In February I wrote to my friend Claude at Chateau du Portail. It had been a while since we last spoke and something told me to send news and say bonjour. It turns out, Claude had some news for me too. He had just sold the chateau to two Americans. They fell in love with it and made him an offer he couldn’t resist. I was devastated, I hate saying goodbye to places, I’ve done it nearly twenty times in my life as my parents were always moving us into new houses growing up, and I moved so much on my own my first years in Paris. In my family we have a whole roster of past addresses we refer to only by the street name “the Mandeville house…the Dillon house…the Park Lane house” and so on we use when we talk about memories that happened there. Here I was so upset and this house wasn’t even mine. That’s what was so special about the Chateau du Portail though, I think everyone who visited all left feeling like a tiny part of it belonged to them: memories there they could cherish forever and could return to. When the longing became too much for this home away from home Claude shared with his many guests over the years, it was as easy as booking a stay and going the distance. I suppose Claude was ready to move on to a new chapter though, as people do. He told me he had bought a new place which he described as a great undertaking and invited me to hop on the train down to the Loire Valley to discover what was going on. I accepted his invitation and booked an early morning train from Paris to Amboise. I got up before sunrise and packed my backpack with my camera, gloves, my journal and pen. I took the Line 5 to Gare d’Austerlitz, watching the last hour of the night over Paris as the metro crossed the bridge of the Seine to the station on the left bank. I took a seat alone on the train and watched the sunrise over the countryside. It reminded me of another chapter of my life, working at the agency in Paris and taking the train to Geneva many early mornings for meetings with clients, I felt like such a kid then. Only twenty-one, hopping between countries I didn’t know for the day meeting with big marketing execs that scared me, my first internship turned into my first job. Surrounded by old business men making commutes, I felt like that kid again. A twenty-five year old kid trying to look like a grown up, a little person in a big world just trying to get around without getting lost. In a whole new chapter of my life and finding that strange feeling on a train again that always hits me when I travel alone. I sat looking out the window for an hour and a half, falling in and out of sleep, watching the sunrise, wondering if my whole life I could fool the world into taking me for a grown-up.
I guess I was a bit ambitious with my timing that morning as I arrived before Claude was free to come get me from the station. I know Amboise a little so I found my way on foot to the center of town. I had never seen the Loire in winter…it was quiet, cold, and misty like something from a storybook. A croissant and two café cremes later Claude found me in the centre ville and showed me the way to his new place. “It’s really a construction site! You’ll see!” made me even more curious about what he had taken on. As we entered through the gate of the property the dogs greeted us, Adrien older than I remember, and Cléo no longer a puppy like she was when I had seen her last. At the end of the dirt road is Claude’s beautiful cloister that is slightly in ruin, a renovation no one is more suited for than Claude. The space is different from the chateau, but special in it’s own right, certainly once it’s filled with some good memories soon enough. Simpler, yet grander in some ways, Claude took me through three or four levels of rooms, for each of which he already has plans that workers were underway on, preserving some and replacing the rest. Behind the house is a beautiful bois, or small woods as we say in English. The dogs seemed to like it and I wandered off a bit on my own as Claude took some calls. The many friends that ring him throughout the day reassure me that the rooms of his new house will be frequently occupied by visitors, even though Claude decided not to open another bed and breakfast.
We had lunch in town and Claude told me stories about living in Los Angeles back in the day, sharing meals and tables at benefits in Hollywood with the likes of Grace Kelly and Elton John…or maybe it was Marlon Brando? I can’t remember but either way the stories were just the kind I like…always with a punch line. I really treasure the various friends of other generations I have accumulated in my life. They teach me things friends my own age could only learn with me as we go. After lunch we stopped by the old chateau, so Claude could take care of a few things for the new owners before they arrived from the US to settle in. I walked around a bit on my own to say goodbye. I visited the old swing, and the garden that was dormant in the middle of winter. I noticed the puppies still seem to feel at home here, scratching at the doors to get inside. It would probably be the last time I ever go there. It’s always strange knowing something is the last time. Something makes me feel safe knowing I can go back to places, like we’re moving forward but time isn’t passing, like nothing ends, nothing is gone…I’m just away. But life can’t always work like that. Some chapters come to an end and new ones begin again. Looking back, I think I’ve grown the most between those pages. So in the train on my way back I took out the journal I brought with me and filled them up.