the valley of the Romanche fairly frequently, and traces of early fortifications are under the site of the modern (relatively speaking) château in Vizille, just the other side of a mountain spur from Grenoble, and the center of the Dauphiné region that was ruled by the Counts of Albon for three hundred years, until the title and rights were sold to the king of France, Philippe VI, in 1349. The name "Dauphin" was transferred to the king's oldest son Charles, and so the eldest sons were referred to until the Revolution; it was a title similar to the British "Prince of Wales" in that respect.

The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were particularly vicious in this region, which was traditionally Protestant. The Catholic armies occupied the château for a while, then were ousted by the Protestants again, but the Edict of Amboise in 1593 gave official control in the end to the Catholics. François de Bonne, Lord of Lesdiguières, an advisor to the king and a fairly wealthy man apparently, took over the administration of the region around the château and spent a good bit of money restoring the village, the ruins of the château, and the park, as well as working to channel the Romanche so that it wouldn't flood the area.

By the middle of the 18th century the Lesdiguières had dwindled in numbers and power, and in 1780 the château and property were sold to Claude Perier, who used the buildings as a factory for making textiles and wallpaper. The gardens were replaced by long racks of drying cloth. At the beginning of the 19th century his son Augustine added a spinning and weaving business, and all of the halls were full of highly flammable materials, something which became evident in 1825 when a fire roared through and destroyed not only all of the business, but also all of the paintings and furniture left behind by many generations of Lesdiguières. More money was spent on restoring the château once more, and this work continued under the supervision of Augustine's son Adolphe until 1866.

Although the buildings were ruined by wars and fires, they weren't destroyed during the French Revolution, because Claude Perier was one of the influential merchants who organized a meeting of the progressive nobles and churchmen, plus several hundred bankers, lawyers, and other wealthy citizens of the Dauphiné region. The meeting had been banned in Grenoble after a riot there over rising taxes and bread prices, in which royal troops shot and killed workers who were demonstrating in the streets. Some people say that this Journée des Tuiles (the rioters drove the soldiers away by throwing roof tiles at them) and the subsequent meeting at Vizille were the actual start of the French Revolution, though unrest had been growing nationwide. There is a museum of the French Revolution at the château but I didn't get to see it, because it was Tuesday and so the museum was closed, or maybe there was a visiting dignitary, or reconstruction going on. Anyway, if I have time I'd like to get back there to see the exhibits. But I am leaving in a week! The time has just flown by, the days washed away in a flood of whey.

I was at the park with Laetitia and Jean's daughter Jessyca, who strolled with me around the lake at the center of the 250-acre park and then joined me in a brief walk through the center of town. I bought postcards (which some of you may have already received, and if there's anyone else who wants a postcard from France please send me your address and I will be happy to oblige) and got some cash from an ATM (que nous appelons un DAB ici) although since I'm trading work for room and board I haven't really needed money lately. I did get a chair massage yesterday (25 euros for 1/2 hour) and bought ingredients for a Chinese-style dinner (21 euros including the bottle of good white wine), but other than the postcards, that's all I've spent in the last two weeks. If you're willing to spend 3 to 7 hours a day working on a goat dairy, the 1957 Frommer guide "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day" still has some relevance.

I sliced the leftovers from Jean's birthday dinner of beef tenderloin with mushrooms last night and heated them through with more sautéed mushrooms plus some mushroom soy sauce and a little bit of sugar, cooked down until thick; I heated up a jar of sweet-and-sour sauce to warm up cooked peeled shrimp; I stir-fried slices of two chicken breasts (the ones I didn't use for a honey-mustard chicken dinner I made a few days ago) then dumped in the juice from a can of sliced pineapple and about 2 Tbs fish sauce plus some cornstarch, and finished that off with the chopped pineapple. With leftover rice (reheated) and a bag of frozen green beans (steamed) it was a good meal, if not at all French. Well, there was the wine, and everyone but me put lots of butter on their green beans, so there's that.

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